My Toolkit

This is a long one. So buckle in. Or up. Or down. Or whatever you gotta do…

My parents flew out to help me move into the dorms my freshman year of college. Read: they rented a car and sponsored numerous trips to Wal-Mart and Target, helping me grab everything in sight that seemed necessary: a desk lamp, brightly colored linens and towels, Christmas lights, closet and laundry doo-hickeys, 24 pack of glitter pencils…

While my mom, my sister, and I were frantically buying… stuff (as one often does hoping it will allay their worries and fears about the future), my dad had disappeared (as he often does… anywhere).

IMG_1037

He came back holding a giant pink pencil case. If we’re being historically accurate, I probably sneered at it, or rolled my eyes, or said “Dad, why would I want that???”

“It’s to hold your tool kit!” he explained proudly, showing us the pre-packaged set of tools he’d found and the tools he’d gathered to supplement what was missing from the set of teal-handled screw drivers, hammers, and pliers.

It was perfect. And it actually was necessary – or at least more so than the glitter pencils.

I used this toolkit throughout my college experience and even after, moving it from dorm to dorm and house to house, wowing and helping people wherever I went, not just with my preparedness, but with my ability to use the tools with ease. One (sexist) landlord in particular, seemed dumbfounded when I asked if he needed a flat head or Philips screwdriver.

This is not to say that I know everything about tools. I most certainly do not; however, my parents (not just my dad!) made a point of teaching us how to complete basic fix-it projects around the house. Power tools are not my area of expertise, but for the most part, I can use a basic set of tools with relative independence.

I’m not sure, but I like to think that my parents’ – or at least my dad’s – main reason for teaching us how to use tools came from my grandfather, a career repairman. He taught my dad how to use his toolkit and occasionally would bring him along for house calls as a repairman for Sears. As my dad imparted his knowledge of tools to us, he’d often tell stories of Gramps and his days as a repairman. Which I loved. More likely though, both my parents value independence and wanted to ensure that their daughters were self-sufficient beings.

DSCN3446

Every time I used my pink toolkit, I cherished the memory of my dad beaming with pride at Wal-mart. I even liked to imagine that if they could see me reaching for my tools, my parents would feel proud knowing what an independent young woman they’d raised. I moved this perfect makeshift pink school supplies toolkit seven times until I finally bequeathed it to my roommates before moving to Colombia.

When I moved into my last apartment, my parents asked “do you have all the tools you need?” I didn’t, so we assembled a toolkit from their garage, Gramps’ personal collection, and impulse buys when we were stuck mid-project and needed the right screw driver. When I moved into my classroom, my mom asked “do you have all the tools you need?” Of course I didn’t, so she gave me her bin of classroom-specific tools, that she’d likely saved just for me (like all moms, right?). Once again, in my new apartment and as a teacher I was prepared, organized, and impressing people left and right with my toolkits.

This isn’t just about my family’s weird obsession with, dependence on, affection for, addiction to tools. I swear. Although when we moved Gramps into an assisted living facility, now unable to walk or use his dominant side after a stroke, my dad asked him if he needed anything. His reply: “my tool belt.”

As I prepare to move to Spain (in 5 days!), my parents are off touring Europe. They are not here to discuss the pros and cons of this or that packing choice. They are not here for me to make fun of them about never remembering their passwords. They are not here to help me lift my over-stuffed suitcase. They are not here to do the crossword puzzle over lunch. They are not here for me to bicker with over wanting to help me. They are not here to save me when I really do need their help. They are not here to drink Manhattans on the porch at sunset and count the bats they see as I soak in every last bit of Colorado before I leave. They are not here to kiss me goodbye at the airport.

My feelings about their absence change just as rapidly and dramatically as my feelings about moving to Spain in 5 days: elation, dread, sadness, relief, anxiety, unbridled joy… fear. I fear that without them I will forget something or f**k something up so royally and embarrassingly that I’ll have to hide under a rock for the next 5 years.

But then I remember: I have a toolkit! Perhaps more useful than any literal tool, my parents have gradually been giving me a set of tools and teaching me how to use them – at times explicitly and at others simply by living their lives. Just as with the tools in my ever-expanding toolkit, I am at varying degrees of acceptance, understanding, comfort, and experience with each of these metaphorical tools, but nonetheless they are part of my toolkit. In no particular order, the greatest tools gifts my parents have ever given me:

  • It’s ok to make mistakes
  • Wear good shoes.
  • In life, sometimes there are people we don’t like. But we can learn from them.
  • Music is awesome. And mind-altering.

IMG_0608

  • Lists are helpful (although not foolproof)
  • Asking for help is often one of the bravest/most useful things you can do.
  • Some days just call for extra ___________ (coffee, diet coke, advil, margaritas, hot cocoa)

IMG_0125

  • “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is today.” -African proverb
  • Check the weather.
  • Be kind.

sillyhonestkind

  • Whatever you’re doing/planning, it’s going to take longer than you expect.
  • “Practice makes progress.”
  • Drink water. And beer. And wine. And tequila. But mostly water.

DSCN2585

  • Shitty situation? Get creative. You can solve it or at least improve it.
  • Friends are priceless.
  • Being organized and prepared can save you a lot of time and headache.
  • Go for a walk. It does a body/mind/spirit good.
  • Set a timer.
  • Use a map.

DSCN2335 DSCN2455

  • Sunsets are sacred. Appreciate them.
  • Bring a jacket, a water bottle, and a snack. Even if you don’t think you’ll need them.
  • Do meaningful work.
  • Learning is awesome. And fun. And best of all, it’s all around us. You just have to be curious.

staycurious

  • Stay physically active.
  • Never underestimate the utility of sheet protectors, binders, markers, paper, and a variety of tapes and post-it notes.
  • Do what makes you happy.

listentoyour<3

  • It’s ok to be wrong.
  • It’s best if you can admit when you are wrong.
  • Don’t over pack.
  • Eat chocolate. Eat well. But eat chocolate.
  • Sometimes you just need to be sad or mad or scared. And that’s ok. Just try not to stay that way forever.
  • Laugh. And smile.

IMG_0611

  • Travel.
  • Not feeling great? Talk to a friend, move your body, go outside, write, have some tea. It’s ok to veg and watch TV too.
  • Always look for the positive in a situation and the goodness in others.
  • Read.
  • Keep things tidy. Life just feels better when you do.
  • Plants are neat. Stop and notice them. Look closely.
  • Think critically yet openly.
  • Have a set of tools and know how to use them.
  • Oh, and… cheese makes everything better.

Well Mom and Dad, in case you were wondering… I have the tools I need. I may not have them all, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a few more along the way. Thank you for being such wonderful parents and for preparing me for this adventure. I will think of you with gratitude whenever I reach for my tools.

IMG_0815

Change

I hate change. I say it all the time. It scares me. It makes my mind unfocused. I’m ungrounded and untethered, swirling in a mess of worry, doubt, and fear.

change-chaos

Yet here I am changing everything. By choice.

(Again.)

I’m moving to Spain in two months.

I’ve wanted to do this for the past seven months, so I knew this change was on the horizon.

Correction: I’ve been working towards doing this and hoping it would happen for the past 7 months. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a freshman in high school.

I want to do this.

dontstopproud

After talking about how much I don’t want to pack, I started tonight. I’ve packed 3 boxes. Of books.

I don’t want to do this.

I hate this.

Why am I resisting this change?

changeispainful

I am moving out of my apartment in two weeks. The apartment where I’ve lived for the past three years. The apartment that itself represents a huge change in my life.

In this apartment I lived alone for the first time. I transitioned from working full time to diving head first into an accelerated teaching certification and master’s program. I survived – and sometimes thrived – during my first two years as a teacher, a profession for which I feel an ill-fated Shakespearean star-crossed lovers type passion. It’s complicated. I have experienced tremendous loss and intense happiness in this apartment, and everything in between. These last three years have been the most difficult years of my life and the best years of my life.

A lot has changed in this apartment. I have changed in this apartment.

I should also mention that my apartment is f***ing adorable. (Yup, here we go. I’m humbly blogging about my adorable apartment… and my secret Martha Stewart side.) A few of my favorite things in life include: organizing, decorating, and arranging spaces so that they are just right. For me. One might say I like to change them. Just ask my mother.

Over the past three years I have honed my ability for finding steals on Craigslist and free/cheap stuff that works for my “style.” I have transformed this apartment into my home. I feel it represents who I am because of my nesting (as I like to call it), and now that I think about it, because of the changes I have made in my own life while living here.

When I moved in I was excited, yet terrified, about the changes and the uncertainty to come. Will I make enough money to pay rent? Will I get lonely? Will I hate teaching? Will I be able to understand student loans?*

*answer key: debatable, yes, sometimes, never

I went for it anyway though. I made some mistakes and learned a ton.

mistakes

As I pack up, sell, or give away the last 3 years of my life, I know that there’s more to come. More change. More mistakes. More learning. More ups and downs. More adorable apartments and symbols of continued transformation.

Which I love.

Bring on the change.

change

Welcome Home

It’s been one month since I got back to the States. I still don’t feel totally adjusted. It’s ironic how returning home and getting back to “normal” activities can still leave me unsettled and ungrounded. I realize it’s all part of the process. Seeing friends and “catching up” is great to do, but it too serves as a reminder of how out of the loop you are, even if you were gone for just under four months. I think I won’t feel like I’m back until all the meet ups are over and I’ve condensed my nearly four month experience into a 5 minute (or less) summary for the 174th time. So I guess I’m feeling pretty far from there. Or here. To reference an earlier post in which I was perhaps equally far from home, although this time not quite as literally.

I am back home. However, it’s been difficult to say that as I don’t feel I have a home. My work is in Boulder. My room and board is in suburban Denver (for now). My friends are scattered all over the city, the state, the country, the globe. My heart is too. Again this is not only a process of returning “home” after a big trip (I believe they attempt to categorize these feelings as reverse culture shock, as if that can accurately and universally describe what one goes through), but also a process of figuring it all out. Right? This is a dramatic start to what was meant to be (yet) an(other) update post. I apologize.

I had a great time on my Los Angeles trip! I made it out there in one day. I owe my speed to a couple things:

  1. Attaching my Camelback to my seat back for endless hands-free hydration. I will not be slowed down by lifting a water bottle, or needless refills.
  2. A cooler packed with delicious snacks to keep me from loitering indecisively in the snack aisles at gas stations.
  3. An alternating soundtrack of Harry Potter in Spanish on tape, local radio stations, and my iPod on random (which encouraged awesome car dancing and sing alongs that included, but were not limited to, an animated performance of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and a particularly heartfelt rendition of ‘Tracks of My Tears’).
  4. Intermittently calling friends and family to get and give important updates about what they had eaten since our last conversation of a similar vein.

Oh the insanity of solo road trips. When I arrived to Los Angeles, I could barely walk or talk and had scribbled directions and unknown Spanish words on my thighs. I looked completely crazy.

A quick shower later, and Marie and I dove right into packing and organizing her things for the move the next day. Thanks to the help of her friends, we were able to move all of her stuff in one day. Or half a day. We set up her bed and then headed to a rooftop pool downtown to celebrate. That night we went to several different swanky spots downtown, and I got a free tour of the area from two Urban Planning geeks. It was very informative.

Everyone rags on Los Angeles. Myself included at times. But during this trip, I began to fall in love.

Yes, everything is very spread out and crowded and riddled with traffic, but within Los Angeles there are hundreds of tiny little interconnected micro-cities that each have their own charm. Within those little neighborhoods you can find just about everything you need. This is particularly true of Marie’s new neighborhood. She has grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, laundromats, bars, music venues, farmer’s markets all within a 2 minute walk (The Farmer’s Market is in the parking lot of her complex!!!). I certainly can’t say that about where I live. Also in her neighborhood is a large immigrant population. I created an immersion plan for her that would allow her to speak more Spanish than when she was in Colombia. Another general complaint about L.A. is that everyone is in “The Biz.” That is not entirely true, but I think it is true that there are many people in L.A. who are working towards there own personal dream (whether in “The Biz” or elsewhere), which I find to be hopeful and romantic.

We spent the week disinfecting her apartment (I referred to this as Blitzkrieg-ing her apartment), exploring her neighborhood, visiting cool areas of Los Angeles, seeing old friends, and making frequent trips to the Burbank IKEA, Target, and Home Depot. Her room was nearly perfectly decorated, arranged, and organized by the time I left. Her vertical garden pots had been spray painted in bright colors to polish off her cute patio area, and the rest of her apartment was nearly clean. Nesting in this manner made it all the more difficult to leave. The perfect weather, the feeling of perpetual vacation, and the fact that my sister lives there didn’t help either. Now that I’m back in Colorado I’m scheming ways to get back there… Living in Marie’s (now) organized closet is currently my best option.

For now, I am living in suburbia with my parents… I mean my roommates. I’m trying to finally get my own room and life organized while getting together for as many catch up dates as I can manage while squeezing in some time for work and yoga. I’m back at the costume shop for Halloween. Starting next week I’ll be in Boulder full time, just back in Denver to do laundry, eat a good meal, apply to grad programs, and escape the escalating insanity of our busy season.

Hopefully I can manage to find “home” somewhere in the equation. If not, I’ll keep reminding myself that it’s all part of the process… I mean the adventure.

 

Casio Update, Life Update (Part 2)

Once again, long overdue, as I know you’ve been curious as to the whereabouts of one yellow Casio and its crazy owner, here is Casio Update, Life Update (Part deux):

The Casio has been officially retired. I have found a replacement. Well, not a replacement exactly, because my new watch is not a Casio. It’s a Xinji (what can I say, I am a brand name girl at heart). And it’s white! We really don’t need to get into the details of why this was not the wisest purchase if my main complaint of Dear Old Casio was that it got so irreversibly dirty. I realize white is not a likely choice. But I fell in love again. And my new Xinji is really great. It has a great feature for telling what day of the week it is, and the light function really works as one might expect a normal watch to do. And the best part??? It was two bucks and fifty cents! And so far Xinji is faring quite well in the cleanliness department. But only time will tell… so to speak. Ahhh, sorry I just couldn’t resist. [Please feel free to insert your own much funnier watch/time related joke here].

As for Xinji’s owner….

She has returned home to Colorado! Yes. I got back on Thursday evening after a long annoyance-filled day of travel. But hey, it was worth it! Kate greeted me at the airport with fondue and a big smile. Yeah… she’s pretty awesome. She asked me days in advance what I wanted my first meal back in the states to be. And then when my flight was delayed she brought it to the airport in a hotplate picnic basket thingy because she knew I would want to go straight home. What a gal! Anyway, my parents were out of town until Saturday, so I was able to have some time to myself and unpack and adjust a bit.

So how did this all come about?

Well, after finding out about having to leave Colombia I was pretty bummed out… feeling like my dreams had been dashed by Colombia’s Immigration Services. But then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and remembered that I am (and we all are) on a great adventure. Let’s create it. Let’s enjoy it. Let’s make that next step. That next play. That next move. That next attitude. It’s only ours to decide, right?

And then something else happened to help me decide. While in Ecuador, my sister and her boyfriend broke up. She too was deciding on the next move in her own adventure, however difficult it was and continues to be for her. This meant not only cutting their trip short, but also that upon returning to Los Angeles they would have to split up their things and move out of their apartment. Not an easy task.

My sister is…. my sister (before I had written rock, but she’s my sister, not a rock. And I love her more than… most things). I am her adoring younger sister, and it is my duty to be there for her always. It’s not a duty so much as a right. Anyway, she returned to Bogota from Ecuador a little worse for wear, but certainly living her right path, and for that I am endlessly proud of her.

While sorting things out in her life, she managed to have a great time exploring Bogota again. We went dancing and learned how to play Tejo, the unofficial sport of Colombia (it requires lots of beer, explosives, mud, and steel pucks – now what doesn’t sound awesome about that???) Last week we also went on a spectacular trip in the coffee axis of Colombia; we visited Manizales, from which we went on a highly educational and beautiful tour of a coffee finca, climbed an inactive volcano (to our disappointment all the climbing was done in a microbus), and hiked through a jungle. From there we went to Medillín for 3 nights. I wish we had had 20 nights there. We went paragliding, had impromptu dance lessons, and rode around on the immaculate, enormous, efficient, and QUIET, above-ground metro system and toured around some of the beautiful sites and parks around the city. Then we spent a day and night in the Rio Claro nature reserve. This place was beautiful. An astoundingly clear river weaves through a jungle-y canyon full of lots of fun activities. I also could have spent a few more days here… We toured a cavern which was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. I am so happy I was able to share this adventure with my sister. I think it was healing and calming for her in this difficult time full of uncertainty and heartbreak. We returned to Bogota for 2 days, repacked (all my stuff fit!!!), said our goodbyes, and left for our respective “home” cities.

Tomorrow I am driving to L.A. to help my sisterrock move and be her on-call on-site therapist. Hopefully we can have some more fun adventure there too. I plan to stay there for a week or so, and then drive back to Colorado. I am going to work at the costume shop for the Halloween season, save money, regroup, and have fun as I always do there.

My plan is to return to Colombia in November and continue teaching. I really started to fall in love with Colombia and Bogota. The weather isn’t perfect, but it’s a really cool city with so much left still to explore. And there is SOOO much still to explore in Colombia and all of Latin America. I don’t view this homecoming as an end to my adventure or dream, just the next part of one continuous adventure. I felt something was pulling (or pushing?) me home. So here I am. My goal? To enjoy the ride…

Although it’s not quite as exotic of an adventure, I’ll hope you’ll come along for the ride too! I’ve had a lot of fun writing, and I plan to continue. For now, may you all find yourself loving your own adventure, wherever you may be.

Much love, light, and adventurous spirit,

Laura

Monserrate

A few weeks ago (when Kate was still here) we did the first real tourist activity since arriving here. We went to Monserrate (or Cerro de Monserrate), a mountain upon which a church was built in the 17th century and overlooks most of the city, and therefore is visible from most parts in the city. You can walk to the base from the downtown area. At the base you can walk (or hike) to the top which supposedly takes about an hour (and is only recommended on weekends for safety reasons), or you can take the cable car (teleferico) or the rail car (funicular).

When Kate and I went we took the rail car on the way up and the cable car on the way down. And we took lots of pictures to prove it.

During my second visit to Monserrate we were going to attempt to climb it. I was a bit nervous as I had seen what a steep incline the rail car took, and the church is 10,341 feet above sea level. However, the trail was apparently closed. We guessed this was due to heavy rains. I doubt the trail was much of a trail to begin with, but I am making a random assumption and have absolutely nothing to base it on.

The view from the top is pretty impressive. It gives you a better idea of just how sprawling Bogota is. And even with our limited knowledge of the city, it was fun to try to find important landmarks. We even found our neighborhood, but we had to climb over to the highest northern most viewing spot to do so.

At the top there are a few restaurants, that serve comida tipica in a cafeteria style setting. There are also a few fancy pants restaurants that are surely over-priced, but have they definitely have great views. A little further up are some stalls selling souvenirs of Monserrate, Bogota, Colombia, and random things like the Simpsons. I bought an awesome bag there. It was probably also over-priced, but that’s ok because I love it much in the same way I love my Casio! (note: the very next day my beloved bag broke while I was crossing the street – a few cars almost hit me, but I rescued my bag. Whew! And you’ll be happy to know that the bag is still highly wearable, but slightly less awesome)

Oh yeah, also at the top there is a church. That’s the whole point I guess. It is pretty cool. We learned later that the Spanish built it in an attempt to convert the indigenous people who worshiped the sun and the moon and preferred to be closer to them (aka on a mountain) while they prayed.

The mountain right next to Monserrate is the Cerro de Guadalupe upon which a big white statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe sits. This is also visible throughout much of the city. On both visits to Monserrate we were fortunate to have great weather and few clouds and it was as if the light of God were shining on Guadalupe. You can certainly understand why someone would want to pray and feel closer to the beauty and divinity of nature from the top of these mountains.

 On this first visit with Kate the weather was particularly nice. The previous seven days or so were horribly rainy and that afternoon there was a huge downpour which included some light hail. And then it was rainy for the next few days. So we felt pretty lucky about our timing.

Here is a picture taken (not by me) from the Plaza de Simon Bolivar in downtown Bogota with a beautiful church (whose name I don’t know) in the foreground and Monserrate is visible just to the left of the clock tower.

This is an absolutely stunning picture someone (also not me) took from the top of Monserrate. Gorgeous.

Yeah… I live in a pretty cool city.

Bogotanos

I used to think that New Yorkers took first place in terms of their unhealthy knack for running in stilettos, dodging puddles and inexplicable holes in the ground, refusing to be slowed by the masses or distracted by the craziness happening all around them, and then effortlessly hopping onto a cramped form of public transportation where they will apply mascara, coddle their baby, and send a text message (and look good while doing it) all at the same time. But then I came to Bogota. Sorry New York, you have been demoted to second place by me. Well, not by me, but by Bogota, according to me. I know it’s a big blow to your image, but hopefully by the end of this post, you will understand why I have come to this conclusion.

I had always heard that Colombian women were beautiful. It’s not that I didn’t believe this rumor, but I just assumed it had to do with their accent and dancing ability, and a certain famous Colombian pop star whose hips apparently don’t lie. But now that I have actually been to Colombia, I know this rumor to be more than just a stereotype, but rather a god given truth. The women here are obviously very beautiful as is, but they also are very well dressed and make a point of looking their best, as evidenced by the insane number of malls and beauty salons all over the city. (And hey, when you can get a manicure for 2 bucks, why wouldn’t you?) After a meal, or a movie, or while riding on the bus it is not uncommon to see a woman carefully retouching her makeup, although she already looked absolutely immaculate.

Before coming here, we were warned that Colombian men were all very ugly. “So good luck finding a man” these warnings seemed to say. It’s not that they’re really ugly, but it’s hard to look all that great when standing in a crowd of all these stunning women. When compared to American men, they are also generally fairly short. And they all look very similar. Obviously this may very well be the case for the women here as well (which explains why Kate is endlessly admired here). Among younger stylish men, it also seems to be a trend to spend a lot of time on achieving the perfect asymmetrical funky hairdo. These hairdos require a lot of attitude, hair gel, and at least one hair dryer. Which is not altogether something I look for in a man.

Either way, everyone in this city seems to make an effort to look pretty awesome. And everyone generally achieves this goal. It should also be pointed out that I have seen one, mayyyybe two people that I miiiight consider to be overweight. And that’s it. This has not been my experience in New York, or any American city. Even Boulder, let’s be honest.

Now, the sidewalks in Bogota are only sometimes sidewalks. Sometimes they are muddy swamps. Sometimes they look like they were ravaged by an earthquake. Sometimes they are slanted at a 45 degree angle, like a really steep driveway. Sometimes they are brick. Sometimes they have giant open man holes right in the middle of them without warning. Sometimes they are under construction. Sometimes they are a nasty combination of all of these. This made me regret not bringing high-topped hiking boots. This also made me gawk in disgust and admiration when I saw that the women here are more often than not wearing stilettos. Stilettos! I can’t even wear stilettos when walking down the pristine sidewalks of Denver. So what did I do? I compromised, of course. I bought a pair of high-topped slouched wedge boots. However, when I wear them, my non-Colombianness is clear. I can not sprint over the earthquake-ravaged, puddle-filled side walks, and then leap onto a moving bus. Instead I look like my mother as she descends from a mountain; eyes on the ground carefully trying to find the best footing possible, being careful not to sprain an ankle or blow out a knee.* This probably detracts from the cuteness of the boots and highlights my non-Colombian status rather than the desired effect of trying to look more Colombian. Ah well.

*Note: unfortunately, this is also what I look like when on the descent of a hike. Thanks Mom and Dad for great knees and ankles.

My sister is a huge planning geek. Yes, planning. As in Urban Planning. She is getting her masters in this interesting field. So she was thrilled to here all about the “awesome” public transportation system in Bogota, known as the Transmilenio. While the Transmilenio is not all that great (at least for my purposes), it does have its good qualities. My sister will be visiting in a week and 3 days (!!!!!!!!), and I am eager to see what she thinks of her beloved Transmilenio. Despite its glaring flaws, she will surely still be enthusiastic and impressed by it. And then she’ll probably write a paper about it. (These are just a FEW reasons why I love love love my sister and think she is the coolest). Anyway, my favorite Public Transportation System in Bogota is not the Transmilenio, as you may have guessed, but the Colectivos. The Colectivos are not so much a Public Transportation system, but a hilarioiusly awesome hit-or-miss carpool “system.” The Transmilenio costs $1,700 COP a ride and a Colectivo ride costs $1,400 COP (which is about a 16 cent savings).

A Colectivo is a bus or a little bus or a really really little bus in some cases that has a specific route that it follows. You can get on or off this bus anywhere along the route by waving it down, or by pushing the button signaling to get off. There are no specific stops which makes it a convenient door to door type situation, but it also makes for a very choppy and jerky ride. The buses are already old and crappy (for a lack of a better word), and manual. Combine this with stop and go traffic, and sporadic pick ups and drop offs, and you have yourself a wild ride. When you get on you have to put your bus fare in the little hole in the divider that separates the driver, from the rest of the bus, and wait for your change. The driver operates the bus and plays banker all at the same time – adding to the thrill. The Colectivos are generally jam-packed, especially during peak hours (which are hard to predict), so often times you don’t get a seat right away, and you are forced to stand. Many of the buses are so small that while standing even I (at a towering 5’5”) have to crouch or tilt my neck to one side. This is a picture of the smallest Colectivo that I’ve been on. Anyone taller than 4’10” would have had to adjust their height to accommodate the lower than low ceiling on this thing. Luckily we got to sit for this ride.

One really great thing about Colombian men is that if there is a free seat on a Colectivo they will almost always offer it to a woman. I am in favor of this sort of chivalry, especially when I’m wearing my high-topped wedge boots and hanging on for dear life in a speeding micro-van. While seated, women are free to apply their makeup, something I would not dare do ever. Never ever. You’d have to be crazy to do that. My general rule while on a Colectivo is this: keep pointy objects away from my eyes at all times and keep hands free to grab on to anything in case we grind to a halt, like NOW. But Colombian women apply mascara and curl their eyelashes on Colectivos as if it were the easiest non-risky thing they could be doing. And maybe it is. I don’t know. But for me, it’s pretty freaking risky. I’m still trying to figure out how to walk here. For now, I’ll leave mascara application to an empty and stationary room with a mirror.

Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon of the Colectivos is that occassionally people get on the bus for free and ask for money. Sometimes they are just begging for money, asking for everyone’s attention and explaining their situation. Or sometimes they are selling things (like stickers or lolipops) in exchange for whatever you can give or sometimes they’ll perform for your spare change. I’ve seen a guy playing the recorder, a guy playing the guitar, a girl playing the violin, and the best performance was a freestyle rap performed by two young brothers that was tailored to the people on the bus. It was pretty good. It’s an ingenious plan. No one on the bus can say that they don’t have cash or coins on them because you have to have some to get on the bus, and most people will have some change from paying for the bus ride. And as most of these people will point out, we can afford to give them 600 pesos so that they can afford to eat.

Although the Colectivo’s have a lot going against them, and they would probably fail a proper road safety test, I love them. I have also determined that in terms of general safety (like getting robbed or kidnapped), Colectivos are the safest form of transportation in the city. Kate hates them, and I can understand why. But for some reason, I find they are full of character, and when I’m riding in one I feel I am doing as the Colombians do, which feels good. Especially since they are the new world champions of being awesome city folk.

“Working” Girl

I have a job! Well, let’s not get carried away here. I “work” sometimes. Teaching English. All this “work” came on quite suddenly without much warning, not that you get warned about these things…. But anyway, here’s the story:

Last Monday (post funk) I sent my resume to a guy for whom my roommate (a very legitimate English teacher) works occasionally. On Tuesday morning he called me. He was very casual throwing around expressions like “Hey Laura, what’s up?” and “What’s new?” So, I guess we were already old friends at this point. Despite our long friendship, we set up a time to meet the next day. Wednesday we met. And due to complications and Kate not having a cell phone, she accompanied me to the “interview.” I figured it would be fine based on the casual phone conversation from the day before. And it was. We talked briefly about what it takes to be a teacher and whether or not I have this unteachable ability. He told me to come to his house the next day for some training. So Thursday morning I went to his apartment for 2 hours and learned about administrative stuff and his vision for teaching the clients. He asked me to teach a class that night at 5 and another class the next morning at 6:30. I agreed.

Even though the classes were only 1.5 hours and 2 hours respectively, there’s a lot of time spent on each class. The lesson planning currently takes me about an hour for each class and then there’s the transportation time. To get to my Friday morning class on time. I had to get up at 4:45 and leave by 5:30. The class was over at 8, and I got back to my apartment at ten ‘til 9. And by that point I was already exhausted.

This past week I didn’t teach much because they’re still trying to figure out some administrative stuff. Plus, I had to put my foot down and refused to teach a class at 6:30am when he called to tell me about the class at 10pm the night before. I have standards. Overall, I think it will be a good company to work for – the owner has a lot of passion and vision and the clients are all very interesting and eager to learn.

Before my first class I was very nervous due to it being so last minute and everything. As I was in transit (read: clinging to a pole on a speeding colectivo bus with the doors open while it was pouring rain) I was getting even more nervous. Right when I got off the bus, the rain slowed, the sun came out, and a beautiful rainbow appeared!

I took it to be a good sign. How can a rainbow be a bad sign anyway? The woman I taught that night was very sweet, friendly, and chatty. Which made my job easier. She is a professor of economics with a specialty in the environment.

That night I slept stressfully in anticipation of my 4:45 wake up time (as I have mentioned I am barely human in the mornings). I made it to the client’s place with relative ease, and was greeted by a woman who works as a financial consultant for National Planning (aka the government). I told her how my sister is into planning, and she seemed thrilled to know that someone was interested in her line of work.

There have been a couple speed bumps since then, but hopefully things will begin to smooth out this week. On Wednesday I taught a very polite man that works at the General Motors factory.

Kate and I have also started “working” for this company called Practica en la Ciudad. We meet on Saturdays at Juan Valdez (Colombia’s version of Starbucks, except they only serve Colombian coffee) and we talk for five hours straight with Colombians. It’s nice because we don’t have to prepare any lessons, and at the end of the day they give us cash. Wonderful! We actually haven’t participated fully yet. Last Saturday we met with the founders (who were extremely nice), and they asked us to record a little film for their website. We donned the Practica en la Ciudad t-shirt and read a script describing the company while they filmed us. It will be terrible. But oh well. We got paid. Tomorrow we’re doing our first 5 hour stint, and we’re a little nervous. It is easy work, but it will definitely be exhausting. On Sunday we’ve signed up with the same company to do an 8 hour gig where we walk around tourist areas and talk about them in English??? It’s still unclear, but either way we’ll get paid for doing touristy things. Pretty cool. And hopefully fun!

Funky

I’ve been a little funk I think. The weather has been rainy and cold. And I mean rainy. At least for a weather-spoiled Coloradan. And Kate has had a terrible migraine for the past couple days (so I really shouldn’t be the one talking about a funk) so we’ve been laying low the last couple days. We have been enjoying the refuge of our nice warm, dry, clean, quiet apartment. So I guess that’s not all bad either. Really I have nothing to complain about. But I will anyway. I think the guilt of inactivity combined with unemployment and the overall uncertainty about everything has tripled the effects of the funk. Boo-hoo, right? Right.

Well today the funk started to lift. Or rather, Kate’s tremendously awful sounding headache and ensuing all-over sickness started to lift. Also, we had things to do. So that helped.

Kate started her Spanish classes that she has enrolled herself in for 2 weeks. The classes sound great. They go from 8-12 Monday through Friday, and they offer a ton of extracurricular cultural outings to help students explore Bogota (while improving their Spanish of course). Apparently I am allowed to piggy-back onto these activities which will be fun (I’ll be that annoying girl in the corner “wowing” everyone with her Spanish). There’s a free dance class on Thursday which will surely be both fun and awkward.

I am still “looking” for a “job” and this rigorous quest reminded me that I “need” to take a yoga class. I found a yoga studio that looked and sounded like the Colombian version of Karma Yoga, my favorite yoga studio in Colorado if I haven’t already mentioned it (sorry for the shamelss promo, but I just love it there). Hatha Yoga from 10am-11am. This is a nearly booked schedule compared to the rest of the past month of this adventure.

So, this morning Kate and I braved the crowded public transportation system, Transmilenio. We did a dry run the day before and estimated (or blindly guessed) that we should give ourselves 45 minutes to get to Kate’s school by eight. The Transmilenio is an innovative public transportation system that is composed of approximately one shit ton (wikipedia said so) of buses that have the feel of an above ground metro system. The buses have their own lanes on highways, so they are not affected by traffic, and the “stations” are in the middle of the highways. This system has created affordable public transportation for this city of 9 million people. It’s pretty slick, but reallly REALLY freaking crowded. And therefore, less slick. (Watch a positive video about Transmilenio here! – it will confirm the “one shit ton” figure)

We made it to Kate’s school only about 15 minutes late. I felt like a mother dropping her daughter of at Kindergarten for the first time. Except only 5 minutes before Kate was the one telling me where to go because I was so disoriented and confused due to my lack of caffeine and it being so early (anyone who has seen me pre-stimulants can easily picture what this looked like). I told Kate I’d be back to pick her up at 12, and I headed out to find caffeine and hopefully accomplish all the things on my huge to do list (of one thing).

I started walking in the direction of the yoga studio in hot pursuit of some coffee. Really, despite having plenty of time on my hands, I tend to walk extremely fast (and then get very hot). This is partially out of habit. But it also has to do with not wanting to look like a lost and meandering tourist, and also, I had to literally run at times to avoid getting run over by the throngs of people getting off the various Transmilenio stations I passed. They sounded and looked like an army. All dressed in black. Their fancy shoes and boots tapping threateningly against the ground. Me dressed colorfully with my bright polka dotted yoga mat bag on my back swimming against the black current. I’m sure it was another sight to be seen.

I quickly found refuge in a cute little cafe. Table on the terrace? Yes please. Cinnamon roll? Yes please. Cafe con leche? Yes PLEASE. Despite having virtually nothing to do still, it felt great to be out and about at this hour. It felt good to know that Kate was learning Spanish and developing a routine of her own. It felt good to know that I was going to my first yoga class in Spanish in about an hour! The cinnamon roll and caffeine felt pretty good too. As I was sitting there reading The Alchemist (very fitting I know. And if you haven’t read it, you should!) and feeling like my own path was feeling just wonderful (thank you Paolo Coelho, thank you life), The Beatles’ The Long and Winding Road came on. Life is good.

I eventually made my way to Natural Yoga studio. It was on the second floor of a building on a very busy street. Their was a ton of natural light which was yummy and cozy. The woman that took my info was very nice and complemented me on Spanish (that felt good too). I was early so I sat and read more Paolo Coelho and had some tea for a half an hour. At 10, the class began. It was me and 5 other women, all Colombian. The teacher was like the big friendly Colombian yoga giant. The BFCYG. It rolls right off your tongue, right? But seriously, he was the tallest and biggest person I’ve ever seen do yoga. Not fat, but thick. And tallllll. And he had one of those Euro-mullety-rat-taily things going on. An interesting choice. He had a very soothing voice and an Argentinian or possibly Paraguayan accent. The BFAOPPYG (The Big Friendly Argentinan or Possibly Paraguayan Yoga Giant). It was a really weird class. We remained seated for the first 50 minutes of the class and then at the end did a few Sun A’s, a random Warrior III, and a headstand. For any yogis out there, weird right?!?! In general, it was a very good class, and I was excited that I understood all the cues. I’ve decided that taking a yoga class in a different language is a very good way to intuitively learn that language. It’s neato. Mind, body, soul, and language center(s) of the brain. Sounds like heaven to me!

I picked Kate up from school and we walked to one of our favorite places in Princess land or Zona G. We found nutmeg and Parmesan in the fancypants grocery store. Then we walked all the way back to our apartment. According to my rough calculation I walked 9 miles. I walked for over an hour and a half and remember I walk fast, thus. 9 miles (at least). Woot. Anyway, I’m well out of my “funk” by now. I guess that was the point of all this.

Walking + coffee transcendence + yoga giants + nutmeg and cheese = me – funk.

*Blogger’s note: This all happened yesterday (Monday). I am a slow blogger.

Today (Tuesday) I went to another yoga class (this time at Yoga Studio Colombia) with Kate after her Spanish class. This time it was free and taught by an American who, before spending the last 9 months in Bogota, lived in Denver for 6 years. Small world. It was a really great class. Then we we lunched in the glorious sun, after which we hunted for the perfect delicious chocolate milkshakes (also in the glorious sun). We did not find them. But we did enjoy a yummy ice cream and waffle combo and a mocha drink, at one of the most popular chains in Bogota, Crepes & Waffles. Not bad. But still no milkshake. We have decided that on glory sunny days we will hunt for the perfect chocolate milkshakes. So there you have it.

And tomorrow I have an interview-ish about a job-ish. So that’s good-ish.

Big Bad Bogota

So… in case you were wondering… we made it to Bogota!!! We arrived on the 3rd and have been exploring and enjoying ever since. There has been a bit of fear resurfacing, but, for all the change and uncertainty going on in our lives, I think it is to be expected…

In French Guiana, while trying to book a hostel in Bogota, we stumbled upon an article that totally spooked us. It was about a spike in armed robberies in hostels in La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota. This was the exact area where all of the hostels were that we had been thinking of staying. The article was… scary. I’ll leave it at that. We booked a hostel in a different area of town that seemed like it would be nice, safe, and not super touristy. Either way, we were still extremely freaked out. I once again, began questioning my decision to move to this crazy city. What was I doing? I know nothing about this place, what made me think I could up and MOVE here?

Kate was nervous that she was making the wrong decision to come here for even a few months. I was nervous that my whole life plan was going to be a disaster. Damn you fear. After continually reminding ourselves that we are smart and aware, that bad things happen everywhere, and that at least we had each other, we started to calm down and regain our excitement.

When we went through customs they asked how long we were planning on staying. I said 2 months. The customs officer looked shocked, and had to verify that he had heard me correctly by saying (with raised eyebrows) “dos meses?!?!” He asked what I was planning on doing in Colombia for such a long time. I told him I intended to find a job. He had already asked what my job was in the states was, so he was once again shocked and surprised: “you want to find a job HERE?!?!” Thanks man. I haven’t had ANY doubts of my own about this, so the fact that you are acting like I’m totally Looney Toons crazy over here really isn’t helping me feel confident in my radical life decision. “Si???” I responded, self-conscious that this was an unacceptable thing to be doing. He was nice, although quite shocked. He handed us some information about how to extend our stay if we need to. Apparently you can only stay in Colombia as a tourist for 60 days. The Colombian Consulate in the states said it was 90 days, and that it was no sweat to extend that another 90 days. I guess I better find a job SOOOON.

But first let’s get to the hostel. After reading and hearing about robberies that happen in taxis from the airport that aren’t legitimate, we made sure to get a taxi that was registered. You go to a stand and tell them the address of where you’re going and they give you a print out of exactly how much it will cost. You hand this to the taxi driver, and you’re on your way. I was still on guard. clenching every muscle in my body and literally sitting on the edge of my seat because I didn’t take my backpack off out of nerves. It was gray and rainy. “If it’s gonna be like this all the time, I cannot live here” I told Kate. The drive took about 20 minutes and it was just a small introduction to just how enormous Bogota is. As we were stopped at a stoplight, a guy looked like he was walking his bike across the crosswalk, but then stopped, hoisted his bike onto his forehead, and began juggling brightly colored pins. After 7 seconds he walked between the lanes of stopped cars hoping to get paid for his performance. This is apparently quite common here.

At our hostel, we were greeted by a helpful guy and two very friendly dogs. The hostel was very nice and cozy. The helpful guy explained where there was a 24 hour supermarket with an ATM and a nice area with lots of restaurants. All within 5 blocks. What luck! We walked down to the supermarket. It was a dream come true – Whole Foods and King Soopers all rolled into one! We got some cash and bought some yummy and extremely cheap pastries. We went back to the hostel and donned scarves and jackets, and headed in the direction of Zona G for dinner. We ate at a fancy Mexican restaurant. The food was decent, not great. But we got giant Margaritas and a cozy little table on the terrace all to ourselves.

Since then, we have been trying to do at least a little bit of exploring each day. We are both still adjusting to this gigantic city. For me, it has been easier because I speak Spanish, and because I was only at sea level for about two weeks. Kate has been struggling a bit more, with good reason. We did some rough mental calculations and concluded that Bogota has 50,000 times the population of Kourou. It is also 8,612 feet above sea level. The weather here is perfect. Jeans, a t-shirt, and a light jacket are really all you ever need here. It is a welcome change from the sweltering heat of French Guiana and Suriname. So far, we have felt very safe here. The area where we chose to stay, Chapinero, is very nice, and there are always people out and about at all hours of the day.

On our first outing, we headed towards a “mall” to get a few things. My watch broke on the way to Bogota, so I wanted to replace it. Kate couldn’t handle having wet hair in this cold city, so she wanted a hair dryer. Our taxi driver on the way to the “mall” was extremely friendly. We talked about music, and salsa dancing, and he gave us advice about certain malls. He said that to Colombians, brand names are very important. The mall where we were headed had knock offs, so be warned. So this “mall” was not really a mall as I have come to define malls. It was just several city blocks of stall upon stall of stuff. I will be returning to this mall because they had so many stalls of awesome brightly colored tennis shoes. A weakness of mine. But first I need to get a watch and an apartment. Oh, and a job. Much like Colombians, brand names are also very important to me, so I bought this stylish yellow Casio.

I’m kind of obsessed with it. I often will stop and tell Kate what time it is, just to draw attention to my awesome Casio. Seriously. Or I’ll point out how well my Casio matches certain outfits or buildings or a restaurant called Amarillo where I’m determined to take my Casio. Kate is a patient travel companion. At worst, she finds me very funny. So that’s good. Because she is starting to see how much I love my Casio, she’ll say “Hey Casio, what time is it?” even if she already knows what time it is. Maybe I am Looney Toons crazy. It’s the small things in life, right? Kate bought a tiny hairdryer that looks like it could double as a really girly weapon. It’s baby pink and smells like burning. Kate is not obsessed with her hair dryer.

We walked home from a nice Italian lunch that day. It was a long walk, but it was nice to see the city and stretch our legs. At one point during the journey back to the hostel, a guy selling food on the street stopped and looked at Kate. With great excitement he said “OH MY GOD! Welcome to Colombia!!” I couldn’t stop laughing. Have I mentioned that Kate is blonde, green-eyed, and covered in freckles. She is a rare treasure here in Colombia, and people are often staring at her. Luckily she is a good sport. She is used to this sort of behavior after living in French Guiana. Even though I know people aren’t necessarily looking at me, I am not at all used to this behavior.

We stayed in the hostel for three nights (and since that was so long ago I’m having trouble remembering any of the details), and then we stayed at a super fancy hotel for 3 nights. Kate’s Mom was worried for our safety and had some reward points for this hotel, so she kindly put us up there for three nights. It was heaven. We each had our own super comfy double bed. And we even had a sitting room where we could do yoga and entertain guests if we had any to entertain. From our “castle” as we began to call it, we were able to knock some of things off of our to do list – we saw a movie and I bought a cell phone. And after a week of searching and trying to get in touch with people about apartments, we finally had a “showing” set up (Sunday).

The apartment was apparently about 30 blocks from the hotel. So we decided to walk. We left early to account for getting lost and to explore/eat. When we got to the area where the apartment supposedly was, we were a half an hour early. We were also very disappointed with the area. We knew nothing could compare to the princess land that we had grown accustomed to, but this area was especially seedy. Not a great place to live. We didn’t feel up to exploring much and there weren’t any obvious places to sit and grab a bite, so I thought I would send this guy a text to see if it would be ok to come early, and to find out exactly where the apartment was. This would have been easy, except that I programmed my number as his number and didn’t have his number any where else on me. I was feeling like a major idiot. So we decided to wait until he called us. We began to worry that we were never going to find an apartment. We had nowhere to stay the next night, and we didn’t really want to stay at a hostel when we could be staying in an apartment, for a quarter of the price. An hour later he called. I apologized and told him of my stupidity. He seemed very nice and didn’t seem to mind. He began to give me directions to the apartment. He spoke extremely quickly and I got a little overwhelmed. He seemed to think we were very close and that it would be very easy to get to the apartment. After another 30-45 minutes of walking, calling him, and asking people for directions we finally arrived at his place. It was actually about 50 blocks from our hotel.

The apartment was in a nice neighborhood with lots of security. As we climbed the stairs, Kate said “Just remember, if we move here we’ll have to carry all our luggage up 4 flights of stairs.” This place better be worth it. We climbed the 4 flights of stairs and were greeted by Felipe, a very welcoming and friendly guy. He showed us around the apartment. It was huge. The two downstairs rooms are filled by a German girl and an American guy. Upstairs there was a huge sitting area, a big bathroom, and the available room. It was spacious with lots of light and a double bed. That’s really all we need. There was a big kitchen. Another bedroom currently being used by his friend??? That remains unclear. And Felipe would take the upstairs loft. “Can we move in tomorrow?!”

High fives were in order. We went home to our castle and celebrated in our entertaining room with some Beer and Pringles. Hey, we didn’t say we were fancy Princesses.

We moved in the next day. The room has a giant closet with lots of shelves and drawers and things. There is a gigantic LCD TV with tons of channels (just what we need to make friends). And the only piece of “artwork” in the room confirmed that this was indeed the place for me. Not that we were really gonna turn back now. We had already carried all our luggage up all those stairs! That day we walked around our new neighborhood to get a snack and then buy groceries. We were both feeling a little uncomfortable about our new neighborhood. The gawking was worse here than anywhere else we’d been.

We’ve now spent two nights here, and I’m beginning to feel a lot better about it. There is a really nice supermarket half a block away with a bank. And we are surrounded by a disproportionate number of bakeries and hair salons. No complaints here! We are slowly acclimating to this new place. Slowly. Kate has enrolled in Spanish classes that sound great. I am desperately seeking an English teaching certification program that starts sooner rather than later. Most start later unfortunately. Things are still pretty up in the air, and I think I would benefit from some routine. I may not get that right away. So in the meantime, I’m trying to enjoy what’s happening and not think too much about home.


Sorry for the extreme length of this post. There’s a lot to say! I hope you are all well wherever life finds you.

Much love always,

Laura

Everything there is to know about Suriname*

I feel Suriname deserves its own post because it is such an interesting place. However, I also feel like I’m cheating a little bit, because, once again, I have already left the place about which I am writing. Also, my knowledge of Suriname is based on a 3 day visit, things I’ve heard from Kate, and information I vaguely remember from the Surinam Airways inflight magazine. So basically, I know everything there is to know about Suriname and you should take everything I have to say about it as fact.*

Suriname’s official language is Dutch, however there are at least 22 languages spoken there. As a result, there has been a tremendous amount of mixing of languages, cultures, and food. Also, the people are all really awesome looking. Seriously! Unlike America’s “melting pot” where cultures and races have stayed pretty un-melted and more like a “mixed salad with the dressing on the side please” (as Kate likes to say), Suriname is actually a melting pot of delicious, cool-sounding, awesome-looking stew.

One day I shall write a linguistics dissertation on the languages of Suriname. I will use the Surinam Airways inflight magazine as my only source. When you hear two people talking in Suriname, chances are you can pick out more than a few words. One of the main languages/dialects (whose name I am now forgetting) is a mixture of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and native languages. Due to my varying degree of fluency in these languages (ranging from absolutely none to native fluency), I am able to discern quite a bit from overhearing two Surinamese speak to one another. Most people in Paramaribo just speak Dutch, especially because of the large number of Dutch tourists, and because it is the official language. Duh.

Dutch is funny to me because it sounds and looks like a language that I should understand. But I don’t understand it at all. Kate and I determined that if you squint, it helps your oral and written comprehension of Dutch. As a continuation of me sounding like an idiot while visiting foreign lands, I will say this: when we were younger, my sister and I learned that other people spoke other languages that we didn’t understand. So, in an attempt to fool our parents we would try to “speak another language” that sounded like gobbledygook. We weren’t ever actually trying to communicate anything to one another, but we were just combining funny sounding syllables. (I thank my parents, for never commenting on how embarrassing this activity was.) Anyway, this gobbledygook language is kind of how Dutch sounds to me. The fact that this is what I think of Dutch, and the fact that I’ve shared it with anyone who reads this blog, is probably more embarrassing than the fact that we used to try to “outsmart” people with our non-communicative made-up language. For this, I apologize, and I thank you for reading this blog.

Now, as for the awesome-looking-ness of the Surinamese people. They really do look awesome. Mixing Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Hindu, Javanese, African, and native people (and others) together creates a truly beautiful spectrum unrivaled by any place I’ve ever been (not that this means much coming from someone from such a monochromatic city as Denver/Boulder). Perhaps all this adoration for the beautiful mixture that is Surinamese culture is merely due to being so accustomed to the ways people in the states do in fact “mix.” Perhaps a Surinamese person would be in just as much awe of the “spectrum” of the states as I am of their color wheel.

Maybe I just love rainbows. Maybe this. Maybe that.

If you’d like an idea of what we actually did while we were in Suriname, please consult Kate’s blog for a far a less inconclusive-rant-style blog.

*Do not take anything I have to say about anything as fact.