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The End of the World and a Thing or Two About Cha(lle)nges

2012- the end of the world.  I think I believe that in part, but as a colleague of mine said recently, “2012 will be the end of the world (as we knooow iiiit) as we personally experience it.  It will be a shift in personal perspective, the end of one stage and the beginning of another.”

Since 2012 started I’ve had the profound feeling that it was going to be a year of change. Well, was I right or was I right:  change has been all around me.  And I’ve witnessed that my life isn’t the only one being affected by this theme- friends and family alike have been bombarded by change (buying houses, moving, moving abroad, getting married, babies, changing jobs, new romances, etc).

A thing or two about changes in my opinion: they’re humbling, surprising, enlightening, exciting, invigorating, challenging at times, easy other times, reflection-inducing, and some of the times will catch you off guard so fast you won’t know what hit you.

So, here is a list of the changes (some of them challenges) that have come my way since 2012 started (most have occurred in the past 2-3 months!):

1) I received my British passport! Tea or scones, anyone? I feel like Jason Bourne with my multiple (well, 2) passports.

2)  JIPAR- mi amor and partner in crime. In order to be with my favorite person on earth, who is from Spain, we’ve had to figure out on which continent we wanted to be.  It was easier this time for me to go there, so…

3) …I applied to and was accepted into a program for Visiting Teachers in Valencia, Spain that was set to start in September.  My acceptance of this position led to…

4) …leaving my wonderful teaching job in NC, packing up my life, JIPAR packing up his life, and me moving to Spain in June to start my Masters program and then start preparing for the move together to Valencia in August. Unfortunately…

5) ..I had to check the “unemployed” box for the first time in my life since after the budget cuts Spain’s government performed mid-July, I found out there would be no job in Valencia because they had decided to cancel the program and reallocate the money for better usage.  Thus JIPAR and I began to scramble to create a Plan B…. (skip to number 10 if you want to find out what we came up with!).

6) Finished my coursework for my Masters in Granada… WOOHOO!

7) New look: I cut off ALL of my hair (and left it in Sevilla).

8) Am soon going to be a sister-in-law!!!  Congratulations to my lovely sister and her fiancé!

9) My car just turned 200,000 miles. 🙂

10) And the last change… drumroll pleeeease: JIPAR and I are moving to Nicaragua in November to work at Buena Vista Surf Club, a little eco-hotel in San Juan del Sur. We’ll be there until May cooking and helping manage the place and will try our hand at teaching surf lessons (JIPAR) and leading yoga classes (me).

SHEW! It’s been a CRAZY summer trying to figure out a next step for our lives, but I know in my heart and my bones that whatever is next and this next phase of life is going to be as beautiful (and even moreso!) as all of the plans we had made and were changed.  Just as my sister said: I’m so lucky to have been given a situation of despair and desperation (suddenly unemployed in a foreign country with no immediate family around and no plan B or even C) to one with multiple choices. The universe is always at work 🙂

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

Here’s to risks, letting go, changing, and blossoming!


Letters to the World: Spain Edition

So if you haven’t noticed, I took a bit of a hiatus from writing about my adventure in Spain this past summer.  It has taken a while to digest everything from my time there and get to a place where I want to write again (on top of the fact that I jumped straight back into my full time job and am training for a race!).  So, as the other things are a’cookin’ in this head of mine, here is a little “best of”- my Letters to the World, Spain Edition.

-Dear Gazpacho, I love your cool, tomato-ey thickness on a hot day, especially eaten on a terrace and accompanied by a crispy cold Cruzcampo beer.

-Dear Cruzcampo, I love that moment when someone gave me a glass of you, and after not having tasted your inconsistent flavor for so long, I could still tell that it was you.  I missed you and admire your chameleon- like attributes and resistance to stick to the norms.

– Dear Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Gelato,
It doesn’t matter if I don’t want sweets, I will always make an excuse to incorporate you into my day.

– Dear Barmen in Sevilla,
Thank you for letting me exercise my independence by allowing me to come up to the bar to order (whenever I want!) and for remembering what I choose, unlike the barmen in Granada who look at me strangely for not staying seated to order.  I like that you let me decide when I get served, like letting me take part in the whole dining experience apart from eating 🙂  [Ok, I know I’m going to get some opposition on this one, mainly from Cojones!]

-Dear Barmen in Granada,
I appreciate you, too! Mainly because you give me yummy treats free of charge (más o menos) when I order a drink.

– Dear Montes of Málaga,
I will never tire of traversing your wavy topography only to see the sea on the other side.  You are beautiful.

– Dear Doñana,
There are no words to describe your breathtaking beauty and the precious memories you hold in your sands.  You are my happy place.

– Dear Flamenco Dancer,
Thank you for awing me with your sharp yet graceful movements and your proud strength.  Wherever you are in your head, I want to go to there.

– Dear Flamenco guitarist on the terrace overlooking the Alhambra,
Your nostalgic tunes along with the delicious scent of the flowers, the babbling brook, and the vista of that lovely palace romanced my heart and made me fall in love.  However, I do not think I could stand that everyday- too much romance!  But you were just enough whenever you came round 🙂

– Dear Sun in Spain,
I love that you give more light to that country and the days last longer so as to enjoy completely all that land has to offer.

Many more letters could I write.  So many that I might have to do a follow up! Next edition will be Carolina Edition, though (of course!). Get ready!

Do you have any “letters to the world” you could write today? 


Swing yer partner, do-si-do!

Contra= Euphoria. Enough said. Ok, maybe not…
Every now and then my gals and I like to head over to Chantilly Hall in Charlotte for their Saturday night contra dance.  It is absolutely EUPHORIC!  I always laugh so hard that I get sick to my stomach, probably because of how ridiculous the whole thing is: dancing with middle-aged men, swinging around as fast as you can and staring, I mean, staring intently, into your partner’s eyes hoping so much that you don’t sick up on them… It’s pretty amazing!!  If you ever go, do your fellow contra dancers a favor and don’t drink alcoholic beverages beforehand 🙂  Here is a look at how it works:

**Special thanks to ContraMike1 on youtube- my videos wouldn’t upload!  And, for apparently getting some footage of my friends and I unawares-  Well played!**


Happyapples

It’s been a tradition now for about 4 years.  Once the air gets a crisp bite at night, the sun’s light has a different look as the days become shorter, and spider webs fill the pathways through the forest at my school (I literally look like a member of a LARP group as I walk through with stick in hand waving it around to combat any could-be sticky situations.  And that’s Live Action Role Playing for you folks who don’t know- see here), we head to the Carolina mountains to pick a peck (or bushel(s)!) of the freshest apples ever at Sky Top Orchard.

How tall this fall?? Did I grow at ALL?!! Notice my chagrin..

Walking through the orchard

My favorites are the jonagolds, and that’s what I filled my peck to the brim with this time round when I visited with dear Charlotte and my new pal Kara.  These are all around great apples, good for eating and baking- I plan to do both!  Maybe I’ll even post a little recipe in honor of my dear friend Julie’s blog, Willow Bird Baking. My favorite things about picking fresh fruit are the following:

1- climbing the trees
2- eating one, putting one in the basket, eating one, putting one in the basket
3- smelling the fresh air
4- did I mention eating them on the spot?
5- enjoying nature’s gifts without the middle man.
6- oh yeah, and eating the delicious, juicy fruit and having the sweet stickiness all over your hands.

My little peck of happyapples

If you have any good recipes, please send them my way!!


The Majestic Mulhacén

We were shivering from the cold, huddled together under one of the sleeping bags we had brought and looking down hundreds of feet at the rocky landscape from our little ledge at the peak of El Veleta. The sun was a slice of watermelon in the distance. As it crested over the mountains, it looked like someone was beaming a red laser at a spot just above the peaks. We were a already a bit tired, hungry, freezing, and only about a quarter of the way to our final destination…

El amanecer desde El Veleta

Flash back to a few weeks prior: dear José PAR (crazy man!) talked me into climbing up the two tallest peaks of Spain, El Veleta and the Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada right outside of Granada. I traveled to Spain with only a (large) backpack for the 2 months I was going to be there, and in the packing process I had not included provisions for hiking a mountain, much less for temperatures bordering freezing. I mean, it’s the middle of summer in southern Spain; why would I need anything other than shorts, sandals, swimsuits and dresses? ☺ Luckily, this sweet man packed me all the things I needed to not suffer too much, at least from the cold.

José and his crew, Biciaventura, left Brenes (a town north of Sevilla) at around midnight on Friday, swung by Granada at 2:30am to pick me up at an intersection, and onward we continued to a ski station. At 4am Saturday we were running (at least that’s how it seemed to me!) by moonlight up the face of a steep mountain to reach our destination for the sunrise. After 3 hours of grueling hiking, we finally made it!

And. It. Was. MAGICAL! Absolutely one of the most rewarding moments: watching the sunrise over snow-capped peaks in the middle of July in Spain after a long hike. That will be ingrained in my memory forever.

Huddling at the top of El Veleta

Mountain Sunrise

We “rested” for a bit, then began the trek down to have breakfast and start the second leg of our excursion. This is where it got tricky- there were still snow patches hanging around on the ledges, and many times we had to walk on the slippery, melting snow that was covering the paths. It was a bit unnerving, I must say… Not to mention the fact that somewhere along the first part of the hike I had injured a little muscle at the top of my left leg which disabled me from lifting it past my right leg to climb… It became quite unbearable after a while, and although my mind was strong and determined, I could not make my leg function like I wanted it to. Frustration quickly set in, and I doubted whether I was going to be able to make it to our destination.

Nieve

I was so lucky to be in the company of such a friend as José, who was patient and supportive the whole way. We made it to the refugio where we rested only for a bit before the others were ready to hike the tallest beast, the Mulhacen. I wanted to go with all my heart, but wasn’t sure it was the best idea given the status of my leg. I decided to tag along and if it became too painful, to turn back. It can’t hurt to try, right?

José

The Biciaventura Gang

Well, on the way up, José had lots of little tricks up his sleeve to help me when the going got tough. We tried tying a rope around my waist and his, and him tugging me. We tried him pushing me. Me holding on to his backpack. But the best method was just using little hiking poles to support my weight. Oh the pain, though! But as I said, I was quite determined and did not want to give in.

And ohhh! Am I glad I didn’t! After about 1.5/2 hours of climbing, we finally reached the top of the Mulhacén. It was a breathtaking view! One of the most incredible feelings was standing on that peak considering how difficult it had been for me to get up there- it was an amazing accomplishment for me. The best part- one of my favorite signs- was the hundreds of butterflies fluttering around the peak, in and out of the crevices, riding the wind. I have no idea why there were so many butterflies there, but it was spectacular! Another amazing thing was doing this side by side with one of my favorite people in the world.

Peak of Mulhacen

We did it!

We went back down the Mulhacén, having conquered the monstrous mountain, ate lunch and took a mega-nap. After 10 hours of hiking we deserved it! Later, as I didn’t want to have a lot of soreness in my muscles, I walked down to a little lagoon/pond that was the most beautiful blue, still water. The melting snow creates them in the summer. I knew it was going to be cold, but again, I was determined to gut through it and try to recuperate my muscles. I waded in a few times, and the last time, some Guardia Civil (the national police of Spain) were walking by and yelled at me (!!). They said I was going to ruin the aquatic environment with my humanness! HA! I understand that we track things that are foreign to those environments, but geez.. you don’t have to be a jerk about it.

El refugio con el Mulhacén en el fondo

The rest of the day was spent just hanging around and resting. Oh, and doing yoga at the foot of the tallest mountain with yours truly as the leader of the Biciaventura crew!

Bakasana en la Sierra Nevada

After spending the night in the refugio with about 15 other people, among them a snorer and a cell phone alarm that went off every 5 minutes around 5:00am, we packed up our things and started the trek back to the car, feeling proud and at peace in such company as the majestic Sierra Nevada of southern Spain, and feeling closer to each other. I love experiences that bring people together, and even more so when they include nature 🙂

Mediterranean in the background


Cuentos granadinos (Stories from Granada)

The taxi pulled up to the sidewalk and the door opened automatically. I slid in, somewhat astonished about the advanced technology of the automobile considering that here in Spain my experience has proved that traditional methods override progressive methods more often than not. I was in a great mood because I was going to meet up with one of my favorite people, Sarah (or Sarita as we have dubbed her), whom I met while studying abroad in Santander, Spain in 2005 and who ironically was passing through Granada with a group of students from her school. Because of my innate curiosity augmented by good mood, I began to chat it up with the taxi driver. He was a nice, old fellow with a fatherly-like disposition and a friendly smile. I’m not sure how many of these “cuentos”, or stories, will cross my path, but I want to try and write them down to share with others because I find them so fascinating. I’m going to add some flourish to mine, but this is what was, in short, related to me in that taxi ride through the heights of the Albayzin at sunset.

“Did you know that Granada was the first city to have ice cream? And freezers, too? Yes, indeed. Long ago, when the Muslim empire extended to the Iberian Peninsula, and the appreciation for knowledge, functionality, and beauty was equal, the inhabitants of this city searched for ways to keep cool during the hot summer months. Towering above the city was the Sierra Nevada, whose high peaks promised a refreshing treat year round: snow. By night, a caravan would be prepared with mules and sacks and the men would haul up their animals to the top. A trail is still there to this day, the same one used to traverse the mountain up and down. They would pack the sacks with the snow and make their way down the mountain to the city. Risky it was to travel by day as the sun, Lorenzo, would surely melt this precious commodity. 

“Upon arriving to Granada, the mules would be unloaded of their cargo and the snow would be used for ice cream and preservation. The story goes that when ambassadors from other lands in Europe, which at that time were living in the darkness of the Middle Ages, would come to Andalucía, they would receive a cold treat to help combat the hot summer temperatures. This astounded the ambassadors that, during such a time when nothing was being created and enlightenment was scarce, something so simple yet so rich could be found in the kingdoms in the South.”

I don’t know the rest of the story about ice cream, or gelato. Maybe it really originated in Italy. Or maybe before. I do know that in Andalucía, much emphasis was placed on the pleasure of all senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, and touch. Thus so many decadent gardens exist inside the houses- to appease to sight, smell, and hearing. The flavors of the ice cream probably only helped to enhance the experience, along with the texture of something cool and refreshing on a hot summer day. 


Sea to Mountains

My mega road trip around Andalucía came to a brief pause last Sunday when I arrived in Granada. This is where I’ll be setting up shop for the next month. I was finally able to unload my backpack and unroll my wrinkled clothes. In all honesty, it had become a bit cumbersome living out of a small bag for the last few weeks. But alas, as Manu told me: you need to work hard to get somewhere you really want to be. Since my flight to Spain was direct, I had a pretty easy arrival. But, in the big picture, it took me 3 weeks to get to my final destination! (ok that might be stretching it!)

La Alhambra

Granada is situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, home of the tallest peak on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mulhacen, and also the southernmost place in Spain where snow exists year round. You can go from skiing to the beach (not during the summer, but a lot of the year) in less than an hour! I love that- the varied landscape of this place.

Moto en la C/ Aljibe de Gato

Living in a city with mountains on the horizon is like waking up everyday to snow, or everyday being your birthday. It’s a never ceasing wonder. Not to mention the wondrous effects such as cool nights and mornings! I don’t even need the air conditioning I had been craving for the past few weeks for sleep!

El Albayzin

I love the sea and the mountains- I think there is something soothing about the ambience of both, like sweet balm for the soul. I had some great experiences at the seaside thus far, and have now arrived at the other extreme. Although I’m in a relatively large city with LOTS of fascinating, charming, bloody, and saddening history, I feel peace on all sides and the speed of life seems to flow with the antiquity of those beastly guards surrounding me here.

Typical shops in the Albayzin

Spice and Tea Table outside of La Catedral

In short, I like Granada. A lot. I think we’re going to be great comrades and im excited about the experiences and memories that will be made here. There is much exploring and discovering to be done!