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Feb 21 – Day Eleven – Happy birthday, Jenna!

“isn’t she perdy” – said in grandma great voice

It’s my sister’s birthday today! She’s celebrating in Seattle with our aunts and cousins. Family birthdays are something I always miss about living abroad. Everyone in the living room, discussing the dogs, eating Los Panchos or Zacharys (the only two food establishments my family truly needs), talking loudly over each other, Gma Jackie hitting the harmony at the tail end of “Happy Birthday.” And then eating Mom’s yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting. And then reminiscing about all the cake disasters we’ve had over the years. Good times.

I haven’t been home for Jenna’s birthday in probably five or six years, since living abroad. But she was really there for me for the 30th birthday. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who I had moved across the country for, and just driven back home, across the entire dang country (shout out to Seghs!) in a kind of depressed, shame-ridden, unemployed funk.

The only point of joy in my life was my mom’s dog, Kismet Oreo, who was the ball of fluff I needed to have a reason to get out of bed every day.

And I was about to turn 30.

Oh, joy.

your birthday . . . santa maria . . . 2008!? I dont know! but we liked it!

I had thought, like most girls who spend the tail end of their twenties in a serious relationship, I’d be spending my thirtieth year, for some reason a huge number year, planning a wedding in a rustic barn in North Carolina, finding a perfect teaching job so I could quit the bartending I had taken up on the side, thinking about raising kids barefoot on a goat rescue farm.

Instead, I had moved back in with my parents and was trying to convince the dog that she liked going on walks. Because walking was the only thing I could do where my body wouldn’t let me cry at the same time. And I carved a footpath in the Iron Horse Trail those few months, walking and walking until the big part of me that was in pain figured out how to be smaller.

I sometimes get really depressed and weird around my birthday, and it was especially so around this birthday, and Jenna decided that instead of sitting around waiting for 30 to happen to me, we could take a trip.

must. go. back.

So we went to Puerto Rico. Jenna found an amazing AirBnb, we rented a car, we explored, we tanned, we ate. On my birthday, she let me sit in the kiddie pool on the roof and kept bringing me margaritas all day and let me be a tiny bit of a wreck because she cares and I’ll never forget that trip. I think she let me watch like five episodes of “The X-Files” that day. MULDER! I LOVE YOU!

Love you Jen! Happy bday. Thanks for always being there.

Feb 22 – Day Twelve – How to friend

I joined this group called Girl Gone International when I first moved to HK, and it’s been a total Godsend to be in a community (and several very active Whatsapp groups) with like-minded women who have moved abroad, are away from family and the familiar, and are trying to make Hongkers home. We do happy hours, brunches, birthdays, and give and take great advice. It’s sweet. This week I went to a different kind of event – girl power embroidery and champagne free flow.


i’ve already tried learning how to knit. but. knitting is for morons, anyway.

We started with introductions, and I ended up having mutual friends with three of them, and quite a few were teachers. Then we got to sewing instruction. I felt the spirit of my Gma Susi smiling on me as I learned how to cross stitch super simple patterns. I felt like a rockstar. The bubbles were adding to the confidence, but as the night wore on, definitely not to my concentration. My piece still sits unfinished in a ziploc bag in my living room, but I’m excited about picking it up again soon.

is….is this penguin my friend?

During the introductions, although we were hailing from South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, California (I don’t say I’m from the States anymore), and Chile, the common denominator at our table was a sense of being slightly overwhelmed in Hong Kong, but wanting to make friends, and glad we’d found the GGI group to help.

Making new friends in your thirties is just about as hard as dating. Where do you find new people? What do you talk about? How do you sustain the friendship when we work and travel as much as we do? How do you get people to answer text messages and commit to activities at a rate that makes you feel like you do have a genuine friendship?

When we were younger, we met people all the time with school and sports, family friends, activities, summer camps, etc. Now it requires much more of an effort.

I’m glad I’ve found others also willing to make it.

Feb 23 – Day 13 – First date jitters

Awhile back, I said I was done with the online dating. I had a pretty terrible experience, blogged about it, it ended up getting worse. A week after I had said no thank you to seeing more of him, there were some nasty text messages and it got a bit scary, so I took the blog down to try and end it. Being a female is hard.

I had started talking to another guy on Tinder. He was older, too, because the older ones are usually more likely to strike up a convo and keep it going to the point where you actually meet up. Younger guys (and my age guys) are there for hookups and the dopamine hit of being “liked” back, I think. The conversations rarely go further than “hey.”

But this guy and I had been chatting nonstop. He was sarcastic, had a lot to say, also in education, handsome, etc. This went on for two weeks and I had to be the one who said we should move it to Whatsapp. And then I had to ask if he was ever going to ask me out on a date. He eventually did, and we decided to meet up and go see a light installation I’ve been wanting to see, and I asked him to figure out the bar. He named a place, and when I told everyone I know that I finally had another first date and the place we were going, I was promptly informed that said bar had closed. Perhaps it was a bad omen I should have paid more attention to at the time. Alas.

so quotable.

So he found another place, a British pub, and we agreed to meet up on Friday.

For SIX DAYS I had the absolute nerviest of nerves. Because what if it’s amazing? What if this is the first date that ends all other first dates? Based on what I know about him, I have already plotted out the rest of our lives together.

What if this first actual meeting is a story we end up telling over and over for forever?

I actually googled “things to do on a first date” and “things to talk about on a first date” and “things NOT to talk about on a first date.” As if I have ever met a stranger or ever had problems talking to someone in my life. But when we play this whole dating game, especially in our thirties and living abroad and online so much, the point is, at least for me, to find THE ONE that will be there for the rest of this life. So I get nervous. I pace in front of my closet in a towel, texting my friends, trying to invent last minute excuses for canceling on a date. I can’t word. I giggle and sweat. I swear too much and say things I shouldn’t, share things I shouldn’t on a first date. Or any date.

The flipside of “Because what if it’s amazing?!” is “But what if it sucks?”

What if after texting nonstop for two weeks, we come to find out that there is no IRL (in real life) connection? No genuine spark?

What if, because we feel disappointed by that, and upset by that, but feel like we have to be nice about it all, we pretend that there is? And just go along with things for a while, perhaps too long, to the point where we realize that this is leading someone on, but by now it is too late?

What then?

What could happen that would be okay then, that doesn’t leave you feeling a bit sad, and upset with yourself, and the system and the world and the patriarchy and anything else handy to blame this on . . . and missing the texting conversations you’d had, while knowing it would be unkind to keep dating someone when you’re sure there is no future.

First dates are too hard. I can’t do this much longer. I just one want more. Please and thank you.

Feb 24 – Day 14 – happy bday month, gma susi

happy birthday month, gma susi. been thinking about you a lot lately. wish i could share these teaching adventures with you. you’d get such a kick out of the places i get to go and the people i get to meet. but, rest assured, kids are the same anywhere and everywhere. i give and get lots of hugs.

You died before i moved to north carolina. You died thinking i was running off to marry that boy at that time. We’d gotten to talk a little bit about my first four years of teaching, but nothing since. You dont know that i lived in brazil for three years! That i saw the most beautiful beaches and capybaras and antartica and monkeys crashed church service. You dont know about Carnaval, and wine country in Argentina, and salt cathedrals in Colombia, and that I can speak Portuguese now.

You dont know I moved to hong kong, and have been tramping all over asia now, and seen so many things. That im considered tall here, and delightfully fat to the point im pointed out of stores, and that i make constant blunders with asian culture.

I’ve seen japan, thailand, cambodia, vietnam, malaysia, the philippines, indonesia, korea, macau. Youd love it. I teach all English language learners! How much we’d have to talk about.

Sometimes when i think about you, when something like Ritz crackers, or the Oregon trail, or caffeine free diet coke, or sewing, or teaching first grade comes up, i can hear you talking, looking over the rim of your glasses at me, your big bottom lip sticking out, your painted nails clicking the pen as you worked on the crossword puzzle at the back of a “People” magazine, head shaking just slightly, hair thinning and curly on the top of your head.

“Now, Rachel . . . “ you’d always say to me. All your sentences started with “Now, Rachel . . . “

I’ve spent more time with primary teachers now, and I understand you better. How it’s not something you can turn off so much. I want to ask you questions, like: How to deal with crazy parents, and how to deal with administration that just doesn’t get it. I want to ask you how you celebrated the 100th day of school, how you found the energy to drive to Antioch and teach every day for so long, how you differentiated your learning, how you did it all without a learning assistant or computers or the internet.

you would love that i wear this to work every year.

How on the weekends you still puff-painted shirts for us and made jumpers and flower girl dresses and later sewed my prom dresses and costumes for “West Side Story” and “Grease.” My God. You were a wonder woman and I didn’t know it enough at the time and I’m sorry but I will say it now.

You are amazing. You’re still with me. As long as a “MRS/MS/MISS WEIGHT!!!!” still rings out in excitement every school day morning, you’re still with me.

i will never forget seeing that for the first time. nearly ten years ago.

Ticket Mishaps, Sunsets, Thai-ing the Knot

high school besties!

One of the hardest things about living abroad is missing big moments in the lives of people you love. Conveniently, one of my high school BFFS decided to have a destination wedding in Thailand over Christmas, which meant I could go and celebrate someone I love dearly and work a little adventure into it. Leslie and her husband made their honeymoon plans open to all the guests so that anyone who wanted to could tag along and travel through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam with them! I also had a friend, oddly enough named Rachel, who even more oddly, I only knew from traveling together (we met when our mutual friend invited her on a trip to Argentina, and we ended up doing Chile together), had wanted to come visit me in Asia. So she became my plus one to a wedding, which was great for this single lady, and we could work in some awesome travel, too.

Leslie (whose nickname is “Mule” and her’s for me is “Mula.” High school is weird.) and Mike and some friends came through HK before the wedding, so I got to take them for an accidental big night out.

I could not have planned it any greater – we met at a rooftop bar, had some drinks, went to one of my favorite dives to dance to bad pop music and play darts. Then we went out to the street in Lan Kwai Fong where all the best worst decisions are made. I had been playing tour guide as we went around, showing off my very limited Hong Kong knowledge to it’s best. At one point, I described LKF as “a place where people get into dance fights, and the two richest 7-11s in the world can be found within a block of each other.” (By the by, if you want to do some fun learning about 7-11, fall down this rabbit hole with me.)

Monk-eying around the Peak

We wove our way through the madness and lawlessness that is Hong Kong at night, I think all of us got hit on at one point or another, by all kinds of genders, and ended up in, I kid you not – the middle of a legitimate dance fight. We all chose sides and screamed and hooted and hollered. Someone won (I think? I can barely turn in a circle, so I’m not sure what exactly wins a dance fight) and then we were bored for just one second because some drag queens began pole dancing on a stop sign to the music playing in the club next door. We ended the night by singing and dancing along to a cover band, then at the cash only Kebab and Pizza place, which is what legends eat at 3am and can still taste the garlic sauce the entire next day.

Molina arrived early Sunday morning. I picked her up at the airport and we prepared to do the quickest 24 hours in Hong Kong of some highlights.

We toured my neighborhood, took the Star Ferry, had an extended happy hour at Aqua with fantastic views of the city, wandered through Mong Kok markets, viewed the city from the Peak, took the tram down, were almost run over by anxious old Chinese women in a rush to get window seats, and then had epic amounts of hot pot at a restaurant I really like because you order off an iPad. Also they give you a hair tie and something to wipe your glasses off with.

i freaking love shirts in hong kong

We went back early to my apartment so I could finish packing and because we had an early as wake up call the next morning. We made it to the airport express train station at O dark hundred. It was 6am, and we’re all giddy to go, when some terribleness happened – I had booked our flights, and without knowing it, had booked Rachel’s under her Anglo name, “Rachel”, when her legal name is actually Raquel. “No biggie,” we both thought.

Turns out BIG BIGGIE.

Rachel squared tryna catch the sun!

Three hours and several phone calls a not a few swear words later, we had canceled our entire three week trip and rebooked it and were trying to find me a drink. We ended up missing rehearsal dinner, which was sad, but got in late that night in time to make the breakfast, pool, and wedding the next day. Of course, not even that could be easy. It was monsoon season, after all, and the island had been hit by insane rain and floods. The day of the wedding started out beautifully, but by the time we started driving up the mountain to the villa, the cars were stalling in waist-deep waters and visibility was disappearing. The mountain was so steep, it was actually a pretty scary ride.

the Guidos!!!

But we made it, shaking and nervous giggling, and Rachel was a champ for coming to a wedding where she knew no one. I hugged Leslie’s sisters, who I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years, and got caught up with her parents, who still live in the house on the corner by the high school, and hopefully never find out what kind of trouble we got up to there (sprinkled with healthy doses of movie marathons and studying, I’m sure!). I did have a moment of panic remembering their first names, though, and was immediately a teenager again. Your friend’s parents are always Mr and Mrs something! Her dad filled me in on the new traffic lights and how Sun Valley mall “just isn’t the same anymore,” and I promised to start a GoFundMe to buy their house if they ever thought about moving, because it should be preserved as a historical artifact.

i love her mom so much

The turn in the weather forced the wedding indoors, which was a shame, but it still managed to be one of the most beautiful, intimate ceremonies I’ve been to. I started crying the moment Leslie walked in, and we could barely hear some of it over the rain, but they were wed and we got to do a Thailand water blessing, even though the priest said we were in Japan.

Jordana and I got to have a rapid fire catch up on all our high school friends, and after the beautiful speeches and details of the dinner, we took over the dance floor. And the playlist. The deejay had some issues.

I’d never been to a destination wedding, or such a small, intimate wedding, and it was so lovely how everyone felt like best friends by the end of it. The next day we spent on a junk boat, jumping off a bow probably too high for us to be doing so, and swapping terrible dating stories, and hiding from the rain. Mule’s niece swam up to me at one point, and in all seriousness, asked how she could be a mermaid like me. So I taught her the spell we mermaids cast upon ourselves. Don’t worry, she reminded me to go back to human before we got back on the boat.

simply amazing.

That night we did what you do, which is have drinks on the beach, go to a fabulous drag show starring some performers so brilliant, I forgot they were lip-syncing. I asked the teenagers in braces who were the back-up dancers for makeup tips, and decided we were all best friends. Later we went out to prove how terrible I am at billiards, and cheer on the newly married couple as they danced to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” on the bar during a torrential downpour.

Molina and I spent the next few days chilling at the pool, deciding it’s never too early for a beer when you’re on vacation and it’s a million degrees, getting foot massages, soaking in sunsets from bean bag chairs and cheering on fire shows.

fire SHOW

We spent our last day in the back of a truck with a British family living in Vietnam and their two adorable children. We made fast friends with the parents and had a great time snorkeling, until I made a joke about ordering some piranhas and eels to come visit and scared the pants off the boys, who then refused to enter the water. We toured a few small islands, sitting in the water and watching life happen, and then watched easily the most beautiful sunset any of us had ever seen settle down over the ocean. Koh Samui goes down like a treat.

Philippines: final days

IMG_5072I freaking love cheesy tourist things. I used to scoff at tourist traps; thinking I was so cool in my backpacking cheapskate ways, always winging it, hoping to find something local and have a more authentic experience. But when I try to do things on my own, especially when short on time, it ends up being so rushed or stressful that it would have been worth it to sign up for something on a flyer to make sure I didn’t miss a destination highlight.

I used to be too embarrassed to get on a big red bus and hop on and hop off somewhere, my ear pressed up to an English audio guide. Now I am out of cares, finally realizing no one will remember me even five minutes after we say goodbye, and I am not going all over the world to not experience the hell out of it.

IMG_5069So we signed up for the “Super Ultimate Combo Tour” of Coron’s highlights – an all-day local boat adventure that promised, like, everything. We rushed down to the docks, herded around with other travelers into smaller herds, walked onto boats in the harbor and then waited for them to fill. Like the buses, the boats in the Philippines often won’t leave until full enough to make the cost worth it. The Spanish girls wandered away to try and find items they should have had in the first place if they’d done any research at all (water shoes, sunscreen), the beautiful couple from Mauritius made out and looked beautiful, the wonderfully Asian family dressed in head-to-toe wetsuit onesies, which extended into watershoes, worried at their sunglass leashes and applied more sunscreen, and we all waited for the last couple, threatening physical harm for making us wait so long.

The couple arrived, smoking and with beers in hand, and turned out to be a delightful Indian couple that now lived in Hong Kong. We bonded quickly over banking woes and the wonders of Asia, eventually sharing beers we bought from a local guy that was paddling around on a kayak at the neighborhood shipwreck so many of us stopped at, with the welcoming name “Skeleton Island.”

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0701.JPGWe went to six or seven different locations, all of them beautiful, with small swimming lagoons, huge schools of fish eating rice out of the palms of our hands, crystal clear water, the entire cast of Finding Nemo, one fish that bit me on the ankle (but in fairness I stepped on his house), coral gardens teeming with angel and rainbow and puffer and clown and needle fish. It was amazing.

The boat crew served us an epic beach lunch, I chased a rooster on the sand, Ryan from Mumbai almost got murdered by several boats because he ignored warning whistles and his wife laughed so casually from the boat you had to wonder what they were all about. And at the end of the tour they served us donuts. I can’t imagine a better ending.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0703.JPGWe spent the next day on the hot streets of Coron. We stopped and prayed in churches, wandering local back alleys with houses on stilts and small children negotiating bamboo floors over the ocean to walk into their houses for lunch during a break from schools. We giggled over sisters furiously brush their wet hair in the back of a tricycle cab on the way to school in the morning.

We moseyed into a cheesy t-shirt store and I asked for a size in something and was told I was a 2xl. This made me cry, which was great. I bought the shirt in a medium, we walked out and as quickly as we could to a cool pub, where we ordered gin and tonics and chicken sizzlers and played a few games of foosball until I was a happy person again. (PS the medium fits GREAT.)

IMG_5070Back at our pretend resort (just because it’s in your name doesn’t mean you are a resort) we hit up poolside happy hour and I made besties with a fashion designer from Uruguay and tried to get some guys from Argentina to pay me some attention. It did not work. They were busy taking over the pool bar and throwing a mini rave with girls much younger and hotter than me.

Another stunning sunset absorbed by balcony and gin and tonics and we got all prettied up to go out to dinner when the power went out for the entire neighborhood. Because nothing is ever easy for us. We eventually made it to a place that still had power, and it was so delightful because there was a super talented husband and wife team playing everything from “Mais Que Nada” to “Corazon Espinado” and other cheesy American love ballads. I was so happy. We finally tried the local dessert Halo Halo (mix mix) and were . . . confused. It’s a dessert, but it has beans in it? And like seventy other ingredients. There were Pinto beans, cherries, jellies things, prunes, ice cream, mango, crushed ice, almonds. So interesting.

IMG_5063We ferried back to El Nido the next morning and stayed at a lovely place called Lido with enough sky to make me feel small again. Or at least a medium. I loved the reggae cover band who played “No Diggity” with the same passion they played some Bob Marley with a shout out for people suffering under martial law in effect in some places in the Philippines.

Aimes and I moved a lot on this trip. Actually trying to calculate how many hours were spent in transit is hurting my head a little. The final bus ride was no exception – we were picked up an hour late, and then spent two hours driving all over creation as our driver tried to fill up his seats to make more money. Seven hours of driving at breakneck speed later, dodging water buffaloes and chickens and small children on country roads, the driver tried to make us get out of his van and pawn us off to his taxi driver friends, claiming he could go no further. He was none too pleased when we put our foots down and refused to exit. To punish us for making him complete his job, he pulled over on the side of the road and we watched someone with a machete hack at a pig roasting over a spit and serve it to him as lunch.

IMG_4655Arriving at the hotel four hours later than promised, the sun had set and I was disappointed to not get some hours of tanning in. But we made the best of it – our hotel happened to be in this really cool spot with awesome restaurants, live music, and an arcade! We played darts (our fave thing) and basketball shootouts, which make my life. And had some of the best ribs I’ve ever tasted. And stared really hard at a table of men with what were clearly bored hired escorts. We got sent free drinks and listened to cheesy cover songs and some really drunk American slurred his way through a speech about how I was too young to know these people but he had hung out with (insert what he thinks were famous names) back in the day in San Francisco.

IMG_5067The trip was incredible in so many ways. I loved the snorkeling – something about being on a boat in the ocean and then swirling through the whooshy world of fish is so soul-filling. I loved hanging with my bestie and meeting crazy people and having a million things going wrong and finding ways to laugh about it.

I hated realizing that everyone backpacking now is so much younger than I am. It hurts that they are so beautiful and I want to shake them and tell them to hold on to their one wild and precious life. To hold onto it but to let themselves go to every possibility.

And I found it so fulfilling to finally visit the Philippines – a place I’d dreamt about for many years after having known so many Filipinos and seeing pictures. I got to see beautiful things and saw the sky and the ocean and would 11/10 recommend it to anyone. I know I will be back.


33 – the year of promise (i hope)

I’ve spun around the sun another 365.25 blessed days, and something about this number feels magical. Feels important. Feels like I probably should be doing more than shacking up at my parents, funemployed, with dogs for best friends. But I’m going to go through with my annual birthday post. Because seeing growth in yourself is valuable. And makes you laugh. I highly recommend. 


What are you doing exactly right now? When I started this particular, I was on an extremely turbulent plane back from spending a week in Virginia with my dad and his family. I had been delayed three times and was two glasses of wine in, but had two seats to myself and was enjoying some airplane grade chardonnay. At the moment, as I finish this up, my sister Jenna and my mom and I are in FresYES at an Indian res casino to see Richard Marx perform. No, really. I am SO excited. He defined a lot of my childhood soundtrack – swim team trips to Raging Waters, drives to my great grandma’s house (with a stop to see the mini horses along the way), and the maroon Dodge Caravan that picked me up from school.

What shoes and clothes are you wearing? Some tennis shoes that have seen better days . . . and my regular rotation of Birkenstocks, because what no one tells you is that those things STINK and you need more than one pair. And some trusty workout pants from Target, a scarf I stole from a cabin in Donner Lake (my bad), my yellow glasses from zenni (just waiting for them to ask me to be their rep), and my Brooks grey travel zip up that has known many countries and smelly situations with me. And my iPod classic. And my little brother’s deodorant.

What did you last eat? An airport turkey sad-wich. Really. It was so sad.

roomskies!Where are you living? well for most of last year I was living in my condo in Rio with my new roommate, Racheal, whom I called “kale.” I had gotten an upgrade into a “big girl room,” which meant a double bed and my own bathroom attached. It was so liberating to walk around naked and to have sunlight that could reach my room. We had a great relationship – I cooked and she cleaned, and we were both loud and crazy liberals who believed in the power of a late night dance party and thought cream cheese on a cracker doused with hot sauce was an acceptable dinner. I spent a lot of time in my “offices” – the recliner and the hammock, watching the world burn in the election and the aftermath, nursing my fractured foot, exchanging texts and youtubes with Kale, just ten feet away in her bedroom. I walked to work, to church, to the beach, to the grocery store. Besides the part where I worked, and the epic cockroach battles, it was great.

17458168_10105416278745807_4456377506238517599_nNow I live with my mom, stepdad, and the two greatest dogs ever besides the other great dogs I have known. I have a nice walking trail, a great backyard, free room and board, and tons of family and friends close by. It’s good for my healing process. I am moving to Hong Kong at the end of July!

Where do you work? I am currently funemployed on my way to my next position as an Admissions Teacher at an international school in HK. It has a governing board, published budget, five year plan, a chain of command, a working website, job descriptions and everything! What a concept.

Where have you traveled this last year?  Virginia, Yosemite, Santa Barbara/SLO, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Chile, Iguazu Falls, Atlanta, Savannah.

some of the brasileiras i miss more than i could ever say

When did you last cry? The last really good one I remember was saying goodbye to my friends, my roomie, and then Candice at the airport and leaving Rio. That was a solid weeping. The guy next to me put a blanket over his head and didn’t remove it for the entire flight.


What was the last movie you watched? I FINALLY watched “Rogue One” and omg. I have so many feelings. I think I need to watch it again. There was so much beauty to behold that it was hard to take it all in. I’m so glad they made this movie though. The line it’s based off of I can see so clearly and have always thought about whenever I watched that episode – “Many rebels died to bring us this information.” I love seeing women kick ass and I love seeing ragtag teams come together to defeat evil and I loved the sidekick droid (the actor that plays him is a random fav of mine, too). Cassian is an actor I’ve enjoyed since his sexy debut in “Y Tú Mamá También” so that was a fun surprise.

Favorite TV show of the moment? Girls just ended, love that. Big Little Lies was tremendous and very faithful to the book. And I love This is Us. Currently binging on old Naked and Afraid episodes because that is a freaking epic show.

Favorite toy of the moment? Well I didn’t have a laptop because I had to turn my work one in and my personal one busted years ago (swallowing my photos with it, wipe away a tear) but my stepdad got me this new MacBook Air for my bday!

What book are you reading? The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. FAAAAAScinating.

clinton_-_living_history_coverartHow many books did you read in the last year? Highlights? 44 books. After the election, I wanted to read a lot of political books that documented the lives of the Clintons; as they wrote it and as others did, too. I wanted to try and understand the lens that people were seeing them through. I learned a lot. Watched a lot of Youtube videos in the follow up – interviews and the like. I ended up feeling sorry for Hillary and loving her even more. Females are strong as hell. And I am feeling more strongly about my own feminism and wanting to reach out to others about misconceptions and privilege and what and who we need to affect actual and positive change not only in this country but in this world.

I think having lived abroad and traveled so much, I can offer a unique perspective and voice, too. Sometimes I think about taking the blog that way. But I probably write about way too many embarrassing things to be taken seriously. Anyway, if you ever want to talk about it personally, via email or fb msg or face to face, let me know.

Another highlight was the Miss Peregrine series, rec’d by some good friends, and the Lumatere Chronicles. I love Tumblr for how many good books I learn about and am always looking for more recs.

watching minor league Flying Squirrels with my dad and little bro! (bro and stepmom were in stands…Jack and I were on our way to an epic arcade game fight)

When did you last laugh really hard? Probably dancing in the kitchen with my little brother, teaching him how to make tacos. Or when my other little brother and I kinda sorta set the neighbor’s tree on fire.

What are you most looking forward to right now? Seeing Richard Marx, then a family bday party. I haven’t done my bday party with family in the States in a while so that’s just going to be delightful.

What’s your favorite song at the moment? 

The following will always define the last year for me

  • “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
  • “Heavenly Father” by Bon Iver
  • “This Feeling” by Alabama Shakes
  • “Sorri, Sou Rei” by Natiruts
  • “Middle” by DJ Snake
  • “Solo Dance” by Martin Jensen
  • “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac
  • “Don’t be so Hard on Yourself” by Jess Glyne

What’s the same about your life last year that you’re happy about? Still moving and shaking, I guess. I still have the same best friends (made some new ones).

What’s different about your life from last year? What surprised you about this last year or changed it for you? Well I hurt my foot during the Olympics really badly, but my work had cut off our insurance, so I didn’t go to the doctor for a long time. I ended up in a boot for a few months and couldn’t work out for a long time. I was used to walking or running 3-5 miles a day, so this really affected me in a lot of ways. I gained a lot of weight, I couldn’t walk or run or hike, and still can’t run comfortably.

cristo big jesus
my homie

I left a job for the first time in my life. I really stood up for Jesus for the first time in my life. I was in more leadership than I’d ever been but had to walk away. Last year was mountains and valleys, and I had walked into it thinking it would be this incredible revolution of spirit and mind on our campus. My belief in the mission has never wavered . . . it’s hard to write about this stuff because of different people I know could be reading it. I think that’s what has made my writing so stunted in the last seven months. I can’t be quite honest because I don’t want to hurt feelings, don’t want to get sued, don’t want to regret anything or leave anything out. I’ll just have to ghost write the Lifetime movie script and continue accepting invitations for happy hour to retell the dumpster fire that was this last year in Brasil.

IMG_2522When and what was your last vacation? I should say Virginia, because I went to visit my family, but the weather was so terrible that it was a very indoors week! I had a great time anyway – I was mostly going to be with the people I was with, so it didn’t matter. So I guess my last true vacation was Yosemite. Which is literally a wonder of the world. It makes me cry to enter the gates and it makes me cry to leave. Please marry and bury me there.

a moment

What are you proud of this year? Traveling alone again (Iguazu Falls). Doing things that I know are right and good. I think I was a supportive person to people at my last job. I’ve got an A average in my TESOL course. I’ve calmed down a little. I’ve reignited my political side and am just so excited to continue empowering women and girls in any way I can.

What’s your current favorite joke? 

How many kids with ADD does it take to change a lightbul- WANNA RIDE A BIKE?! (as a teacher….oh man)

What would you like as a gift right now? I’d like my dentist bills paid for. My teeth problems just don’t seem to end (I have a genetic enamel condition). And American flag cowboy boots. And roll on essential oils. I’ve just been craving some rosemary lately.

IMG_2788An important relationship at the moment? Probably with my mom and my dogs. We’ve all really fell in love all over again these last few weeks. And my grandma – I think it can be really hard to spend a month straight with anyone under any circumstance, and to do it on a boat, traveling in crazy conditions, with a thousand strangers, is an even bigger test. And we still like each other and do puzzles every week. This is a good thing.

And with my little brothers. It was awesome to reconnect with them this week. We can have such cool conversations now that they’re older. I just love it.

What are your goals for the next year? I want to keep getting educated – I actually enrolled in and am almost done with the TESOL course that was my goal last year! I want to enroll in a Master’s program, lose some of this depression weight, learn to love running, and keep telling jokes. More travels. More blogs. More live music.

No hurries, no worries.

(nearly) all the rest of the photos and thoughts about Patagonia/Antarctica

img_1829Imagine the most rickety roller coaster ever. Now give it some drugs and Froot Loops. Now take away all it’s sense of direction and safety and suspension and brakes. Now I want you to imagine that the ride lasts 2.5 hours each way. And now I want you to imagine that you are riding it with a bickering family of three from Mexico, who can’t decide if they’re going to speak English or Spanish. But they can decide they are familiar enough with you to announce “it’s a good thing we’re all so thick here in the backseat, otherwise we’d be sliding all over the place!” as his wide hips slam against your child-bearing ones for the umpteenth time.

img_1804And yes, you are seated in the back. Next to the son, who is holding on to his mom, who is screaming for every minute of the 4×4 ride you are taking “ay! papi! ay! dios mio! ay! ay no! ay!” in a manner that is somehow amusing and yet painful and yet mostly painful. Son, meanwhile, is saying “I got you, Mami! I got you in a tight grip!” every three or four minutes, while Papi in the front films the whole thing on one of three devices, yells “SHUT UP ALREADY!” or laughs and says “oh shit, lady! you really know how to drive! show those assholes how it’s done!”* to our driver, a petite Brit named Naomi who wore a beret and exchanged several over the shoulder eye rolls with me as we puttered along the backroads swamp to see the penguins we were all so anxious to see.

img_1575‘Welcome to the Falkland Islands,’ the sign said. Although it’s also referred to as the Stanley Islands or the Malvinas, as three countries have been fighting claim to her for some time. I meant to read more about it before we went, I did, but I didn’t. I asked Gma why countries as civilized as the UK were still fighting over small spits of land thousands of miles away in the 20-whatever centuries. “Men,” she said, flatly. “It’s always men.”

We finally arrived to the small beach and fell out of the cars, awestruck. Three colonies of penguins – gentoo, adelie, KING! spread out over the beaches and peat moss bogs. It was freezing and windy and pouring rain, but nothing like penguins, the silliest creatures God ever created, to strike 100 adults dumb. They are curious creatures, and will approach you and nudge you if you stand still long enough, which I tried. My animal selfie game went up leaps and bounds that day. I wandered down to the beach with them, watched as they argued over directions, watched as they explosively pooped all over each other (no elementary science textbook covers that tidbit, which was hilarious). I listened to their donkey-like braying and laughed and the teenagers – awkward and embarrassed in their mid-fur state.

img_1800Penguins are weird. We could see a lot just from our verandah – swimming away from the boat, waddling up the hills to tend to their young, perched on glaciers. The videos I have of them are hilarious and will be a week or so to come, but every time I get stressed about some element of this trip, carting my grandma all over God’s creation, I remember that I sat on the beach next to a penguin and talked to it about it’s day. I will have that for the rest of my life.

img_1807After the Falklands it was a straight sailing day to get to the mainland. Turns out I am not and will never be a sailor – the open water plays a massive mind game on me. Our captain announced it as “now we will have some adventures!” with the swells. I just looked out at the waves and felt them roll beneath me and literally had to stay in bed the entire time and watch ‘Downton Abbey’ to pretend I wasn’t scared to death. I alternate between wanting to stand on the forward bow and “I’m the King of the World!” it and worrying if my body will throw itself over the edge just for fun. This happens to me on car rides, tall buildings, etc. Is that stupid? I don’t know. But we room-serviced and Crawley family-ed it through a few sea days, finally landing in southern Argentina.

Puerto Madryn is a tourist stop. Nothing natural occurs here except some sea lion colonies. I was blessed to see a sea lion birth and then, I kid you not, watch seagulls fight over the placenta. I nearly vomited. Then we visited a sheep farm – these lands are where Merino wool comes from. We learned a lot about geology and sheep-farming, probably too much, watched a sheep-shearing demonstration and ate some snacks but mostly I fell in love with the adopted guanaco, Julie. I also found a cafe with fairly decent coffee and blessedly free wifi. Pretty sure I didn’t blink for the two hours I was there, just browsing instagram and finally seeing people’s Christmas and New Years pics!!! I hope everyone had a great time!!

i just really like this translation.

After Puerto Madryn, we had another perilous day at sea before Uruguay. This was spent in calmer waters, thank God, and I got to spend time with some of my friends on board. I think if I had to list highlights of the cruise, it would be the scenery, the wildlife, and then just talking to random people. I met an ex-Air Force turned car salesman from Scotland, a print shop owner from Holland (who offered me his basement to live in!), an ex-undercover FBI agent and his tech teacher wife from D.C., a professor of linguistics from Houston, a realtor from Camarillo, an administrator for the family business of commercial insulation from Newcastle, England, and retired physicists from Austria, just to name a few.

We played (terribly) at trivia together every night, danced to the pretend Motown hits, shared plates of Nachos in the afternoons and pretended the hot tub was hot enough to tempt us. It was so fun. I love people. People are great.

And sometimes I just hang out by myself. As a teacher, you kind of need that alone time to recharge, I think. To not answer any questions, to answer any asked exactly how you feel. To wander. To just be “Rachel.”

img_1571I’ve finished six books on this trip, and I’m pretty sure set the record for tea consumption and most consecutive games lost of solitaire. How much can one lose to one’s self? How many games until it’s really sad? Is this a metaphor for the greater picture of my life? It just makes me throw things, then laugh, then order more wine. Then I make my friends try and play a game with the same deck of cards so we can decide if it’s cursed or not. Or I make them learn how to play Arizona Golf with me. Now my diary has entries of games played from people all over the world and it makes me smile. Collect memories.

Uruguay, I’m sad to say, was a disappointment. We just had bad luck with our cruise excursion. So bad, the cruise actually refunded us for half the tour price. The only highlight was finding a decent restaurant with intermittent rounds of wifi so we could let our family know we were alive. I’m sad, too, because I don’t think I will have the time to let the country redeem itself before I leave South America for good in June.

playing with the new “fish eye” filter Gma got me for my camera!

We landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 9th and did a day trip out to las Pampas to a gaucho farm for a demonstration (read: this is now a tourist destination and not actually still run as a gaucho farm, but I immediately thought how cool it would be to marry the one in the red beret and have our wedding there) of how the gauchos controlled their horses, the games they played in the old days, a tour of the old clothes and chapel, a traditional Argentine asado and of course, tango and dancing. I was destined by being the youngest there lucky enough to be asked by the famous “besame mucho!” cowboy to dance with him in front of all 300 people. Gma got video. Yay.

And we left the ship yesterday. I’ve nearly accustomed myself to walking straight. I miss my friends terribly and am upset that so many old people still reject Facebook as a legitimate form of staying-in-touchness. Gma met someone who said an elderly German woman actually passed away while we were still at sea, but she didn’t know her name, and I’m desperate to make sure it weren’t someone I know, but have no way to check on that. I hate it.

But we’re in Buenos Aires – indulging in Malbec and steakhouses, balconies and potted plants and cobblestone, tango and late nights. And here I sit in a bar called “Camping” where the servers are dressed like sexy boy scouts. Can’t decide how inappropriate I feel. There is cigarette smoke everywhere and I literally just kicked – made contact! – a pigeon who wanted a piece of the caesar salad I’ve been steadily plowing through in an effort to get as much Caesar and Ranch dressing in before returning to Brazil, where we don’t have such luxuries.

I’m still processing the reality of the cruise – I went to Antarctica, I saw penguins in their natural, I saw so many whales I couldn’t count them, I saw a sun that never set, glaciers and global warming and the end of the world and legitimately feared that we might just spin right off it after a closer look at a globe. I woke up and looked outside and felt the biting cold of an Antarctic summer on my face and saw shipwrecks, and spoke to sailors, and made friends from around the world, and held my hand out to albatrosses that floated on our slow, scenic crawl through glacier alleys and ice bergs and penguin colonies.

img_1574I celebrated Christmas off Chilean fjords, New Years Eve in Drakes passage (I think?) while singing Elton John harmonies at a piano bar.

What a lovely and surreal life I lead sometimes. God knows I don’t deserve it; I can only hope to represent it well.

Thank you to Grandma Jackie who has let me be her translator and tour guide and porter for these last three weeks, and I’m so excited to take you home to Brazil for the next few days to meet the friends and places that have made it the wonder it is to me!

If you haven’t heard it today and you need to, as wondrous as penguins are to me, you are to me and to the one who made you. Waddle on as you may. You make life good.

*I apologize to my gentle readers, but I am an honest quotationer.

**I haven’t even uploaded my nice camera photos yet, that will come in a week or so, so . . . look forward to a lot of pics of water in different forms then. and penguins. PENGUINS!!!!

*&&!@#!@(#*!)@(#* = for those who want to know, we went on Holland America cruise, the 21 day trip from Valparaiso, Chile to Buenos Aires, Chile. I have a lot to say about all of it, that doesn’t seem appropriate here, but if you want to talk, use the “contact me” part of this blog, please.

Gringa Diaries – Paraguay: 1, Rachel: 0

Tevas and wine and a balcony. hashtag blessed.
Tevas and wine and a balcony. hashtag blessed.

After the late night silently waging social justice via facebook, I woke Friday morning to a slightly drizzly day, a fractured foot that barely worked, and no ambitions beyond the breakfast buffet. The infamous couple failed to show at breakfast, so I pocketed a few croissants and spent some lazy time on my balcony, contemplating my next move. Part of the impetus for this trip was to just spend some time alone, doing a good soul search, a solid recharge before heading back to work and whatever else was coming my way. I love the high of adventure, the risk of solo travel, the adrenaline rush of spontaneity, but I’m also getting to the point where I just want to go somewhere no one knows me so I can relax and not answer any questions. This might also have something to do with teaching. [Note to anyone who dates a teacher – I just want you to tell me what we’re doing and where we’re going. At the end of the day I am so freaking tired of making decisions and repeating myself and differentiating all the lives around me. I want my biggest decision to be red or white.]

there! you see? all three countries all at once.
there! you see? all three countries all at once.

But a few hours of this found me hungry again and feeling guilty for not exploring more. So I got dressed [this is a stretch – I put on Tevas and deodorant] and went in search of a cab to take me to the place where all three countries meet, called El Hito. A very tall, very thin man named Sergio picked me up in his cab and we started driving. Anxious to reclaim Spanish fluency, I threw myself into conversation with him, however his mother is Brazilian, so he kind of enabled my Portuñolish mess of language, but we became fast friends by the time we reached El Hito. Oddly, there were no red dotted lines marking between the waters like I always see on maps, so. This could have all been a big scam.

i like this.
i like this.

Out of curiosity, eager for another passport stamp, I asked him what it would take to go into Paraguay for a hot minute. He calculated driving time and border patrol and after some peso to dollar configuration (actually a dangerous practice, as I get paid in reias, which is about 3.5:1 to the dollar, but helps me feel better about spending money on vacation in a completely false kind of way), he named a time and a price and I said “okay so you wanna go?” He laughed the first of many laughs at my expense and we headed for the border.

Well, turns out my visa is expired. So. Things got a little dicey. BUT it ALSO turns out that I am very charming and a very skilled liar when called upon, so I got myself into Brazil on a wink and a smile and fingers crossed behind my back, and we drove on.

all i got to sneak of paraguay . . . armed guards don't like photos, turns out.
all i got to sneak of paraguay . . . armed guards don’t like photos, turns out. “bridge of friendship” my foot.

As I’ve said before, despite my cynical worldliness, something about traveling makes me believe the best in the people around me, and spill my guts out, and I also think seeing a woman travel by herself makes people want to ask a lot of questions. We covered everything from my childhood to my most recent break up to the USA elections in a combination of languages and gestures and giggles until we came close to the Brazil-Paraguay border. The traffic was so bad that he led us away to a parking lot, where we got out and then walked over the bridge of friendship to the government office.

Here in all my tourist glow, recently reacquired fluency, and joy of a new friendship, I approached the immigration and customs desk like it was all going my way. And was promptly corrected.

Turns out that if you just want to drive into Paraguay and go shopping for some seriously cheap goods (due to lack of import tax) you can do that. You don’t even get out of your car (or tourist bus) or sign a form or anything. If, however, you have the sentimental notion for a passport stamp, you must pay $100USD for a visa. To which I quickly said “ahhhh NOPE” and then was just as quickly escorted off Paraguayan property and back to Brazil by a very handsome but very serious militia man who declined a selfie.

And so Sergio and I trudged back to the car. “All this for a stamp, Raquel,” he lamented, shaking his head and guiding me past the homeless and hawkers. “But you’ll never forget me! And what a story we will have” I promised. We waded through sidewalks packed with turnstiles displaying baby clothes, cell phone cases, hair dye, fabric and all the other things that only a South American market will place all together until we reached his car.

Defeat permeated the drive back towards the Brazilian border, and I managed just enough charm to get stamped back in.

WoW, indeed.
WoW, indeed.

And then suddenly, Sergio was dropping me off somewhere I hadn’t planned on. I stuttered at the park entrance, claiming I had done enough for the day, that I just wanted to go back to the hotel, but he told me “it’s a wonder of the world, when will it ever see you again?” and nearly shoved me out.

I spent the next several hours wandering the Brazilian side of the waterfalls at Iguaçu. I hadn’t felt any desire to hike more or see more water after the previous day at the park, but his words rang in my head as he dropped me off. Oddly, as much as I had been enjoying Spanish, and even though it had only been a few days, there was an immediate sense of comfort in speaking Portuguese again, in understanding the currency, and in the comforting ring of my data plan kicking in and my cell phone with facebook notifications.

14563305_10104965885921637_3800785373068705277_nThe Argentina side has more a sense of adventure to it – I hiked for seven hours and could have done more, and felt up close and personal with the waterfalls. The wildlife was more present, the trees everywhere silenced the humans around me and I was able to feel close to nature in a way I don’t get to feel often in Brazil. The Brazilian side was a well-organized tourist operation, but had points of beauty and great photo ops. The panoramic view of the falls was lovely, and I spent an hour drinking chopp and eating açaí and fending off coatis while looking over Devil’s Throat, which was lovely.

I think God knew I needed a weekend away in the woods and the water and the wonder. There are things bigger and better and more beautiful ahead.

Sergio picked me up, as promised, and helped me walk back to the car through the haze of my emotions and thoughts. On the way home, he asked again about me traveling alone, had I dated a Brazilian, why wasn’t I married? And I always love this about guys in South America, whether they really mean it or not, but given enough time with you, they will nearly always propose marriage. They will tell you that you are beautiful, smart, charming, that you deserve the world. I tried, unconvincingly perhaps, because he was so earnest and adorable, to tell him that I was perfectly happy on my own. “But everyone was meant to be loved, Rachel,” he argued. “And I know that you want to be loved. To be married and have a family.”

why are waterfalls so romantic? I saw SO many people making out. ps does this remind anyone of a movie I probably shouldn't have been watching when I was like six years old?
why are waterfalls so romantic? I saw SO many people making out. ps does this remind anyone of a movie I probably shouldn’t have been watching when I was like six years old?

At that point I told him he was an old woman and sounded too much like my mother. But I agreed to let him take me to the airport the next day.

That night I wandered to the huge outdoor warm tub (it was certainly not hot) and floated among the many bugs until I heard some accented English. Then I got to meet and help a pair of cousins from Texas with zero Spanish but a lot of manners between them order some poolside house white wine. One was a traveling nurse stationed in Oahu, one worked in insurance in Dallas, and they were trekking through South America on an arranged tour. And in the way one so often does while traveling, we each quickly spilled our hearts and life stories out under that growing storm until the lightning forced us to retreat. I never even learned their names.

look at where we were all casually standing, at the mouth of hell. humans are crazy.
look at where we were all casually standing, at the mouth of hell. humans are crazy.

The next day saw another lazy start – a massage, a last visit to the warm tub, a few hours on the balcony listening to the rain. A long twenty minutes in the cab with Sergio waiting out the tension of attraction, then not even hugging goodbye at the airport and regretting it terribly. The power cut out a whopping six times as I stood at the desk trying to check in, freaking out the entire time. Many hours and anxiously checked tears later, I coaxed my way through Brazilian immigration, into the waiting car, and back home. How wild is it to call an apartment in a foreign country, full of things that nearly work, littered with knick knacks I never chose and insects I don’t agree with  – ‘home.’ But at 2am I was desperate for it.

I’m back at work, faking it til I make it, trying to look for the good in each moment enough to return the next day. I’m in a season of doubt and disillusion. But just when I feel overwhelmed with it all, there’s another student hugging my waist and telling me I smell like cookies, or asking for another joke. And I keep pulling out keychains and stickers and receipts I’d idly stuffed into my backpack that remind me of the trip that now seems much longer ago than just a week – vacations trick you like that. Chip crumbs lining the pockets of my purse smell like a nice day in a park full of rainbows and wonder, and make me happy. I feel the peaceful moments in my mind – feel the spray of water, hear its powerful roar, see the prisms of colorful light and I’m okay.

If you haven’t heard it yet and you need you – coatis are JERKS and will steal the chips right out yo hands. But I will swat them away. Carefully. Because rabies.

Gringa Diaries: Dinner with the Devils

14642308_10104965933551187_2686851889827709812_nAfter a long day of hiking, which of course I had not brought sunscreen, bug spray, a map or water for, but managed to snap several hundred photos of the same waterfall that no one will ever look at but me, I was ready for nothing more than a relaxing evening in my hotel. I got a screaming deal on this thing because it had just opened and they were looking for guests to come and stay. So I scored a nice balcony overlooking the pool I never got to use (but the huge ‘hot’ tub filled with bugs where I made instant best friends with cousins from Hawaii on a soul-searching adventure. God bless traveling.) AND a king-sized bed. Despite graduating up to a Queen sized bed this year, I still sleep like I’m on a twin in college dorms. But it’s nice to have a huge space to throw all your clothes on and lose your sunglasses.

The dollar goes far in Argentina, especially when you find a guy going “cambio cambio” and get a better exchange deal. So I did not hesitate to indulge. After a long shower and some mini-bar treats, I pulled on some leggings, already sore from the hiking, and slipped on my Birkenstocks. Now, I know leggings are, for some silly reason, something people feel compelled to discuss as if you have any right to decide what I think is appropriate to wear in public. But for the record, my bum was covered by a cardigan, and my leggings were thick Target brand heather grey, all the better to not tempt you with (I know I’m packing back there).

iguazy falls.

I moseyed down to the hotel restaurant and plopped into a booth, next to a table that held two older Americans. Anxious to recover my fluency, I was speaking Spanish as much as I could on the trip, and ordered in Spanish and then set back to my version of Heaven on earth – red wine, my journal, a brand new sparkly gel pen, and my cellphone. I had my ipod with me, too, and nearly loaded it up. But I am so glad I didn’t. Because what happened next will shock you. (That was my attempt at clickbait, but like, you’re already here. you’ve clicked.)

My initial facebook status update from that night says this:

Today just won’t quit. Currently at dinner, sitting next to an older American couple who does not realize I speak English (I ordered in Spanish). They went to a wedding and are discussing Vickis cheating husband who was flirting with the young girls, the money hungry bride, the too-sparkly-for-her-taste dress, their friends timeshares, how he’s getting a little chubby for that suit. Then they started talking a little smack about Argentina and her people and her food. THEN they started talking about me! Why am I alone, what am I eating, where am I from. Discussing my leggings and Birkenstocks and how inappropriate they are for dinner (we are in our own hotel!).
Trying to decide when to drop the English…..

And I kind of thought it would end there with a few of the facebook options for emotions popping up and a comment or two. But no, suddenly quite a few people were interesting in joining my journey, and I began live faceing the night. Or whatever the correct term is. You can read the full post of nonsense here.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-38-11-pmWhat I loved about it was that people from all different times and places of my life came out of the woodwork to offer support or suggestions. People said they were delaying dinner, keeping the kids up past their bedtime, waiting for the next move like Beyonce was about to drop a new single. Meanwhile I was doing my best to stifle giggles, which only became more and more difficult after each glass of wine I ordered to give reason for staying at the table well past my meal (which they judged). Despite multiple requests, I just couldn’t be a person who would post photos of a holes on the internet and embarrass them. They deserved it, absolutely, but . . . .I don’t know. I’m not in charge of justice. Thank God. They’ll meet it when one of their perfect children marries a patriarchy smashing, multi-ethnic, bleeding heart liberal like me who refers to her family as a ‘tribe’ and raises all their grandchildren barefoot with names like “Courage” and “Fleetwood” and “Doorknob” or whatever phase I’m in at the time. (I do really like doors.)

In the end, through their wine-fueled haze of lust, I know they heard me drop the Spanish and order another glass of wine in perfect English as they left their table. And when I woke up the next morning with that same full glass of wine on my nightstand, I had a good long laugh going back and rereading the entire post. You guys are good people.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-37-21-pm

I dressed for justice the next morning, hoping to meet them at breakfast, but they were on a long old people day at the Falls. I saw their group in the lobby later, too exhausted to be rude.

The whole thing felt quite surreal. We were in a Wonder of the World, and yet they assumed no one around them could speak English? Felt they could pass judgment on a woman eating dinner by herself? They felt compelled to trash all their friends whose wedding they had just been to, the country they were in, its food, people, nature, weather?

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-36-55-pmI just hope that my conversations never sound like to an outsider. Surely there are so many wonderful things and people and experiences in this world to talk about, I would never have to judge the lonely sad solo and brave girl next to me, dressed inappropriately traveling on a teacher’s salary to see something beautiful, spending all her time on her phone, these damn kids! texting friends and family back home, her sandals are on the bench! can you believe! full of blisters and sore muscles and elevating a fractured foot, but paying the same amount of hard-earned cash as you to eat a nice meal on vacation.

selfies with a real camera are harder than i thought but...dis me.
selfies with a real camera are harder than i thought but…dis me.

She just happens to speak three languages and can understand every ignorant word you say, and is offended on many levels by your comments, and is sorely tempted to tell you just how much . . . but instead she will just order another glass of wine, enjoy her chicken salad, and write this blog.

If you haven’t heard it today and you need to . . . be kind to one another. Learn from one another. Speak well of one another. Enjoy life.

Gringa DiariesÑ First of all, Mom, I{m fine.

Absolutely worth the wonder of the world name!

So like, a word of advice 0 if you are traveling alone, especially as a woman in a foreign country, and you need directions somewhere, 10 out of 10 don}t ask the cute guy at reception. 10 out of 10 don{t let him practice his English on you when he gives you the directions you{re too distracted to hear properly, let alone understand. Because what will happen is the actual distance you need to walk will get lost in translation, and you will end up wandering down a dirt road, slip in mud, fall, meander onto indigenous property, startle some horses (your worst nightmare!), and get a sunburn before you even get close to your destination.

At some point, on this endless dirt road, you will realize you have all your earthly possessions on you, that no one knows where you are or where you are going, you don’t have a phone, you’re muddy from the waist down, and you should probably just bite the bullet and get in a cab to your destination.

look at the baby monkey on the mama monkey's back! k lindo
look at the baby monkey on the mama monkey’s back! k lindo

Anyway, after enduring the emotional and mental weight of my careless and probably dangerous decisions made in the name of saving money, I stood at this bus stop for a full 20 minutes. And then, muddy, sweaty, wanting to live another day and clutching all my documents and money to my chest, I ran across the highway, stood in the sun, and finally hailed a cab. And God bless people. I was seriously praying ‘ God give me a grandpa in this taxi.” And I got one. He was the sweetest naturalist ever, basically giving me a tour for free on the way to the park.

{Note: I began this in Argentina, where the keyboard was wack. I am back in Brazil (small miracle) and continuing on an American keyboard, but keeping the errors, because they make me giggle.}

I have traveled alone a few times now, and I always rely on the kindness of strangers, particularly cabbies, to help me out. I am getting better at saying things like “Oh, my husband is back at the hotel for a meeting and will meet me there,” and you know, flexing my biceps under my dri-fit clothes so these guys know exactly what they are dealing with. And I don’t want to push my luck, but I have only ever had cabbies that display avuncular tendencies towards me, go out of their way to help, call me “luv” and tell me I’m too pretty to be single, offer themselves or their sons in marriage, etc. I just wanted to shout out to all the nice cabbies. Anyway, back to story.

eeee coatis!
eeee coatis!

So Grandpa opens the door for me, kisses me goodbye and good luck, and I go to buy my ticket to enter the Argentinian side of Iguaçu. It was adorable from the beginning – tons of touristy trap things if you want to fall for them, but mostly you just walk to a train and begin your journey. I love a good tiny train. First freaky thing – coatis. These are satan’s helpers. I saw them rob the old and young alike. Don’t let their cute faces fool you! They are super rude and can give you rabies with just a lick. One touched my leg and I said many bad words, several of which were unfortunately repeated by the small Argentinians around me. My bad.

Then I just followed the crowd through clouds of butterflies (everywhere!) onto metal bridges to walk cheerfully for about a mile towards something called “Devil’s Throat,” or “Satan’s Mouth Hole,” as I like to call it, because me.

Devil’s Throat

As I said in my previous post, although I have wanted to visit this place for a long time, I booked the trip in the heat of a desperate moment, so I had done little to no research. I didn’t even know what I was going to be looking at. I am a bit scared of bridges, and there were several birds (another completely unfounded fear) flying all around, so I was super distracted. But you hear Devil’s Mouth Piece before you see it – the mist flies up in the wind and the water is loud and rushing in your ears. Walking up you’re not quite sure what you’re about to see, but standing on the edge of a bridge looking down into nothing but crazy amounts of water moving at crazy speeds was breathtaking.

I started crying on the spot, and stood there for a long time, just thinking “wow. wowowowow.” I get pretty emotional over nature sometimes. Also sometimes my body freaks me out because I feel like it wants to fling itself over the edge into the abyss for kicks? Anyone else get those feelings? So I finally backed away from the edge and made the next train to continue the journey.

the waterfall alley down from Devil's Throat
the waterfall alley down from Devil’s Throat

I overheard a group of hostelers talking at the train and slyly became a part of their group. Dutch, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, and probably more, they’d just banded together and started walking. Through them I learned about some boat that would take you to an island in the middle of the waterfalls, and I scurried along after them. We made the last boat and hiked into Jurassic Park. A million rainbows, waterfalls everywhere, fish inexplicably living on top of this very tall island, huge iguanas, ginormous spider webs stretching in the mist and sunlight. It was incredible.

At this point I had hiked about six miles, after not being able to work out for three months because of my stress fracture on my foot. I was in a lot of pain, and ended up sitting on a rock and just watching the water and listening to the water. I have very little ambition beyond watching and listening to water. I ended up next to a Turkish guy I’d met the day before on a bus. He was meditating and an iguana was practically in his lap. And I got him to take one of the two non-selfies of me on this trip on the rock of thinking of life.

14657326_10104965883750987_8535606431423349772_nI also want to take this moment to apologize to all selfie-stick users I have ever teased. I TRIED to use mine and I couldn’t get the hang of it! It is harder than it looks. I abandoned it, but then pics are just my face and a blurry water background. Oh well. Perils of solo travel. I know I was there. On that note – please always offer to take pics of people you see traveling alone. It’s so hard to ask for some reason.

I ended the day buying postcards I will probably never send, and useless knick knacks, a Quilmes, and watching monkeys and coatis fight over scraps. They are shameless at these parks and it just smelled like rabies. I took a few daring photos and then skedaddled back to the hotel.

After the best shower of my LIFE I posted up in the hotel restaurant, ready for some Malbec, some steak, and some quality time with the internet. I nearly brought my ipod to listen to, but I am so glad I did not. Because yes, this was the infamous racist relatives at Thanksgiving night.


But I will leave that story for tomorrow. For now, if you need to hear it and you haven’t, I do like to travel alone, but I would let you come with me and pay for things if you wanted.

Gringa DiariesÑ There will be errors in this.

i am here!

I am somewhere in a jungle in Argentina, at the intersection of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, where a magical spot called Iguazu Falls (spelling based on home country) exists. It is one of the wonders of the world. And in a fit of rage about life about two.5 weeks ago, I booked a trip with points to here. By me lonesome.

Most of my expat acquaintance in Rio has already been here to collect their visas, so I had to come sozinha. No bother, I reminded myself. I{ve done Ireland and Colombia and bits of Chile and Spain and England alone. I like it, I think. So I threw a credit card at everything I was feeling, and here I am. Piece of cake! Totally.

Well, it wasn{t quite that easy. As you can imagine, knowing me. Being an even year, the Giants were torturing us through the playoffs, threatening another World Series, and had a game last night that obviously I had to stay up and watch. So I finally starting packing at about 2am. I{m also not exactly known for my packing powers, despite how much I have traveled. Each time I try to go somewhere I end up cleaning the entire house first, doing my taxes in advance, and working on conversational Russian before I even decide which duffel bag will be abused.

Then I realized in the morning that I had never gotten my replacement ATM card, and had no way to get out any money. Hmm. Then I get to the airport, breeze through check’in, am pleasantly surprised at the lack of line at customs, and start thinking about how great life is, and HERE it all really starts.

If you don{t know me well, let me tell you that before this, I{ve been on a flight with an exploding engine_ or the other time it took me four days to go somewhere that takes hours_ or emergency landing for medical reasons three times_ or when TSA took my carryon_so. here is the latest disasterÑ

Computers in Passport control shut down. Twice.

I get sent somewhere else. He asks me, all friendly like, about my life here, rifling through my passport. He stops and asks for more ID. More ID. And then anything else I might have.

Turns out my work visa has expired. TWO DAYS AGO. And my residency has also expired.

I could see the money figures in my head of what I paid for this trip in a spontaneous moment, a moment of fury and {I deserve this[. I felt God{s punishment. I was already back at square one ‘ how do I get home now, what do I do to get a refund, etc. But the man very kindly looked at my hysterical tears and made some phone calls and stamped my passport so I could leave Brazil. Whether I can return or not remains to be seen. At this point I do not care and just want to feel free for a few days.

Two bumpy flights (and i didn{t cry even when I wanted to! hashtag growing) and a cab and a bus ride and a lost hotel reservation later . . . I am here! In a jungle, with a huge room and balcony to myself, and a TV! Luxury. And a three day forecast of terrible storms. all lower case yay.

my room is down this hall and honestly i am offended at being called the odd hall.

It used to terrify me, but I{ve learned to like being alone and I was ready to be alone for awhile when I booked this trip. As the hour drew nearer, I regretted my solitude by choice. God, in his sense of humor, saw fit to put three students on my first flight, so I was no longer [aloneÑ. But then He apologized for his sense of humor and gave me a row to myself so I could put in my mouthguard and nap without shame.

Anyway. Alone I am. It was 6Ñ30 by the time I reached the hotel, and I hadn{t eaten all day. So now I sit in the hotel restaurant-bar, eating all the steak and drinking all the Malbec, because when in Rome. And even though I left my laptop in Rio by choice to have an unplugged weekend, I find myself in sweats amonst the suits, in the business center at the hotel, blogging about nothing to I am not sure who.

Matchbox 20, Dave Matthews, Nathalie Merchant, and Semisonic have made plays on the hotel speakers, but it is mostly an unhealthy dose of Michael Buble. At this point I would punch him on sight.

feeling like a G on this currency! oh, and look, women and things besides men on the bills and no one died. hmm.

I can hear some English being spoken a few tables away and I am tempted to reveal myself as a fellow English’speaker and make some friends. But even as I question the prudence of a solo trip when my head and heart are in such turmoil, I am in fact enjoying the challenge of being alone. The quiet. The fluidity of speaking Spanish or Portuguese or English to suit my needs and fly under the radar as much as I want.

I{ve pulled out my ipod and Eddie Vedder is telling me there will be Better Days and I can believe it. I just want one good day at the Falls, with a million rainbows of God{s promises, and finally a reason to use my selfie stick, and another story to tell. So stay tuned.

hot dog spirit
here is me as a mama hotdog with her hotdog baby to cheer you up.

The world is hard. But we are here. So if you haven{t heard it today and you need to, you{ve been so kind and generous to read this.

traveling stuffs

I like this pic of me. Adventure, animal, travel, and I miss that scarf.
I like this pic of me. Adventure, animal, travel, and I miss that scarf.

I love me a good travel. I’ve done tours, backpacking, solo trips, road trips, chicken buses, well-planned and no plans. To date, I’ve been to 29 countries, mostly Central and South America and Europe. And I’ve been to 31 states. I’m from California, have lived in North Carolina, Washington, and Brazil, and am moving to Hong Kong in July 2017.

My last trip was Chile/Argentina/Faulkland Islands/Uruguay on an Antarctic cruise. PENGUINS!

My next trip is Idaho!

I’m by no means a professional traveler or professional blogger. My travel stories tend to run on the “check out this totally crazy thing that happened and here are the pics.” I hate when people are snobby about traveling, or post a bunch of “Date a Girl who Travels” or “You Should Totally Travel” without recognizing that most people don’t get to travel because they can’t afford it, or are married and have kids.

To be honest, I can’t afford it. Some of these stories are mission trips that people sponsored on. For Central America, I sold everything I owned to go. For Brazil, I sold my car. And I always live pretty cheaply in anticipation of traveling.

When in doubt, be someone people want to be around. Like Sasquatch.
When in doubt, be someone people want to be around. Like Sasquatch.


  • me describing the cute outfits i wore somewhere. i’m lucky if they’re clean.
  • me figuring out cool travel hacks. my bar for success is just surviving.
  • me doing a yoga pose during a sunset somewhere. beer bellies make most poses very uncomfortable.


  • that I am able to find a karaoke bar in any country ever.
  • that I am able to find cookies in any country ever.
  • several stories that explain why my mom often refuses to read my blog.
  • a stupid amount of selfies with silly things.
  • stories of friends from around the world.
  • animals.
  • nature. nature’s my favorite.

Please let me know if there is anything you would like to see, or like to know! Until I figure out something better, the blogs are organized by country or concept:

time capsule: thirty-one

11110805_10206701029589572_3096785007904597635_ntime for another round of “the last year of your life.” For a good time, check out last year’s thoughts on turning thirty and the year of 29.

Seeing growth in yourself is important. And makes you laugh. I highly recommend. In fact, if you even want to comment with your answers to some of these questions, and then check in with me in a year, I would love it.

Alright. Here we go. SONY DSC

Where are you living? Almost on the beach. Almost heaven. I share an apartment. We’re three fabulous single ladies in our thirties who spend a lot of time on the sand, on the internet, and looking too good for this world. I have my own bathroom for the first time in my life. I’ve downsized and got rid of a lot of stuff, which I love. Many things have changed but I’ve worn the same mouthguard at night for 16 years, bro. I’m into commitment.

What shoes are you wearing? I know a lot about the importance of proper footwear. There are dips and gravel and holes everywhere, we don’t have cars, we slog all over town. I’m either barefoot at the beach or in sensible, but what I like to think of as “old lady sexy” flats.

What did you last eat? This is kind of embarrassing. Brazilian food is unique. Like 100% I love it. But it’s not spicy, which I miss. So a frequent snack I have is crackers with lite cream cheese doused in rooster sauce. That was my dinner tonight. I also just bought some Cheetos at the gas station, because it’s my birthday eve.

i told him he could write whatever he wanted, as long as he used the verb
i told him he could write whatever he wanted, as long as he used the verb “to be” and it was in english. i am, how do you say? HELLA SPEECHLESS.

Where do you work? I’m the English Language Developer at a Christian International School with American curriculum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (fancy, no?) I teach 18 students, helping them with English. I’m liberal with stickers and hugs. Most of the kids know what a “unibrow” is so . . . I’m effective.

Where have you traveled this last year?  Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia.

When did you last cry? About an hour ago at prayer group I lost it. I always get weepy around my bday, and I’m also in a tremendous amount of physical pain these last few weeks. I have great people who will pray over me and understand when certain songs make me cry so hard I can barely speak. It was cathartic and healing. And now I’m hoping I don’t lose it on a student tomorrow when they wish me a totally friendly happy birthday!

What was the last movie you watched? The Rescuers Down Under. I’m starting a kids’ movie blog for adults.  

Favorite TV show of the moment? The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I can’t even begin to describe how much joy this show has given me. Also the 100, Orphan Black, and if it counts, Serial.

Favorite toy of the moment? My Kindle, which was a Christmas gift. Pretty excited about some sparkly bracelets and legit Port wine from Portugal Leana just got me!


When did you last laugh really hard? Probably at some point today when Tess and I made inappropriate comments about something. We tend to bring out the worst/most obnoxious in each other. Or when my first grader tried to convince me he had washed his hands with soap and then I pretended I would lick them and he finally confessed.

What book are you reading right now? The Source by James Michener. I’m obsessed.

What are you most looking forward to right now? Jesus Culture is coming in concert to Rio tomorrow night and I’m going with some great girlfriends. Also I know exactly what food I want to eat, and calories don’t count on your birthday.

What’s your favorite song right now? “You’ve Changed” by Sia. Can’t get over it. “Let it Go” by James Bay.

What’s the same about your life last year that you’re happy about? um. . . . . I’m still alive and make really good mix-tapes. barra hammock wine

What’s different about your life from last year? I moved to a different country. I’ve developed an incredible appreciation for certain things about the United States, as well as an incredible appreciation for things about Brazil. I’m learning a new language. I haven’t had a phone in 9 months. I have new friends. I spend more time on the beach. I don’t have a car. Or a tv. My life is simpler. I’m certainly happier than I was last year.

When and what was your last vacation? we actually had last week off…I did nothing. It was glorious. I read a lot, ate too much, worked out sometimes. Occupied the hammock. Listened to all of Serial.

What are you proud of this year? I moved back from living across the country only to move to another country. I am teaching a completely new subject, inventing the curriculum, teaching K-7th grade, being challenged as a teacher. I’m at intermediate Portuguese after six months of study. I’ve traveled a lot and even spent some days alone in Chile and Colombia, which were powerful for me. I’ve lost some weight. I’ve mellowed down. I’ve loved up.

What’s your current favorite joke? How long it’s been since I’ve shaved my legs. 10906038_10205914527527512_7706832182760158319_n

I don’t like my birthday. For someone who covets your attention and love all year long, I get strangely anti-social and want to be in sweatpants in a dark room away from happiness around my birthday. I think too hard about things. I feel too hard about things that probably don’t matter. But I was reminded in prayer group tonight to celebrate me because it only reflects all the goodness that God and the people around me have provided. Even when there are days like today I’ve cried so hard I can barely speak and I’m not sure why, it’s still a good, good life, isn’t it? Here’s to many more. May you all continue to humor me through them.