Sunday, December 1, 2013


Two weekends of successful Thanksgiving dinners in my apartment.  Round 1 was a dinner with Mauricio and his family.  I'd never had them to my apartment for dinner and decided that after a year of enjoying Sunday dinners at their house, it was my turn to share a meal with them and I decided to share my favorite meal filled with flavors new to them.  Round 2 was a dinner with friends here in Bogotá.  Both were a hit and a great reminder of how many wonderful people I have in my life!  Thanks to everyone in my life who is a constant support (even when Katie Monster rears her ugly head) and who fills my life with love and laughter.


Round 1 
Round 2

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Paseo USA! Summer adventure.

The idea for this trip began with a simple conversation among friends and then took off from there.  Within a few weeks Mauricio (the beau) had applied for and received his Visa and our trip was booked.  The idea was to fly to Florida make a brief detour to visit with some friends and then drive up the East Coast to see as much as we could in two weeks.  The following is a glimpse at our trip, as requested by several friends and family with who we visited during our trip.  (Sorry for the delay...this should have been posted 3 months ago!)

Day 1 and 2.  The House of Mickey Mouse (aka Florida).
We flew to Orlando, FL late afternoon and arrived around 9:30pm.  Was nervous for Mauricio when we got to customs but all went smoothly.  We rented a car and the fun began!  (I LOVE driving and don't really get to Bogotá)  We drove down to Boca Raton where we had friends staying with family for a wedding.  We arrived early in the morning and hit the hay.  The next day was breakfast outside (pancakes with maple syrup!) and then a trip to Whole Foods.  This is one of my favorite places and I thought a good way to introduce Mauricio to the delicious foods that we have in the U.S.  We spent maybe 2 hours wandering the aisles and stocking up on snacks for the car: cherries, trail mix, and carrots and hummus among other things.  We also sample gelato and other treats.  We spent the afternoon walking the beach and the met up with our friends.

Day 3 and 4. Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC.
Next stop was Aiken, SC to visit with my Uncle John and Aunt Lisa and see the cousins as well.  The plan was to leave verrry early, stop in Savannah for late lunch and then be to John and Lisa's by 7pm...this was not quite how things turned out.  The trip to Savannah was loooong and when we got there a quick stop just was not possible - the city is gorgeous.  There was a lot of walking and picture taking before deciding on a so-so restaurant (a mistake that would not be made the rest of the trip - we enjoy food too much).  Also, I forgot about daylight savings - the days don't get longer or shorter in Colombia because we are so close to the equator.  Therefore, the sun was telling us it was only about 4:30pm when we returned to our car but our clock told us 7:30pm - YIKES!!!!  Headed to Aiken quickly but missed out on some family time (which just means we'll have to plan another visit soon).

The following day was slept in a bit then enjoyed a hearty breakfast made by Lisa.  Around 10am we headed to Charleston, SC - the city is about 2 1/2 hours from them but I love it and thought Mauricio would enjoy the architecture, history and food.  He did.  We ate and walked around, took pictures, ate and walked around some more and then headed back to Aiken exhausted but enjoyed the additional time catching up with John and Lisa that evening.

Day 5, 6 and 7.  Washington, DC.
Another long day of driving - but we kicked it off with muffins and coffee with Lisa and Owen (my cousin) which gave us the fuel we needed to get us through the morning.  The ride was beautiful but I was pooped.  Thankfully Mauricio drive a large part of the way - and being the terrible girlfriend that I am, I passed out.  Still the rolling hills and farmland was something quite different for Mauricio, so I think he enjoyed it.  We arrived at Peggy and Jack's house (another aunt and uncle) to an warm welcome (sign included) by Peggy, Jack, Jason, Michelle and Shadow (my favorite dog ever!).  We had steaks from the BBQ and sangria - a true summer meal - and tried to engage in English/Spanish/sign language conversation.

In the morning, we headed into the capitol of the US of A.  The weather was great - hot but sunny and not too terrible for walking.  We parked in Virginia and took the metro - definitely the way to go!  We walked and walked and walked...and walked some more.  We started in Foggy Bottom, heading to the Lincoln Memorial, visiting the Jefferson and the passed the Washington Monument.  I thought I was going to pass out this point but was revived by an old favorite - a cream soda (definitely cannot be found in Bogotá).  Mauricio treated himself to an ice cream (this guy loooves himself some dessert!).  We took pictures in front of the White House and the headed to Founding Farmers for lunch.  This is without a doubt my favorite restaurant in DC.  All the food is local, organic, and interesting (and the cocktails as well - God knows I love a fancy, unique cocktail!).  If you are in DC - go! - although, you might need to make a reservation so plan ahead.  For the evening, we took the metro to U-Street.  Mauricio loved the neighborhood.  Duh.  We spent the evening watching a performance at Busboys & Poets enjoyed over a glass of wine and dessert (#2 or 3 of the day for Mauricio).  We stayed up to chat a bit with Peggy and Jack (and to play with Shadow) but were wiped out from the packed day.

Final day in DC began with breakfast at the Corner Bakery with Peggy Jack.  This time we drove into the city so that Mauricio could see more of the city.  Not sure this was the way to go - but it was rainy so we weren't sure that being caught on foot without transportation was the best idea.  Oh well.   After a drive (and a stop at Teaism for my favorite Chai Shake), we headed back to the mall to visit the Air & Space museum, finding parking was a nightmare and the cost was even more outrageous but we eventually made our way to the museum.  I think at this point Mauricio was officially overwhelmed - that place has sooo much to see and read and hear and it's all in English.  Remembering my arrival to Colombia, I can definitely sympathize.  We had lunch at the cafeteria in the American Indian Museum.  The food was great but the selection was overwhelming - I think it took us 45 minutes just to decide on what to order!  For the evening, we returned to Virginia and had wings at Buffalo Wild Wings with Peggy, Jack, Scott and Michelle.  Mauricio and Scott really bonded - was worried Mauricio might leave with Scott instead of me! - neither could really say a whole lot to the other - but they used signs and band names and guitar brands to understand each other.  We all had a great time with lots of laughs.

Day 8 and 9.  CT.  NYC.
It was hard to leave Peggy and Jack (and Scott and Michelle!) but the next day we were off for Mauricio to meet the parents and Bubba.  An easy trip up to Stamford, CT where we dropped off the car and met up with the fam.   They picked us up at the rental car locale and then we headed over to Colony Grill for some amazing pizza and beer.  Had never heard of hot oil pizza before this trip - but I am a HUGE fan.  In the afternoon, we had a bit of time to relax and settle in.  In the evening, we met up with my parents and the house of one of their friends for a birthday party being hosted by an Elvis-impersonator - I can only imagine what Mauricio was thinking about Americans and how they have a good time.  So funny!!!  We enjoyed the music and danced a bit and then headed home to rest.

Up and at 'em the following day, we took the train into New York City.  Mauricio loved it and took photos nonstop (thank goodness because they make this post together, no?).  We arrived in perfect timing for the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, a cruise that goes around the city, past the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park and under some of the bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, and explains the history and the sites along the way.  Also, in the summer, this is an excellent way to beat the heat - the breeze is killer.  The rest of the day we spent walking.  We started on the east side, walked to Broadway, then headed to the MoMA where we perused the store but decided not to use up hours in the museum (we'll save it for another time).  Next we searched for lunch and lucked out with a cutesy restaurant called Match, a French brasserie.  After re-energizing we headed to Central Park for a bit and then eventually made our way back to Grand Central and eventually Stratford.  At this point details are fuzzy... I think we chatted with mom and dad for a bit and then called it a night.

Day 10.  CT.
The original idea here was to give ourselves a day to relax a bit...but in true Kate fashion, relaxation was a bit too hard to come by.  With mom and dad, we drove up to the outlets.  We were there for hours and Mauricio was just getting into the groove, when it was time to have lunch (mealtime aggression is a very serious offense in our family) and then relax a bit on the beach with my Aunt Cathy and cousins Keegan and Kacy.  The day was very hot and the water was very cold.  Great combo.  That night mom and dad prepared oysters and steamers and burgers and we were joined by Andy and Kathy (the godparents) for this glorious meal.  We got to bed pretty early in order to get ready for our next big adventure:  Boston.

Day 11.  Boston.
Bright and earlier we left for Boston.   Went over into Cambridge to show Mauricio where I lived and studied - I just think the Harvard campus is so beautiful! - and the headed into Boston to pick up Bubba at his place.  The first item on the list was lunch.  We grab salads and wraps (something light) because we knew dinner was going to be...intense.  After lunch we took a duck tour (duck lips included - they cost extra, but how much fun can a duck tour be if you can't quack during it?).  I'd never gone on one of these tours and I definitely recommend it if you're looking to get a nice overview of a city in one day.  We saw a LOT and it was fun to get out on the water - the conductor even let Mauricio drive the boat for a bit and gave him a sticker for his excellent work.  Next we headed over to Quincy Market for a bit of shopping (and site seeing) and then ended in the night in the North End for dinner.  We decided to eat at Giacomo's, a well-known Italian restaurant.  This meant waiting in line for over an hour - but it was Bubba's last month or so in Boston - so it was a must.  And worth the wait!!  The food was so Italian - HUGE proportions, delicious red sauce, bread, all accompanied by red wine.  Nice.  My meal was almost comical.  I ordered spaghetti with lobster and shellfish - it was a half a lobster piled with pasta, it was easily 8 inches high!  Out. Of. Control....of course, I ate ever last bit.  And then thought I'd never eat another thing...until we passed the pastry shop with cannolis!  There's always room for dessert.  Mauricio agrees.

Day 12, 13 and 14.  Upstate NY.  Bob Dylan.
For the end of the trip, I was looking for a change of pace.  A visit with the grandparents in Upstate New York, where the only thing to do is enjoy the outdoors, drink coffee/wine and relax.  The trip TO Unadilla was not so relaxing, but it was so great of my parents to joining us for our adventures and doing the driving because we (or maybe it was just me) were exhausted.  The plan was to check out Woodstock, NY, eat lunch there and then pass by Kaaterskill Falls on the way to the house.  We did it all but it was clear that the Naycot pace is very different than the Mauricio pace.  I think he was confused.  Why we would go to a beautiful waterfall, if we only had 5 minutes to enjoy it?  He was ready to hike the entire trail and stay for hours.  Mom had other plans.  Mom won.  Which of course was fine because then we were in Unadilla.

Again, when I get here my whole body relaxes.  Life slows down.  The first night mom and dad made dinner, we drank wine, and then we picked blueberries to complement the strawberry shortcake the Gram had ready for us.  This was my last visit with Grandpa and it sounds like we arrived just in time.  He was still pretty lucid at this point and was even gettin' on the tractor still (not that this was necessarily a good idea!).

The next day we slept in, then went for a hike in the woods behind the house.  It was hot but we could not be stopped.  We returned to the house for some water and then headed back out to walk the block (4 miles), take photos and enjoy the moment and the great company.  We headed into Sidney for dinner the second night (it's kind of a tradition now when I visit Grandma).  We had dessert (after picking more blueberries) back at house and enjoyed the evening.  I really just didn't want our visit to end.

We had to head back to Stratford early the next day because we had big plans.  1) A trip to Target.  I think we spent 3 hours there made a nice dent in our bank accounts.  2) A Bob Dylan concert.  Mauricio is a huge fan of Bob Dylan so I knew this trip was meant to be when, after we had already picked the dates for the trip, I found out that he was going to be performing in Bridgeport of all places while we were in CT.  Hooray!  My parents bought me 4 tickets as part of my 30th birthday present, so we invited two other friends of mine to join us.  Good times.

Day 14.  NYC.
For our final day in the country, we headed back to NYC for one more hurrah.   Our flight was leaving out of JFK the following day and we still had so much to see in do in the city that never sleeps.  So once again we hopped the train, this time with all our luggage, dropped our stuff off at our swanky hotel in Soho and then headed back out into the concrete jungle that is NYC.   My besties, Pears and Haley also made it to the city to hang out for the day.  We spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon shopping (Mauricio bought two Stetson hats at a second-hand shop) and then stopped for Mexican with Pears for lunch.  In the afternoon, we met up with Haley, ate frozen yogurt, visited another friend Kristin at Kiehl's (where she works) and she hooked us up with a load of freebies.  (Gotta love free beauty products).  We all got together, along with two of Pears' friends, for dinner and drinks before calling it a night.  Great food, great cocktails, great company, great city, great trip.
Day 15.  Until next time.
We had to head to the airport a little before midday but slept in as long as we could ('til about 10).  We checked out, left our bags with the concierge, and had one more great meal at a cute little cafe where I could order granola with almond milk (sigh...places like this are few and far between in Bogotá...maybe I could open one....could I do that? I have no idea how complicated it would be to run a café.  Hmmm...maybe something for the bucket list.  I hate endings, so leaving for the airport was tough.  Still,  I'm pretty sure that this is just the beginning of the adventures for Kate and Mauricio...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Squeezed in a trip home this fall.  Amazing.

A great friend of my from high school was getting married and I really wanted to be there but flights are expensive and I didn't think my school was going to be too gung-ho about me missing work for a party.  Then grandpa starting going - quickly.  I was quite sure he wasn't going to hold out for one more of my visits in December, so I made the decision to book a flight that would allow me to visit with the grandparents and attend April's wedding.

Well, as in Grandpa fashion, he decided to do things his own way.  He passed away before I could say my final goodbyes but provided me with some great time with Grandma.  I arrived to her house a few days after the funeral which meant her stress levels were down and there weren't a million people visiting.  It was a great visit.  We went out to dinner, spent a morning drinking coffee and chatting on the back porch, and the weather could not have been better - cool, autumn air and trees with beautiful foliage.  I managed to run once with my parents - a run that prevented me from being able to walk normally for the following 3 days, those hills are no joke.

April's wedding was a great way to end my trip.  She was gorgeous (no surprise there) and seemed so happy.  It was great to catch up with old friends (old, as in friends from high school - we are not OLD in terms of our age...yet).

Beautiful bride.

Chance to catch up with old friends.

I should also mention I had a great visit with my "little" brother.  I got to relax and enjoy the views from his sweet apartment and recover from my red eye flight.  Then we went out to dinner (Northern Spy Co.  - highly recommended) and enjoyed a delicious, autumn meal and he paid! (I was outraged but then got over it...quickly..hehehe)  We ended the night drinking and watching football with his buddies.  These moments are few and far between, making them even more spectacular when they do happen.

The whole visit was a spur-of-the-minute idea, but I'm so glad I made it happen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The toughest part about living abroad - Part 2

This has been a tough year.  I've lost my grandma, two uncles, and now my grandfather.  This time, however, when I got news that my grandfather's health was going quickly, I made plans to go home.  This year I am in a better place financially.  That was one of my new year's resolutions - build up enough financial security that when things happen back home, I can make family the priority that it should be.  Sadly, I will not have another conversation with my grandpa, but I will be able to spend time with my family - my mom, grandma, and maybe aunts and uncles and share memories and tales of life with grandpa.  Here are a few that I've shared with close friends here over the past couple of days.

  • Tractor rides.  I remember being towed around in the trailer attached to Grandpa's tractor.  It seems he was always, in his final months, driving around in that thing.  It may seem silly...but sometime memories are like that.
  • Singing.  I know my mom and her siblings have even more memories than I do but I remember listening to Grandpa sing.  I remember one Thanksgiving where we were all sitting around the dinner table and he just began belting out a Kris Kristofferson song about getting high (say what?!) - my dad chimed in and I just laughed shocked and entertained by the lyrics that my grandfather was singing and then even more so when I learned that it was a real song that my father also knew!  I remember Grandpa singing  along to all his favorite country classics on records, than on tapes...not sure we ever made it to CDs.  I remember my mom and aunts singing along as well.  I remembering thinking they sounded beautiful but that music was kind of boring...but now one of my favorites to sing to is the Best of Patsy Cline...
  • Swearing.  For many this probably was not one of Grandpa's best qualities.  As my mom would say, he had the "mouth of a trucker/sailor".  But as a kid, and I'm sure my brother would agree, it was just the best listening to him swear.  He definitely helped me to develop my vocabulary - and some of the expressions he came up with - wowweeee!  Amazing.  I think I control my anger a bit better than he ever did but he definitely taught me that there's something to getting things off your chest - just letting the world know how you feel.  Sometimes it's the best way...I just try to use the f-word a little less when I do it. ;-)
  • Squeaky Clean.  It's funny how the memory works.  It doesn't seem possible that I could remember some of these things....anyhow, I remember take baths at my grandparents' house in Bedford, putting on my pajamas, and then heading back to the living room.  My grandpa would always ask me if I was "squeaky clean".  I still use this expression, and always think of him.  
So looking forward to heading home and swapping memories and stories with family.  Missing everyone so much right now but feeling so grateful for being in a place that allows me to head home when I feel the need.  It makes the pain of losing someone, of losing grandpa, a little more bearable. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Day at the Races

So Friday arrived.  Everyone loves Fridays.  The end of the week, the weekend in sight.  We all have plans.  Sometimes those plans include going out for dinner or drinks with friends until some ungodly hour and sleeping until noon.  Other times they include taking advantage of those two days without work to get the laundry done, by the groceries and get a haircut.  Other times still the plan is that there is no plan and you are going to simply relax.  Ahhh.... Fridays.

Fridays at my school are extra special because we get to leave early - 2:10pm instead of the normal 4:00pm.  Awesome...unless there is an electric storm.  My school is very safety conscious.  We have a group of teachers that make up La Brigada.  They are responsible for training and preparing the school on how to respond in the case of an emergency - any emergency.  The biggest "emergency" we typically have is thunder and lightening.  Don't get me wrong, I understand that lightening can be a very dangerous thing and have no desire to be struck at any point in my life, but to consider it a school-wide emergency remains something quite new to me.  In my 20+ years in education (as student and teacher), Colombia is the only place where I have found electrical storms affecting my day-to-day life.

We have a device that measures the presence of electric storms and their distance from the school.  At a certain distance (not sure what that is...maybe 15 km?), La Brigada has determined that the risk of getting electrocuted is too high.  That is too high to use technology, too high to have the windows open, too high to leave the room you are in (we don't have hallways at our school to get from one place to another you must walk outside).

So on Friday, at 2:09pm, the alarm sounded signaling a state of emergency.  Most of the students had already gotten on their bus but us teachers, all waiting with bags packed were NOT on the bus nor in our cars and had the pleasure of staying at the school for an extra hour to wait out the risk of this passing electric storm.

Here's how we passed the time:

About 5 teachers participated in this great event of office chair racing before we were able to leave.  We each presented our own region/country.  You will all be proud to know that I, representative of the grand ole' US of A, won with a record time of 13 seconds...  my competitive spirit is alive and well. ;-)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bills, bills, bills

So, for the past year I have lived alone and thus have been paying utilities - phone/Internet, electricity, gas, and water/garbage - here in Colombia.  All this time, I've been complaining because I thought the only way to pay these bills was to go to a place with a Baloto (Colombia lottery) and pay there.  You can only pay in cash and so each month (twice a month - because the phone bill comes in the middle of the month) the errand has included walking to at ATM, or several because almost always one of them is out-of-order, taking out cash, going to the little store that is generally only open during normal workday hours so I'm rushing when I get home to get the cash and get there in time and pay these bills.  Some of which, seem almost ridiculous to be paying.  My gas is maybe $5.00 per month,  "Can't I just pay for the whole year upfront?!" I would think to myself until I finally got a wake-up call and found out that I can pay my bills online directly from my bank account, just like in the United States.   Doh.

Lesson learned:  Ask around about things before deciding that things in Colombia are more complicated and frustrating than in the U.S.  (This still holds true for some things but I'm finding more the pluses balance out the cons...I just need to dig a bit deeper).

Monday, July 22, 2013


The school year ended and was followed by a crazy but wonderful whirlwind 2-week trip to the United States with Boyaco, the beau (more to come on this soon...once pictures are ready), and now I have a bit of time to relax and revisit the stuff that matters to me and set some goals for the new year.  Being a teacher generally means I have two "New Years" -  the beginning of the school and January 1.  During the summer vacation I don't write resolutions but I get my life in order.  I pause and reflect on where how far I've come and map out where I want to go next.

In recent months I've come across many great books, website, blogs, etc. and I've had inspiring conversations with other people who are doing the same and are learning and are energized by this new information - and this energy is contagious.  Specifically, I've noticed a recurring them of returning to a simpler lifestyle - whole foods; active days of exercising (and enjoying it!), crafting, cooking and more; making time for the things and the people that matter; and more calm, more love, more peace.  This might sound sappy but just thinking about these things puts me in a better place.  Therefore, I thought I'd share some of my favorite sources of inspiration, in no particular order:

1.  Finances
He is my new motivation to spend less, save more and retire by 45! 
He is all about saving so that you can retire and spend your time doing exactly the way you want to.  He talks about riding your bike, cooking at home, staying active and finding crafty ways to solve problems in your life that require more manual labor on your end but much less spending.  It is awesome.

2.  Nutrition
It began with a conversation with a good friend about why she eats a mostly vegetarian diet, then I came across a book, Food Over Medicine, and from there I have not been able to stop researching diet and nutrition.  I have basically decided that I am going to try to maintain a mostly vegan diet - yes, that's correct no animal products.  I have not found one study showing that animal foods will make me healthier and there are plenty to show the contrary.  Additionally, in terms of the environment and world hunger - it just makes more sense.  Here are some great resources I've come across on the topic:
I'm just beginning this journey, so if any of you have advice - I'd love to hear it!

3.  Fitness
I was on a yoga kick for a while, meditating every morning and then doing yoga for 20 minutes or so...but I was doing nothing else.  After a conversation with Boyaco about the importance of cardio, I did some research and found that yoga was definitely not enough.  (The growing waste line also should have been a clue)  I pulled out the Jillian Michaels videos and started working out with those 5 days a week but then was forgetting about the meditation and the yoga.  I bought new sneakers, some new videos, have plans to attend a few classes during my summer break and find a combination of activities that will ensure I'm getting the exercise I need while staying balanced.  I also have plans to purchase a bike!  Very excited about that.  I'm also thinking I need to give up TV in order to find time for all that I want to be able to do.  Anyhow, no resources to share here...I'm still on the hunt!

4.  Work
This coming school year I have a new job and I am very excited about it.  The school created the position for me and it couldn't be more perfect.  My title will be something like Director of Professional Development but the work is sort of up to me.  The job has never existed and the school wants to know what professional development should be at the school.  I'm kind of starting from nothing - it's just one giant experiment, taking all that I've studied and researched and imagined and creating something that I hope will be amazing.  I've been reading a LOT and talking with different people.  I also started reading The Sacred Profession, a blog which is a great source of inspiration for educators in general.  I'm sure there will be some posts on this new undertaking throughout the year - all resources on professional development, great conferences for teacher trainers/leaders, etc. are welcome!

5.  Homesteading
For awhile I've been interested in crafts, cooking, sewing, baking my own bread, having plants and herbs in my apartment, composting, etc.  But I've done less of this in Bogotá because 1) I don't know where to find the items I need to get started; 2) I no longer have a backyard; and 3) Life gets going and other things have take priority.  But no more excuses.  I'm not sure I'll ever really reach homesteader status but this year I want to: 
  • Compost in my apartment  (I began this, but definitely need to purchase worms if this is really going to work!)
  • Grow herbs
  • Bake all my own bread (I've found some new types of flour at the health food store down the street and have begun experimenting with the best mix for flavor and nutrition)
  • Create art (painting, drawing, crafts, etc.)
  • Fix stuff on my own (toilets, cabinets, whatever)
  • Learn to knit (I'm thinking of starting a knitting circle)
  • Find a way to get involved in the community
Here are some inspiring websites for ideas:
Hope something in this list provides some inspiration to someone.  I haven't been blogging a whole lot because I'm not really convinced that my life is all that interesting.  During my 2-week visit with friends and family, however, several people mentioned that they enjoyed my blog and reading about what I'm up I'm going to make an effort to keep y'all informed on wherever this crazy life takes me....

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Heart of the North

This past weekend the beau invited me to go with him and his family to visit the town where he grew up:  Boavita, Boyacá.  It was two days after my 30th birthday, so the school found it in their hearts to give me the Friday off - giving us a 4-day weekend to enjoy ourselves.  I didn't take nearly enough pictures because I got so caught up in the moment and the beauty of it all but thankfully I have a few to share, some taken by me, others taken by another couple that visited Boavita with us.  This was such a magical place - I had tears in my eyes when it was time to leave...

Boavita, Boyacá - Central Plaza
View from El Tabor
Evening hike - View of El Tabor from the road below

Evening sky

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

International Network

These past few days I've been struggling with some sort of stomach bug.  But despite the discomfort, I ignored doctor's orders and left my apartment, loaded-up on antibiotics and probiotics (that's confusing) to meet up with a dear friend from grad school, Caterina.

I sometimes forget how international my network of friends is.  Caterina was visiting from Chile for the book fair in Colombia.  She purchases all the textbooks for Chile's ministry of education (fancy, right?) and we were able to squeeze a quick bite to eat to catch up.  We swapped stories on our own lives and then shared what we knew about all our friends from grad school, marveling at just how worldly and successful the group is and how fun it is to have friends located all over.  The visit was short but it was so great to see her.  Next visit is from Mateo as he heads to the Galapagos for the summer...what an interesting bunch!  Every visit and every conversation gives me a new boost of inspiration.

Thanks for a great (no matter how short) visit Cate!  Looking forward to more meet-ups in the future.

Sorry, no pics, but had to take a moment to recognize these little treats in life.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Time is flying.  It seems like New Year’s Eve was yesterday and here we are nearly in April.  Is this a sign that I’m getting older?   These past few months have been packed with work, friends, time with the new beau (who I suppose is not all that new anymore), and time for me.  I committed this year to focusing more on my inner peace and I can now say that I’m making some headway.

Those of you that know me well know that generally I don’t land in one place for too long.  If I have five free minutes to spare, I find a way to use that time.  Friends joke about it, I think my mom would say something about this demonstrating leadership and organization or “meaning and direction”, something mom-esque, but towards the end of the year I was feeling this way of being was just stressful.

Living in Colombia has introduced me to a culture that is certainly not as fast-paced and time-obsessed as the U.S. culture.  At first it was frustrating, especially at work, but then I thought maybe there’s something to be said for taking a full hour for lunch or sitting in the sun and enjoying a coffee for 20 minutes in the afternoon during the school day and catching up with co-workers.  As I started thinking about how to slow down a bit and make time to soak in each day and appreciate the things around me – it seemed like the world heard be and was responding with lots of advice:  I stumbled across numerous articles about meditation, a friend recommended a book to me that was exactly what I needed to read, a great offer for my favorite yoga magazine popped up on my computer screen (a bit creepy, but appreciated all the same) and I discovered Pinterest and great ideas for how to make my apartment more “Zen”.  

This post is dedicated to sharing with those interested the things I’ve been doing these past few months to slow down, shut off (or at least soften) the running commentary and solving of the world’s problems that goes on in my mind,  appreciate the little miracles in the day-to-day and overall just be a bit happier.  If this sounds extremely new agey, I apologize, but maybe there’s something to be said for being new agey.  

1.  Meditation:  I came across an online article when I was perusing the Yoga Journal online.  It was about the benefits of meditation and also provided a 28-day guided introductionto meditation.  I signed up immediately and began day 1 when I returned to Bogotá after the Christmas break.  For all of January I got up a little bit early every day to dedicate 5 – 15 minutes of my morning to sitting on some pillows in my living room and just listening to my breathing.  For me this is muuuch more difficult than it sounds.  The goal is to not think at all, to give your mind a rest and just be in the present.  I was terrible and still am, although I’m definitely improving.  I can get through 10 minutes without creating to do lists, writing lesson plans or solving my other little problems-of-the-day -  HUGE SUCCESS.  And the effects of just 10 minutes a day of meditation?  I’m calmer, I’m more productive at work (for 3 months straight I haven’t brought work home!), I’m more patient with my students, I feel more alert in the mornings and I am happy heading into work.  Now obviously, there are still bad days but overall the effects have been noticeable.  I’m also sleeping better.  According to other articles that I’ve come across since I started this practice, meditation will also help to live longer, show signs of aging at a slower rate, and will help me to lose weight.  I mean why wouldn’t I keep meditating, apparently it is a cure-all! J

2.  Yoga:  The next step has been to incorporate yoga more regularly into my life.  For awhile I was going to a yoga studio, but the hours don’t work very well with my schedule and the classes are ridiculously expensive for something that I know how to do and can do for free in my apartment.  I bought a subscription to Yoga Journal Yes, they deliver to Colombia!  And yes, the first month already arrived and not late at all!  Woo hoo!  The journal provides me with the motivation and the inspiration I need.  The march article was all about how to develop your own routines and the important parts of a yoga practice.  I’ve been trying.  Some days I only have the energy and/or patience to give it 15 – 20 minutes of my time.  Other days I’ll workout for an hour without even thinking about it.  I’m getting stronger and feeling less like an almost-30-year-old than before.

3.  The Four Agreements:  My boyfriend is generally a very happy guy.  He’s very driven and successful professionally, but unlike me he doesn’t seem to be consumed by constantly planning and organizing and doing.  He takes life as it comes and always seems pleased with what comes his way.  Early into the new year, we were talking about what drives us, motivates us and what we think about life – the kinds of conversations I LOVE!  Anyhow, he mentioned a book called The Four Agreements and said that the book really spoke to him and he tries to follow the advice of the book because he thinks it is dead on.  With my handy dandy Kindle I immediately purchased the book and dove in.  It was exactly what I needed, at the exact right moment.  I have referred back to the book several times these past months to maintain my focus and my calm.  I definitely recommend it! 

4.  Fuel.  Another part of taking better care of me, is eating better.   For starters, I’m bring my breakfast to school every day.  The school offers teachers a morning snack but it’s unpredictable  - some days it’s something nutritious:  yogurt and fruit or crackers and cheese and an apple but other days it’s a chocolate croissant or a donut.  These things are delicious and I have been losing weight living in Colombia, so I wasn’t really worrying about it.  But this year I’ve been really tired and have had numerous migraines – upon reading quite a bit I decided that perhaps it had something to do with my diet.   I am now trying to only buy whole foods, I’m avoiding white rice and other starches from the school lunch, and my breakfast is always very nutritious:  yogurt, fruit and bran flakes.  This is a bit of modification of a breakfast that another friend posted on her blog.  This is just a bit easier for me and plenty filling.   I also have one small coffee in the morning and no more caffeine the rest of the day (just can't seem to quit the caffeine completely) .  I drink LOTS of water – this part is a bit inconvenient because the bathroom at school is not very close to my classrooms or the teachers’ office but my energy levels are MUCH higher and I haven’t had a migraine in months.

5.  DIY.  Lastly, I’ve been working on making my apartment more peaceful and more green. 

I started by creating a place for my meditation with pillows to make me comfortable – I keep a wool hat and a pair of wool socks there too because it is pretty chilly in my apartment in the mornings (before the sun comes up).  I also bought some candles to create better lighting for me in the morning when I’m meditating or in the evening when I’m reading.  I then decided that I wanted some wall art.  Here’s what I created:

I feel so accomplished!
... but now I need another project...

This was a small idea that turned into quite a major undertaking.  Rolling nearly a thousand pieces of magazine to make the rolls to 
With a glimpse of my potted flowers too!

paste on the letters, pasting the rolls, creating the letters, hanging the letters….oof.  But when it was all done, it felt great.  Maybe the word Namaste is a bit cliché  But when I was deciding what word to hang on my wall, I was just getting back into yoga and starting meditation and the meaning of Namaste was mentioned in several articles.  For many, it’s simple the word you say at the end of a yoga session, kind of like a thank you to the instructor.  It has many translations but the one I like best is “the light within me honors the light within you”.  The idea being that we can see God in everyone.  No, none of us our perfect but we all have our beauty and goodness within us amongst our imperfections.  The idea of Namaste recognizes that we all are the same and that when we live from the heart we can recognize this union.  Again, very new agey, I know, but I also think it’s beautiful.  I’m hoping that having this word on my wall will be a constant reminder to me of all the good within me and also a reminder to focus on the good within others. 

Finally, this week is my vacation so I finally got around to two other things:
  • PLANTS in the apartment!
  • Creating an indoor compost bin. 

The plants part is awesome.  I love having flowers, so I bought some potted ones that will last longer and actually for three plants and the pots, I spent less than I do I an arrangement of flowers for my apartment.  I also bought a large plant that is on the floor.  Today I read about the best plants for cleaning the air in the apartment and I read about creating an indoor herb garden.  Coming soon…
As for the compost bin, the verdict is still out.  I read about the process for creating the compost bin online and followed the instructions.  Some sites say I need worms, others don’t mention them at all.  Worms seem gross, but I think it makes sense., they do the work and help break things down quicker.  Don’t know where to purchase worms in Bogotá, however, so will have to see how the worm-less composting works until I can track some down…
Drilled holes into the bin...

Keeping it under my sink, next to garbage
with extra dirt and paper scraps available when I need them.
So that’s how I’ve been working on me for these past few months.  I know I’ve been rather silent on this blog but I’m still here, very content in Bogotá.  Would love any advice folks have on meditation, indoor composting, house plants/indoor herb gardens, and/or great books on personal growth and reflection. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Retreat to Reflect and Revisit What Matters

This week I left the city with my fifth graders for a retreat.  Each grade at my school, escapes the hustle and bustle of school and city life for two days to discuss, reflect, and set schools around the type of people and course they want to be.  Let me remind you, these are fifth graders, so the level of insight and depth of the conversations was not originally what I had expected.  But after reading their reflections on the retreat, it turns out they took away quite a bit and were very happy.

The retreat began with a discussion about how we all are born with a certain temperament, introverted or extroverted for example.  The students generated lists of the strengths of being these two temperaments and then the challenges or faults of many people with these temperaments.  We discussed how everyone is different and how everyone has areas of strength and areas for improvement, but that no one needs to change who they are.  The goal is to know who you are and consider what you need to improve in order to avoid harming others and to improve your own enjoyment of life as well.  The students seemed to understand this and appreciate this discussion, but so did I!  I found myself pondering over what my temperament is and thinking about the strengths and weaknesses that come with it...  still thinking about actually...

The next part of the retreat had the students focus on their strengths and weaknesses as a group, as a fifth grade.  They brainstormed, presented and discussed how these strengths and weaknesses manifest themselves in the day-to-day.  They also worked in groups to create a variety of presentations - games, skits, songs, etc. to teach about these traits and to consider what the group needs to do to improve.

In addition, to lots of discussions there were teamwork games and we ended the retreat with a viewing of Karate Kid (the new one with Jayden Smith) - too cute!!!

While I returned overly-fed and exhausted from the non-stop schedule and time with the students, I was happy to have the time with the students, to watch friendships develop, to witness some ah-ha moments, and to have the time to reflect on my own growth.  Great tradition, I recommend it for any class or school.

Here are some pics:

This game was incredible!  The person on the shoulders had a pin in their mouth and had to pop as many water balloons as he or she could without using his or her hands.  The team that collected the most balloons won.

The kids LOVED it!  I was scared that someone was going to swallow a pin...

Adorable discussions and teamwork.

Fire with marshmallow and wiener roasting. :-)

Evening fun!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Staying connected

It's been way too long since I've posted.  I think in my second year there is less that seems new and noteworthy.  Also, after my last post, it seemed strange to go back to simply reporting on my life here in Colombia.  Still, thought I'd share an update on my progress in staying connected to friends and family. I'm not doing super well, but there have been some improvements/discoveries.  In my last post, I said that my resolution for this year was to be better about my finances so that I can make the visits to friends and family for major events and when I feel the need.  This way Colombia won't feel so removed from the rest of the world.  I also, just generally need to be better about staying connected.

So how am I doing?

1) I've already booked the ticket for my friend Shannon's wedding in June.  I will be in the country for about 80 hours in total but it is soooo worth it.  Shannon is my oldest friend, not in age but in terms of the amount of time we've known each other.  We were in the same Kindergarten class and every Wednesday we were placed at the kitchen station together.  We've been friends ever since.  She's asked me to be in her wedding and I cannot wait to be there for the big day!

2) There was also talk about going to Shannon's second wedding in Macedonia (fiance's family is from there) and making it a super vacation by flying to Berlin to visit with my friend Sophia and then traveling by car, train, or plane (still undetermined) to visit a few places between Germany and Macedonia...Croatia for example.  This is still undetermined.  It would be amazing but also very expensive.  I've taken on some part-time work and I'm hoping to sell my car (my 2002 Honda that is sitting in my parents' garage) once springtime has sprung.  I also need to solidify a job for next year.  If these things happen, this trip might be possible.  I need  to visit Sophia and obviously the Macedonia wedding is a once in a lifetime opportunity... so it's still on the table.  If anyone reading this wins the lottery and wants to make someone verrrry happy, I'm your girl. (wink, wink)

3) Google Hangouts!  If you have not tried this yet, you should.  Last night I was able to talk to six of my friends from when I worked in Texas.  It was pure chaos and ridiculousness but it was also AWESOME!  We were all sitting in our own houses, at our computers, video-conferencing.  I could see and here everyone.  It was amazing.  There are lots of fun effects - like adding masks, eyewear, and hats to the videos and sounds to the conversations.  Again, ridiculous.  Hoping we can make this happen more regularly.  It made my week.  Here's a glimpse at what this conversation looked like:

4) Skyping with Mom and Dad.  In the past  I have always Skyped with my Mom and Dad at the same time, but a few weeks ago my Mom decided she was having it anymore.  Now I speak with each of them individually every other week.  It has turned out to be fabulous.  Dad and I talk about Dad and Kate stuff -  TUK (my car), weather, Yankees/Giants, work, love, funny stories about my mom (past and present), etc.  Mom and I talk about Mom and Kate stuff - work, books, exercise, recipes, love, education, etc.  Glad we have found a system that works and glad to have the quality time with each of them regularly.

Overall, I think I'm making progress.  Would like to Skype with some more friends regularly and need to be better about e-mailing Grandma and Grandpa, but I'm headed in the right direction.  Loving life in Colombia, but it's easier to love when I don't feel so far away from family and friends.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Difficult Questions

I love visiting family and friends and cherish the time I have with folks, but going back home for those few weeks is also tough emotionally.  There are lots of questions asked but lots of unspoken feelings and questions as well.

The doozies:
When are you coming back home?  
Why aren't you working in education HERE, in the U.S.?!  Your own country needs you.
Why Bogotá?!

I know the questions come from a good place.  It's nice to know that I'm missed, that people worry about me and that people think my presence in the U.S. would make a difference.  I also know that for some people the questions are more emotionally charged than actually coming from a logical place.  But the questions are also sometimes hard to handle.  For a few reasons:  1.  I don't know.  2. I don't have a good answer/ the right answer.  3. I feel guilty.  4. I feel attacked/judged/misunderstood/etc.  Still, the questions force me to take some time to reflect and find some answers for myself... here's what I know right now.

I know that I don't know when I'm returning "home".  
Truthfully, I'm not sure where home would be first of all.  And secondly, I'm not sure where my life is going to take me.   Certainly, the house where I grew up will always be considered home and I can always refer to it as home and people understand.  Still, when people ask me about returning "home", I'm quite certain they don't mean "when are you, as a 29-year-old going to go back to living with your parents?".   The question seems to mean when will I return to the States.  That's confusing.  The U.S. is huge.  For me there is not a huge difference between being in Colombia and being in California, or Texas for that matter.  It's a flight away - a 4 hour flight versus a 6 hour flight really doesn't seem like a me.  

Additionally, if I did return to the United States.  I'm not sure where I'd want to be.  Anywhere I went, I'd have to start fresh.  Yes, there are a handful of cities where I have some good friends - Houston, New York City, Washington, DC...but I'd still have to build a life in this new location and I've done that quite a bit.  I'm actually quite good at it, but frankly, I'm tired of moving so much and would like to just stay put until an opportunity arises that really screams "this is the move you've been waiting for!"

My commitment to education is to a global community, not the U.S.
This is not a very patriotic statement, I understand.  It may even be offensive to some.  Still, I'm fascinated by this shrinking world and all that people can offer each other, if we are just willing to cross borders into different languages, cultures, and understandings about the world in which we live.  I believe education has the power to change a person's life and was motivated to work in education through my time as a tutor in D.C..  My passion grew with my experiences in New Orleans, Houston, Uganda, and South Africa.  My dedication and sense of purpose was developed at Harvard.  And now, in Colombia, I continue to learn about the power of education and find new ways to use my skills to make a difference.  The amount of work to be done is overwhelming and the answers are not going to be found in one place.  I am one small player in this fight to ensure that all children have a quality education in this world.  And I do what I can, where I see a role for me.  I should probably also mention that I do continue to contribute to education reform in the U.S. from over here in Colombia.  I work part time as a consultant and take on work here and there, again, when I see a space that could benefit from what I have to offer.  

Life in Bogotá is simpler.
For sure I make jokes about some of the struggles I've had living in Colombia but at the end of the day, the simplicity of life here makes me a better person, a saner person, a healthier person - a happier person.  I don't have a car and public transportation here is not great.  But I walk...a lot.  I get out of my apartment and into the sunlight.  Sometimes I get caught in downpours, with not a taxi to be found, but when I arrive to my apartment soaking wet - the pleasure I get from that hot shower, those comfy pajamas and that cup of tea are unmeasurable.  Healthcare can sometimes be confusing and frustrating but I've been humbled by the process of navigating a system in what sometimes feels like broken-Spanish and seeing how the majority of the world lives.  I could also choose to pay a bit more to avoid the lines and the chaos, but to see what I've afforded to avoid my whole life has taught me something.  I have more free time.  I work a full-time job which does not require I bring work home.  I have time to explore new hobbies, to travel, to take on additional work (if I so please...which I sometimes do), to plan a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people, to enjoy an empanada and beer after work with a friend, to date, to exercise, to meditate, to just be.  Finally, every day I am learning.  My Spanish will never be perfect, but it gets closer and closer with each day that passes.  It is so exciting to learn a new phrase and than put it into use immediately.  It is so rewarding to go to dinner with a friend's family and realize at the end of the night that I was able to follow the entire night's conversation and contribute to it.  Bogotá might not be where I settle down permanently but for now life is good here.  I am happy.  

The distance doesn't have to feel so great.
I love my family and friends and cherish the moments I have when we are together.  Traveling makes maintaining these relationships a bit more challenging but it is also because of traveling and taking risks that many of these amazing friendships came to be.  This year my new year's resolution is to be better with my finances so that the distance does not impact these relationships as much.  I don't want to miss out on my best friend's wedding (and would really like to see her second wedding in Macedonia!), missing my grandmother's funeral was terrible, and if Mom, Dad and Bubba decide they want to vacation as a family in some crazy locale, I want to be sure I can swing it.    Still, I plan to make it happen while living here, in my comfortable life in Bogotá.  At least until, something pulls me in another direction.