Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Blogger: Mom!

I'm back in Peru, travelling with Beth for the week.  A the moment we are sitting on the porch outside of our room overlooking Cuzco.  We are staying at a bed and breakfast with beautiful gardens and somewhat near to where Beth stayed when she worked at an orphanage in Cuzco in 2008.  

When I last visited Beth we traveled to Huaraz, a city near Chavin, her Peace Corps site.  Visiting Cuzco is a much easier trip, requiring only a short plane ride rather than an 8 hour bus ride.  I arrived in Lima near midnight on Saturday (for those of you who remember my last trip, this one was significantly less eventful!).    On Sunday we flew to Cuzco and then on Monday we took a bus/train ride to Aguas Calientes, a small tourist town near the base of Machu Picchu.  We spent Tuesday at Machu Picchu, a place that cannot adequately be described by pictures or video, though I have attached two of our videos for your enjoyment.     On Wednesday we toured an Incan temple, shopped, ate and read.  Today we are visiting Beth's host family from 2008 and visiting a place called Sacsayhuaman, Incan ruins made from huge rocks, near Cusco.  Tomorrow we are travelling to Moray, a place where the Incans determined what to grow and where and Salanas, the salt flats.  And then we begin our trip home, returning to Lima to gather Beth's belongings and return to the airport for our flight.    

Gathering Beth's belongings.  Three words but a huge task.  She has two very large suitcases, a paddle from her trip down the Amazon, at least one carry-on and Gulliver, her golden retriever.  I plan to tape the entire process of getting all of these things including Gulliver's mammoth cage to the airport and checking in.  We need to transfer Gulliver in Atlanta from international to domestic and I have no clue how this will work.  Again, I am planning to tape the entire process.  

Back to Peru.  Travel in Peru is very interesting.  In Huaraz cars are blowing their horns all the time and it would appear that there are no road rules.  Travel in Cuzco is much quieter but the streets are often very narrow, requiring us sometimes to stand with our back to the building for a car to pass.  Road rules are better here but certainly not like at home.  While we have already traveled by train, plane and automobile, we have also walked many miles.  

Shopping is always fun in Peru.  I like to listen to Beth barter prices, a skill she has fine tuned since I was last here.  Quite honestly, I think I am pretty good at bartering just by my facial expressions - must be the "you're kidding" look that we moms have perfected by experience.  Food is wonderful and relatively inexpensive with the exception of Aguas Calientes where it costs 2-3 times as much as Cuzco.  Not to worry, we still ate :)

As I think about my trip, I'll close with some of the memories I will bring back:
  • realizing that just because I'm travelling to a Spanish speaking country, I do not have to listen to the movie on the plane in Spanish - I learned after the first movie that if I changed the channel, I could listen in English!
  • shopping
  • meeting Beth's Peace Corps friends - they are an amazing group of people
  • seeing Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world
  • the smile that was on Beth's face when she saw me at the airport.  I will digress here a moment to explain what it is like to arrive at the Lima Airport.  After you have retrieved your luggage you enter into a circle of people in a huge room.  Many are holding signs while others are calling out the names of whoever they are waiting for.  I have done this twice and each time it makes me think that my arrival in heaven will be something like this - entering into a great circle with family and friends who have gone before me excited to see me, anxiously waiting for my arrival and to relate the experiences we have not shared together.  
  • shopping.  Please note that we look more than we buy :)
  • how beautiful Peru is and how diverse it is, both environmentally and economically
  • Coke Zero is definitely not the same as Diet Coke
  • I am not Hookah bar material
  • eating. . . with the exception of the Hookah bar
  • just spending time with Beth - talking about the Peace Corps and her thoughts for the future when she returns home.
  • watching Big Bang until we both fall asleep
  • the infinite number of times I have gone up and down the stairs at work as well as my shopping, both therapeutic and otherwise, prepared me for all of the walking we have done
  • we work way too hard in America. . . . and we should be thankful for all we have
See you at home.  


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shout Outs!

As my time in Ancash comes to a close (is it really my last day here?), I've been thinking about all of the people who helped me through my Peace Corps service.

Thanks to Caryn, Ruth, Caitlin, Becky, Alisa, Ann-Marie, Katie Kelley, Gail, Anna, Jackie, Grandpa, and all the other people who sent me e-mails - they were always treasured.  Thanks to my Grandmas for all of the letters and cards - I've saved every single one.  Thanks to Caryn and Ruth for not getting annoyed when I would call them twenty times in ten minutes because I had internet access and needed to talk to them.  Thanks to Gail and Tim for posting pictures and status updates about the girls - I'm able to feel close to them even though I'm so far away.  And thanks for talking about me so Emme knows who I am - hearing "I love you Bethie" in the background of a phone conversation always made my week.  Thanks to everyone who sent packages, e-mails, cards, letters, and prayers.  Thanks to everyone who supported me through this difficult decision and left no doubt in my mind that you just want me to be happy.

But the biggest thanks have to go to my Mom and Dad.  Thank you for buying five round trip tickets to Peru in the past sixteen months.  Thanks for calling whenever I asked you to and even when I didn't.  Thanks for the text message countdowns and Packer score updates.  Thanks for all the Skype credit so I could call friends in the States.  Thanks for never telling me I was crazy.  Thanks for the laptop, the Kindles, the clothes, and the loans.  Thanks for the books and the gifts for my Quechua kids.  Thanks for listening while I cried and for celebrating my successes.  Thanks for telling me that you'll always be proud of me.  Thanks for loving me when I felt like I didn't deserve it.  Thanks for believing me.

Mom, more and more each day I proudly notice ways that I'm like you.  When I bake cookies because my friends are coming over or go out of my way to comfort someone who is sick or sad, I think, "I'm doing this because it's what Mom would do."  Thank you for teaching me that family and friends are the most important things in this world and that going the extra mile to support and love them is always the right decision - no matter the cost.  Thanks for showing me that strength and determination can take you far and that hard work, albeit difficult, is incredibly rewarding.  I love you.

Dad, the way you care for and love Mom, Gail, Monica, Emme, Elie, and myself is an incredible example of unconditional love.  Your character, faith, and unfailing support teaches me what a real man should do.  When I look at the hooligans in my life, it's your voice in my head that says, "You deserve more than this."  I love you.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Coming Home

As many of you have already probably heard, I've made the difficult decision to leave the Peace Corps four months early. It was the hardest decision of my life and was accompanied by days and days of crying and torturing myself (and my parents) with "what ifs". Now that I've made my decision to come home I am sad but feel at peace with my decision.

The past twenty months can best be summed up by this illustration:

(courtesy of

When I'm completely honest with myself I need to admit that it's been a long time since I've really been happy here. And after some recent events which made me feel unsafe in Peru, I decided it was time to take care of myself. I could either spend the next four months sad, unsupported and barely surviving or I could take steps to start feeling better. I realized that no one else was going to turn on the lights so it was time I turned them on for myself.

So the schedule is as follows: Huaraz until March 27th and then Lima until the 31st. Mom flies into Lima on the 31st and we're going to have an amazing time in Cuzco to conclude my time in Peru. Mom, Gulliver, and I will be flying home on April 7. And then... I really have no idea.

Okay, I have a few ideas - mainly consisting of the following elements: family, friends, biking, and baking.

And blogging. I may be finishing up my Peace Corps time in Peru but this journey is far from over. I'm going to continue blogging while I transition back to life in America and start to process everything that's happened since June 2012.

Stay strong Peace Corps volunteers.

Can't wait to see everyone at home. I will be demanding hugs.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Guest Blogger: Gulliver

Hi Everyone!

My Beth is always looking for guest bloggers so I volunteered to tell you guys a little bit about my life in Peru. In case you don't know who I am, I’m a Golden Retriever puppy! My Beth and I live together and I’ll be four months in two days. To celebrate my birthday, my Beth and I are going on a hike together this weekend. I can't wait! I’m still a puppy but I’m already a big dog and am still growing. If my paws are any indication, I’m going to be big and strong when I grow up.

I love living in Peru. I like playing outside with all of the other animals – though the pigs scare me sometimes so I bark at them. My favorite animals are chickens because they run away when I chase them. It's so funny. Our family has two other dogs, Gordo and Paco, and I like to play with them too. When I’m not running around outside, I’m usually napping on my blanket.

Every night, I sleep on the bed next to my Beth. I always make my Beth lift me into the bed. Don't tell but I know that I could jump onto the bed by myself. I just like getting a hug each night. My Beth says that pretty soon she won't be able to lift me because I’ll be too heavy. Bed time is definitely my favorite part of the day.

Oh, one second. I hear another dog outside. I think he wants to be my friend. I’m going to try to play with him!

Okay, I’m back.

What else can I tell you about Peru? Wherever I go, I get a lot of attention. I love playing with kids and grown-ups always ask my Beth a lot of questions about me. I look different from most of the other dogs I see so I can understand why people ask a lot of questions. I love taking walks and riding on the combi buses. I usually just fall asleep in the aisle of the bus so I think I’m going to like traveling to America.

Speaking of America, I’m so excited to go there in a few months. My Beth likes to tell me about it and our family there. Swimming in Lake Michigan sounds like a lot of fun! My Beth's family and friends sound really awesome and I hope they like me. But I’ll be honest... I’m most excited to meet my Beth's sister and brother's Golden Retriever, Conan. I really hope that my Grandpa Conan thinks I’m cool and will play with me.

Well, that's all for now. See you soon!



Friday, February 24, 2012

Just Run

I hate running. When I try to run, my body just starts yelling at me. "Stop that!" it says. "We don't run. We bike. We hike. We dance. We do NOT run."

I hate running. But I hate feeling stressed and angry even more. And, more often then not, that's exactly how I've been feeling lately. Stressed and angry.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend passed me a pdf of "Th Complete Idiot's Guide to Running and Jogging" circa 1998. This treasure of a book includes a couch to 30 minutes of running in 30 days plan and I quickly decided to go for it, despite my hatred of running. I can't bke, hikng is just a part of my daily life, and my daily dance parties just aren't cutting it. I would have to run.

In the beginning, I loved my runs. Bill Rodgers, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide..." instructed me to run 4 times a week and I would feel antsy on the days couldn't run. I loved going out ono my trail, jumping over holes, and concentrating to no tumble off the narrow ledges. Gulliver would run behind me and, frankly, look extra adorable with his ears flying behind him.

And then disaster struck. On Wednesday, I went out for my run and there was just nothing in me. No energy. No motivation. Nothing. A common problem I'm sure. So I skipped my run yesterday. And today. But tomorrow I need to somehow find the motivation to get out there and just run.

That's where you come in, dear Blog Reader. I'm telling you thisso you can hold me accountable. My goal is to do a 10K when I return home. So, please, hold me accountable, bug me until I run, and tell me that all of my excuses are totally bogus. Or, even better, come run with me. We'll hold each other accountable and celebrate my return to America by torturing our bodies in pursuit of a runner's high. I've already roped one person into this insanity with me... let me know if you're willing to join us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Today, I bring you a lesson on the amount of perseverance it takes to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I woke this morning with plans of staying in bed all day in order to read the fifth Game of Thrones book. Then John William called and asked if he could bring his health promoters youth group to my site to give charlas to the kids here. Once I realized that I would have to spend my day being a functioning part of society I decided to make the best of it.

I got out of bed, got ready for the day, and decided to try to fix my electric oven. I bought my oven a year ago and had a few glorious months of cooking (cake! cookies! pizza!) before it stopped working. I used the screwdriver on my Swiss army knife to open up the part of the cord that plugs into the oven and saw that the wires had burned through. I shaved off the plastic coating on the cord to expose the wires and twisted it back around the screws. I plugged the oven into my extension cord and was overjoyed when it heated up.

A few weeks ago, a friend delivered me homemade chocolate cookies with caramel frosting. They were delicious and I decided to try to recreate them. I mixed up chocolate cookie dough and dropped a couple of cookies onto my baking sheet. I placed them in the oven and started looking for a frosting recipe that doesn't require powdered sugar.

A few minutes later, I went to check on the oven and saw that it was no longer working. I looked at the outlet and saw that the plug had melted the outlet. Despite my best efforts, I could not save the oven and officially had to call it a loss. I also realized that my extension cord was no longer working so I also preformed emergency surgery on that (which led to one pretty gnarly electric shock when I forgot that I had plugged it back in and had to fix it again).

So I now was faced with a big bowl of chocolate cookie dough and no way to cook it. I was pretty frustrated because I had been super excited about making cookies (and had let myself dream of homemade pizza for supper). I was also a little afraid because I knew I would eat that whole bowl of cookie dough it remained in my presence and would probably die.

At this point, I didn't even really want the cookies anymore. I had attempted to fix my oven twice. I had shocked myself while fixing my extension cord. I had lost my dreams of pizzas and other baked deliciousness. I was discouraged. I was tired.

I was determined.

It was time to pull out the big guns. I put on my old, disintegrating UW-Whitewater sweatshirt (it turns seven this year) and turned on “The Devil Wears Prada”. And then I used my trusty Kindle to Google ways to cook cookies on a stove top. Google failed me.

But an idea did come to me. I put my stove on the lowest flame possible and buttered and floured my skillet. I added more flour to the dough to make it thicker and spread the dough into the skillet. I put the cookie sheet on top of the skillet and crossed my fingers.

Amazingly, it worked! The bottom burned a little bit but I was able to bake one big skillet sized chocolate cookie bar of deliciousness. I topped my cookie with a tasty buttercream frosting. I probably should have stopped there but I still wanted to make caramel. This ended as a bit of a disaster and left me with a burned finger, a ruined pot, and caramel all over my shoe.

Despite my disastrous attempt at candy making, I’m pretty proud of the outcome. Sure they took four hours to make and left my room a complete mess. Yeah I ate so much cookie dough in the process that I don't even want to look at the actual cookies right now. But I didn't give up.

I mostly write this for any employers who read this blog. If someone comes into your office with “Peace Corps volunteer” on their resume, you should understand what that means. Peace Corps volunteers are master problem solvers. No milk? Use the evaporated stuff. No plates? Use a Frisbee. No shower? Use baby wipes.

So, Employers of America, hire the Peace Corps volunteer. Trust that, no matter the situation, they'll be able to McGyver something to fix it.

Hire the Peace Corps volunteer. (Especially if that Peace Corps volunteer is me.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beth's Peace Corps Cookbook

“I want to eat like a Peace Corps volunteer!” you say. (“No. You don't.” I say.) Well, I can't speak for all Peace Corps volunteers but I’ll happily share some of my favorite recipes with you. And by “favorite” I mean the foods I eat day in and day out and hope to not see for months and months after leaving the Peru.

Apples and Peanut Butter
Okay, we're starting off with a pretty special meal. Good apples are difficult to find in my area, peanut butter is expensive, and chocolate chips are non-existent. But when the perfect storm of conditions occur (ie a recent trip to America), this is my favorite breakfast.

1) Rub apple clean on your shirt.
2) Using a spoon, scoop peanut butter out of the jar
3) Take a bite of apple.
4) Take a bite of peanut butter.
5) Toss a couple of chocolate chips into your mouth.
6) Repeat.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
1) Light a fire on your gas stove (try to not blow up the house).
2) Heat skillet.
3) Slice the dry bread bought at your local tienda (obviously not the Piggly Wiggly because their bread is not disgusting).
4) Butter the outside of slices. Apply ample amounts of garlic salt. Make a sandwich with the cheese inside.
5) Grill sandwich in the skillet. Flip when each side is browned.
Best served with: Tomato Cup of Soup

Rice and Fried Eggs
1) Make rice. If available, I prefer Chicken and Broccoli Rice Sides (available in the USA) - make sure to add plenty of butter. If you only have white rice, add soy sauce.
2) Heat skillet. Melt some butter.
3) Fry up your eggs. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper.
4) When rice is finished, add some Parmesan cheese for extra deliciousness.
Serve with the eggs on top of the rice.

Beth's Delicious Oatmeal
1) Boil water. Make sure it boils for at least three minutes to kill all of the germs and parasites.
2) Pour dry oatmeal into a bowl. Add a few tablespoons of powdered soy milk (because for some reason the grocery store in Huaraz always has powdered soy milk and not powdered regular milk).
3) Add a sufficient amount of boiled water to the oatmeal/powdered soy milk. Start with a small amount – you can always add more.
4) Add some butter.
5) Mix in brown sugar. I prefer enough to make my oatmeal change color because, let's be honest, oatmeal is kind of disgusting without a ton of sugar.
6) Liberally sprinkle with cinnamon.
If available add: banana slices, diced apples, chocolate chips, vanilla, peanut butter, dried fruit, raisins, craisins, flavored instant coffee, more sugar...

The Best Way to Eat Nutella
1) Open jar of Nutella.
2) Using a spoon, take out a big scoop of Nutella.
3) Bring spoon to mouth.
4) Eat all of the Nutella on your spoon.
5) Repeat.

1) Boil water in a small pot.
2) Add pasta. I prefer the large elbows (also, they are cheapest).
3) Once pasta is cooked, drain and pour in a bowl.
4) Top with packaged tomato or huancaina sauce which you purchased at the closest grocery store (only a forty minute walk and thirty minute combi ride away). If no sauces are available, make butter noodles (ie add some butter).
5) Add salt, pepper, basil, garlic, onion, and aji (a spicy sauce).

Mashed Potatoes
I may live in the birthplace of potatoes but the concept of mashed potatoes has yet to reach Peruvians. Absurd.
1) Boil potatoes. Or go down the newly opened stand down the street which sells grilled chicken feet and boiled potatoes for one sol (about 35 cents) and ask just for potatoes.
2) Mix powdered soy milk and clean water in a mug. Be sure to make a little extra for your tea that night.
3) Pour the “milk” onto your potatoes.
4) Mash with a fork. Put some muscle into it!
5) When the potatoes are pretty well mashed, add some butter.
6) Once the potatoes are mashed and fluffy, add garlic salt and pepper. Feel free to add more butter.

Well, there you have it - some of my favorite things to eat day in and day out. I also eat pancakes, french toast, and cookie dough pretty religiously. My cooking philosophy is pretty simple: butter, garlic salt, and bacon make almost any savory dish better and peanut butter and Nutella are God's gifts to humanity. (Yes, I know there isn't any evidence of bacon in these dishes. This can be blamed on not having a refrigerator in site but when I’m in a regular kitchen in the city I find any excuse to make food with bacon: bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, bacon tator tots fried in bacon grease, potato salad with bacon, mashed potatoes with bacon and chives, mac and cheese with bacon, bacon cheeseburgers, spinach salad with bacon and hard boiled eggs, pizza with bacon... I think you get the picture.)

Let me know if you try out any of these delicious dishes. Don't be insulted if I call you crazy for eating any of this nonsense when you have access to grocery stores, refrigerators, and modern appliances.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Reasons JAG is the Best Show Ever

1. The high waisted pants.
2. The assurance that the female JAG officer will be captured at gunpoint at some point almost every episode
3. The obvious use of outside footage (favorites: clips of Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton)
4. The military language
5. The feeling that every episode is like a season of 24
6. The absence of romantic storylines
7. The hats
8. The unexpected amount of uncaptioned Spanish
9. Because now I wish I had a ghillie suit
10. Did I mention the uniforms?

Kidnappings, missing fathers, spies, gun fights, world travel, helicopters, bad B roll, prisons, gang warfare, astronauts, implausible storylines, McGyver-esque escapes, mystery, intrigue... what more could you want from a TV show?

Semper Fi.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Peru BucKet List

(Please excuse the lack of puncutation in this entry. I'm typing on my Kindle.)

Oh faithful blog reader Im going to be very honest with you. Ive had a hard time getting back into the swing of this whole Peace Corps thing ever since returning from the States. Elke says that PC volunteers are out on a LIMB -lonely isolated miserable and bored. And all too often its easier to focus on these negative things instead of the positive parts of being a PCV. After a couple of emotional breakdowns on the phone to my Mom she encouraged me to think of ways to make the rest of my Peace Corps service awesome. I have 22 weeks of PC service left and I'll probably bum around Peru for 3ish weeks afterward. In that spirit...

25 Awesome Things To Do Before leaving Peru:
1. Hike the Cordillera Huaywash with friends right after finishing my service. Its eight to ten days and supposed to be beautiful. Described by Lonely Planet as "circling a tight cluster of high peaks including Yerupaja the worlds second highest tropical mountain this stunning trek crosses multiple high altitude passes with sping tingling views."

2. Hike to Laguna 69

3. Hike from Olleros to Chacin de Huantar. A two to three day forty km trek with a 4700m pass. It ends in Chavin de Huantar where there are famous pre Incan ruins.

4. Climb a mountain

5. Make a snow angel on the glacier of Huascaran the highest tropical mountain

6. Go camping by Llaganuco Lodge and swim in the bathwater temp lake

7. Spend a long weekend at the beach

8. Host a murder mystery supper for all of the Ancash PCVs

9. Take the SUENA youth group kids on a field trip to a college in Huaraz

10. Try to start a Mothers School for young single moms

11. Wander aimlessly to the towns of Keren and Kely which should be a good day hike unless I get lost

12. Continue to beat Pat at Settlers of Catan when we meet up on the trail between our towns

13. Explore the trail I found the other day when I got lost

14. Go to Arequipa

15. Walk into Huaraz... and be much better prepared this time

16. Go to Cuzco with my parents visit my host family there and eat at my favorite restaurant

17. Visit Machu Picchu

18. Go sandboarding (which is like sledding but on sand dunes) and penguin watching in Ica

19. Finish the banket I started last year

20. Enjoy the Peru Fifteen Close of Service conference... a week in Lima where my training group gets to learn abut life in America and have a ton of fun hanging out

21. Teach Gulliver how to play Frisbee

22. Throw the Ancash Fifteeners an awesome and unforgettable going away party

23. Take the SUENA kids on a fun field trip

24. Make encouraging cards for all the Ancash vlunteers

25. Keep reading so I can meet my goal of completing 100 books in 27 monthd.

25 weeks 25 awesome things to do. I will give you an update in afew months and let youknow what I was anle to finish.

And as always youre invited and encouraged to come check a few things off this list with me...