2013 in Review

I’ve seen several posts on Facebook about how terrible 2013 was for many people. I’m very sorry for everyone who had a rough year… but mine has been great! 2012 was more difficult for me, and I guess the first half of 2013 was a bit trying as well, but oeverall, the good definitely outweighs the bad.

January

On New Year’s Day, I turned 32. At that time I was undergoing fertility testing after 2+ years of trying to get pregnant with no luck. This was not very enjoyable. Fertility testing is painful, both physically and emotionally.

A good thing that happened in January was that we got the band together! I’d been wanting to try to form this group since Fest of 2012, and in January it finally came together, and I’m very happy it did!

February

In February we had our first practices with the band, and Rob and I took a trip to Mexico.

Being romanced by a pirate in Mexico

Being romanced by a pirate in Mexico

March

In March, Rob had a surgery that was designed to improve our fertility. I was pretty optimistic about the success of the surgery, but it was also difficult because it definitely was not guaranteed to help, and both of our doctors were already implying that IVF might be our best hope, which made it difficult to maintain my optimism. I was so proud of Rob though– he underwent the surgery very willingly and without any complaint.

In March my BFF also revealed to me that she was pregnant. Although I was of course really happy for her, I couldn’t help feeling simultaneously sad for myself– a most unpleasant state of affairs.

April

In April, we adopted our second dog, Gilly. I’m happy to report that things are still going great with him! Trip was jealous at first of his new little brother, and he still gets jealous over toys and cuddle time with us, but every day they are becoming more and more like a pack. They haven’t quite reached the point where they will cuddle together, but Trip will now tolerate Gilly being right next to him on the couch. He also gives Gilly kisses on the nose, which is pretty sweet. We’re still working with Gilly on his mouthing and jumping, but overall he’s a pretty well-behaved pup, and he is only 2, so he’s still a young thing.
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A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

A coworker put out a call on our office intranet recently asking about people’s favorite souvenirs from abroad. This was my contribution to that question… I liked it, so I thought I’d cross post it here. (By the way, I love that in French, “souvenirs” means “memories.”)

 

When I was little, my parents did a lot of traveling due to my dad’s job with Northwest Airlines. They brought many cool souvenirs back for me– I remember a wooden cow from Denmark (I think) and a big stuffed panda bear from South Korea (no, not China, strangely). The souvenir I remember the most, though, was a book from Japan, written in Japanese, in the traditional style (back to front and bottom to top). My mom used to “read” it to us by looking at the pictures and making up a story to go with it. It was something about a man who drops a rice cake into a hole in the ground inhabited by some sort of gnomes. To this day, I have no idea  what the story was really about, but I still remember it very clearly.

As an adult, a friend of mine who works in the children’s publishing industry got me interested in collecting children’s books, often gifting me with picture books for birthday or Christmas. Integrating the hobby with my love of travel, I began buying children’s books as souvenirs when I visit other countries (and anywhere, really). This began way before I had any children on the way, and I did worry for awhile that I’d never have anyone to read them to… but I still bought them, because if nothing else, I enjoy them myself. I love going to a bookstore and looking through the fun, colorful books, trying to pick out something with an inkling of the country’s culture. When I’m in a country where English isn’t the majority language, I typically look for books in the local language.

My collection has grown to be rather significant over the years, so it’s impossible to pick just one favorite. Instead, I narrowed it down to four:

1. A book of Russian fairy tales… in Russian. I love the intricate illustrations and the way the Cyrillic script looks. Even with some knowledge of Russian, I can barely read any of it, but that doesn’t really matter.

2. Les chose cassées d’Octavio (Octavio‘s Broken Things). A story about a boy who can fix anything with glue, nails, wire, etc, but who has to learn how to mend the sad heart of the girl next door.

3. Grandma Joins the All Blacks. From New Zealand, obviously.

4. An Strae Beagán (A Bit Lost). I thought it was originally written in Irish, but I recently saw it at a bookstore here and learned that it was apparently written in English by an Irish author and translated into Irish… kind of a bummer, but still a cool book. It’s about a little owl who gets lost and can’t find his mother, so a friendly fox takes him around to all the different forest animals and asks, “Is this your mommy?” Each time, the owl replies in the negative, and describes an aspect of his mother not met by the current animal. “That’s not my mommy; my mommy has big eyes!” So the fox takes him to see a frog. It goes on like this until the owlet does indeed find his mother. And then they all eat cookies. Happy endings for all.

My collection to date includes books in French, Spanish, Russian, Irish, Danish, Japanese, Hmong, Catalan, and of course English (hailing from France, Red Balloon Bookstore, Moscow, Ireland, Copenhagen, Midway Books on Snelling and University, Hmongtown Market in St Paul, Barcelona, and Australia/New Zealand/the US, respectively). Looking for books has taught me some things, as well– for example, I wasn’t able to find a book in Swahili in Tanzania, or in Spanish on Cozumel. I didn’t look that hard in Tanzania– perhaps in Arusha City I’d have found something– but my spouse and I spent a lot of time wandering around Cozumel’s main (only) town, San Miguel, looking for a bookstore. It didn’t exist. All of the librerías we learned about from the phone book or natives were actually paper supply stores. We did visit an actual bookstore in a larger town, but the only books in Spanish were obviously translated from English, and completely devoid of Mexican culture. (Which, admittedly, does say something about the world in and of itself….)

The average children’s picture book contains about 500-1000 words. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and while I love to take pictures while abroad, I think it’s worthwhile to bring words home, too.

Mexico

We just got back from a vacation in Mexico. Neither of us had ever been there, and it was definitely different than anywhere else I’d ever traveled. I’d never been to a place that caters SO MUCH to American tourist. We stayed on Cozumel, and we couldn’t even find an ATM that would dispense pesos there– we could only get US dollars. Usually my travel advice is just to get money out of the ATM in local currency instead of bringing cash and paying exchange fees, but in this case that wasn’t the wisest idea– it was expensive to get money out of the ATM, and everyplace took US dollars anyway. Also sunscreen was super expensive! We didn’t bring any because we didn’t check luggage, but we considered buying it at the airport in Dallas inside security (where we had a layover), but thought it would be more expensive there than in Mexico. Boy were we wrong– it was like $15 for a normal-sized bottle– and in 5 days we nearly went through 2 bottles. So those are my two pieces of advise for anyone (Americans, anyway) traveling to any of the tourist meccas in Mexico– just bring a bunch of cash and plan to use US dollars, and bring sunscreen!

Aside from those two small inconveniences, the trip was great. We have a lot going on right now between my husband’s work issues and corresponding emotional distress, trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, etc, and both of us needed this vacation like we’d never needed one before. I feel amazingly rejuvenated.

Our first afternoon down there, Tuesday, it was a bit rainy, so instead of going to the beach or pool or anything, we went into the town, San Miguel, on Cozumel. Our hotel was about 10 minutes’ drive outside of town, and we did end up renting a car (we got a roped into a time share presentation, but it did get us a good deal on the car– $50 + 90 minutes of our time for the week). I liked the town a lot. My husband thought it seemed a bit unsafe, because outside of the tourist area it looks a little bit run down. But I reminded him that we weren’t in the US, and when we went on our excursion to Chichen Itza the next day, our tour guide, Mitch (who my spouse had a bit of a man crush on, haha), reiterated that. He told us the island is very safe, even though we might feel like it’s unsafe because places that look how parts of the island look would be considered slums in the US. Sad but true. Anyway, it reassured my spouse, which was good.

One of the first things we saw was these dogs standing on the roof in San Miguel and barking. It was awesome.