Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas has arrived to Colombia

Today was the official start of Christmas in Colombia and it definitely felt that way.

At my school, today was el día de fraternidad.  Every year in the first week of December the whole school is divided into groups and we travel throughout the city to visit homes for the elderly.  We spend a month collecting food and money to buy gifts that we then bring with us to share with the folks living in these homes.  We only spend about 3 hours at the homes, but the time is very special.  There are not really words to describe the beauty of children and elderly people singing, talking, laughing and interacting.  We share in a tradition of novenas and gozos, a series of prayers in songs (a week early).  Then the students pass around Christmas pictures and colored pencils for the elderly folks to color and make Christmas cards.  Some just want to talk, and there's a lot of that too.  Before we leave each person is given two gifts - a bag of Christmas cookies and a winter hat.  I didn't end up getting pictures of this because I was busy talking with the people in the home (I could actually communicate with them this year - very exciting!) and encouraging the students to initiate conversations.  My fifth graders were very nervous in the beginning but by the end of our time there had made some friends and were telling me all about the amazing people met and the stories they heard.  So special!

In the evening, my friend Natalia invited me to her house to light candles with her family.  The 7th of December is the official start of Christmas in Colombia.  On this night, families get together for dinner and to light candles outside their homes, in the windows, etc. to light the path for the Virgin Mary on her way to Bethlehem.  It is a beautiful tradition as it brings together the family and the community, as everyone is outside lighting candles.  It is also beautiful to see all the candles lit as you walk or drive down the streets throughout the city.  Additionally, there are fireworks.  It's a big deal.

I don't have official family here, which can be difficult especially on days like this one, but Natalia's family has been kind enough to adopt me.   We all helped Natalia to decorate her apartment for Christmas (many families wait until this day to decorate), we ate arepitas with hogao, and then we went outside, lit candles, said a prayer, and listened to some Christmas music.  Later in the evening, I rode with Natalia when she took her aunt and mother home.  The city was gorgeous and there was a peace that you could feel and see as families and in some cases neighborhoods were sitting outside together with candles lit.
Natis' Christmas tree

I made the bow for the door. :-)

Arepitas y velitas...Christmas begins Colombian-style!
I love traditions, as I mentioned in my Cookie Day post, and this tradition is one that I might have to continue whether I am in Colombia or not.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bringing a Tradition to Colombia

My family has always been big on traditions and Christmas time is loaded with them:  Christmas Eve pagaent when Bubba and I were younger, now the Candlelight Midnight Service; Opening stockings on Mom and Dad's bed before we go downstairs to open the gifts; Dad puts the lights on the tree, I make the bows for the tree; Dad makes the mashed potatoes; Mom always has ham roll-ups and a Christmas punch with ginger ale, orange juice and cranberry juice... the list goes on and for sure things change a bit here and there with time but one tradition that I have missed for many years has been the tradition of Cookie Day.

Since I can remember, my mom has hosted Cookie Day.  Two of her friends, Sara and Joanne,  and my mom each plan 3 - 5 cookie recipes.  They all congregate at my house and spend the day making their recipes.  At the end of the day the cookies are split among the three of them and everyone leaves with a whole lot of different kinds of cookies to share with holiday visitors and with friends and co-workers, teachers and family during the holiday season.  It is awesome.  It's a laid-back day with lots of catching up on the latest gossip and life stories and lots and lots of laughs as the individuals try out (and sometimes fail with) new recipes and problem solve around specific directions (for example, to crush candy canes is it best to drive over a bag of them several times with your car or smash them with a mallet?!).

Living in Colombia is wonderful.  Life is simpler.  But still, at times, I miss the traditions and the comfort of family and friends.  As with Thanksgiving, I decided that not being in the United States would no longer be an excuse for me to miss out on the things I love.  Sure, turnips and cranberry sauce are things I simply cannot get, but make time with friends a priority here and re-creating traditions can be done.  Today was a perfect example.


I hosted my very own Cookie Day with two of my friends, Tiffany and English-speaking friends.  We each agreed on making two recipes.  We started at noon and ended at 7:00 pm.  We had some successes and some recipes that we were less-than-psyched about but overall it was a success.  We got caught up on life, laughed as we listened to funny stories from each other (especially Tiffany who is currently processing a life transition from living the high-life to living....well, to living with a bit less stuff and a few more people....hehe).  We ordered pizza and took a short break to re-energize and then ended the day with at least 6 dozen cookies each.  AWESOME!


It is such a joy, knowing I have people in my life here in Colombia with whom I can re-create these traditions.  It was also really special to create this tradition here.  As far away from home as I am, this day helped me to realize just how connected I still am to life and family in the States and to think about how much of who I am is connected to all the experiences my family created for me growing up.  I am so blessed and so thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Giving Thanks

I did it!!

I successfully hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people!

I have been planning this for weeks - I sent out the Evite, I planned the menu, I tested some recipes for pies, checked in with Grandma Naylor about the best way to freeze pies, learned that freezing a pumpkin pie was not a good idea, and this weekend I cooked all the elements of a Thanksgiving dinner that I could given some of the Colombian limitations (no cranberries, no sweet potatoes).

The menu

  • Ham Rolls ups (family tradition) 
  • Crudité with two cream cheese dips (one with bacon and onion; the other with onion soup mix and red pepper)
  • Camembert cheese and crackers


  • Turkey  
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy - Thank you Tiffany!  She arrived just in time to help me with this difficult task but I think I could do it on my own now...maybe.
  • Vegetable Medley
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Squash Casserole (mom's recipe)
  • Buttermilk Biscuits (tiffany's recipe)


 Everyone seemed very happy.  The turkey was so juicy and flavorful.  I've never seen my parents marinate the turkey for Thanksgiving but I decided to stick with recipe that I found and I think I'd recommend it for the future. Soooo tasty!  The most popular item was probably the pumpkin pie because it simply does not exist in Colombia - It was so fun to introduce so many of my friends to this delicious dessert.

The whole event was quite hectic...did I mention there were 20 people in my tiny apartment?!!  Still, I wanted to make sure we didn't completely forget the purpose of Thanksgiving so I made a poster for people to write the things for which they are thankful.  I think it came out well - and it definitely showed the variety of personalities that were visiting. 

Overall, such a great day!  Definitely an event I will want to repeat in the future. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Baking Begins

Last year I struggled because I was lacking in close friends here in Bogotá.  Friends I could talk to about anything - friends that would dream with me and sit around a table and talk for hours about life and love.  Of course, some of this was due to my limited ability to speak Spanish, but still it was very lonely at times.  I found myself talking about this last night with folks that have become family and realized just how far I've come and how happy I now am because of the beautiful people in my life.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Colombia, but I've decided to bring it to Bogotá and to my friends here.  Thanksgiving is a day to be with friends and family and to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for.  I know how have friends with whom I can share this special day and that's just one of the many things I have to be thankful for.

I've planned the menu and have begun searching for the ingredients.  Today I baked my first pie ever!  It's an apple crisp.  I found the recipe online.  And I think it's going to be delicious!!!

There's something really special about taking the time to plan and prepare a meal for friends.  And I'm hoping that the sharing of the meal and time together will be just as special.

Friday, October 19, 2012

What do I really know?

What do I really know about Colombia?  Turns out not a whole lot.

This evening, as a favor to my friend's cousin, I participated in an interview about my knowledge, opinions, and interpretations of all things Colombia....well, not all things, but certainly a LOT of things.  The interview lasted about an hour and I stumbled non-stop in an attempt to answer questions.  Sadly, however, after a living here more than a year, it turns out there is a LOT I do not know or have not noticed...although some of the questions I also thought were quite bizarre.

What is the national animal?   Apparently it's a condor.  I thought it was a vulture but didn't know the word for vulture in Spanish so I explained that I thought it was bird that eats dead animals.  Lovely.  The interviewer looked at my like I was totally crazy but the camera man nodded and told her I was correct.  After the interview I looked it up - and the condor is a type of vulture. Oh, and the Spanish work for vulture is "el buitre".

What religious rites do Americans practice?  Ummm...well considering the incredibly large number of religions in the U.S. I had a very hard time answering Spanish.  After the interview I suppose I could have mentioned baptism and communion...and perhaps with the ridiculous amount of fighting over the sanctity of marriage and whether or not same sex couples have a right to this ritual, I should have mentioned this as well.  What can I say?  Too much pressure.  I talked about the incredible percentage of people that only attend church for Easter and Christmas.  What a lame response.

Do you think Colombians are optimistic?  Turns out Colombians have a reputation for being optimistic.  I would never have made that generalization on my own - especially because folks out work can be so negative and complain...although I suppose I do a good share of complaining as well.

The questions went on and on.  For every question I could answer, there was a question that I responded to with a blank stare or a "que"?!  It certainly made me realize that I completely unaware of a lot of what is going on around me, it was kind of shameful.  Lesson learned?  I need to open my eyes and start taking in the scenery.  Oof.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


So my last post was more like a diary entry.  Sorry.  But it was on my mind and I'm starting to think that I might have more success if I put my hopes, dreams and goals on this blog, because folks will hold me accountable.  Maybe?  Anyhow, yesterday I had a few inspirational moments and was reminded of another piece of inspiration from the past. So I thought I'd share.

Last night had dinner with a good friend who I hadn't seen in months.  She loves to dream, thinks big, and is constantly encouraging me.  She helps me to see the impossible (or at least terribly daunting) as possible.  We talked about personal goals and professional goals and I came to some conclusions:  1) Yes, I'd like to find someone to share my life with BUT right now I have amazing friends that are filling that void just fine.  2) There is a lot I want to accomplish and I am fully capable of realizing these dreams...just gotta get my butt in gear and not focus on the things that are not going my way.  Really that was it.  (We were so wrapped up in our conversation, I forgot to take a photo. Sorry.)

When I got home, I got into bed and began reading a book that another friend of my recommended.  This guy sends these craaaaazy long e-mails to friends and family every month or so.  They are dense.  Sometimes...ok, most times...I have to skim because he's way more intelligent than me so sometimes what he says is over my head...other times, well, these e-mails are long.  Time is limited.  Anyhow, I take away 2 or 3 gems from every e-mail he sends, even with my skimming method.  It's awesome.  This book was one of the gems.  It's called Spark:  Transform your World, One Small Risk at a Time.

 I suppose it's kind of self-helpy but it is kicking my butt into gear.  Just from one 30 minute session (chapters 1 and 2).  The quote that I read seemed to say exactly what I was feeling when I wrote my last blog:
"I want a life full of rich, rewarding love.  I believe we all do.  We all long for lives that are profoundly, deeply, unexplainably joyful.  And whlie we may not always be aware of it, we have a deep longing to be truly good, to be honorable and compassionate, to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and admire who we see.  We crave kindness.  We admire those who are strong, yet gentle, patient, and in control of their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
That's the kind of person I want to be."
Me too.

The idea the book presents is that we need to take small risks every day, every week, always in order to  make our lives what we want them to be in the moment.  Planning for the future is not a bad thing but it can drag you down and I know for me give me a constant feeling of slight (or sometimes serious) dissatisfaction.  You have to read the book to really understand what I'm saying - the author has a much better way with words that I do - but just the first two chapters have impacted me.  I've identified my risk for the next week and already put it into motion. Not going to say quite yet what it is  - but will share soon when I have more info on the results.  ;-)

Finally, in addition to identify my healthy risk for the week, I also started making a list of lots of things that I want to do to.  Again, two chapters = inspiration, I couldn't stop brainstorming.  Anyhow, I was reminded of a favorite poster of mine, which I think I've shared before because I'm always saying I don't have enough time.  The poster's time?  Stop watching tv.  So I've given up the tube for the rest of the month to see where that gets me.

The link to this poster, if you want to buy it.

This might just be another diary entry-like blog post, but perhaps what inspires me will inspire you as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The future is a blur

I think I'm having a bit of a crisis.  Maybe it has something to do with almost being 30.  Or maybe it's just me.  I'm getting antsy.  I'm worrying that I'm not doing enough with my life.  I have this constant inner dialogue  - it's a fight between my "I'm going to save the world" me and my "I just want to relax and enjoy life as it comes" me.

I came to Colombia to learn a second language.  It seemed a valuable skill, especially after being in a Masters program where it seemed I was the only one who did not speak (at least) two languages fluently.  To work internationally, a second language is critical.  To work in schools in the United States, Spanish is becoming more and more important if I want to reach the families of all learners.  Still, I'm here now and I'm so happy about learning Spanish but I want to do more.  I hate to say teaching isn't enough because teaching is tough and it's an honorable profession but for me I need something more.   But what? And where?

This is where the "relax and enjoy life as it comes"me steps in.  I like living in Bogotá.  I've got great friends and life is simple here...or simpler than life in the U.S.  I don't have a car and don't really want a car.  I don't constantly feel the need to go shopping for new clothes or obsess about my weight.  When I visit the U.S., I'm attacked by the intense consumerist nature of EVERYTHING and find myself wanting, wanting, wanting...crap I don't need.  The weather here is beautiful - although I am missing fall.  I have a comfortable income that doesn't permit me to do anything too crazy but also doesn't prevent me from doing most of what I want (just non around-the-world trips for me at the time).

Still, I'm getting to a point where I want to settle down, buy a house, invest in hobbies (I don't do that here because if I leave the country all my stuff won't fit in 3 suitcases and it will cost a fortune to ship), meet someone...but where do I go?  Where can I live a healthy, relaxed, limited-consumeristic-pressure lifestyle?  Where can I find a job that challenges me and let's me dream and develop and pays me a comfortable salary that would allow me to buy a house, visit family and friends often, and not worry so much about money?   Where can I find love?  (Yep, I've reached the tipping point...I'm ready).  I just don't know.

For now, I'm looking for projects here in Bogotá to keep me busy and to inspire me, trying to get back into running and yoga, searching daily for potential jobs for next year, reading lots (to keep my mind fresh), taking an online course on Mathematical Thinking (it's awesome) and trying to enjoy the great people I have in my life... still, if anyone has advice, recommendations, thoughts, some immense wisdom to solve these mysteries of life, etc.  I'm all ears!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Los Llanos with my Students

I spent all of last week, Monday through Friday, traveling with 44 of my fifth graders and 5 other adults.  Phew!  It was exhausting but it was also AMAZING.  As I wrote about last year, when I traveled to Santander with my 6th graders, at my school, every grade goes on a week long trip each year.  The fifth graders go to Los Llanos.  Los Llanos are the plains to the east of Bogotá, between the mountains and the Amazon rainforest.  It is flat, flat, flat, hot, hot, hot, and suuuuuuper humid but also beautiful.

Each day the students got to experience different aspects of life in Los Llanos.  Monday we stayed on a farm.  We went zip-lining through the forest (and saw monkeys!) but we also learned (kind of) how to lasso a cow and milk a cow.  The milking a cow part has been on my bucket list, after doing I have no idea why (it's kind of gross), but I did it and can now check that off my list!  

On Tuesday, in the morning we visited a local school and worked with the students there to re-paint one of the buildings with classrooms.   We then traveled a bit farther to a place where we camped for two nights.  The roads to the campgrounds are horrible so we had to take a Chiva.  A Chiva is like a party bus.  The seats are around the edges of the bus and the middle has a dance floor.  There are flashing lights and the music is blasting - the kids LOVED it...the teachers a bit less.  When we arrived the kids learned how to set up a tent AND set up the teacher tent for me and my friend Mariana (Sweet!).  We then ate dinner and played charades.  

On Wednesday, we walked to a farm of rubber trees and learned how latex is collected from trees.  We even got to collect some of the latex and create what looked like rubber band balls.  The material smell absolutely wretched but it was fun.  We then got to cool of in a nearby swimming hole.  My intention was to just get wet, cool off, and get out but there was a dock to jump off of and I think every student asked me to jump with was a much less relaxing activity than I'd anticipated but fun all the same.  In the afternoon, I got to relax and read while the kids participated in a scavenger hunt.  That night we had a campfire and reflected on the trip.  

 On Thursday, we headed to another hotel.  The kids were able to play in the pool in the morning (good thing because I was having some serrrrrious stomach issues - one of the downsides of traveling to new places and trying different foods that my body is not used to...wah, wah).  In the afternoon, we took a truck out to a fish farm and learned how they raise the fish and we even got to do some fishing.  I caught nothing.  The second activity was kayaking.  It was perfect weather and there was a gorgeous sunset...and of course that is when the battery of my camera died.   The hotel transported a hot meal for us out by the lake so we had a dinner alongside the lake with Tiki torches.  When we returned to the hotel we were exhausted, but there was band waiting to play for us - joropo - typical music from Los Llanos.  They taught the students some dance moves as well.  When the evening was all over we were pooped.  But it was a great way to end the trip.

On Friday, we packed up and headed back home - but of course stopped for lunch at a great restaurant where we ate (way too much) picada with mamona (veal).  Very tasty but I then slept for 3 hours on the bus to recover.

Great trip - got to see a new part of the country, bond with my students, and learn quite a bit.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Diva!

Today, I head to Los Llanos with my fifth graders for the week.  I am very excited about the trip but today is also the birthday of someone who has become a very good friend.

Natalia aka Diva, is a teacher at my school and is always there for me when I'm stressing out, freaking out about ridiculous school policy or need help with Spanish translations or my new job as course director.  Natalia gives me a ride home nearly every day and having a friend to vent with at the end of a long day is an absolute blessing.  In addition, to being someone I can always count on, she has taught be a ton of Spanish (both formal Spanish and highly inappropriate expressions...both important to know),  has introduced me to the best (and cheapest) empanadas in my neighborhood as well as a great beauty salon near my apartment ($4 manicures anyone? Sweet!).  She has a huge heart and is an amazing teacher and I'm so thankful to have her by my side at the school.

Because I'm not going to be in town on Saturday, I was able to organize a birthday celebration for Diva on Friday night.  We headed to our friends house where we had delicious cocktails and delicious food:  mozzarella with jalapeños, melted camembert with French bread, asparagus wrapped in bacon, and then chocolate fondue with fruit, cookies, and marshmallows for dipping. YUM!!!!!

On Sunday, I joined her and her family for a traditional asado in a park just outside of Bogotá.  The celebration included una hora loca...because, duh, it was a party.  Haha, of course it's normal for 5 people to play music and dance around in masks for an hour at a public park, of course.  But soooo much fun!

Happy Birthday Diva!!!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Britto Art Exhibit

My students spent the first marking period studying an artist named Romero Britto.  After learning about the types of figures he liked to draw and the colors he used, the students worked in groups to create their own Britto-inspired paintings.  The best part was that their paintings were then hung in a gallery in Bogotá this week for the public to see.  It was also an auction and the money raised is going towards a service project for another school in Bogotá.

The students were so excited about having their art worked exhibited.  It was a fun event that brought together the parents, teachers, and the students and helped out a great cause.  Nice work GLM!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The toughest part about living abroad

Today I received the news that my grandmother, Jane Cottrell, passed away at the age of 94.   She was failing quickly and it was clear she was ready for her next adventure (as my father put it), but that doesn't make losing her any less heart-wrenching.  The worst part of it all is that I am thousands of miles of way and know I will not be home for the service.  I won't be there to be a support for my dad and to spend the time sharing all the great memories and stories we have of Grandma.

Because I can't be there, I thought I'd share a few of the memories I have of this wonderful person:
  • Perfect handwriting.  She told me stories of how she had to do all these crazy exercises to make perfect curves and curlicues.  
  • Summers at her house.  Where to begin?  Several summers in a row,  I spent one or two weeks in Sodus, NY on the farm with Grandma.  These weeks with Grandma where the best.  
    • She always gave me and my cousins a ton of freedom.  She could get away with this because we would never want to disappoint her so we'd avoid doing anything too stupid.  We'd spend the entire day outside - in the woods, climbing Skunk hill, swimming in the lake and the creek, climbing trees, catching all sorts of critters, playing games (all the cousins together).  When it was time to head home, Grandma would blow the whistle and we all run home.  Her only rule was that we always needed to hear the whistle.
    • Soap opera marathons.  There were some days when the cousins weren't around and she'd let me lounge around all day in my pajamas watching Soap Operas with me
  • Card games.  Grandma was the Queen of Cards.   As I grew older, I realized that when I was younger she'd change the rules so that I could win.  Still, we played hours upon hours of cards.  She never seemed to be unhappy playing cards with me.  Up until last year, that was still the activity we shared.  Every time I visited her at the nursing home we'd play Rummy 500...or 200...or until she fell asleep. 
  • Clams.  Orbakers or on the Point, up until the very.  Grandma loved her fried clams.  Every time I eat them I think of her and always will.  Silly, I know, but something that I remember.
The list goes on and I know I'll continue remembering more and more wonderful things about Grandma over the next few days and weeks.   These memories are what will help to keep her with me forever.  I love you so much Grandma and hope that you are now in a better place.  Happy and free of pain...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I LOVE Visitors!!!

 So Haley already two posts about her arrival to Colombia and a day in the city, but I still felt that I needed to share my excitement over her visit.   It was a quick day and a half but it was WONDERFUL!

Some of the highlights:

Dinner at Club Colombia.  This is not a place I go to often because it's a liiiitle too fancy for regular visits but it is pure heaven.  Gorgeous inside and out, great food, great lighting, and with Haley and Aly (her colleague traveling with her for work), great conversation as well. 

Drinks at Cafe y Crepes.  I had only been to the sister location, Cafe de la Montaña, but the locations are nearly identical and equally adorable.  Dark, warm, live guitar playing, and delicious beverages that warm you to the core: canelazo and vino caliente.  I know Haley and Aly were exhausted from the flight from Paraguay but it was sooooo nice to have this evening to catch up and talk about love, life, the future, etc. 

Tamales at La Puerta Falsa.

A trip to Monserrate.  I don't think I'll ever tire of this place.  Stunning views of the city and a great market full of typical Colombian cuisine.  We tried the coca tea - and Aly purchased some for her altitude sickness.

Obleas.  I actually don't think I've ever had an oblea...even after a year of living here.  How crazy because they are delicious...or exquisite as the vendor's cart claimed. 

Worlds colliding.
Onces potluck with my favorite Colombians and my lovely American visitors.  I invited a bunch of my favorite people from Bogotá to bring a dish and share it Sunday evening at my apartment.  The theme was onces and folks brought: hot chocolate, refajo (a mix of beer and Colombian soda), empanadas with ají, caladitos, fruit salad, cheese, guacamole, papas criollas (a special Colombia potato), and more.  The food was good and the company even better.  I love bringing my favorite people together and when my worlds combine and make new connections among themselves I am suuuuper happy. 

Haley and Aly, thanks so much for the excuse to have friends over on a Sunday night and for a great weekend.  It was sooooo wonderful to have visitors and I hope that your next visit will be a bit longer.