What I’m Into: December 2013

Ah December.  After spending the first week of the month in Mexico, my sister and I returned home to family, friends, food, pop culture, and more. Being home has been lovely, but it’s time to go back to my other home!  But before I can go back to my Mexican home, it’s time for December’s edition oWhat I’m Into inspired by Leigh Kramer

Books

In the beginning of December, I didn’t finish many books. My typical reading time was taken up by finishing up Spanish school and returning home, among other distractions. I made up for this lack of reading, though, at the end of December while on vacation in Florida. Here are my December favorites:

The important thing is that I accomplished my goal of reading 50 books in 2013 by reading 53!  If you’re interested, I created a shelf on Goodreads of my favorite books read in 2013. I’ve set a ridiculous goal of reading 100 books in 2014. I read so many great books in 2013 and I can’t wait to read more in 2014, whether I hit that goal of 100 or not.

Catching Fire

One of the main goals on my “In America To-Do List” was to watch Catching Fire.  The first week back, my sister Emily and I went to see Catching Fire in the iMax. Let’s just say, going to the iMax as one of the first pop culture experiences after being in Mexico for three months was a little overwhelming.  After I got over the initial shock of loud noise as the movie started, it was a great experience! I read Catching Fire in 2009, so I had forgotten most of the finer points. I loved this movie, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for Mockingjay (even if they are dividing the last book into two movies).

TV

Another In America goal was to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows. Thanks to the wonders of resubscribing to Netflix and a free trial of Hulu Plus, I was able to enjoy some episodes of favorite shows. I saw season 8 of How I Met Your Mother and mostly hated it.  I caught up with both Parks & Recreation and Bones and really enjoyed both shows.   I had other shows on my list, but seeing friends and family were higher on the priority list.

Disney World

My grandparents have become the kind of people who winter in Florida, so this year for Christmas my family went to visit them in Florida for Christmas.  My sister and I had never been to Disney World, so our family went for a day. And, as expected, it was Magical.

Alice in Wonderland

Castle by Day

Florida

After Disney World, my family and I went to the gulf coast where my grandparents stay.  It was beautiful and so nice to be away from the cold temperatures in mostly sunny Florida.

IMG_1658 IMG_1685

El Fin

This December was full: tests, travel, family, friends, and more. As I finish up this post, I am preparing to leave tomorrow (Tuesday) to return to Mexico, a day later than planned thanks to bad weather leading to a cancelled flight.  We won’t even talk about the incompetence of United’s phone, website, and app, but once I went to the airport and talked to an actual person, I was able to get my flights fixed. I can’t wait to get back to Mexico!

When the Crows and the Locusts Came

I woke up this morning, this last day of 2013 with a cold or allergies, a scratchy throat and achy ears.  It’s a fitting end to this year that started with my laptop crashing and taking with it 2 years of my life (including all the pictures of my students from my two years of teaching) and middled with me leaving the ministry I’d planned to work at for the rest of my life.  The musician Brooke Fraser has a song called Crows + Locusts, with a chorus that partially reads:

It was the year
The crows and the locusts came
The fields drained dry the rain
The fields are bleeding

It was the age, the foxes came for the fields
We were bleeding as we bowed to kneel
And prayed for mercy, prayed for mercy

For me, 2013 was the year the crows and the locusts came. Nearly everything I had ever planned or hoped or wanted for my future is no longer. In the place of those lost plans, though, other dreams grow instead.  I spent September through November of 2013, running around southern Mexico, learning Spanish, making new friends, loving my new Mexican family, finding a metaphorical second home, reviving my broken spirit, and discovering new ways to live my life.  Everything isn’t magically perfect, but life is better.

This year has been heart-wrenching, soul-wearying, and life-changing.  In less than  a week, I go back to Mexico for three more months of Spanish school and practice and other new opportunities.  2014 has to be better.

Brooke Fraser’s Crows + Locusts ends with the following lines, lines that describe how I want to approach this new year.

She limps on up to the top of a mount
Looks at the faltered harvest
Feels her sweat in the ground
And the burn in her nose

And the knowing in her guts
Something’s still gonna grow
She ain’t leaving ’til it does

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood

What I’m Into: November 2013

November has been a quiet month. Being the only student in class has been great for my Spanish learning! As I write this, though, it’s December and I’m going home tomorrow so it’s a little difficult to concentrate on Spanish learning right now. Also I’m taking 6 tests today so I can finish Level 3 early (when Emily and I bought tickets, staying an extra week cost $300 more per ticket, so we chose to save $600).   It’s been a quiet month, but a great month!  Like last month, I can’t believe it’s already time to review another month of What I’m Into (inspired by Leigh Kramer). 

Carnival

The little town I live in has a festival every year in the first week of November. There were many events, including free barbacoa (meat) night, licuado (smoothie) stands everywhere, terrifying carnival rides, a rodeo, and more. Many events, like the rodeo, were expensive so I did not take part. However, buying cheap chocolate milk drinks and going to free barbacoa night were definitely highlights of early November.

IMG_1179

 

 

Carnival

Books

I read a lot in the beginning of November and finished quite a few books. But by the end of November, I got distracted by Mexico and friends so my reading time diminished. Maybe over my Christmas break I’ll write some reviews of the books I’ve written? But maybe not, I have a lot of pop culture to consume in a month. I only have 4 books left to read to reach my goal of 50! It’s definitely within reach.

Some highlights from November include:

Columbine by Dave Cullen (one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read)

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang (I started this in September, but trailed off: the first half is better than the end. I’ll see how the sequels are when they’re published)

Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain

Cocinando Buen Pollo

In early November, my Mexican host mom told me she wanted to learn how to cook American dishes. so I started this month by making my other mom’s recipe, Good Chicken. But, since we cooked in Spanish of course, we called it Buen Pollo. Essentially, Buen Pollo is chicken cooked in a pan with chicken broth, thyme, bayleaf, and tons of garlic, then served over rice. It is delicious and tastes like America. It was a great dish to make with my Mexican mom, because it is similar in style to Mexican dishes but with American sabores (flavors). We had so much fun cooking together and it was great practice for my Spanish.

Buen Pollo

Skyline Night

One of my favorite foods in the world is Skyline/Cincinnati Chili. Other people would eat a bag of chocolate or a whole pizza: I would eat an entire pot of Skyline Chili. You can make Skyline Chili on your own with a packet of Cincinnati Chili seasoning (purchased at Kroger in Dayton), ground beef, tomato paste, and water. And of course spaghetti, onions, and cheese. So after an adventure at Super Che, Emily and I bought the necessary ingredients and made Skyline for our friends Dave and Laura. They had never enjoyed this delicious dish before we introduced them—and now they have been converted to Skyline! Nothing tastes like eating Skyline in the restaurant on the way to Lakeside, but it was amazing to eat a taste of home and vacation here in Mexico.

Skyline

Tiny Death Star

Have you heard of Tiny Death Star? It’s just like Tiny Tower, except STAR WARS. If you didn’t know, I love Star Wars (thought not as much as my sister does). So of course I downloaded this awesome game. If you have an iPhone or a PC, you need to download it. It’s fun and addicting and it makes your phone make R2-D2 noises.

Thanksgiving in Mexico

What do you do with nearly 50 Americans (and 5 Canadians) in Mexico who want to celebrate Thanksgiving? You plan a large fiesta, of course! My sister was the main planner for this event—it takes a lot of planning to make sure there’s enough delicious Thanksgiving food for that many people! We had a delicious meal together, complete with three turkeys (including a smoked turkey—I never want to eat not-smoked turkey ever again), mashed potatoes, rolls, vegetables, and more. My contribution was stuffing, which I made with my Mexican mom. It was so good—it smelled and tasted like America. After dinner, we had a small variety show that was hilarious and included impressions of all the Spanish School teachers. Then, to cap the evening, we watched Elf projected on a sheet on the side of a house. Nothing says the start of the Christmas season like this festive movie!

I had grand plans for live-facebooking this festive day, but the internet service here conspired against me. The day before Thanksgiving, the internet went through some reconfigurations, and we in the Spanish School didn’t get internet back until Thanksgiving evening. While my live-facebooking plans were dashed, Emily and I were able to talk to our parents on Thanksgiving night.

It was a little strange to eat turkey and stuffing underneath palm trees, but it was also awesome.

Thanksgiving

The Rock

The mission base where I live is called Roca Blanca, which simply means White Rock. There is an actual Roca Blanca/White Rock just off the coast in the PACIFIC OCEAN. Some Spanish School friends love to scuba dive and got a group together to go in boats to the rock. I went with friends who weren’t planning to scuba dive (I prefer to breathe air above the ocean, thank you) and we climbed all the way to the top of the rock. I also had the opportunity to snorkle—it was amazing to see so many fish! By the end of our little trip, I was a little tired of the sun and the ocean, but I was so glad I had the opportunity to go.

Mexican Wedding

I went to a Mexican Wedding! A woman who had worked at the base for many years got married on the last day of November, and everyone in the world was invited! In true Mexican style, the wedding was scheduled to begin at 4, but the service didn’t begin until nearly 6. I actually didn’t sit in the audience, because I and a handful of other Spanish students were roped into helping serve food at the wedding. Now, when I was told I would help serve, I thought food would be served buffet style. Nope, I was a waiter. Who can only sort of speak the same language as the guests. But, I was waiter-ing with an American Spanish School student and a Mexican Bible school student, and all I really needed to know how to say was, “¿Necesita más tortillas?” (Do you [formal] need more tortillas?) or “¿Quiere más agua? (Do you [formal] want more water?). I don’t know if I made for a great Mexican wedding waiter, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Mexican Wedding

El Fin

If you had told me in January (or February, March, or April) that I would spend my November, my Thanksgiving (or really, any time at all) in Mexico, I wouldn’t have believed it. These last three months, September, October, and November have changed my life in so many good ways. In such a short time, I’ve gained a new language, new family, new friends. I have a ways to go in becoming fluent in Spanish, but at the end of November, I finally feel like it’s possible and that I will eventually actually be able to speak and understand. Now, I am going to finish taking the million tests I need to take to finish Level 3 before I skip out on the last week of school to go home.

Sunset at a Mexican Wedding

Sacrificios Que Dios Requiere

As part of Spanish School, every student is required to give a devotion in Spanish to the whole Spanish School. Today was my turn, so I thought I would post what I shared in Spanish this morning. Yesterday I decided I want to speak on Micah 6:8, but I wasn’t sure what exactly to say about these verses. Then, I remembered that in college, I wrote a paper on Micah 6:1-8 for my Minor Prophets class.  While this was not a devotional paper (it was 19 pages long with tons of footnotes and was mainly about the history and context of the passage), I was still able to use it as inspiration for my talk.  In my paper, I made the conclusion that in this passage, Micah is saying that God does not require grand sacrifices–instead he asks only for us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before him.  And that’s what I shared today:

6¿Cómo podré acercarme al
y postrarme ante el Dios Altísimo?
¿Podré presentarme con holocaustos
o con becerros de un año?
7¿Se complacerá el Señor con miles de carneros,
o con diez mil arroyos de aceite?
¿Ofreceré a mi primogénito por mi delito,
al fruto de mis entrañas por mi pecado?
8¡Ya se te ha declarado lo que es bueno!
Ya se te ha dicho lo que de ti espera el Señor :
Practicar la justicia,
amar la misericordia,
y humillarte ante tu Dios.
          Miqueas 6:6-8
Estos versículos hacen la pregunta y responden a la pregunta: ¿Qué sacrificios requiere Dios?  Miqueas habla de sacrificios grandiosos, como holocaustos de becerros o diez mil arroyos de aceite.  Hoy, no sacrificamos animales, porque Jesúcristo, se sacrificó por nosotros.  En nuestras vidas, sin embargo, todavía necesitamos hacer sacrificios.  A veces pensamos que tenemos que hacer sacrificios grandiosos, excepto nuestros sacrificios grandiosos son diferentes de los sacrificios del Antiguo Testamento.  Quizás estos sacrificios son dejar casa, mover a un nuevo país, o vivir en una tierra desconocida.  Estos sacrifcios son buenos, pero no son los que Dios requiere.  Miqueas dice en el último versículo, los tres cosas que Dios dice que son buenos:
Practicar la justicia,
Amar la misericordia,
y Humillarse ante tu Dios.
Estos requisitos, estos sacrificios son difíciles, pero son todo lo que Dios requiere. ¡Gracias a Dios!
Roca Blanca Beach
Roca Blanca Beach

What I’m Into: October 2013

So, where did October go?  I can’t believe it’s already time to review another month of What I’m Into (inspired by Leigh Kramer).  In the past month, I finished a level of Spanish school, said goodbye to new yet dear friends, went on a three day clinic trip to the mountains, started a new level of Spanish, met new friends, and continued to enjoy life here in Mexico! October was also the month that reliable internet returned!  Everything is better now that I can communicate, get new ebooks, and do other internetly things without taking a taxi to  the next town. Here’s hoping it doesn’t leave again!

Dusk at the Beach
Dusk at the Beach

Spanish Learning

For the first part of October, my classmates and I hurtled toward the end of Level 2. In mid-October we took finals, and good news: we passed! I may or may not have cried for at least 10 minutes in the middle of my final because a good friend left to start a journey home in the middle of finals taking, but don’t worry, I was able to finish. After finals, we had a week off, but most of us students who remained went on a three day clinic trip to the mountains. It was a great trip, but it deserves its own post.

But, vacation can’t last forever. The last week of October, the new session of Spanish School began. Everything is different for me now in Level 3. Besides the changes in the students here at Spanish School, I embarked on a new adventure: I am now the only student in my level. Every other level here has so many students that each is split into two sections. We make many jokes about also splitting Level 3, but I can only be in one place at a time. Being the only student in my class is great for Spanish learning—I’m just exhausted by the end of the school day! Even in just a week of class, I can see a significant difference in my ability to speak and understand Spanish because I spend so much more time conversing in and listening to Spanish in class.

Cassie, Me, Jenna, and Moriah at the beach
Cassie, Me, Jenna, and Moriah at the beach

Books

At the beginning of the year, I set myself a goal of reading 50 books in 2013. I use the Goodreads Reading Challenge to keep track of how many I have read and see how many I have left. As of now, I have read 38 books and I have 12 left. According to my Goodreads tracker, I’m 4 books behind the pace, but I have read 12 books in my time here in Mexico so far, so I think I should be able to manage 12 more by the end of the year. I’m in the middle of at least 12 books right now (check out my currently reading list—it is real. Try not to look too long at my to-read list because it’s ridiculous and I love it).

I want to write a love letter to ebooks. It is thanks to the wonder of ebooks I have been able to read so many books here in Mexico. Some really great new books have been published in my time here, and I’ve been able to download them IMMEDIATELY, which has been magical. I had about $40 worth of credit card points that I have been using to feed my ebook habit—I’ve used about $30 so far, so I’m running out! Thank goodness for the Tulsa library and its vast ebook lending library.

I had a lot to say about each of these books, so I’m going to allow them their own future post(s). I’m trying to be better at actually reviewing these books I read. My favorites of the month, though, were When We Were on Fire and Allegiant. Here are my favorites of the books I read this month:

TV ReWatching with Subtitles

With each show I rewatch, I learn a whole new set of Spanish vocabulary. With Chuck, I learn words about spies and nerdery. However, sometimes the Chuck subtitles seem a little lazy, so I don’t count on its accuracy 100%. On my lone season of Parks and Rec, there are some fun words about small town politics as well as quite a few silly and joke-y vocabulary. Also, the subtitles for P&R are much more creative and accurate, trying to find the best way to translate the jokes. I’ve also watched a few episodes of Bones, where there are a number of complex scientific words. It’s great to use TV watching as an excuse for gaining new vocabulary.

A View on my Walk to School
A View on my Walk to School

Spanish Movies

When I was last at the Super Che (supermarket) in Puerto Escondido, I happened to glance at the large pile of DVDS. Lo and behold, they had Orgullo y Prejuicio (Pride and Prejudice) and Mas Barato por Docena (Cheaper By the Dozen) for less than $10 for both DVDs! And, they were made to be watched in Region 1 (US) as well as Region 4 (Mexico). Watching the movies with Spanish voices is so much more beneficial than just watching with subtitles. I promptly spent the weekend watching both movies with my family, which was great fun!

El Fin

As I publish this story, I have less than 5 weeks left here in Mexico. My sister and I return home the first week of December, one week before the last day of school. Tickets were $300 more apiece to return the second week of December, so home a week early it was. I’m looking forward to Christmas at home and to seeing my friends and family while I’m home for a month! But before then, I can’t wait to see what November will bring.

Me at the Beach
Me at the Beach

Tututepec

At my language school, they hope to teach us about more than just Spanish grammar and vocabulary. When you learn a language, you need to learn about the culture and history, too. One way to better understand the people you are talking and listening to is to learn about their past. Because there are many indigenous people groups here in southern Oaxaca, there is a lot of different history to learn.

One of those indigenous people groups is the Mixtecs. From around 800 to 1522, the Mixtecs were an empire at the same time as the Aztecs and Mayans. Their empire was vast and their power was great, but for some reason this people group was always left out of the story when I learned about the Aztec and Mayan Empires and the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.

The capital of the Mixtec Empire was Tututepec, which still exists as a sleepy little pueblo up in the mountains. No longer the capital city of a great empire, it is now the county seat, with a town square, a Catholic church built in the 1500s and a small museum about the history of the Mixtec people. I was able to take pictures of the town center and the Catholic church, but the museum prohibited pictures.

Catholic Church in Tututepec
Catholic Church in Tututepec

The museum in Tututepec is small, but it has significant artifacts, including a large stone idol depicting a fertility goddess from the religion of the Mixtec Empire. Few artifacts still exist from that time: almost anything relating to the Mixtec religion (and by extension anything relating to Mixtec Empire history) was destroyed by Spanish priests who came with the conquistadors. While I understand the impulse to get rid of false idols, the destruction of hundreds of years of history of a people is a loss for those of us learning today. There is so much we don’t know about this 700+ year empire, but the Tututepec museum displays the artifacts and facts that have been discovered about the Mixtec Empire.

Inside the Catholic Church in Tututepec
Inside the Catholic Church in Tututepec

One of the things that struck me about the art and artifacts of the Mixtec people was how similar it looked to Chinese art I have seen. I thought that I was just seeing things, but in the museum, they have statuettes uncovered in archaeological digs that appear to depict people with Chinese features, as well as people with African features. Perhaps people from China and Africa made their way to Mexico many hundreds of years ago?

View of the Area from the Church
View of the Area from the Church

The funny thing about history? As we learned about the beginning of the Mixtec Empire around 800, I thought of when I traveled to Iona, an island of the coast of Scotland. The saint Columba landed on Iona in the late 500s and started a monastery there. Monks were trained there and the famous Book of Kells was started there in the 700s, but by around 800, the Vikings came and destroyed the monastery. Iona and Mexico are thousands of miles apart, but it’s crazy to think about how such monumental historical events happened around the same time.

Mixtec Art in the Town Office Buildings
Mixtec Art in the Town Office Buildings

When the conquistadors came to Mexico in 1522, they didn’t exactly conquer the Mixtecs. As I was told the story, the way the Spanish took over land was by striking deals with smaller people groups already subjugated by the Mixtec Empire. That way, the Spanish had a built-in army of sorts when they approached the Mixtecs. Apparently, the king of the Mixtec Empire offered to make a deal with the Spaniards, but his overtures were rebuffed, and then, as this sort of thing almost always goes, battles broke out. Instead of being conquered, though, the Mixtecs fled high into the mountains where the Spaniards couldn’t reach them. With the people scattered, the Mixtec Empire as it was vanished and the Spaniards took over the area.

Cassie and Me
Cassie and Me

Those Mixtecs that fled to the mountains are the ancestors of the Mixtecos of today, of my friends here who have Mixtec heritage. In many of those high mountain villages, there are many people who still only speak Mixteco, not Spanish. In Tututepec we had the unique opportunity to attend a Mixtecan celebration honoring their Mixtec heritage, complete with their own style of music and dancing (and had we been able to stay longer, also food). At this little celebration, tiny Mixteco women taught some of us how to dance, sharing a part of their ancient culture with us.

Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaching Cassie and Elaine to Dance
A Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaches Cassie and Elaine to Dance
A Tiny Mixteco Woman Teaches Cassie and Elaine to Dance (sorry for the blurry picture–iPhones are not great for capturing motion!)

Learning about the Mixtec Empire at the museum and being able to experience a taste of Mixteco culture at the fiesta were great additions to my Spanish School experience. I’m thankful to be studying Spanish at a school that values the history and culture of the local area. My studies of the Spanish are richer with this background knowledge of some of the people I meet and talk to every day.

City Offices in Tututepec
City Offices in Tututepec
View of the Mountains on the Drive Home from Tututepec
View of the Mountains on the Drive Home from Tututepec

Spanish School Family

Yesterday, I wrote about the school side of Spanish School. Now that school is explained, I want to talk about the more entertaining part: the people! I am one of 23 Spanish School students in this session. We range in age from 18 to 71, and we are a lively bunch. The group divides fairly neatly into two categories: the young people and the couples. There are four older couples (as in, they have children and grandchildren older), the middle-aged couple, the youngish newlywed couple, and 13 young people. We also have seven teachers, including my sister Emily (who is an additional member of “the young people.”

I am the oldest (by only a few months) of the young people, but I appear to be the youngest. In fact, one of the young gentlemen here asked me, upon my arrival, “So, have you graduated high school?” Because he was already friends with Emily from earlier in the year, I knew how old he was, and I had to restrain myself from saying, “Oh honey, I’m two years older than you.” (Ah the trials of appearing 16. People keep telling me I’ll appreciate it when I’m older, but I keep getting older and I still don’t appreciate it.)

Essentially, as a group we’re a funny little Spanish School family, made up of older, wiser people who are responsible and study a lot and go to bed on time (and I mean this as a sincere compliment), as well as we younger people who like to run around and be silly and study occasionally and go to bed late. We young people have a lot of fun together attempting to experience all the interesting things our area of Mexico has to offer.

Taco Tuesday
Taco Tuesday

I liken the Spanish School family to a large family vacation or reunion. At a family reunion, you’re with many people you like and love, but you can move around and hang out with lots of different people. There’s almost always something entertaining and/or cultural happening, as well as plenty of people with whom you can enjoy that cultural entertainment.

Spanish school family (among the young people) includes, but is not limited to:

  • sharing food, sometimes by literally taking food off of other people’s plates, while other times it just means giving what you don’t want to eat to the hungry young man sitting next to you
  • getting lost in the city and not having a meeting point planned but finding each other anyway because Emily and I were in separate groups and sometimes we can read each others’ minds
  • having a group Bible study in English but going to Bible study mostly because the newlyweds bake cookies and have fresh fruit (FELLOWSHIP and fruit)
  • throwing impromptu late night swing dance parties
  • having a bonfire birthday party on the beach
  • and more and more

Whenever you’re in such a close environment, studying, living, eating, celebrating together, you become close quickly. We plan each others’ birthday parties, throw impromptu swing dance parties, discover new restaurants and revisit old favorites, explore cities, study the Bible in English and try to read it in Spanish, learn about each others’ lives before now and where we want them to go. It’s messy and great and awkward and wonderful all at the same time.

The sad thing about Spanish School Family is that every 7-8 weeks, the family changes. Today, many of my new friends leave and move on to other adventures. The lone Level 4 is moving on to a new job in the states, the Level 3 who is my housemate (we live in the same house and share a Mexican family) is returning home (and both these people have become dear friends—today is awful because they’re going; I’ve been crying all day), and all of the older couples are going on to other adventures.

The trouble with becoming close to people, with becoming friends, with becoming family is that it hurts when you have to say goodbye. And this weekend is just the first round of my goodbyes here—I have two more sessions of Spanish to learn and new friends to make! The joys of friendship, community, and family, though, are well worth the pain of saying goodbye.

Cassie, Emily, Sarah, Jenny, Joey, Peter (front row) Nathan, Mark, Dylan, Rob (back row)
Cassie, Emily, Sarah, Jenny, Joey, Peter (front row) Nathan, Mark, Dylan, Rob (back row)