Friday, March 31, 2017

Funny things kids say

I love living with kids in the house.  They are so cute and say the funniest things.  Right now they are using giant's body parts for measurement comparisons.  For instance, one kid blew up a balloon and announced to the world, "Wow this is as big as a giant's toe!"  Then one of the girls called out, "Hey, how do you spell atizar?"  "That's not a word," I said.  "Yes it is!  You know, like hand san atizer?"  Oh right, of course.  :o)

Dental health wise I found out that the Guatemalan diet is perfect for your teeth.  Almost 18 months after my last cleaning, they told me I was cavity free and had less plaque than most of the people who were just cleaned 6 months ago.  Highly encouraging to only eat m&ms for sugary treats since that was pretty much my main sweet staple last year.  And shocking how much sugar wears on your teeth!

My travel addiction is rearing its beautiful head.  I'll be in Spain and Portugal next month and then Denmark and Sweden the month afterwards.  And like any true addict, I'm trying to convince myself that my addiction only hurts myself...not sure how but it must hurt, right?  :oD

I'm feeling a lot more adjusted to the american way of life.  I've started making plans for my future which is always a sign that I'm normalizing.  My friends are moving in June so I have basically until the end of May to find a place to live.  I decided to rent my house out for another year so I'll be houseless until September 2018.  That seems so far away and yet so soon.  So much could happen by then or nothing at all!

I'm grateful for today.  So blessed.  Spent yesterday with friends and family.  I love all the amazing and wonderful people who surround me.  God is so good!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Cuba Libre! Cuba Mojito! Cuba Daiquiri!

If you are a woman and you EVER doubt that you are an attractive one: go to Havana.  Walk down the street, pass any man (young or old) and listen just as you've walked by...cause you are sure to hear every single one of them say, "Hola linda! Hola preciosa!"  Which literally means, "Hi cutie, hi precious." Obviously this will boost your confidence unlike anything else!

Cuba was BEAUTIFUL!  My friend and I met up for five days in Havana and added on a little side trip to Viñales to see the tobacco fields.  I smoked for the first time in my life.  The cigars are made from dried leaves that are then fermented in rum, coconut, pineapple and honey for a year.  After they roll them, they dip the tip you puff on in honey before lighting the other end.  It I didn't end up wheezing and using inhalers and nebulizers this definitely could have been the beginning of a new addiction for me.  Alas, I'm apparently a lousy smoker or just have cigar-induced reactive airway reactions that only made it worth trying once.

 Cuba itself was extremely interesting.  The changes that little island has seen in the last 70 years is surreal.  All the hotels, restaurants, businesses, stores, hospitals, etcetera are owned by the government.  The tobacco farm we went to gives 90% of it's product to the government.  When you take a real taxi, it's owned by the government.  The professionals who work in medicine, law, science, etcetera are paid peanuts.  For example the woman I stayed with is a pediatric surgeon and she makes $60/month.  I asked her what the motivation is to go to school (which is free as is health care) and she said that you have to love your job.  Our old car tour guide told us he is an accountant by education but makes more money giving tours so yep that's what he does.

The stores were also striking.  When you go inside a grocery store they have only a limited offering but a lot of the product.  For example one store had an entire aisle full of cereal but only two kinds.  In the next aisle were jars of olives, all the same kind.  The next had bags of powdered milk (they told me you only get real milk in the country) and one kind of pasta.  There was no pasta sauce in the whole store and I saw one tub of nutella under lock and key behind a glass counter along with mayonnaise and mustard.

The appliance stores were similar.  You would walk in and see an entire wall of boxes: all the same microwave.  If you wanted a toaster, you had one kind to choose from.  It was interesting to say the least.  I still don't know where the restaurants get their food to provide a constant menu.  I mean, I understand the government owned ones probably have access somewhere else but the private ones (government has made changes to a lot of things since Raul, Fidel's brother, took over power 8 years ago including the right for people to run restaurants out of their homes and to use their own cars as taxis) clue how they get the same food to keep a menu going.

The country itself is breathtaking.  Pictures don't really do it justice.  We toured the old city by foot, took a car tour for all the around Havana parts and then jumped in a mafia-car to drive out to the valley and see the tobacco.  All in all: super awesome.

Answers to questions people ask me:  Yes you can go to Cuba but you still need a reason.  The process was extremely lax.  When we bought our tickets they asked us to check one of twelve boxes listing reasons to go.  Then at the airport when we checked in they had us sign a form saying that was the reason.  They sold us a visa when we picked up our tickets (50 dollars) and that was it.  We entered Cuba with nary a question or suspicious look.  Once in Cuba your credit card and atm card won't work (well someone told me there are limited areas where Mastercard sometimes does but we didn't even look).  We booked our rooms through airbnb ahead of time so that was already paid for.  We also booked the tours ahead of time but paid when we got there.  The internet is not readily accessible although in the last several months people are getting access in their homes (one place I stayed had just gotten internet in the past week)...there is a catch though.  You have to buy an internet card (between 3-5 dollars) to log in and that usually only lasts about an hour.  It wasn't worth it for us so we just went without.  Because of the difficulty of getting online, expect any interaction you have with cubans online to be delayed!

Well I guess this is a long enough blog!  I'll end with my favorite part: my last day my friend took off in the morning and I had one more night before I flew out.  I headed out and walked in the non-touristy part of Havana.  I tried to buy something from a bakery and couldn't because I only had CUC (tourist money) and not national pesos (local money).  Finally I found a bakery who was selling eclairs and sold them by the bag.  I had about eight when I walked out and that was about six more than I could eat.  So I sat down on the curb, looking out at the water, and started munching.  A little old lady without any teeth sat next to me and the first thing she said was, "I'm a grandmother."  This got her going about every family member in her circle (she was a little demented I think) so I offered her an eclair and of course she accepted and just as I handed it to her a police van and police car pulled up right in front of us.  Five guys jumped out and three ran towards us, past us and into the building behind us.  For a second I was taken aback, thinking I was breaking the law by giving the lady an eclair!  But then the two guys standing guard in front of the truck starting asking where I was from, why I came to Cuba and before you knew it I was offering them eclairs too!  The little old lady and the weirdness of shooting the breeze with cuban cops who were anything but scary made my day.  And the eclairs were pretty yummy too!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Snowstorms and not yet half done

Well they are calling for at least 12 inches of snow tomorrow and the greatest doomsayers are bandying around 3 feet.  I don't think my plane is going to get off to Cuba Wednesday morning as planned but time will tell.  Crazy New England weather, that's for sure!

I've been doing a spiritual and physical health and wellness program called Nineveh 90.  It started almost a month ago and goes on for 90 days.  You commit to daily exercise, moderating electronics (like TV, computer, phone), not eating sweets, morning/night prayers and fasting on Wednesday/Friday in an act of penance/preparation for the 100th anniversary of Fatima.  In the beginning weeks it went by quickly but now with still two more months to go: this is taking forever!  Sunday is a day of relaxed discipline but instead of just relaxing: I ate oatmeal cookies for breakfast and ice cream for dinner.  Yes I went a little crazy.  But there's a reason why this plan is doable: it's just a healthy way of life!  If I lived this way 90 percent of the time...well I'd be doing pretty good!

I just finished a book a friend gifted me called the Happiness of Pursuit.  It was good.  It was about finding a quest, fulfilling a quest, and what to do afterwards.  The author traveled to every country in the world.  I spent a year working with kids in Guatemala.  Although I don't know if the author would consider my year in CA a quest, I identified with a lot of his qualifiers (a quest takes sacrifice, a strong desire, and causes the people around you to wonder what in the world you are doing).  It also helped to read about when you're done...where do I go from here?  I'm afraid of cramming my life so full again of busy-ness that I lose the big picture: what's really important to me (which basically revolves around my friends, family and God).  I think I'm going to start scheduling down time...days that I don't have planned and make myself slow down.  Is that pathetic?  Oh well.  :o)

I feel like something is coming for me to do but right now I don't have a clue what that is.  I have my own dreams and desires but the best things in my life ALWAYS come from God (and yes, usually coincide).  So I guess I'm back in a holding pattern to see where He takes me!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Six Ways My Life Was Changed

I can't seem to stay put.

After visiting my parents and family, I went off this past week for a ski trip to Stowe, Vermont.  Vermont is beautiful this time of year: all that snow and everything...(for any White Christmas fans)...and we were blessed to have one great day of skiing.  The other day was more like being lost in a dark storm cloud with zero visibility and icy slopes...basically only dumb people or diehards were up there...and yes, I fell into the dumb group.  At least we had fun and there were no injuries!

Someone asked me this past weekend, "How did NPH change your life?"  

1. Money: Well obviously I learned to let go and trust God when I took a year off from work.  Every penny was leaving my account and nothing was coming in.  Without worrying, things worked out.  I learned how little money I needed to live...and how much I could do with just a least in Central America!  I find now that I'm home, I spend money more easily...which obviously might not be a good thing!  But I'm also very careful to weigh if it is something I really, really want so hopefully that will balance out my lack of buyer's remorse!

2. Possessions: Not having many possessions was actually pretty freeing.  It was a drastic change, but living with one suitcase full of clothes (most of it scrubs) taught me how to simplify.  I had one pair of running shoes, a pair of church shoes and two pairs of flip flops (because inevitably one would break and I'd need the other before I had a chance to replace it). I had one dress, two skirts and two pairs of jeans.  And you know what?  I didn't miss any of my stuff that I had left behind! All those boxes and bags I put into storage before I took off?  I didn't need them.

3. Drama: It taught me that the drama in life is relative. So I was late to work, spilled my coffee and a guy cut me off in the parking lot.  So what.  My husband didn't leave me jobless with two kids to feed, my mother's not dying of cancer without treatment and no one shot all of my family members in front of me when I was only twelve years old.  It's a good day.

4. Appreciation: It also taught me to enjoy the small things.  Did I appreciate being able to get a latte or piece of carrot cake every other week after taking a 25 minute chicken bus scrunched with six people across into town?  You bet!  Way more than if I got it at a drive thru in my car every morning.

5. Smile first: In Guatemala, greetings are of the utmost importance.  How you act when you see someone, from a person on the street to a teacher to the President, tells them exactly what kind of person you are.  Coming from New England, where we don't make eye contact until we've known each other for at least five years, this was a big adjustment for me...but one that I've found increases my smile return.  Now that I'm more willing to make eye contact and smile at people first, I find those smiles coming back to me ten-fold!

6. Looking ahead: After experiencing first hand going out on a limb and trusting God, I've learned to look forward with hope.  I'm sure that God isn't done with me yet.  After finishing what turned out to be an amazing adventure, I'm ready for whatever comes. No matter how daunting, I'm sure He'll see me through it!

This blog doesn't touch on the people who entered my life, the friends I've made and expect to have for a long time to come, or the kids who will forever be in my heart.  It's more about how I've changed my way of living after being in Guatemala for a year.  

Off to Cuba on Wednesday (God willing and they let me in!).  My path might not be typical but that's typical of God, huh?  Moving on...thanks for reading!