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.


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