New Year, New baby, new outlook

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First First Man 2016

Hello world.  I think as part of 2017, I’d like to resolve to blog more regularly.  I also think I’ve made this resolution before.  We’ll see how that goes…

 

I’m writing today from inside the haze of week of headcold.  I’m hoping that through my fingertips, fuzzy brainwaves will convert to clear sentences.  Wish me luck! (She purposefully pours more coffee into her slightly depressing “Bill Clinton – First First Man 2016” mug.)  Pictured here!

Well, 2017 is upon me.  With it, comes the standard malaise of reviewing your year – accomplishments, goals, progress, and all that.  I’ve found myself caught in a bit of a funk driven by the fact that my break felt like – not so much of a break.  For a quick rundown on that, here’s a recap of the last few weeks:

2016 ended at a sprint with a major FASTLANE grant application at work and several year-end close out items that kept me going right up to the end.  We called it, flew home to Milwaukee on the 22nd for Christmas and spent the next 4 days doing various Christmas celebrations there.  It was a fun opportunity to be home and see family, but the quickness of it all left us feeling a bit wiped out.  For a good mental image of this, see a few weeks back in my instagram, the photo of Rick slumped across the back seat of my parent’s car. We were a tired lot. While we were home though,  we did make a FUN announcement.  We learned we are having ANOTHER BOY!!!  Two littles under age three starting in May/June.  Ha.  If I’m complaining about being tired now, check in with me again in about 6 months.

We made it back to Denver on the 26th in time to catch Rick’s dad, stepmom, and step sister here for their holiday celebration.  They stayed with us and it was lovely to have the company and help as we did some preparation for some upcoming things.  First, we switched over Cody’s room to a “big boy bed” and moved his crib and other nursery furniture to what will be the new nursery.  This transition actually went remarkably well – at least in the immediate aftermath.  Cody took to his new bed and now we are 3/4 of the way there with a new nursery set up.  I also was able to go through all our infant clothes, toys, and other stuff and begin to organize – fill the drawers,set up the monitors, and figure out what holes needed filling that might make up a registry for our upcoming shower in March (with my sister Max!).  We also cleared out our mudroom and began preparing to clear our kitchen because …da da da DAH…after 2 years of permitting gymnastics with the City and County of Denver – we finally got a building permit to renovate our kitchen/mudroom, and pop the top to expand our upstairs bathroom and put a laundry/utility room up there.  It has seemed like the project that would never actually be real, but lo and behold, as I sit here today our contractors are putting down foundation for our kitchen expansion and I’m praying to all the powers that be that we can get this thing most of the way done before we have baby number 2.  Demo began on the 27th of December and we have a 4-6 month renovation schedule tentatively in mind.  For more on this, follow my instagram where I’m documenting the remodel.

Speaking of that, we burst a pipe in our kitchen last week when temps dipped down to single digits.  Our remodel is less than a few weeks in and already we have issues… and that isn’t even the beginning.  Just wait until we tear down the walls to uncover the unaccounted-for spaces – we have already discovered an drywalled-over bathroom.  What’s next!?!?

The goal of this post was a year-end recap, mostly as an exercise in testing my memory and pulling myself out of a year end funk.  So here’s a quick recap of major 2016 things:

  • I rediscovered a semblance of normality after a harrowing postpartum year in 2015.  2016 saw new work opportunities, got me back into a (sort of) groove with fitness, and my brain started functioning again.  Hooray!
  • I started a group at work to discuss/ and promote family friendly policies in the workplace.
  • I wrapped up my year as a member of the EnGen Leadership program through the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.  It was a fantastic year of working with other young leaders in the Denver area, networking, and learning more about the industry.  I’m so glad to have made some great friends through the program and to have been exposed to high level executive leaders from the C-suites of some major E&P’s here in Denver and nationwide.  What an amazing program!  I’m already volunteering as a mentor for next year.
  • I gained 3 new mentors – they are fantastic and I’m so thankful for the time they spend working with me and helping me progress as a professional.
  • I finished year 1 of a 2 year internal HDR leadership program.  Our cohort has gotten to know each other, interviewed managers across the company, and are gearing up to write a white paper on improving our company’s management training practices.
  • I led an awesome, and first of its kind,  “school ambassadors program” at work to facilitate outreach to non-english speaking populations in Denver.  We worked with high school students who are also bilingual (in this case they spoke Somali, Spanish, or Vietnamese) and trained them to conduct surveys about infrastructure needs in their immediate communities so that we could get input from sources that are typically hard to reach.  It was a total success and a really fun way to connect with the community.  The program ended up being promoted internally across HDR’s company website and the American Planning Association wrote a newsletter piece about it!
  • I went back to Mac for my 10-year college reunion.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but really had a fantastic time.  College, in the moment, can be a weird experience but as we have moved on from our time there I’ve realized just how amazing and unique my peers at Macalester are and I felt very invigorated by seeing so many of them in St. Paul this past summer.
  • Rick, Cody, and our support crew of family and friends rode the better part of the circumference of Lake Michigan this summer on our bikes.  It was a fun and wild adventure.  We learned about some new challenges of traveling with a toddler and we also got nearly two full weeks on our bikes just talking to each other …about life, stuff, our dreams and plans, to think out loud and muse about our surroundings.  As new parents our conversations are often in the weeds of logistics and the time we shared together this summer was magical and renewing. It reminded us both of all the things we love about being together.  It helped remind me of how much I love Rick.
  • We got pregnant with number 2!!  My sister is also pregnant and our due dates are 9 days apart.  It will be a wild ride!
  • I traveled to Belfast and saw Van Morrison live with my family.  It was a special trip as Van has been the soundtrack of so much of our lives together.

There are parts of the 2016 year that I certainly wish had gone differently.  I won’t dive too deep here, but I will say that a close family friend passed unexpectedly this year which left a cloud over me in surprising ways.  It was an honor to share so much of my growing up years with Jo, and when I think about her now it always serves a reminder to live life with enthusiasm, generosity, and with gratitude for what I have.   More than anything, her passing made me think hard about my attitude towards life’s challenges and helped me better evaluate where I want to have spent my time and energy when my time comes.

2016, I bid you farewell and look forward to riding the waves ahead in 2o17.

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Alone Time

I’m coming to you today from my bed at 8:30 pm.  Let me set the scene.  It’s dusk outside, and so hot it makes my ears ring.  I have a fan pumping air at me on medium, so I can still feel relatively sane but I’m not in a wind tunnel.

I’m worn out.  This seems like the story of my life.  So I won’t bore you with the specific details right now.

Let me instead tell you about yesterday.

Yesterday I camped above treeline on wide, lush, flower-speckled piece of earth that made my heart happy.  I ate dinner from a mug, swatting mosquitoes off my cheeks in the fading light of evening.  I felt the cold air descend as the sun dropped below the massive mountain above us.  I crawled into a small green tent, and put my son into grey fleece pajamas. My husband read aloud to us from my book until our eyes were all droopy.  Then he closed the book, and the last of the evening light faded. We snuggled together – a man, a woman, and a little fleece-covered cherub.  The cold evening air infiltrated the tent slowly, and we pulled our sleeping bags tight up around our shoulders to stave off the cold.  Only Cody’s feet remained uncovered, because they get too hot.  Because he is more than just baby now – he’s a small person with feelings and thoughts – laughter and frowns.  He has answers to questions.  He has urgent need for kisses.  He has to throw rocks.  Right now.  He is id embodied.

I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.  I recall nothing until I was awoken around midnight to the sound of a human voice yelling ” Aaaargh!”  My eyes opened and I whispered urgently to Rick.  “What was that!?”  He explained it was two, possibly drunk, hikers coming by.  I sat int the heart-pounding space that one sits in when terror awakens.  I realized that as an individual I’d never been afraid to camp.  I assumed I’d figure out the right move in the moment if anything went wrong.  Now, with a gray, fleece-covered cherub to take into account, my fear was palpable. Things change so quickly.

The gray, fleece-covered cherub fervently held me in the cool night – asleep but still vigilant to stay close.  I nestled him in closer and checked his feet for cold.  I evaluated plans for fighting off unwelcome nighttime visitors with a grey, fleece-covered cherub by my side.  I fell into a new sleep – guarding him closely.

He is my everything.  I fear I don’t know exactly how to protect him – both in the night when strangers yell – or in the world when things feel very dark, and good news feels like a rarity.

I sit here alone tonight, and even in my excitement to be unattached for a few days while the cherub, dog, and husband are away  I am reminding you and myself of how urgently and unquestioningly I love this small being and the others too.  I remind you of the exhaustion, the sweet kisses, the tissue-soft cheeks, and the deep fear that he is too sweet for the world and that I can’t do enough to make the world better.  I remind you of my sadness that our reality will unquestionably dampen the joy he exudes today. I remind you that motherhood is a thankless challenge and also my highest honor.

Katahdin with Child (Preggers)

I climbed a mountain last weekend. And so did my fetus. We had a jolly good time.

Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the final ascent of the Appalachian Trail.  It’s actually a climb I’ve had my eyes on for a few years, since my sister was in school in Lewiston, ME.  I knew it was a challenging climb then and thought it would be a fun activity for a visit. We never got around to it.  I blame beer.  

Well, now several years later, it took Rick’s mom finishing her 10-year journey to section hike the AT to get me out there, 5.5 months pregnant, climbing massive boulders with re-bar holds in a thick fog, hoping to make it to the summit. I was nervous about it, really unsure exactly what was in store and whether my changing body would be up for the challenge.  In the last couple weeks I have “popped” as they say, and I have a belly now to match the early growth I felt (and saw) in my boobs, butt, and thighs.  I am becoming a curvy woman!   I wasn’t sure my new curves, looser joints, and unpredictable balance would be up for the challenge, but they were and I’m glad we got out there to join her in crossing this major accomplishment off her bucket list!

I must say that climbing Katahdin isn’t easy.  Rick and I were both sore the next day.  It’s a day hike, but it pretty much goes straight up for 5 miles and then straight back down.  The trail is very rocky, and probably at least 40%-50% of the time we were “hiking” we were actually climbing hand over foot to make our way up and around VERY large boulders.  It’s actually the kind of hiking I love most.  The challenge of having to piece together a route helps to distract me from the hiking – which was especially valuable now because I am getting to the stage of pregnancy where my feet and back get sore and my legs swell.  (Yes, pregnancy is lovely isn’t it?)  They say to plan for 10 hours to hike Katahdin, and we were right on the mark – of course our party consisted of a 63 year old woman, a pregnant woman, and a guy wearing flip flops so we certainly weren’t about to set any speed records.  It was a long day of hiking and by the time we made it back to the bottom, my legs looked like sausages from swelling.  After settling into a bit more of a sedentary existence post-half marathon, a 10 hour day of hiking was a BIG day for me. 

All in all, the hike was a really good one.  Rick had suggested I think of it like I would a 14er here in Colorado (because I was getting nervous about the difficulty and starting to wonder about bail-out plans if something went awry for me), but it felt a bit harder than the 14ers I’ve done.  There were some very technical sections that rival some of the harder 14ers in Colorado, and certainly were more technical than any climbs I’ve done here – though comparable to some I’ve done in Utah.  I googled (many times over) “hike Katahdin pregnant” to see if I could find any accounts of it being done to get a feel for whether I was being stupid.  So, I am writing this blog with the hope that I can provide some insight for other pregnant ladies who might be considering giving it a shot. 

There are some major points worth mentioning about hiking Katahdin pregnant.  First off, let me get my caveats out of the way. I am starting from a healthy baseline of being active, and hiking, running, and doing other forms of exercise regularly. I have had no complications or reasons for concern in my pregnancy. Secondly, I am just over the halfway point of my pregnancy and am not HUGE yet, though I definitely have a belly to work around. Third, as with any break from normal activity, it’s probably a good idea to run your plans by your doctor.  I did and she said that I should go for it – there would be no better time than now! 

So with that said, my major thoughts on hiking Katahdin while pregnant are related to the weather conditions, equipment, and flexibility. 

1) Check the weather – Avoid wet conditions

 Katahdin is all rocks, many of which are covered in lichen and can be slippery.  A fall on rocks anywhere is bad when you’re pregnant.  A fall on Katahdin with very limited rescue access could be a disaster.  It is VERY important to check the weather forecast before you go – so check the weather with rangers and on your own on your phone before you go.  Conditions can change quickly, but you can prepare yourself for most things if you do a little research ahead of time. A bit of moisture adds an element of challenge – fog and drizzle are often unavoidable on a stand-alone peak so be prepared for it.  But, as a pregnant woman I would not hike Katahdin in rain. Avoid it if possible, and if you get caught in the rain due to changing weather, take things as slowly as possible up there.  Peak-bagging is not worth the risk of hurting yourself or baby.

2) Trust Your Equipment – Wear good shoes!

Make sure you have a pair of boots or shoes that you know will provide you with good traction and ankle support for this hike.  For me, a major help was wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots.  I thought about wearing some trail running shoes, but now that my body weight is distributed in ways I’m not accustomed to, I often feel a bit unstable when I am out hiking. My hiking books have a Vibram sole that rarely slips and helps me feel confident in my footing, even in slightly wet conditions like I experienced.  Plus, ankle support is a must on uneven surfaces with loosening joints. 

3) Be prepared for some climbing – Ditch the pack if you can

If you think Katahdin is a “hike” you better think again.  In many places it’s a scramble over Volkswagon (or larger)-sized boulders.  In some places the trail is helped by the inclusion of small pieces of re-bar, just where a hand or foothold is lacking.  So, it’s not a walk in the park and there are plenty of places where you will have to climb and still find ways accommodate your belly.  One thing I did (or was forced into, but appreciated later) was ditch my pack.  I love wearing a backpack, and feel very comfortable with it, but my husband told me that there was no way he was going to let me wear one.  I thought about fighting him on it, but decided if he wanted to carry the 4 Nalgenes I packed to avoid dehydration, I wouldn’t argue with him.  I don’t regret that.  You’re carrying enough extra cargo.  If you can skip the pack, do it.

4) Trekking Poles – Your new best friend

I never hike with trekking poles.  But, as I began to plan for this hike I talked to some friends who had through-hiked the AT and got their impressions of Katahdin and what I could do to accommodate my condition.  Trekking poles was one suggestion that I do not regret listening to!  They saved me many awkward bends to balance myself, because they allowed me to stabilize myself while remaining relatively upright. 

One thing, however, is that when you get to the (long) section of climbing over boulders the poles can be a bit annoying to carry along with you.  You will have to do a lot of squatting and bending and throwing a leg or a hip up to get some leverage as you climb over boulders.  This is when you can be glad for a little extra flexibility (Thanks, Relaxin!), and enjoy it.  But, be aware, the trekking poles can become an annoyance at best, and a liability at worst, depending on how you use them in this section of the climb. In the balance, my feeling is that they did me a lot of good and I’d recommend bringing some along, but just be careful with them.

5) Be realistic – Have a bailout plan

Some real limits exist during pregnancy. Your joints aren’t as stable, and you may suffer from more fatigue than normal!  That’s OK!  If you don’t feel comfortable and confident in yourself as you hike Katahdin, remember that you can always stop.  There are other days and opportunities to climb.  Consider having a few check in points with your hiking crew along the way to assess how you and others feel, and truly be honest about whether you have it in you to do a long, strenuous, and technical hike.  There’s no shame in saying that today isn’t your day. You might be preventing a much more serious situation! 

6) Hike with others

Always a good idea – an even better idea at this point in your life!  If there is any kind of emergency, you will want to be with people who can help.  Hike with a group!

And with that, I think I have exhausted my tips on hiking Katahdin (or any challenging climb) while pregnant.  The major plusses are a huge feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that some day you’ll be telling your kid that he or she already did X, Y, or Z in utero!  In our case, Baby Frankie got to accompany Grandma L while she finished hiking the AT.  Not bad for a baby!  🙂

Catching Up and Slowing Down

It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here.  A lot has happened!  We made it back from Colombia without too much incident.  We re-established our home base in Milwaukee – though not either one of our ideals, it’s not bad either.  My dad is an amazing chef so I eat like a queen here, my parent’s house is wonderful – each morning I wake up to an ever-changing view of Lake Michigan, there’s a great yoga studio down the road, I get to cuddle with my favorite pup, and I have lots of quality time with my family.  It’s hard to complain about all that wonderful stuff, but Rick and I must certainly admit that we want our own space as soon as possible.  We had such a wonderful routine back in Australia, and since coming to the United States stability in the patterns and timing of our lives has been such a rarity that it’s been hard to really feel like ourselves.  Couple that with having our belongings scattered across at least three, though possibly four states and you can begin to understand why we feel an urgency to establish our lives in one place soon.

Oddly, we had not anticipated that we would be mentally ready to settle as quickly as it’s happened.  Our initial plan had been to bike tour through Cuba for a month, then travel in Colombia, Bolivia, and possibly Brazil for another two months or more before we settled back to real life.  We nipped that plan in the bud about a month and a half ago somewhere in Nebraska in a fit of really wanting to be together and to start a home.  And I think we are both thrilled with that decision to this day,  though it would be nice to just move forward with the settling part.

Here I feel compelled to make a note on traveling.  I love traveling and experiencing different cultures and parts of the world.  I think it’s valuable and enriching, and I encourage everyone to make time to venture out of his or her homeland and to see life in other places – see what people do for fun, for work, for food, and then come back home and try to feel ungrateful for what you have.  It’s hard.  We have it really good – at least in the US.  We also have what I consider a responsibility, to be aware and cognizant of our privilege and of the realities – political, physical, and psychological, of life in other parts of the world.

With that preamble out of the way, I want to discuss my experience traveling in Colombia now that I have had some time to digest it.  To preface this, we undertook our travel with the understanding that we wouldn’t be spending all our time actively being tourists – much of our time was spent engaging in other activities we deemed crucial to the larger picture – e.g, applying to jobs, attending spanish school for two weeks, and participating in yoga teacher training.  We kept ourselves fairly busy with that, but still made time to get out and see Colombia as we moved through it.  It was a different style of travel than I’m used to.

This style of travel had some significant drawbacks in my mind.  In having to be fully engaged with the real world (in the US) as we traveled, it was somewhat difficult to put ourselves mentally into travel mode and embrace some of the joie de vivre that typically accompanies adventures abroad.  I felt I was doing a constant dance between investing serious time and mental energy in tasks like homework, yoga, and job applications and trying to become fully immersed in Colombian culture.  Our travel constraints also often revolved around things like whether we had decent internet at our hostels, our ability to make phone calls, and our ability to be within walking distance of the activities we chose – which admittedly put us in both very heavily touristed areas (in Cartagena) or (in the case of Bogotá) very hip, nice neighborhoods that might not reflect the greater whole of the city.

Altogether, both Rick and I came away from our travels feeling less like we just came off a long and exciting vacation, and more like we just came off a month of existing much the same way we have been in the US, traveling from place to place and living our lives – albeit more foreign places.  We felt somewhat less like we let go and engaged with the culture and more like we were simply two Americans living abroad – much as we had been in Australia.

Unlike the dreamlike travel experiences I have had in the past in places like Bali, Morocco, or Vietnam – experiences where I felt fully immersed in a new place, senses stimulated and constantly taking in new and wonderful vignettes or different cultures – my travels in Colombia tread a thin line between of being amidst a completely foreign culture yet entirely connected to a familiar one.  Mentally we were in neither place.  That made the experience, in some ways, less fulfilling than some of my previous travel.

I have to say that I don’t in any way regret our travel style – it was exactly what we needed and allowed us to achieve many diverse goals all at once.  But, I do think that perhaps in trying to do as much as we did, we may have slightly diminished the overall experience.  Plus, there is the simple fact that when travel is no longer a vacation from real life, but simply real life taking place outside of its normal parameters, some of the magic and sense of wonder is removed.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to note all this.  I loved our time traveling and don’t regret any of it.  But, I think sometimes travel can be overly romanticized.  There is an important line between travel as an escape from your typical life and travel on a long-term itinerary with a mixture of goals, budgets, and restraints. Though both have their merits, I have to say that I may not be cut out to be a long-term traveler.  When traveling for long periods of time I feel constantly a stranger visiting places where people see me as an outsider.  I feel a lack of purpose at times, and I desire greater engagement with the places I move through.  I marvel at the mental and physical endurance it takes to travel for months at a time – both for the ongoing lack of stability, and for the feelings of constantly being without a community.  Perhaps it’s my rootlessness speaking right now.  It’s hard for me to separate my deep desire to invest myself in a place and community for the long-term,  from my feelings of itineracy while traveling.  They say that all who wander are not lost – and I’ve long thought that true, but when you are constantly moving it’s hard to invest in finding yourself and your purpose.    I want to be invested.  Perhaps I can thank my last trip for confirming to me just how deep-seated this desire is.

Bogota and Teacher Training!

I’m wiped out.  I just finished five days of yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan here in Bogota. My body aches, I’m sort of grumpy (backbends and hip openers – oh dear!), I need some scrumptious food, but above all I’m feeling a deep sense of peace and appreciation.

I had been looking for an opportunity to complete the teacher training that I wasn’t able to finish in Australia, and in scouring the Internet I found that BJ was conducting training in Bogota.  In Brisbane I had done a challenging workshop with her so it seemed like a great fit.

Rick and I arranged our travels to make sure I could participate.  Here, I need pause to offer so much gratitude to Rick.  First off, he encouraged me to do the training, which I probably would have otherwise delayed so as not to hijack our travel plans.  He also occupied himself in the city for the last 5 days while I have worked my butt off in the studio. He fed me, listened to me whine about my aches, and wax poetic about alignment principles.  He weathered my tired grumpiness as I stayed up late doing homework.  He lovingly woke me up in the mornings with a backrub and got me breakfast every day as I prepared for class.  Every day he has told me how proud he is of me, and nothing makes me happier.  Gratitude is a concept that the yoga world loves to come back to, and I am no exception – I couldn’t be more thankful and in love with my amazing husband.

With my mushy declarations and acknowledgments now out of the way, I’ll delve into what my experience of Bogota and teacher training has been.  I love Bogota, but that may be a consequence of the fact that I spent the last five days with a fascinating and warm community of very advanced yoga students.  The city is huge, cosmopolitan, and very international.  Also, it’s hard to believe this kind of metropolis exists at 8500’ feet in these wild mountains.  It’s such a cool setting!  The people I have met here are all incredibly kind and welcoming.  During our time in Cartagena, I was led to believe that residents of Bogota were sort of stuck up and overly formal – that has not been my experience at all.  Everyone I’ve met has been helpful, kind, and enjoyable.  I have felt so welcomed by everyone from the people in the yoga studio, to our hostel owners, to the clerks in the shops I’ve been to a few times.  I have had waitresses who served me once say hi again to me on the street several days later.  This town is the antithesis of cold.

Beyond that, the level of yoga in Bogota blows me away!  My studio in Australia was incredible and I loved every minute I spent there, but from my experience in Bogota the level of asana is definitely more advanced generally and the students are more fearless in trying out new and aggressive poses.  It’s been a refreshing reminder not to become complacent in my practice.  While my practice in Australia was very focused on alignment principles, this teacher training took my level of asana to new places.  As always, I have to focus on cultivating softness in my practice to counter my natural tendency to gravitate towards strong poses like hand balances and inversions – I was able to do that, while also pushing myself into new poses that I’ve never before tried.

It was a challenging weekend. My practice over the last few months has been inconsistent and, more often than not, a personal practice which I’ve made time and space for in the narrow channel next to a bed in a hotel room or under an air conditioner in Cartagena – or not at all while road-tripping around the country.  It hasn’t been all that I’d want it to be, and I felt it over the last few days.  I’m so sore!  That, and the other side effects of long-term travel like gastro issues and general fatigue and lack of consistency left me without the full strength and energy I try to bring to my practice.  I had to accept where I was physically versus where I would love to be.  More than that, I had to try to get my brain around yoga in Spanish, and the challenges of sequencing and teaching classes.  It was demanding and tiring but above all it was enriching.  The people in my training were all wonderful, BJ Galvan was dynamic and full of neat astrological/biological insights, and being in a new studio and learning yoga in another language was so exciting! I can’t wait to do more of it, and I’m already encouraging Rick to start a yoga cross-training routine as he looks to run his next race so I can practice teaching on him.

In the lead up to this training, I got word from two potential employers that they wanted to conduct in-person interviews back in the States.  Needless to say, with me being tied up with yoga teacher training and quite far away I had to work with them to do some video interviewing – which is a challenge under any circumstances but more so in a hostel with noises, unreliable internet connections, and a general inability to control your space.  Thankfully, my hostel owners were understanding and set me up in a quiet back room with some natural light so that I could at least mitigate SOME of the issues in my interviews.  With two interviews in the five days I was in teacher training, I have to say I was stressed out and probably not in the best frame of mind, but now that it’s all over I finally got a good, long night’s sleep and feel like a human again.

Today we are off to finally explore some of the sights in and around Bogota. Though we have met several friends of friends here and managed to see a few really cool parts of the city as a result, we haven’t had much opportunity to check out some of the sights.  So today we are off! It’s hard to believe that we come back home tomorrow (my Dad’s birthday!!).

Manizales, El Jardin Secreto, and… Montana?

As I write this, there are two puppies curled up on the floor near me, Rick is sitting in hammock a few feet from me, and I’m overlooking a lush, green mountainside that falls away into a valley punctuated by a muddy, boulder-strewn river.  Just setting the scene here.  I almost hate to write this knowing that many of my friends and family are hiding out from the cold weather.  We, on the other hand, are taking a little break from the afternoon heat.

We are about twenty minutes from the city of Manizales, near the coffee-growing zone, at a hostel called the Jardin Secreto.  Unlike most of our previous places, this is actually not owned by locals.  That part is unfortunate.  We practice our Spanish a bit less here than when we stayed in the city of Manizales with the adorable Maria Teresa of the Palogrande hostel – she and I sat and chatted over coffee for a few hours, which was so wonderful for my Spanish and great fun to learn about the city from a local!  But, there are trade-offs, the couple that owns this place is American (from Portland) the woman is a yoga teacher in the Anusara tradition, and she’s into Ayurveda – so I’ve found my little happy place.  Needless to say we have been here a night and already extended our stay for several more.  There is something about the lushness, the cool nights, the pungent smells of dirt and manure, and the myriad flowers in every shape and size – it’s a just a hard place to leave.

Today we toured a sustainable coffee farm, which was great.  Lots and lots of good coffee, and some great food too.  Tomorrow we’ll head up to the mountains to trek to Los Nevados – hopefully approaching something like 15,800 feet of elevation!  The day after we will check out some thermal springs, before heading to Bogota where I’ll be beginning my yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan.  I’m really excited! The fact that I’m able to continue my training with a teacher who I have worked with in Australia is wonderful.  And, the fact that we could combine our travel here and my teacher training (after having to drop out of the training I had planned to do in Australia so that we could move home and get married) is a huge blessing.  I can’t wait!  I’m also thrilled at the opportunity to do some of it in Spanish.  What fun!

I have to say that this trip has strengthened my confidence in my speaking immensely. I have always been able understand Spanish fairly well (having taken it from age four through high school certainly helped with that), but my speaking has really come back to me with two weeks of Spanish school.  It’s wonderful and fun to feel relatively sure of myself as I speak, and to be very sure of what I’m hearing.  It’s been nearly 13 years since I last spoke Spanish regularly – it’s incredible what the brain keeps hidden away. 🙂

Anyway, in case you’re wondering how Manizales, the Jardin Secreto, and Montana are at all related, I guess I can fill in a few details. As we have been traveling, Rick and I have been dedicating a fair amount of time to job applications and figuring out some of the details of our future.  While there are challenges to doing this abroad (namely horrendous Internet in Cartagena, and the fact that we are often on the move) it’s actually been pretty effective.  Up until we left for Medellin I was cranking out a few applications a day – mostly to locations throughout Montana and Colorado. Rick has been doing much of the same, though his path is a bit more reliant on where I go so I’ve been leading the charge.

Having completed our tour of the US cities we were considering calling home just over a month ago now, we determined that we loved the sunshine and ruggedness of the Rockies and probably wanted to make those mountains our home.  Though we have both spent lots of time in Denver, and though Rick owns a house there, we are both drawn to a rural lifestyle.  Montana has been calling to us both now for a long time, and it might just end up being our final destination for several reasons.  I’ve always wanted to live there, and have taken every chance I’ve had to visit.  Rick too has felt the draw to Montana.  He was a ski bum at Big Sky and has spent quite a bit of time in and around Bozeman.  And, just a few summers ago Rick and I biked from Missoula to Seattle, seeing some of the best of the west along the way.  That part of the country holds a chunk of both of our hearts and I think we’d like to try making a go of settling down there and bringing up a family – with the majority of our time spent out in the woods.

There is something about the idea of a more rural life that I love.  I am a social person and I love and feed off the energy I get from other people.  Unfortunately, sometimes I feel as though it takes me away from my own priorities and goals.  I found that to a certain extent, the relative isolation of our lives in Australia (in the sense that we didn’t have a huge social network) allowed us to grow individually and together in some really special ways.  I felt like it allowed me to spend time focusing on things I enjoy and want to do more of – like yoga, art, and writing.  Rick, though in very different ways, sees the appeal of a rural lifestyle.  We both want to improve our ability to live self-sufficiently and be close to nature.  Rick loves the idea of being able to leave the house to go trail running, a luxury that might even draw me back into the runners fold. We also both love that in Montana we can have mountains, water, and sunshine.  I guess I’m greedy, but I just want it all – and I’m willing to give up living in a larger city to have it.  Plus, we both love the winters and the potential of amazing backcountry skiing, great resorts, and opportunities to Nordic ski too.

We have a few irons in the fire for jobs in Montana, but we are more and more convinced that even if we don’t have a specific job to walk into, we might make our way to Montana anyway. We aren’t ruling out other parts of the West.  I certainly love the idea of being close to our friends in Colorado, or somehow finding work we love in Jackson Hole or Boise, but when we consider all the options, we still end up with Montana at the top of our lists.  No final decisions have been made yet, but so far this is where are hearts are leading us.

Life and Love – Paisa Style

Medellin: Former capital of cocaine, crime, and kidnapping.  Now, home to bike lanes, amazing public transit, beautifully rotund Botero statues, and Paisanos – the hardworking and friendly residents of the city.

We came to the city with big expectations.  Colombians LOVE this place, and I  can see its appeal.  It’s a progressive city, nestled in the huge Aburra mountain valley.  It’s hard to think that just 20 years ago this city would have not been on my radar – that people were murdered at random in drug-related violence, bombings, and at the hand of the city’s most notorious resident, Pablo Escobar, and his cocaine cartel.  Progressive reform, efforts to reduce corruption, and to improve the safety and well-being of the city’s residents were often cut short when leaders were killed.  In fact, one of the leaders of Medellin who began to implement the improved transit that eventually helped to turn the fate of Medellin was killed as a result of his efforts.

Thankfully, the violence of Medellin’s past is no longer still an issue in the city.  Though the city is not quite like Cartagena, which feels like Disneyworld, it is safe and very easy to travel in.

Yesterday, though we have both been under the weather, Rick and I decided to rent bikes and explore the city.  I wanted very badly to check out the Museum of Antioquia and to see the Botero statues in the plaza near it.  I also wanted to head to the Botanical Gardens, because Medellin is known as the city of eternal spring and I’d heard good things about their gardens. I also thought that Rick might benefit from some exertion because he has been suffering from all kinds of bugs over the last several days and hasn’t had the energy to get out running like he was in Cartagena.  It was a bit of an ambitious plan to undertake by bike, but Medellin has a really cool policy of turning Carretera 43a, “El Poblano”, into a bikeway each Sunday.  They shut down two lanes of traffic and open it exclusively to bike and pedestrian traffic. The road is a busy one which cuts through the heart of the city, making a Sunday ride a very efficient way to check out many different spots.  It’s an amazing policy that I wish was more common in the US!

We rode across the city for about 40 minutes on the bikeway, barely having to stop for cross traffic, under the friendly supervision of a crew of young people at intersections and on bikes who make sure that everything is going smoothly.  The crowd out venturing around the city on bikes had to be a pretty good cross-section of Medellin – from families with little ones, to serious cyclists decked out in loud spandex. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, and so were we. We made our way to the Botero Plaza where I proceeded to take photos of every statue, with me in the foreground mimicking the statue’s pose – like a mature adult.  (I think my imitation of the full-breasted Sphinx was probably my crowning glory.)  We then made our way back to the Poblano and continued on toward the botanical gardens.  At one point, the bike traffic seemed to shut down as we headed towards a tunnel.  I looked at Rick, skeptical, and asked “Do you think we should go in this dark tunnel on bikes without anyone around?”.  He shrugged that it was probably fine, the guards had seen us entering and hadn’t stopped us.  So, we entered, biking fast, and hoping we weren’t making a mistake.  Well, shortly after we exited on the other side, we saw a few more of the bikeway volunteers riding towards us.  They shouted that the bikeway opened to traffic at 1 pm – which is exactly what time it was, so we quickly turned and followed them back the way we had come.  As we were riding through the tunnel, out of nowhere a truck came barreling up behind us and veered around us.  “Oh my god!” I screamed at Rick and we started sprinting on our pathetic rental bikes, at about 6,000 feet of elevation.  It wasn’t pretty!  We all were busting our butts to make it out of the tunnel, and just as we did, traffic began tearing through at high speeds.

Collapsing on some grass nearby to catch our breath, we re-evaluated our situation.  We were both wiped out, and now our route home was a superhighway so we needed to figure out how to get home.  We tried to follow the route of the road we had come on, but the frontage roads sort of meandered in and out of neighborhoods, through shopping areas, and across very un-bike friendly areas.  It took us over an hour and a half to make it back to the El Poblano neighborhood where we were staying, and on the way we found ourselves on more that one occasion in places where we should NOT have been.  It was actually kind of scary to me, and I don’t scare that easily.  6,000′ of elevation has had both of us wheezing and struggling, which didn’t make me feel any better about being in some rough parts of Medellin.  Clearly, our acclimatization from our Denver days has worn off.

Anyway, we ended the night watching some good old American football, in an Irish Bar, in Colombia. Odd, right?  We even started up a conversation with another couple there, and (crazy small world) the guy had graduated from UVA in the same December grad class as Rick. Together, we gave aguardiente (Colombian brandy that tastes like black licorice)  a fair go, and decided  shortly thereafter that we had made enough of our night so we headed home a bit early.  We came home, nursed our sick bodies, and we have continued to do that through today.

Sharing sickness in a foreign place is certainly never comfortable, but together we have been making it a bit more manageable.  I packed all sorts of meds and have been able to keep us well-tended to.  He has made sure I get enough sleep (which I often don’t) and we both keep each other’s wellness in mind as we plan our activities.  Though it is a bit of a downer to not feel like ourselves, there is certainly nothing that brings people closer than jointly commiserating over unfortunate maladies.  And, honesty, we found the perfect place to be sick.  Our current hostel is quiet, with peaceful lounge areas and gardens, we have a giant room with a king size bed, floor to ceiling windows, our own bathroom, and a walk in closet area! (Gran Hostel Medellin in El Poblano)  Tonight we hope to cook dinner in (our first in weeks!) before taking off to check out some areas outside Medellin including Gautape, and the coffee-growing haciendas around Manizales.  We will keep writing as we go!