With daily temperatures ranging between 45 and 70 degrees, people wearing masks to protect their faces from, not snow, but ceniza (volcanic ash), and talk of Christmas cuy feasts, it’s hard to believe that I’m in the middle of the Holiday season. I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my year and send my sentiments (digitally) to some of my loved ones. The sending and receiving of Christmas letters is, without a doubt, one of my favorite Holiday traditions.
To illustrate the dynamic year 2011 has been, I’m going to begin by describing my New Year’s celebration at the birth of the year. I spent most of the evening busily waiting on tables at the always popular on holidays Brick Oven Courtyard Grille. At around 11:00, I was finally able to shed my barbecue-scented fancy ninja suit and don more gay apparel. I then headed to Soteria Thompson’s house for one of her always fun parties. Two weeks later, Brick Oven closed its doors for good. Two months later, Soteria moved to Cambodia. That’s basically the way the rest of the year went, ever-changing.
I celebrated the closing of the restaurant I had given 4 years of my evenings to by going to Orlando, Florida with family and friends! It was a trip I had planned with Rachel Mills months back, and the timing couldn’t have been better. I flew with friends Rachel, Jono, and Kristen and spent a few days with them at Epcot and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Then, I was joined by family: Mom, Aunt Judy, Grandma, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Keith, along with grafted in members Elena and Israel. It’s the first time a friend trip has merged with a family trip that seamlessly, and I had a wonderful time with all.
In December of 2010, I was working three jobs, sometimes all in the same day. By January, I was down to one (which only gave me about 10 hours a week). After returning from my vacation, then soaking up a few days of lazy bliss, I started substitute teaching, a job I had put off the year before because of its inconsistent hours and difficulty (seriously, teaching is tough- subbing is brutal!) Although my bank statements made it pretty clear that only working one inconsistent job was hard on my finances, I enjoyed my newfound free time, and more than anything, free evenings, which I had not had regularly in years. I excitedly filled them with yoga, religion classes, movie nights with some of my favorite girlfriends, and I started getting together occasionally with this one guy. I’d known him since 2006, but we really hadn’t spent time together in years, other than unplanned sightings. Because of an extremely random text message, we started hanging out again. By March, it was clear that we both wanted to change the nature of our friendship. On March 11th, when we decided to post the relationship on facebook (making it official…), there were more than a few “Is this a joke?” comments. Nine months later and thousands of miles apart, I think the answer to that question is clear. Falling in love, without a doubt, made this a year I will always remember.
In March, a long-term sub opportunity fell into my lap. I spent the next 2 months teaching 8th grade math at Chase Middle School. I cannot state how good of an experience this was. This was the first time that I was really in charge of a classroom and was able to test out classroom management styles, teaching approaches, and experience the life of a teacher, in all of its hardships and glory. By May 25th, my last day, I felt like so much more of a competent, effective teacher than I had felt the day I began the assignment. But I didn’t have much time to reflect on my lessons from working at Chase, because the evening of the 25th, I drove to Lincoln to catch a train.
Friend of 16 years Teresa Lundgren and I had been planning a cross-country train trip for months. We purchased 15 day, 8-segment rail passes and planned a trip that would allow us stops in San Francisco, Sacramento, Southern Oregon, Portland, Seattle, and Salt Lake City. We had friends to visit at every stop, which really made the trip fantastic. We learned much more about Amtrak travel than I think we cared to know, and became adept at sleeping in not-so-much reclining seat. My favorite cities were Seattle and San Francisco; seriously, fell hard for them. Though the best part about the trip was spending two whole weeks with one of my dearest friends, who also exited the country a few months later.
I was home for four days, just long enough to do laundry, repack, and spend some time with Jeremiah, before I up and moved again, this time to Maine (surprise!) What pulled me there this summer was a camp I had worked at in 2006, Med-o-Lark. I spent 10 weeks there, serving as the Waterfront Coordinator and counselor to the Leaders in Training. It was one of the best ways I could have chosen to spend my summer, and I have already agreed to spend my following summer in the same manner.
The only thing that made being at Med-o-Lark hard was not being able to spend time with Jermeiah, but my light at the end of the tunnel (not sure I can call driving a boat on a semi-regular basis, making tons of new friends from all over, and lobster banquets a “tunnel”…) was his visit following camp’s end. I, very happily, worked as his personal New England tour guide, taking him to Mount Dessert Island, Rockland, Waterville, and Boston. We were happy to stay with and be in the presence of Dez and Mel in Waterville and the Merrills in Boston on this vacation. I have a feeling it won’t be his last trip to Maine.
September and October were pretty chill. I substitute taught, got my Visa, spent time with loved ones, and prepared myself for my rapidly approaching biggest trip of all. On October 25th, I entered the southern hemisphere. I’m now a quarter of the way through my time in Riobamba, Ecuador, where I’ll be teaching English (through Teach English, Volunteer!) until the end of April. I spend my time here practicing my Spanish, preparing lessons, traveling around this gorgeous country, meeting people from all kinds of cultures, and teaching in an elementary school and high school. I’ve dreamed of living in South America for literally years, so I feel so fortunate to be where I am. When I miss my family, friends, and the comforts of home, I remind myself how blessed I am to be here.
To put the corresponding New Year’s bookend on this lengthy letter, I believe that this year, I will be partaking in the wild festivities of an Ecuadorian Año Viejo (Old Year). I’ve already seen life-sized dummies (muñecos) in shop windows. Here, these dolls symbolize the regrets, mistakes, or anything from the old year the person buying or making the muñeco wishes to rid himself of. The night of December 31st, everyone lights their dummies on fire in the streets, in celebration of a new chance, in hopes that the following year will be better. I’m happy to say that it will be hard for me to think of many things I need to burn away from 2011. It really was a good year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! I truly think of you and miss you often.