Thursday, December 27, 2012

T'was the day before Christmas

Oh the day before Christmas, time to finally get into the spirit of the season. The season is much too busy with friends and family to worry about all the fluff hat crowds this time of year. However, Christmas Eve is different. Its time to openly welcome the traditions, the Santa, and the carols. I tried to put special effort into Christmas Eve. Here's what happened:


Elf on the Shelf's Last Night!
 
I had so many ideas for Louie's night before he would return to the North Pole. The hard part was deciding which idea to go with. Luckily, I had my trusty younger sisters, and they told me to go ahead and do them all! In the end we combined a couple of my ideas into a mini hunt for the youngest sisters.
 
First, Ivory and Aspen awoke to see that snow had fallen and  Louie had stolen away with their advent candy. 
 
 
Their first step to find Louie's hide-out was to search the snowflakes.
 
 
Eventually they found the clue which led them to the Christmas tree in the living room.
 
After unwrapping the toilet paper, another clue was found sending the family to the TV room.
 
 
 

 



 The girls each had to follow a string to Louie's secret spot.



 
Finally, Louie was discovered hiding within a couch cushion with the treats!
 
Next: Breakfast!

 I decided it might be fun to make a Christmas break. So I grabbed an angel cookie cutter and went to work on pancakes. After about four heavenly pancakes, the idea was ditched mainly because each took forever! It made my little sisters' day though.


Finally: Dinner
 
 
Several years ago, my family decided to cut out the craziness and stress on Christmas day and change our formal dinner to Christmas Eve (greatest decision ever). Every dinner we set up a long table to seat all the guests, and we create a theme for the decorations. In the past years we have decorated with snowflakes, Santas, and glitter. This year I chose to decorate and went with a nativity theme. After perusing the house several times searching for items to use and coming up empty handed, all of my original visions seemed to have failed me. However, after a few moments of discouragement, everything just started falling into place. 



 
First, I gathered some farm animal knick-knacks we had in a book case. They served well for the manger scene. Next I stole one of the little Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus scenes that we had around the house. They were the center piece. Then, I went outside and grabbed some dead branches we had just trimmed from the peach tree to add texture to the table. As a final touch, I got some old library cards and stamped different names for Jesus Christ on them. A little twine and burlap and the table was ready.


 





 I also added the some of the graham cracker nativity scenes our family had made with several of our neighbors.






 The dinner was pretty delicious and uber filling! As a surprise, we had a secret visitor come just before we left to look at Christmas lights. It was a great day!



Friday, December 21, 2012

Some things stick

Yesterday, I wandered over to Tempe Marketplace, an outdoor mall, with some girlfriends. As we approached the main area, I noticed that tons of people bustled everywhere, spending time with friends, looking for a good restaurant, or just trying to finish Christmas shopping. The large crowd immediately made me nervous, so I slide my over-the- shoulder handbag around to the front of me and reached down to  make sure I had the zipper closed. WAIT! WHAT?!  Since when does entering Tempe Marketplace mean that I have to keep an eye on all my possessions or even make me nervous? Since I went to Nicaragua, thats when. Haha.

I guess I had grown accustomed to watching out for my stuff, especially in large crowds. I had to chuckle as I realized what I was doing at the entrance of a perfectly safe shopping center (not saying its totally impossible to get robbed, just unlikely). However I have realized, this is not the only habit I picked up from my stay abroad.

For example, every morning I go out for a nice walk through my neighborhood. The first day I went out, a couple of dogs began barking at me. Startled, I was immediately on guard, thinking that the dog may have some terrible disease or something. In Nicaragua I saw thousands of homeless mutts. They normally were missing chunks of hair, super thin, and always on the look out for something to eat. Although they did not really bother me, I made sure I changed paths if a dog stood ahead. I did not want to take any chances.

I noticed that several off the habits or thought patterns that I developed in Nicaragua revolved around safety. I did not want to get robbed nor bitten as mentioned. I guess the safety that I enjoy in the United States was something I took for granted. Although nothing dangerous happened to me while I was away (I did get my phone stolen on a city bus), I did have to grow used to being constantly aware of my surroundings. It is definitely nice to be a little less worried and more carefree now that I am home. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Elf on the Shelf

Last year our family added another tradition to our holidays, the elf on the shelf or, as we call him, Louie. Louie is a secret Santa helper who watches our family all December to make sure we are being nice. At night, he returns to the North Pole to report to the jolly St. Nick before staking out a new position in the house to spy on our family.

Since I have been home from Nicaragua, I have tried to spice up Louie's adventures. Here's a look at Louie's recent work:
First, he went zip-lining across the TV room.



Then he wrapped the door in paper!




This idea turned out perfect. It even surprised my parents!


Since Louie has been hanging around the house so much recently, he has managed to meet a special lady friend. Haha
Louie had some fun with sidewalk chalk on the table. This super cute idea was great until we washed the table and found that the chalk had scratched the paint. BEWARE! 



Sticking Louie in the fridge was a great hiding spot, but the green and blue milk made my sisters nervous. 





Louie's creative re-do. 


This is the second year our family has had Louie. We have had a blast coming up with new ideas and adventures for him. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Daunting Task


One of the best parts of the Christmas season for my family is the Mesa, Arizona Temple lights. It is so beautiful and always remind us the Christ part of Christmas. There are millions of tiny lights sparkling up the sacred grounds. 






Although there are thousands of light strands all over, they are all put up voluntarily by the members of the LDS church. A few years ago, my family volunteered to put up some of the lights. We saw this as a pretty daunting task and volunteered mainly out of duty, feeling that for years we had enjoyed the lights but as members had never helped put the display up. 

We arrived at the appointed time on the grounds figuring we had a full day of work ahead of us. However to our surprise, we were sent to one small shrub and told to string lights all around it. AND THAT WAS IT! Our job was done and we were free to leave. Little did we know that there are so many member volunteers that the task of lighting up the temple really is not that daunting. The volunteer power proves that if everyone pitches in a small effort there can be a beautiful result!












Every night starting in November, the temple has an extra shine from the additional lights. Until ten o'clock the public is free to roam around the temple looking at lights, the temple, and scenes from the birth of Christ. Everyone can even enter the visitors' center and view the current displays including a movie portraying Luke 2, the Christus statue, and, my favorite, a group of nativity scenes from around the world. At seven o'clock there is even a concert in the front lawn. Everything is open to the public and is completely free!









Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How it started

This week was pretty relaxed. I have gotten back into the swing of running my sisters around town, doing all the errands for my mom, and taking on the responsibilities (aka chores) of living in my family's home.

This week, though, I got to go to Gilbert High School for a day and talk to five different Spanish classes about my experience in Nicaragua. The classes were all Spanish I, so I was immediately brought me back to my own first experiences with Spanish.

In the winter of my sixth grade year my family was hosting our first foreign exchange student, a 14 year old girl from El Salvador. The two of us being so close in age, we became friends almost instantly.  For one month, we were completely inseparable. When we were not out exploring Arizona, we passed time by swinging outside and singing Feliz Navidad at the top of our lungs. The month flew by, and soon it was time for her to leave.

I admit, my heart broke as I lost my new friend. However,  I was left with a passion to learn Spanish. I had had a small taste and now I committed myself to becoming fluent in the language.

Soon after her departure, seventh grade registration arrived and I, of course, signed up for  first semester Introduction to Spanish. As soon as the class started, I was in love with Spanish. Everything was so fun; the teacher, the music, the sounds, I loved it all. Luckily, I also discovered that I have a talent for learning foreign languages, so the class even came easy to me. After the semester was over, I wanted to continue learning, but disappointment overwhelmed me when I learned that I would have to wait until eighth grade to enroll in Spanish I. Fortunately, the Spring semester flew by, and soon I was enrolled in my next, full year Spanish class.

I kept up the pattern of enrolling in every Spanish class possible all the whole through high school, eventually graduating from Spanish V as a member of the National Spanish Honor Society in 2011. Although my motivation occasionally slipped, my passion for Spanish never left me and really still continues as I study at Northern Arizona University. My experience in Nicaragua this past semester has finally cemented all the Spanish language knowledge that I had collected the past eight years in school. It converted me into a fluent Spanish speaker!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home At Last

Well, it has been just over a week since I have been home in the sweet US of A. Spending several weeks in a third world country definitely has made me more patriotic for my own country. Route 66,  main street, and country music have much more meaning, and I even carry a sense of pride thinking that these things belong to the US, just the US.

I knew there were things I was missing when I was in Nicaragua (family, hot water, safety, a car), but I was surprised by the things that I did not even realized I had missed. For example, I came home to a closet filled with all my stuff. All of my clothes, jewerly, pictures, shoes, and little memories made me want to cry. Although it is just stuff, it all screamed that I was home, that I was complete. I was glad.

I also missed the community I was surrounded by. I know so many supportive people here; I know where everything I need is located; I just know how everything is. There are not any surprises and for once that felt ok.

I love traveling, and I do not see that love going anywhere. However, it is great to be home!



video
  

Friday, December 7, 2012

San Carlos

For the final Nicaraguan adventure of the semester, Manfred and I went to San Carlos to see the annual water parade on the San Juan River. Getting there was half the adventure. We had to go to basically a Nicaraguan greyhound station in El Mercado Mayoreo. It took about an hour and a half in the city bus to arrive only to find out that the next bus to San Carlos was leaving in three hours.   Hanging out at the markets and bus stations is not the smartest nor safest idea by far,  but heading home would have been a waste of time. So we sat around and played UNO. Time flew quickly and at six thirty at night we hopped into the bus and were off to San Carlos.

Because it was a Friday, a lot of the people on the bus were heading to their homes either in San Carlos or somewhere along the way. These people mainly worked in the markets so the whole roof of the bus was covered with large baskets and boxes filled with merchandise.  The bus was also so crowded that the aisle was quickly filled with people willing to make the seven hour journey standing up. I felt terrible for these people, especially knowing that we would be traveling in the middle of the night, but they seemed accustomed to it.

The bus ride was not terrible and I did get to sleep a little bit and by 1:00am we had arrived in San Carlos. The city seemed really relaxed. We walked around and did not feel in danger at all. It was great!

At ten AM Saturday morning the festivities started. First was the water parade. The few floats in the parade were amazing.


 After the water parade a small parade of marching bands started up. They walked all around the down town area of San Carlos. Afterwards there was a short rowing competition back in the water.
The competitors jumped into these little boats and manuevered through a small obstacle course. The men did well, but the women's part was terrible. Two of the boats got in right away; meanwhile, the other three boats were paddling in circles in the distance.





As the afternoon drew to a close, a mini Carnaval started up. Groups of dancers came from all over Nicaragua. Their costumes represented the history of each region of Nicaragua. It was really interesting and the dancers did a great job!










The whole day was amazing. There were so many people in San Carlos just enjoying the free celebration. The atmosphere really gave me some Nica Pride!













Friday, November 23, 2012

One Week Left!

 I just finished my last final exam about ten minutes ago and I now only have one week left! Time has flown by so fast. I really do not feel like I have been here for almost four months. I have enjoyed so much about this trip and look forward to sharing my experiences with my family when I get home.

I miss so much about being at home. Thanksgiving was definitely not at all the same. No big lunch, no turkey, no saying what I am grateful for. I did, however, get to enjoy the last bit of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Purina Dog Show. It was nostalgic and really brought some holiday spirit. I introduced Manfred to these two family traditions and I think he enjoyed them. Although he seemed a little thrown off that people actually treat dogs as good as the ones in the shows. Hahah.

Unfortunately, no Christmas movies are out in Nicaragua yet, so the annual tradition of seeing a movie went down the tubes. Overall, it was not a terrible day, but nonethless, I will for sure be grateful to spend Thanksgiving in the states next year.


So here I stand with one week left and no school! Its time to whip out some last minute traveling and make up for that missed Thanksgiving dinner by stuffing myself for the last few times with all that delicious Nica food!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Coconuts!

Sometimes I am suprised to find that what I thought I knew was wrong. This past week I learned that everything I thought I knew about coconuts was incorrect.

First of all, I did not know they grew like big yellow footballs. I always thought they were small round, brown balls. However, this tree grows right outside my room, and sure enough, those are coconuts.






Second, I had no idea that you had to machete-y the yellow football to death to encounter the small brown ball, or the coconut. Plus the machete process takes skill. Manfred is a master and can tear through the cocnut in about five minutes. I attempted and succeed too, but it took me about half an hour and a lot of sweat.





 Finally, I also did not know that the meat inside the coconut shell starts out soft and only hardens with age. Also with a fresh cocnut you can jab a straw through one of the three small holes in the top of the cocnut shell and have a refreshing drink of coconut water RIGHT OUT OF THE SHELL!

 I was really suprised with all this new information about something simple like coconuts. Hopefully, there are other people like me out there and this is not just new information to me. Haha!




Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekend Recap

 With just 18 days left in Nicaragua, I have to do a lot of travel cramming! The next few weeks are already booked with ideas of where to go and what to do. I just hope there is time for it all.

This weekend, I decided to go to Diriomo to visit the Laguna de Apoyo. I was just in the city for a short while before heading off to the jungle hike to the laguna. But of course I had to see the old church first!

 Afterwards, I hopped into a Caponera and took off. These caponeras or mototaxis are everywhere! They are cheaper than a normal taxi, but probably not as safe seeing as they lack doors. They tend to stay off main roads, but in little towns and neighborhoods they are great.




 At the top of the hike we got a beautiful view of the laguna. It was gorgeous!

 Here we are ready to begin the long descent down. It probably took about forty minutes to walk and it was always very steep downhill the entire time. I was glad when we arrived at the bottom because my muscles could finally relax. I did not know walking downhill could be so terrible.




 The path was amazing. There were numerous butterflies of everydifferent color constantly flying around. Sadly, none of them stood still long enough for a picture, but they were great. There was also several birds chirping and occassionally Manfred could tell me which sound was from which bird. How awesome is that?!

Then we got to the best part of the hike. MONKEYS!! We saw six really cute monkys lounging around in the trees overhead. It was wild seeing monkeys in their natural habitat. 

The monkeys were too far away to get a good pic. sorry.

We finally arrived at the laguna, got to rest, swim, and eat, and of course have a blast!




 So maybe you remember me complaining about the walk down to the laguna. Well, you can only imagine the walk back out. Within the first ten minutes, I had stopped three time to catch my breath and drink water. Now I am not the most in-shape person, but  I am not that out of shape either, so believe me it was difficult. LUCKILY, luckily, luckily and I mean luckily, there was a truck with a couple of people that had left just before us. About fifteen minutes into the hike out, I could hear the truck struggling to get up a steep incline. As we came into view, sure enough the truck was still there, its tires smoking trying to move on and then rolling back exhausted. I decided we should stop and try to help these people, and after trying to put rocks and such in the way to create traction, the driver said "what we really need is more weight". In the end, Manfred and I got in the bed of the truck and were just enough weight that the truck took off up the incline and the rest of the path. Who knows how long we could have been hiking? I was really grateful for that blessing and everyone got home safely.