Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Response Memo...

In response to THIS ARTICLE --> Click on "THIS ARTICLE" to read original...
If you don't read that article first, this entry won't make a lot of sense... if any.

Here's my take.  First point – I think what she is REALLY saying is that those who are bored need to #1 change their attitudes.  That was not reflected in my statement above, so I apologize.  I SO truly believe you get what you put in.  Honest to goodness, most Sundays I leave and feel incredible.  I have taken what I can and need to from the speakers and lessons... What she is saying is that we expect these big manifestations to happen and they don’t to everyone… well, not in those ways of old.  However, in my personal life, I've felt just as amazing and powerful manifestations in my heart – literally, JUST as powerful I’m sure.  I believe that for most people, it’s an individual thing – that’s the beauty of the gospel.  However, how I read her point is that most people EXPECT more than that and if we would just listen to the quiet manifestations, we would see God is ALREADY present in our meetings.  There’s that.

Second point – I agree and disagree with this point.  I think that some wards are spot on with having a balance about sharing facts about Christ and the church, and getting more at the why it matters.  However, many wards skip out on the WHY.  I am a BIG advocate of the WHY in everything.  What do I mean by that?  Well, why does it matter where Christ comes from and what he said in the lessons he taught?  Why does it matter what the Saints went through at the start of the restoration?  We have to teach more than “what happened” and teach why is matters to you as a Latter-day Saint.  How can your testimony grow and change from learning the importance of WHY we teach the doctrine?  If your ward is doing this, then I’m obviously not talk about the revamp in your ward.  If not, then perhaps trainings and ideas shared on how to talk or teach is appropriate, like in point #4. 

Third point – I learn through music best.  Sincerely, that is my “multiple intelligence” if you will… Everyone learns differently (visually, audibly, kinesthetically, etc.), and my main avenue is music.  When I’m at General Conference, I genuinely write down more notes from feelings I have during the songs than the speakers.  I LOVE MUSIC.  Knowing that, know that I love a lot of hymns from the hymn book.  However, we could have some revamp there.  Perhaps a good chunk of it is the tempo on songs needs to improve, but I think it’s more than that… We want to be respectful of the chapel and the place where one of the most sacred ordinances takes place, but we could still have music that a bit more joyful and even upbeat – I’m not talking going crazy to the point the spirit is driven out, but if done in the right tone and maturity from the congregation, there’s nothing wrong with a “worship” piece.  You can disagree – it’s fine – but I think that it would only enhance the service.  Also, what’s wrong with allowing the acoustic guitar into a service if it’s used reverently and can respectfully to worship… Just thoughts.

Fourth point – What is wrong with offering training to individuals and helping us all BE BETTER?  We are not just here on earth to grow spiritually, but in all manners of life.  That’s why we’re told to become educated –to study and learn from the best books – and those are not solely scriptural.  Thus, what is wrong with offering opportunities for growth in public speaking, teaching, and communication in general?  Especially when learning to communicate could only help us articulate and share the message of the gospel with greater comfort, accuracy, and passion, I believe this to be a wonderful idea for ALL individuals.  Even the BEST speakers could benefit from training on talking about the gospel.

Point five – Her language and point comes across slightly pompous, I admit.  Okay, her language through most of this comes across rather pompous.  However, I think her intentions are pure… Remember, Elder Utchdorf stated, “…it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment.”  I don’t believe her intentions to be malicious or impure by any means. 

Now - Like my friend Brook said, ordinary people doing extraordinary things is the beauty of the gospel.  We don’t need theologians giving all our talks and lessons – nope, we just need those with willing hearts.  We do not need a change in the people or our leadership.  Those called are inspired and called of God – I know that for myself.  So point five is where I disagree with her… However, I think as those in our generation are coming into leadership callings it is important to realize that we are there for a reason – not to keep things exactly the same, but to look for ways to constantly strive to make things better.  The GOSPEL it perfect, but the people aren't – I am FAR from it… Why not give me tools that I need personally?  For example, in regards to point four, I feel VERY confident in public speaking and teaching, and I know I’m good at it – I better be as it’s my profession.  Haha!  However, of course I could use more training on speaking about the gospel!  That’s just one example.

Point is, there is NOTHING wrong with sharing a new or different idea.  That gospel has provided a safe space that should encourage individuals to share thoughts and impressions.  They may or may not work, but who knows if you voice a thought what glorious program or slight change could come forth to benefit someone or many.  There’s my two…. ten cents.

I will support and go with what the brethren say – always.  I’m just giving my ideas… and as a future and current leader in the church, I think we are blessed with minds and opinions to share.  Things don’t change if no one says anything… and perhaps they don’t need to.  However, we are on this world to be heard and to share the inspiration and thoughts that come to our minds… that I precisely why God has given us the ability to think and be inspired.

Song of the Day: My friend, Sean recommended this band to me  and I am IN LOVE!  They are fabulous... Here is The Orbit Group with "Typical."  Take a listen and you will NOT regret it - Enjoy!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nicaragua Part V: Final Day, Final Thoughts

My final day in Nicaragua was more of a sight-seeing, relaxing adventure - similar to Saturday's trip to Masaya and Granada.  We had the opportunity to wake up a bit later that morning and have a chill morning till 10:30am... but a group of us (some LDS/Mormon and some not) opted to attend the local LDS services just a few blocks from the hotel.  Our bus driver, Alberto, was kind enough to drive us around to find the church bldg. and then even attended the service with us.  I didn't understand about 90% of the service, but the one thing I did understand was the spirit.  It sounds cheesy, but I just love how the gospel is the same wherever you go.  I knew exactly what was happening and why, and I could feel the overwhelming love that these members had for the gospel and for each other.  I was really grateful that Cami got all the information together to make it possible for us to attend sacrament meeting.

Sidenote:  It was fast and testimony meeting and they went a good few minutes over because people just kept getting up.  Again, not so different from the states. :)

After the church service we slipped out and headed back to the hotel to change and head to Lake Apoyo (volcano lake) for the afternoon.  If you ever want to experience a piece of paradise, check out Lake Apoyo... Oh my word.  It was gorgeous and SO peaceful!  I was so relaxed and just chill while there.  Don't get me wrong, after lunch I jumped in the lake for a little swim and then spent three and a half hours playing games on the water raft 30-40 feet off shore. It was a blast playing Ninja, Chilean children's games, and Down By the Banks on the river raft then taking a million "action shots!"  However, after that it was nice to just read and lay by the side of the lake for an hour or so... It was a little piece of Nicaraguan heaven.
 Me and Laura!
 Our MAT raft crew!
 HOOK inspired shot...
 Mermaid Dancing?!?

After the swim I realized my mistake of not having worn ear-plugs... I always forget that when swimming a lot in a day, but I get swimmer's ear fairly easily when in the water for an extended period of time.  That night made for a pretty nasty, tearful night (with only about 3 hours of sleep) because of plugged ear, but it's slowly healing now and there's no pain anymore - I can't quite hear out of it fully yet, but hopefully soon!

Going back to Nicaragua, we headed back to the hotel post swimming and relaxing to eat dinner and then meet up for a final reflection discussion.  We were all groaning a bit about having to have the final reflection, but I don't know why... I always end up loving those kind of discussions.  I love dissecting feelings and experiences and talking about them openly.  Is that weird?  Eh.  Oh well!

While we were discussing the events from this week we were asked a few different questions.  The first (worded more articulately that this): What was your favorite highlight from this trip and why?  We were often asked to expand upon that by sharing how that experience would influence us as a teacher in the future.  I talked about my experience with Father Cardenal and how I feel more shaped as an individual after hearing him speak - how I set goals for myself as a person and as a teacher while sitting right in his lecture.  Again, it was THAT good.  I kind of saw him as almost a Nelson Mandela figure of his country and purpose... For real - he was incredible.

Anyway, I wanted to take a second to reflect once more.  We were asked to ponder the following questions for our "final reflection" in class tomorrow.  Though I already feel I touched upon these things, I feel it might be good to regroup my ideas and just share some insight to my overall experience.  First, we were asked how the travel seminar influenced our ability to learn about another culture.  

Truthfully, I felt this seminar to be one of the most powerful things I could do to understand and learn about culture while here at Westminster.  We talk a lot about the different cultural backgrounds our students can and will come from, but I don't believe that I fully understood until my experience down in Nicaragua how culture can affect a student in and out of the classroom.  So many kids down there are excited about and love school, but only have the opportunity to go through 6-8th grade.  This is because they have to work after that so their families can make money to eat and survive.  So, as an educator I was thoughtful of the students I will have that might have to work to help their family make ends meet.  How can I help those students succeed and grow? How will I react when a student comes in and says they don't have their work done because mom needed them to run family errands or work extra hours?  I don't believe in allowing excuses to build and enable students to not have to do work.  However, I can be more understanding and work with them to come up with a plan that will work for them if things arise.  It is going to take more effort on my part as a teacher,  but I want to be the teacher that goes the extra mile when needed.  Some other students won't think it's fair, but I have realized that education and learning (just like parenting) isn't about giving every child the same thing, but giving each child what they need to be successful.  Education is about the individual.

The second question: How will you continue to learn about cultures as a practicing teacher?  My thoughts are coming out in THIS fashion:

1.  Be familiar with your surrounding.  As a teacher, I will be aware of the cultures and values represented in that area.  I want to make sure that I know as much as I can about the background of each student and where they are coming from so I can understand their situations and struggles.  I want to be understanding of the kids that fall out of the cultural norms of the area's population, and determine how I can make those students feel included without singling them (or others) out.
2.  Be familiar with what is happening around the world.  At times, kids from other backgrounds and cultures are effected by the things that are happening halfway across the world.  If I stay up-to-date on the important things that are happening around the world, I can relate to those students and hopefully know how to better help them through any tough experiences.  Also, I can use cultural events from around to world to bring in information or ideas that may represent that student without singling them out or making them uncomfortable.
3.  In regards to English or theater, why not bring in literature or theatrical pieces from other countries or cultures?  If there is a piece originally written in a different language, I could bring in translations for class members.  I can use pieces that dig into cultural or societal issues (which many and most do in some way), and do more than perform or read them, but discuss them.  I think this is a vital piece of theater and studying literature, regardless - dissecting and discussing the real meaning behind a piece.
4.  Travel.  I have NO problem with this idea... The more I travel and observe different cultures, asking questions and walking the non-touristy path, the more I can come to better understand a culture or life style.  I love traveling SO much and experiencing new places, so this idea is heaven to me... Yep - I'm going to travel like crazy during my summer months.  It's research, right? :)  Think I can get funding for that?  Yea - didn't think so.  It was worth a shot though! :)

All in all, my experience to Nicaragua was life changing and incredible.  I really was so happy with the people I was there with and how we influenced and taught one another, as well as the experiences the Center for Global Education had laid out for us.  It really was the PERFECT trip and learning experience.  Westminster, I love you even more now... and I already loved you a whole lot.

Song of the Day:  I think I post this video EVERY Christmas, but it is THAT good.  Here is Vocal Point (Feat. Ryan Innes) singing "He Is Born."  He is insane good - they all are.  BLOWS MY MIND.  Check out both versions (one is only half, BUT it's a better version I believe)... Enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nicaragua Part IV: Friday & Saturday!

I have much more of this trip to record and share!  I always struggle to get down everything I want to remember after the fact is a week or more behind me, so I hope I can do this justice.


On Friday we got up bright and early to make tortillas with the host family madre.  We really only learned to shape and cook them, but it was still a cool experience.  We ate breakfast (a egg pancake thing on the tortilla and fresh plantains)  with our little group of three and then headed to the end of the road to meet the bus so we could get everyone from their homes.  Leaving the home I stayed at, I merely wished there was more interaction between us and the host-family.  I know we didn't all speak Spanish, but we had one with the ability to translate (Marilee), and it would have been nice.  I'm sure it was a respect thing (perhaps a bit of a comfort thing as well), but I think you REALLY find out about a person's living situation and life/opinions from talking with them.  It was interesting also how we never saw the father figure in the home.  Regardless, we were thankful for all they did for us. As we walked to meet the bus, I noted what a beautiful morning was around us. I took some time to just relish in the beauty of the hills and plant-life around me... It's amazing how you can see the hand of God wherever you are in the world.  Tender mercies.

After picking everyone up we headed back to the city of Matagalpa for a short stop at a local cathedral (Parraoula San Pedro Apostol – Catedral) and park in the city so we could see a bit of a different city.  We were only there for about 20 minutes and then had to get back on the bus and then headed out to a dry-mill for the coffee production process.  We got to walk around the mill and see just how it's taken care of all the way to packaging - drying, raking, setting, roasting, and even tasting to see what flavors are good enough to be sold.  It was really cool, but took a bit longer than anticipated or appreciated.  So many people were not feeling well that day and we were all hot and feeling pretty nasty - really we were in need of showers.  Haha!

After the drive back to Managua, we checked back into our original hotel and had time to freshen up and grab lunch.  We were really excited about both of those things - haha!  Honestly, I was straight-up starvin', but also in dire need of refreshing... It was a toss up to see which would win out, but food won.

We grabbed our travel bags and headed over to the University for a lecture from a Jesuit Priest named Father Fernando Cardenal.  He was involved in the revolution of Nicaragua in the 1970's and the literacy campaign there in the 1980's.  None of us were particularly looking forward to this lecture and many of us even jokingly debated way to ditch without being noticed. First, that would have been impossible.  Second, it would have been HIGHLY regretted... For MANY of us on the trip, this lecture was our favorite part of the stay in Nicaragua.  It was life-changing, and rejuvenating... I felt so amazingly moved educationally, spiritually, personally... I made goals for myself while sitting there and listening to him lecture.  I took notes and basked in his presence.  It's truly remarkable how one indvidual and his life could have such an impact on another human being, not to mention the entire group of us MAT students.

Following the lecture, we headed out to grab dinner at a local, authentic Nicaraguan restaurant called Cocina de Dina Haydee.  It was pretty bomb!  We ordered drinks, appetizers, main courses, and desserts, and stuffed ourselves silly.  We were all sharing, so it wasn't as much as it sounded... but it was still a lot!  Haha...  I had some appetizer with Indio Vejio (Jacob from freshman year served his mission there and suggested I try that out) which was fabulous, and a sampler of many different things.... Then, there was the tres leche.  TO. DIE. FOR.  Seriously - incredible.

A group of us felt the need to work off all that food after, so we went dancing at a local disco techa.  Haha!  It was awesome... It was smokey and there were dirty videos on the screens, which was NOT my thing, but the music was reggaton and we had a good time dancing.  Something that was odd - none of the guys made moves on us really, but they would stare at us and pretty much eye-rape us as we danced.... kinda creepy.  I kept hearing them say, "gringas, gringas....," but would just creepily check us out.  That was pretty ICK too....

We only stayed for about an hour when half the group decided to go onto another club, and the rest of us grabbed a cab to head home.  Turns out we had gotten into an illegal cab... Good thing someone was watching out for us, because that would have been pretty bad.  We got home safe though and decided to call it a night.  I stayed up to read and blog a bit, but let me tell you... I was ZONKED!


Saturday was a lot of fun in that it was more the sight-seeing part of our trip.  We hopped on the bus bright and early, had a different guide for the day, and headed first to a local grocery market.  It's pretty similar to our Smith's or Macey's... but we all got to try some new treats and grab some things to take home for treats.  Then, we headed to Masaya Volcano National Park.  It's a live volcano (though simmering and not exploding) we could go around to see and take pictures.  It was neat... no more on that.  Haha!

Our next stop was the Masaya Craft Marketplace... I could have used more time there - haha!  It was a shopping dream.  Hand-made crafts and for very little money - I was loving it!  Haha... I went around with Laura (Cami and Katelyn were with us some of the time) and she helped me when I was struggling to understand Spanish, but I felt I was doing alright with talking to people and bartering.  I didn't do a ton of bartering because I know that this market is where these people make their money and stuff was already pretty inexpensive.  I mostly waited for people to lower the prices themselves as I stood there long enough looking. :)  It was fine by me if they wanted to go lower, and then I was able to knock of three or four dollars on the big items.  I found a beautiful white stone nativity and an elephant in the same stone (I try to get an elephant from every country I go to), and got a carved and hand-painted mask for my theater classroom. It was fun... I must admit, I do love shopping.

We hit up a local "buffet" for lunch, where some older guys came and played our table a song on the marimba.  It was beautiful and a total highlight for me - I love music.  It just makes me happy to see others use the gift of music... It's the true universal language.

Post-lunch we headed to the city Granada, the oldest known European settlement that still exists today, were we saw some of the city center, a beautiful Catholic cathedral, and took an amazing boat ride on Nicaragua Lake.  We went around the islands (thoughts to be exactly 365 of them) on that HUGE lake - second biggest in the bottom hemisphere - and saw gorgeous homes, amazing plant-life and views, and even stumbled across monkey island.  YES - monkey island.  This is a place where a vet placed 12 monkeys to live in the "wild" safely.... incredible.  Don't believe me?  See the video below for proof... Yep.

We headed back to the hotel afterward and got dinner, chilled, and just had a good night back at the hotel... Katie and I had a good chat in our room about life - rooming with her was great cause she's so easy to talk with about anything.  I never feel like I can't ask her something or bring up any topic.  It's fabulous... :)

I'll have to write about the last day later... For now, this little girl has to get some sleep.  It seems I may (or may not) have contracted a tape-worm or some stomach illness post-trip.  Yep - yuck.  Silver lining: I'm down seven pounds!  Yippee!  Haha.... I'm almost to my Germany weight.  BOOM.

Song of the Day: Cheesy song award goes to the following song.... but I adore it!  Here is One Direction with "They Don't Know About Us," off their newest album.  I love the whole album - no lie.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Nicaragua Part III - Keeps Gettin' Better!

I have SO much to write about and I'm not sure where to begin.  Let's just begin by saying that Nicaragua has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life - no exaggeration.  It's incredible how in one week you can take in so much, learn so much about yourself and others, and reevaluate goals and your heart.  I'm consistently impressed by the actions of others and all that they do to become better people - to help serve and love others around them.  It could be something small, like getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning everyday to make tortillas for your family.  It could be getting a soda for the bus driver because we're so thankful for all he's done for us.  It could be the hug an old man gives each individual who attended his lecture in hopes to change their hearts and refocus their minds on service... It's all of the things and so many more that I have seen this week, which have changed my life in one way or another.  I feel revitalized and rejuvenated.  I feel more on track and driven... I already feel more joy.

Now, the specifics...

After hitting up a GORGEOUS, new hotel in Matagalpa, we spent the morning looking at the gardens and eating a nice breakfast with some amazing fried plantains.  I'm positive those are my favorite things in the world right now... They're half good for you and half terrible for you, but I love them regardless.  Anyway, we had a bunch of mini-photo shoots around the hotel, in the gardens, and overlooking the mountains surrounding the city, then hopped on the bus and headed for the hills.

We headed to a small co-op in La Reyna (in San Ramon) where they live a modified version of the law of consecration (everyone gets what they need and has nothing set as theirs specifically) as they harvest and prep coffee to be sold.  It was SUCH a cool place to visit.  We had the opportunity to pick some of the coffee "pods," which I had no idea previously were bright red and hid the coffee bean (originally white) inside, and stay with local families.

We visited the school there first and saw how the teachers and students have no technology and do everything by hand, but seem to have a lot in common material-wise as to what they are learning.  It was fascinating to me in many ways... They had two students do traditional dancing for us and then turned to us and said, "You're turn!"  Haha!  We had NO idea and had prepared nothing, so everyone turned to me and said, "Sing for them or dance!"  I guess I am the performer... but awkward!

Fun fact #837 - I HATE being put on the spot to perform.  It's not cause I don't like to perform (I love it!), or because I'm unprepared.  I can typically whip something out quickly, but I feel really awkward because it feels like showing off to me... and my brain just freezes.

Anyway, I had everyone join me in singing Jingle Bells for them and then Camille, Leigh, and I got up to do the "Boot-Scootin'-Boogie" for everyone!  Haha... It was simple, but they thought it was fun and it was cultural - esp. in Utah and the surrounding UT states.  We talked with teachers about the challenges they face and opportunities they've been given, as well as the training they have received and their style of teaching.  It was amazing how teachers are starting to become more progressive and lining up in our style and catering to the learner and exploring different ways to assess or teach information.  I love that...

Sidenote:  I was making faces at one of the little boys and one of the teachers caught me and we started laughing pretty hard... no one knew why at first and it was a good moment. :)

After the visit to the school we headed down to the little "village center" (a little covered hangout) to eat lunch and chill out for a bit.  One of the little boys was there and we played tag for about 45 minutes eventually ending in high-fives and hugs... very adorable. I have four different people ask me, "Why aren't you teaching elementary again?!"  Haha - What can I say?  I adore my teenagers. Truth is - I like the application level of thinking and the deeper level of learning the "why" behind something.  The initial light-bulb turning on is cool, but it's going beyond that which really fascinates me.

Lunch was incredible and authentic - amazing meat/veggie mix, rice, tortillas, veggies, and orange juice - and afterward we were ready to put on stomach baskets and head out to pick some coffee beans.  I had a slightly, unfortunate accident stepping in a HUGE puddle of foot deep mud and completely running my sneakers, but otherwise it was an amazing experience.  Haha!  And that crappy moment didn't slow me down - I went on to pick coffee and learn the ins-and-outs of the process with a smile on my face.  The sneakers I brought had holes and were already going to be left behind in Nicaragua, but it was good to leave them in the mountains rather than the city because they'll probably be used.  I washed them off and gave them to a leader of the co-op.

After picking the beans, we took them to the plant processing building to watch how they're shucked, washed, dried, and prepared to send to a sellers plant.  What's really cool is that the beans producing something called "honey water," which can be used to make methane gas!  Meaning, homes in the co-op now have a source of electricity.  How amazing is that?!  I think these people are just so inventive, intuitive, and hard-working to create new things.  It's pretty amazing to see...

We split up shortly after with our host-families and headed to their homes.  We had a great time visiting with the 21 year-old son about his religious views (he brought it up again and again), and loved how in-sync our ideas and values were in reality.  I think he was coming into the situation looking for an argument to defend his faith and was slightly shocked when we agreed with all his points.  We do need repentance and the Savior in our lives.  We do know the second coming is just around the bend, and the natural disasters testify to that point.  We do know that faith is not enough, but that they must use works to reach salvation to it's fullest end.  We agreed on every point... Haha!  It was kind of cool to see our religions inter-weaving.

The mama of the family made us a great dinner of fresh eggs (some of the best I've ever eaten), rice and bean mix, and thin, fried plantains (my favorite thing I've eaten so far), but they didn't eat with us... It's a respect thing, but it was a bit bizarre to me.  They gave us the best of what they had and then ate in the other room - what they ate, I don't know.  We were left to visit for about an hour as we ate and then the 11 year old came in to chat with us for about an hour.  I got a bit brave and tried to use more Spanish, and though it was pretty bad, I realized I know more than I thought I did.  I should be willing to try using languages more... it's how you really learn them.  I kept talking in Germish - half German, half Spanish.  Haha!  It's just natural to go to the language you know that's foreign outside of English.  I would say, "Yo es viente sieben.... viente siete!"  or "Yo liebe... Mi gusta..."  Haha!  It's funny how that works, but those who visited with me were super patient.

We got ready for bed, climbed under our mosquito nets and sleep-sacks, and chatted for a bit before I dozed off rather quickly....

That was day #3 - get ready for day #4 (plus pictures) tomorrow! :)

Song of the Day: I'm lovin' on this song right now and since it's December 1st, I felt a Christmas song was completely appropriate. Thus, here is Dave Barnes with "Family Tree."  Enjoy!