Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hot Chocolate Date

No matter how long you know someone, or how well you think you know them, it is amazing how sometimes you can talk for hours and hours without being bored. The other night Caitlin and I went out for a cup of hot chocolate at a cafe owned by one of her students. The hot chocolate was decent, but what was especially great was the conversation. 
We walked out to the center of San Cristobal (about 30 minutes from our house), did a little shopping, and finally went to the cafe, where we spent an hour sitting in the cold sipping hot chocolate - and the conversation never stopped. I don't even know what we talked about, but I love how we can have the best conversations. Seriously, I could talk to Caitlin all day long and never get bored of it, but you know how sometimes conversations just seem to never end? Yeah, this date was one of those nights. 
We talked about our time here in Mexico (we are half way done with our time down here), about our upcoming move to Guatemala, our backpacking trip, our English classes, how hard it will be to move back to the states, and everything in between. 

Who cares what you are drinking/eating - I would encourage everyone to take a little conversation date with a loved one and spend a few hours just talking. It may not seem like much, but it strengthens your relationship so much just to listen to one another. You don't have to talk about anything serious, just whatever is on your mind - and I guarantee you will have an enjoyable time. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Building a Playground

As part of my work with Natik, I helped coordinate and facilitate a 10-day intercultural exchange between students of Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin and students of UNICH in San Cristobal. It was a challenging experience and I have a new found gratitude for all those in-country partners the Experiment office works with. Seriously, it is a lot of behind the scenes coordination and work. And even though I love doing exchanges, I am very grateful that it is over. 

The first few days were filled with activities in and around San Cristobal. On Saturday we went to Chamula and Zinacantan. It was fun to have Caitlin come along for a little bit of it - and we had the students volunteer at Yo'onik with us.
In Chamula they have a Catholic church, but the priest has been kicked out of the city - and they do their own religious rituals inside. They burn millions of candles and have chickens that they use in their prayers/healings and all sorts of other interesting things. You are prohibited from taking pictures inside, but it was quite the experience. After Chamula we went to Zinacantan to see the difference in cultures and there is a stark contrast between the two - especially in the way they conduct themselves inside the church. 

We also had a videographer come with us for a lot of the trip, and afterward I made a short video clip of some of the volunteers working in Yo'onik. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the exchange. 
video

Another big element to the exchange was a service project. These were coordinated with students from UNICH studying sustainable development. And we settled on two projects, a garden/compost project and a playground project. I went to the playground project all 5 days of the service and had a blast. We worked with Rise Now, an organization that helps build parks all over the world. Their crew was amazing and I loved working with them throughout the process. 
The park was made of recycled materials - mainly tires. So we spent a lot of time cutting and painting tires. We also spent a HUGE part of our time digging holes for the elements, and also digging and filling a trench to drain water from the park area. 

I wasn't in charge of any of the large elements in the playground, but I did get to participate in a few cool playground related tasks. My favorite was brainstorming with the children and coming up with a name for the park, the park rules, and the design for the park mural. 
They were so much fun to work with and in the end we named the park, El Parque en Las Nubes, which means The Park in the Clouds.

The mural after it was completed. A few of the Edgewood students improved on the students design and painted the mural and put all the rules of the park on the back. 

The other thing I helped design was an entryway for the park. We decided to plant flowers all around the park, so one of the UNICH students and I went to buy all the plants one day and they decided what to plant and where. We also planted fruit trees around the park (although I only helped buy them, I didn't plant any of them). 
One cool thing about having a videographer with you is that you get really cool shots. Like my hands planting a flower. So sweet! 

By far, the most rewarding aspect of building a playground was being able to see the kids play on the structures that we helped build. They had so much fun and imagination in the park. Even without telling them what things were, they got on the motorcycles and starting making engine noises, and then they got on the horses and had races. Children are way more imaginative than I am, I wouldn't have known what to do. 

Building a park was such an amazing experience. I'm really grateful to have been a part of it. 
The group that helped construct the park.
And of course, it wouldn't have been possible without the UNICH students. They are amazing. There were so many times during the semester and the exchange where I would've pulled my hair out if I hadn't had the support of these students. Seriously, so grateful for them and their help. 
If you're interested in building a playground, you can contact Rise Now on their Facebook page. They do parks all over the world. Literally. And they are a blast to work with. I would highly recommend volunteering with them for a week or two. Best vacation you could have. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Good News Update

As many of you know, last year I had the amazing opportunity to donate bone marrow to a woman suffering from leukemia. I did not know her, but I was part of the National Bone Marrow Registry and I was a match for her. It was an amazing experience, and I have never regretted my decision to donate. 

Although I have never regretted donating, I have been super anxious to hear what happened to the girl who received my bone marrow. For some reason I haven't received the updates they promised me at the time of my donation. So of course it made me worried that things didn't go well with the transplant.

But this week I received the best news. Here is the email updated I received: 

Posted on 1/4/14. Transplant recipient is doing well.  She remains disease-free with minor but expected complications.  She is somewhat back to performing some activities enjoyed pre-transplant.

Ok - so it may not be the most detailed report - but she survived and is disease free! That makes me so happy. Seriously. When I received the email I couldn't stop smiling. Even if things hadn't worked out well, I still would have appreciated the opportunity to donate - but knowing that she has beat leukemia makes my elated about my decision to donate.

I seriously encourage everyone to join the bone marrow registry. There is no better gift you can give to someone than life. Nina Hagen said, "Do some selfless service for people who are in need. Consider the whole picture, not just our little selves." And I really think that is true. We need to look beyond ourselves and see what we can do to help others.

I will never regret my decision to donate - and even if you cannot donate, I invite you to look beyond yourself and see what you can do for others. Service always brings happiness. Always.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Working On My Goals

Want to be motivated in goal setting? Watch this video. It is the most inspiring video I've watched in a long while. It is focused on sports, but can be applied to practically anything.

I think that goals are extremely important. They help us prioritize our life and for me have helped to push me to do things that scare me or are difficult. Every now and again I look over my goals and see how I am doing and try to chose goals that I can focus on more intently. 

At the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 I went through and categorized and modified my life goals. They have shifted quite a bit since 2010 when I last set my goals. I set those goals before I was married, a lot of them I set back in 2008. So it was a little outdated. Caitlin helped me understand that even though I set goals back in 2008, I could always change them now since you should not feel obligated to complete goals you no longer feel are important/necessary to your happiness or progression.

That brings me to my next point - I think that goals should make you happy. That is the purpose of this life, right? Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Life is to be enjoyed, not endured." Another wise man, Thomas S. Monson said, "Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family. One day each of us will run out of tomorrows." And so I set my goals to get the most enjoyment out of life. 

Additionally, I set my goals to push me in order to become a better person. I like to push myself in my goals, because if I write it down I am more likely to accomplish it - and I have to push myself to accomplish a lot of my goals - and I love it. I love looking at the progress I've made and I am happy to see the success that comes through hard work and dedication to a goal.

So here we are in 2014 and I'm deciding on which goals I want to focus on. Some I already have planned for the year, and some will be a stretch - but I've starred the ones I hope to accomplish in the coming year. The ones in orange I've previously accomplished. 

Education Goals
Read at least 100 novels
Earn my Master’s degree*
Become fluent in 2 foreign languages

Talent Goals
Learn to dance (Salsa, Tango, Ballroom)
Plant a garden and eat the food
Learn how to play the piano
Take voice lessons

Spiritual Goals
Serve a mission with my wife
Help build a home for the needy
Do the temple work for my grandparents
Get married in the temple
Serve a mission
Family Goals
Have children
Coach a little league soccer team
Teach my kids Spanish
Go hunting with my dad
Buy a house
Physical Goals
Run a half marathon
Learn to do a cartwheel
Do 90 days of P90X
Do 60 days of Insanity*
Bike to work every day for 3 months
Complete a triathlon
Be able to do a one-handed pushup
Be a vegan for a month
Give up sugar for a month

Adventure Goals
See the northern lights
Hike an active volcano*
Save someone’s life
See a penguin in the wild
Live in a foreign country
Go up in a hot air balloon
Catch a fish with my bare hands
Go surfing
Hike Half Dome
Go rock climbing
Milk a cow
Ride a horse
Put my feet in the Atlantic Ocean
Eat a deep fried tarantula 

Travel Goals
Visit South Africa
Visit India
Visit Ethiopia
Visit El Salvador*
Visit Argentina
Go on a gondola ride in Venice
Go on an African safari
Go to Niagara Falls
Visit all 50 states
Backpack through Central America*
Visit the Grand Canyon

 I would love to hear any other suggestions of goals. And I would love to hear what your goals are. Accountability is important in goal setting, so it is important that you share your goals with others. So let me know what your goals are and how you're doing on accomplishing them!