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.

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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.

Lynchburg: My Own Little Magic Town

I loved living in the big city of Guadalajara, but I also loved the opportunity of using it as a launch pad to go visit other places in Mexico. There is currently a tourism promotion in Mexico called Pueblos Magicos. These “magic towns” are quaint little places with historic interest or natural beauty. I was able to visit a few of them and have linked my posts Mazamitla: Colder Weather Calls for CabinsMarkets and Churches in San Cristobal, and Contradictory Ecotourism in Palenque.

Coming back to Lynchburg has reminded me that I am a small-town Virginia girl. Though it is small and a lot of it seems “ordinary” compared to exotic Guadalajara, I think my time away has helped me love it even more.

This weekend, I went to an annual event that promotes our downtown area. Because my family now lives in the historic district, I just walked a couple blocks to Get Downtown. Walking around, enjoying the architecture, listening to music by local musicians, and looking at photography and artwork by local artisans made me feel like a tourist. My own little city  has immeasurable charm. I am so proud to be from Lynchburg and to call it home. Don’t miss the “magic” in the small, old, or ordinary. If you ever want a tour guide around Lynchburg, I would be thrilled to show you places of interest, share the stories I have learned about it, and introduce you to the people who make it so special. Come visit us!

Photos are mine and Laura Barnwell’s.

A Full Sponge

Well, my two years of teaching in Mexico are over. The day to day experience of learning another culture, seeing new and unfamiliar places, and handling unexpected situations has come to an end. However, my overall experience has not. When I went to Mexico, it was with a very intentional attitude of understanding the culture as much as I could, mimicking it, and being adopted into it if possible. These past two years I have been a sponge of Mexican culture. In a way, the analogy fails because a sponge is passive, but I was actively absorbing. As an example of the level to which I was absorbing, I have been much closer to saying certain words in Spanish (that I would consider inappropriate) than I have ever been tempted to say their English equivalent. Why? Because I took in every single word I heard, processed it, listened to how it was pronounced, listened to the grammar structure around it, said it in my head, practiced using it in sentences in my head, and wanted to utilize it to help me fit in better. Taking in became an unbreakable habit which didn’t slow down even for undesirable words or topics. The same goes for culture and customs. I wanted to understand every pop culture reference, know how to respond like a Tapatía (woman from Guadalajara) in every situation, and be able to sing along to popular or traditional songs. I would cringe any time I gave myself away with a basic language mistake or saw the look of “never mind, she doesn’t get it”. I wanted people to interact with me just as they would their Mexican friends.

I have been a sponge and a mimic, but now… I have nowhere to channel what I have learned. It doesn’t “count” here. Not that there are not people interested in my experience. Many people have sincerely asked me about my experience and I know several friends who will listen to me when I need an outlet. However, knowing a classic Mexican song does not help me fit in here. There will be few with whom I can share a bilingual joke. The Mexican idioms and street expressions I drilled myself in may not even make sense to other Spanish speakers I meet.I would ask for your patience if the sponge leaks on you a bit.

From what I have heard from various speakers, blogs, and personal friends, coming back home after an extended time overseas is almost as difficult as the initial culture shock. Though I am happy to be home, there will be grief and probably reverse culture shock. There will also be some relief as I can take a break from absorbing and mimicking to return to a familiar place.

So some of you may be wondering, is this where the blog ends? “As I Go, I Grow” is a travel blog isn’t it? Even though I am not physically in another country “going” somewhere exciting, I am still growing from the experience. I will continue blogging. For me, this is an important way to process my time in Mexico and the adjustment to life in the U.S. If you continue following the blog, you will probably see less travel posts for the time being, though I do hope to travel again in the future. I will continue to write about my teaching experience and my thoughts on various matters. I am also hoping to take this time to develop my fictional writing more.

What will be new on the blog? I will be writing about some of the observations I have made about Mexican culture, wrapping up loose ends, and writing about the experience of repatriation and reverse culture shock. I hope you continue to read along and give me your feedback.

 

Photo is my own of some of the good-bye cards written for me at my despedida (good-bye party).

Take Two: Success!

Let’s do some compare and contrast between my first and second years of teaching, shall we? As I tell my students, let’s start with what is the same. This was my second year teaching 3rd grade at Lincoln School in Guadalajara. Even though I requested a change of rolls, I was again the Language Arts teacher for two groups instead of teaching all subjects to one group. I also continued my participation in a Mexican-led house church on Sundays and an American missionary-led Bible study/house church on Friday nights. Another similarity between this year and last year I would not have predicted is a change in housemates midyear followed by a change in co-teacher a few months later.

Has anything changed? Much, thank goodness! This year I actually started out with a competent understanding of the curriculum (good thing since I wrote it last year!) and felt comfortable with the standards my students needed to be successful. I also had a much better idea of strategies to use to help my students. I was definitely different as a teacher and I am even more thankful that my students were so different. I had a much more responsive class this year, hardworking and quick to follow instructions. It has been much harder to say good-bye to them than to my last class!

This year was also different because I had more opportunity to invest in the house churches. Last year I was mostly building relationships, getting a feel for where the church was already at, and praying a lot. This year, I had more opportunities to lead, informally and formally. Church is probably the part that makes me the saddest about leaving. I see so much potential for where I could have served next year. However, I also have faith as I see that God is steadily working in each community of believers and am seeing more people step up to lead humbly.

Salsa is a part of my life as it was last year…though I’ve gotten a lot better and the people I have met through salsa have become my friends. This year, I have been quicker to connect with them outside of our weekly dancing.

The house I lived in last year felt big, a little overwhelming, and very quirky. I am still in the same house, but with the help of Emma and the generosity of Margarita, the house feels much more cozy than overwhelming, and more artistic than quirky.

It is all a good reminder that though change may seem hard or sad, He is using change to bring good.

Photo is my own.