3.28.2014

{my top three} dream trips

Most people have a dream destination or adventure lingering in the back of their mind. Most people also read one book at a time. I like to read 2 or 3 books at once, just as I like to juggle several dream trips in my fantasy world. Ever since the conception of my bucket list in Bogotá circa 2009, I have harbored grandiose plans for worldwide travel. 

The following are my top 3...for now.




Machu Picchu

I have a special place in my heart for South America. This continent’s tumultuous and fascinating past often goes untold in the classrooms of North America. What a shame! The mystery, betrayal, violence, adventure, and untold riches litter the pages of Sudamérica’s history books, rivaling the most spectacular blockbuster film or dramatic telenovela. The more I learn about the land of Simón Bolívar, the more I want to explore it. 

Specifically, Peru calls to me. Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa are on my list, but they would all be merely leading to the apex of the trip - Machu Picchu. Hiking and camping among one of history’s greatest mysteries is appealing to both my intellectual and outdoorsy sides. 

Spain to Morocco

As most students of the Spanish language, I would love to see the origin of the Castellano language. Specifically, my bucket list calls for sipping a glass of red wine, or vino tinto, in a plaza in Spain. Maybe on the patio of a restaurant, or a balcony overlooking the plaza - I’m not picky! I want the word vale to become a part of my everyday speech in Spanish, and I want to catch futbol fever. 

After exploring the motherland, it would only be a short ferry ride from Tarifa or Gibraltar to Tangiers. And my bucket list instructs me to repeat a line from Casablanca in Casablanca. So, here’s looking at you, outdoor markets, head scarfs, and desert sands! I’m coming for you, kid!

Buenos Aires

I can’t help it! I just can’t escape the draw of South America! First I would learn to dance the tango, followed by a dinner of steak and wine, followed by a night on the town putting my new tango skillz to work. I would explore the land of Evita and the desaparacidos from the Guerra Sucia - the dirty war. The European vibe of the city would make me feel sophisticated as I lounged in yet another plaza. 


After having my way with Buenos Aires, I would make my way to wine country, sipping my way from vineyard to vineyard. I would probably camp under the stars like a true gaucho or whatever. 


Apparently my bucket list is just a geographically organized ledger of plazas and patios from which to sip beverages, and also some places to hike. Cheers to that!

3.25.2014

currently reading: daily rituals {part 2}


My ulterior motive for reading Daily Rituals; How Artists Work was to stumble upon that one magical habit that would transform my own daily routine. I don't think I'm the only person searching for increased productivity in my creative work, and I also don't think I'm alone in seeking meaning and joy in the habits that make up my day.

Thusly, I took notes on the practices of the greats. I wanted to know how they ate, when they worked, and whence they drew inspiration. I compiled a list of aspects to consider when setting up your day to maximize creativity.

1. early to rise - most of us don't have family money or a patron who pays us to sit and write all day. This is unfortunate. However, many of history's greatest artists were in the same boat. A good number of them found success by putting in a few solid hours of work before their day job, or before their family arose.

2. eating + drinking - some relied on continuous cups of black coffee or green tea. Some made a hearty breakfast, or snacked on sugary sweets throughout the day. Whatever it is that gives you energy, whether it's a healthy green smoothie or a few extra lumps of sugar in your coffee like Immanuel Kant, build it into your day. Just know that several of these creative geniuses met with an untimely demise due to poor diet and excessive use of substances.

3. know thyself - what struck me about almost all of the people highlighted in the book was that they were self-aware, especially when it came down to work habits. They knew if they were more productive pre-dawn or post-dusk. They knew if they needed complete silence or a bustling café. Figure out how you work best, then go and make it happen.

4. location, location, location - some worked standing up in the kitchen. Some shut themselves in an office. A few even worked from bed in a supine position. If you don't already have that sweet spot in your abode, you may need to head to the local library or coffee shop to get those creative juices going. This may also mean investing in a writing desk, or arranging your kitchen table into an inspiring work station.

5. activity - a long walk was a common habit of the greats, but others included swimming, daily calisthenics, or a light jog. It seems many of the most genius ideas were conceived during a leisurely stroll.

6. interests - from entertaining friends to cooking gourmet meals, maintaining an interest outside of your creative work can help to refresh your mind. Enjoy a nightcap with your significant other, hit the cafés and bars to soak up the social scene like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, or hold lively dinner parties to exchange ideas.

All of these habits are worthwhile to cultivate. However, the most important piece of advice I gleaned from this book was the act of creating every day. Some of the greats would put in a full 8 hour day of writing only to end up keeping 2 sentences. But almost all of them said the same thing - it adds up. Produce every day and after awhile you will see the results.

3.24.2014

currently reading: daily rituals {part 1}


I never wanted to be president. Even at 6 I knew that to be president meant a dreadful amount of pressure and responsibility. While the other kindergarteners aspired to be president, an astronaut, or a professional athlete, I fancied myself a writer. 

Throughout my teenage years, the desire to write never left me, but the reality that I would indeed have to earn a steady paycheck set in. How, I wondered, does one manage to dedicate herself to a novel while making a living? 

This age-old struggle, along with the issues of waiting for inspiration to strike and overcoming procrastination and indolence are covered in the book Daily Rituals; How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It is a collection of the everyday routines of some of the world’s greatest artists, writers, and musicians. 

I was disappointed upon completing the book that there was no magic formula, no secret ritual for success in a creative field. The magic is in returning to work every day, in discipline and dedication. 

Each writer, composer, painter dealt with his own set of obstacles in creating their work. Some struggled to support their family, while others struggled with too much free time and laziness. Some relied on sugar, alcohol, or other forms of self-medication. Some would lock themselves away and demand no interruptions, while others worked surrounded by activity or stole away at odd times to complete their work in secret.

Jane Austen, for example, worked right in the family sitting room with her mother and sisters knitting nearby. Her only duty in helping run the household was preparing breakfast, as any more responsibility would weigh too heavily on her mind and stifle her writing. She was open about her work with her family, but when others came to visit the house, she would hide her work underneath blotting paper. 

Beethoven was rumored to be more productive during the warmer months, as he sought his inspiration on long walks. I heard that, Ludwig. 

Mozart’s daily routine was inspiring to me, as he side hustled his way to success. In order to earn a living he gave piano lessons, performed concerts in the evening, and courted the wealthy patrons in Vienna. He found time to compose music in the early morning hours.

A pattern I noticed with many of the writers was keeping routine working hours during which they produced work whether or not they felt inspiration. I feel like there's a life lesson in there. Don't wait until the conditions are perfect. Create now.

There is so much to learn from these artistic, musical, and literary giants. We cannot hope to replicate their circumstances, but we can emulate their work ethic and dedication to their craft in a hopes to produce our own masterpiece.

3.20.2014

currently rereading: the blue zones

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Have you heard of blue zones? There are certain areas of the world with large pockets of people live measurable longer lives. Dan Buettner, the author of The Blue Zones traveled to 5 of these regions of the world with the hopes of discovering the secret to living a long life.

I, personally, was expecting this book to be a lecture on what and what not to eat. And The Blue Zones does contain some of that information. As you would expect, eating lots of produce, less meat, more food straight from the source is typical of most of these zones. This was no revelation to me, as we the American people are currently bombarded with instructions to eat clean, whole foods. Nothing earth-shattering in this category.

As far as exercise, very few of the centenarians interviewed in this book spent their free time sweating it out at the gym. Their activity came in the form of work, walking, and an active lifestyle. 

The true lesson in this book, however, was not only living long, but living well.  

The more surprising results of Buettner’s study strayed from the physical into the social and emotional. First, he discovered that one thing the centenarians had in common was a purpose for living and a reason to wake up every morning. For some it was family, others had gardens, helping others, housework, a job, or even a social life to keep them going.  

The second was a consistent and supportive family and social circle throughout their lives; a "tribe" if you will. In many cultures outside the United States it is common for several generations of family to live under the same roof. As inconvenient as this may seem, think of the benefits: free babysitting, not having to put your parents in a home when they get senile, not to mention the financial savings of sharing a residence. In addition, many had a group of friends on whom they could rely in times of
hardship, and to whom they could vent and gossip. They could share the various stages of life, such as married life, life with children, and old age, and always know they had someone who understood, who was going through the same thing.

Honestly, I see that support component lacking in our country where technology has made it easier to move out and away from our family nucleus. We make close friends in college and then move to every corner or the country or globe. (And we all know how difficult it is to make new friends as an adult). So what happens when a child gets sick, we need someone to watch the kids, or let the dog out while we’re on vacation? What happens when we need someone to vent to when our jobs get to be too much or when being a stay at home parent gets too lonely? Stress builds up when we try to do everything ourselves, and we have no community on whom we can rely. 

This was an interesting read for me which resulted in some lifestyle evaluations. I began thinking about how the foods and activities I choose are affecting my body long term. I started thinking about how I could both use the social support in my life, and be that social support for others. 

Obviously no one can guarantee living to 100. Accidents, disease, and unexpected events occur every day, no matter how healthy a person is. At the end of the day, our times are in God’s hands. But it is also important to be good stewards of the gifts He has given us. 


Do you think of your long term mental and physical health, or are you living for today?

3.18.2014

travel after baby



My relationship with travel started in 2004. "Mex04" was the best 10 days of my life. As a sophomore in high school struggling and bored with the drama of teenage girl "friendships," I embarked on a mission trip with 11 other students and 2 adults who changed my life. Maybe it was the sweet niños with whom we played, crafted, and sang. Maybe it was Luz Maria, the kind lady who allowed 14 sweaty gringos to sleep on her floor. Maybe it was the desert landscape, the handmade tortillas, or the music of the Spanish language. Or maybe it was the simple act of telling Bible stories in another language, in the simplest of words, and sharing that experience with others. Whatever it was, I was hooked on travel. My eyes were opened to myriad cultures, languages, and ways of life, and I wanted to experience all of them.

This was before Facebook, Instagram, and online humble bragging, so you know my love for travel was real.

Next came Russia, followed by Ecuador, Panama, Colombia, Mexico again, then Oregon/Washington, Costa Rica, Germany, and Paris. Mission trips, immersion trips, visiting friends, and chaperoning student trips. Each year I saved my pennies and credit card reward points. Each year I combed the discount travel sites in hopes of that rock bottom fare. And each year I escaped the country in hopes of finding what my favorite novels had convinced me was on the other side of an international flight: adventure, romance, lazy glasses of wine, and eye-opening characters who would teach me a thing or two about life.


I'm not sure who or what convinced me along the way that all of this wandering would have to stop once we decided to start a family. Maybe it was the media's portrayal of motherhood. You know - the mother in a ponytail and button-up shirt picking out groceries. The mother folding down the seats of her minivan. I was under the impression that parenthood was so all-consuming that the actual parents ceased to have a life of their own once the child's life began.

Ew. No wonder so many in our generation are reluctant to have children at a young age! We all feel like we have to get our living done before "settling down," because once you have kids - YOUR LIFE IS OVER.

Let's dispel this myth once and for all. Becoming a parent does not mean becoming boring.

It took me awhile to throw away this false notion of all-absorbing parenthood. The book Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman first opened my eyes to the concept of the child fitting into the parents' life, not the reverse. I began to observe the young families around me, and reflect on my own parents' lives. No one was giving up their social lives, dreams, or sense of self. In fact, most families I observed were deliberately making decisions to keep their marriages and interests front and center in order to be better parents.

When we discovered we were expecting a child, this topic was heavy on my mind. As my belly grew, so did my excitement at becoming a mother. Why did I think I would have to give up travel? Now I could plan trips with the intention of exposing my child(ren) to the cultures I had so enjoyed discovering. I reflected back on a family I had met while chaperoning a trip in Costa Rica. A mother and her two young daughters were immersing themselves in Spanish at the language school in Sámara. That could be us! We could study Spanish together! We could even hike Machu Picchu as a family! Suddenly, motherhood didn't seem like a prison sentence. It was a door opening to a whole new world of possibilities.

I will be the first to admit that parenthood requires certain sacrifices. Financially, one parent has to choose to stay home with the children, or the family must decide to devote almost an entire income to childcare. Everything takes just a little more planning. Responsibility is no longer a nice option. It's required. But really, every other decision in life is a sacrifice of something. For example, if you choose to travel the world permanently instead of holding down a traditional job at home, you are sacrificing time with family, and often times financial stability. If you choose to buy a house, you are sacrificing the freedom of not having to shovel the sidewalk or mow the lawn. You get the picture.

It all comes down to the decisions you make. I choose to maintain my interests in literature, Spanish, and volleyball. My husband and I choose to make adult time a priority after baby goes to bed (Bananagrams and a glass of wine is way better than going to the bar). And I choose to keep saving my pennies and credit card reward points for that next trip.

And I know I'm new at this, but so far parenthood has been a blast.


*I had been planning on writing on this topic for awhile, but was feeling extra inspired after reading this post

3.13.2014

pockets of language learning



In a way being a (mostly) stay-at-home-mom is easier than I thought it would be.

Also, though, being a (mostly) stay-at-home-mom is harder than I thought it would be.

Some days it feels like the livin' is good because I'm playing man-to-man defense over here: one mom to one baby. The other thing is, we are in a routine. Everyone always says each baby stage gets more fun, and it's true! My 9 month old loves to play independently, takes good naps, and she is pretty fun to hang out with. (#biased)

The difficulty is that it's super easy to fall into the trap of laziness. Even as a disciplined old soul, when you live in a small apartment that takes approximately one hour total to clean, and you are stuck inside due to winter, it's tempting to turn on the television or get lost in abyss of the internet. Loneliness plays a role, too. When you are craving an adult conversation, the background noise of a tv program, or reading about others in the same situation as you on the internet can seem like an appropriate solution, even though it's really just a bandaid. I would rather use my time to pursue my passion and talent, not waste away hours of my life in a mindless stupor.

So what's a girl to do? Personal improvement really isn't going to take place when Pippa is awake. Because of the very nature of a baby, when she is awake, it's mostly all hands on deck. She needs a lot of my attention most of the time as she is now crawling and motoring about, hell bent on putting every fuzz and dog bone in her mouth. I have even started putting her in a laundry basket with a blanket and toys in it while I try to do my makeup or get dressed. The point is, no matter if your job is taking care of kids, police officer, or office worker, it's useful to use those small pockets of your day to pursue your hobby, passion, or talent.

I use my small pockets of time to study and improve my Spanish - and use mindless distractions like the internet and tv to my advantage! We don't have "the cable", but somehow we get Univision. While she's napping, and I'm doing chores, I have it on in the background, and I write down words I don't know in a notebook. I get caught up in telenovelas (I'm pretty sure someone murdered their kidnapper last episode?) I watch Despierta America and look up the hashtags they talk about. (Side note: I'm very inspired by how put together the ladies on Univision always look).

Sometimes when I am changing or feeding the baby, I listen to my new favorite podcast - Nuevos Pasos. I listen to the same one over and over. I'll put it on in the car. I'll write down more words I don't know, then look them up on WordReference.com

I recently discovered Buzzfeed en Español.

I label items in my house with post-it notes, which subsequently fall off and Pippa will try to eat. I may have to start using tape.

Keeping busy and working my brain help stave off some of the loneliness of staying at home with a child. It takes some discipline, but I find when I push myself to do these things, I am in a much better mood. Much like working out.

As I am now rereading this post, it sounds a lot like what I tell myself I would do if I were in prison. (Study Spanish, read a lot, and get super buff.) So...staying at home with a baby in Minnesota in winter is equivalent to prison. The end.

3.12.2014

mcdonalds and tolstoy

So my husband is obsessed with Jim Gaffigan. Maybe obsessed is too strong of a word, but he definitely has every word Gaffigan has ever said memorized, so you be the judge.

Anyway, we recently watched his Mr. Universe stand up routine on Netflix, and have been referencing one certain segment for the past few days: the McDonald's bit. If you watch the video, the part I will be referring to begins at about 5 minutes and 20 seconds into the video.

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Gaffigan talks about the sheer joy of McDonald's french fries coupled with the sheer embarrassment of admitting that you eat at the fast food joint. Many people act like they're too good for the golden arches, but Gaffigan is "tired of people acting like they're better than McDonald's." Even if you've never set foot in one, perhaps you get your McDonald's fix in a different form. His examples: gossip magazines, Glee, and the milkshake-like frappuccinos from Starbucks masquerading as "coffee."

Everyone -everyone- has their own McDonald's. I'll admit, the only thing I'm ordering from Mickey D's lately is their hazelnut lattes or iced coffee in summer, so I'm going through the drive-thru at best. But I would have to say my McDonald's comes in the form of still watching the Bachelor (why do I do it?), too much creamer in my coffee, and an obsession with Instagram.



Conversely, everyone has their own things about which they are pretentious - and it's super annoying. Designer clothes, the "travel vs. tourist" crowd, and wine aficionados may show that in this small way, I'm better than you. Organic food nuts, music buffs, and parenting "gurus" probably make up the loudest and most vexing group. I just recently tried quinoa, haven't gotten a new song on iTunes since like 2010, and am a fairly relaxed parent, so I can't claim any of those pretensions as my own. Mine is probably literature. In high school i read Anna Karenina just so people could see me walking around with Tolstoy. It did end up being one of my favorite books, which probably makes you want to punch me in the face. Don't blame you. It's like when people rave about how mashed up cauliflower is just as good as mashed potatoes. NO. It may be good, but it's not the same.

In Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project she reaches a point where she just has to admit to herself that she likes kiddie lit (children's literature) or at least young adult novels. As a writer she felt pressure to only read classics or books that would make her smarter. When she finally gave in (be Gretchen, not who other people think Gretchen should be) she found it truly made her happy to read the occasional children's novel. That, I think, is a fine example of McDonald's and Tolstoy duking it out. Tolstoy makes you feel smart and superior, but sometimes McDonald's just makes you feel happy.

We all have a McDonald's and we all have a Tolstoy. What's yours?

3.11.2014

a leer - story time in spanish



I'm not the only one getting some reading done around here! Despite her newfound propensity for crawling at top speed, every once and awhile I can get my little monkey to sit still for a story. Her language skills are developing rapidly, so it's important for her to hear the repetition and rhythm of the Spanish language in book form. (That way I know she is hearing more than just ¿tienes hambre? and ¿estás cansada?) In fact, in a month or two, her brain will be able to distinguish English phonemes from Spanish ones. After all, she's been hearing both languages since she was in the womb (good thing I ran a target language classroom as a Spanish teacher!)

Each book we read contributes new vocabulary (for both of us), verb tenses, and bright pictures. Most of the Spanish children's books we have right now are translated from popular English ones. As the weather gets warmer and we make more trips to the library, I hope to find a few more authentic resources for us to read together.


In our current rotation are:
Buenas Noches Gorila - Peggy Rathmann 
{The story of a zookeeper who puts all the animals to bed, but that sneaky gorilla goes and frees them all from their cages.}
¿Cómo Estás Pequeño Panda? - Marie Helene-Delval
{Little panda gets his tricycle stolen from another bear and goes through an emotional roller coaster. I love that this book teaches feelings, because babies and toddlers need help labeling their emotions.}
Frida - Jonah Winter
{This book has absolutely stunning illustrations by a young Spanish artist, Ana Juan. I love the story of Frida Kahlo simplified for children. Pippa won't understand this story for awhile, but she can definitely enjoy the beautiful pictures!}
Buenas Noches Luna - Margaret Wise Brown
{The Spanish version of Goodnight Moon. A great pre-nap or bedtime routine book.}
¿Eres Mi Mama? - P.D. Eastman 
{Are you my mother? We have the board book for babies and toddlers - the shortened version of the story we all know and love! I even learned a new vocabulary word: el nido - nest}
Siempre Te Querré - Robert Munsch
{The sweet story of the mother and her baby boy - I'll Love You Forever. We also have this book in French and English - Pippa will get to know it well!}
Quiero a Mi Mamá Porque... - Laurel Porter-Gaylord
{I love my mom because... Needless to say I love this book because it is basically telling Pippa how awesome I am, so...}


As she gets older, I hope to add to our Spanish book collection. One of my favorite websites and bilingual resources, Spanglish Baby has some wonderful and authentic book recommendations that I will be referring to for future purchases or library trips.

Now if I can just get Pippa to sit still long enough to finish an entire story...

3.10.2014

currently reading: heads in beds

What was your worst job? Were you a fast food employee? Did you waitress at a heavily regulated chain restaurant? Serve drinks at the corner pub?

Did you clean homes in your spare time, or babysit the neighbor's children? How did you make those dollar bills that paid for your student loans, rent, or that dream vacation?

For me it was waitressing. Though it has been 5 years since I took off that server's apron for the last time, I can still feel the grime under my fingernails and the faint scent of grease clinging to my non-slip shoes. Better yet, I can still feel those singles, fives, and tens stacking up in my black book - the one with the beers on tap taped on the inside.

Because of those years spent side hustling in the food service industry, I have been absolutely devouring Jacob Tomsky's Heads in Beds; a reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality. 
{source; jacobtomsky.com}


If you have ever worked somewhere and promised yourself you would not join the cult of lifers who get drinks together after work - that you were there for the money and would quit as soon as you made enough - but then got sucked in and loved/hated that place for the remainder of your days, then you will relate to almost every word that Tomsky scrawls across the page.

I will never look at hotels the same way. And I will definitely be tipping the front desk workers next time.

It is such  an interesting read for those of us familiar with shift work, hospitality, and awful managers.  I love some good gossip from an insider's perspective! It almost makes me consider penning a teacher tell-all...

but I don't think the masses are ready for it.