November 29, 2010

Thanks for giving me all that FOOD!

I may have just created the single most delicious dessert in the history of eating--it's a hybrid cake-ball/mexi-brownie. Mexi-brownie-ball, if you will.

Just what I needed after a holiday weekend that left my stomach distended and my jeans seriously tight.

Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays. Without the pressures of Christmas or the scary decor of Halloween, it's a time to simply give thanks and share food with loved ones--in a sick, competitive eating sort of way. We all know it's coming. Everyone understands that we will cram turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes until it hurts, and then have seconds and just when it seems that our bellies couldn't possibly stretch another millimeter, we break out the pumpkin pie. We will be relatively miserable with our swollen bellies, but the warmth in our hearts is worth the trouble.

It would be a good idea to cut back in the days following, but the left overs are a temptation unto themselves. Stuffing with eggs for breakfast, turkey nachos, green bean casserole for a snack--in our house, anything goes. And I've been going to the fridge pretty often. Yum, but ouch.

I'm ready to reintroduce portion control and salad to my diet this week. I'm also looking forward to a few of those Mexi-brownie-balls.

November 24, 2010

Cambodian Water Festival

I wore my blue Krama all day. In case you didn't read about it in the news, a  panic-fueled stampede during Cambodia's Water Festival killed nearly 350 people.

My Khmer teacher sent me a sad email this morning, and my Facebook Newsfeed is still with condolences and people checking on one another. I'm heartbroken because Cambodia is so close to my heart. The Water Festival celebrates the end of the rainy season and the flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River. The Festival is supposed to be a celebration of life, but this year it is marked with a great loss of life.

I'm not a religious person, but I prayed today. I prayed for my former students, coworkers and CWF staff.

I'm thinking about the families of those who never came home. They must go to the hospital and check if their loved ones are injured or dead. I'm thinking about the vivid red sunsets and the view at Riverside. I'm remembering my students laughter and the way they always answered, "stay home, watch TV" to any question about the weekend or holiday. Many times, I wanted to tell them to get out of the house and do something, but this time, I hope they were at home watching TV.

November 23, 2010

There is no place like Nebraska... especially if you grew up here.

Why is it that Nebraskan Adventure Lady just doesn't sound right?

I had a mini-epiphany today. Something about how I want to leave no stone unturned--even in my backyard yada yada. Something else about how Nebraska is actually a very adventurous place to live because of pioneers and fanatical football. A third something about my unwarranted distaste for all things Midwestern--except for giant thunderclouds.

If I could just have the same observant eye that once looked upon the sunset Mekong or the dandelion meadows in the Austrian Alps, I could be the Nebraskan Adventure Lady.

To be realistic, my hometown will never inspire me in the same way as a foreign land, but that shouldn't diminish it's value. Where else can I run into ex-boyfriends' friends at the grocery store and ask where the lemon juice is? Where else can I mention my grandpa's name in a crowded room and expect at least 50% of them to know him? Where else can I come home and hear my brother belting out the latest Katy Perry tune?

I'm going to make a point of seeing this strange limbo period as the adventure it is. Sure, there's no jungle treks or exotic script, but there is soul-searching and applications and dishes to be done!

November 17, 2010

Playing to the Judge is the best way to win Apples to Apples

You'll never forget Kearney, or so the slogan goes.

My spot at the old WC
 My college town--Kearney, Nebraska--is the place where I started to become an adult. Since I've been back home, I've forgotten many of the wonders of college life: no supervision, minimal accountability, and the freedom/curse of setting your own boundaries (and bedtime!).

I went back to Kearney yesterday to speak on behalf of UNK alumni who have traveled abroad. A fitting role for me, the former Cambodian/Austrian/Thai Adventure Lady. I chatted with nervous freshmen, eager sophomores and excited juniors about studying abroad. Did I encourage them to take the plunge? Of course. Did I quell any travel anxieties? With my jittery enthusiasm, probably not.  Do your research, I said, Don't worry too much about the language barrier and pack light.

The guest speaking engagement was my excuse to come back, but I hung around the rest of the day to catch up with old friends. I'll never forget my Writing Center friends, nor our beloved Game Nights. Now that we are a year older, our conversations focus on life after UNK--the cursed GRE, the graduate school applications, and the success of long-term relationships. Add a little wine and coffee to the conversation and we were a mess of games, gossip and  giggles.

Most of my closest friends have left Kearney to be employed in other cities and states. A few remain, and I was happy to reconnect over chai tea, or better yet, cold beers and San Pedro. The best part of college is the companionship of friends with common interests; friends who know your insecurities and your mistakes, but enjoy hanging out with you regardless.

Although the trip made me long for the life I left behind, the encouragement from my old friends excited me for the new friends to come.Today, my face is sore from all the smiles and laughs--something to be thankful for.

I'll never forget Kearney because of the close friendships that continue to evolve as time demands.

...and because of Barista's--definitely won't forget that, either!

November 13, 2010

The First Snow

A while ago, I said I'd leave the bigger decisions for the first snow...

I read on Facebook that CWF is looking for more volunteers for the November-February semester. For a moment, I was ready for an encore; another round of mosquito nets and stir-fry.

Then the raindrops outside turned to snowflakes, and I remembered how much I have been looking forward to winter.

From the view hole of my figurative soul submarine, the water is clearing. Combing the depths of my desires, and my resume, I discovered that I am always teaching. Even now, I am volunteering with the Lincoln Literacy Council to tutor a South Korean woman (who happens to be a writer!). This morning, sitting cross-legged at my student's low table, I watched her grow as a writer. I saw the smile as she realized an alternate way to explain the scene. I felt the excitement in her red pen as she scribbled down the words she wanted. I got the goosebumps of destiny and I felt the intense tingle of my feet falling asleep.

As I hunker down for another Nebraskan winter, I can't help but wonder about Cambodia. In lieu of sun-drenched hours swimming at the Sport Club, this winter I'll be popping vitamin D supplements; and instead of sweating on a moto, I'll be defrosting windshields. I'm inspired to keep going where I left off in Phnom Penh: to continue teaching, and make a living doing something I'd do for free.

November 7, 2010

Chilly Weather, Chili Weather, and how's the weather in Chile?

Recently, my thoughts have been about as clear as the lyrics in a Kings of Leon song. You hear lots of garbled syllables and decide that they are indeed words, but which words?

Kings of Leon may be on my stereo, but tonight, the threat of winter has me in a quiet and reflective mood. Note: this does not mean good, or even original writing coming up.

Outside, the air has finally turned cold. My year of perpetual summer is gone. My trusty flip-flops are stowed in the closet next to the backpack I bought in Siem Riep. This morning, I clutched my Styrofoam coffee cup with leather gloves. I saw my breath huff and puff as I detoured around the block before work. I enjoyed the peppery heat of a big bowl of homemade chili for dinner. Winter is definitely coming.

It's sandal weather in Chile.

November 1, 2010

Invisa-eye and other things you tolerate abroad

"I'm glad I went to Cambodia," I told my mom today.

I explained to her that Cambodia temporarily freed me from my dependency on hair and make-up. For the first time in years, I was able to tolerate,  the so-called "invisa-eye", or blond eyelashes sans mascara. I wore my hair in variations on the ponytail, pulling my bangs back off my forehead. I didn't plug in a straightener or even a blow dryer the entire time. I left my make-up bag in the suitcase. It started out as a weather-related modification, but the change in my physical presentation was a startling revelation for me. I no longer wanted to hide behind carefully blown-out bangs and smoky eyeliner. It was my face: for better or for not-so-better.

Despite my lack of warpaint, I've never felt more comfortable in my own skin--and that's saying a lot for an insecure gal.

Since Cambodia, I've continued to embrace my hair's natural texture, though I do occasionally pull out the blow dryer to speed things up. Without the tan, and with a lot more mirror time, I have fully relapsed into my make-up bag. Just filling in the eyebrows suddenly turns into lip gloss, and pretty soon I've got stage make-up.

I'm starting to wonder how many post-Cambodia blogs I can get away with. New adventure, please!