Revisiting Colonial Williamsburg

It has been a blustery, cold spring so far, but I can still enjoy Spring Break. My friend, Leanna, was willing to come with me to visit Colonial Williamsburg for two days. We had both been as children, but going as an adult with a better understanding of history gave me a new perspective (though the little children running around in colonial clothing, asking questions, and even taking notes were adorable). As a teacher, I am thrilled to see them catching the enthusiasm for our country’s history. We made the three hour drive early in the morning so that we could maximize our two day stay. By the way, currently there is a promotion for Virginia residents that allows them to purchase an annual pass to Colonial Williamsburg for the price of a one-day ticket (info here)!

We toured the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol, and various houses of prominent citizens. I enjoyed the tour of Wetherburn’s Tavern, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other prominent founders were known to stay while serving in Williamsburg in the House of Burgesses, as well as the tour of the Raleigh tavern, where the dismissed House of Burgesses continued to meet together, leading to the first continental congress.

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Wetherburn’s Tavern

The grounds were beautiful and we were thankful for sunny weather, if not actual warmth. Some plants were starting to flower and green was coming back into the lawn. I probably took the most pictures of the adorable little houses and side yards.

I also really enjoyed going into the trade shops. The interpreters are all so knowledgeable, not only about the trade, but about 18th century life. It was interesting how each shop smelled so pleasant, not from a candle or air freshener, but from the work. The leather works, carpentry shops, tailors, apothecary, etc. each had a unique smell.

The most interesting moment for me was watching a tradesman in the foundry (the founder? not to be confused with the founders of the country, haha) pour liquid pewter into a mold and make a spoon in about ten seconds. He then demonstrated how the melting point of pewter was too low for cooking by dipping the spoon back into the liquid and letting it dissolve nearly instantly. I wish I had taken a video to show my 1st graders!

Leanna and I were also fortunate to catch an evening service at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, which has remained a place of worship since the 18th century. The flow of the service felt familiar after learning to use the Book of Common Prayer at New Covenant. The choral music was also very beautiful and a pleasant, reflective way to end our day.

 

Photos are my own.

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Mexican Culture in Pixar’s Coco

I finally watched Pixar’s Coco this past week (because it finally got to the discount theater). It is set in Mexico and focuses around Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday in November. Here is a good article if you would like to know more about Día de los MuertosWhile some aspects of Mexican culture are easily recognizable to most of us gringos (a creative and somewhat bizarre Frida Kahlo, Mariachi bands, and the beautiful papel picado opening sequence), other things are more subtle, but will make anyone who loves Mexico give a little sigh of contentment.

 

Here is what you may have missed or what you should look for if you haven’t seen it yet.

In one of the first scenes as Miguel runs through the pueblo, he passes a small stand with brightly painted carved figures of fantastic mythical creatures called alibrijes. This was the first clue to me that the movie is more specifically set in the state of Oaxaca. These figures are made and sold all over the country, but originate from Oaxaca. They also make figures of more realistic animals. Visiting the alibrije workshops was a big highlight of my trip to Oaxaca (blog post here). I had not specifically heard that they represent spirit guides, but this very well could be a folk tale passed around. I think it was very clever of Pixar to incorporate live (or perhaps “real” would be a better word) versions of the alibrijes in the world of the dead.

The beautiful marigolds are said to guide ancestors back to their home. They are used every where for Día de los Muertos! They are used to decorate altars, as well as trail through the streets. The bridge made of the petals in the film was a great touch. Skeletons, often in old fashioned dress, are called catrinas and are also in abundance during the holiday. Do you recognize Frida Kahlo on the right?

The Rivera family also wore wonderful Mexican clothing. The more traditional embroidered clothes worn by Coco, Miguel’s mother, Frida Kahlo, and Tia Victoria (the skeleton with the blue top) are accurate, beautiful examples of the textile work of Oaxaca and neighboring states. On the modern side, the bright make-up on one of Miguel’s aunts was spot on and the green shirt his uncle wears looks suspiciously like a popular futbol jersey. The simple style of the apron Abuelita wears is sold on every street corner and is often used by older women or house help.

I was so happy when I saw the red paint on the lower half of the walls in Miguel’s pueblo. I don’t know the specific purpose or tradition behind this, but it is common in many of the smaller towns in Mexico. Towards the beginning, Miguel is trying to play in the talent show being advertised and performed in el mirador (gazebo). Though many American towns likely had a gazebo in the park a century ago, just about every Mexican town still has one, often a beautiful iron-wrought structure used for festivities, shows, etc. in the main plaza.

It was so refreshing to not only hear the expected Spanish (abuela, gracias, amigo), but also some of the regional, casual expressions used in everyday conversation in Mexico. Miguel at one point exclaims “¡Que padre!” which doesn’t translate correctly, but means “How cool!” Hector refers to Miguel several times as chamaco, an expression which I heard often in Oaxaca, which means “kid”.

While Abuelita hitting the Mariachi man with her sandal is humorous, it is not just a cartoon gag. Hitting a child with a sandal (la chancla) is a traditional form of discipline (especially coming from the mother or grandmother) in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. It would be similar to threatening to use “the belt” in the U.S.

Overall, the movie shows the importance of family in Mexican culture, including the elderly and even deceased. It was interesting that though the movie is very spiritual (in a literal sense), it does not really address religion. Day of the Dead is celebrated by Mexican Catholics (and mostly avoided by the much smaller percentage of Protestants) and is a combination of Prehispanic traditions and Catholic beliefs. In the world of the dead, there are a few clips that show the base of the world being the Aztec pyramids similar to those found near Mexico city, perhaps hinting about the Prehispanic origins of the holiday.

The manner Pixar presents the deceased in this film is not frightening for children, but it definitely could raise some questions about what happens when someone dies. It left me a little sad remembering that many people believe what they do on earth somehow affects those who have died. The idea of second chances after death is also deceptive. Each person must make their own choices about their actions and beliefs while living, which will determine whether they spend eternal life in heaven or hell. No amount of being remembered or honored will ease the pain of hell. Neither will any dishonor or forgetfulness lessen the joy of being in the presence of God.

Photos are my own.

 

 

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.

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.

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.