July 31, 2012

Back Home in Minnesota...now what?

"What's happening with your blog now that you are in Minnesota?"

This is the question that seems to be on everyone's minds (including my own) since returning to the United States five weeks ago. In truth, I still haven't figured it out exactly. I am not sure if I will want to continue blogging here or if I will need to be more anonymous because of my profession. Although, apparently several of my 8th grade students this past year read my blog the entire school year without my knowledge... so there can't be that much I shouldn't be saying. Anyway, the point is this blog will have to evolve with me as I try to make a life for myself here in Minnesota.

Oh wait, you thought I had a life for myself back here in Minnesota?

Weird, so did I.

"You take a snapshot of your life the last time you leave someplace,
and, I don't know, it's dumb, 
but you think it's never gonna change."
[party of five]

What I am in fact learning is that I have a whole lot happening in Minnesota that involves things I would typically do on vacation. I travel around - including a long weekend in Milwaukee for Summerfest concerts, a week-long family vacation to Colorado and a bachelorette weekend in my old college town of La Crosse. I go to happy hours and out to eat to re-connect with friends and family. People come into town to visit me - HI KELSI. Turns out for the past three years, and really the last seven including college, Minnesota has been a place I come home to visit, not a place I live.

Now, I live here. I work here (or at least I will come August 27th!). And I am 100% in love with that...but I need to make it livable. I need routines. My friends have work out routines. They volunteer. They have people to watch Monday night TV shows with come September. They have made new friends. They play on summer kickball or softball teams. In essence they have whole lives here that haven't really had much to do with me for the last three years. As exciting and fabulous as it is to come back and re-connect with them and realize our friendship is still just as important to both of us, they have other things to do than follow me around while I try to make this place my home.

Much of this routine-building will come more naturally once the school year begins and I am back to being working. As terrified as I am of teaching three types of math, two of them for the first time, at a brand new school with new colleagues and new students, the routine will be nice. And honestly, the idea of creating new memories, new friends, new teams, and new routines is exciting, thrilling and exactly what I was looking for when I made the decision to come back to Minnesota. Now I just need to make it happen! And until then... I guess living the vacation life enjoying this Minnesota summer isn't quite so bad. ;)

June 21, 2012

Only One Thing Left To Do ...

When I started this blog back in April 2009 I talked about following your dreams...  At the time mine had led me to accepting a job teaching internationally in Cali, Colombia for two years. As you know, those two years turned into three years that passed all too quickly and now it is my last night in Colombia.

In a few short hours I will be on a school bus (yeah, that's right) bound for the Cali airport, crossing my fingers that my bags are all under 23 kilograms and then spending a full seven hours decompressing with Stetson in the Miami airport before arriving in Minnesota tomorrow night.  Most of the last few weeks, days and hours have been spent saying goodbye to people or things that have made these last three years unforgettable. But, really, how do you say goodbye to a place that will always feel more like a second home than a vacation spot and people who are more than colleagues and have become some of my best friends?

In the end, we say our goodbyes, hug for longer than usual, write notes to say things we should say everyday, and try to do everything "one last time". In reality, my time in Colombia won't be shaped by my goodbyes in these last few weeks, but rather the moments and people who have shaped my daily life for the last three years.

San Fernando
Yeah, you are just a neighborhood, and yeah, sometimes you have your flaws water shortages, but I cannot imagine living anywhere else in Cali. I love your grocery store and its employees who now know to ask for our reusable bags at checkout. I love your gym and the instructors in our spinning and kick boxing classes who have become more than just gym mates, but instead friends. I love the community you helped me build here - from the neighborhood "Boo Radley" to Carlos, the dog walker, who always has a nice word for Kelsi and I. I love your afternoon breezes, the energy of the Parque del Perro and the tranquility of the streets on Sunday mornings.

Tara & Hana
I don't know if I could name two people's lives who have changed more in the last three years and you both have gone through those changes with grace and beauty. I love our travel memories - especially in the Amazons although I still do not support kayaking to Peru...I did appreciate Romolo as well as our random adventures crossing into and leaving Brazil. I love our Cali memories - at Platillos, dancing at La Fuente, or just riding to school together for a year. You were both constants in my life here at a time when I missed the community aspect of college and even our small group of girlfriends made the biggest impact on my lasting happiness here in Cali.

Hana, me, Kelsi and Tara  during a much needed getaway from the city life in Cali to the smaller town of Popayan. 

Kelsi, Hana and I at the going away party!

Fruits & Food in Colombia (or lack thereof)
Before moving to Colombia my cooking skills, while existent, were limited to lots of gluten - think bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. and not much flavor. Thanks to living with a lactose/gluten-intolerant roomie and the lack of availability of processed foods from the United States, living here has taught me a thing or two about the food I eat. I love flavors. I love making REAL fruit juices with guanabana, lulo, mango, pineapple, and mora. I love that I know how to roast a whole pumpkin in the oven. I love making all kinds of hummus. I love that I can whip up a mean guacamole and salsa in no time. I love that I make a killer quinoa salad, delicious avocado toast, and oat squares.

Stetson & Rob
In a profession that is typically female dominated, you two have been my best guy friends here. Stetson - I love that we can talk forever about music and Minnesota summers. I love that you became our third roomie, even if just for a little while. I love that you go along with our shenanigans and join in along the way. Rob - I couldn't have asked for a better teaching neighbor. You have always been there for me to run next door and discuss whatever freak-out moment I am having regarding my students or school. You have a calming presence and a contagious happy-go-lucky personality. Can't wait for our Argentina reunion! :)

Rob, Stetson, Kelsi & I at the going away party!

Rob sending me off with some lovely words at the end-of-the-year party.

Stetson, Rob and me at the Recognition Ceremony on the last day of school for teachers! (and Octavio being awesome in the background)

My Students & School
I cannot think of another place where I could have spent my first three years as a teacher as happy as the ones I spent here. Teaching is a hard profession full of late nights, early mornings and students who sometimes don't make you feel like it's worth it. However, after three years here I am in love with being a math teacher and the relationships I have built with my students here are a testament to that. The graduating 8th grade class just gave me a Faculty Recognition award and I could not feel more honored. Having students get up in front of other teachers, faculty, parents and their peers to make a speech about how you affected them is one of the best moments ever. Like Hana said at the Primary end-of-the-year party, where else will I work where staff parties dissolve into salsa dancing with your colleagues?

Receiving the Faculty Recognition award at 8th Grade graduation.

Former students who stopped by graduation to say goodbye. These boys taught me some of the best lessons about making time for building relationships in the classroom.

8th Graders at graduation!

8th Grade Teachers at the Middle School end-of-the-year party - THANK YOU for being such a smart, talented, creative, caring and dedicated group of people to work with!!!

In a bicultural, bilingual community where people are constantly coming and going, making friends with Colombians is sometimes difficult. However, being friends with Daniel was never hard. He has become the older brother I always wanted as he taught me things about school, Spanish and Colombia in general. He has been a listening ear for all my transportation complaints, valid or just ridiculous, and he always makes me laugh. Talking with him made me a better Spanish speaker and it made the experience of living abroad so much richer. He is an invaluable asset to my school and probably the most selfless person I have ever met.

Daniel and I at the going away dinner at Platillos!

Mandi & Sam
Nothing beats amazingly supportive girlfriends. We might not ever agree on The Universal Man, but we do agree on so many other things...like the awesomeness of Chuck Bass and brunch :) I am so incredibly glad we had two years to spend together here in Cali and traveling around - from Cartagena to Bogota.  You are both so incredibly passionate about life and talented beyond belief and I am so proud to call you my friends.  The Gossip Girl tour of NYC awaits us...

Smizing - not sure when this became a thing we do, but I love it.

Mandi, Sam and I sending Kelsi off in (Gossip Girl) style reading a poem/letter I wrote in the same tone  & with the same vocabulary as the show for the Primary end-of-the-year party.

This morning you left at 4 AM and afterwards I found myself laying awake in bed wondering what life would been like if I had never met you in this place at this time in my life. Later today, a friend walked into the nail place, looked around, and stopped just short of asking "Where's Kelsi?" when she saw Stetson and I there without you. It's no surprise that our colleagues make fun of us for the way we are attached at the hip and do everything/go everywhere together. What's funny is that we never planned that, we never discussed it and we probably couldn't point to the one moment when it began, but here we are three years later and damn right, I go everywhere/do everything with you. Because if I didn't - life would here would have been so much less fun. 

I love that you have an incredibly beautiful and unique taste in fashion/jewelry that I admire, idolize and balk at (i.e. the owls) all at the same time. Thank you for finding the recipe for oat squares and cooking entire pans of them for dinner with me on Friday nights in El Ingenio. Thank you for motivating me to learn salsa and go to classes together, even though you have more rhythm and dance moves than I could dream of. Thank you for waiting for me to get down to the cab every single morning because you are always ready before me no matter what. Thank you for being my gym buddy and celebrating with me when we both had to have a million pairs of pants taken in this year.

I hope I am every bit as fun, generous, patient, giving, loving, happy, creative, and amazing as you are at 29 and every year thereafter. While our 5-year age difference has never really been noticeable in our friendship, you have always been someone for me to look up and model my actions after. While our next adventures together might be a bit more spaced out, they will be every bit as wonderful as the last three years. You are my forever friend. 

Saying goodbye to school for the last time there.

Kelsi and I at the going away party this year.

When all is said and done, the goodbyes have been said, the apartment cleaned, the bags packed, the fridge emptied (weirdest dinner of leftovers ever), there's only one thing left to do...

Ciao for now, Colombia.

June 13, 2012

Paz y Salvo

Colombia has this thing called a Paz y Salvo (in English: Peace and Safe) that is basically a piece of paper that indicates you have done everything you said you were going to at some point in time. For example, after cancelling our Direct TV subscription, they had to come to our apartment to pick up the cable box and then the guy wrote me a Paz y Salvo indicating they had done just that. Kelsi and I signed a Paz y Salvo with our landlord indicating we left the place in good condition, paid our current bills, etc. In order to get paid for the final time, we have an academic Paz y Salvo to complete which is really more like a scavenger hunt around campus looking for signatures. The department head, principal, curriculum coordinator, librarians, etc. all need to sign it. As much as this whole Paz y Salvo business seems like just another hoop to jump through (and in some ways it is), I actually think it is a good idea for holding people accountable when all I really want to do is daydream about summer vacation.

That being said here are the things on my self-created "Paz y Salvo" before leaving Colombia in just nine (NINE!!!!) short days:

  • Attend another fabulous Despedida (goodbye) Party at Rita & Sam's apartment this weekend! Dance the night away and hang out with all my friends :)
  • Pack epic amounts of things in what I am hoping will end up being just 4 (FOUR!) checked bags. Remember when I moved my whole life home in four bags? It's happening. Never mind that Anna and I once filled up my Dad's entire Ford Explorer after just three weeks home from college during Christmas vacation...
  • GIVE AWAY even more epic amounts of things because I might be frugal about Tupperware and want to keep the IKEA bowls I bought before moving to college in August 2005, but I am more frugal about not paying obscene overweight baggage fees with American Airlines.
  • Spend a few hours reading in my hammock and appreciating our balcony.
  • Drink fresh fruit juice at all possible opportunities.
  • Sit around at Juan Valdez in Unicentro with Kelsi and talk about nothing and everything all at the same time.
  • Organize and attend a goodbye dinner the night before Kelsi leaves for California (and two nights before Stetson and I leave for Minnesota) at our favorite Cali restaurant, Platillos Voladores.
  • Finish watching the rest of this season of TV so that Kelsi and I are all caught up for next season...when I will be needing new TV buddies and/or having weekly Skype dates with her during our favorite shows.
  • Say goodbye to all my current students at 8th Grade Graduation on Friday and all my past students throughout the day on Thursday and Friday. Most likely cry during no less than 15 of these goodbyes.
  • Drink one more coffee malteada at Macondo Coffee Shop in San Antonio.
  • Go on one last weekend movie date with Kelsi, Stetson and friends.

...what else am I missing?!?!?

Cheers to the next 9 days of enjoying all the wonderful things I love about Cali, Colombia!

May 26, 2012

A Friendly Despedida in Bogota

With just four weeks left until I am northbound to Minnesota, things are wrapping up very quickly here in Colombia. Final exams are just around the corner and I have an apartment full of things to give away or pack, so I feel like I will be on that American Airlines flight before I know it.

Based on the past two years on experience, Kelsi and I knew things at the end of the year would get crazy so we decided to plan a weekend getaway with some of our closest friends here before the insanity hit. The weekend following our celebration of Teacher's Day at school, we treated ourselves to a little weekend fun in the capital of Bogota. While I have been to Bogota a few times before, this was my first trip there in over a year and I remembered all the reasons I fell in love with the city the first time!

Sitting much higher in the mountains, Bogota has a colder climate than Cali, so the trip warranted both jeans and sweatshirts AKA my favorite things to wear. We basically just spent the weekend hanging out, going back to some of our favorite places and enjoying time with friends. The whole weekend was a great break before the end-of-the-year stuff and reminded me just how much I will miss seeing Kelsi, Stetson, Sam, Mandi and Rob on a daily basis next year. They have been wonderful, amazing friends and I am so grateful for the time I spent with them here in Colombia.

First stop - a brewery tour at Bogota Beer Company. Good beer in Colombia is practically non-existent as most people just embrace the idea of cheap, light beer that tastes like unfiltered water... so when I saw the link for a tour on the BBC website I knew we had to do it! For $60,000 COP (about $30 USD) each it is an awesome deal because they take you to the brewery, where you drink for free, then 3 BBC locations of your choice in Bogota with VIP service & 1 one free drink at each one, a t-shirt, souvenir glass, official certificate of participation and a tour guide/DD for the night.

Award winning beer - yes, it's that good. 

 Bogotá Beer Company - "The biggest small brewery in Bogota"

 Me, Stetson, Sam, Mandi, Rob and Kelsi at the first BBC location of the night in Usaquen. 

Smizing aka smiling with my eyes with my favorite four Gossip Girls at BBC #2 in Parque 93.   

 In the BBC tour van with my ROOMIES. (Did I mention that Stetson's lease ended in May and he is now our third roomie? Oh yeah, that happened.)

The next day we got a lazy start, enjoyed some Juan Valdez in the Zona Rosa neighborhood of Bogota and then made our way to the suburb town of Zipaquira to see the Salt Cathedral. Located about an hour from Bogota, only Stetson had been here before, but we had all heard enough to want to check it out. Basically it is a cathedral built in an old salt mine about 180 feet underground and then lit up with LED lights. Pretty cool to see and worth the trip from Bogota!

 A little blurry, but the group inside the Salt Cathedral.

Overlooking the main nave of the cathedral.

Lit up Nativity.

Later that night we made it one of Bogota's most famous restaurants - Andres Carne del Res. We went to the original location in Chia, which was enormous. Making our way from the bar where we waited before getting a table literally took us on a winding 5 minute walk through the restaurant and I still never saw the end of it! The food was amazing and the decor is kitschy and full of crazy things. After dinner there is a dance floor that gets pretty crowded. 

With Stetson and Sam at Andres Carne del Res.

Our last day we found ourselves at Crepes & Waffles for brunch, because we are just that obsessed with their brunch menu :) From there we walked around a bit, saw the market in Usaquen and made our way back to the airport. Happy, well-fed, and content with an awesome weekend! 

Good morning to you Crepes y Waffles.

Brunch buddies!

...we watch a lot of Gossip Girl together, so this was our version of a photo on the steps on the MET....or a random bank building in Bogota.

May 24, 2012

Job Offer Accepted!

After a long job search that basically involved me typing all the same information that is in my resume, references, letter of recommendation, transcript, and license into many, many electronic databases I have a plan for next year!!! Hooray!

One of the most frustrating parts of the job search was just never hearing back from people about what was going on. Most districts and principals never responded to say they received my application and they would be reviewing them in a certain amount of time. In fact, I think there are still schools out there who haven't even started their interview process yet.

Anyway, after two interviews and two job offers, I decided to accept the one closer to home. After all, if I am leaving a job that I like right now for the main reason of being closer to home, then I should actually BE closer to home. Starting in the fall I will be working at a private, international school located in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. The school is international because only about 20% of the students come from Minnesota while the other 80% are exchange students who come to study abroad for 1-2 years.

I am thrilled about the international aspect of the job, since that is something I have really appreciated about teaching in Colombia. I do think the smaller school (only about 200 students total in grades 9-12 versus about 1,300 in my current K-12 school) will take a bit of getting used to, but I am excited about the chance to know other teachers and students well. I will most likely be teaching AP Statistics, Geometry and Algebra I, which is a big change from just teaching five sections of Algebra I for the past three years. I think I am ready for the challenge professionally, and my school is already investing in some professional development to help me out by sending me to a one week summer course on teaching AP Statistics.

Teaching in downtown St. Paul, being closer to friends and family, and still getting to work with students from all over the world is pretty much my dream job...so I cannot wait to see how it all works out in the fall!

Now...who has a good game plan for me not to spend all my money at the many downtown locations of both Caribou and Starbucks???

May 6, 2012

What I've Been Up To Lately

After a wonderful week of no school, no students and no planning during Semana Santa, reality sunk in pretty hard immediately thereafter. And by reality, I mean the notion of there are only two months left until I leave Colombia...so I should probably figure out "what comes next" pretty darn quick.

Ideally I would like to be teaching middle or high school math somewhere in the Twin Cities with coworkers I enjoy, some ability to use my Spanish and a commute that doesn't make me curse snow/MN drivers/MNDOT on a daily basis. In an effort to obtain this I have been applying to jobs non-stop since Spring Break. Applying to teaching jobs basically means entering all the EXACT SAME information that is already in my resume/cover letter/letters of recommendation/transcripts/teaching license into whatever database the school has chosen to use. Luckily, many public schools in Minnesota use the same database, which has been extremely helpful...and made me start cursing the ones who don't. I have had one interview so far, which resulted in a job offer almost immediately following...but I turned it down in favor of (hopefully) finding something closer to the Twin Cities. Fingers crossed!!!

Besides spending countless hours of prep time/weeknights/Fridays at the kitchen table applying for jobs, I have been trying to make the most of my last weeks in Colombia! This place has been my home for three years now and I definitely want to really appreciate all the wonderful things about this place and the people here before I leave it. Here's what I have been up to:
  • Our water company (EmCali) appears to have gotten in together in regards to our water situation AKA it stopped being turned off at random, inconvenient times and (knock on wood) I haven't had to take a shower with a bucket in weeks. Hooray! One particular intense storm on a Wednesday night did however knock out all of our power. We spent the night reading by headlamp, eating a candlelit dinner, and watching TV on our computers until the batteries died. I wouldn't say I would like it to happen again soon, but it was kind of nice for one night...
  • The spring musical at school featured some very talented students and teachers, included one of my 8th graders who absolutely rocked the role of Cha Cha. We went to see the play with some friends one Saturday night and I remembered how cool it is to see my students succeeding at things they love outside the classroom.
  • We went to the Delirio salsa show with some coworkers. I had been once before, but wanted to see it again. Salsa is such an integral part of Colombian culture and the constant infusion of salsa music and dancing into EVERYTHING is definitely a trademark of this country.

  • Math Olympics 2012! A joint middle and high school event, this contest has 8th & 9th graders paired together in teams of four working on problems in a variety of Jeopardy-style categories to earn points. The winning team earns bragging rights (math nerds for the win!) and t-shirts designed by yours truly which say "Mathlete CB 2012" on the front and simply, "show your work" on the back. And they are purple, of course. Teams from 6th & 7th grade also compete as well as 10th/11th/12th grade teams together. 

  • Kelsi and some other coworkers ran in La Carrera de La Mujer, a women-only 8K run here in Cali. Stetson and I went to cheer her on and take lots of pictures along the way. The day was sunny, albeit a little hot for running and I remembered once again that even though I'm not a runner myself, there is something so energizing about cheering on others while they run!

Go Kelsi!!! 

Obvio I'm #1 in her fan club.

...so that's the update from Colombia. Now to focus on planning the rest of the school year, applying to more jobs, and moving my life and all the things it contains back to Minnesota. Yikes.

April 21, 2012

Spring Break in Parque Nacional Tayrona

After my Spring Break visitor arrived in Colombia, we were off to the Caribbean Coast to one of my favorite places in Colombia! Despite only spending one night there in early 2010, I knew that I had to return to Parque Nacional Tayrona before leaving Colombia. Spring Break provided us with ample time to fly to the coastal city of Santa Marta and spend some time in the city before heading to the park for two nights.

Michael and I traveled with Kelsi and our friend Lauren, who also teaches third grade with Kelsi, and I think everyone enjoyed the week of beach time together! Even Kelsi, who before this time had not found anything comparison-worthy to the beaches of her Southern California home admitted that it was impressive.

On Monday we flew to Santa Marta, via a layover in Bogota at Juan Valdez in the Bogota airport, and spent the night there. Kelsi led us to an amazing coffee/juice cafe appropriately named Lulo after one of Colombia's most unique fruits. We also enjoyed a delicious dinner at Bistro that involved dos por uno (2 x 1) copas de vino (glasses of wine). Overall several wins for a city that doesn't always look as cute as its more famous coastal neighbor of Cartagena.

Oh Lulo, how I wish you existed in Cali.

On Tuesday we headed back to Lulo for breakfast (it's that good!) then took a cab out to Parque Nacional Tayrona. We could have taken a public bus, but with four of us to split cab fare we figured it was worth the time saved. Once in Tayrona the check-in process went super fast since we had purchased our park entrance fees and paid for our reserved hammocks in advance.

Since Tayrona is one of Colombia's most famous and beautiful national parks, we knew it would be super busy during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and we weren't about to wait in line to get to the beach. After checking in, we trekked into the park (about one hour hiking) with our all our possessions for three days (essentially swimsuits and snacks) in our backpacks. The trail had been remodeled since my last time there and about 30 minutes in we were greeted with stunning views of the beaches I remembered. THIS was what I came back for.

Happy (and apparently hydrated) hikers. 

First sights of the beaches, which extend one after another as far as the eye can see.

We finally arrived at our campsite at Arrecifes Beach and had no trouble checking into the Aviatur campsite. Thanks to tips from some friends who went last year, we knew this site had the most comfortable hammocks, individual lockers, and its own restaurant/bathrooms. This became super important as the week continued and Colombians seemed to be pouring into the park from all directions. We dropped our stuff in lockers and headed for the beach! 

Michael walking along the beach in front of our campsite - gorgeous but not for swimming due to the strong riptide. Signs everywhere warned people not to go swimming and become "part of the statistic" of people who have died here.  

Michael, Kelsi and Lauren headed down the beach. 

Happy to be in Tayrona! 

The first day we didn't get too far since it was a bit cloudy and we left all the snacks at the campsite, so we only made it one beach past our camp. However, after a night spent sleeping in hammocks and a typical breakfast of eggs & arepas, we armed ourselves with (not enough) sunscreen, books, and snacks for a full day of beaching. We ended up exploring four beaches during the day and running into a variety of friends who also happened to be in Tayrona along the way. We even spotted our friend Hana  swimming at Cabo San Juan.

La Piscina, the first swimmable beach in Tayrona. 

Sunburnt by late afternoon - oops. 

 Group photo at Cabo San Juan beach. 

At the end of the day we realized we all got a little bit pinker than intended and back the trek back to our campsite to find dinner...and aloe. One more night in the hammocks and some early morning beach time the next day were in order before we made the hike out of the park. The steady stream of people headed into the park made us very glad to be leaving, despite our sadness at saying goodbye to the beach. Back in Santa Marta, we enjoyed some (real) food at the Mexican restaurant, Agave Azul before heading back to Cali the following day.

Kelsi in her hammock withe the mosquito netting cover.

One last morning on the beach... 

 Obligatory jump shot - it wouldn't be a vacation without it :)

Out for Mexican food at Agave Azul. 

One last group shot - sunburnt and happy. 

I loved this vacation so much, mostly because of the excellent company, but also because it was my last long vacation in Colombia. As the weeks are starting to tick by fairly quickly in anticipation of my move back to Minnesota, I am growing very aware of how difficult it will be to leave a place I have called home for three years. I am extremely happy and excited to be back in Minnesota, but there is always something sad about leaving a place that has been so important to one's life. While there are still things I don't love about Colombia, for me it will always be a place of beautiful landscapes, friendly people and some of my very best friends.

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