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.

The Bellybutton of the Universe

Obviously this title indicates that I went to Mexico City for 5 de mayo weekend. The capital hadn’t initially been on my bucket list, but it seemed like a fitting conclusion trip before I go back to the U.S. Fortunately, my housemate, Kelly, was up for the trip too and we found a cheap flight there on 5 de mayo. Some friends recommended a really nice hostel to us where we got a private room. One of the reasons I had been hesitant to go is that Mexico City can be really crowded (it after all is the 5th biggest city in the world), however, thanks to some type A planning on our part and the long weekend actually drawing people away from the city, we hardly went anywhere with a large crowd. Friday morning we got up early and happened to be passing the national palace just in time for the flag raising in the main square. It was a very classy affair. Literally a couple hundred soldiers were stationed around the square, including a few on “cone patrol” who marched out into the street with orange traffic cones to block traffic. There were drums and horns accompanying the flag with the music we normally hear during flag salutes at school. After this unexpected show, we started our adventure on the metro, which was crowded, but not too bad. $5 pesos for the metro which connects all over the city!

We strolled through Chapultepec forest and climbed a long hill to get to the castle. It is the only castle in North America where a sovereign actually lived (Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota). Before they lived there, it was a military academy where six cadets sacrificed their lives defending it against United States troops (the battle is referenced in the Marine’s Hymn as the “halls of Montezuma”).  It was a beautiful structure with great views of the city.

We continued our walk through the forest to check out the Anthropology Museum. So impressive and very thorough! I couldn’t even get all the way through it because I was so tired and hungry.

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After lunch, we took the metro back into the historic central and enjoyed the Fine Arts Palace. I have never been in a building that so thoroughly carried the style of the 30’s. I felt like I was in a Jean Harlow or Myrna Loy movie because that is the only other place I have seen that kind of architecture.

Oh, have I mentioned that every site or museum we went to see in Mexico City (with one exception) was free because we had national teacher ID. It was fun just showing our ID everywhere, though we had some skeptics that scrutinized it. On our walk back toward the Zocalo (the courtyard with the huge flag) we stumbled upon a free museum highlighting fashion in Mexico from 1950 to the present. It was fun because it combined traditional clothing with modern fashion.

On day 2, we went to see the pyramids. We knew we could take the metro to the bus station and from there it was an hour long bus ride. We did not know how long the metro ride would last or when exactly the buses left for the archaeological site. We arrived at the bust station at 8:15 and were told the bus was leaving in two minutes. We quickly grabbed our tickets and ran to catch our bus. I hadn’t realized, but the Teotihuacan ruins had been a metropolis from 100-600 AD approximately and had been basically abandoned since then. We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun (the 3rd tallest in the world) and as far as we were allowed up the Pyramid of the Moon. Again, we got there early, before the sun was too hot or lots of people were there. When we were finished, we stopped to have a light lunch with the view of the pyramids before walking out to the entrance to see how long we would have to wait for the next bus (they hadn’t been able to tell us when we arrived). From a way back, we saw one sitting the parking lot, just about to pull out. They kindly waited for us to get the rest of the way down the road. Incredible timing we could never have planned.

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Back in the city, we went to see the Templo Mayor (which we had earlier mistaken for a construction site). It is the site of the prehispanic temple which was believed to be under the main cathedral until it was discovered one block over in 1978 by electric workers. If you are familiar with the symbol of the eagle with a snake in its beak landing on a cactus plant, the temple was supposed to be built on the exact spot where this sign was witnessed. It was this temple in the ancient city Tenochtitlan that represented the center of the universe (or the bellybutton of the universe) for the Aztecs. We were able to walk through the site and see some of the discovered artifacts in the museum. Afterwards, we went into the National Palace where we were able to see a small exhibit about Benito Juarez in the rooms he had lived in (such an inspiring man). We also got to see several Diego Rivera murals around one of the courtyards.

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After an ice cream break, we finally gave out after all of the walking and ruin climbing and went back to the hotel. For dinner we just walked a few blocks to the Spanish (as in Spain) cultural center on the top floor where they had a terrace restaurant. It was a long wait to get a waiter, but the weather and atmosphere was very nice and the food was great too.

Our last item of business was to visit Frida Kahlo’s house. This was the only place we couldn’t get into for free, but we still got a pretty nice discount. We got there about an hour early to wait in line. Well, I waited in line because my foot was hurting and I didn’t want to move. Kelly did a little exploring and got a snack for us. We were second in line behind a Polish man who was doing post-graduate research in the area for a few months. We had a great conversation with him about crime (his field of study) while we waited. The house was large and really expressed a lot of the character of Frida and Diego. We also got to see an exhibit of many of the dresses she wore (nearly as iconic as her self-portraits). We walked through her sunny art studio, saw photos of her and her family, and learned some more of the history of her and Diego and the artistic, political circle they created around themselves.

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We might have overdid it a bit; my foot has been wrapped up and elevated most of the time since we got back. However, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take this trip!

Photos are my own, except for the final two which belong to Kelly Kursteiner.

Friends at the Beach and at the Mission Base

This is the final blog post about my Spring Break! I just wanted to share a little about some personal visits I was able to make while in Oaxaca. Though I had a great time being a tourist, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet some friends who were living in the area.

First, some of you probably saw my post about my travel partner accidentally booking accommodations at a nudist beach. It was really uncomfortable and I didn’t stay on the beach more than an hour or two. It was definitely the lowest day of my trip. We had just finished an overnight bus ride, the humidity was stifling, we were half way through the trip so energy was running low, I’d expected a relaxing day at the beach and didn’t get it, and I was stressed trying to figure out how I was going to meet my friend Scott, an hour away in Puerto Escondido, the next day. After some time in prayer and laughing along with all of you on social media about the irony of the situation, my travel mates came up with a plan that made the next day much easier. We ended up traveling together and once in Puerto I went to meet Scott and his fiancé, Isabel. We got to meet at a café just a block from my hotel. It was a great time swapping stories about our experiences in Mexico and also discussing our ministries and how what each of us was doing was making an impact for the Kingdom. I’m also very excited for them and their upcoming wedding (weddings technically, oh the joys of marrying internationally).

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The other personal trip I was able to make was from the capital of Oaxaca to Foundation for His Ministry, about 45 minutes away. If you know about the numerous trips I’ve taken to Baja California, they have been to visit this mission. The one in Oaxaca is more recently founded and is mainly a children’s home though it supports some other ministries as well. This was really important to me because it was my time in Baja at the mission that convinced me I needed to travel to Oaxaca one day. Hearing about the mistreatment of the Oaxacan people brought to work in Baja decades ago was heartbreaking. They had come out of desperation and ended up in similar or worse circumstances, but without the support of their own culture, climate, and language group.

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I also wanted to go because I heard about Mexican missionaries sponsored by the mission who went to live in the mountain villages to preach the gospel. Aside from the children’s home, the mission in Oaxaca acts as a base for the national missionaries in the mountains. This ministry is still dangerous and I met two Mexican missionary interns who had started the year serving in a mountain village and had to move back to the serve at the mission because things had gotten violent and it was too dangerous for them to remain at their assignment. Hearing more about this ministry to basically unreached people groups was probably one of the best parts of visiting the mission (especially since I had a little idea of what that would be like from visiting the syncretistic village). Another special reason for visiting was that my grandmother had visited for several weeks two years before and I was able to talk with people who had met her and a few teenage girls in particular who immediately brightened up when they heard I was her granddaughter.

Another highlight of the mission was getting to see their new school building and playground. I will admit I was envious. What I would have given for that natural lighting and space during my time at Lincoln!

They even have a zip-line on their playground!

 

All photos are mine.