Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Updating My List

I was gifted with the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die a few years ago, and I flipped through it and made a list of the places that I had already been, just to see if I was on track with the executive opinion of the authors.   

I have now updated it with my 2009 travels, adding 4 places in Thailand, 2 in Germany, one in Mexico and one in the US.  What US experience did I get this year that made the cut?  Cheyenne Frontier Days (lucky guess, you!).

I'm at 96 places done so far.   Not too bad for not trying.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Sausage

Every family has their culinary traditions when it comes to the holidays, whether is special cookies, Grandma's famous eggnog (with bourbon, ice cream and whipped cream), or a certain ham.  Somehow in our family, the Lebanon Sausage, has reached that status.   You can in fact order these Pennsylvania sausages year round, but since we get together at Christmas, that is the appropriate time to share the sausage.

Last night, as my family was packing up their gifts and preparing to depart for Illinois via Amtrak (already 3+ hours delayed coming in to Denver), my sister was slicing the remaining Lebanon Sausage into 4 equalish portions to take home. 

My sister spent her time coming and going on the train composing Amtrak songs.....

"Amtrak, baby, Amtrak! I'm headin' down the Cali Zepher railway...lookin' for a CO getaway...headin' for the snow hideaway. Got me a coach seat, it seats about one of me, now hurry up and lean that seat back into me! Amtrak, baby, Amtrak!"

"*finally* leaving on a late train, next time I WILL be on a plane, but still- I hate to go...so Amtrak, please make up some time, even if you have to cut in line, get me to Chi so I can make my trip back home...If I'm sleeping in Union Station, because I've missed my connection, I promise you everyone will know..."

"I've been riding on the railroad all the live long day- I've been riding with sickos, babies, and those who didn't pay. Can you imagine the excitement, running through my car- if the conductor announced that there would be an open bar?"

Perhaps she can extend her creativity in composing a song about the Christmas Sausage...at least it won't make you cry the way the "Christmas Shoes" song will.

Success!  She had TONS of free time on her endlessly delayed train for this:
"Oh Lebanon, Oh Lebanon-How tasty is your sweet meat. Oh Lebanon, Oh Lebanon- You are my fav holiday treat. On crackers, cheese or eggs-the pleasure goes right to my head. Oh Lebanon, Oh Lebanon- you make my Christmas special."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 7 Minute Recap

As American's we like our information in short, quick segments.     This fits the bill.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eating Your Way Through the Weihnachtsmarkt

I'm not going to lie.  My favorite part of almost any vacation is the food, and the Christmas Markets in Germany were no exception.   To help you eat your way through the Markt here are the common items.

Reibekuchen - potato pancakes.  Delicous with Apfelmuss (applesauce).
Lebkuchen - gingerbread.  Everywhere and in every shape.  Often in hearts on string decorated with phrases like "Ich liebe dich" or "Frohes Fest."
Gebrannte Mandeln - sugared almonds.  And many other sugared nuts.  My favorite were the amaretto gebrannte mandeln.
Brezels - pretzels.  Large, soft with a variety of toppings.
Wursts - large sausages.  Usually a long brat served with a roll and mustard.   Curry wurst is usually sliced in small pieces and served with sauce. 
Flammkuchen - flatbread pizza (of a sort).  I had it with cheese and potatoes.  Yum!
Crepes, Waffles, Poffertjes - cooked/fried dough in different forms with powdered sugar, nutella and more.
Glühwein - hot mulled wine.  You will almost always pay a "pfand" (deposit) which you get back if you return your mug.  Odds are you'll keep some mugs as souvenirs as they a personalized for each market.  You can get your wine with a float of amaretto, grand marnier and other liqours if you like.  Even when the shops close down, the wine stalls stay open longer.
Eierpunsch - hot "egg" punch.  It's an egg liquor with wine, spices and whipped cream (sahne).
Kinderpunsch - hot spiced apple juice.  For those who don't drink alcohol....or for kids.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Yesterday we went to Köln to see their world famous Dom (even Rick Steve's says it's "Germany's most exciting church").  The Dom's claim to fame?  Köln acquired the bones of the Three Kings in the 12th century, which justified the building of a massive cathedral...how else would you hold all the pilgrim's who came to visit?  And in anticipation of the city being bombed during WWII all the stained glass windows and art were taken from the church and stored in a safe place, so the church remains beautiful today.   Of course, if there is a turm (tower) to be climbed, I'm there, so Chantal, Brian and I paid our 2.5 Euros to climb up 500+ stairs.    This in turn justifies the consumption of brezels, Glühwein, Eierpunsch, and mandeln afterwards...

View of the Christmas Market from the Turm

View of Köln from the top of the Dom

Maha and Chantal enjoy meat on a stick!


Friday, December 4, 2009


There are 6 Christmas Markets throughout the Altstadt in Dusseldorf.  Great Fun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Vague Sense of Panic

Yesterday a radio DJ announced "today is the first day of the last month of the decade." Hard to believe that a decade ago I was a senior in college. Now I am an 'adult' out in the real world. I hope my decade was productive...since I only 30 days left for any dramatic changes!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Seeking St. Nicholas

Wednesday morning I leave for Germany.  In July a friend told me she was transferring with her company and my first thought was "maybe I should visit....in December...during the Christmas markets."  Almost the same day, another friend currently living in Switzerland sends me a message "Maybe we should all meet up in Dusseldorf.....just dreaming."  Now it's reality.

My mom spent her junior year of college living in Vienna and also loves the German / Austrian Christmas traditions.  Many years growing up we would put out our shoes on the night of December 5 in the hopes that St. Nicholas would leave us some goodies.   For about 4 years straight St. Nick left us ceramic houses to build a Christmas village.   Mom has now set me the challenge to see if I can find any St. Nicholas art or stories that include St. Nick's traveling partner: Krampus.  He's the one who hands out switches to the bad kids.

So this week I'll be on the hunt for Krampus.  Hopefully, I'll also end up with chocolate, Christmas ornaments, gifts, and who knows, on December 5 maybe I'll leave my shoes out again and see what happens.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanks for a Full Plate

This morning in the church bulletin there was a blurb about the hunger task force.  This was followed up by our youth group tonight where we learned about the Souper Bowl of Caring and painted bowls that will be auctioned off in the spring.  Prior to youth group, this prompted me to look up some information online to put local and world hunger in perspective.   I'm fortunate that hunger is not an issue for me.  Yes, there are days that I don't like what's in the employee cafeteria at work or in my kitchen, but that doesn't mean that I'm going without. So what did I learn today?

1 out of 8 Colorado households has hunger issues
In Colorado, children make up 45% of the clients

There are 1 billion chronically hungry people, and more than 60% of these are women
65% of the world's hungry live in 7 countries
(India, China, Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia)

From Oxfam:
40% of the world's population lives on less than $2/day
39 million Americans live in poverty

I had heard the statistic before about a lot of the world living on $2/day.  When I think that I pay $2.50 for a "happy hour" mocha at Daz Bog Coffee it's hard to imagine.   I realize that number isn't applicable for the US and I'm curious what the minimum cost per day would be to live here.   I pulled out some recent reciepts from grocery shopping to get an idea of what it really costs to make a meal....or to buy highly overpriced snacks.  For the cost of buying two bags of Snyders pretzel pieces, I was able to buy pasta, pasta sauce and a loaf of french bread.  Yesterday I got Ghiradelli chocolate chips and some Szechuan snack mix for $8.99 at World Market.   Needless to say, at my favorite Asian grocery store, I was able to get a bunch of mint, a bunch of basil, 3 limes, shallots, garlic, green onions, green beans and vegetable dumplings for the same amount.  I know that I can eat more nutritiously (and more cost effectively) if I put my mind to it.

I always have a lot to be thankful for, and in the week that we celebrate Thanksgiving, more people voice their thanks aloud.  I will too.  I am thankful for a good job, great friends, a safe and warm place to live, the ability to pick what I want to eat each day (as opposed to eating only rice, for example), freedom of religion, having a good education and not being limited because of my gender or geography.

I ran across a quote earlier, but I can't find it or the citation, but it went something like this....
"the person who is full has many problems, the person who is hungry has just one"
This year, I can be thankful for my problems as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Freezin' For A Reason

I'm almost sad I'm missing this event at Chatfield Reservoir just for the entertainment value alone.  But since I'll be with friends overseas, I will have to get over my disappointment (perhaps by eating some German pastry).  But you, yes you, can help support Special Olympics Colorado by participating or donating money.  Click here to support Team Stay Hypothermic (or jump in) and raise money for a good cause.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebration 2006

My freshman year of high school, we had an interesting English project.   We had a basic premise:  Our entire class was invited to a 10 year school reunion on the Orient Express.   We had to write a letter to one of our classmates detailing the following:  What we were doing, where we were working, our personal life, who of our other classmates we had kept in touch with (and what they were doing), what we wanted to do on the Orient Express and who we thought was paying for our trip.

Incidentally, today, I stepped foot on hallowed ground mentioned in this project from 1992-93:  The Broadmoor Hotel.  In this particular school project, I said that in 2006 I was going to be the Banquet Manager at the Broadmoor.  The property is spectacular.  It's ironic enough that some of the other things I listed in that project, like living in Colorado or having a dog, were true as of 2006.   I think this letter may be in a filing cabinet in my mom's house.   I may have to have her hunt it down.   Predicting as a freshman what might happen as a bonafide "grownup"....who knew?  

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No Useless Memorization

Countless studies (I don't know which ones, but I know they exist) show that it is much easier to learn a second language.  As a child.  At the same time you are learning your primary language.  Sadly this hasn't taken off in the US the way it should.  Primarily because we are a country that takes up a third of a continent in which 2/3 of the people speak English (give or take Quebec).  We're big.  We're powerful.  And others in the world consider us "lucky" that we know English since it gets you by in more places than ever (kind of like Visa, it's everywhere you want to be).  In other countries, kids start learning their second and third languages before they ever get to highschool. 

At Moline HS we had the choice of Spanish, French and German.   I chose German.  Why not Spanish?  Because too many others were taking it.    Where was my faithful VOLAR at that time?  It should have been whispering in my ear "Jen, think of all the places you can travel with Spanish."  In spite of my late start with foreign language, three years with one hour per day did cause German to stick.   In college I thought I'd take some more German...why not stay with what you know? 

I had one attempt at taking Spanish in college.  I was going on a spring break mission trip to Costa Rica and thought how great it would be to take a 101 level class.  Sadly, so many people test out of Spanish 101 from high school that they didn't have any sections that fit my schedule, so back to Deutsch I went.

Time passed.  I had yet to travel to a German speaking country.   I move to Lake Tahoe where the majority of employees speak Spanish.  Fortunately my great boss, "Cebolla," taught me hotel Spanish one event at a time.  We would walk down the buffets and I'd dutifully repeat all the vegetables on the salad bar.  I could ask for tables, chairs and tablecloths. 

In 2003 my mom and I went to Germany and did the language of our great great grandparents proud.  I was living in Indianapolis and foreign language was not needed....until I planned on a VBS trip to Mexico.  I found a class at the community college in hopes that I would finally get what I really needed.   Verbs.   

Recently on the radio there have been ads for a language system that touts "No useless memorization or repetitive drills."   Really?  Because memorization and drills is how we learned English as kids.   Remember spelling tests and sentence diagrams?  

Last year I started Spanish classes again.  I am currently working on learning my verbs in the preterite and imperfect past tenses.  And someday I will be just as bilingual as all those 10 year olds in Europe.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fire Up the Kitchen

I like to cook in general and love to bake.  Every gets to be the recipient of baked goods, because there is no way that I can eat that much and still get to try new recipes.  As the holiday season rolls arounds, treats are expected (and welcome) everywhere, so it's an opportunity for me to try out new things.   I laughed when I saw my friend linked to the following The Food Librarian blog.   It's not the blog itself, but the 30 day theme of "I Like Big Bundts" that cracked me up (complete with a Sir Mix A Lot graphic).

I may have to try one of her recipes, just to support her sense of humor!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A More Amazing Race

The Amazing Race is one of my favorite TV shows.  Not surprising since it's all about travel and adventure (give or take a little drama).  I was intrigued by a link I saw on a blog today for The World Race.  It's an 11 month, 11 country mission for young people (and I believe it's been determined that my collective group of friends can no longer be called "young adults"....in fact one discussion was Yippums...young possible marriage possible mortgage....).   Anyhow, I think that programs like this can completely change your world view and open your heart to the poverty and injustice in the world.  And what your love, prayer and actions can do to change a life (possibly someone else's and probably your own).   I am happy to see more people willing to give of their time and resources for something that has primarily intangible and unmeasurable benefits.   And it's one more thing that makes me ponder....

Monday, November 2, 2009

Living the Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer ~ Restaurant Cruz del Llano ~ Mexico

I want things to be right.  If they're not, I want to fix it.  Recently I've been struggling with the things that I can't control (many of them being in Oklahoma, but not all).  I have a particular work ethic and I expect that others have the same.  Sadly, this is not true.  It's hard to make other people care.  Or even respond.

How does this relate to the Serenity Prayer?  The prayer reads:  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Some days, it feels like I'm fighting a losing battle, but that I don't want to give in, because I feel that what I'm asking (or doing or thinking) is right.  I don't have a job that is changing the world (but it is fun!).  However, you never know what impact your actions, simple though they are, might have on another. 

Ghandi said, "be the change you want to see in the world." 
It makes me wonder if I'm doing what I am called to do.  Or even what that calling is.

A couple of weeks ago at church we watched the video for the song "Hands and Feet" by Audio Adrenaline.  It's funny, I probably haven't heard that song for 6 years.   Since then we've been singing it during vespers at youth group on Sunday nights.  It's a song that makes me think hard about what God really wants me to do with my life.  I have not reached a conclusion, but am open to suggestion!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Compelling Reasons to Jump in Freezing Cold Water

December 5 is the Polar Plunge here in Denver, an excuse to jump into freezing cold water (costumes optional) to raise money for Special Olympics.  We may have friendly competition between our different properties in Denver.  Sadly, I will just be an enabler....strongly encouraging friends and co-workers to do it, knowing that I will be relaxing (warm and dry) with friends in Germany on the day in question.

As a child going to girl scout camp in Wisconsin (a state known for frigid water), you had the option to go "polar-bearing" in the lake before breakfast.  You just had to tie a sock around your platform tent pole if you and your tent-mates were going and the counselors would wake you up.

Polar Bear Jumps are also a tradition in Milwaukee as people hop into Lake Michigan at 12 noon on New Year's Day.  What a way to wake up / sober up after a long New Year's Eve!  I had the opportunity on 1/1/07 when I was there, but opted for glorious sleep instead!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Very excited to see Wicked earlier this week as it's only in Denver for 6 weeks this time.   I knew the music in advance, but the show itself is so fun; great jokes, sets and dance.  I highly recommend it!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Give A Day

I saw this today and thought "Brilliant." Many people donate hundreds of hours of volunteer time a year. There are some who don't volunteer at all. If this offer opens the eyes of just a few people to the joys of volunteering, it's worth it. For myself, I learned about volunteering from my parents; active in both the community and in our church. As a child, you do what your family encourages you to do. As an adult you make a conscious choice whether you will focus entirely on yourself or if you will share your time, talents and resources with others.

Looking for a sign? Here you go.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

8 Places?

Maui Sunset

I read an article on the 8 places every American should see. Of course, every American has a different idea of what is great, historic, natural or cultural and people are already adding their comments on what should make the cut. I have my own opinions. Of the 8 on that list, I've only seen 3, but it reiterates that no two people will have the same list.

Jenni's Unofficial Off the Cuff List: Places Americans Should See

Yellowstone National Park
(wildlife, hot springs, mountains, lakes, bubbling mud!)
San Francisco / California Coast
(seafood, cliffs, ocean, cable cars)
Door County
(summer fruit, sunsets and ice cream)
(Lake Michigan, Sears Tower, Grant Park, Pizza, Michigan Ave at Christmas)
(volcanoes, whales, snorkeling, luaus, leis)
Boston or Washington DC
(for your crash course in US History)
Disney World
(a little make believe never hurt anyone)
Yosemite National Park
(wildlife, waterfalls, El Capitan & Half Dome)
California Coast

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Enjoying What You Know

In contrast to my normal endeavors of trying new things, this weekend, I relied on some places that I know and like. As my parents were visiting, I enjoyed picking restaurants that were fun, local and have really good food.

Crepes and Crepes
Cafe Calore
Hickory House
Cherry Cricket

And we watched some football. Illinois and Wisconsin didn't do so well. Iowa, the Broncos and the Colts did.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

VOLAR strikes back!

Towards the end of summer, I was pondering what the year would bring, specifically in regard to travel (always a pressing concern). VOLAR is the "voice of reason and logic." In Spanish, it's the verb "to fly."
I think I am abandoning listening to reason and instead looking to fly whenever possible. I had been casually talking with a Peruvian friend who was planning to go home to visit family in the spring. Casual conversation became a reality this week. Friend comes into my office and says, "The fares are a little over $500, tomorrow they could be $1000, you really should come, I'm buying my ticket tomorrow and so is another friend of ours."
When I asked my boss about taking vacation in February he said "4 months to you is in the blink of an eye."
Needless to say, in 4 months I will be on my way to Lima.
(more new things this week: my first time eating dim sum in the US at Superstar Asian, yum, playing games on Invesco field, and of course, buying a ticket to South America, which will be continent number 6!)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What to See?

Rocky Mountain NP
Some of my family is coming to visit in 2 weeks and they haven't been out to Denver before (other than DIA possibly) and I'm pondering what activities to do, restaurants to visit, etc. The good news is that there is plenty to see and do no matter the weather. It's hard sometimes to see your "hometown" (at least for the past 4 years) the way a visitor might,
but I am up to the challenge!

In the things, new category for the past week or so: Benny's Mexican Restaurant (chambord margaritas, anyone?), Sunflower Market, an 'intermediate' level Spanish class, my madlib was posted on One Big Yodel and my first night of youth group at church.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ode to the Flipflops

Two days ago, I had a Jimmy Buffet-esqe moment when I literally blew out my flip flop. Aside from my having to walk barefoot back to my car, I was struck with a sense of loss. When I told my friend I had gotten the flops right before I went to Africa, he asked me how many continents had my shoes had traveled to?

They had traveled to Southern Africa, Australia/New Zealand, Mexico (twice), the Caribbean, and Thailand. 4 Continents.
I am sorry to see them go and I don't think there is any hope for repairs. Four years is a good run for a pair that was comfortable and cute.I may have to go to Margaritaville to console myself!
(featured parrot outside Margaritaville - Key West)

Sunday, September 13, 2009


They say that life is what happens while you're making plans....maybe that explains my drought in posting on my blog recently. But one of those things was perhaps the creation of a new camping dessert....calling it a "S'nore" is an oxymoron, but smores made with fun size snickers instead of plain chocolate are amazing!

Today was Jubilee Sunday (aka the fall kickoff). Just as schools are getting their full schedule started, so is the church. Service was packed, Sunday School kicked off, and finally, after almost 4 years of attending, I officially joined the church.

Yesterday was my first time going to an Illini Alumni Gamewatch, which was also fun (I was impressed with my ability to sit down with complete strangers and say hi).

Also on the things new front (I'm not sure my exact number, will have to reference previous posts), I went to a baby shower with 1) a delicious app of blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon (amazing!) and 2) live music.

Youth kickoff was tonight complete with dunk tank, water balloons, baked potato and salad bar (a great idea for an outdoor event), vespers and more. My friend Gregorio told the youth that I'm the one who will have the excess energy on the off chance that he runs out.

Who knows what additional fun I can get myself into?

Monday, August 24, 2009


I was reading my friend's blog today, which featured a guest blogger and his sermon. One line caught my eye and brought me back to middle school. "See I have set before you today death or life. Choose life."

(insert time machine noises here) The summer of 1990 I was 18 years younger (which makes me feel old at this particular point in time) and the summer after I finished 6th grade. This was my first year to go on the Rock Prairie Presbyterian Church Caravan trip. Caravan was a program that had been going on 20 years before I jumped in with my new Banana Republic shirt, khaki shorts and my big yellow "God's Glenmhor Gang" button.

Annual church trips have initiation ceremonies and Caravan was no exception. On that first night, en route to Ontario, Canada, in a church somewhere in Michigan, I was blindfolded in the sanctuary when someone asked me to "Choose Life."

I know the verse is in Deuteronomy. Periodically I have gone hunting for the verse, never remembering exactly where it is. It's funny how just one little phrase can bring back a whole collection of memories. That was my first service trip. It got me started on the right track.

I haven't looked back.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Choosing Your Starfish

On our last night in Mexico, our group leader brought up the starfish story. The moral of this short story? You can make a difference to one. Most people have one cause that they feel strongly about and support with their time, talents or money. He said not to get discouraged. Just because you can't change everything doesn't mean you can't change anything. His recommendation? Choose your starfish. Whether it's water, education, women's rights, the environment, religious freedom, finding a cure, or international peace and understanding. Your starfish is important.

Right now, I feel like I have multiple starfish. And that's fine.

Not familiar with the starfish story? Watch the video here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Time Management (Bread of Life Style)

Admittedly, I don't spend time thinking about the church lectionary. But during service this morning our pastor said that the lectionary for both weeks included the "Bread of Life" passage from John 6 and he didn't think he could do two weeks in a row without exhausting the "BOL" commentary.

Instead he focused on Ephesians 5:15-20 which cautions us to be careful with how we live and to make the most of our time, prompting a sermon on how time is used (and how much is wasted watching tv, for instance).

Incidentally time management was also featured in one of the magazines I read this week which included valuable tips like "follow the rule of two" (determine your highest priority work and personal activity and form the rest of your day around it) or "take charge of your mornings" (people take too much time to warm up in the morning, coffee, email, etc dithering away valuable time).

As summer (in theory) is waning and fall schedules are usually more aggressive, it may be time to get a handle, on, well, time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lost and Found in a Mexican Town

After 2 plus hours in the hot sun, the drive from Chiapa de Corzo up the mountain to San Cristobal was a real treat. Primarily because the temperature went down dramatically. And because I got corn on the cob with lime, salt and chile en route. San Cristobal was the only place we went on this trip that must be on the backpacker circuit as there were many more gringo tourists. The city is full of cobblestone streets and colorful buildings. There was entertainment at the Cathedral square and a giant handicrafts market at Santo Domingo. We had lunch/dinner at Il Piccolo, an Italian restaurant. The owner spends half his year in Mexico and the other half in Italy. Needless to say, the pizza was delicious. For dessert I had a chocolate salami. Made of chocolate and hazelnuts and cut into slices, like its namesake sausage.

After shopping in the handicraft market, we went across the street and found a shop that actually had one Chiapas Jaguars soccer jersey. That's when we lost Jon. We spent the next while doing reconnaissance all over San Cristobal, the craft market, the cathedral square, the coffee shop and back at the car. He was found by the car, chillin' with a beer. You should have heard Elspeth screaming "Jon" in the market....

We wrapped up our trip with traditional Mexican hot chocolate at La Selva. We got in the group hug, if not the Kumbaya. All agreed it was a short and meaningful trip and we'd do it again!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hot Nuts for Breakfast

On Saturday, I did not in fact have hot nuts for breakfast, but my erstwhile travel companion Jon (aka Don Juan) did. Our first stop for the day was a neighborhood called El Refugio, which means the refuge. This is a poor community that is built up the hillside in Tuxtla (the kind of hillside that you wonder how your car will make it up). After visiting the church hosting the water project, we visited Maria-Daisy, one of the church members. She is technically a squatter. Her house didn't use to have a floor or much of a roof, but over time they have made it more permanent. The electricity is pirated. There is no running water.

In fact the house is right by a water plant and one of her neighbors, who works at the plant, turns on the water every evening and they fill their water jugs from a hole in the pipe that is stopped up with a stick. But due to ADU she and her family are able to get safe drinking water. Daisy exhibited the ultimate in hospitality, providing an unexpected meal of chicken mole to our group at her dining room table.

After leaving Maria-Daisy's house we went to Chiapa de Corzo to take a boat tour in the Sumidero Canyon. This is another ecotourism destination, but primarily for Mexicans. The canyon is beautiful and we saw monkeys, crocodiles and almost got nailed by pelicans on our way. As always Greg is making friends (and jokes) with the others on our boat. Needless to say, at one point Shane was a pirate and at another we were singing "row row row your boat" in a round.

Palabra a su madre!

On Friday morning, just like at home, I attempted to ignore my alarm as much as possible. Embracing the Latin American lifestyle includes eating dinner late and being social while doing it. Our first stop for the day was Casa Unidos para Siempre, which is a drug/alcohol housing and treatment center that also benefits from water donations from ADU. Our project, to plant a small garden for the residents to take care of. Many of the residents helped with the project, proving the truth of "many hands make light work." Jon in our group, along with one of the residents both have landscape and gardening and steered us in the right direction. Althea had bought some seed and some plants, including roses, herbs and even purple pepper plants. Althea's son Inigo spent his time chasing Bartholemew the cat around the garden for our entertainment.
Every place we go, we get snacks, and one of the great treats in Chiapas are the peanuts (cuacuawattes), especially when they are seasoned with chile pepper.
Greg and Ryan wrap up our gardening project with the traditional "machete man hug."

We then went to lunch at La Cruz. I had a chile relleno. Ryan and Inigo got their adventure on and had the cow tongue. Our afternoon fun activity was to go to the waterfall at Aguacero, which is an ecotourism location. We had to walk down over 700 steps to get to the base of the waterfall....and then the majority of us took off our shoes to climb up the water fall, which was fantastic fun. Which was good, since the climb back up had us all feeling old and out of shape.
Running joke of the trip: somewhere on Friday Ryan got on Greg for "harshin' his groove." For the rest of the trip we identified all things that could harsh one's groove. I'm waiting to see how many days I'll make it back at work before my groove gets harshed. On the drive back from Aquacera to one of the water plants in Tuxtla we started singing in the car, including songs in a round (such as make new friends). Back in Tuxtla I made a sarcastic comment about one of the collectivo drivers and his excessive amount of stuffed animals in the front of his taxi. What do my new friends do? Roll down their windows and tell said driver that I like his collection. What else to do but smile and wave...
Our dinner was at a fancy Italian restaurant called Il Giardillo. One thing I've noticed in Mexico, perhaps because of the flu outbreak, is that hand sanitizer is offered everywhere. This restaurant went one step further and all the staff was wearing face masks. I had stuffed sea bass for dinner and a plate of churroitos (they were mini after all) for dessert. The highlight though, was the table side presentation of Jon's Irish Coffee. I'd never seen anything like it. They flamed the glass, set the whiskey on fire and poured a flaming shot over the whipped cream.

Cosas Nuevas:
#66 purple chile peppers, #67 getting a purse rack at a restaurant, #68 adding "harsh my groove" and "puttin' peace / love on" to my vocabulary
To see what my partners in crime thought about their experience in Mexico:
Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. " It would be more accurate to say "a small group of thoughtful citizens wearing blue shirts....."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

That's How We Flow, Yo

I can't say that I have a lot of talent with the video component (mad skills in many other areas, but not this), but here's a clip from our painting at the orphanage on Thursday as well as the music and ambiance of the Marimba Park in Tuxtla!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bienvenida a Mexico!

Wednesday was quite the adventure in travel, and I won't bore you with the details, but needless to say I spent more than enough time in the Mexico City airport (with time to have chili/lime chips and Mirinda, and to know that my new cell works in Mexico). I'm spending a few days in Tuxtla Guitierrez in Chiapas, Mexico on a transformation trip with Aquas de Unidad (aka Healing Waters en ingles...). There are four of us, plus Gregorio, our fearless leader from Colorado. Althea, the communications coordinator, and her family have been our primary hosts taking us around to different purification plants in churches and the charities they support with donated aqua purificada. Yesterday's activities included the water purification plan in Coita and then we spent the rest of the day at Cosa Hogar Infantil. It's an orphanage in Coita that is supported by ADU with clean drinking water. They grow corn, peanuts and beans as well as raising pigs, chickens and goats. It's summer so some of the kids are with family and friends elsewhere, but we did some painting in the boys dormitory (racing stripes anyone?) and then played with the kids. We played Uno, basketball (instead of horse, we played "perro"). My proudest moment? With Hrothgar's help I was able read a 4 page kids story about a pig's curly tail (Donde esta mi cola?) with the kids using their puppets to act out the parts.

Below is a picture of our team on the roof of one of the buildings at Casa Hogar.

But the fun doesn't end there! After a chance to shower and rest back at the hotel, we were off to dinner....with a detour. Don Juan (Jon) had heard from his taxi driver about "Marimba Park." Every night there is a marimba band in the square. We stopped there and almost immediately Ryan says, "Jenni let's dance." So yes, I was dancing by the gazebo with the tall gringo in the blue shirt. After that (much to her embarassment), Elspeth (who's sixteen) got her bailar on. Then, just for fun, Ryan asks a random local girl to dance and they hit the floor. It was vastly entertaining and the crowd was into it. It was one of those real, authentic experiences that you can't plan, but that makes your experience that much richer.

Marimba Park

Our evening concluded with dinner (as all good evenings should) at La Carreta. The queso fondito was delicious and I had tostadas tuxtletas, which was a ground chicken ceviche. There was live music...including Spanish covers of "Only You" and "New York, New York." No trip to Mexico is complete without helado, so we did a quick drive by to the OXXO to get some ice cream bars on the way home. Shockingly, that was my only ice cream on this trip. I did make up for it by eating multiple churros, though.

Cosas Nuevas:

#61 tamales for breakfast, #62 meeting someone who has been called to be a priest, #63 visiting an orphanage, #64 dancing to a marimba band, #65 learning how water is purified

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Carpe Diem

I have a terrible problem. I can't say no. To travel anyway. Every time I see an opportunity, I want to take it. My logic? Why wait? There is no guarantee that "later" you'll have the time, money, health or opportunity to do it. Whatever it is (backpack across Europe, teach English in China, get a month off work, hike a fourteener).

I'm leaving on Tuesday to go on a short Transformation Trip to Mexico with Healing Waters International. How did I find out about it? A friend posted it on Facebook in June. Now it's August and time to go.

In this past week I've contemplated visiting Germany to see friends and been invited to visit China in the spring. Germany is probably a go. China, I don't know. I know I'd like to go, but that sneaky, devious voice of logic and reason (VOLAR) asks "are you sure that's what you want to do with your money and vacation time?"

All I know is that I need more money and vacation time.

And that sneaky, devious VOLAR needs to disappear.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Songs about Tractors

You would think that songs about tractors went out with Old McDonald, but that is not true...

My personal favorite, of course, is Kenny's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" (saw him perform again on Friday night) at Cheyenne Frontier Days (new #58) with free tickets I won in a contest on KYGO (#59). The opening act was Jake Owen, who is smokin' in his own right (# 60). Jake didn't sing about tractors per se, but does have a song called "Yee Haw."

Other notable country tractor songs include "International Harvester" by Craig Morgan or the current radio hit "Big Green Tractor" by Jason Aldean....where the woman in the song has the choice of going out in town or taking a ride on the BGT.

Really, what kind of choice is that? Of course, the BGT wins every time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Banned Books

A friend posted on FB the list of the 100 most "challenged" books from 1990-2000. I would think that people have better things to do than challenge books. Like banning idiotic TV shows or watching what their children are doing on line or texting to their friends.

Reading involves creativity, builds vocabulary, and probably makes you more successful in life.

Leave Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret alone!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Must Love Food

A lot of the fun in the past week has revolved around food, I'm not going to lie. At work last week we were told there was a "Chocolate Strawberry Waffle Extravaganza" (new #53) on Thursday as a reward for reaching a service goal. Not really sure I knew what that would be, but it did in fact involve chocolate Belgian waffles, sauce, ice cream, chocolate covered strawberries and more! And after that food coma, we had Mexican at Blue Bonnet (#54). Chips and salsa were exactly what I needed.....Friday progressed to a new little bar called Prickly Pete's (#55) and it may have been the first time I went to happy hour at a place and returned there for breakfast the next day. After a restful Saturday afternoon, the gluttony continued with brunch at Le Central (#56) on Sunday morning. And then there was the funnel cake. En route to City Park Jazz (#57) we cut through the Denver Black Arts Festival where, just like any place funnel cakes are sold, the line was ridiculously long. But I did, at long last, persevere and get my treat to better enjoy the concert.

"Let them eat cake" is just the start....

Monday, July 6, 2009

Country and Caipirinha

I got my summerfest on for the 4th of July. After my sister commented (truthfully) that I only visit Milwaukee in the winter when it's cold and nasty, we decided on a Summerfest (as featured in Party Across America, no less) weekend. Even better that the headline concert on July 3 was Kenny Chesney! 10 years after "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" hit the air...he puts on one hell of a fun show. And cheese curds twice in 3 days? The best.

And adding to the list:

#45 Exploring downtown Milwaukee on foot, in the sunshine

#46 Summerfest! First time to the world's largest music festival.

#47 First time seeing Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert in concert. 4th time seeing Kenny, but the first time hearing "Me and You" live and having him jam with his band for 45 minutes at the end of the concert (Space Cowboy, You don't have to call me darling, What I got, and more...)

#48 Sitting on one of those vibrating foot massage thingies shaped like a barrel

#49 Drinking caipirinha - made by native Brazilians, no less

#50 Texting a friend of my dad's (how weird!)

#51 Visiting Little Cedar Lake

#52 Trying chili dog pizza

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Road Tripping (Bike MS Style)

Last weekend was the 2009 Bike MS. It's not a first, but rather a second for me. Last year, after being involved as a volunteer in 06/07, I "manned" up, got a road bike and started to train for the insanity of voluntarily riding 150 miles in 2 days. I felt my training for this summer was not up to par, based on 1) the crazy Denver weather and 2) being out of town a lot. However, it was a success, I made good time on Saturday, crossing the finish line in Ft. Collins around 12:30 and then got to enjoy our fantastic team tent: the Hotel MS 150. Sunday morning, the attitude changes..."let's get on the road, because there's no other way back to Westminster except to hop back in the saddle..."and it was hot. I have some funky tan lines. But at least now my legs and knees feel back to normal and I'm ready for a holiday weekend of fun.

So, since the ride and the route weren't different, it's not new, but....

#42 Tried Lamar's donuts for the first time (nothing like wine, a donut and a grand bed after riding 75 miles...Rebecca told me I deserved it, and she's right!)

#43 (more in the ewww category) Stayed in a nasty old dorm at CSU. This is my fault for slacking in making my reservations, but I guess living in LAR at U of I (which is over 50 years old) gave me higher expectations....really who gives college students tiny desks with rocking chairs?

#44 Eating grilled cassava root with spicy Peruvian sauce (rocoto?).

Looking forward to this weekend, where I will actually get to experience, for the first time, one of the listed events in Party Across America, by going to Summerfest in Milwaukee with my sister!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Lonliest Number

I was reminded that I forgot another novelty on our trip to South Dakota last weekend. I've been to some small towns, and I think the record low on a population sign was 5.

On our way home last Sunday we saw a sign (a green town sign, paid for by the taxpayers) for a population of 1. I think the place was called Lost Spring and I'm not sure if it was in western SD or eastern WY. In any case, it should be classified as new thing #40.

#41 Participating in Denver's Bike to Work Day yesterday. This is an official event with breakfast stations, media coverage, raffle prizes, etc. I even got a free pair of socks at the 9News station. I'm hoping if I get my act together (planning ahead and all) I can bike to work one day a week this summer. Gives my car a rest, burns calories and provides plenty of fresh air!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Road Tripping

I took a road trip this weekend with a friend to go to a wedding in South Dakota. I had forgotten how much I enjoy road trips (which are different from get in a plane trips). You have the chance to stop at any roadside attraction (Chugwater Chili Coookoff anyone?) that catches your eye. You play the license plate game. You get wired on caffeine. It's been years since I've been in Wyoming and SD and I remembered how beautiful it is. I now want to plan a weekend trip back to Yellowstone (one of the happiest places on earth). Also....got some more new things taken care of.

#32 I rode my bike to work for the first time last week. This was a practice run in preparation for Bike to Work Day this week. 15 miles each way, it's great exercise and is almost all on bike paths.

#33 Tried the "World Famous" cinnamon rolls at Johnson's Corner (on I-25). I've had better.

#34 Met someone who unicycles.

#35 Dining in Custer, SD including Pizza Works and The Purple Pie Place. It's the most purple building I've ever seen and serves pie and ice cream. Yum!

#36 Attending a wedding in South Dakota, including the following new things: attending my first outdoor wedding, in a camp ground, where Frisbees were the party favor, ladder golf was played, the brother was one of the bride's attendants, the bride and groom took pictures jumping at the bounce house, and the bouquet was given to the couple married the longest. It was beautiful and great fun. Congrats to the Fultons!

#37 Seeing the face of Crazy Horse. The last time I was at the Crazy Horse Memorial was in the early 90s and even though it had been in progress for almost 50 years, not much was defined. The face was revealed in 2008. Now they are working on the horse. This project is not funded by federal or state funds, so you need to go yourself and help them out!

#38 Learning what the 4 presidents on Mt. Rushmore stand for. I feel this piece of US History passed me by, but fortunately there are park rangers to help me with this. George Washington: Birth of the Nation. Thomas Jefferson: Expansion of the Nation. Abraham Lincoln: Preservation of the Nation. Teddy Roosevelt: Development of the Nation.

#39 Tried Pepsi Throwback. Made with 100% natural sugar. I deserve it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Working for Free

Although many people think that they work so hard and so long that they're practically working for nothing, British Airways has reportedly asked its employees to work for free. Well, technically they are offering associates up to 4 weeks of unpaid leave (or the opportunity to work for free). Unlikely that anyone will work take the work for no wage option, but unpaid leave, if you can swing it financially, offers some unexpected freedom that you might not normally get working full time.

I don't know about other countries, but I know where I work we can't allow our employees to work off the clock for fifteen minutes, much less 4 weeks.

It's a good question to ponder. If your employer told you that you were going to have the month of August off as unpaid leave, what would you do with the time?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Adventures Up North

In typical style, I took a short trip over the weekend. This time I flew to Wisconsin to celebrate Dad's retirement. Although Wisconsin in and of itself is not new, the following items can be added to my list in the past week:

#23 Eating Elk. I have tried all kinds of game and exotic creatures (springbok, kangaroo, crocodile, warthog, maphone worm), but had my first elk burger on Wednesday.

#24 Seeing a stage performance of Rent. Awesome.

#25 Having cheesecurds within 2 hours of landing in Wisconsin

#26 Trying a local Sturgeon Bay coffeehouse: DC Brews home of the Lug Nut Latte (hazelnut and peanut butter) as well as a ridiculous chocolate frosted cinnamon roll.

#27 Celebrating the retirement of a family member. Hard to believe dad worked for 35 years and now is, in theory, at leisure.

#28 Hearing someone give a speech in honor of my Dad

#29 Participating in any activity in a Yacht Club. We have no yacht (no boat at all) but celebrated at the club. And the youngest 4 attendees at this illustrious gathering closed down the bar....at 9:45pm.

#30 Teaching my nephew to play bocce ball. He likes to throw things. It was a good time.

#31 Had my first Culver's Butterburger.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Slacker Tendancies

I feel like I've been slacking in proactively seeking out new things this to do this past week.

#17 I started a new position at the end of May. I am now the Associate Relations & Training Manager. I've been a training manager before, but AR (aka the fun stuff) is new and I'm excited to spend more time doing it. Time to say sayonara to worker's comp!

#18 I've committed to getting involved with the "makeover" of the Denver Illini club. I haven't been participating in the past, but now's my chance!

#19 Hiking in Evergreen - Elk Meadow. Yes I hike and yes I've been to Evergreen, but this was a combined effort of 7 people and 3 dogs. It was a part of Jeffco open space and great!

#20 Volunteering for a big community festival (People's Fair). I love to go to big festivals and eat my body weight in funnel cakes, but this time I helped educate people on what could be recycled. And the people watching was not to be missed. Cut off jean shorts, leggings and big earrings that read "SEXY" says it all.

#21 Bratwurst and Monopoly night. Add a few margaritas and it's a delicious and fun combination.

#22 Actually being where a tornado touched. For many June 7th's growing up (my sister's birthday) we spent time in our basement in Wisconsin because of tornado warnings. Yesterday I was relaxing at Barnes and Noble in Southlands when they warned us to stay away from the windows because of the weather. The hail lasted forever, but I thought that was it. Only once they started evacuating the shopping area for a possible natural gas leak (something else new), did I see all the leaves, broken trash cans, jacked up restaurant umbrellas, etc.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

History Repeating Itself

I originally had a blog on Yahoo 360 for the specific purpose of sharing my fabulous and detailed travel journal from Southern Africa with others who were on the trip with me. Then last year I decided that blogger was a better and easier choice (which is true). Sadly Yahoo 360 is closing and I was able to download my blog into a completely useless .txt format which is not able to be directly imported to Blogger. However, I can and will move the posts over sometime this summer, as it's entertaining to see what you thought and wrote when you were "younger" (almost 3 years ago). Not quite as entertaining as breaking out my journal from my trip to Egypt in 98, where I scribed riveting commentary such as "JFK is big, but not nearly as cool as O'Hare," "I felt conspicuous in the Cairo airport" and "the trick to haggling - act aloof and start low" (although that is still true).

Ahhhh...strolling down memory lane. Thankfully I write it all down, or my travel memories would be something like "Didn't we see that famous building?"

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What I Love About Sunday

This morning I went to the City Park Farmer's Market. I've never been there before. I sometimes play softball there and I've been to the zoo and museum, but not the market (or the south entrance where this fountain is). Took the dog, had some limeade and enjoyed the sunshine.
To recap the past week of new things, since returning from California:
#11 Playing Left, Right, Center for money
#12 Visiting Heritage Square in Golden (who knew there was a pseudo Victorian village in the foothills where you can ride the Scrambler)
#13 Wearing flip flops on a chair lift (Alpine sliding is not new, though I 've never done it in Colorado and the last time I did it was in Queenstown, New Zealand)
#14 Lying down on train tracks
#15 New Restaurant: El Senor Sol
#16 Going to the City Park Farmer's Market

Saturday, May 30, 2009

15 Seconds of Fame

Maybe I can add it to my something new list, because I don't know that I personally have been featured on You Tube. But it's for a good cause, so no complaints.

You can donate to the cause by clicking here and scrolling down to my name on the team list.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Part 2

So putting family, sunshine and wine together in the same place has all kinds of possibilities.

Including the opportunity for new things. Although some things I debate if they qualify and may list them as temporary...if better, more exciting new things come across that's ok.

#6 Going Wine Tasting in California
(wine has definitely grown on me and I have endeavored to taste wine in other places, like New Mexico, Illinois, South Africa, Germany and Australia. But California is a beautiful place to drink wine....one right after the other)

#7 Making Sangria ~ I've only even drank Sangria once or twice, but after trying it at the Callaway winery, I then endeavored to make my own on Saturday night. Delicious!

#8 Eating Dwight's Famous "Strips" on Huntington Beach. Dwight's has been serving people for 77 years. I'm not sure if the famous strips have always been there, but even a complete stranger verified that what made the strips famous was the sauce. Their sign says "Have you striped today?" As everyone knows, striping and stripping are two different things. I'm not sure which I did yesterday morning.

#9 Wearing a dress for an entire day and not for a special occasion (graduation, Mother's Day, church, etc). I wear skirts periodically, but I actually did the sundress thing for a day. It didn't kill me. I may do it again.

#10 Enjoying a Pacific front ocean view hotel room. Been to California, Oregon and Washington and have seen the coast, but never from my hotel room. (*disclaimer: hotel rooms in Hawaii don't count....that's "south pacific.")

Monday, May 25, 2009

California Girls

To celebrate Memorial Day and a milestone birthday for my mom (as she said, her "thirtieth") we went out to Huntington Beach, California for a girls weekend. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is a beautiful property (and the room rate, free, couldn't be beat!). We went wine tasting in Temecula, drank sangria and margaritas, and enjoyed the sunshine and palm trees. As adults, shockingly, we all enjoy each others company and getting together on vacation is the way to go. More highlights to follow!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Starting Slow

Last Saturday started my endeavor of trying 50 new things (and keeping track, too). I leave for California on Friday and since I haven't spent much time in So Cal, I know the opportunity for new things exists (even something as mundane as the fact that I've never been to the Pacific Ocean on Memorial Day....but that would be a cop out).

So what's "new"?

#1 I went to a baby shower. Where I could take my dog. And we drank tequila (well, not the mother to be). Earlier last week I bought a stroller for the first time in preparation for this party.
#2 I learned to play Texas Hold 'Em (note: this immediately followed the baby shower)
#3 I created my first radio station on Pandora : Island Country
#4 I had a sopapilla as an entree (and for dessert too, but the stuffed sopapilla entree at La Loma was yummy!) At the same time I feel like learned more about my boss as a person than I have in over 2 years of working with him.
#5 Today I bought 2 dresses. Buying dresses is a novelty. I even plan on wearing them both in the next few weeks. Go me!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Perusing the travel shelf at Borders (which always has me thinking about the next trip), I found two books, by Rolf Potts. The one with the catchy title was Marco Polo Didn't Go There. However, the book that I was actually able to get from the library was Vagabonding. Rolf describes how to plan for, finance, and enjoy extended travel, which incidentally, is different from vacation. Americans are starved for vacation compared to other industrialized countries, and even then some people don't take their allotted 2 weeks (what's wrong with them?).

On vacation you try to cram as much as possible into a short period of time (supporting the tour bus industry). Traveling gives you more time to relax, enjoy, and on occasion, not do anything. My trip to Thailand was the closest I've been to having a vagabond experience and it makes me hungry to do it again. Soon.

One of the quotes in the book, from a vagabonder herself (L. Spalding in Arizona), was "My family and friends often say to me, "I'm living vicariously through you." Don't ever live vicariously. This is your life. Live."


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