Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Put your hand in my hand baby, don't ever look back"

Today's lyrics are brought to you compliments of a bus that is a slight step above a "chicken bus" in the Nicaragua transport system.

Nicaragua is bright, colorful, sticky, and relaxed. I´ve yet to bathe (correctly figuring there was no point) and am glad for all of the baby wipes my mom packed in my bag. I was so squished on the last bus I took that at one point that I thought I was going to get sick, then a guy groped my butt several times before I realized what he was doing. All of that being said, I am grateful I didn´t take the shuttle and soaked in all of the nuances of the culture here. I mean...who knows if the shuttle would have been playing Richard Marx, Roxette, Starship, and Lionel Richie? At some of the stops vendors would squish through those of us standing in the aisle, propping goods on their heads. If you order a drink, they pull out a plastic bag with ice in it and dump the bottled drink in the bag, tie the top of it, and insert a straw. I guess it´s a bit like the concept of a Capri Sun. They looked yummy, but I´d been warned about the water and feared the ice consumption.

I gave up that fear, however, to have a pina colada after I had a really scary experience near the beach in San Juan del Sur. I ventured out with my mom's very expensive, fabulous camera around my neck, which I will not do again, and as I neared the end of the main drag a white guy started screaming at me in English and Spanish. He called me a "puta" repeatedly, which is the Spanish word for "whore" and that was just the beginning of the nastiness. He told me how he'd rape me, etc. I ignored him completely, and he finally stopped walking.

Other than him and the groper on the bus, I've met some lovely people. I chatted with a sweet Nicaraguan lady on my first bus. At a middle of nowhere sort of bus stop, I met Alberto while I waited. He was a blessing because he fought off all the taxi drivers. Alberto is an aspiring English speaker, so we had about 20 minutes to practice our respective second languages with each other. On my last leg of the journey I invited a couple to join me in my cab. Turns out the girl was recently in a new friend's wedding! Yep, the husband sat next to me at game night on Friday, and 48 hours later I'm setting next to one of the bridesmaids from his wedding in a cab in Nicaragua. It's a small world.

p.s. I'm grateful that I had so many opportunities to use my Spanish today, had some beach time, and have had much desired reading time.

"It was all that I wanted, now I'm living without"

It is 5:20 a.m. and already daylight here in Managua. I arrived around 9 p.m. last night after uneventful travel, although I did feel really anxious on the way to the airport. I ended up bringing a bit of work with me and being reminded several times over the past few days of what I hate about litigation. So much of it is unpredictable, and of course, it and deadlines stop for no one. But my anxiety seemed more related to visiting somewhere new--alone. I guess some of what I have read about the frequency of thefts here and the importance of being hyper-vigilant combined with my lack of preparedness and really just the adventure of a trip like this when traveling and planning alone rendered me a bit nervous on the drive to the airport.

Thankfully I arranged a shuttle from my hostel before arriving in Nicaragua, so I was greeted by a young boy holding a sign with my name after grabbing my bags (note I had to check 2 bags simply to avoid exceeding the 50 pound weight limit...oh well at least now they are combined into one). The shuttle was $15 and well worth it, especially since it was dark when I arrived. My private single room (without a restroom unfortunately) at Managua Backpackers Inn is perfectly adequate (with free internet and a fan in my room that made it cool enough), and Michael here has been very helpful. He arranged a cab to pick me up in a few hours to travel to the microbus station where I will arrange transportation to San Juan del Sur. I am generally not a taxi taking sort of person, but everything I have read about Managua has convinced me not to walk or take the bus.

Recognize the lyric? It´s what the shuttle driver was listening to on our ride.

p.s. I am glad my anxiety was fleeting and that I have enough adventurous spirit to do things like this. I realized last night what a gift it is to experience so many new things in just a few hours.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ducks Are Not in a Row

I leave for Nicaragua in about 36 hours and am pretty much unprepared, unpacked, and overwhelmed. I have a zillion things to do before I leave the office today and am operating on about four hours of sleep. Isn't it nice to know that, one way or another, things will work out? And that despite a long to-do list I will somehow make it to game night tonight because lets face it I'd rather give up sleep than game night with friends. Plus this is Clay's opportunity to see my obnoxious competitive game night side.

Speaking of which, I think last night was date #11. He cooked for the third time per my request, and it was great (and my very first time eating a fish taco). I'm still surprised by how much I like Clay and enjoy being with him. He's just really easy, fun company and being with him is exciting and comfortable at the same time. I don't think I've written much about him, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask. He's very bright & well read, a great conversationalist, disciplined and focused (including with his relatively new Christian faith and fitness), thoughtful (gave me a "happy day" gift--Lonely Planet's guide for Nicaragua), a fantastic communicator (I know how he feels and where he stands), is funny, and an easy date (he's come to two get-togethers with me and requires no attention--mingling with my friends with ease). He also has a mullet wig and great taste in music (and can sit and listen with me for hours instead of watching a movie).

We'll see if distance makes the heart grow fonder as I'll be in Nicaragua for two weeks, then he leaves a day after I get back for a week. Then we're both going to be out of town for a long weekend. So I guess we'll catch up with each other in July :)

I arrive in Nica on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning I'll travel to San Juan del Sur by bus (saving about $37 by not taking a shuttle) and start daily meeting with a Spanish tutor on Monday. Hoping that my Spanish comes back with a vengeance and that I learn new vocabulary rapidly, so that I won't need to use a translator the next week (during the mission trip in a small village with a group from my church).

p.s. I'm grateful for your encouraging words and prayers over the last week. My family is doing as well as can be expected, but now that the funeral and arrangements are behind us, I imagine my grandfather, mom, and aunts' grief will really kick in.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Bit Surreal

So which would you rather read first? Good news or bad news? If you want bad news first, read part 1 first. If you want good news first, read part 2 first.

Part 1

Bad news isn't what I'd call this, but I guess most people would. Long story short: My maternal grandmother unexpectedly and pretty suddenly died yesterday. She was at the public library when she fell to the ground and most likely had a heart attack; she died within the hour at the nearby hospital. Thankfully I was working at home yesterday, which made it easier to make/take multiple phone calls and to just cry and grieve. It feels surreal to know that she's gone and that when I get to Woodland tomorrow that she won't be there.

I think it's sort of cool that it happened at the library because (1) it spared my grandfather (who isn't in good health at all) from seeing it and (2) the library was one of her favorite places. When I stayed with her in the summer we'd always go together and stay up really late reading each night. She adored reading. I'm also glad it was quick and painless. But I easily find the most comfort in my knowledge that my Grandma has accepted Christ as her Savior and knew that she was saved by His grace alone and not by any of the good things she had done (not the least of which was teaching high school math in a very rough high school and serving as a faithful Sunday school teacher).

Part 2

I think I was just kidding...I'll write about dates/outings #s 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 later. I'm worn out and headed over three hours south tomorrow for visitation and then Grandma's funeral on Sunday.

p.s. I'm grateful that Grandma died now and not while I'm in Nicaragua. I'm grateful that my mom is surrounded by people who love her. I'm grateful that I have a King who adores me, cares for me, and can comfort my Papa. I'm grateful that I called Grandma two weeks ago and talked longer than I really wanted to after a long day of work. I'm grateful that we'd had specific conversations about her faith. And I'm grateful she was my Grandma.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And The Winner Is...

So my official time was 37:56, which I actually learned on Wednesday when Accidentally Me graciously admitted that she had not actually "guessed" as required.* Two other commenters also confessed using some internet resources, so they are also disqualifed.

Given those two exclusions, the winner is (drum roll please) Jennifer with a guess of 37:33. Nice work!! So what's it going to be? Shall I send sweets or music? If sweets....cookies, cupcakes (I'm thinking frosting would need to be in a separate container and not cream cheese...which leaves buttercream, peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallow, or a combination of any or all of these or anything you can dream up), buckeyes, Oreo bark, Oreo truffles, chess squares. The options are almost endless!

In other news, date # 4 with Clay was a good time. We grilled out, and if someone would cook dinner for me, I'd eat healthy every night! Tilapia, bell peppers, pineapple, corn, zucchini, and a yummy salad. So date # 5 is Saturday evening.

* While I did not specifically state in the game announcing post that internet sleuthing was not permitted, the word "guess" means to predict without sufficient information. I know you guys all know how to use the internet; I wanted to see how close you could guess by chance, calculation, etc. Next time I'll have you guess my time before I run the race :)

Random aside: Why does Krispy Kreme not glaze it's chocolate covered creme filled doughnuts?

Alright, time to meet with a client. Thank you guys for playing. It was run to read your guesses.

p.s. I'm grateful I was able to finally see my oldest niece (and step-niece) play softball last night. Yeah for living closer to family!

Monday, May 11, 2009

You Could Be the Lucky Winner

The Rescues' "Break Me Out" has been on repeat for the last two weeks or so, and the song pretty well got me through the road race I ran on Saturday morning. Why did I think running four miles on a hilly mountain at 8 a.m. would be fun? It was my first road race in about six years, and I never seemed to catch my breath and had a side stitch for the first time in ages. There was no mile marker for mile two, so I kept running, thinking I still wasn't half-way through which really psyched me out. Starting my Saturday with my friend CC was really fun though, and afterward I went to a yoga class (thanks to a free one week pass...paying $14/class wouldn't fit in my budget) for 75 minutes at a for-real yoga studio (as opposed to yoga at the gym where you can hear the blaring music and weirdos can watch you through the window). Very chill and calming. Tomorrow I'm trying hot yoga...100+ degrees. Should be interesting.

Saturday I baked for over three hours for our Mother's Day lunch and created something delicious....chocolate cupcake slathered with marshmallow cream and topped with peanut butter frosting. Crazy good combo.

Speaking of sheer yumminess, the other day I made caramel cheese cream frosting for the first time for a baby shower at my place, and it was so sweet it almost burned. I highly recommend the recipe.

Saturday night was the third date with my neighbor Clay. We went to a wonderful restaurant that was new to me and ate outside, sitting for several hours and just talking. Then we made the mistake of renting an inappropriate third date movie: The Reader. The first half was pretty much just a woman in her mid-30s (Kate Winslet) having sex with a 16 year old boy over and over. I could opine further, but I'll refrain. As soon as the sex stuff started, Clay asserted that "for the record" I'd chosen the movie. Sunday when I got back from church I found a book I wanted to borrow and note outside my door--fun surprise. Funny, we just now exchanged phone numbers. Date #4 is on Wednesday; we're grilling out.

Sunday my family had a great Mother's Day lunch at my sister's house, and she made super cute fruit kebobs. It was fun to be with my nieces, and I watched another mediocre movie with my mom (Nights in Rodanthe) that night.

So wanna play a game? Whoever comes the closest to guessing my time for the 4 mile road race gets a prize. And lets make the prize cupcakes/cookies/sweets of your choice or for more healthy people some great music. You have until Friday at 9 a.m. to guess.

p.s. I'm grateful that I'm working at home tomorrow and can chill/work on my sofa, at a coffee shop, or on my balcony.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Two Second Dates....

Last Thursday I had my second date with MJ. I had a good time and still think he's a great guy, but we see to lack chemistry. I just don't care if we go out again. He emailed me the next day, but I've yet to respond. Since there weren't any questions in the e-mail and I don't want to respond, I think it's okay not to respond. I figure unless he asks me out again, there's nothing to address, right?

Last week my neighbor (lets call him "Clay") wrote, saying that we should grab dinner soon. While I had fun on our first date, I was concerned about two red flags. But I like Clay and am attracted to him (attraction tends to be unfortunately elusive on my end for some weird reason I attribute to pheromones), so I decided a week night date would be ok (my dating logic, or lack thereof, knows no bounds). Plus I invited our neighbors to join us since it was Cinco de Mayo, which he was a good sport about. We ended up having an hour or more together before my friends/neighbors showed up, and I realized that I enjoy his company too much to not reconsider. He's fun, funny, and intelligent, and it seems that one of the red flags may have resolved itself and that (no surprise) I may have been a little quick to judge. So proceeding cautiously. He asked me out for this weekend, so we'll see.

Oh weird side note, in my post about my first date with neighbor Clay I referenced feeling like he'd slipped a Ruffie in my drink (because I was having so much trouble keeping my eyes open), and oddly he joked about having done so and that I'd handled it well. Odd coincidence.

In other news, the prom preparation and photography were a lot of fun. Here are some of the photographs.

p.s. I'm grateful for being healthy, strong, and able to take the stairs.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Vote for Pedro

The pastor of the church I worshiped at in Nashville recently went to India with Compassion International. During his trip he posted the following anonymous exchange on his blog, and it's been on my mind ever since:

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

It's easy to ponder this sort of question and then shove it into the back of my mind, but one simple and easy way I'm trying to make a difference is through Compassion International. I've been skeptical of organizations that promise to use my money for children in other countries, wondering how much would be used for administrative costs and how much would actually benefit the alleged child. Last year, however, a blogger who I trust really looked into Compassion, how it works, etc. and whole-heartedly endorsed the organization. His investigation extinguished my objections, and I no longer had a reason (or excuse) not to sponsor a child. So I began sponsoring Pedro who lives in Peru. Pedro is 14 years old, likes soccer and ceviche, and his favorite subjects are art and social studies.

I am honored to correspond with Pedro and be a part of his life, and it's only $32 a month to help provide him with food, clean water, an education, health care--and perhaps most importantly--hope. Isn't it incredible that we're so wealthy that we can help provide so much for a child simply by eating out three fewer times this month?

Click here if you'd like to see some of the children waiting for sponsors.

p.s. I'm grateful for the Chattanooga Market. Sunday was Latin Day, and there were adorable children dancing, yummy burritos, and cheap fresh strawberries.