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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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.

New Zealand: Part II, Business

Friday:
After my spouse left for the airport, I got ready and then got on the bus with the students for the drive down to Rotorua. It was fun; nice bus ride. That afternoon, 2 more orientation sessions. My colleague A learned the All Blacks haka with one group of students while B and I observed an orientation session with another group, then we all went down to Blue Lake for a barbeque. It was chilly, but some students went in the water. Yikes!  Then we had dinner, drinks at the hostel, and tried to rationalize not going to the volunteer day on Saturday.

Saturday:
We didn’t go to the volunteer day.  B and A (colleagues from my university) and M and S (colleagues from our partner organization) went to a spa to soak in the hot springs and have massages. I didn’t want to soak in the hot springs because it was possible that I was pregnant (I’ve since found out that I’m not), so I just wandered around all morning and explored the town.


Later, S and M had meetings and A was doing his own thing, so B and I tried to do something. Actually, we tried to do several things, and struck out every time! First we wanted to go to the Kapa Haka competition which was happening right by our hotel, but we went there and it was sold out. Then we went to see about the Rotorua Museum and it cost too much. Then we decided to go to Te Puia and the lady at the hotel desk told us it was a pleasant, 20-30 minute walk. Um, no. It was a 45 minute walk along one long, boring road. Ha! We laughed about it When we got there, entry was $46, and I had to be back at the hotel in about 2 hours to call my spouse, so I took a bus back and B went in.

That night we all (read: staff and students) went to Tamaki Maori Village (basically a simulation/show of a Maori village). My favorite part was the welcome ceremony (not my video)! They warned us not to laugh, but I wouldn’t have wanted to laugh anyway– it was fierce and beautiful, but definitely not funny! The village and the show and the food were pretty good, too, but not as cool as the welcoming ceremony. The bus ride back, however, was hilarious! B and I sat together and joked about this thing that looked like a button to turn on purple lights. The party bus button! He’s like, “Go ahead, push it! No one will know!” I’m like, “Yeah, until the disco ball comes down!” Also, the bus driver was trying to get people to lead songs. We (all) sang parts of “All You Need is Love,” “The Wheels on the Bus” (to which the driver provided a real ‘honk honk honk’), “All Star,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” (while the bus driver drove round-and-round a roundabout). Hilarious!

Australia Visit: Days 8-9

Day 8: Visit to James Cook U – Townsville:

In the morning, my colleague from JCU picked me up at the hotel and we drove to the Townsville campus. There, I had a coffee, met with some other colleagues, toured the campus, had lunch, and met with the head of international student support. This last meeting was particularly interesting. She might be a good colleague to collaborate with on some research about mental health during study abroad. She has a background in psychology, working with people in transition, and had some really great ideas and strategies on how to ease students’ transitions into Australian Uni life. I’ll definitely have to contact her again.

After my campus visit, which ended at about 1, I went into town to buy a new suitcase, and later took a ferry to Magnetic Island to look around and watch the sunset. The ferry took about 20 minutes and it was delightful. On Maggie Island, I took a bus to Horseshoe Bay, found myself a rock to sit on on the beach, and watched the sun set over the water, which is rare in Eastern Australia! It was quite beautiful. Caught the ferry back, and on the top level it was just me and a couple of tradies. It was a bit chilly, but it was nice and quiet and offered a great view of the night sky during the ride. I had sort of forgotten that the sky would look different at night!

Ship at Townsville’s port, view from Maggie Island ferry

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Day 9: Townsville – Sydney via Brisbane

Airport, plane, airport, plane, airport, train. Someone quoted some theorist or another to me once, who noted that travel has changed from journeying through spaces to waiting in non-spaces. Non-spaces are things like airports and train stations, which look the same no matter where you are, and often are technically not even considered part of the country they are in. I’m inclined to agree, and this type of travel is necessary, but quite unfortunate. I’d much rather ride for 6 hours on a bus than go wait at an airport for an hour and sit on a plane for an hour.

I got into Sydney about 3pm, got situated in my hotel, and then went out exploring. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I didn’t take any pictures, but I saw the Sydney Harbor, and the Opera House and all that. From what I got to see of it (not much; I was only ever in Sydney after dark, really), I didn’t care much for Sydney. It is the financial capital of Australia, and you can tell – it feels very corporate. The Harbor and Harbor Bridge were very pretty, and the Opera House is cool, but my favorite part (that I saw) was the Rocks area – the original part of the city. They’ve refurbished it a lot and have modern businesses in the historical buildings, but they’ve done a really good job at keeping the historical feel to the buildings. I’d have liked to explore it a bit more during the day, but the daylight hours on Day 10 were filled by my visit to University of Wollongong.

Australia Visit: Days 6-7

Day 6: Reef Day!
We went out snorkeling/scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef! It was pretty awesome. I thought about trying scuba, because it was pretty cheap given that the boat ride out was already paid for, but we had to fill out a health form at the beginning, and since I am on anxiety medication, they wouldn’t let me. That was fine with me; I didn’t have my heart set on scuba or anything. I went snorkeling and that was really fun.

One of the program leaders showed me around a bit – he found a clownfish (Nemo!) and showed me, and a sea cucumber, and huge clams. Just in general the fish were really bright, pretty and colorful, and so was the reef itself. I also just really enjoyed the boat ride. We saw a humpback whale mama and baby! I didn’t see it up close, although apparently they got quite close to the boat, but I could see them in the distance. So cool!

Day 7: Cairns-Townsville
I took the Greyhound bus from Cairns to Townsville. It was about a 6-hour journey, but it was very enjoyable and passed quickly. The bus wasn’t very full, so I had two seats to myself and plenty of room to spread out a little bit. I just watched the scenery and listened to music for the entire time—quite pleasant!

Also, the bus driver was awesome. When we started out, he made an announcement with some safety instructions, etc, and his information about the bathroom made me laugh. It went something like this:

“The bus is equipped with a toilet, or bathroom, for your comfort, so please use that if you need it. If you do need to use the facilities, please make sure that you lock the door. This is important for a few reasons. First, it turns on the light. Second, it keeps out any unwanted visitors. Third, it keeps you in the bathroom. Sometimes on the highway I have to swerve the bus, and if the door is not locked, the occupant of the toilet can find themselves in the seat across the way, usually with their pants around their ankles, and never very happy.

Also, outside the toilet, and in no way connected to what happens inside the toilet, you will find chilled water for your convenience.”

I was cracking up. He was fantastic.

Copenhagen – Vikings, Pirates, Ships and the Sea

I have this very romantic notion about ships and the sea. They always just captivate me for some reason. So of course, I loved the old port are, Nyhavn:

A ship:

The Danes are generally very proud of their Viking history. We got to go visit the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, and see some actual Viking ships that were recovered from the sea and reconstructed. This next photo isn’t mine– I forgot to charge my camera the night before and it was completely dead the day we did this outing.

Copenhagen for Introverts

I spent last week in Copenhagen, Denmark, visiting one of our study abroad partners, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS). Every semester, they hold a workshop for international educators. My university gets to send two staff and/or faculty members each semester, because DIS’s North American office is on our campus, and we’re their school of record, so we have a pretty close relationship with them. I was supposed to go in April, but due to the infamous ash cloud, everyone’s flights and subsequently the entire workshop were canceled. But I finally got there, and I’m so glad—it was GREAT!!

First of all, Copenhagen is a great city. It’s very walkable, but also has good public transportation. Everyone speaks English wonderfully, and they don’t mind doing it, but you are still surrounded by a different language in print and in conversations around you. Not to mention it’s just a beautiful place!