My One-of-a-Kind D.C. Tour

You never know what you might experience while traveling, especially if you put the planning in someone else’s hands. This could be awful, or wonderful, or make for an outrageous story (ask me about the time I accidentally ended up with accommodations at a nude beach). My time in D.C. this past week fortunately turned out to be a wonderfully memorable long weekend when placed in the hands of the friends I was going to visit.

My first day in D.C., it poured just about all day. My friends Will and Abenaa had a doctor’s appointment for their 1-month old so we drove across the city for the appointment and then got cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes (featured on TLC).  We were out 6 hours and that’s all we could do against the combined forces of the record-breaking rain and the horrible traffic. The good news is…the appointment went well and the cupcakes were worth the hype. I also had plenty of time to catch up with Will while we drove around/stood in traffic. When we made it back home, we had a time of prayer and then went to a house warming party for one of their African friends. Party started at 7pm, we arrived around 9:30pm to enjoy amazing African food and a cut-throat game of Mafia (even the Mafia members turned on each other!)

The next day, I had nothing planned. I called up a friend who recently moved to D.C. to see if he wanted to do anything “touristy” with me. Little did I know. We met up at Ebenezers (a coffee shop with a great purpose) and took the metro to his workplace, one of the many news networks in the area. I got to see the studio, tech rooms, make-up room, offices, etc. We got lunch at District Taco next door. =) It was authentic enough that I could order “tres de barbacoa, …tortillas de maiz, …pues estilo mexicano, gracias”.

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I’d never been to the capital building so my friend (who shall remain nameless lest he be hounded with requests for similar services) took me on a very special tour, complements of his “staff” badge. We went down halls labeled “Authorized Personnel Only”, walked the subterranean passages to get to the Senate building on the other side of the street, and rode the “Senator’s only” elevator. It was a Saturday so we hardly passed anyone and our voices echoed down the hallways. I felt like I was in a movie. We joined a group of the average population for a few minutes to see the rotunda and the center of the city before we departed.

Sunday, I joined my friend Bev on an excursion to Mount Vernon for the day. This was our first time being together on US soil since we met three years ago. I have made it a goal to visit the presidents’ homes, especially those in Virginia. I went to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in high school, James Monroe’s Highland this past February (blog post here), and finally made it to the home of the father of our country. The mansion was very impressive, but the grounds were my favorite part. Bev and I talked and caught up while we walked through the gardens, orchards, and woods on the property. We had a delicious lunch and then sat down in the shade of the garden for a few more hours to talk theology and memories.

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I am back home now, getting ready for school to start again. Time to plan next summer’s travels!

Photos are my own.

24 Hours in Philadelphia, PA

A week and a half ago, I was planning on traveling up to D.C. to visit with friends and was looking into things to do around the area. My friend Christi messaged me and asked if I would be willing to come all the way up to Philadelphia, near where she was staying. I had not even been thinking about Philly, but I ended up booking a hotel for a night just one week in advance. I have never been so spontaneous with travel plans! My trip up to Philly was smooth and I was thankful that I had done the same route with my mom and sister earlier this summer going up to New England so I could recognize landmarks while navigating (yes, I went without GPS). Traffic through the city was congested, but I liked how they accommodated pedestrian and bike traffic. I’m glad Guadalajara helped me be a little more aggressive in my driving or I would have been stuck trying to turn left for hours.

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Christi and I stayed in Trade Winds Bed and Breakfast and we agreed it felt very typical of Philly. The house was decorated with all kinds of antiques and artwork that the owner had collected and we could watch the pick-up basketball game at the park from our third story window. For dinner, we took a walk to Chinatown. Christi found us a good restaurant and she ordered for us in Chinese. I was so proud! It is always an adventure having international friends and friends who travel internationally. On our way back from dinner, we took a long route to see the City Hall and other sites, including South Street. It was good to catch up with my dear friend about life, teaching, and ministry.

The next morning, we toured the historic center. We saw the Liberty Bell (symbolic, but not too thrilling for me) and took the free tour of Independence Hall (super significant and inspiring!) Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberated and signed there. It was incredible to think about how many great minds had been in that room, risking everything for the ideals they believed in. We also saw sites like the Betsy Ross house, Elfreth’s Alley, Christ Church, and the Declaration House (the site though not the original building where Thomas Jefferson wrote the drafts of the Declaration).

I once again remembered my childhood ambition of being a historical interpreter. I am always impressed by the wealth of knowledge they possess, far beyond the “role” they are playing. We talked to many interpreters, storytellers (the Once Upon a Nation storytelling benches are such a clever idea), and even gift store attendants who shared so much with us about their love for history and their city.

To wrap up our time together, we had a late lunch of chicken and waffles at the delightful Luna Café. It strives for sustainable practices and is locally sourced, cash only, wind powered, and offers many organic options. I saw Christi off at the train station and I drove back down south to DC for the next leg of my trip (blog soon to follow).

Photos are my own.

Nogales, Mexico: Sowing on a Windy Day

 

100_2547I was so pleased to be invited to chaperone my school’s mission trip to Mexico. It was exciting to be going back to Mexico lindo y querido, but there was also an element of the unknown. This was my first time in the Mexican state of Sonora and I didn’t know very much about Cuirim House, the mission we were visiting. (If you are learning Spanish and wonder what “cuirim” means, …it’s Irish.)

As typical in Mexico, the trip started with a change in plans. There had been a miscommunication and we arrived in Nogales 24 hours earlier than the mission had expected. This gave us a little more time to settle in, but also put some strain on the staff and required flexibility on our part.  We had several projects to cover over the week. Some of our jobs included heavy labor, mixing and carrying concrete, assembling pallet boxes, and installing fences. Other tasks were lighter and involved more interaction with the community. One of the jobs I enjoyed doing was helping with the Kids Café. Twice a week, the neighborhood children are fed by volunteers from the local church. In the summer, when groups come, we are able to give the regular volunteers a break. We served the food, washed all the dishes, and played with the kids. This freed up the ladies to enjoy a relaxing art class and later a Zumba class led by one of our group.

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In the evenings, the local pastor organized a World Cup Tournament for 10-15-year-old boys which was held in the park close to the church. The boys all took it very seriously! Our team set up a few carnival games each night in the basketball court adjacent and served food to everyone. No one on our team spoke Spanish, other than what they had studied in a month or two of preparation. I was very pleased to see how they all worked out ways of communicating and were flexible in their assignment to make sure the kids were having an enjoyable time. I also liked translating when necessary and talked with some of the parents who had come to watch the game.

Traveling anywhere outside of your culture comes with challenges, but it had been a while since I had been in a place with so much material need. It is interesting that the more one sacrifices (even voluntarily), the more seed there is for discontentment. Without running water, I instantly became a little more selfish, seeking out comfort in any form. Frustration over Mexican locks (already experienced in Guadalajara) was heightened when I couldn’t get in the bathroom door in the middle of a thunderstorm at night and with no cover overhead. When I had already been in the hot and stuffy kitchen for an hour, I really wished someone else would take care of the rest of the dishes. When I finally put away the dirty shirt I had worn a few days in a row and was enjoying a fresh one, I really hoped someone else would volunteer for the job that involved going outside in the drizzle and moving more dirt. When I was completely worn out and siesta time had almost passed, I hoped the threatening rain clouds might mean a delay in the afternoon work project. It was humbling to recognize. We must daily turn to Christ to have his attitude that values others more highly than ourselves.

One of the verses we learned in chapel this week was from Ecclesiastes 11.  “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap…In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” This passage caught my attention. My personality looks ahead and plans everything out. If something is likely to go wrong, I try to problem solve beforehand. If something is completely out of my control, like the weather, I will probably cancel instead of trying. Rainy season was starting in Nogales and every day around 2 or 3 PM, the wind would pick up and the sky would blacken. Being on top of a hill, we could watch storms approaching from either side. Sometimes, it would blow over quickly, sometimes it would nearly blow you over, and sometimes it would rain steadily for a long time before stopping. We always had afternoon work projects planned and the World Cup Tournament in the early evening. I am the kind of person who would see the clouds and call it off. Mr. Donohue, the missionary, had learned to see the clouds and still plan to go out and work. It’s a good lesson.

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One on the neat projects we worked on was building garden boxes out of wood pallets and delivering them to homes in the neighborhoods with some good top soil and seedlings. The local pastor would then schedule visits to check up on the plants and be able to build stronger connections in the community. The missionary’s son said the passage from Ecclesiastes had been an encouragement and a challenge to him as he was trying to start this ministry. There were many challenges that would have seemed like a reason to turn aside, but they had kept working and trusting God. Who knows, but God, what the fruit will be.

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All photos are my own.

The Freedom Trail: Boston, Massachusetts

 

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Acorn Street

On our trip up to New England, we also got to go to Boston for one day. We drove from New Hampshire, took the Commuter Rail in, and then the subway. We wanted to walk the Freedom Trail to see the main historic attractions of Boston.

Once we had a map and got on the trail, it was super easy to follow and really did hit all the interesting spots. The trail starts in Boston Commons, the oldest public park in the U.S., designated in 1634.

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Memorial to the Irish Potato Famine

Along the trail are other highlights such as the location of the first public school in the U.S. It’s alumni include Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams. It operates today in another location where four years of Latin are still required for graduation. Another point for classical schools! I’m proud to be in the company of the great founding fathers. We also passed through Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.

I especially enjoyed the stops at Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church. My great grandfather was a welder on the restoration of the Old North Church in 1955, so it was exciting to go inside the church (donation based) and hear some of its history.

Another highlight was the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) which saw service in the War of 1812 and is still manned by the U.S. Navy. It is free to enter the ship where it is dry-docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

It was interesting to observe the differences between northern and southern culture. It proved again that I am thoroughly southern. When we were trying to find the Commuter Rail, we asked a police officer for directions. A car behind us honked. The officer looked at them in disbelief then yelled, “Hey, hold on a second!” He proceeded to slowly give us directions. On the outbound train, I apparently didn’t offer my ticket fast enough because the attendant told me, “I don’t bite.” They weren’t rude, just very quick to say what they were thinking, with very quick sarcasm. I can see how southerners might take issue with their abruptness at times. There were also internationals at every turn. The diversity was exciting!

When you are in New England, you believe the slogan, America Runs on Dunkin’. Boston has more donut shops than any city in America. Everywhere we went in New England, there were much higher chances of seeing a Dunkin’ Donuts than a Starbucks. Everyone seemed to be carrying a Dunkin’ cup in their hand. Keep on makin’ your way south, my friend! There was also an abundance of Patriots and Red Sox paraphernalia!

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The next day, we stayed in New Hampshire, climbing Mount Kearsarge. The hike was rocky and steep, but the alpine region up top was beautiful, characterized by shorter trees and lots of lichen and moss. It was a fun day with our uncle, hearing about the history and characteristics of the area. I also learned that up north, cairns (those cool rock sculptures) actually have a functional purpose. For those dedicated enough to try hiking in the winter, the rock sculptures stand out over the snow on the bald knobs to mark the trail, while a blaze mark marked on the rock or one of the shorter trees of the alpine region would be covered up. Building your own cairn or removing from an existing cairn is serious because it could cause someone to lose their way.

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P.S. We all decided to watch National Treasure again after this trip.

Photos are my own.

Traveling Under the Weather: Rockport, MA

School is out and it is time to travel! The day after graduation (I was congratulated twice by strangers and had to explain that the teachers wear academic regalia for graduation too), I headed up to New England with my mom and sister. We chose to take the urban route to enjoy all the city skylines. It was kind of fun, since we don’t normally head north for vacation. The down side was about $45 worth of tolls. You’ve been warned!

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Our first stop was Rockport, Massachusetts. Wonder where the name comes from? The coast was mainly rocky, a great place to find sea glass and beautiful, rounded stones. Sand is overrated anyway. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by one-of-a-kind homes and B&Bs instead of sky-rise hotels. Many yards and gardens went straight to the edge of the rocky outcropping. We stayed at The Seafarer Inn and had a beautiful view of the cove from our window. The innkeepers also served wonderful breakfasts each day!

We explored the shops along Bearskin Neck and in Gloucester. Of course, we admired the famous Motif #1, known as the most often painted building in America. One of the days, we splurged at the Roy Moore Lobster Co. It was literally a shack on the pier with some picnic tables behind it. We enjoyed trying fresh caught lobster, oysters, stuffed clams, and good old-fashioned clam chowder.

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The downside of the trip was that one can never predict the weather. It was cold and rainy most of our stay. On the bright side, we didn’t have to pay for parking at the public beaches. There was no one else crazy enough to make it worthwhile for the city to charge. However, we were rather damp at the end of each day and had to dry out our shoes by the fireplace. We were very excited when we had sunny weather the day we checked out. Also unpredictable, I caught a cold our second day traveling. It was disappointing to have to stay inside during several outings and be so tired at the end of the day that I couldn’t even enjoy a book. It was a good reminder to rest, even while traveling when it seems so important not to miss out on anything.

I’ll share more about Boston and our time in New Hampshire in the next post.

Photos are my own.

Cultivating a Garden

God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.

— Francis Bacon

April showers bring May flowers. They also bring weeds. This month, I have been reminded of this as I enjoy the fresh beauty of the outdoors, both in my yard and in the gardens around my school. In March, I was giddy to see the trees were budding in purple Virginia fashion and daffodils were springing up. Later came black-eyed Susans, irises, peonies, and roses. I was frustrated to find that many dandelions (I cannot concede these be counted as a flowers), wild onions, crab grass, clover, some unidentified spiny thing, and a host of other undesirables also sprang up. The garden out my classroom window looked a little more like a wild jungle than a peaceful garden. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. One afternoon after school, I went out and pulled up as many weeds as I could. I had a huge pile of weeds when I was done, yet the garden still looked over run. I realized that part of its appearance was due to an overabundance of good things. Many of the flowers had not been thinned out recently, the ground cover had not been trimmed back, and the bushes and trees needed pruning. Meanwhile, at home I helped my mom pull out a patch of irises. We only did this because this was the second year in a row they had not bloomed. Why not? The previous owner of the garden had let them become too crowded and overgrown by weeds. The soil was also full of rocks that had worked their way up to the surface. A garden needs cultivation.

God makes all things perfect, but he has made things living, not static. Yes, there is much to enjoy in untouched nature, but in the beginning, God placed man in a garden and told him to tend it. I wonder what tending the Garden of Eden would have involved. Did Adam and Eve prune the fruit trees? Try to develop varieties of plants? Arrange the plants as they wished? Remember this was before the fall. They did not have to fear weeds or the toil that Adam was later cursed with, but they still had responsibility and work.

A garden is such a lovely metaphor. Even when we have planned something well (a schedule, a relationship, habit, etc.), we need to continually be working on it and cultivating it. Just because the garden is laid out well, does not mean that you can leave it alone forever. Because of the curse, you need to look out for the weeds that creep in and then multiply when they have an entrance. Even just preventing or removing the bad is often not enough. You also need to make sure the good, planned things in your life do not overrun the rest. A crowded garden is typically unhealthy.

Enjoy the spring in your garden! In your literal and figurative gardens, be willing to do the hard work of cultivating so that you can enjoy the flowers and the fruit in their appropriate seasons.

I Can’t Stay Away

Spring Break is a beautiful thing. It is so good to have a break from teaching to relax! I was able to return to Guadalajara for the week. Many people here and there have asked me how hard it was to adjust back to American culture or if I have experienced reverse culture shock. The transition has been easier for me than I had expected. I think this is for a few reasons. First, I was quite busy as soon as I arrived home in the U.S. and had a lot going to keep my mind engaged. I was very focused on the task of figuring out my role in my new school and organizing and setting up my classroom. Another thing that made the transition easy was that I kept a tie to Mexican culture by joining a Spanish speaking small group. This helped me make friends with people who know something of the experience of living in Mexico (or another Spanish speaking country). I can keep speaking Spanish, talk about Latino culture, make bilingual jokes, etc. I even have discovered a place to salsa dance in my home town. It is not quite the same as dancing in the streets of Guadalajara, but it was one of the activities I was sad to give up so I am thankful that I still get to do it sometimes. Salsa also provides another opportunity for speaking Spanish! Finally, I have been looking forward to this trip since the summer, knowing I would not be saying goodbye to friends forever.

I prayed for my trip that I would get quality time with as many people as possible. He was so faithful to answer! A fun surprise started out the trip as I had the same flight to Atlanta as a high school group from my school going to Belize. I enjoyed chatting with them in the airport and on the plane. Sunday, I spent the full day with my church on a retreat. It was so encouraging to see how the church has grown in depth and number and many of the individuals I have prayed for are thriving. Monday was dedicated to the school. I wandered around the campus catching up with American and Mexican teachers, staff, students, etc. I loved having lunch with my former students and then playing games with them at recess. I went back nearly every day for this sweet time with my not-so-little ones.

 

Throughout the week, I caught up individually with many people, often while eating (another thing I have been looking forward to on this trip). I have missed avocados, frijoles, lonches, Mexican popsicles, and, most of all, tacos! It was great to be able to enjoy authentic food and it was so refreshing to go deeper with friends and hear about their ministries, goals, struggles, and joys. I shared tears more than once and lots of laughs as well. God is taking such good care of them, even when I am away. I knew I could trust him with them when I last said, “Adios” (blog post: Good in Good-bye).

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My last day, some of the Lincoln teachers joined me in going to Tlaquepaque. We had fun looking around in artisan shops, taking pictures, and even caught a free show which included traditional Mayan dancing, dancers from Veracruz and Jalisco, and live Mariachi music.  I bought a piece of art made by the Huichol people. I recently have been doing some research about this people group. They are one of the least reached in Mexico and are located not far from Guadalajara. I bought the art to remind me to pray for them more often. As a closing gift, I coincidentally ran into the only friend I had not been able to contact during the week. I loved my break and I hope I can visit again soon.

 

Photos are my own.