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Life is Beautiful

 

“Hello friends, this is the first post of the blog I never thought I would write…”

-Me, July 2015

Before composing this, I scrolled back through all 14 of my previous blog posts reading the summaries underneath them and allowing the memories to sift through my mind like the sand that surrounds me on this island. The line of text above was what caught my attention because not only was it the “first post of the blog I never thought I would write”, but it was also the first step into a life I never dreamed I would have. Even now, I sometimes stop to take stock of life and am shocked by where I am and what I have done in the past few years.

I’m currently living on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall islands, and this is the morning of day 5.  The last week has been packed with travel, emotions and general busyness, and I am going to attempt to spread it out and make sense of it all. The first of a sequence of four flights to Kwaj left on Tuesday, July 25th at 9:11 am. It was raining, and I was exhausted from staying up too late packing and getting everything in order. Many hours later, I landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, and after getting settled into my hotel, called my family to check in. I chatted with my Dad for awhile before getting ready to leave the hotel to get some dinner. Before I left, I saw that I had missed a call from my Dad which was odd considering that we had just talked. I called him back, and his first words were, “I’m about to ruin your stay in Hawaii.” Something about police. Something about an accident. Something about a life extinguished far too young. I sat desperately trying to wrap my mind around our conversation for the rest of the night. My mind chased itself in repetitive circles over how much I’m missing at home by being gone–the life events and milestones, the relationships, all of the good times and the hard times as well. I’m missing them all. The deafening question echoing through my hotel room was “Is it worth it?”.

At 4:45 am Hawaiian time, I dragged myself out of bed and to the airport to complete my journey to Kwaj feeling raw and emotional. I was reading the book Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on the plane which was just released as a movie this year. If you have never read the book, it’s about a girl with a severe immune deficiency disease who has been inside her house for 18 years with insanely detailed measures taken to keep her alive. In the book, she wrestles with how much of life she has missed, and if it has been worth it to have lived to 18 without experiencing anything that the world has to offer. It was resonating with me on such a deep level, and I was highlighting and bookmarking passages all over the place.

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The rainbow I saw from the window of the airplane before landing on Kwaj July 26th.

Suddenly, we were landing, and when I looked out the window, I saw Kwaj for the first time after hoping and planning for almost a year, and I felt a thousand emotions in an instant. I couldn’t stop smiling like a fool, and I simultaneously felt like crying and laughing hysterically because as you know, when you’re exhausted and feeling any sort of strong emotion, the line between laughing and crying almost completely disappears.

Three days of signing my name on every piece of paper presented to me, meeting innumerable kind people all friendly and helpful, and trying to process all of the things led me to yesterday. Yesterday, I went to church in the morning and then spent time in my room feeding my soul with silence, “me” time, and missed episodes of The Bachelorette. The same question that was echoing through my hotel room that night has been doggedly pursuing me ever since insisting upon an answer. Last night, I found it.

I was eating dinner and finishing Everything, Everything when it happened.  The quote that reverberates throughout the book is “Love is everything”, but I would like to add my interpretation of the main character’s experience and extend it to say “Living is everything”. Being alive isn’t the same as living. Living is being offered experiences and opportunities and accepting them joyfully instead of backing fearfully into a corner. It’s pushing yourself to discover who you are and all you’re capable of accomplishing. In my life at this moment, living means moving to new places and experiencing life through varied lenses and with different cultural perspectives. It means leaving home. It doesn’t mean that my family and friends aren’t precious to me or that I don’t think of them every day. It certainly means that I’m leaving bits of my heart in all of the places that I have lived, and I have to work hard to stay in touch with the people that I love. So, yes, it is worth it. Life is beautiful and tragic but mostly beautiful, and it is meant to be lived and experienced. 

I think my cousin, Ethan, understood that. He moved away from home and pursued the things that he loved–his girlfriend, his passions, all of the things that he wanted to do and be. I hate that his life was cut short, and I hate that we will never get to see what he could have become. It seems like such a cruel and senseless thing to lose someone when they still have so much life to live, so many things to do, so many opportunities to experience. Do I understand the purpose of him being taken? Not in the slightest. Do I trust that there is one? Absolutely.

As I biked to the beach last night after dinner, I felt overwhelming peace and gratitude for what I’ve been given including all of the people who have worked to include me in this community and make me feel welcome, the beauty of the island where I get to live, and the love and support from my friends and family at home. At the moment, I may be living in a constant state of feeling like I’m forgetting something (my personal brand of jet lag?), and this may be the jumbled rant of someone thrown 17 hours into the future (jet lag again), but in case you were looking for my view on life and meaning, you just received it. Hopefully, you were able to find bits and pieces of coherency in the mix.

I also highly recommend the book Everything, Everything so I attached the link to Amazon for convenience if you’re interested.

No Regrets

And that’s a wrap! Over. Kaput. Donezo. Two years in Mexico done in the blink of an eye. You know it’s really true that the older you get, the faster the time goes. It feels like 10 minutes ago that we were just starting the 2016-2017 school year, meeting new friends, setting up our classrooms, and meeting our kiddos for the first time. Now, it’s June, and I’m sipping coffee on a Thursday morning wearing my pjs in rainy Minnesota and trying to put thoughts into words.

There have been blog posts trying to write themselves in my mind over the past six months, but nothing was ever interesting or pressing enough to share. Now, thinking back over this last school year, I realized that I learned a lot about myself and who I am. Last year was constant friends and go, go, go, but this year was much more “me” time. Reflection and probably a bit of overthinking naturally pair well with copious amounts of alone time, and at the beginning of April, I realized that I had regrets–not of the things that I have done but of opportunities missed. “Why did I not tell that one guy in high school who treated me badly to go to hell?”, “Why didn’t I tell that person I cared about so much how I felt about them?”, or “Why didn’t I take advantage of that opportunity to do __________?”.

This realization couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time because spring break was a week later, and I told myself that I wouldn’t miss any more opportunities. I’m a naturally cautious person, so this is the mental flow chart that I composed to help in decision making (I know, have you ever heard of anything more type A?).

  1. Am I stopping myself from doing this because I’m scared?
  2. Will it hurt someone or me?
  3. Will I wish that I had done this later?

If the answers to those questions were yes, no, and yes respectively, I forced myself to do whatever it was which is why in one day, I cliff jumped, snorkeled, and ziplined into the water all for the first time. I traveled the Yucatan mostly by myself for two weeks spending time in Merida and Tulum and seeing all of the incredible sights. When I returned home, I had no regrets, and it felt awesome!

I extended my attitude towards spring break to the rest of life, and over the past two months, it gave me the power to make some choices that were mentally healthy for me and drastically improved my quality of life. So, here’s to regrets and their power to help make positive life changes!

I am home for a month before I leave for Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands where I plan to continue living with as few regrets as possible. Have a great summer!

New Year. New Adventures

A thousand apologies for the long silence. Master’s work has devoured all of my spare time for both reading and writing. So where before, it was easier to get up on Saturday morning and have a leisurely several hours to sip my coffee and write, I am now forced to hit the books. So this is why instead of sitting cross-legged at my dining room table with my laptop and my coffee in sunny Torreon, I’m sipping tea and eating my mom’s homemade Christmas candy (shhhh don’t tell her) in positively frigid Minnesota. Tea and Christmas candy: Breakfast of Champs, am I right?

This year has been different and busier than last year was even considering that it was my first year teaching. It is easier in a sense because I am teaching content that I have taught before which allows me to anticipate what’s coming next and have my “ducks in a row” so to speak. This year’s class is also a pretty typical first-grade class particularly compared with my class last year which was to quote my favorite master’s professor, a class that was “hand-picked by Satan himself”, but I digress. It is busier with the addition of two master’s classes which keep me on my toes and also teach me more about tiny humans which just happens to be my favorite subject.

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I have taken two vacations so far this year. One was in September for Mexican Independence Day weekend where we went camping in Cuatro Cienegas and visited the Dunes.The other was for Thanksgiving where we went to San Miguel de Allendes and Guanajuato City. In San Miguel de Allendes, we stayed in a gorgeous Air B&B and wandered the city. In Guanajuato City, we did what I dubbed the Halloween tour because we visited the mummy museum and the site where people were tortured by monks back in the day.  Both vacations were incredible and allowed me to see even more of an already beloved Mexico.

This year, my contract with CAT is ending–a fact of which I have been all too aware since arriving back home in August. The past few months have been filled with waffling back and forth between staying for another year or leaving and mentally attempting to file every moment and experience under the “pro” or “con” side of the argument. Let me tell you, it has been a mentally and emotionally exhausting process, and I feel like I landed on a different side of the line every day only to be filled with indecision yet again by the day’s end. I am relieved, excited, and more than a little bit sad to say that I finally made a decision and signed saying that I will not be rejoining CAT for another year. Instead, I have signed a contract to teach on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands as a preschool teacher and assistant director of their child development center and school age program. I am thrilled to be going back to the age groups that overflow my heart with joy, and I am soaking in as much information as I possibly can from my master’s classes in order to be as fully prepared as I can be for my new roles. Simultaneously, my heart breaks with the knowledge that I cannot be in three places at once which means that I will not only continue to miss my family and friends from home, but I will add new aches to my heart for the people and places I have grown to love so much in my new home.

New adventures and a new year! I’m sure it will be nothing less than eventful, and I plan to keep you up-to-date on all of the new developments. Enjoy your new year everyone!

Reflections of a First Year International Teacher

**I started this blog post in June just after my first year of teaching, and summer got so busy that I never finished it. I still want to publish it because everything in it still holds true, and who knows maybe it will help someone.**

June 2016: Greetings and salutations, everyone. I realize it has been awhile since my last post, and this post is going to be a bit different than my previous posts have been. I feel that it’s only right at the end of my first year of teaching and living as an expat to reflect on the experience and maybe mine some nuggets of knowledge for any teachers considering doing the same. Now, if you’ve been with me this whole time, then you know the journey hasn’t always been an easy one..ahem, and by that I mean it has hardly ever been an easy one. Ergo, here are the unapologetic, no-sugar-added tidbits I have to pass on to other first year teachers. Hopefully, you find them helpful in managing your expectations going into your first year or find comfort in them knowing you aren’t alone if you’re halfway through the school year and considering a career change (maybe a desk job wouldn’t be so bad?).

  • First of all, no matter how much you think you’ve got it all together, you will eventually realize that you actually have no idea what you’re doing. Maybe it will happen during orientation week or maybe the first day with students. Maybe you will make it even longer than that, but have no doubts, my friend, the realization will strike eventually. Find a person who can talk you down and stroke your ego every once in awhile– a person who believes in you and can help restore your confidence in yourself. If you have that person, hang onto them because you will continue to need them (and don’t forget to do nice things for them because Lord knows, they will deserve it!).
  • Second, remember the idyllic classroom that you envisioned during all of your years of training–the perfect students working quietly, the Pinterest inspired classroom decor, the polished lessons that go just the way that you want them to? Honey, no.  Do yourself a favor, and put that dream on the shelf for now. In some respects, this year is about survival, and if you’re expecting that much from yourself, you are going to be extremely frustrated and discouraged. Sometimes, your first year consists of a classroom that is quite literally a storage closet with maintenance workers coming in and out six or more times a day, precious few resources, a generation of students who have already gained a reputation during their early childhood years, and training that happens weeks or months after you would have preferred to have it. This is real life, and real life can be messy.
  • Third, you will cry.  Maybe you hold it in until all the kids are gone and cry at your desk or at home or maybe you melt down in front of your kids (no shade either way teachers are humans too), but it WILL happen.
  •  Fourth, at a certain point, you will want to scrap the year and skip to the next one and/or start the year over, and do it differently. Obviously, neither of those things are possible, but you CAN start making notes to make your next year easier (and I highly encourage you to do so).
  • Fifth, you may hit a point where if you feel like if you have to attend yet another parent meeting (particularly if that meeting includes your bosses…and your bosses’ boss), you will actually start screaming and throwing things. Wine and chocolate, my friend. Wine and chocolate. They were made for times like these, and it’s a good idea to keep a stash of chocolate in your desk drawer (save the wine for when you get home!). Also, see person mentioned in the first point and share said chocolate and wine with them because they deserve it.
Resultado de imagen para students vs teacher memes
  • Sixth, whatever you do for the love of all that is holy in this world, DO NOT start your master’s program. Mother of pearl, this should be obvious, but apparently not to this dummy. Give yourself a hot second to adjust to your career choice (because it is a dog eat dog world out there). Save the masters for when you can keep your head above water because starting that process during your first year of teaching is like handing a drowning man a baby. Who would do that?!
  • Seventh, you will hit a point where you feel like things are getting better. Brace yourself because in my experience, this is when your kids will act a fool for the next several days to keep your expectations in check. It’s a dance. One step forward, two (or three) steps back.
  • Finally, at the end of the year, you will be standing at the gate (door, bus, hall, whatever) watching your last kiddo run off to their summer, and you will feel so many emotions: relief, pride, exhaustion (mostly this), and it will surprise you that the student who put you through the most hell is the student that is hardest to say goodbye to. Even more amazingly, you will find yourself already thinking about the next school year even though logic and any sense of self-preservation would tell you to run while you can.

In conclusion, your first year of teaching may feel like a sick joke (in some ways, it is), but you can and will make it through, and if you feel crazy inferior to all of the amazing teachers you work with, just remember that they also had a first year of teaching, and teachers tend to be a compassionate, helpful bunch so no one is judging. You got this!

September 2016: Year two, it gets better. I promise! We will return to regularly scheduled programming next week.

Detours

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Hello everyone! It’s hard to believe that 6 weeks from now, I’ll be flying back home to visit my friends and family that I haven’t seen since December! These last weeks before summer vacation are packed full of school activities, teacher parties, and other fun things, and I know they are going to absolutely fly by.

There was a day this last spring…I think it was February when I finally allowed myself to cave and plug in the external hard drive from home that has all of my pictures on it. I spent an entire Saturday afternoon looking at pictures and watching videos of all of my babies. What struck me the most (next to how much I missed them all) was the sound of my own voice on those videos. I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much joy at work. I realized right then and there that I got into the right field but majored in the wrong branch. I had to use my elementary education degree to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I belong in early childhood.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy teaching 1st grade even though this year has been more difficult than I could have ever imagined it being, but I don’t have the passion that I do for the littlest ones. I work long hours and exhaust myself because I have to not because I want to. I never realized before how much of a difference that distinction can make! That day, I not only created a file on my computer with the pictures and videos that spark joy in my heart which I call my “Folder of Happiness” which I open on my worst, most frustrating teaching days, but I also started looking into getting a masters degree in early childhood.

I started my Masters in Early Childhood Education degree at Capella University on April 11th, and it’s been going well so far. My first course ends the last day of school at CAT, and I will have 3 weeks off before starting my next course. I’m hoping to finish sometime around Spring 2018, but since my course load is flexible, I may finish before or after that time. I’m extremely excited about achieving this degree and learning more about an area which I am so passionate about. I suppose you could say after I got my elementary education degree, my career took an unexpected detour into early childhood, and it took going back to elementary again to realize that detour was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

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Last Wednesday, I woke up in the morning with sharp pains in my stomach. I thought I could just power through the pain, but when I got to work, the pain was so bad that moving caused nausea and dizziness. I went home less than halfway through the day and called asked a friend to call an AR doctor that night. By the time the AR doctor got there, my entire body hurt to the point where I could barely move from the couch. After examining me, he prescribed some pills to take for 48 hours. My wonderful friends went and picked them up for me since the poking and prodding had made me too nauseous to even sit up. 15 hours after the pain started, the medication finally took the edge off enough for me to move around. I stayed home from work on Thursday and Friday since even with the medication, I still felt jabs of pain and a burning sensation around my belly button.

I finally let the pain medication wear off on Saturday morning an extra 12 hours after the doctor recommended, and when the pain came, it was the same as it had been on Wednesday. I quickly took the medication again and started making arrangements to go to the hospital. When I got there, they looked at my lab results and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They decided to keep me for 24 hours for observation. They determined that I had an infection in my intestines from an unknown cause. They assumed it was bacteria in something I ate that caused the problem. I was discharged on Sunday night with 5 different medications to take. I took Monday off because I knew that I couldn’t go from lying on my back for 5 days to chasing after 18 first graders without potentially killing myself, and I was back to work full force on Tuesday. Since then, I have been feeling progressively better. Tomorrow is my last day of medications, and I’m excited to not live my life chained to my counter pharmacy. I am grateful to my friends who picked up my medications, took care of my kitten, took me to the hospital, translated everything for me, spent the night with me, and generally made me feel cared for. I am extremely blessed to have such wonderful people in my life!

As far as general events go, we have celebrated a few birthdays and a wedding since I last updated you, and we will celebrate many more events before the school year is over. There will be only one more post before I come home so hugs and kisses until then!

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New Adventures

Hello all! I just returned from our spring break and now have two days left to pull myself together before school resumes on Monday. We crammed lots of adventures into our 12 day vacation that started in Mexico City and stretched to Puerto Escondido before coming back to Torreon. Mexico City was jeans, sweater, and scarf kind of weather for most of our stay. We took a bus tour through the city, toured the Anthropology museum, experienced Teotihuacan, visited the zoo, rented paddle boats, strolled through Mexico City’s version of Central Park, braved the metro, sipped coffee on top of the Sears building overlooking the theater, drank some craft beer, met the Pope at the Basilica of Our Lady (kidding), and didn’t even make a dent in all that the city has to offer.

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Next came Oaxaca City where we met some interesting people, walked around the city, and visited Hierve el Agua which is a site in the middle of the mountains that has pools at the top of a petrified waterfall. It was crazy beautiful and totally worth the crazy collectivo ride swerving around the edges of cliffs to get there.12919815_10154663278349256_388930548933715270_n

After Oaxaca City was Huatulco which was our first beach destination. We took a boat tour of several of the bays and got to spend some time in the water. It was insanely, almost excruciatingly hot and humid, and the water was an absolute must!12378001_10154015176391322_1253911740242659504_o

Our last stop was Puerto Escondido which was also very hot and humid. We didn’t do much touring there because we were all ready to relax, but we did spend a lot of time on the beach and in the pool enjoying the post card worthy scenery and achieving some pretty impressive suntans…and burns.

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As great as it was to get away for vacation, it is so wonderful to arrive home to dusty Torreon, drink coffee from my favorite yellow mug, and lie around in my pjs.
March is usually an emotional month for me. It contains many both happy and sad memor242462_1384498749735_4898617_oies especially of my aunt who died of ovarian cancer a couple of years ago. She was one of the most incredible, forgiving, and loving people that I have ever known, and even though she has been gone for almost 3 years, she continues to impact the lives of the people who knew her. She flits through my mind a lot, but even more so during March-the month of her birthday. I remember her laugh and the way that she would make you feel completely heard and understood when you talked to her without feeling even the slightest bit of judgment. It still feels absolutely ridiculous that she’s gone, and the sadness catches me off guard sometimes. That paired with some other interesting developments made me a little emotional for a few days during our trip, but I have so much appreciation for my friends who gave me space and encouraged me to do what I needed to feel better even if it meant that I shut them out for a little bit and was kind of a buzz kill.

On a happier note, I have been accepted into an online masters program at Capella University, and I will begin working towards my Masters in Early Childhood Education starting on April 11th with a tentative graduation date of summer 2018. I’m extremely excited about all of the classes that I will be taking and simultaneously a little nervous about going back to school while teaching full-time. I’m going to have to ramp my time management up a few notches, but I have peace that this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now, so I know that everything will work out. Peace, it can be such an elusive and yet intensely beautiful feeling, am I right?

Over the January Hump

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Happy almost Valentine’s Day, everyone! I’m sending all of the love, kisses, and virtual chocolates to my friends and family at home who I miss very much!

Mexico is finally starting to warm up which all of you people at home may laugh about, but it’s no joke when it’s colder inside than it is outside, and your apartment is pretty much always a toasty 50 or so degrees on a good day. I hoped that when I moved to Mexico, I would develop less of a dislike for January, but as it turns out, January is pretty much a miserable month all the way around. There was a day when it was -1 Celsius, and I had only 7 kids show up to school. I taught in 4 layers and lost feeling in my fingers and toes long before the end of the school day.

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On a brighter note, I took a long weekend with some friends in Mazatlan, and it was perfection. Even doing a little bit of work isn’t so bad when you’re doing it on the beach with a waiter bringing you drinks. I was up early almost every morning walking on the beach picking up shells for my kids and feeling 100% relaxed. Honestly, it was a beautiful thing. I realized that I love the ocean even though I also have a healthy fear of its vastness and power.

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This week has been crazy busy with Valentine’s Day preparations with the kids along with prep for Parent/Teacher conferences next week and feeling run down with a cold that my kids so graciously gave to me. First graders are so generous! I also had an extra strong dose of missing home this week because my best friend gave birth to my first nephew (I’m claiming him as a nephew because “friends are the family you chose for yourself”) I’ve been looking forward to his arrival for months, and even though I knew it would be hard for me to be so far away when it happened, I wasn’t prepared for how wrong it felt and how very much I wanted to jump on a plane and fly home. It’s hard to miss the big events being so far away and knowing that the first time I get to meet him, he’ll be 4 months old and have no idea who I am. Having so much love for a tiny human that you’ve never even met is such a weird feeling!

Right now, I’m looking forward to traveling more of Mexico over spring break which is just over a month away! We are going to be spending a few days each in Mexico City, Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido, and another beachy place. I’m very much looking forward to some time with my girlfriends exploring and experiencing a different part of Mexico. I’m sure all sorts of fun memories will be made, and I will tell you all about it when we get back. Until then, I hope everyone is doing well and enduring the cold. Muchos besos!

Coming Home, Leaving Home

Hello, everyone! I hope you enjoyed all of the holiday celebrations with friends and family and have charged into 2016 feeling ready to take on the world. I know that some people aren’t a big fan of the hullabaloo around the New Year, but I love the celebration of the end of one year and beginning of the next. Maybe 2015 was a great year for you, and you are anticipating more of the same in 2016, or perhaps 2015 kicked you around a bit, and you’re looking into 2016 with cautious hopefulness that life will change for the better.

New beginnings invite reflection which is really what new year’s resolutions are all about. It takes courage to look at the parts that you may not be proud of and make goals to better yourself. I’ve found that keeping my goals (note the replacement of the word “resolutions”) simple is what sets me up for success. I used to write a full page of 20 or more resolutions/goals for the new year, and while I would accomplish maybe 1/3 of them (in a good year), I would inevitably focus on the 2/3 that I missed and feel crappy about myself instead of celebrating the 1/3. No more! Last year, I made two basic goals: eat clean and try new things. This year, my goals are to ramp my “survival”Spanish up to a conversational level and to find a better balance of family, friends, work, play, and alone time.

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I spent two weeks at home for Christmas, and it was all kinds of wonderful. The first week was crazy emotional and overwhelming in the best possible way as I got to see my family and friends and adjust to being home again. It felt like I had never left, and yet, I had 4 1/2 months of experiences and a small ache in my heart for my other home that said otherwise.

“When you live out of the country, you never feel like you’re really home again because your home is two different places.”

-paraphrased from someone wiser than me

The Monday after arriving home, I dashed off to my old job at the center with a near desperate need to see the tiny humans that still hold a major part of my heart. I was mentally prepared for most of them not to remember me since most of them are under 3 years old, and I have been gone for a decent chunk of their short lives. This is why it practically brought me to tears when I walked into the first classroom, and one of the toddlers that I had cared for as a baby and babysat previous to my move gasped and said, “Are you coming to my house?!”. This unleashed the 2-year-olds and reminded me just how wonderful it is to be showered with love by little people all trying to give you hugs and kisses and tell you all of the things on their minds at the same time. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s similar to being attacked by a litter of wiggling, exuberant puppies, and it gives you the best ever case of the warm fuzzies. There are a few younger babes in another classroom that were in my care from the beginning of their time at the center, and I love them like they are my very own. To have them scream in excitement, run around the room, and throw their arms around me makes me tear up even now just thinking about it. 1709_10154388590274256_7943177752812562185_n While I was there, I also got to catch up with the fantastic ladies that I worked with in my classroom and chat with the wonderful parents who also have a place in my heart. The quote above comes from one mom who completely understood the onslaught of feelings when coming home after living somewhere else-how different, wonderful, and overwhelming it can be and also let me know that it was ok to miss my other home even while being overjoyed to see all the people that I love most.

I got to spend some time with my nieces and that time was beyond precious. Seeing how much they grew and changed was amazing, and I enjoyed every second of their love, cuddles, and goofy antics.

The last place I visited was my home church. The moment I walked through the door, my pastor greeted me with enthusiasm along with some other friends. Each one said, “Welcome home! Come and worship with us!”, and I walked to my regular seat with tears running down my face realizing all over again how much I missed spending my Sundays with these wonderful people and feeling so incredibly blessed to be able to call Oak Hills my home.

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All in all, being home in Minnesota was wonderful, and I returned to Torreon exhausted from all of the feelings and looking forward to seeing everyone again in June. I am so thankful for everyone who made time to see me even around the holidays which are already so busy and for my family who made room for me for 2 weeks and made me all of my favorite foods.

It’s good to be in Torreon again with the friends who have become like a family to me, and I’m looking forward to an awesome 2016 which I have no doubt will be filled with many adventures and interesting experiences.

Until next time!

-Chelsea

Thankful for Every Moment

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Hello again, everyone! I’m a bit ahead of schedule, but I know that if I don’t update now, before I know it, it will be after Christmas, and I’ll be slacking! The last three weeks have been eventful, and emotions have been bouncing all over the spectrum. We will start with the bad and end with the good because there is so much more of it!

Remember how my last blog post ended? If not, let me refresh your memory: feeling empowered, life is good, etc. Well, the very next day, I was sitting at my kitchen table watching Criminal Minds of all things having just finished dinner when there was a knock on my door. Now, we have a gated entrance to our building that is usually kept locked, and I leave my apartment door unlocked so that my friends can come visit whenever they want. I, assuming this was a neighbor friend coming to visit, didn’t even move from my spot and just called out, “Come in” like some special kind of idiot. Long story short, the man who walked through my door was not one of my trusted friends, but someone who stole my sense of security…and I later discovered, my purse.

That night, I was even more grateful for my Torreon friends than I ever have been. They took care of everything for me from handling the police, guarding the gate, making me brownies and tea, letting me sleep over, and all around making me feel safe. It is also amazing to me that when bad things happen to me, there are always people who speak comfort into my life. One of my wonderful mentors and loved friends hugged me the day after and said something to the effect that God must have a special plan for me since I have had so many things happen to me the last few months. Those words gave me peace and have stayed with me ever since.

It was a scary experience, but it could have been so much worse than it was. Since then, we have taken extra precautions to lock our gates and our doors. I hesitated to share this story because I know of so many people who were nervous about me coming to Mexico in the first place, and I didn’t want to give their fears a foundation and make them worry even more. However, my commitment is to share the truth about my experience without sugar coating or editing. This was the low point of Mexico for me, but I know better than to generalize the behavior of one individual and apply it to everyone. Yes, this man was awful, but I have met many wonderful people who have done such kind and generous things for me having hardly known me at all. Being on the other side of this experience has given me a new gratitude for my friends and my faith that calmed many an anxious moment. By the way, can I mention the song “Shoulders” by For King and Country for the 100th time? Seriously, if you haven’t given it a listen yet, put it on your list of things to do. It will be well worth the four minutes of your life.

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That experience aside, the past few weeks have been wonderful! We celebrated Thanksgiving at the boss’s house two weeks ago, and I hosted a Midwestern style Friendsgiving at my place a week ago right before we all dashed off to our vacation destinations.

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Speaking of vacation destinations, I would highly recommend San Cristobal in Chiapas if you are ever looking for a vacation spot in Mexico. It was an incredible experience! We spent six days there before coming home, and it was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. I spent Thanksgiving wandering through the center of the city and feeling amazed and grateful for all of the blessings in my life. I think spending a Thanksgiving away from home caused me to recognize my blessings in a way I hadn’t been able to while at home on previous holidays. At home, there are always so many other things to think about–turkey, mashed potatoes, pie! This year even the little things like blue sky, fresh air, and the brief moments I was able to talk to my family were beautiful in a way that’s difficult to describe. I think San Cristobal gave me a fresh appreciation of my life and the people in it.

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This last week of vacation was exactly what I needed to energize for the next few weeks of school. I will be arriving at home almost exactly three weeks from the moment of this publication, and I am over the moon excited to see all of my friends and family that have been in my thoughts for the past four months. I love you all so very much and am very appreciative of the time you take to read my blog and keep up with my life. While I’m home, I would love to meet up and hear about what’s been happening in your life while I’ve been gone. Can’t wait!

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