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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spain Sailing

Every year, our school has a week long trip to a choice of several international destinations. We’re given a list of different options ranging from skiing in the north of Finland, to a cultural trip through Barcelona. Last year, I went on a culture trip to Istanbul and loved it! I was really anxious to find out what trip I would be going this year, and super excited when I got my first choice. Sailing in Spain. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out my best friend would not be going on the same trip. It was nerve racking to not have anyone on my trip that I knew. Especially seeing as I would be spending a week on a boat with these people.


The trip was unlike anything I have ever done before. We spent each day sailing on the water, and spent each night docked in a harbor. We learned a little about sailing the boats, such as working the ropes and navigation. My favorite part was probably steering the boat. It was amazing to sit at the top of the boat with the wind in your hair, and the sea spread out before you. Although I must say, there was often just a bit too much wind for me. The weather did not seem to cooperate with us throughout our trip and we had rain a few days, and very strong winds. The last day we were not able to go out on the water because the winds were so strong. Due to the unexpected conditions, we were not able to exactly follow our original plan. I learned that in sailing, everything depends on the weather...which is often very annoying. We had planned to sail around the island of Ibiza, and dock in a different harbor each night. But we only spent time in 2 different towns. The majority of our time was spent in a town called San Antonio, that I did not particularly like. The other night we stayed in Ibiza, and I found that I enjoyed the cute town.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find that I had two very nice girls on my trip, and easily became friends with them. One of our days on the water we did get the chance to swim, but it was so cold! We all jumped straight in and out. Our last day sailing we were lucky enough to have several dolphins swimming on the side of our boat for a few minutes. I’d say that was one of my favorite parts. Throughout the trip, we had to cook most of our meals in the small kitchen on the boat, and had a fun time cooking together!

I’m so glad that I was able to go on this trip to Ibiza, Spain. Sailing was a great and very different experience! There was plenty of time to relax, and enjoy the sea and scenery. Also, I was glad that I made a few new friends and tried something new! I would love to go sailing again sometime, but I don’t know if I would be able to last more than a week at a time on the rolling waves.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Surprised by Lisbon, Portugal

I find myself a bit weary with travel.  We have so many opportunities and do try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way, yet I'm in a spot where I would like to just stop for awhile.  But nevertheless I boarded a plane bound for Lisbon, Portugal.  I didn't crack open a travel guide.  I didn't look at tripadvisor.  In fact, I knew nothing about this country when I landed.  Even upon arrival I didn't make much effort to find things to do.  I took a totally different approach this time around.  I didn't expect Lisbon to wow me, but the city did take me by surprise.  Here are 5 things that I instantly fell in love with.

1.  Architecture - I was instantly charmed by terra cotta roofs rippling through the city and exterior facades decorated with tile.  Standing on one of the seven hills of the city, the buildings stood in refreshing contrast to the blue ocean stretching out.

2.  Food - Seafood is the staple of the country.  I found the best battered and fried fish I have eaten in years and Chad enjoyed trying octopus for the first time.  In the trendy warehouse food court by the water, I had a marvelous salad.  A bed of greens, sprinkled with berries had a lovely slice of goat cheese topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I can't wait to try this at home!

3.  Affordability - Even though Portugal uses the Euro, we found everything from a hotel to food to shopping very affordable.  How refreshing to have a wonderful meal and not feel like we had broke the bank.

4. Things to do -  I was surprised at the variety of tours available.  Sitting in a plaza one afternoon I watched Segways roll past, a group of bicycles peddle by, open top hop-on-hop-off busses stop to load and cable cars with "city tour" painted on the side clanged as they floated out of sight.  We opted for a tuk-tuk tour.  I enjoyed the five minute stops around the city and relaxed in not being dumped with a lot of overwhelming information.

5.  Port and Plazas - Plazas abound throughout the city, each with a tall monument in the center hailing the victory of some long forgotten battle.  Fountains dance with water springing from cherub's lips.  They are fabulous places to rest under an umbrella and enjoy a glass of port, for which the area is so famous or a glass of sweet sangria to match the cool breeze winding though the city.

So I leave having learned two things about Portugal:  there is much more to enjoy and see than I ever dreamed and it is the poorest country in Western Europe.  This was mentioned by friends we went out to eat with the first night and indeed, the next morning I saw cardboard box homes set up on the steps of building and grates in the plazas.  I haven't seen this since we left South America and it took me a bit by surprise.  Beggars are common and consistently approach you.

I guess one other thing that comes to mind would be a comment from Chad.  "I've never been offered drugs as much as here in Lisbon."  I was surprised and answered back "Have you ever been offered drugs before?"  After a thoughtful moment the answer was "no."  We survived two years in Colombia without being approached one time, yet over and over someone would come up to us and open his fist to reveal a saran wrapped packet and the word "cocaine?" would pass through his lips.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Long White Cloud

Dear friends,

I want to share a project that I’ve been working on for quite awhile with you.  When we lived in Bogota I had extra time on my hands.  As the rain drizzled down my windows I would curl up in front of the fireplace to write.  I began compiling the accounts of our time in New Zealand.  I studied cultural and historic information, threw in some touristy tips and wound my way down memory lane.  I fell in love with the research and process of writing and soon I realized I had the beginning of a book in my hands.  

Some months I had more time than others, but I kept returning to my project.  I poured more and more of myself into it and finally after a year I typed the last period.  I had no idea what to do next so I decided to give it to a friend who does a bit of writing and get their opinion.  That was hard, but I discovered that if I wanted anything to come about with this book then I needed to put myself on the line.  Chip came back with positive feedback and encouragement.  Looking back, I realize Chip was a fork in the road for me.  What I did next depended on his response.  It’s funny how we put all our eggs in one basket.  Positive feedback and I move forward, negative and all that hard work goes in the trashcan.

Then summer happened.  We left Bogota, spent some time in the states and moved to Moscow.  All that takes time and energy, so the book got stuffed in a box.  Then one day I had time.  I began to edit the manuscript and research traditional publishing versus self publishing.   I got the book as far as I could on my own, yet I knew it was not close to being ready.  I asked another writing friend to read it and she came back with excellent notes.  One thing she challenged me on was the order of events.  I understood, but how in the world does a visual, linear person take 60,000 words and change the order?  I printed the book out and taped it to the walls of our house.  For weeks my family lived with paper snaking through the rooms and down the halls.  I stood there for hours in front of the pages with scissors in one hand and tape in the other.  I literally cut pages in half, walked down the hall and taped them onto other pages.  

Then I sent out query letters.  While emailing the first one I began to cry.  I felt so vulnerable, so inadequate.  This was one of many moments when it would have been very easy to walk away, but I made a choice that I didn’t want this book to be like the quilt in my closet that comes with me from post to post.  Always the thought “I will finish it later.” is in the back of my head, I never do.  I would love to say that some great publisher picked up the book and decided to print it.  Although I got a few nibbles, that didn’t happen.  

Chad decided to do one last thorough edit.  I thought I would die waiting for it to be complete, but now I have the absolute best manuscript I can produce in my hands.  To me it is a treasure, a small piece of me goes out with this book.  I’ve learned a lot about myself in this process.  I’ve learned that I eat when I’m processing ideas.  I’ve found that it’s easier to put myself out there in front of strangers than in front of you, my friends.  Each step takes time and I am not a patient person.  I discovered that I love researching, learning and writing.  I enjoy the process of formatting and making sure every detail is correct for download.  I doubt I’m going to enjoy the marketing, but maybe I’ll surprise myself!  

So here is my book.  It’s a collection of tales and adventures, history and culture, recipes and travel information.  I guess you could call it a memoir/travel book of New Zealand.  Currently it is only available as an ebook through Amazon, but I hope to have the hard copy ready in about a month.  Please pass the word along, tweet it, write a review and email me ideas for marketing and feedback!  Enjoy!

Love, Kris

Monday, March 2, 2015

Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps

"Work Makes You Free"

Prisoners believed the words "Work Makes You Free" as they passed under a sign entering Auschwitz concentration camp.  They did not know that 75% of them would walk directly from the trains into the gas chambers to be killed by the Germans.  1.1 million prisoners died in Auschwitz, 90% of them were Jews.
This was a solemn trip for the girls and me.
We toured both the Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps.  I'm glad we visited in the winter, when the earth is dead.  It's hard to imagine the horror that these places once were.  Grass has grown, floors swept, latrines emptied.  The smells of human waste and bodies burning, the cries of children starving and adults moaning in delirium, the wails of mothers without their children are all long gone.
Tour groups passed silently as each person was lost in their own thoughts, their own way of dealing with the cruelty of man.  Our guide led us through the statistics, history and process of the victims in the camps.  It all seemed like a blur of information until we came to one particular building.  The hallway was lined with photos of men on one side, women on the other.  The guide paused, her fingers trailed along the photos.  She paused to whisper a name, and age or a nationality.  Dressed in striped uniforms with an identifying triangle sewn on, eyes stared out, lost in hollow faces with no hope in them.  But a few people smiled--sweetly or defiantly.  Hitler would not win.  The Germans could not steal who they were.
Then we entered the rooms.  Piles of eye glasses, mounds of suitcases and mountains of human hair.  I read the names painted on the suitcases as I walked past.  Another way to remember that these were individuals.  The experience is overwhelming.  You think you can't go on.  You want to just sit down in the middle of the floor and cry.
Shoes collected before death
One foot in front of the other we walked passed the torture rooms, the yard where they shot the prisoners, the steal beam they hung them from.  The last thing was to walk into the gas chamber and through the crematorium.  We have seen this in movies, read about it in books.  It is another thing to walk inside and stand where so many innocent people were murdered.  Then we walked out.  The thought kept going through my head "I get to walk out, they never did."  It settled heavy in my heart.
We sat at dinner with our small tour group.  Elena asked the college girl across from us why she chose to visit Poland on her spring break.  "Because my Grandfather is a survivor of Auschwitz."  She didn't need to say anything more.  For everyone sitting there, the trip just got one step more personal.  We could reach out and touch a girl who had life because her five year old Grandfather was smuggled away to a convent to be protected by the nuns.
There is a quote in one of the buildings.  Do not forget or the same thing will happen to you.  The world is full of holocaust museums.  We are told not to forget, but have we?  Injustice saturates the world we live in.  It is something I have wanted to be a part of fighting.  I thought when we began this job that doors would open up to be more involved, to help in a greater manner.  But instead I have found that it is much harder.  It was so easy at home to find numerous organizations to volunteer with or individuals who needed help.  Overseas I don't speak the language, NGO's are difficult to find, programs don't want help and a slew of other difficulties have arisen.  I have done little although I have tried hard.  (It feels like such a lame excuse.)  But after this experience I feel that maybe I need to reevaluate.  Maybe I need a different tactic.  Because I can't forget.  I refuse to forget.


Train car prisoners arrived in