Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yeah. so its been two months

Being an adult is hard you guys.

I have a job.  I have a house. I have a dog and a partner and friends and a yard. I have bills to pay and emails to write and dishes to wash and plants to water. I stay so busy all the time that I can go weeks without spending anytime for myself. (You guys with kids.... how the *^%# do you do it?!?)

Oh, I'll spend time BY myself, but you see this is different. I am by myself when I go to the grocery store or when I go to get my oil changed. I am by myself when I am sitting in my office waiting for students that never come talk to me. I am by myself when I watch trash TV at the end of a long day of work. But spending time FOR myself? Well, this just doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. I originally started this blog with that in mind - I will take the time FOR myself to do something I enjoy and that makes me feel good and forces me to think more and process how I am feeling about the day. And it worked! I was feeding my creative side and nourishing my "self" and all that other mumbo-jumbo.

But, you see, I'm what I've just now decided to call a 'can't-eat-just-one' kind of gal. My self needs a balanced meal, ya'll. I'm lucky in that I am interested in lots of different things and I'm actually pretty good at nearly everything I try - but I can never stick with one thing long enough to get REALLY good at anything. I've tried sewing.  I've tried aerial dance (that's when you fly around on a trapeze or a giant piece of fabric hanging from the ceiling and do tricks and point your toes and try to look pretty). I've tried gardening and embroidery. I can knit a scarf and a hat (but nothing more complicated). I can play all the basic chords on a guitar and have even written a few very simple, cheesy songs.  But now my knitting needles are untouched in a cute basket full of pretty colored yarn and my guitar is sitting in a corner collecting dust. The problem, of course, is that I kind of only have the time to focus on one thing at a time....

The one thing I actually stuck with for a significant amount of time was pottery. Before starting graduate school I made pots for about 10 years and even got to the point where I was selling them at small craft fairs during Christmas. I've never been Zen enough to meditate - my mind is constantly working and planning - but when I make pots my mind is totally clear. It's relaxing and calming and I end up with these nice, functional pieces of art that I can give to friends so they can pour their coffee into something pretty. Anyway.... I decided about a month ago I needed some serious head-clearing - so I started making pots again! Therefore, I have had little time for writing. Please see evidence below.









Sunday, August 5, 2012

Welcome home

In Costa Rica this summer I spent the majority of my time fairly isolated in a small, rural community with very few chances to exchange money for material goods. I was automatically fed three meals a day, I got driven around in previously-arranged taxis and tour buses, and the only store in the entire town sold little more than cheap sodas and a few bags of rice. So - in order to not fall too far behind, I have made my best efforts to dive head first into consumerism upon my return.

First, I went out for sushi. You see, in my mind, sushi is not just a food - it's kind of like a drug. Not like crack or meth or anything like that, it's more like a glass of fine scotch or espresso. You know, something you consume but that has this whole other layer of pleasantness behind it that makes you feel really good, but at the same time you know it's addicting and meant to be experienced in moderation. It's also not something you should try to cut corners on, but, you know, sushi is expensive and I'm pretty frugal, so I made the mistake of going to the cheapest sushi place in town. Unfortunately, this means they took my drug-of-choice and stripped it of all it's purities by deep frying it and then covering it in mayo. Whatever, I still ate like 10 lbs of it all by myself. 

Then, David and I bought a motor scooter. It's pretty small and may fall apart sooner than later, but we've had a lot of fun riding around on it. If we ride on it together I usually drive because David's legs are too long to sit up close to the front. I have a sneaking suspicion we might look a little ridiculous. A 5'3'' girl wearing a giant motorcycle helmet being held onto by a 6'3'' man wearing a bicycle helmet, resting his chin on her head as they max out at about 25 miles/hour going up hills. Ridiculous.

Then....... I took the real plunge.

I am typing, right now, on a brand new tiny, delicate, beautiful and intelligent 2012 MacBook Air laptop. I'm kind of in love. I spent a significant time in the Apple store just kind of staring at the display computer trying to work up the nerve to hand over my credit card. I stood there thinking - it must be pretty entertaining working in this store. I'm sure the salespeople witness over and over again people's intense emotional reactions to spending large, lump sums of money - something most people, including myself, are not very good at. I bet they see tears of joy and tears of dread. I bet they see fights between partners and hugs of appreciation from children to their parents. They probably get to watch absolute strangers display all kinds of true, raw emotion everyday. It must be kind of like getting paid to people watch in the airport!

Unfortunately, my salesman did not understand what his customers were going through. He treated our interaction as if we were at PayLess and I had just asked him about their new stock of loafers. Oh,  you said you wanted the size 8 1/2 computer? Ok, let me just casually walk to the back room, come out with a small box, take your credit card, ring you up at the register, and act like nothing out-of-the-ordinary is happening. Thanks for shopping with us, have a nice day. Meanwhile, I'm feeling like I've just adopted a new puppy or maybe even a small child.

Whatever. At least I'm in touch with my emotions. Like this one - I'm so HAPPY to be home!!!





Sunday, July 29, 2012

Don't feed the monkeys.

After about six weeks in the cloudforest, we've arrived for a few days of relaxation at the beach before heading home. It's a nice little vacation after preparing final exams and grading papers, but after staying for so long in one peaceful, quiet place, being here makes me feel a little bit like I'm in an amusement park (full of sand) on half-price day. You see, the beach here at Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica - and for a reason. It is absolutely beautiful. The water is warm and the beaches are lovely and the rocky cliffs and crashing waves are kind of intoxicating.

Unfortunately, I can't help wishing everyone else had stayed at home. 

I mean, I'm a tourist. I am no more deserving of being here than anyone else. But it is legitimately harder to enjoy natural wonders when surrounded by hundreds of packs of people. It kind of makes everything seem less natural. Like that sloth I saw in the tree? He totally gets paid by the hour to sleep there. I saw a monkey playing around on a wire while literally dozens of tourists (I'm not excluded here) stood underneath snapping pictures and I kind of expected him to come down and charge us a fee when he was done.

Natural wonders attract people. I get that. And I get that there are obvious advantages to local economies when people (by the busloads) decide your town will be the next stop on their tour. So you build hotels and restaurants and you sell them cheap jewelry and drinks with little umbrellas in them and you take them parasailing and banana-boat riding ........ and then, before you know it, a pristine beach becomes a water park and monkeys start to spend their day waiting to entertain tourists. (They have been trained to do this, of course, because stupid people continue to feed the animals no matter how many times you tell them not to). 

It's possible I would not have this attitude if I had not just come from six weeks of living in a tiny little community down a not-so-tiny hill, away from the bustle of taxis and hostels and bars and souvenir shops. While I know the university's presence has caused changes within that community, it feels somehow different than the normal tourist/local-community relationship.

Ecotourism is one of the top industries in Costa Rica and it is fairly obvious that the nation's economy depends on it. But how do Costa Ricans feel about the number of tourists in their communities?

Honestly, I have no idea. In the community where we were staying, I can guess that some people wish there were not a constant flow of foreign students coming and going. I can also guess that there are some people who appreciate the economic boost the university campus has provided. I can guess that different people have different opinions about the different positive and negative effects of tourism in their country.

What I am sure of, however, is that the monkeys where we were staying couldn't have cared less about us. Which is exactly how it should be.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Conversion

How many miles are in a kilometer? Or is it how many kilometers are in a mile? I can never remember. I know, it's embarrassing.

But it's not my fault! I just happen to be from a country that doesn't use the metric system.  One of only THREE nations in the world not measuring metrically by the way (the other two are Liberia and Myanmar/Burma).

I do know, however, after this past weekend, that a kilometer feels like a lot longer than a mile.

Saturday, I went zip-lining through the cloud forest canopy. This, for me, was terrifying. The zip-line course is basically a series of cables running in between different metal towers all of which look like they are just kind of resting against trees. You stand on a tower, trying not to look down, for what seems like hours, waiting for your turn to get called over by the dude who is going to take literally 5 seconds hooking your metal clamp (you know, the one hanging from the fancy cloth diaper you're wearing) onto the next cable and pushing you out into the open air where you will again, zip through the treetops and try not to throw up. Thrilling, really. Most of these cables were short in length and while, of course, high up in the air, they were at least within a reasonable distance from the ground. Yes, I was in the treetops, but trees are rooted in the ground, right? Somehow, psychologically, I think this helped. The last cable, however - it was so far above the treetops that I felt like I was in a damn airplane. It was also - yup - one full kilometer in length. I thought I would never see the landing tower. I thought I wouldn't survive.

But I did.

And so the next day I decided to walk to town. No biggie, right? Except town is something like TWELVE  kilometers mostly straight up one of the steepest hills I've ever climbed. I was motivated partly by the amazing views and partly by the idea of eating lunch at a sushi restaurant - which ended up being closed. So I got a coffee and turned around to start my journey back home. I walked many more kilometers until reaching a pizza restaurant where I treated myself to 3/4 of a pizza pie. By the time I got to the start of the ridiculously steep hill,  the idea of my knees making it all the way down was less-than-pleasant. Luckily, in that moment, one of the guys that works in the kitchen here rode by on his motorcycle and gave me a ride. Which was great, except zipping down that hill on the back of a tiny moto was nearly as terrifying as zipping though the trees... but at least it took a few kilometers off my walk.

**Update** - I just asked someone and apparently it is only seven kilometers to town. I'm telling you, kilometers just feel really long. (This assessment has nothing to do with the fact that my experience with this metric unit of distance has occurred while either exhausted or scared out of my mind. I swear.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My commute

It's amazing how good not waking up at 6:30 a.m. can make you feel.

Today I didn't have my a.m. class so I woke up late and then stayed in bed for another hour reading Memoirs of a Geisha (en español, have you). I opened up the curtains to the giant windows looking out to the forest, made some coffee and took my sweet time. It was kind of amazing. Then I had a nice, leisurely walk to work that established today as a good one. You know when you have a morning like that? There is nothing Today can do that will mess this one up. It just started off that good.

First, it is a be-U-ti-FUL day here. It's like the best Spring Day and the best Fall Day had a baby.

And you know who else had a baby? The white faced capuchin MONKEYS I saw in the trees right outside of my cabina! There were several of them (including a baby!) looking down at me, jumping from branch to branch, playing and eating and squawking and squeaking and they were so darn cute I just stood there, for several minutes, looking up with a big smile on my face.

Then I remembered that showing your top teeth at monkeys is a sign of aggression and that in order to look friendly you are supposed to only show your lower teeth. So then I began to bite my upper lip while sticking my bottom teeth out as far as I could into an awkward underbite position. I was feeling so friendly I kind of expected the monkeys to come down and let me cuddle them, but apparently I do not appear as amicable as I'd like to think.

Then I passed by the three baby cows that are always under a little tree, napping in the grass. Then I passed by my favorite tree covered in bromeliads and parakeets. Then I heard what I have since learned is the call of the Oropendola - this awesome bird that makes its nests in the form of giant tear drops hanging from the treetops. Watch the video below and skip to 00:30 to hear it. It sounds nuts.


 I wanted to take photos of all of these things so that I could re-construct my walk for you guys, but I left my camera in my room. So I made a map instead! It's hard to read cause the camera on my computer is fuzzy. Oh, yeah, and cause it's backwards - but you get the idea.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Montaña Rusa

What were you guys doing 5 days ago?

I, myself, was riding on the back of a majestic steed on the slopes of the Arenal Volcano. I have little-to-no experience with horses, but my horse, Montaña, and I - we were seriously in tune. There we were, separate creatures, moving as one, riding up and down a series of rolling hills and valleys in a rhythm that nearly rocked me to sleep. There was a fairy-like mist encircling us as we peacefully trotted through the lush, green landscape. It was kind of magical.

Then my horse got electrocuted in the face.

We were on the trail, patiently waiting in line behind the other horses, right next to a thin, innocent-looking, wire fence. In this moment of stillness, I decided to take my helmet off to fix my hair. Not the best timing. While all the other horses were smart enough to keep their noses up the horse's butt in front of them, Montaña got curious, turned her damn head, and tried to reach her neck over the fence. The electric fence. All of a sudden my body felt like it was inside of a washing machine and off we went galloping and jumping and spinning into the field. Somehow, after a minute or so, I was able to grab the reigns and tell Montaña to stop. Although I inexplicably managed to stay on top of the wild beast, my face was slammed into the horn of the saddle, my helmet and glasses were thrown to the ground, and my hair looked less-than-fabulous.

From that moment on Montaña turned into Montaña Rusa. (Montaña means "mountain" and Montaña Rusa, while literally meaning "Russian mountain" also [don't ask me why] is the word for "roller coaster" in Spanish.)

She was more-than-a-bit perturbed. For the next several hours she went back and forth from walking... to running.... to stopping abruptly....to bucking and kicking her neighbors - all without warning. Her back legs would suddenly fly out towards whatever horse was near her (without any consideration for the poor, inexperienced gringa riding on top of her.). She kicked one of my students! We had to stop at one point so that the guide could bandage up her bloody shin. It was like I was in the damn rodeo. My thighs were clamped onto that horse's body like a snapping turtle's jaw. My hands were pulsing with soreness from holding on so tight. By the time I finally, FINALLY, got off that beast and was able to relax, my legs and arms felt like jelly. My butt felt like paté.

After the ride we discovered that our program had paid for three extra people and we were unable to get reimbursed. The guide suggested that three people ride a second time since it was already paid for. Ride AGAIN?!? Nope. Never. Someone will have to pay ME - and a significant sum of money at that - to EVER get on top of a horse again. EVER.








Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Short and Sweet

So my friend Darla recently confessed to me that she doesn't read my blog. She says it's too long. She claims people have short attention spans and that I should stop expecting them to even attempt to read what I've written once they see it is longer than 2 paragraphs. She's probably right. So, in honor of Darla, I promise to keep this one as short as possible:

I am currently in San José, the capital city here in Costa Rica. We've got a pretty jam-packed schedule involving mostly academic lectures and fancy dinners. We've been to the Interamerican Institute for Human Rights. We've learned about Costa Ricans' response to Nicaraguan immigration (fascinatingly, but not surprisingly, similar to attitudes in the U.S. - especially to those in Georgia, Alabama and Arizona if you know what I mean). We've continued to eat beans and rice, but this time with fancy desserts afterward (I've discovered coconut flan, you guys - it's like a sweet pillow of tastiness that your tongue just kind of melts into).

Yesterday, however, I got up at 5:30am to raft down the Rio Pecuare (considered one of the top 5 rivers in the world for rapids). The night before that I went to a rock concert with my 19 yr old students (actually the band is described as playing "psycho-tropical" music, whatever that means). Today I kind of feel like someone took my body and rolled it over some rocks and then slammed by head into some coconuts.

Mostly though, I just still feel lucky to have this job. On Thursday we are gonna go horseback riding on the slopes of a volcano and then lounge around in hot springs. So, yeah, life's pretty tuanis. (that means 'cool' in youngster Costa Rican talk).


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cry me a quetzal


So in my last post I discussed the tendency I have to notice less and less of my surroundings the more familiar they are to me. Where I live back home there are birds. There are trees and there are bugs and there are mosses and fungi and flowers. But for most of us, seeing the same bugs and trees and flowers everyday of our entire life means we sort of overlook them. Pine trees? Robins? Azaleas? Whatevs.

A friend of mine just sent me an email recently containing the very first issue of his new one-page newsletter “The Plant Parade.” The goal of this “guerilla botanical promotional campaign” is to educate people about local plants. You know that bush on the corner of your street that you go past everyday? I bet you don’t even know its name! I mean, really, it’s kind of rude. That bush thinks you are a total jerk, you know.

The first time I was at all motivated to learn a bit more about my natural surroundings was when I was living in a small, rural community in the middle of nowhere in Paraguay. All the people there (including little kids) knew the trees and flowers and bugs like the backs of their neighbor’s hands. I’d say like the backs of their own hands, but they actually know their neighbors’ better. In such a small town gossip is pretty much the only form of entertainment and half of the gossip is made up. You end up knowing everybody else’s business better than your own.

These neighbors of mine not only knew who was stealing who’s chickens and who’s brother was courting who’s sister and who’s cousin’s boyfriend got drunk last night – they also knew which tree stump in the middle of the woods had a bee hive living in it and which birds made which sounds and which weeds growing in your front yard could cure a stomach ache. Little kids, and I mean little, knew the names of all the birds and the trees. Realizing a three year old knows more than you do about the world around you is, well, humbling.

Here in the cloudforest of Costa Rica, however, trying to learn the names of everything around you is pretty much impossible. There are more types of trees in the Montverde area than in all of the US and Canada combined. Try starting a “guerilla botanical promotional campaign” about THAT my friends. But everything here is also so new and exciting that it’s hard not to at least try.

Here, in the form of a top 10 list, is my Costa Rican Cloudforest promotional Campaign:
(*disclaimer – I have no idea what I am talking about. Please refer to other sources for more detailed information about these species.)

10. DRAGON’S BLOOD TREE: It’s a tree that literally bleeds red if you cut into it. The sap is used medicinally to treat bug bites and intestinal issues and probably some more stuff I don’t know about.
9.  STRANGLING FIG: Another tree. This one grows around the outside of another tree until the first one dies from lack of nutrients leaving this super crazy looking hollow form behind.
8. BROMELIADS: They are everywhere here. Related to the pineapple, they live up in the trees and survive from the little bit of dirt they can find there and the water that they collect when it rains. They have all kinds of bugs and frogs and things that live inside them. They’re like entire little ecosystems and they’re really pretty.
7. AERIAL ROOTS: This place is so damn fertile that trees start growing on top of trees. When they realize they aren’t in the dirt they just say whoops! and send some roots down through the canopy, sometimes for really long distances, down to the ground. It can take years for their roots to actually reach the forest floor. In the meantime they make me want to swing like Tarzan while beating my chest and hollering like a monkey.
6.  MONKEYS! : We’ve seen several groups of White faced capuchin monkeys around. I saw one with a baby on her back!
5. ORCHIDS: Are amazing. There are over 500 types of orchids just in the Monteverde area! Which is crazy. There is one that blooms for only one day. One day! And I got to see a few! There is one that is super, super tiny – like half the size of a pea. I got to see that one too, but only because our guide knew where it was. I would never have noticed it on my own.
4. PARAKEETS: There is a tree down the hill from my ‘cabina’ that fills with parakeets several times a day. Parakeets apparently mate for life and this tree is like a regular pay-by-the-hour motel. There are probably about 20 pairs of parakeets, each occupying its own branch, snuggling and nuzzling and cooing and squawking. It’s super romantic. 
3. COYOTES: The other morning I was walking through the woods alone on my way to breakfast and I heard a rustle in the bushes. I crept up on the sound and all of a sudden out jumped a fairly large, four-legged animal. It landed about a foot from my face and needless to say we were both scared shitless. He froze for a fraction of a second and then took off running impressively fast, so fast it was hard to tell what he looked like. I went to breakfast and told everyone about the stray dog that scared me silly. A few days later I found out that a coyote was spotted around campus the same day. So, good thing it didn’t eat me.
2. AGOUTI: There are all these crazy rodents running around campus. They are kind of cute and I think I want one as a pet. I want to take it for walks and give it hugs.
1. QUETZAL: We went on a hike in the Monteverde Reserve and were lucky enough to spot a male quetzal. Otherwise known as the resplendent quetzal. And it is. Resplendent. It is blue and green and every color in between. It has a tail like Rapunzel’s hair. (It inspires poetry.) When our guide spotted it he and everyone else got so excited that I got teary eyed. I had to turn my back so no one would see that the quetzal made me cry. 

And there you have it folks. It's a beautiful place. Who wants to come visit?!?




Saturday, June 16, 2012

Time lags when you are having fun


You know that saying “time flies when you are having fun?”

Well, it’s stupid. I’m changing it. It is exactly the opposite of what it should be.

It should be more like “Time flies when you are busy doing everyday things.” Or maybe “Time flies when you are preoccupied and unaware of your surroundings.”  At home, in my everyday life and routine, time seems to go by very quickly. I rarely remember what I did a few days before and the days just sort of run together. I have a schedule and an environment that stays more-or-less the same and the comfort and ease this stability provides makes it easy to move about my day without paying much attention to much of anything at all. The days, the weeks, the months sort of  rush by me and I barely take the time to say hello.

I have noticed, however, that time moves very, very slowly when I am (having fun) traveling in places far away from home. There is just so much to pay attention to and  to absorb – every experience is new and exciting and challenging and every minute is memorable. So I remember it! (Which is a feat for me). I walk slowly along, without a care in the world, taking it all in. For instance, I have only spent a few weeks in Costa Rica, but I already feel like I’ve been here for months. And this doesn’t mean I am not having fun. Because I am. And a lot of it.

Here are a few memories I have from my slow-moving, fun-filled adventures:

-Visiting a woman David knows at the small hotel on a mountainside where she  
  works as a cook. She made us lunch and we stayed for several hours, the only
  people in the entire hotel, looking out through the giant windows out towards the
  Arenal Volcano while sipping home-roasted coffee she grows on the hillside behind
  her house.
-Swimming in the “piscina natural” – a ridiculously perfect tide pool created by the
  Caribbean sea pouring its waters into a series of natural, enclosed circular rock
  formations surrounded by lush tropical plants. The water rocked back and forth
  due to the waves and the tide so it was pretty much the most relaxing thing ever.
-David picking coconuts from trees and whacking off the tops with a machete so we
  could drink the sweet water with our breakfast.
-Rolling around in the sand at “Playa Negra” – a beach with dark black sand and
  crystal clear water. And nothing else. No shells, no jellyfish, no algae, no bugs… and
  practically no other people.
-Hiking through the Cahuita National forest listening to the howler monkeys screech  
  and watching iguanas stand up on their hind legs and awkwardly wobble back and
  forth, running away from us as fast as they could.
-Going to the central market in San José where we ate a breakfast of gallo pinto
  (beans and rice), fried eggs, fried plantains, fried hotdog and coffee after walking
   around through butcher booths full of hanging cow-carcass parts and fish heads.

It was all pretty spectacular.

Then, last Tuesday, we went to the airport where I said goodbye to David and hello to the group of 19 yr old students I will be living with for the next 7 weeks. I climbed into a bus with them and we made our way to San Luis - a small community right down the road from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – the site of the University of Georgia Costa Rica campus.

Since Tuesday I have been helping with orientation sessions, going on educational hikes, preparing/teaching classes, and eating 3 delicious helpings of beans and rice/day in the school’s cafeteria. I don’t really know why I have ever taught anywhere else. Here I have 2-5 students in each class (as opposed to 30), I walk through the woods to class accompanied by hummingbirds and baby cows and coatis and morphos butterflies, and I get to listen this sound while preparing my lectures: 


Right now I am laying in a hammock on the porch of my “cabina” listening to the sounds of the forest, resting after our most recent hike through the cloudforest. And I get to do this for 6 more weeks! And with me having so much fun, and time moving so slowly, if I’m lucky it will feel like even longer.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Greetings from Costa Rica!



David and I have been here about 5 days now, but it feels like a lot longer - maybe because we have been doing so much since we got here. We rented a car with a GPS and I am now convinced this is the only way to travel - just plug in where you want to go and wha-la! Some lady with a robotic, but sweet voice gives you directions! In between our various destinations we get to stop for freshly roasted peanuts, balls of fresh squeaky cheese and fresh pineapple (where the man selling the pineapple will peel it for you and serve you the fruit piece-by-piece with his machete). We get to listen to música romántica on the radio while we cruise down mountain roads with seriously the most breathtaking views I think I have ever seen. It has been stressful at times (there are lots of roads made of nothing but rocks and several one-way streets that you somehow don't notice until you are driving down them the wrong way) but for the most part I've actually felt quite comfortable behind the wheel.

Sharing in our adventures, from the back seats, are David's friend Mauricio and his mother Doña Cristina, with whom he lived for over a year about 8 years ago. So far the four of us have visited the country's tallest active volcano as well as the country's only old, abandoned leper colony. Yup, weird. It's a giant, old building from the early 1900s, tucked into a valley surrounded by lush, green mountains, where few rooms still have a roof, all the floors are covered in intricate, beautiful ceramic tiles and the walls with creepy graffiti reading things like Bienvenidos. Sientan el frio de la muerte. (Welcome. Feel the coldness of death.) I didn't see any leper ghosts, but I was kind of expecting to at every corner.

We stayed several nights in San Ramon where Mau attends college and where his mother has been staying for a month, waiting for her husband to have heart surgery. (The health care system here is free for everyone which is amazing, however there are a few disadvantages to this system. For example, those needing an operation have to essentially "wait in line" for their turn and since there are so many patients right now, Mau's dad has been living in the hospital for over a month now waiting). In San Ramon we went to the local food market for more squeaky cheese, had lunch with a Costa Rican ex-nun who spent 12 years in Mozambique birthing babies, waited out torrential downpours and power outages with Mau's neighbors, and traveled about an hour in the rain and the dark only to arrive late to Mau's first college choral recital. (Folks here don't give directions in a very direct way. There are usually lots of hand gestures and very rarely are the words "left" and "right" used. Due to this and a few other factors, David and Mau's mom ended up in the town's giant cathedral listening to the sermon, waiting for Mau to come out and start singing. The concert was actually in a small building around the corner.)


Yesterday, we left San Ramon and made our way to Cabeceras, the small, rural town in the mountains where Mau's parents normally live. Unfortunately, our 4 hour drive turned into 8 hours due to a fallen bridge, so we arrived later than planned. But man were they 8 beautiful hours. And today we went to visit some lady who grows, harvests and roasts her own coffee. After feeding us homemade chicken soup with tortillas and passion fruit juice, she took us for a tour of her land and pointed out each of the dozens of different kinds of plants - everything from macadamia nut trees to potato vines. Then she made us coffee with fresh cows milk and a sweet treat made from "cuadrados" (plantains with 4 sides).

This place is absolutely amazing. I'm thinking about moving here and learning to milk cows. Oh, looks like I have to stop writing. Mau's brother killed a pig for us for dinner and I have to get ready!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hugging animals

My friend Jesslyn and I have a lot in common. For example:

1) We both like to make lists during conversations.
2) We both 'blog' on the interwebs.                                              
3) We are both total suckers for a good, sappy youtube video involving animals and hugs.

And these are only a few of our similarities (no worries, we also have our differences).

If you remember, Jesslyn was the friend that inspired me to start writing here - and that is because her blog is spectacular. She talks about science and motherhood and music and fashion all in the same space. And she does it so well! Most recently she has been talking about, well.....me! I am honored to be a topic of discussion in a few of her most recent posts (some of this is slightly embarrassing, but I guess that's the risk you take when opening your life up to the internet).

In Jesslyn's blog I am featured doing the following things:
1) Saying dirty things in Spanish.
2) Crying a lot about a lot of different things.
3) Oh, yeah. And proposing to my boyfriend. Yup, I did THAT last week.

And you can read about it all on Jesslyn's blog! Which is great because I have been so busy making powerpoints about the language and culture of business operations in Latin America (blah) that I haven't made time to write.

Side note:
Do you guys know how boring the study of Business is?!? I will be teaching a "Business Spanish" class in Costa Rica this summer and I am struggling to try and make this as un-boring as possible. Did you know that in Peru they use a coma when expressing large numbers (1,000) but in Chile they use a period (1.000)? Did you know the term 'glocal' is now being used to describe the globalization of commerce? Did you know that the gross domestic product of Bolivia in 2007 was 13,120 million?  Oh, wait, I'm sorry - that's 13.120. With a period.

Ugh.

I am learning a LOT from preparing this class however. I know I will come out of this experience a better teacher and a more knowledgeable citizen of the world. Which is great. I will also come out of this experience with a two month long, all-expense-paid trip to the cloud forests of Costa Rica, so no complaints there!

One more list, ok?

What I hope to see/do in Costa Rica:
1) Eat my weight in beans and rice.
2) Swim in multiple waterfalls, rivers and oceans (I'll be going to the Pacific AND the Caribbean).
3) Hug a monkey (or maybe a baby sloth?) and post the video on youtube.

Nothing wrong with high expectations my friends.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happiness factory

Riddle of the day:
What do you get when you cross an amusement park, a singles club, and a ginormous mansion?

Answer:
You get the Mall of Georgia.

You may be asking yourself why I did not include the words store or buy or clothes or shop in my riddle. This is because it appears that the thousands of people wondering around this monstrosity are not at all concerned with such commodities. What?.... You go to the mall to purchase things? Well, you are obviously going to the wrong mall. Yes, at the Mall of Georgia there are hundreds of stores selling everything from massage chairs to nose piercings to overpoweringly scented lotions... but who can be bothered with that stuff when there are also huge, shiny, ultra-clean play areas for the kids!?! There are outdoor mazes made out of bricks surrounded by grass that looks like astroturf! And crazy water fountains that dramatically shoot up from seemingly invisible holes in the ground! There are little "re-charge" rest areas with squishy couches where you can put your feet up and plug in your electronic devices while sipping your Starbucks mocha shake! There is an IMAX theatre where the characters in the movies jump out and try to touch you! There is a sushi bar in the food court! A sushi bar!

I mean this is no ordinary shopping mall. The level of modernity and sterility in this place makes the mess of real life seem to disappear.

And the people there LOVE IT.  I went there a few days ago and I LOVED IT. I've never seen so many people look so happy. Teenagers are holding hands,  giggling and flirting by trying to make each other run into poles. Older couples are holding hands and smiling as they walk slowly through the pristine, air-conditioned environment.  Those that aren't holding hands with someone are doing some serious scouting and they all seem so confident while doing so. I have never been looked at/smiled at by so many 16-20 yr olds in my life. I smiled back! I'm telling you, it's like a darn happiness factory in there.

Which reminds me of my trip to the Coca-Cola museum a few years ago. When you first get to this pretty large museum, dedicated to a single brand of a single beverage, you are first herded into a theater where you meet your tour guide. This young lady smiles ear-to-ear and talks to you as if you were a 3 yr old that only hears high-pitched tones. Her job is to introduce the movie you are about to watch. It's called "The happiness factory!" and it's about the magical little creatures that make Coca-Cola. Oh, I'm sorry.....You thought overworked, underpaid, poorly treated PEOPLE made Coca-Cola? Nope. In fact, this bubbly drink is made by all kinds of cute, enchanting creatures - most of which look like sperm with arms and legs. They take your coins from the vending machine (like you can even get a Coke for less-than-paper-money anymore) and fly around kissing coke bottles and grinding up snowmen heads to make them cold. One particularly happy sperm creature wears a cheerleading uniform and blue eyeshadow and calls Coca-Cola "sparkle dust." By the time you finish going through all the beautiful, elaborate rooms filled with red and white memorabilia and pictures of people all over the world smiling at their coke bottles, you start to agree with her. Coca-Cola is magical. Then, at the end, you finally reach the finish line and get to drink as much soda as you can out of these super-fancy dispensing machines... and then there is no turning back.... the "sparkle dust" takes over and adults and children alike run around screaming with joy until they just can't take it anymore. Then, slowly and sluggishly, they march through the gift shop where they buy their very own red and white magical souvenir.

Anyway, I think this level of modernity and its ability to make us so happy is a bit eerie. Take my  new I-phone, for instance. I have only owned it for about a week and I am already willing to fight someone for it. The Instagram app has been making me particularly happy. You know, the one that takes photos that make shiny, modern things look like they are actually antiques. (Do I have to point out the irony here?)

I took a picture of the Mall Of Georgia when I was there. ------>
Please notice the ornate facade. And the crazy water fountain. And the super-fancy Coca-Cola dispensing machine.... so beautiful! So modern! So clean and pristine! At least with my new handy-dandy I-phone I can make it look like it's from the 70s - I don't want to overdose on happiness you know.







Friday, May 4, 2012

Off track and Out of house

So did you read how in my last post I described myself as an airhead?

Well, first allow me to share some knowledge with you (this is of course an attempt to convince you I'm not a complete idiot after reading about what I did last night.)

Let's study the etymology of the word "airhead" in Spanish. One way of saying this is despistado. Pista means "track/trail/road" and 'des' is a prefix usually indicating the opposite meaning of the word it is attached to. So I'm not an airhead, right? I'm just a little off track! The verb despistar means "to confuse or mislead someone" - or "to throw them off track."  A person who is a despistado, however, is basically someone who throws himself/herself off track. And, well, if no one else is causing this state but yourself, it doesn't say much for your intelligence. It's one thing if the wicked witch comes and rearranges all your bread crumbs so that you end up lost or in a pot of stew in her kitchen. It's another thing if you eat all the breadcrumbs because you are hungry and only afterward remember that they were your only hope in finding your way home.

Last night I sort of ate all the breadcrumbs.

So a mere 15 minutes after posting my last blog post in which I admit to being "a bit of an airhead," I locked myself out of the house. Using the modifier "a bit" was maybe wishful thinking. We stupidly do not have any spare keys hidden anywhere and my partner, David, is in San Fransisco marrying two of his friends. (Wait, that sounds weird. Although California did finally overturn its ban on gay marriage in February of this year (yay!), the decision is still on hold and it is definitely not yet legal to get married to two people at once. What I mean to say is that he will be officiating the wedding. He is an official, ordained minister thanks to the internet and this church.) So, David and his keys are in California, my keys are inside, and me and my dog are on the front porch. Also inside is our tool box which contains any tools necessary to try and break in through the kitchen window - which we have done before. I borrowed a screwdriver from a neighbor but was unsuccessful.

So then I call a friend who calls a locksmith and even brings me dinner while we wait for him to show up. Two hours went by while we sat in the backyard sweating and getting eaten by mosquitoes until eventually my friend's 3 year old started saying "I don't wike dis" over and over and over again. I didn't like it either. The locksmith turned out to be super shady and never showed up so we called another locksmith. My friend had to go put her child to sleep,  so I called some other friends to come over so that I wouldn't be alone with the shady criminal with the tear tattoo who was about to come over to break into my house. About 30 minutes later came a legitimate, certified locksmith who also happened to be a 72 year old man with no face tattoos.  It took him a lot more time to get up the stairs to the front door than it did to actually pick the lock. He then spent even more time telling me how the first people I called were probably "them illegals." Not cool old man. So - 4 hours, 2 locksmiths and $75 later, I got back into my house.

So I may be more than a bit "off track" but at least I learn from my mistakes. And you can too!  Locksmiths can be shady and you should always have a spare key hidden somewhere outside of your house. Of course, everyone but me probably already knew that.

(p.s. if you read this will you officially "follow" me?!?!)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Your teacher is hot.

So, as I see it, there are many advantages to becoming a teacher:

      1. You are guaranteed to be the center of attention.

My friends can attest to the fact that I LOVE when everyone in the room is focused on me. Once,  (maybe it was my birthday?), they played charades with me and let me be the only person 
charade-ing while everyone else just sat on the couch and watched. It was awesome. Teaching 
allows me to reenact this moment everyday! Even if I'm not as entertaining as I hope I am, 
everyone in the room has to at least pretend like they are listening to me.

       2. You get to be the smartest person in the room (or at least feel like it).

Usually I am far from the smartest.  I have serious memory issues and have managed to retain
maybe .05% of what I have learned. My vocabulary is not so great and if I ever get caught 
playing trivia, I'm lucky if I know the answer to a single question.  I'm also a bit of an airhead and 
have been known to do things like answer the telephone when the microwave goes off or wear my bicycle helmet backwards (And not realize it until a stranger, also on a bicycle, riding past me pointed this out. I give him the "oh, hey fellow cyclist" nod and he casually states "your helmet's on backwards."as he rides by me. I had no response.) But in the classroom I am the holder of all relevant and important knowledge. (Well, at least from my perspective. When I tell my students I don't really know who Lil' Wayne is or how to 'tweet' or what 'lmao' means, they are less impressed.)

       3.Three months of summer vacation. (obvious advantage. no explanation needed.)

But here's the thing: being a teacher in Georgia during the summer months can be problematic. I work so hard during the school year and the little free time I have is spent doing boring but necessary things like washing dishes and clothes. So once summer rolls around I'm all like yes! finally! I get to do all those things I've been wanting to do. I'm gonna start riding my bike more and I'm gonna work in the yard. I'm going to do all those little remodeling projects around the house and complete all those sewing projects I started 3 years ago. I'm gonna take the dog on walks and go hiking and I'm gonna... I'm gonna.....

And then it's 105 degrees. And all I want to do is lay around under a fan groaning while drinking tea and reading trashy novels. Last summer I even bought myself a plastic kiddie pool to sit in. I accomplished very little. It was pathetic.

This summer, I again will accomplish very little around the house - But for a very different reason! I'll be spending two out of my three months in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, where it's going to be 70 degrees the whole time, teaching for one of my university's study abroad programs. So, no, the remodeling and sewing projects won't get done and maybe all my plants will die while I'm gone and I won't be able to take my sweet dog on walks because she'll be a thousand miles away. And while I won't officially be on 'vacation,' I will still get to be the center of attention and the smartest person in the room for at least a few hours a day. AND I'LL GET TO HANG OUT WITH THESE GUYS!!!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

End-of-semester molesters

Inevitably, at the end of each semester, my students start molesting me.

Wait.....What?!?

Let me explain. For us English speakers, the word molestar in Spanish is one of the tricky ones. One of those words that, over and over again, cause unintentional awkwardness and/or unsolicited attention. Mis estudiantes me molestan. Don't worry. It's not as bad as it sounds. My students do not "molest" me. However, they do "bother/annoy/upset" me all the time. Especially at the end of the semester.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE my job and I LOVE my students, but they get to be seriously bothersome these last few weeks. Getting them to pay attention in class is like pulling teeth. Getting them to accept the grade that they themselves earned is like pulling teeth out of a hippopotamus. Students seem absolutely astounded to learn they will not be getting an A in the class even though they never received a single A on any assignment. I have received more emails from students in the past few days than I have all semester. I have seen multiple students cry.

To get me through the hard times, I like to entertain myself with other molestar-type-word related stories:

For example: My friend Bryan once worked for a Colombian woman who's English was not 100%. She apparently asked Bryan on multiple occasions to get new carpet for the science laboratory (not carpeted) in which they worked. Hmmm.... thought Bryan. New carpet? This seemed like a strange request. Eventually, he figured out that what she meant was carpetas. She wanted him to buy new carpetas, or "folders", for the office. Not carpet.

Then of course there are the stories where language barriers just make communication funny. Like the difference between ¿cuantos años tienes? (How many years do you have/How old are you?) and ¿cuantos anos tienes? (How many anuses do you have?). Oh the difference a little squiggle over an 'n' can make. Or maybe when you tell someone you are soooooo embarazada (pregnant) after running into that guy you hoped you'd never see again. I remember once, years ago, asking my Peruvian co-worker "¿cómo estás?"  and her casually responding by telling me she was "constipada." At first I thought, well, Peruvians must be more open with that kind of thing. Later I realized this just meant she had a head cold.

When I was living in Paraguay, my father and uncle (neither of whom speak any Spanish) came down to visit. During the trip my dad kept getting me to hide from my uncle so that we could observe the look of pure terror on his face as he thought he had been abandoned by his only way of communicating with the world around him. The only time I actually left them alone, in fact, was when we were staying at a cheap motel that had an all-you-can-eat-meat restaurant on the first floor. After getting my fill of pork chunks and chicken hearts I went upstairs to sleep, while my dad and uncle stayed below drinking beers and smoking cigars. I was awakened by my father an hour later for what he deemed an emergency translation. My father, who loves animals way more than people, had seen some stray dogs in the street and wanted to get them some food. He thought, "oh! I got this! I know the word for dog!" So, he walked up to the young man standing at the grill, pointed at the various kinds of meat and stated his word proudly. "Perro!" He repeated it multiple times and could only get a look of disgust and confusion from the young meat-server. When I went downstairs, the guy explained to me that he understood my father had a craving for dog meat, but could I please tell him that they do not serve this in his restaurant.

Then there are the hundreds of examples I have from when my students use a dictionary incorrectly. Like "when I'm bored at home I like to paint los clavos." You like to walk around and paint those little metal pegs you use to hang pictures on walls? Oh, wait. Fingernails. Uñas. Not clavos. Or (a recent example from my friend Caitlin) "I love to eat astillas con queso." You like to eat sharp fragments of wood or ceramic covered in cheese? Oh, wait. I get it. You mean that other kind of chip... like the kind you get in Mexican restaurants.

Learning to communicate in a different language is obviously no easy task. Teaching a different language is.... well, challenging and oftentimes frustrating, but even when my students me molestan, they still manage to entertain me and make me love my job. In fact, I feel pretty pregnant whenever I think about how much I enjoy it. Oops. I mean embarrassed.



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Excuses, excuses.

Hi all. Its been awhile - but don't worry, I have excuses! 

EXCUSE#1:  I went to Nashville to visit a friend and I had so much fun drinking wine and gossiping that I didn't have time to write. Also, the following things happened:

1. I discovered my new favorite game. I have never laughed so hard while feeling so guilty and dirty and just plain wrong at the same time. You know that kind of laugh where you can't(!) ...stop(!).... laughing(!) while at the same time your mouth gets all contorted from trying not to smile? Have you ever tried laughing without smiling? Its seriously painful. After several hours of playing this game, my cheeks felt like they had run a marathon.

It feels like a confession to tell you which game it is that I enjoyed so much. While all the innocent children in the world sit around playing Chute and Ladders, those playing this game are snatching them off the playground, stealing their toys and teaching them to say words that would roll your grandma over in her grave.  Please don't hold it against me, ok? I'm turning red with shame as I type this. Maybe I shouldn't tell you.

Ok..... I'll tell you.  The game is called "Cards against humanity" and it is shamelessly dirty and offensive. And, well, yes, hilarious. There, I said it. Judge me all you want. YOU print out the free version online of this game and play it with some friends over a glass of wine and just try not to laugh until you feel like you've been punched in the gut.

2. We saw Tim Gunn! He was so cute and tiny and dashingly handsome. He was wearing one of those suits he always wears and his hair looked like it always does - as if it had just been cut and sculpted by the same people that designed the Ken doll. There were camera crews all around and they were having him walk up and down the street (that crazy, touristy one with all the cowboy bars) pretending to window shop - you know, cause those reality TV shows are so real, ya'll. Not staged at all. Anyway, it was super exciting and we almost crashed into some big-haired, boot-wearing Nashvillians in order to pull over and watch him prance down the street. 

3. I got food poisoning from a hotdog and ended up groaning in the back seat for 5 hours while my friend Frances drove us home. Thanks to Frances. No thanks to the hotdog.

EXCUSE#2: My mom had open heart surgery on Wednesday.

Needless to say this has been a stressful, emotional experience. But modern medicine is AMAZING and, although still in the hospital, she is recovering super well. Some doctor opened up my Mom's body and replaced one of her heart valves with one from a pig. A pig! The same day she was awake and talking. Three days later and she's up and walking. Its really incredible.

Unfortunately my mom's experience in the hospital has been less-than-incredible. The food is kinda like that Nashville hotdog and the nurses are no Tim Gunn, but she'll be home soon and ready to play tennis again in a few months! (I doubt my sweet mother, however, would EVER be ready to play "Cards against humanity" - even her new, super strong pig-heart couldn't take it). 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bicycle cookies!

I rode my bike yesterday.

I rode my bike yesterday for 55 miles.

55!!!! 

This is, by far, the longest bike ride I've ever attempted. I set out to ride 30 miles, but I just kept on going. In fact, I would have kept going even farther, but the people in charge of the organized bike ride in which I was participating pulled us off the rode at 3:00pm because they said it was getting too late for us to do the full 80 miles and at that point, well, I didn't argue. I put my bike on the bike rack of some stranger's car, put my smelly self in his front seat and let him drive me back to town. As soon as I sat down my thighs began twitching with gratitude.

Most people participating in this ride were a lot more experienced than I. Here is how I know this to be true: 
1. Everyone but me was wearing spandex and fluorescent colored tight-shirts with logos all over them and fancy shoes that clanked on the ground when they walked like they were clog dancing. 
2. I was the only one with a bright green milk crate attached to the back of my bike filled with unnecessary objects like my entire wallet including a lot of coins, a rotting banana and all 20 keys on my key chain. (I learned yesterday that every ounce counts, especially when facing the wind head on.)
3. At the various rest stops, no one else seemed to be eating as many of the free cookies as I did. Some people didn't even stop at the rest stops and sped by in their spandex, waving at the cookie eaters as if passing up free nutter butters was no big deal.
4. I finished last out of 125 people.

Granted, we did stop at my friend Rick's house on our way out of town to get sunscreen (which I put on my face and arms but not my legs, one of which got really burned - but only on one side. I look like I fell asleep for about 10 hours under a beach umbrella, on my side, with one leg sticking out in the sun.) We also managed to get lost at one point and biked down one of the busiest highways in Athens for a bit before realizing we were totally off track and having to find our way back... so yes, for these reasons (not at all because of time spent cookie consuming and/or the cornucopia basket-o-plenty riding behind me) I finished last out of 125! Pretty good if you ask me.

You know months ago some friends were planning a super long bike ride and I thought about going but I felt intimidated and thought that I would need to do all this training before hand in order to make it - so I decided not to go. But yesterday, I ended up biking 55 miles on a whim and I could have kept going still.... . And I was fine!

Moral of the story: Doubt only stands in your way and you are probably always capable of accomplishing a lot more than you realize.

Also, no matter what anyone tells you and no matter how good they look in spandex as they say it: never pass up free cookies. They may make you come in last, but... well....winning isn't everything.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My relationship with Spring

So, you guys, I'm having a really hard time right now with Spring. I love her so, so much, but our relationship is, well, complicated.

You see I've loved Spring for as long as I can remember. She's been an important part of my life and although she usually only sticks around for a few months a year, I really look forward to my time with her. First off, she is absolutely beautiful. I mean stunning. She's also super thoughtful and romantic and leaves me flowers like everywhere I go. She has a nice, sunny disposition and she makes me feel giddy and energetic and excited to be alive..... but, then, after awhile, well, it becomes really difficult to be around her. I feel overwhelmed. I start crying all the time and my eyes end up so red and swollen by the end of the day that I can hardly see. I start to feel run down and my head feels kind of heavy. I try to get through the day without feeling this way, but I'm reminded of her everywhere I go - even if I wanted to I couldn't forget about her. It's like she infiltrates my whole world, covering everything around me, so that I am always thinking of her. It's ridiculous. I look at the roof of my car, my shoes, my bicycle - and I think of her. She is there when I walk down the sidewalk, she's in the air for lord's sake. The only way I can truly escape her is to stay locked inside my house in hiding.

But I don't want to hide from her! I love her! So yesterday I decided to go straight to her, to embrace her, riding my bike for miles until I reached the place where I knew I would find her in all her glory. I arrived, finally, at our favorite meeting place in tears. She was there alright and she looked amazing. She always does. But me? Geez, I was a complete wreck. I couldn't help it. My face was all puffy and I had to keep blowing my nose into my nasty handkerchief over and over and over again. I hope I didn't embarrass her. But she was so gracious and sweet and again, presented me with so many flowers, that I just had to forgive her.

You see, she makes me feel really awful sometimes, but I never think about the bad feelings when she is away. I sometimes hang out with this guy Winter, before Spring gets back to town, and, well, he's got nothin' on Spring. He's ok, but he can be kind of harsh. And while I don't mind this as much as some of my friends do, his temperament usually only makes me yearn for Spring's return. I think about her pretty much continuously until she gets here, waiting to once again see her beauty and feel her energy and I forget completely about how awful she will make me feel. And then she comes and I become a sniffling mess. Oh, Spring. You are so lovely, yet you cause me so much pain. I wish you would be nicer to me. I wish you would leave tomorrow and I wish you would stay forever. I'll miss you when you are gone and I know I'll yearn for your return. See, you guys?!? Me and Spring, well, it's complicated.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Super-recognizer

You guys... I think I'm a super-recognizer. It turns out that tonight, a mere two days after posting my last blog-post (in which I discuss my super ability to recognize faces), "60 minutes" did a segment about face-blindness (some crazy condition where your brain doesn't let you recognize faces, even when they belong to people you see everyday - you know, like your own children).

But they have also posted online a video clip about a lady who is a "super-recognizer" - someone who has way-better-than-average face recognition. In the video clip they test her ability by showing her pictures of famous people when they were super young and you guys, I aced this test. I mean aced it. According to Dr. Ashok Jansari, some neuroscientist in London, only 2% of the population have this ability! So then I went and took other online tests in which they cut and paste features from one person's face to create 6 different faces and ask you to rank the faces in order of resemblance to the original face.... and I aced that one! And I mean without even a second of hesitation.

So... I realize random and pointless face recognition might not be the most practical super-ability. Forget telekinesis! Forget invisibility! Forget being able to leap a building with a single bound! I can recognize the face of the person who sold me deodorant 3 months ago!!!!

Anyway, still feels special to think I might be better than 98% of you at something :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Its a small world

So a friend of mine (lets call her Jillian) just recently found out that her crazy sister (Janna) has been spreading a totally false rumor that Jillian obsessively collected dead animal carcasses as a child. Yes, this is weird. But what's even weirder is the way Jillian obtained this information.

You see, my friend's sister-in-law (Jadri) is currently in Moscow. It was here, a few days ago, that she entered into a conversation with a group of American students and it turned out that not only do they know previously mentioned crazy-sister Janna, they also know all about her sibling Jillian's carcass collection. Say what?!? I mean, you know its a small world when you find out about your family's crazy-lies through strangers in really far away countries you have never been to.

But I've known for awhile that the world is small. I've had so many experiences of unexpectedly running into people I know that I actually find it surprising when traveling to NOT see a familiar face.  Once, I was talking to some people about this phenomenon while sitting in a bar in Washington D.C. and I swear, as I was talking about it, a guy walked in that I knew. Granted, I didn't know him well - but I recognized him and eventually figured out that we had been at the same wedding (in Georgia) a few months back, although we hadn't really interacted. This kind of face-recall might lead you to believe that I have special powers to call up the past, but the opposite is in fact true. I remember next to nothing about my childhood, my adolescence, or even my 20s. I hardly remember what I did yesterday. If I were in a life threatening predicament and had to depend on either my memory or some drug-addicted, self-destructive pop star to get me out - I swear I'd go with the pop star.

But there is something about faces that stick. I see someone in the grocery store and then again at a gas station and it kills me for hours trying to figure out where I know them from. It bothers me so much that I usually just approach them and ask "Excuse me, but do I look familiar?" Most people then look at me like they think I'm about to mug them or something. I recently met a woman and she looked so familiar I just had to start asking her questions so that I could figure it out.... It turns out we went to preschool together and probably haven't seen each other since. Anyway, possessing such a weird face-recall ability means that of course I see people I know all over the place! Think about all the faces we see everyday... walking past us on the street, driving past us in their cars, standing behind us in line at the store... we're most likely in different places with the same person all the time without even realizing it. And sometimes these places can be very far away from each other.

Like, for instance, the time I met the same person twice - once on a train in Morocco and again in a small apartment in Paraguay.

Craziest small-world story ever:
So after getting bathed in the Marrakesh bathhouse (please see previous post) me and the friend-from-home, his Austrian girlfriend and the ditsy American got on a nighttime train heading north to catch our ferry back to Spain. The train was rickety and cold and full of people trying to sleep. There were mostly local folks on the train, with a few tourists scattered here and there. Friend and Austrian girlfriend sat in one car, and me and ditsy American sat in another car that was packed full of these young Moroccan soldiers going home for a vacation. We sat in a booth-like corner of the train car with two tourists from Spain who had bought a lot of musical instruments as souvenirs. These souvenirs turned what could have been a very long, boring, cold journey into a par-tay. All the young Moroccan dudes grabbed up the instruments and played and played and sang and sang and we all had a blast. Eventually the party died down and I spent the rest of my evening talking with this sweet, handsome Moroccan guy who had came to sit with us. He showed me pictures of his family and of a goat hanging upside down in his living room. He shared with me his dreams and we held hands and I totally fell in love. (I was 19 yr old by the way). His train stop came first and he begged me to get off the train with him. I cried. He cried. One of the Spaniards, who had been eavesdropping the whole time, cried. It was intense. I remember getting home to the US and seriously considering writing Oprah Winfrey to ask if she would sponsor my Moroccan boyfriend so he could come live with me.

About 5 years later I am living in Paraguay in the middle of nowhere working as a Peace Corps volunteer. During one of my visits into the city I run into a fellow volunteer who tells me he was hanging out with some Spanish guy and he swears he saw a picture of me in this guy's photo album. "Well, of course its not me," I say. "But it totally looked like you!" he says. "The guy said it was a picture of some crazy night on a train in Morocco with some American tourists, one who fell in love with a soldier in a few hours and cried when he got off the train."  Say what?!?

So the next day I went to the Spanish guy's apartment because it was just too weird.  He opened the door, and I, of course, immediately remembered his face. But now I can't remember why he was living in Paraguay. I can't remember his name or what his apartment looked like or how I got there or what I did after I left. I can't remember what we talked about, only that it was a little awkward since we didn't actually know each other at all. I do remember, however, feeling this sense of obligation, like if the world was going to have us end up in the same place twice it must mean the universe wants us to know each other, right? But after spending an hour or so in his apartment, with his wife and baby and photo album, it didn't feel that way. It felt more like we had tried to find meaning where there was none. He was just some guy and the world is just a small place and you shouldn't feel that surprised if strangers in Russia tell you your sister's lies or if someone in Paraguay has a picture of you in their living room. Seriously. No big deal you guys.

Anyway... that's the poopy scoop!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mama Seuse

Today I cashed in on my Valentine's present and spent an hour and a half lying on a table while a small middle-aged woman (who is way stronger than she looks) dug deep into my muscles until I felt like a little baby made out of spongecake. While lying face down inhaling essence of lavender as Ma'  Seuse dug her elbow into my gluteus maximus I had many thoughts. One of which was the following:

Why it is that women are so often freaked out by the idea of going to a male gynecologist, but not so freaked out when going to a male masseuse?

Granted, I can totally understand a woman wanting the person who delivers her child to have some idea of what birthing a baby is like. I understand feeling more comfortable conversing with a woman about some more delicate and intimate lady-topics.... but the whole "Why would a Man wanna look at Vaginas all day?!?" question has got me confused. Like looking up people's noses or examining people's fungusey feet all day is any better. I mean if my options were to deal with new life on a daily basis or to treat all the nasty and depressing ailments that come afterward,  I'd probably wanna look at vaginas all day too. Seriously you guys, I've been to male gynos and well, its awkward and uncomfortable - and I don't think either of us particularly enjoy it.

I've also been to male masseuses, however, and I think here we have a different story. I mean, they get you naked and then rub you down with oil while playing soft, romantic music. This is very different than getting a cervical smear test! When seeing a male masseuse I am unable to completely relax because I am certain the guy is trying to sneak a peek or cop a feel or something. A male masseuse massages my butt or my inner groin and I'm all like "watch it dude." A Mama Seuse, however? She can rub me down wherever she wants and I could care less.

I once got a "massage" from a 250lb topless Arab woman in which she scrubbed my ENTIRE body, including some hard to reach places, until my skin shone bright as the morning. And I didn't bat an eye. Let me explain:

I was in Morocco and had been riding camels in the desert for several days and needed a bath. I was traveling at the time with my friend from home, his jealous Austrian girlfriend and some ditsy American girl I had picked up along the way so as not to be a third wheel. After our journey through the desert me and the ladies decided to check out the local bathhouse. We entered with no idea what to expect and were greeted by the bath attendant who handed us a towel and a glob of what we later realized was soap but what at the time looked like pepper jelly and smelled like fish. The Austrian understood enough french to at least think she had figured out that we were being asked if we wanted the "massage" option - in which we all nodded yes very eagerly. Let's just say riding a camel for two days doesn't leave your body in its most relaxed state.

So - We then are led into a large, steamy room completely covered in tile where various women are crouched in various corners bathing each other. It is in the exact center of this room where our Mama Seuse awaits - and she's the real deal. Huge woman with large sagging breasts wearing nothing but a pair of sagging, white cotton panties. We remove our clothes and then she points at me. She points at the floor. I lie down. She takes my fish soap from my hand and proceeds to scrub and scrub and move my body around in such a purposeful and assertive way that I feel more like a floor mat than a lady. I feel even less like a lady when she starts to wrinkle her nose in disgust at the dirt and sand and grime coming off of my skin in rolls.

But the thing is, I felt totally comfortable and cared for, like a young child being bathed by her Mom after a long day at the playground. By the end of my "massage" with Mama Seuse I was cleaner than the day I was born - a.k.a the day I was delivered from my mother's womb  - by no doubt, a man. Which is fine with me, as long as he didn't rub her down with oil in the process.

Anyway.... thats the poopy scoop!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I am a de(genre)ating degenerate.

I'm on an invent-new-words kick. Today's word (inspired by my addiction to ABC's The Bachelor)
is de(genre)ate.  This can be defined by one who's taste in literature and the arts was once based on intellectually challenging genres of high quality but has since degenerated to works of such low caliber you can't help but hang your head in shame. Most de(genre)ates attempt to make themselves feel better by rationalizing this behavior through long drawn-out explanations that fail to mask the fact that he/she is, in fact, whole-heartedly, albeit disconcertingly, participating in said behavior. Example of such an explanation - "Yes, I am reading Twilight - but only because I find the gender dynamics in the novel so fascinating. I mean, it really says a lot about our society's archetypes of masculinity and what the young women of the world today believe a 'real' man to be......... For instance,  I find it quite revealing that I, for one, have recurrent fantasies about Edward protecting me from evil as we fly over the mountains while sparkling in the sunshine."

I was once a woman of great taste and culture. In high school, I frequently visited the city's Shakespearean theater and I think I read The Fountainhead like three times. In college, my Borges reading group appeared in a locally produced documentary in which I played myself -  a.k.a the girl wearing a hat that looked very much like a beret smoking a clove cigarette. In graduate school I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Spanish.  For "fun". But now?!? Now, I find myself, every Tuesday morning, unable to resist watching the latest episode of The Bachelor on Hulu - no matter how many other things I should be doing. Its like I lived my life as a Vegan foodie health nut only to end up a fast food junkie.

And you see, The Bachelor, really is like fast food. You know it is bad for you and you should probably not let it into your body. You know you will most likely feel guilty and gross afterward ... but it just tastes so good going down.

And WHY does it taste so good?

Well, in case you are unfamiliar with the show it is a competition in which like 30 women go on dates with the same guy and fight for his hand in marriage. It is totally crazy and awesome. These ladies essentially get to lay around all day (on what look like really comfortable couches) and gossip while drinking wine in their pajamas. This is, of course, unless they are on a date with Ben. Then they get to do things like ski down a fake-snowed-on hilly street in San Fransisco (while wearing a bikini.) Or jump out of a helicopter into a crystal clear pool of water next to a beautiful deserted island (while wearing a bikini). Or swim with sharks, or ride a horse, or dance around with an indigenous tribe in Panama (while wearing a bikini).... all the while getting to learn about how relationships really work by making analogies such as "bunjee jumping with Ben was just like our relationship. I really have to take a leap of faith." Or "I was so scared of those sharks, but Ben really made me feel loved and protected. Just like he does in our relationship." 

Now, as a self-proclaimed de(genre)ate it is my duty to give you all my faltering, behavior-rationalizing explanation for watching this drivel:

I have this whole theory.... The Bachelor is for people who judged their worth by whether or not they were what we call "popular" in high school. Most of these people then go to college and join a sorority/fraternity where they continue to socialize and meet people within a certain structure. I teach at a University where sorority/fraternity culture dominates. I was never a part of this phenomena when I was in college, but now I talk to my students about it all the time. They tell me about their formals and their date nights and their themed parties and their charity auctions. Their entire social lives are arranged for them, as if by a Director or a Producer. They get set up with certain boys for certain dates with certain activities already planned out. So, for those that end up out-of-college and without a man, they go on The Bachelor - where they live in a house full of girls, obsess about their appearance, drink all the time, and fight over some guy. And the guy? He doesn't really matter. This show is all about lady competition and the self-validation felt after being picked as the prom queen, or in this case, as Ben's fiance. I only watch it as part of a sociological study of modern day adult inter-feminine relationships and woman's response to masculine judgment. (I also can't wait to find out who he is going to pick and secretly hope that its me.... but don't tell anybody I said that).

Its time to de(genre)ate. Throw away your Ayn Rand, toss your Shakespeare in the toilet. This is reality TV ya'll - and its powerful stuff. 
Thats the poopy scoop!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hot tubs and (pl)anarchy

Planarchy. I've decided this is the perfect word to describe the juxtaposition of 1. how well organized I am when planning out my day and 2. how unruly and disruptive said day can be when he disregards all plans I have made for him.

I am quite the planner. I have approximately 12 stickynote to-do lists on my computer at any given time (each with its own category). I check my google calendar over and over and over again during the day and get a sense of satisfaction every time I add a new color-coded event. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing months in advance. The act of drafting out my day ahead of time, knowing whats coming next, planning it all out, makes me feel good. This, of course, also leads to a bad feeling every time the day doesn't follow the plan, which is of course all the time. 

Like today for instance. I had my day all planned out. 1. drive in the cold rain for an hour with barely functional windshield wipers while thinking about sitting in a  hot tub 2. Grade 90 exams confirming my student's complete lack of understanding of the Spanish language while wishing I was sitting in a hot tub 3. (the main event! the reward!) Go to the YMCA to workout, sit in the hot tub(!!!), and read my book.

You see I joined the YMCA fairly recently and did not hesitate for a second to pay the fancy price for access to the "ladies health club" which is essentially a slightly larger locker room with a hot tub and a tattooed lady that washes your towels for you. I go a few times a week, use the elliptical machine and lift a few weights, and then reward myself with a good, long soak. I usually wear my sports bra with some ugly, stretched out bathing suit bottom that's a bit too big for me, wrap a towel around my head, and read a few pages from some lady book that Oprah approves of. I don't really enjoy exercise like some people but if hot-tubbing were an olympic sport I would get all the damn medals. I can sit in one of those hot, bubbly, steamy, sweaty tanks of water for hours. Everybody else is like, "whew! I need a breather" as they get out to drink water. NOT ME.  I once opted out of a raging New Years Eve party because I knew there was a hot tub at the house I was staying at. I returned to the house alone and ended up at midnight, all by myself, drinking champagne and smoking a cigarette in my friend Claire's mother's hot tub. It actually felt very romantic.

My romantic partner, David, however, does not like hot tubs. He says they make him feel sick and he kinda sees them as giant, moist petri dishes full of flakes of skin and breeding bacteria. Someone once told me you can get herpes from public hot tubs. I can't be bothered.

This may be, however, why today, as I was describing my plan, David responded with "you're such a mom." I got mad and argued that me sitting in the hot tub should conjure up the image of a sexy party girl, like in a rap video, not of a "mom". David then started to rap (which he's actually quite good at) lyrics that went something like this: "Yeah baby, yeah, can't wait to go to the Y and get all fly with the ladies in the hot tub reading their novels".

Anyway, I got to the Y. I did my time on the elliptical. I lifted weights. I even did a few sit-ups. I went back to the locker room and changed into my saggy bathing suit bottom, gathered up my water bottle and my book. I grabbed a towel to wrap around my head. I went to the bathroom to make sure I wouldn't have to get out of the hot tub too soon. I was ready.

And the hot tub was "out of order due to maintenance." Planarchy, I tell you.

Anyway... thats the poopy scoop!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy BIRTHday to my blog. (and to jesslyn)

So I've done it. I've started a blog. This was a request made to me by my dear friend Jesslyn on her birthday (Jan 9th) and that girl expects to get what she wants on her birthday.... so I had to deliver. So - after only approximately 35 days of gestation on my to-do list and a relatively painless birth, tonight I proudly become the guardian and caregiver of my own newborn bloggey thing. I hope I don't neglect him/her. (I have a feeling I might.)

In naming this blog I tried a variety of possibilities - most of which just popped into my head at random. Such random titles include 'bloggityblogblog', 'dittydittyblogblog', and 'yowordkeepitreal.' All these names (and some even weirder ones) were already taken. What was not taken, however, was 'thatsthepoopyscoop.' Why, you may ask was such a strange, yet poetic name still available? Because my mother has yet to start her own blog and she is quite possibly the only person on the planet that has ever uttered that sentence. The fact that this phrase, which when used by my mother means something like "so that's whats going on in my life," would never have been taken by any of the thousands of millions of bloggers out there only proves what I have suspected for years. My mother's expressions, those quaint idioms I grew up hearing on a daily basis, are not in fact remnants of some charming southern upbringing. They are totally made-up. Like "dumping the dishwasher" for example. I didn't realize this wasn't what everyone said when referring to the act of taking the dishes out of the machine and placing them back in the cupboards until I owned my own dishwasher and lived with roommates. I volunteer to "dump the dishwasher" and they look at me like I'm nuts. When googling the expression the closest I got was "How do I keep my cat from dumping in the dishwasher?" And nearly every time I talk to my mother on the phone, after giving me the rundown on what's new in her life, she ends her monologue with "so that's the poopy scoop." I'm telling you, I never questioned it until tonight.

This also reminds me of other idiomoms. One new phrase came out recently while she was arguing with my Dad. Apparently he was pissing her off (nothing new there) and out it came, without warning, from the depths of her being. "Bullhockey shit!" she yelled. This was, as I've said, a new phrase and therefore triggered amusement on the part of my father, which of course did not make my mother happy since they were in a heated argument and this was an inappropriate response. The interesting thing about this one is that urbandictionary states 'bullhockey' does in fact exist, but that it originates from Banbury, England. My mother, Darla Jean, is from Alabama. Hmmmm......

I have a Masters in Linguistics and I went all the way to South America to do research for my thesis. Perhaps I should have just stayed in my mother's kitchen. 

Anyway - thats the poopy scoop!