Friday, August 31, 2012

Catch up or "The First Six Months"

I know, I've been awful at writing lately. My Top 5 Fridays kinda came to an end, and I've had problems being motivated to write posts. In order to catch up, I am going to write a list of interesting things that have happened in these first months!

  • I actually learned Spanish!
  • I completely designed a water system that is 8 kilometers long and will serve over 50 families
  • I secured funding for over half of my aqueduct
  • I got a parasite
  • I've visited the Capital, Manabao, Santiago, Jarabacoa, Las Galleras, La Vega, and Cotui
  • I've read 30 books
  • However, I also managed to break my kindle
  • I've watched Game of Thrones,
  • I built my own house (or, my community built me a house, but almost the same thing!)
  • I moved into said house
  • I survived my first tropical storm in the campo, including crossing a waist high river to get to my house
  • I was gifted a kitten (Tiguere) and a puppy (Candi) in the span of 3 days
  • I got Dengue Fever
So yes, I have had an adventurous first 6 months in country. It's crazy how fast the time here is going. The new volunteers came into country about a week and a half ago, so my group is no longer the newbies! Things are going fairly well - I'm still in the capital recovering from Dengue, which wasn't too fun. I'll be returning to site hopefully tomorrow to get settled in and start taking care of my babies, Tiguere and Candi, once more. I've still got another almost 21 months to go, so there is a lot of time for things to get done. I'm hoping to maybe begin construction on my water system before the end of this year, but for that to happen, I have a lot of hard work ahead of me!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 Most Useless Traits brought with me to the DR

I've talked a lot about items that I did or didn't bring with me to the DR, but I thought it would be fun to talk about the personality traits that I brought with me that haven't been so useful. So here are the top 5 most useless traits of my personality that I brought with me to the DR!
  1. A fear of insects, especially cockroaches and spiders. There’s no way to not have them in your house
  2. Vergüenza, or embarrassment. People laugh at me all the time. You just have to accept the fact that you are going to mess up and laugh with everyone else!
  3. A lack of Spanish skills. The first few weeks in country were really hard. I’m getting a lot better, but I still wish I had studied Spanish more and had a larger vocabulary
  4. Light sleeping habits. With all these roosters, dogs, and early morning work by Dominicans, the ability to sleep through noise would be amazing
  5. Independence. It’s funny, because to be a successful volunteer, you would think being independent would be extremely useful. Dominicans don’t want me to live alone, walk alone, travel alone, sit alone in my room, or in general do anything alone. If I was less independent, my life would be so much easier here!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Top 5 Friday - Top 5 Items I wish I had brought with me to the DR

To finish up this series, I figured I would talk about what I wish I had brought with me. It's impossible to bring everything that I wanted, and there were a few things that I did not bring that I really wish I had. So here are the top 5 things that I wish I had brought with me!
  1. Rolling luggage. Basically anywhere you can roll a suitcase. While my duffel bags are super nice at times (shorter trips in particular), they are super heavy to carry long distances when others have rolling suitcases.
  2. More photos. I don’t like to bring out my computer that often, and the only printed pictures I have are of me and my sister. I think the Dominicans might think I have no friends.
  3. Yoga Mat – I had a yoga mat in my pile of things to bring, but due to space constraints I took it out. When I’m doing crunches or yoga in my room, that yoga mat would have been perfect. Definitely would have gotten more use than a lot of other things I brought!
  4. Nice flats – I brought a few pairs of nice heels, but in a lot of situations they aren’t practical. Some pretty strappy flats would have been perfect to bring
  5. Hanging organizers. I haven’t managed to find good ones here in country, and space can be VERY limited at times. Some good quality hanging organizers would have been amazing to put all my folded clothing in, rather than the crappy ones that I have now that are collapsing

Friday, June 29, 2012

Top 5 Friday - Top 5 Most Useless Items I brought with me to the DR

To continue on the topic of packing for the DR, I have found since being in country that many of the things I chose to bring were a little less than useful. In fact, many things have been completely useless for me! So for all those soon to be DR volunteers, take this little list as some suggestions for things NOT to bring. I present, the Top 5 most useless items I brought with me!

  1. Polo shirts. I didn’t like them in the US. Why would I suddenly start wearing polo shirts all the time?
  2. Toiletries. I brought several deodorants, toothpastes, face wash, plus big bottles of shampoo and conditioner. You can buy all these things here, and they aren’t that expensive. Huge waste of space and weight
  3. Sleeping bag/mat/sheets/pillow. Maybe when I start traveling the country I will change my mind, and if I had been placed in a cooler area I might have a different opinion, but I haven’t used any of these things in country. I guess they could be nice when I have visitors or visit people, but they have been fairly useless so far
  4. Clothes pins – really, did I think I couldn’t find those in country if I needed them?
  5. Hair straightener – I’ve used it twice at nice Peace Corps events, and both times the humidity (or rain) made my hair curly within an hour.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 Best Items I brought with me to the DR

In about 2 month, new volunteers will be entering the country, and I will no longer be one of the "new" volunteers. I know that when I was preparing to leave, I was looking for lots of suggestions on how to pack. So for you future volunteers, here are the top 5 items that I brough with me to the DR! I hope it helps with your packing.
  1. My laptop and external harddrive - I have tons of movies on my external as well for at night when I need to hear English for a while
  2. My headlamp – in the night when I need to use the bathroom, or when la luz se fue and I want to write in my journal. Every PCDR volunteer (and honestly, probably every Peace Corps volunteer in general) needs a headlamp.
  3. My kindle – the ability to check email occasionally in the campo is god sent, and I love having so many books
  4. Several water bottles – I already lost one on a bus, backups are great!
  5. 7 different colored tank tops – I wear these about 80% of the time!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 things I don’t like about the DR

For the mot part, I love this country. However, living in a new place and new culture, there are always a few things that you really are not a fan of. So, in honor of that, this weeks top 5 list - the top 5 things that I don't like about the DR. I hope you all know that this was one of the hardest list to come up with 5 things for, I do really love this country.
  1. Mayi –Mayi are these horrible little bugs that bite you. They come in groups and attack your legs. They itch like crazy and last forever. I look diseased because of these things. 
  2. Hissing – to get the attention of a lady walking by, guys will do several things. One that I don’t mind too much is yelling out Piropos, or “compliments.” The one I despise though is the hissing. I refuse to acknowledge anyone that hisses at me. 
  3. Dogs off leashes – the fact that they are off a leash doesn’t bother me so much. It’s more when I’m running and an angry dog starts chasing me and growling aggressively. I would really rather not be bitten by a potentially rabid dog, thanks. 
  4. The heat – Being from Florida, I thought the heat would be the least of my worries. I was wrong. The heat here is almost unbearable, and it’s not even the hottest months yet. From around 12-3, I literally cannot do anything but lie in my bed or sit on the porch and try not to move because I am so hot. I’m hoping to eventually become accustomed to it. 
  5. Unexpected Proposals – I have had countless men ask me if I will marry them so they can get a visa to the United States. They don’t even try to be subtle about it. I really don’t like that they think it’s okay to talk to me in that way.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 Funniest T-shirts I’ve seen in the DR

In the developing world, there are a lot of shops that sell second hand clothing from the US. Because of that, you see a lot of funny shirts that you might not expect to see in the Dominican Republic. In honor of those funny shirts, I am give you this weeks top 5 Friday - the top 5 funniest shirts I've seen so far in the DR. The moral of this is to think before you donate!

  1. “Nobody Does it Better: Bridgeport Cheerleaders” Worn by a 7 year old boy
  2. A Hot Pink Girl Scouts T-shirt – worn by a grown Dominican man
  3. A Relay for Life Steering Committee t-shirt. I have a feeling the 17 year old Dominican boy didn’t organize that relay for life.
  4. A shirt with the Playboy Bunny logo – worn by a 7 year old Dominican girl. It made me sad
  5. Firefighters for Rod! Rod Smith for Governor. I found it really funny, since Rod is a family friend! 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 things I’ve learned so far in the Campo

I have now lived in the campo for 3 weeks, and I have been learning some valuable life lessons and making some interesting observations. So without further ado, for this weeks Top 5 Friday, the top 5 things that I've learned so far by living in the campo
  1. For children, clothing is always optional. I have seen more naked or half naked little kids here than in my life combined
  2. There is such a thing as too much fruit. I love fruit. But when you are gifted 8 papayas in one day, you have some problems with what to do with them all.
  3. I’m either really funny or act really stupid all the time. Either way, I make Dominicans laugh. A lot. I’m not always sure if they are laughing with me or at me.
  4. People out here are so friendly and generous. I have been gifted more fruit than I can count. Every time I visit a house, they want to give me a glass of juice or a cup of coffee or some crackers. I love the feeling of community and the warm welcome I have received
  5. I can survive with a lot less than I am used to. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 Ways you know you have a Doña

Oh Donas... what is there to say about Donas. Living with host families means that we have Donas, the mother of the family. Donas are absolutely amazing and hilarious. So, to honor Donas, I present this weeks top 5 list, the top 5 ways you know you have a Dona!
  1. You get yelled at for trying to take your shoes off before entering the house, even if they are completely covered in mud. Make that you are yelled at in general for not wearing shoes in the house. Walking around in just socks is NOT acceptable.
  2. After being yelled out for trying to take off said dirty shoes, the next day, those shoes are suddenly sparkling clean
  3. You get served ridiculously large portions of food for every meal, and are offered seconds even when you’ve only eaten half of what you received
  4. You are also served ridiculously sweet coffee, and are constantly asked if you need more sugar in it
  5. You have a slew of endearing nicknames – mi amor being the most common.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 favorite Dominican Non-verbals

While I have been working to learn Spanish, I also have to learn non verbals. Thinks aren't the same here as the US - thumbs up means you support a certain political party, and shaking your head no is useless. So, I figured a list of my top 5 favorite non-verbals was in order!

  1. The finger wag. Shaking your head is useless, but if you use the finger wag, people know you mean no
  2. Pointing with your lips. This one is so funny. You don’t point with your finger, you point with your lips. In the direction of the house, the store, or which item on the shelf you want
  3. The nose crinkle. It means you don’t understand.
  4. The finger circle. When it’s too loud in a party and you want to dance, you use the finger circle to ask someone to dance with you
  5. Tacaño, or the elbow hit. It means someone who is really cheap

Friday, May 11, 2012

End of Training or "The Deep Nothing"

Hello friends and family! I know I've been slacking on writing actual posts. It's been a crazy few weeks, and I've been mega busy. The most important things that happened during this time was site announcement and visit and swear in.

For the next 2 years, I will be living in a small community outside of Cotui. I will be working to construct an aqueduct for two small communities - La Javilla and La Hondonada. The title of my blog is actually the translation of my community - La Hondonada literally translates to "The Deep Nothing!" It's a very remote community - you have to cross 4 rivers without bridges to get to my house. It's a bit of an adventure to get to my site with that, but I really like it so far. I went for a visit for about 4 days, and my family is wonderful and it's beautiful. Also, it is an area known for fruit - during my visit I was served pineapple, apples, bananas, oranges and more! I am really going to love all the fresh fruit in my diet.

I had an interesting miscommunication during my visit to my community. One day, we went into Cotui to see where the bus stop was, the presa, and good supermarkets. During that time, I decided to buy a machete. My project partner kept telling me that my host family had machetes, but I wanted to buy my own. Once I got home, proudly displaying my machete, I realized that what my project partner was trying to say was that my host family SELLS machetes! They thought it was really funny, but I was super embarrassed.

Other than that, we had our finals tests, including my Spanish exam, which I qualified for service with a 5.5. Then we had swear in. It's amazing, all 40 volunteers that we started with swore in, including one of our volunteers that had a torn ACL and had to return to the states for 5 weeks! We have such an amazing a dedication group, and I feel so lucky to be part of it. The ceremony was really nice - we were sworn in by the US Ambassador, and there were some really nice speeches. Afterwards we had snacks and punch and some cake. It was a great last hoorah at the Pantoja. We've been relaxing for a bit in the capital, and soon we will head to our sites for the next 2 years. It's crazy that I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I am so excited to start my work here. Thanks for all your support, and I'll try to update as much as I can once I'm in site!

Top 5 Friday - Top 5 Photos from Training

There is so much I would love to say about training and how much fun I have had, but instead, I think since a picture is worth 1,000 words, I will post my top 5 photos from training! 5 pictures aren’t really enough to sum up my 9 weeks of training, but I will do my best!

Botanical Gardens

Water group construction

Baby goats!

Building a water tank

Swearing in ceremony with the Ambassador

Friday, May 4, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 strangest foods I’ve been served

The food it the DR has in general been fairly good, though repetitive. There is a lot of rice and beans and viveres. However, on a few occasions, I have been served some odd foods. Sometimes they are good, sometimes bad, but in general, weird things. So, for this Top 5 Friday, I present the 5 strangest foods I’ve been served in the DR.

  1. Ramen Noodles for breakfast. I feel like I’m in college again!
  2. “Avena.” Avena is oatmeal, but here, they don’t like the oats, so they grind the oats into a powder and add chocolate and sugar, so it’s basically like thick hot chocolate. It is served with some bread. Bread and hot chocolate for dinner. Dinner of champions
  3. Fried hot dog for breakfast. Or dinner. Or both. Enough said.
  4. Boiled yucca with bacalao (dried salted fish). The one time I’ve had to choke down the food given to me. And it was for breakfast. Who eats dried fish and starchy vegetables for breakfast?
  5. Fried Mayonnaise Sandwich. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 things I will miss about Manabao (and CBT)

Today is my last day in Manabao – tomorrow, we head back to the capital. In honor of my time here in Manabao, I present the top 5 things I will miss about Manabao
  1. The weather – the rain hasn’t been fun, but I like the cool weather here. It’s going to be tough going to a warmer climate
  2. The mountains – it’s absolutely beautiful here, and I love getting to hike in the mountains in the weekend
  3. Doña Diana – I absolutely adore my Doña here. I’m going to miss her tons, especially her amazing cooking!
  4. My fellow Americans – It’s been really fun having the 6 water volunteers together, as well as our awesome trainer Mark. I’m going to miss them all once we head to our respective communities across the DR
  5. Running water – I have been blessed during CBT to have consistent running water, with flush toilets and sometimes even a hot shower! Back in the capital I have bucket flush and bucket baths, and once I head to site, I’ll have a latrine. I’m definitely going to miss this life of luxury that I have!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sick in the DR or ¨The Gripe¨

Hey everyone. I´ve been a little MIA recently. I had my first illness here in the DR, which wasn´t fun at all. Basically, any headcold or flu here is called the gripe, which in my opinion, sounds like I am going to die. I started with a headcold, and the next day I got a fairly high fever, chills, and just in general felt like crap. They got me on an antibiotic for what they thought was a sinus infection and after a few days I started to feel better. I´ve still been having some allergies and congestion, but I am doing tons better.

Other than that, training has been going well. We have one more week of training, and then we head back to the capital to get our site assignments. Shortly after that, we go for a site visit, and then swear in the following week. 3 weeks from today, I will be in my site for good, moved in with all my stuff and meeting the people I will be spending time with for the next 2 years. I already unofficially know where I will be living, but I am going to wait until I get the final announcement and information to share it on here! It´s crazy to think that it´s so soon, but I am really excited to get started on my project and getting settled in. It´s hard at times to not have a real home and to just feel like a guest in someone´s house, but soon, I will have as home!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 best foods (or drinks) that I’ve had in the DR

On the topic of food, I thought this next top 5 Friday should be about the good food I have eaten here. So without further ado, the top 5 foods and drinks that I have had here in the DR
  1. Chinola Juice – it’s basically like passion fruit juice, and it is my favorite things ever. Yum.
  2. All fresh fruit. I know this might be cheating, but it’s my top 5 list so I make the rules. The fruit here is out of this world. Papaya, pineapple, mango, bananas, avocados. I get served fruit fairly often, but once I’m on my own, I’ll be eating it every day
  3. Coffee brewed with ginger. It might sound strange, but it is so amazing! The coffee here is wonderful, I’ve started to even drink it black on occasion, and never with milk. The ginger is such a great flavor with it – crush up some ginger and have it with the coffee while it brews. Yummmmmm
  4. Stewed Eggplant. It might sound like a weird thing to be obsessed with, but my Doña makes the most amazing stewed eggplant. Those are the happiest days
  5. Pizza Empanadas. That might be cheating, since it’s not a Dominican food and we cooked it, but the dough was absolutely amazing
There is definitely some good food here! I will definitely be picking up some of these recipes once I head home to the US

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top 5 Friday - Top 5 Foods I Miss

To continue with the topic of things from the US that I miss, here is my list of the top 5 foods I miss. If I hadn't separated foods, 3-4 of the 5 things I miss would be food related, so I figured it would be good to keep things separate
  1. Sushi - Yum
  2. Camembert Cheese with a fresh baguette... heavenly
  3. Pasta that isn't cooked until it is mush. Whatever happened to al dente?
  4. Anything SPicy. I'm not the hugest fan of spice, but here, no one like anything "picante" or spicy. I can add hot sauce to my food, but it's not the same
  5. Leafy green vegetables. I get salads here, but its with iceberg lettuce or cabbage and it's not the same as a yummy romaine or spinach salad. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Well that's it for this Friday! I hope to post a good top 5 next week!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Samana Santa and Construction or “Dominicans Know How to Throw a Party”

Hello blog followers!

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write. Things have been crazy here – lots going on with Samana Santa, training activities, and more.

Samana Santa was my first real Dominican holiday, and it was pretty nuts. Samana Santa is their Easter celebration. It is a very family based holiday, so most of the extended family will return home to celebrate. That meant my Doña’s 6 kids, 4 grandkids, and multiple nieces were visiting. I think I counted and at one point over 15 people were sleeping in the house. The house only has 3 bedrooms, and one is for me only, so you can imagine the sleeping arrangements were creative. For Samana Santa, there is lots of eating, drinking, parties, and dancing to celebrate. We had our major fiestas at a cabaña that a wealthy family in Santo Domingo owns. My host family takes care of the cabaña, and they are really good friends and celebrate together. Even though it is a religious holiday, it is more of a cultural celebration. I had a great time dancing bachata and merengue, eating huge meals, and meeting and talking with all my host siblings that were visiting. One son came all the way from the US with his 2 kids! It was a really fun celebration here, and I think I might just have to come back and celebrate it here again during my 2 years. My family in Manabao knows how to have a good party.

Technical training continues to go well, though it is some long days. We have been working this week on constructing a water tank for our community. All of us will have to build a water tank during our service for our water systems, and this construction practice is so that we will understand what goes into building a tank. It is hard work – lugging sand up hills, sifting that sand, mixing concrete, applying concrete onto the walls, and more. I have tons of cuts on my hands from the work, but it’s a really amazing feeling to see something like this being built by my own hands. I can’t wait until I get to design my own water system and see it constructed by my community – it will be a surreal feeling for sure!

Other than that, all is well. I had a little bout of dehydration one day after construction, but I am starting to feel better. My Spanish is continuing to improve little by little. All in all, things are good. I’ve been in the DR for more than 6 weeks now, and I am excited to be staying here for a little more than 2 more!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Top 5 Friday – Top 5 things (not including food) I miss

So I’ve decided to start this new thing – Top 5 Friday. Every Friday, I hope to write a top 5 list about my time here in the DR. It will let me reflect on some funny things, as well as some serious ones. I started to write this top 5 list, but I realized I was writing too many foods. So instead, for my first top 5 list, I give you the top 5 things I miss from the US, food excluded. We will have a whole other list devoted to that!

  1. Hot showers
  2. Being able to put toilet paper in the toilet!
  3. Actually understanding everything that is being said around me. While my Spanish has improved a lot, I still have a long way to go.
  4. The ability to be anonymous. Here I can walk down the street or go for a jog without being stared at. My light skin will always set me apart.
  5. My friends and family! I am making some wonderful friends here in the DR, but I miss all of you tons and tons!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Community Based Training or “It’s Always Rainy in Manabao”

Hello friends and family! I have officially finished my first complete week of CBT up in Manabao, and what a week (and a half) it has been. I’ve barely had time to think!

First, a little about Manabao: Manabao might be one of the most beautiful places in the Dominican Republic. It’s up in the mountains, with rolling hills and gorgeous views everywhere. Everything is green here and the air is crisp and cool. However, there is a downside to being here: the rain. I think without fail, it has rained every afternoon in Manabao. And lucky for us, most of our outside work is in the afternoons! That has led to come very dirty afternoons!

My host family here is Manabao is absolutely amazing. My Doña, Diana, is a firecracker, and I have some hilarious conversations with her. She is also an absolutely amazing cook! This also is the first time I have had a Don in my host family, and he is really nice, though at times hard to understand. There are tons of other people that hang around the house: two host brothers, a host nephew, and tons of friends and family that wander in and out. It definitely keeps me on my toes and practicing my Spanish a lot.

Speaking of Spanish, we had our second interview, and I have officially reached the Spanish level to qualify for service! It is a great feeling to have that done with, and I can focus on continuing to learn more and more words and grammar to become closer and closer to being fluent. At times I am starting to feel really comfortable with Spanish – I caught myself counting in Spanish in my head the other day, and I am able to have conversations on some subjects without feeling like I am constantly translating in my head. Poco a poco!

CBT has involved a lot over these few days – I’ve had two technical presentations so far. The first was on a community diagnostic, and the second was a water committee meeting. Things were crazy, that’s for sure, but I think both of them went all right. I get my scores back sometime next week, so I have my fingers crossed for now. I have my first test on Monday on technical knowledge, so things are going by quickly!

The coolest thing I’ve probably learned so far is how to lay bricks and mix concrete. Let me tell you – mixing concrete by hand is really hard work! And laying blocks looks a lot easier than it actually is. I never quite realized how much work went into cutting rebar, tying frames, mixing concrete into a homogenous mix, and lining up blocks and sealing them with mortar. I had some real sore muscles during the work this week, but I learned a lot. Plus, it’s really cool to build something with your own hands. We will finish up the columns next week, so once I have the finished product, I’ll definitely post a picture!

For those who know about my running, I have gotten a few runs in up here. Even though I’m so busy, I’ve managed to find a bit of time for running. The hills here are tough, but it’s good fr me to get some hill work – that’s what killed me in my half marathon in February (that and my horrible knee, which also seems to have healed up well!). There is a half marathon in Santo Domingo in June or July which I am debating running. It would be hot, but training in these hills would really help me on a flat course at sea level!

That’s about all for now. Next week should be pretty crazy – lots of technical lectures and Spanish. Then, over the weekend, it is Samana Santa here. Samana Santa is the Easter celebration in the Dominican Republic, and basically it’s a huge family reunion and party. Lots of food, beverages, dancing, and people! It should be an long weekend with not very much rest, but I am excited to experience my first truly Dominican Holiday!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Volunteer Visit or “Ode to my Water Bottle”

This past weekend, I went to visit a current volunteer, and it was full of adventures.

First, I want to say a few words for one that is no longer with me – my water bottle. I brought 3 water bottles with me to the Dominican Republic, but one was my favorite. It was a Kleen Kanteen, blue, with a wonderful top to drink from. I got this water bottle almost 2 years ago, and it has traveled with me to Ghana, Chile, Nicaragua, Europe, and more. It’s been around New York City and spent many a day in the field hydrating me during sinkhole investigations in Florida. It had scratches and dents, but that simply gave it character. Sadly, my water bottle was lost on a Dominican Guagua when it broke down and I had to switch guaguas. Things happened so suddenly that I grabbed my bag and helmet to change buses while forgetting my water bottle in the cupholder. Dear water bottle, I hope some adventurous person found you and may you travel around the Dominican Republic having many more adventures without me.

Another adventure would be one of the first things that happened during my trip. We were riding on the back of a pickup track, when we came to an intersection where people were all yelling. Turns out seconds before there had been a motorcycle accident. A man was seriously injured, and the only vehicles around other than ours were motorcycles. So, we loaded this man into the back of the truck with us, and he and 2 of his friends rode with us to the nearest hospital. The man’s head was bleeding significantly and he kept trying to go to sleep, like he had a concussion. We got him to a clinic nearby where he received care, and apparently returned home the next day. It was one of the most intense things to happen since I’ve gotten here, but I was glad we were able to get him the help that he needed. If we weren’t there, I don’t know how long it could have taken for him to get to a hospital to get the care he needed.

Other than that, it was a pretty straight forward trip. The water volunteer I visited was amazing and gave me tons of great insight about how it is to be a water volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and especially how it is to be a woman water volunteer. I can only hope that I will be that put together, have an amazing water system almost completed, and have Spanish skills like that in a year! It was really cool to see a water system almost completed. It’s overwhelming to think that I am going to be designing and building something like that, but I can’t wait to start learning all the technical skills I need.

Speaking of learning technical skills, I will be leaving on Thursday for Manabao for our Community Based Training part of training. Myself and the 5 other water volunteers will be up there for 5.5 weeks by ourselves learning technical skills and constructing a lot of cool things, such as ferrocement water tanks, gully crossings, and a toma! I have no idea how my access to internet will be during those weeks, so I may not be posting much.

I may try to post once more before I leave, specifically about how I love motorcycles now (sorry mom and dad!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Running in the DR or "Unexpected Sprints"

So going for a jog in the DR is far different than running in the US. I used to get annoyed on occasion when people would honk at me, but that's nothing compared to trying to run here.

So I went for a job yesterday with another volunteer Barbara. First, we needed to find somewhere that we could run without excessive potholes. That's an adventure in itself, since the road I live on it paved with rocks and dirt. We decided to go and run on a road where another volunteer, Arthur, lives. It's paved and more residential so it's more private. Then, once we were actually running, we had some fun things to avoid. First, we had to avoid vehicles - cars and motorcycles. Traffic laws are not the same here as they are in the US, and pedestrians don't have right-of-way. Second, we had to avoid dogs. Dogs think it's a challenge to keep up! We didn't really have many problems, but one dog followed us for about 5 minutes before it got distracted by a car. Finally, we had to avoid guys yelling "piropos" or compliments at us. That led to a few unexpected sprints!

All in all, it was really nice to get a run in, and we probably ran about 2 miles, plus about a mile of walking to and from the area. I loved getting a bit of a workout in, and I'm sure I will have more interesting running stories soon!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Guagua Adventure or “There’s always room for one more”

I think some of the best stories from countries come from public transportation. This is to be the first of what I am sure will be many public transportation stories during my 2 years here. If you think that traveling around NYC is hard (and I know some of my friends do), you haven’t seen anything yet.

In the Dominican Republic, there are three main modes of public transportation: the guagua (public bus), the carro publico (or shared taxi), and the motoconcho (or motorcycle taxi). This transportation adventure involved the first one. Our adventure was an applied Spanish lesson – we had to take public transportation into the city, find the Peace Corps office, the Clinica Abreu, and the Hostel Bella Epoca, three important places for all PCVs to know (the office, the hospital, and the approved hotel).

First, we took the guagua into the city center. A guagua is the Dominican version of a bus. Imagine a bus that is built for about 8 rows of 4 people, approximately 30-35 people. Now imagine fitting 50 or more people into that bus. That’s how buses in the DR work – there is always room for “one more” person. These buses are hot. We’re talking sweat dripping down your back hot. If you are lucky enough to be one of the last people on the bus, you stand. There aren’t any good handholds. Imagine standing in a bus of 50 people (which is similar to the subway in NYC during rush hour), hanging onto the windowsill for dear life, trying to not fall into the lap of anyone or knock anyone over every time the bus driver suddenly breaks (which is about once every 5 seconds). Oh yes, and it’s raining outside, so rain is coming in through the open window. And then imagine this for an hour straight. That’s the guagua ride I had today! It definitely prepared me for the “worst case scenario”! It’s actually a pretty amusing situation, once you realize you have to have a sense of humor to get through life as a PCT/PCV. I feel fairly confident about public transportation after today, which is good – next week I will be traveling into the interior by myself to visit a current volunteer, so I better be ready!

Also to all my friends from Gainesville, I ran into a group of UF students doing missionary work in the DR> The Gator Nation truly is everywhere!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Week Update

Hello friends and family!

I am writing this from my comfy bed in my host family house so I can be prepared to post it tomorrow morning at the training facility. While we have internet there, it is difficult to have enough time to write a post and post it in the same day, so I thought I would try to do it in advance to speed up the process!

I have officially finished my first week here in the Dominican Republic, and it both has flown by as well as part of me feels like it’s been a month. It has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life, and one of the most exhausting as well. I am here with some of the most amazing people I have had the pleasure of meeting and I can’t wait to learn more about them and all the amazing work they are sure to do in the Dominican Republic during their 2+ years here.

I am living in a small barrio outside of Santo Domingo with my host mother and two host sisters, aged 14 and 15. My house here is very modest. We have electricity at times – usually in the evening, which is nice to have the light. Apparently that is due to a battery supply, but I don’t have all the details. During the day, we are prone to blackouts. Running water is very rare, and the one time it was running was the middle of the night, and it was used to fill up a bit garbage barrel with water. There is an actual toilet, but I have to dump a small bucket of water in at just the right angle with just the right amount of force to get it to flush. We also have a family cat (creatively named ‘Gato’ – the Spanish word for cat). He hasn’t warmed up to me that much yet, but I have faith – today he actually let me pet him! That might have been because he was begging for my dinner at the same time, but whatever works. I have yet to see any creepy crawlies, but I have plenty of time ahead of me, right? I’m hoping they stay their distance for as long as possible! We all know how I am when it comes to cockroaches!

The training facility we have is absolutely gorgeous. It is this little oasis in the middle of this urban town. There are trees everywhere and beautiful green lawns. Our classrooms are little pavilions – there are roofs, but no walls so we have nature all around us. There are small pavilions for our Spanish classes and then 2 large pavilions for our group classes. There is running water and flush toilets on site, so we are definitely spoiled in that regard. Lunch is prepared for us every day, and so far it’s all been great! I was very pleased that I tested into the class I hoped to, Level 4, Intermediate Low. We have to be at level 5, Intermediate Mid to swear in, so I don’t have that far to go to get my Spanish skills where I hope for them to be. I would really love to be a level 6 or 7 by the time I swear in, but we will have to see what happens over the next several weeks. I already feel like my Spanish skills have improved significantly over the past 6 days, and I can’t even imagine the improvement after 8 more weeks. I hope I can listen to my initial interview again at some point and laugh at my sad attempt at Spanish.

That’s about it for now. I have some very exciting posts that will be coming up – A visit to Santo Domingo to learn where the Peace Corps Office, approved hospital, and often used hotel are on Thursday, a visit to the Colonial Zone on Sunday, a visit to a current water volunteer in the interior of the country next week, and the CBT up in the mountains in just over 2 weeks! The life of a Peace Corps trainee is a busy one.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Greetings from the DR

Hello friends and family. I am writing this from my kindle so it will be short but sweet. I have been in the DR for 3 days and am getting settled. I have moved in with my host family and have taken my Spanish interview. I am doing alright with the language and begin serious classes on Monday. I will try to post more next week when I have real internet, but for now know I am safe and sound in the DR

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So Long America

Current Location: Washington DC

The stress of the past week has made it very difficult for me to write. I tried to write about packing and goodbyes, about the Peace Corps event on UF campus and more packing, but it was really just too hard to document at the moment. Just know that I managed to get close to the 80 pound limit, will need things brought to me once my family visits later this year, and managed to say my goobyes.

In a few short hours (1.5 hours really, but who's counting?), I will be checking out of our hotel and heading to the airport to begin the journey. Staging today was wonderful - there are about 40 amazing volunteers that I can't wait to get to know better. We had some ice breakers, some skits (in which I expertly portrayed a pig that was slaughtered - good to know those acting classes paid off, right mom and dad?), and a visit from Director Williams. One of the best parts of that was that he actually remembered me from the talk at UF, where I went and introduced myself. I felt so honored when he came to speak to me directly. It really was a great way to start my Peace Corps journey.

I want to thank everyone that has been behind me these past 18 months as I applied, interviewed, gained medical clearance, waited for an invite, received an invite, had that invite rescinded, and received a new invite! I couldn't have done this without all the support from family and friends! I can't wait to share all my adventures with you all as they come!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Half Marathon and Going Away Party

Well, it was a weekend of craziness, that's for sure. Things were jam packed with my sister being home, but no day more so than Sunday.

Sunday, I woke up at 5:30 AM. Most sane people try to remain asleep at 5:30 AM on a Sunday, but not I. That is because most sane people don't think it would be fun to wake up and run 13.1 miles on a Sunday morning. Yes, that's right, I had my half marathon. I got to the starting line at 6:30 AM and the race started at 7. About 3 miles into it I was really questioning both my sanity and my ability to finish the race. The best part of the race was my family. They drove around so I saw them 3 separate times - once at mile 3.5, once at mile 8, and at the finish line! The conditions for the race were less than favorable. It was ridiculously humid and windy, both conditions that I had not trained much in. Because of that, my time was a bit lower than I had hoped, but I finished with a time of 2:23:17! Woohoo!
Still going strong at mile 8!

Finish line celebration!

Albert is proud of me too! And check out my snazzy finishers medal (yeah, running at my speed, there's no chance for a winners medal!)

After a long race, most people go home, lay around on a couch or in bed and relax. You just ran 13.1 miles - you deserve a break, right? Not I though. I am not a normal sane person. For some unknown reason, I agreed with my parents suggestion to have my going away party Sunday afternoon from 4-7. Tons of family friends came and I had a lot of fun... except it involved me standing for 3 standing hours on already exhausted poor little legs. Needless to say, they weren't too happy about it. I had a great time talking with people I hadn't seen in ages, and I feel so lucky that I have such wonderful people in my life caring about what I am doing and supporting me every step of the way.

Well at 7 PM, after everyone had gone, most normal people would collapse into bed to sleep for hours. Not I. I am an even more insane person and I agree to go out for drinks with a few friends after the party. Since there were so many people, I didn't get to spend a lot of time with any one group, so I agreed to go out for a glass of wine. Luckily, we didn't stay out too late, but by the time I stand up to leave the bar my legs are no longer functioning. seriously, I'm walking around like the tin man because my legs will not bend! So we get outside and it's gotten a bit chilly, and my evil sister and our friend Courtney, who is driving us home, decide to RUN to the car. So imagine me, the runner of the group, hobbling behind these two girls running faster than I could even dream of moving at the moment. Pure evil. Apparently they were going to drive around to pick me up, but no one told ME that, so I hobbled behind them to the car.

Needless to say. Monday, my legs were in rebellion. Monday was the day that I said goodbye to my sister and took her to the airport. I'm trying to go with the attitude that it's not goodbye, it's only so long for now! After that I spent most of the day being lazy, and I think I deserved it!

I'm down to 6 days until I leave for Washington D.C. and 8 until we head to the Dominican Republic. It's crazy how real everything is getting. I am down to odds and ends to purchase and really don't have anything major left. I'm now trying to figure out weight because (surprise, surprise) I am a few pounds over the limit right now for sure. I'm not sure exactly how many pounds over I am, but I'm thinking after loading up my two carry ons, I'll be alright. I'm getting lots of kindle books and saying my goodbyes. It's so surreal that after 1.5 years of applying and 2 invitations that I am actually leaving!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Charleston and Final Preparations

So as part of my last few weeks, my parents planned a trip for us to Charleston. The weekend was combined with a performance by one of my favorite comedians - Jeff Dunham! So Friday night, we headed to Jacksonville to watch him perform. It was one of the funniest shows I had every been to. I used to go to comedy clubs in NYC often, but this was so much better. He performed for 3 hours, minus a 15 minute intermission. Since he is a ventriloquist, he talks the WHOLE time! It was so impressive, and hilarious - I hadn't laughed that much in ages!

The next morning we woke up bright and early and drove up to Charleston. When we got there, our room wasn't yet ready, so we headed to get some lunch and visit Boone Hall - a plantation where they filmed a family favorite miniseries, "North and South." We went on a tour of the house and saw the slave quarters and heard about the history. It was very interesting and it was a nice day to be outside. That night we went to a delicious restaurant, McCrady's, and had an amazing 4 course dinner!

The next day we woke up and got brunch at Husk, which was named the best new restaurant of 2011 by Bon Appetit. We went with a friend of my mom's from when she was growing up. Afterwards we went on a driving tour of the city. Unfortunately it was a cold day so we couldn't do much walking outside, but we visited a beautiful old house and the market before another delicious dinner. The next morning bright and early we headed back to Gainesville. Even though it was a short trip it was a lot of fun.

Since then, I've been running errands and getting ready for this crazy weekend. My sister flew in on Thursday, and it's been a crazy few days so far. Yesterday we had a family photoshoot with an amazing photographer which was a lot of fun. Then last night we went to a dive bar to watch a band that a friend is in. Today there were lots of errands to run, and had a great dinner for me to carb load. Tomorrow is the craziest of days - I have to wake up early to run my half marathon at 7 AM, and then in the afternoon we are having my going away party with family friends. Let's hope I am actually awake to be able to enjoy everyone being here!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Busch Gardens and Super Bowl

Hello world. We are officially down to 3 weeks until departure - I have now booked my travel to staging with SATO travel and will be departing on February 27th instead of the 28th due to flight schedules. For some reason, having one less day seems like I have so much less time.

Unfortunately, it is looking like a lot of my "Pre-DR Bucket List" will not be completed. For example, it's not looking like either the scuba certification or skydiving will fall into place. While disappointing, these are things I have my whole life to do and there isn't really any rush. By finishing "most" of Rosetta Stone, I hoped to complete the first 4 levels. I think if I work really hard, I may finish the first 3, but I'm not going to get past that. While a bit of a bummer (could have saved money and only gotten the first 3 levels), I'm glad I've done as much as I have and I am better prepared because of it.

Yesterday, I got to check one more item off my bucket list - trip to Busch Gardens! It might seem strange that I had 2 theme parks on my "Things to Do" list, but honestly I wish I could have had even more! I hadn't been to Busch Gardens in probably about 5 years, and I had heard they had a new roller coaster. I am a huge thrills person and love coasters, so I really wanted to go back again to check out the new one and ride my old favorites. I went with my friend Courtney, and we couldn't have picked a better day to go. It was beautiful and sunny, but not too hot. It also was Super Bowl Sunday, so there was no one in the park! We literally walked right onto 3 of the 5 roller coasters we rode, and the longest wait we had the whole day was maybe 20 minutes. I definitely got my fix of coasters in before leaving! And we got home in time for me to still watch the game!

I just stayed home this year for the Super Bowl. I sometimes prefer it, since I can better watch the game, commercials, and half time show. I was very pleased with this years game, as I am a Giants fan! It was a really great game though - Tom Brady is a hell of a Quarterback, and any game that has a last second potentially game changing throw is exciting to watch! I was a little disappointed in this years commercials. I loved the M&Ms commercial - I thought it was hilarious. There were also a few funny Doritos commercials, and I liked the VW dog/Star Wars commercial. I actually loved the half time show with Madonna as well. There were some fun people to make it more modern, and I loved the songs she chose. While a little strange seeing Madonna, she is an icon. Plus it was WAY better than the awfulness that was the Black Eyed Peas last year!

So that's that. The next few weeks are a whirlwind - I've got a 11-12 mile run this week plus several errands around Gainesville to run for preparations. Friday is a Jeff Dunham performance with the family and then heading up to Charleston for the weekend with my parents. The next week my sister comes home to see me one last time before I leave. That long weekend is packed with a family photo shoot, my half marathon, and my going away party. Then I'm down to a week to finish packing, say my goodbyes and head out. I can't believe it's actually this close!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Less than a month!

Well, it officially is less than one month until I leave for the Dominican Republic. I am seriously a mess of emotions and feelings. I am excited, nervous, confident, scared, and impatient, and that's only the beginning of it. I am really starting to get things together. I packed my first bag the other day to check my weight (50 pounds, so I am right on track), I purchased a few of the last electronic purchases I wanted, I've almost finished uploading DVDs onto an external hard drive. I've got some of my last fun things planned (trip to Busch Gardens, Jeff Dunham performance, family trip to Charleston). I can't believe after all the problems I've encountered, all the delays that have occurred, that I am finally going to actually go. I'm nervous about my limited Spanish skills, I'm concerned about how I will fit into my community. But I am also hopeful. This is going to be an adventure of a lifetime. I know I will learn more about myself, my limits, and how far I truly can go than I ever have. I am going to meet amazing individuals that can help inspire me, help me through the hard times, and share this amazing experience with me.

I ran a 15K on Saturday and it really made me think of the things we can accomplish when we put out minds to it. When I started running again, just running 3 miles was exhausting - I had to take walk breaks all the time, my muscles would get sore, I had shin splints. With hard work, perseverance, and simply believing in myself, I ran 9.3 miles in 1:29:53. I didn't have to take a walk break until around mile 7. I have continued to push my boundaries, and I will run a half marathon in 3 weeks. I will run 13.1 miles just because I believe that I can. Just because I pushed myself to train for something as insane as running 13.1 miles in a row. It's amazing what we can accomplish if we give everything to a goal and believe with all our hearts that we can do it.

I have officially gotten my staging information and will soon be booking flights. It's becoming so real. While nervous, I am so excited to move on to this next stage of my life!

Expect soon posts about my packing list, trips with friends and family, and more!

NYC part 2

So I had a wonderful last 3 days in NYC, but parts of it were a bit bittersweet. This trip involved my first official goodbyes, and at times I was a complete mess. Let's start where I left up with the day after my birthday.

Friday was a fairly low key morning and afternoon, since I had a lot of plans with friends in the evening. First, I went to the Roosevelt Hotel for cocktails with a few of my friends and other mutual friends. It was a nice, relaxing lounge and I had a great time chatting with people. One of my friends, who is in law school at Penn State, was in the city and showed up (I hadn't seen her since graduation) so we had a great time! After the drinks, I split off to meet up with some of my other friends from Columbia for some birthday celebrations. We went to this really fabulous bar called "Tippler" - it was underground and had a speakeasy feel to it. They had tons of interesting drinks - a lot were spicy and very unique. After Tippler we headed somewhere to dance, and then of course had to go get late night food - something I have missed SO MUCH living in Florida. We went to this adorable late night place called Cafeteria. It was just a wonderful night out and I had a great time catching up with all these friends I hadn't seen in ages. It also snowed that night, so I got to see snow one last time before I left!

Saturday was another fun day and night. After a late night, I had to recover some. Once I was awake and moving, I had a few errands to run. most notably, I went to get some new skinny jeans. I had discovered that in Florida, they only sell light color skinny jeans. I prefer dark skinny jeans, so I headed down to express to get a few pairs. I also managed to find some nice button down shirts that I can pair with tank tops to look professional for Peace Corps! After that I ran up to get a bite to eat with Laura near Columbia. We got ready for the night, and I spent another night hopping between bars and people. It was my last official night "out" in NYC, so I wanted to make the best of it!

Sunday was the sad day of goodbyes. I got up early and went for a walk in Central Park with my friend Meghna. It was absolutely gorgeous with snow on the trees. We walked and chatted for about an hour, and then went our separate ways. I got to be that girl crying on the subway after our goodbye! I then headed back up to Columbia to see Laura and Kal for a bit before heading back to get dinner with my Grandparents. I hadn't seen them in about a year, so it was wonderful to catch up and see them again before I leave. I headed back up to say my official goodbyes to Laura before she left for her flight. This was a really tough goodbye. Even though she lives in London, me moving to the DR makes me feel like we are even further apart. after those tearful goodbyes, I went to see Lili, Melissa, Megan, Matt, Mike, and Peter for dinner and goodbyes. By that point I was so overwhelmed with goodbyes, I couldn't even feel that sad! They kept making me laugh, so that made me feel a lot better.

And that was that. Monday I had an early morning flight and back to Gainesville. It was sad, but I keep reminding myself that I have an adventure ahead of me that I have wanted for almost 2 years!

Friday, January 20, 2012


Current Location: NYC

I haven't done that current location thing in AGES! I suppose mainly because my current location has been Gainesville so long, and I try to forget about that. I am currently in NYC enjoying a lovely vacation before heading out to the Peace Corps in less than 6 weeks (oh my god, is it really that soon?). It's been a great trip so far, and I have several more fun days ahead of me.

I flew in around noon on Saturday and headed to my sisters apartment on the upper west side. I got settled, and we then went to the Museum of Natural History with two of her friends, Amanda and Steven. I had been there before, but we spent some time in wings I haven't seen recently - specifically the Central American wing with the Mayans! It was a lot of fun seeing stuff about the area I was supposed to move to, but also a bit bitter-sweet. Seeing replicas of the Copan Ruins made me a bit sad that I won't be able to take a trip there. We went out for Italian that night and called it a fairly early night, since I had woken up very early for my flight.

Sunday I spent the afternoon with my wonderful friend Meghna. I am sadly going to have to miss her wedding while I am in the Peace Corps - it will be around my 4 month mark in country, and I am not allowed to leave for the first 6 months, so it won't be possible for me to attend. It was great to have a long brunch with her to catch up and drink some bloody marys! After brunch, we decided to go to a movie and watched "My Week with Marilyn." Michelle Williams was so wonderful in it! It was appropriate that I watched it, since that night, I watched the Golden Globes with my sister! The movie was nominated for several awards, and I loved that I had seen it and had an idea about it. I finished the night off with a few drinks with some of my wonderful friends. All in all, it was a great Sunday!

Monday was the day that I planned my birthday dinner with my sister and Nate! We went to this divine restaurant, Buddakan. The food was amazing and worth every penny!

Wednesday I got to celebrate my early birthday by seeing a show I have been DYING to see - How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Darren Criss! The show was amazing! Very fun to watch. Before the show I went to a tasty restaurant called Bar Americain, and after I headed up with Laura to go out around Columbia. It was a nice day for sure and a perfect way to ring in my birthday.

Yesterday was officially my birthday!!! I can't believe that I am actually 23 now - it seems bizarre. I don't really feel another year older, and the whole celebrating is kind of strange. 23 isn't that exciting of an age, but I know for sure that it will be the most adventurous year of my life so far! I had a lovely lunch with my Peace Corps Recruiter, Kimberly, and one of her friends who also served in the Dominican Republic. Having the ability to ask questions about Dominican culture, dress, and language really helped me feel more prepared for packing and leaving the country for 2+ years. I now have an idea about make up to bring, shirts to wear, and how to prepare. That night, I went to Dovetail for dinner, which was so tasty. I am loving all this food, though I definitely have gained a pound or two!

Now it is Friday, and I am down to my last few days in the city. Making plans to see friends, family, and have lots of fun! Will definitely update soon with the rest of my adventures.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

7 weeks and counting

7 weeks (49 days!) until I leave for the Dominican Republic, and I am slowly but surely starting to get everything done with. Today I finished my new Resume and Aspiration Statement and emailed it into the country desk. I mailed in my visa application and emailed SATO Travel about my passport transfer. I'm just about done with everything I need to do until I get more information about booking flights and getting ready for staging.

I've begun uploading my DVD collection onto an external hard drive for my time in the Peace Corps. There were certain movies that were a must bring for the DR, and I have heard that volunteers share DVDs so I'm bringing my favorites to share with people. It's taking a lot of time to get everything I want uploaded, but it will definitely be worth it - especially when I am having a bad day and want to hear English spoken for a few hours!

I've also continued on my shopping for the Dominican. I got myself a bunch of tank tops for cheap from Old Navy that I can use to layer with button downs or wear alone with jeans or skirts on really hot days. I also picked up a cute little dress that is conservative enough to wear around. I got a pair of shorts that are a bit longer to be more appropriate in country. I got a few towels - one beach, one camping quick-dry, and one normal but thinner - for in country use. I've got a list of things I still need and slowly I am working on it.

I also have been working on some major room cleaning AKA trashing stuff I don't need and getting things worth donating together to give to someone who needs it. I have so many old shirts, shorts, dresses, skirts, etc. that I no longer fit, want, or need. I am happy that I will be able to donate some of the high quality stuff that I no longer wear to people who really need it and will appreciate it.

I certainly have a few exciting things coming up though! I leave for NYC on Saturday for a week and a half. It's going to be so wonderful to see my family and friends in the city and have some fun for a few days. I also have a family vacation coming up where we are going to go to Charleston for a long weekend. I haven't been there in years and remember very little of the city.

I will be sure to update as my adventures continue and preparations for the DR progress!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Yesterday I got another item checked off of my "Pre-Dominican Republic Bucket List." I headed down to Orlando for the day with my friend Meg to check out the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Islands of Adventure Universal Studios. We spent the whole day at the park, and most of it was in the Harry Potter section.

It's a bit sad considering how much I love Harry Potter that I hadn't yet made it to the park. I blame it on the fact that for the first year it had opened I lived in NYC and that I had a job with crazy hours.

Hogsmeade was exactly what I had hoped it would be. It was definitely ridiculously crowded, but that was to be expected. The one downfall I would say is the size of the stores. Several of the stores you actually had to wait in line for! We bought wands at Ollivanders, had butterbeer and British food at the Three Brooksticks, and purchased candy at Honeydukes! Just hanging out in Hogsmeade was tons of fun and made the crowds worth it.

Hogwarts was absolutely amazing. The major ride that they have for Harry Potter is inside of it. It was so cool to walk around the corner and see the castle ahead. However, the line was LONG. But if you go to the park, I am telling you, it is 100% worth the wait. It's completely unique is ridiculously fun. You don't even have to be a huge fan of the movies or books to enjoy it! We waited for 2 hours the first time, and with the single rider line cut our time down to under an hour the second time.

And of course, the signs all had to be in character! NO muggles allowed through this door - authorized wizards only!

And of course, now that I have my wand and some candy from Hogsmeade, I'm ready for the Hogwarts express to come pick me up! Any day now...

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 in Review

Well it's officially 2012, which means 2011 merits a look back. It has definitely been a year of ups and downs. I first found out I was going to be delayed for Peace Corps in June and not leave in August like I had planned, got an invite for Honduras in July, got news that my program was cancelled in December, and a week later got my new invite for the Dominican Republic. I moved home for what was supposed to be 3 months only to stay here for 9 months. I've had to adjust to living with my parents, being back in Gainesville, and having few friends. However, the year definitely had some major highlights. I traveled to several new places - Chile, Nicaragua, Italy, The Netherlands, Canada, and Hawaii. I graduated with my Engineering degree after 4 years of hard work. I got to make new friends and spend time with old. It's been a great year, and I can't wait for the adventures waiting for me in 2012!

To celebrate they year, below is the highlights of some of my favorite pictures of 2011!

January 2011 - Chile

February 2011 - Senior Formal

March 2011 - Nicaragua

April 2011 - Order of the Engineer Induction
May 2011 - Senior Gala and Graduation

June 2011 - Europe - Venice, Florence, Rome, Amsterdam, Paris, and London

July 2011 - Canada

Apparently August was a boring month, I don't have any pictures from it!

September 2011 - Surprise trip to NYC!

October 2011 - Hawaii trip

November 2011 - Florida/Georgia football with my mom

December 2011 - Ugly Sweater Parties and Christmas!