Tuesday, July 26, 2016

As the Puerto Ricans Do: Viejo San Juan

Are y'all ready for an overload of PR pics and stories? I can't believe Jesus and I have been home for almost a month already - it seems like an appropriate time to reminisce a little. Our first stop is Old San Juan (aka Viejo San Juan). If you're planning a trip to Puerto Rico, plan to be in San Juan, and specifically in Viejo San Juan, the oldest settlement and historic area of the island. It's worth it to spend a day or two in that area (and I'm sure there's enough to eat/drink/do to keep you entertained for an entire vacation). Here's what Jesus and I (along with his wonderful cousins, who were our tour guides and hosts) had the most fun doing over the course of a day and night in the area.

Castillo San Cristobal & El Morro
These two forts, which protected Spanish-controlled Puerto Rico from both land and sea-based attacks, are both awesome to explore and interesting to learn about. We climbed up and down and all around at both sites, something we could never do if these forts were located in the States. The entrance fee is $5, good for both locations (as long as you visit each within a week of each other). I recommend exploring one, then taking free transit to the other.

Walking/Riding on the Streets of Viejo San Juan
Old San Juan is small enough that it's easy to take a self-guided walking tour. Another option is hopping on the free trolley that makes its rounds on the cobblestone streets. You can take in the sights and sounds of the city from the (relative) comfort of a bus.

Eat & Drink

I only have one actual restaurant recommendation, because the French toast at Caficultura was the bomb.
Good For: Feeding yourself before a long day of walking and exploring.
Ambiance: Friendly Brunch.
Notes: Get the French toast. Everything else was amazing too, but coconut French toast with pineapple marmalade? You don't see that every day.

For other meals, scope out the menus on restaurants as you walk by. Find something with mofongo or tostones, get yourself some seafood, and definitely treat yourself with ice cream from a street vendor. I suggest getting the coconut, but parcha (passion fruit) is also highly refreshing on a hot day. Most places have drinks as well, and there are some great bars serving specialty shots, craft beers, and Papa Jac.

This isn't an exhaustive list of things to do - and Old San Juan is just a tiny part of the enchantment that is Puerto Rico - but these activities will keep you busy until it's time for the rest of your adventure on the island. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sharp Objects & Dark Places

Before Gone Girl, there were two pretty creepy thrillers to make readers leery of small towns and their secrets. Sharp Objects tells the story of a reporter who travels back to her hometown to get the story on the recent murders of two young girls. Dark Places takes readers both back to the events leading up to the murder of Libby Day's mother and sisters, ostensibly at the hand of her brother, and to the present day, where Libby searches for the truth of that bloody night.

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Holy Sh*t. So messed up.

Recommended for: fans of mystery, thrill, and creepy family members.

Final thoughts: The story as a whole is dark, but several characters, conversations, and scenes weren't believable (or were too predictable), which took me out of the story.

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Love the Now/Then concept to get differing points of view on the same story.

Recommended for: fans of mystery, thrill, creepy family members, and conspiracy theorists.

Final thoughts: This one kept me guessing and reading late into the night, and the story as a whole was more fleshed out and developed than Sharp Objects.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Me: Would you say we are in one boat, rowing together, or in two boats, rowing in the same direction?
Jesus: Two boats. Definitely two.
Me: Why do you say that? I mean, I agree, but why do you think that?
Jesus: First of all, you're trying to have this conversation while I'm playing a video game.
Me: ...And second?
Jesus: Second what? What were we talking about?

When I first read this post, I was grateful for its honesty. No two relationships are the same and that's okay. I've struggled (in my current and past relationships) to be comfortable with that truth. In the past 4.5 years of dating Jesus, I've tried to both climb into his boat or pull him over to mine. I've also assumed we were in the same boat, which meant I was rowing on "my" side, thinking he was rowing on his, and instead, I was rowing myself in circles while he patiently waited for me to look up and notice what I was doing.

It's taken time and the experience that comes with time to realize that it's best if Jesus and I stay in our own boats, so we don't end up in the water. That's not to say we don't rock our respective boats, or find a third boat to hang out in for an afternoon, or any other iterations of this boat metaphor, but our default is individual boats, floating along the river of life together.
Or wading in the ocean, whatever this metaphor is.

Monday, July 18, 2016

As the Colby Dudes Do

What do you do when you find yourself in rural central Wisconsin? Well, if you're lucky enough to be there during any number of annual festivals, you make the most of it! The festival I'm talking about in particular is Colby Cheese Days. I haven't been in probably 8 or 9 years (I know I was under 21 the last time I was there), so I was excited to reminisce while also checking out all the things that had changed. Here are some of the highlights:

Food Stands: Here's the rundown on food - skip the stuff trucked in with the carnival rides and head straight for the local stands to support all the churches, youth groups, scouts, and other various clubs. You'll enjoy burgers, brats, fries, hot beefs, walking tacos, onion rings, smoothies, milkshakes, and, of course, cheese curds, those deep fried nuggets of golden happiness. And did I mention every food stand also gives out free cheese sticks? Take advantage - those sticks are the real deal and the crown jewel of this weekend.

The Bingo Tent: A dollar will get you three cards, and a little luck will get you a nice little check. I won twice over the weekend, for a grand total of $23.

The Beer Tent: Like I said, I was under 21 at my last Cheese Days, so this year I took advantage of being able to be in the Beer Tent...which isn't even a tent, but more of a pavilion. Whatever, there's beer and plenty of old friends.

The Fun Run for a Cause: It doesn't matter if you're a kid, a passionate marathoner, a weekend warrior, or just a few folks who want to support your community and the people in it, you can do a 5 or 10k. With water breaks and cheerleaders spread out over the course, there's plenty to keep you going. And remember, if the firefighters can do it in all their gear, you can do it in your casual walking shoes.

Book Sale: 1 bag. 4 dollars. Need I say more? (I will - Jesus just doubled his Animorphs collection and I now have a creepily worn in copy of Rosemary's Baby. Win. Win.)

Parade: Even at the end of the route, we got plenty of candy. We also got great views of horses, marching bands, cars, trucks, tractors, and various emergency service vehicles. Dancers danced, old people and little kids waved, and the Shriners performed their intricate scooter routine.

Music: The party was only starting once the parade ended. We enjoyed a 5th Quarter concert by the UW Marching Band, a show choir performance, and musical selections from a band visiting from Switzerland - all on the street right in the middle of the action.

Whew. If you survive all that, congratulations. You hit all the biggies in the carnival world!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

something to food about

something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefssomething to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by Ahmir Questlove Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Creativity comes in all shapes, sizes, and flavors in this gastronomical collection of interviews by Renaissance Man Questlove.

First thoughts: This book has lots of recurring themes, almost like riffs. Food and music are very similar.

Food thoughts: Will I ever eat food from any of the chefs or at any of the restaurants mentioned in this book? I'm gonna say no, and that was the drawback for me. At times all I could think was "ehhh...rich people." Luckily Questlove's narrative voice is choice, and I loved his footnotes. It felt like he was talking directly to me as a reader.

Favorite quotes:

"Food can be magic. Food is magic. And yet it's not. It comes from somewhere - and from someplace and someone. Always. Food tells a story. Usually a very personal one." -Anthony Bourdain, p9

"Food without eating is just sculpture." Questlove, p62

"At the end of the day, I hate saying this and I hate hearing this, but I also believe it: it's just food." -Michael Solomonov, p 64

"I've mad so many mistakes, but I'm always finding new ones to make." Daniel Patterson, p182

Recommended for: foodies, chefs, chefs-at-heart, artists, musicians, creators, jammers, human encyclopedias.

Final thoughts: Interesting people are interested people. Everyone Questlove interviews is interested in food, it's variations, the processes that go into making and serving it, etc. And Questlove himself is the most interested. He's a lucky (read: hardworking) guy - more power to him for having the time/talent/motivation to pursue this project.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of something to food about in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Searching for Everything

"...perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated." --Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love 
I came across the news of Elizabeth Gilbert's divorce the other day, and it gave me mixed feelings. First, what a world we live in where the marital status of celebrities major and minor are headlines, where the celebrities themselves feel compelled to share their take on this news, and where we common folk feel entitled to have our own opinions about someone else's personal life.

That craziness aside, I felt...okay. While I'm not happy that someone I look up to is going through an emotional time, I don't think I'm as sad (or mad or personally offended) as other readers of Eat, Pray, Love are. In fact, I can only hope that this is a positive and necessary change in Gilbert's life, one that couldn't have been easy, but will allow Gilbert to live her most genuine life. I guess for me, E,P,L was never about the relationship at the end. The adventure and message I got was to live wild and free, to make your own destiny, to seek both pleasure and divinity.

For these reasons, plus the fact that I didn't have a library book on deck when I finished my most recent read, I'm rereading E,P,L. It's my third time, but it'll be the first time the Love section might mean something to me. My first read, shortly before I studied abroad in Rome, focused on the Eat section and convinced me to go to Rome in the first place. I gave more attention to the Pray section in my second read, during my MercyWorks year, and it resonated with my own spiritual journey. At neither of those times was I in a physical or emotional space to think about Love, but now I am.

I'll read in the hopes of learning more about balancing pleasure and the divine, reminding myself why I chose the life experiences I did, and following all the ins and outs of my million gorgeous curiosities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I spent these past two days (plus last week) reorienting myself at work. Our headquarters is in a new space for the year, which means finding new work areas, adjusting to a different commute, and getting into a summer rhythm. We also welcomed three new Teaching Fellows with a few training overviews, a Q&A session, lunches, and (my favorite) an escape-the-room challenge.

It's been nice to take a step back from working in school to remind myself why I came to this program in the first place, and to introduce it to newcomers. I've enjoyed the change of pace and the more individualized work of summer projects to prepare for the fall. Personally, I get to edit and revise lesson plans and rubrics, all of which is right up my alley. (After a year of struggling to grasp what these educational materials are/mean, I am now well-versed in them and how to make them more user-friendly - especially for the non-teacher crowd.)

I didn't realize until I was in the middle of it, but I needed this shift in perspective and tasks. It's helped out my work life and my home life, since my purpose is more clear and I can truly relax when I'm off the clock, not wondering if what I did that day was enough.

This is my conscious reminder to take time to hit pause and refresh. To remember how I got to where I am. To keep on keeping on, in the direction of my wild and varied curiosities.