White Water Rafting (Wisconsin Style)

I was recently invited on a rafting day trip and impulsively decided to go. Throughout the experience, I had so many flashbacks to traveling throughout Costa Rica — obviously the landscape didn’t match, but being in the middle of an adventure without knowing many details beforehand (or even during, ha!) brought back terrifying fond memories of what it’s like to live in the moment of first-time experiences. A good reminder, for sure.

After 5 hours of driving north, here are the sleep-deprived, brave souls. All nine of them.

Most of the rafting adventure looked like the image above. We slowly paddled down the Wolf River and drank in the nature sounds and sights.

Then there was a slight drizzle that felt really good in the hot afternoon sun… So I actually said (yes, out loud) something like, “It would be great to get more rain like that.”

So right after I took the photo of these gorgeous pines, it started drizzling… then raining… then pouring. Oops. Guess I got what I wished for.

So really all the photos I took were before this rain storm blinded our path (and made my sunscreen run in my eyes). Above, I am with Heather, a sweet girl I met at the Vineyard church I have been attending.

Right after the rain started was our first rapids, so we were squinting in the downpour and wind, trying to keep the raft afloat (and right side up), and praying we wouldn’t fall out. (Maybe the others weren’t praying about their survival, but I certainly was as we approached the falls, lol. I mean, all you could see was that everyone in front of you had suddenly gone over the edge…)

Then the rain stopped long enough right at the end of the 5 hour “adult lazy river” for me to capture this photo of the toughest falls for extremely brave souls — Don’t worry, Mom, I wasn’t that brave. : )

And a video for your viewing pleasure. This group was heavily drinking as we paddled past them before the first falls, and they had strapped all their rafts together. Here are the hilarious (and most definitely painful) results of inhibited common sense.

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Dailyness

I’m sure you can relate — sometimes life just feels… daily. When someone asks me if I’ve done anything fun lately, I don’t know what to say, especially considering my sense of fun for three years was whizzing through trees harnessed to a cable or being spit at for laughs at the school talent show. It’s not that life now is boring at all; it’s just that life is pretty routine these days.

Daily now means teaching about Ancient Rome and acting out a Republic with my students — complete with toga costumes and speeches from our class-nominated senators. Students love being the plebeians because they get to vote which senators will become consuls (like the president : )).

Daily now means leaving school around 3:30 to go to a 4:15 work out class at the Elgin Center before driving to masters class at 5:30. After lots of intellectual educational conversation, I drive home at 9:30 to make my lunch for the next day and fall into bed.

Daily now means going to Bible study on Friday nights — I alternate between a Spanish and an English study. I enjoy the challenge of the Spanish and the friendships with the Latina women while also enjoying ”easy” English conversation the opposite Fridays.

Daily also means cooking for all the roommates every Thursday night. I made this this evening and it was fabulous. Definitely a must-try for you too 🙂

So it’s taken me a while to embrace the ”normalness” of life now. What it boils down to is trusting God that He is working big time no matter if I’m ”home” in the U.S. or living as a foreigner.

I think you know you’re in the right lifestyle when even though life is daily, you have a sense of purpose and a deep-down enjoyment of the daily routine.

(Still anxiously awaiting the arrival of my cheap-o camera… : ))

My Spanish Teachers

Introducing… my Spanish teachers! These women meet every other Friday for Bible study and I join in for the Bible and for the Spanish : ). They are so patient with my Spanish, and I feel like a celebrity with all the kids because they’re like, ”You’re the bilingual teacher!?” and then they want to tell me every detail of their school accomplishments : ). I love every moment of it! 

Left to Right: Maria Carmen holding Josefina, Marti, Marta holding Jeremy, Raquel standing on tip toe behind Marta, Ashley (in front of me), Suzi, and Suzi’s son.

Several are missing from the photo as they had already left or were not able to make it this evening.

Back to Being Gringa

Alright, alright, I have to admit it. Even though I have always been a gringa (a white girl), I have had my moments of trying to be not-so-gringa…

Like the long process of perfecting (almost : )) that tico (Costa Rican) accent of saying “y” and “ll” like a “j” (example: tortilla = tortiJa) and making more of a “sh” sound for the “rr” (example: correr = cossshhhher). Now I am caught between whether to continue in my tico accent ways or if I should adapt more of the mexicano accent that is prevalent here in Elgin. (By the way, gringa is Costa Rican and guerra is Mexican Spanish… It’s not just different accents — it’s also different vocabularies!)

Or like the time I dyed my hair dark brown in an attempt to blend in better as I walked the San José city streets between bus stops. Unfortunately, the reflection-white skin and the blue eyes still gave me away and I was still called machita (blondie) by the masses.

Or how every time I would go to the beach, I would try and try and try to get that perfect golden tan, hoping that would be the key to becoming a latina look-alike. I think I achieved the perfect tan a grand total of twice in my three years in CR… I overdid the sun intake and just got burnt crimson red instead of browned.

So now I’m back living in gringolandia, as any white community of people is jokingly called by Costa Ricans. I have come to terms again with admitting, “Yes, I am one of the gringos”… It took a while as I had to pass through the normal stages of criticizing the degree of international ignorance and being overwhelmed by the materialism and convenience. These arguments still echo in my mind as I go about my daily life, but thankfully, they seem to be at a much quieter volume than they were when I first came back stateside.

Alright, so to solidify this announcement that I am officially a gringa again (haha, as if any of you are surprised), here’s a recent realization that brought on this post:

I need to explain that in Costa Rica, the usual temperature was in the 70s. When the “Christmas winds” would blow from the north in December, the ticos would all get out their parkas, scarves, gloves, hats, and boots. Because the temperature was a mere 50ºF, we gringos would laugh, wear flip flops, and say, “You think this is cold??!” as the ticos wrapped their babies in seven blankets to walk next door. By the third year of being in CR, I too agreed that the Christmas winds were cold… so there I was, wrapping myself up for the “cold” with multiple layers of socks and scarves, although I never was desperate enough to get a parka, lol. 

Okay, so here’s my I-am-a-gringa moment. The winter has been fairly mild here, according to many co-workers and friends. While it may be mild for them, this has been the longest period of time I have interacted with below-freezing temperatures since 2008. Needless to say, I have been very cold. Today hit a high of 47ºF, and I was driving my car with the windows open and I shed my winter coat as the afternoon warmed up. As I was walking from the grocery store back out to my car, I looked down at my outfit: flats, socks, jeans, t-shirt, cardigan. It hit me all of a sudden: I used to think 47ºF was cold when those Christmas winds would blow through… and now I think 47ºF is warm. I think my Costa Rican friend Judit (who is now rocking life in Shanghai working for an Italian architecture firm) would shake her head, pat my shoulder, and say, “Es cierto. Eres una gringa de corazón.”

Welcome back to a temperate climate, Kate. Glad you finally realized you are a machita and yes, a gringa.

Confessions of a Sun Addict

Winter and I are getting along okay this year, considering this is my first full-length Chicago winter experience since 2008. A grateful ”thank you” goes to my leg warmers, rice bag (a small cotton pillow square filled with rice — heat it up in the microwave and it’s warm for about an hour : )), de-icing spray (for the car), and Mom’s warm quilts for helping me (mostly) avoid the daily temptation to curse at how cold my fingers and toes are (last night at the gas pump was the first slip-up in a while when the fuel tank cap on my car was literally solidly frozen shut… LOL).

While preparing to be in a December wedding, I purchased a membership at a local tanning salon. I was originally going to pay for just two months, but then I learned that the third month was free when you bought two months. So naturally, I got the three-month package. After the wedding, I went once or twice in January. Then I realized last week that my membership would expire February 11th… today to be exact. So what did I do? I started going a lot… like every other day… LOL

So here’s the confession: I walked into the bathroom this morning to be greeted in the mirror by a strange-looking-me… a pinkish-orangish version of me. My initial reaction was, ”Ohmigosh, I look like that orange lady I laughed at the other day at Jewel”… then my reaction was like, ”Well, at least you ran out of membership.”

I think/hope the pink/orange version of me will fade away quickly… I prefer the hint-of-tan me that’s not too white and not too… orange.

Flashbacks

An interesting aspect of ”reverse culture shock” that I didn’t expect were all the flashbacks. It’s almost as if I have this three year gap of normal life experiences that gives me a bit of time warp… but somehow in that three-year-gap-time-warp are embedded a plethora of random experiences and stories that are now merely flashbacks. A struggle within reverse culture shock has been to know when I can share my flashbacks and when I should just keep my mouth shut.

For example…

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday with a new doctor’s office that a co-worker had recommended to me. I entered suite #3000 and was greeted by a waiting room full of Spanish language and brown eyes staring back at me. I time warped into my Costa Rica experiences and approached the secretary’s window to check in. The secretary was on the phone speaking good ol’ fast Spanish and I was fully prepared to begin the conversation in my second language when she opened the window and said in perfect English, “May I help you?” This did not fit into my time warp, so I stumbled through my English (lol) of explaining that I had a doctor’s appointment.

After briefly waiting, my name was called. I headed back into the nurse’s station where the two Latina nurses took my blood pressure, asked about family health history, etc., again all in perfect English with impeccable American accents. Then this question:

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

This was the funniest flashback that I never EVER thought I would EVER encounter again. For those of you that followed my CR blog, you will remember Trish’s and my experiences at the Seguro Social clinic because those were our best blog’s ever. (Find Trish’s experience here and mine here.)

“Excuse me?”

“Have you recently had a pap smear?”

“Umm…” (I’m trying to think if I should explain my flashback… but I decide to keep those details to myself for now…) “…Yes, I had one about two years ago.”

“Were the results normal?”

“Umm… I’m not sure… I mean, they never called me… so I assume results were normal.”

(The nurse is looking at me with a look of uncertainty.) “Where did you have it done?”

“Um… the Seguro Social in Costa Rica.”

(Then the conversation changed to rapid Spanish.)

“Do you speak Spanish?”

”Yes, of course.”

Now there I was, once again talking about pap smears (papanicolao) in Spanish, having this ridiculous flashback to having a very similar conversation in Costa Rica. The nurse continued the conversation in Spanish, and I was having one flashback after another. Like the time I was in the emergency room and the lady was like ”PAIN” really loud as if it would help me understand her question better. Or the time I was trying to explain that my eye was swollen because of a mosquito bite… LOL

So as I followed the nurse down the hallway to the patient rooms, I was cracking up to myself, wondering how on earth I would ever explain to anyone what it’s like to have flashbacks from that three year gap of ”normal life”…

That’s what makes life so interesting. : )

New Look, New Blog, New Inspiration

First question: Why have I not blogged in six months?

Great question. There are a flurry of reasons, including but not limited to:

1. I’ve had a serious lack of travelling adventures.

2. An insecurity surfaces and I am afraid I don´t have much to say anymore.

3. My readers were at a “comfortable” distance while I lived in Costa Rica… it was okay that I expressed opinions and thoughts that others may not agree with.

4. It’s taken some time to “get back on my feet” in the sense of living State-side.

5. Busy-ness.

Second question: Why am I blogging now?

Even better question. Again, there are a flurry of reasons, related to the above reasons for not blogging.

1. I realized that I don’t need travelling adventures to blog about… although I do miss them. There are so many other rich aspects to life to express!

2. Insecurity only brings fear, and I don’t want to live in fear. I have a lot to share, even when what I share now is different than before.

3. While I may feel more vulnerable with so many potential readers living in closer proximity to my now State-side existence, I cannot let that be my excuse for not sharing. Like in #2, I can’t get stuck on my fears.

4. I’m back on my feet now (reverse-culture-shock-speaking).

5. I’m busier than ever before as I start a Masters of Education program!! What better time to blog??? : ) This year of teaching and studying will be a blur of activity and having a blog is an outlet for taking “snapshots” of the continual metamorphosis of life.

6. I want to continue to share life with friends and family. Even though I am “closer” in the sense that I live in the same country as the majority of my friends and family, many do not live here in Elgin.

So in an attempt to stay in touch with so many of you : ), here it is: a way to share my life, a place for us to keep in mind what we have in common, perhaps neutral ground for us to realize how different we are, and simply just a way to keep in touch.

Because after all, isn’t life all about sharing?