Merry Christmas.

Lots happening here as 2011 comes to an end. Here's a quick photo rundown.

Towards the end of October I took a trip to Tucson, Arizona to visit Matt.
Did some hiking around in the mountains and desert, went to a shooting
 range for the first time (and maybe last time?) in my life, took in a pretty impressive
haunted house, hung out with some crazy fun people at a Halloween party, etc...

Straight from Tucson I headed to my querido NPH Honduras,
where just about a week after arriving I had the honor of being the
godmother for one of the boys I took care of when he lived in the baby's
house (back in 2005), for his Quinceanero celebration. Amazing that he is
already 15, and such a caring, loving adult. That kid is going places!

I happened to be around during graduation time as well. The kids of course are
always so proud of their accomplishments, and the rest of us of course so
happy and proud to see them in their caps and gowns, especially knowing
 what they have gone through to make it to this point.
a few boys that i took care of in the baby's house. getting so big :)
Mainor is so proud of his big bro.
I took a trip one day with a group of young men (the group my godson
 lives with) to a soup kitchen  in Talanga, a nearby town, that serves poor
children from the community. They provide games, educational activities,
as well as one nutritional meal per day to children who qualify for the services.
It was nice to get off the Ranch for a half day, and spend some time sharing
on a type of service-learning experience with some youth from our home.
Together with kids from the soup kitchen, we picked up garbage from
around the soccer field just across the street, then of course a soccer game followed.
One of my favorite weekend day activities on the Ranch is when everybody
walks to La Venta, a town just north of our home. Depending on who you're
walking with, it's about a 30 minute hike through the forest.   I had the pleasure
of walking with the young woman in this photo, who I have come to know
quite well over the years. She just recently found out she has family
(an uncle, aunt and a couple cousins) that lives in La Venta, so she took
 me to meet them. She was really excited to be able to see them and
 introduce us...a lovely family. It was a hot walk, and we ran into these 3 boys
on the road into town who were on their way to buy 'choco bananas'.
Frozen bananas dipped in chocolate. The invited us to one, which was the
 perfect treat after the walk in the heat.
A quick rest on the way home from La Venta.
Once we made it back to the Ranch (took us a bit longer on the return
walking with small ones...), I ran into Hernan (boy in the middle),  another one
of my little guys that I took care of in 2005.  He is deaf, and within the past year
has started going to a deaf school in Tegucigalpa, and has learned
 sign language. He's a doll.
Thomas pretending he is a reindeer. 
The NPH International Annual Soccer Tournament was held in Honduras
this year, the first week of December. Teams of boys and girls came from the
NPH homes from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to compete
 in a week long tournament. Many of my friends from the home in El Salvador
were able to make the trip, and it was so nice to be able to hang out with them
for the week! They even got me to join their cheering squad a few times (never
of course though when they were playing against Honduras). I was also able to
recruit a few smaller cheer leaders to help us out.
My parents recently decided to sponsor a child in the NPH Honduras home.
Their goddaughter is fairly new to the home, so I just met her on this trip for the
first time. Jeimi (pink shirt in the photo, and photo below) clung to me every
opportunity she had.  She lives in a house with only a few other girls, so it was
easy to get in some 'Jeimi time'. Her dorm is named "Guadalupe". The day of Our
Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12, and it is tradition on the Ranch
that each home celebrates the day their dorm has been named after. My parents
had given me some money to buy something for Jeimi for Christmas, and as I came
to find out how much those girls love playing board games, I bought
'Sorry' and 'Bingo', and made pizza for the girls and tias (including the girls in
the photo above) on Dia de Guadalupe.  My dear friend, Katie, and her brother
Brian, were traveling through Central America, and made a stop in Honduras to visit.
They also got to partake in the festivities that night before we headed out to travel the next day.
opening the Christmas gifts from my parents after pizza.
Upon Matt's arrival to Tegucigalpa we (including Katie and Brian) headed to
La Tigra National Park, located just north of the capital. We had a relaxing
evening in El Rosario bed & breakfast, run by a wonderful German couple.
The next day we took off for a hike, in search of a waterfall. It took about 2
and a half hours to reach it...and along the way we enjoyed  beautiful views
 from the cloud forest, and explored some ruins left from the mining times.
Heading back to the Ranch from La Tigra.
Some of the kids I have worked with a lot over the years had a
Christmas celebration in a park outside of the city, and had invited
me to join them. It was a great opportunity to spend some time with the kids,
especially with the kids that are now living in Tegucigalpa that I didn't get to
see much.  Mayron (in the photo) was my godson for Quinceaneros in 2009, and is
one of my favorite punks at NPH. I was only able to see him twice during my
visit, so it was nice to catch up and hang out with him here.

My stay in Honduras ended with a quick trip to Amapala, a town on the island of El Tigre off the southern coast of the country. I hadn't been there for maybe three years (I used to go there with kids from the Ranch during Holy Week, and on a few other occasions with friends). We found a nice new hotel (Las Gargolas), that I would recommend to anybody traveling that way. Despite the long travel days, it was a nice relaxing stay.

I returned home to Iowa on December 22, and the siblings gathered at my parents' place that night, and we had a nice Christmas celebration the next day. I might also include that I won our pre-christmas game of Sheepshead, and tied for first the next night.

Merry Christmas, friends!



what i was thankful for yesterday, celebrating thanksgiving in honduras, for the 4th (?) time...

Thanks...for the beautifully chilly night, making for a comfortable walk down to the front gate, en route for Tegucigalpa.

Thanks...to the bus driver that nearly threw me on my face (repeatedly) as i was getting on (there was a woman sitting right in the middle of the aisle on a huge bucket, not concerned about the fact that it made it nearly impossible for anybody to get by her)

Thanks...to the ayudante on the bus that forgot to take my money.  I would not have had enough cash to get me into the city center otherwise. I took that as payment for the driver nearly breaking my nose. If you don't ask for money, I'm not going to offer it.  I guess that makes up for having to pay double the other day on the rapidito going back to the Ranch.

Thanks...for the longest line of cars I have ever seen in my life (that might be a slight exaggeration), going down from Cerro Grande into Tegucigalpa. It took at least 45 minutes to get to the center, making me late getting to Hospital Escuela. I found out the backup was caused by road construction. Construction sign read something like "working to save you time". Thanks.

Thanks...for the precious little men that sit in front of the post office in the center that were so excited to see that I had come back to exchange more money with them.  Thanks...for not charging me a huge commission fee, and for being so kind.

Thanks...to the colectivo driver that kicked me out of his car when he found out a friend that had just run up to his car wanted to go down a different street than I did (I was already squished between 2 people in the backseat, and his buddy was still standing outside of the car).

Thanks...to the other colectivo drivers that got angry with him because he kicked "la gringita" out of his car.

Thanks...to the next colectivo driver that then forgot to drop me off at the hospital, having to take a rather long detour, including a stop to gas up (by the time I got into his car I was already 20 minutes late for my appointment with the doctor to discuss my research project).

Thanks...to that colectivo driver for dropping me off right outside of Espresso Americano across from the hospital. I took advantage and bought lattes for myself and the doctor.

Thanks...for the women at Espresso Americano that were much more interested in discussing their jewelry than in taking my order and serving me my java.

Thanks...for the viligante at the gate inside the hospital, leading up to the infectious disease department. He remembered me after not having visited them for 2 years. Sweet man.

Thanks...for the doctor finishing late with consults, making me not late at all in the end.

Thanks...for el tiempo latino. Embrace it.

Thanks...for the woman I met while waiting for the doctor. She's in a Master of Social Work program, also doing research in the hospital, looking at factors that influence pediatric anti-retroviral medication adherence.  Really interesting lady, and a great research topic.

Thanks...for the clowns (yes - actual clowns) that were on the bus i grabbed in Cerro Grande, heading back to the Ranch.  For some reason, Honduran clowns always creep me out way more than clowns at home.  My favorite part of their act was when they finished by saying "Para los que nos dieron una ayudita, que Dios les bendiga.  Para los que no nos dieron nada, que se cuidan solos."..."For those that gave us money, may God bless you (take care of you).  For those who didn't give us anything, may you take care of yourselves."

Thanks...for the evangelist that stood up immediately after the clowns stepped off the bus, and kindly asked the driver to shut off the Reggaeton they had blaring. I wonder if he gave the clowns an "ayudita".  He preached until he was blue in the face. Told us about when he was a child and had pancreatic cancer, and he made a pact with Dios that if he would give him 10 more days of life, he would be a better person.  ATTENTION ALL ONCOLOGISTS & ONCOLOGY NURSES: he stopped receiving chemotherapy, decided not to have the surgery that he supposedly needed...he was cured and has lived to be 50 to tell his story. Start telling your patients to just make 10-day agreements with Senor Jesus, and poof. No more cancer.

Thanks...also to the evangelist, that sold coloring books and foot-shaped bottle openers when he was done preaching. I wish I would have bought a bottle opener.

but most of all...

THANKS...to the NPH volunteers that made an amazing Thanksgiving dinner last night, and held quite the party. It was so nice to spend some time with old friends, and to meet new ones (since I couldn't be with family and friends back  home).


This just about sums up my trip.

We didn't see any animals.

A fabulous idea. Making a cafe out of a container. 

I wish I would have eaten lunch here one day.

YES they can.

Lake Malawi for the weekend

I loved the sand here. It is easy to brush off when it gets stuck all
over you, and it doesn't creep into everything you have
 brought to the beach (meaning you don't go home with half
of the beach in your bag)

I could have laid there all day. Wait. I did.

I couldn't figure out their toilets. After? Or during?

In case you're not sure what it's for, just read the name.

My bottle of wine on the flight from Johannesburg to DC
(only 17 hours)
The South African version of "do not drink and drive"?
aaahhh africa...


winding down...

The summer is coming to an end, and the friends are rolling out of town. The internship has been an eye-opening experience, and beneficial on many levels. I have learned a lot over the past two months, and the experience has brought me to many new places (not necessarily physically). But on that note, in just a few hours I will board a plane to embark on my first journey to Africa (I'm not counting my day trip to Morocco in '99 as having "been" to Africa). I will spend about a week and a half in Malawi assisting in prevention of mother to child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programs, and looking a bit into integration of PMTCT services and orphan & vulnerable children services. Exciting times.

I will continue my internship through September, and then will head back to Iowa just in time to catch a performance by the dance group from NPH's home in Mexico (Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos - the group of orphanages I worked with in Latin America). Who ever thought they would visit Ankeny?? It's the first time I've been around to catch one of their shows, and I'm really looking forward to it. If anybody is interested in joining (it's FREE), they will be performing at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Elkhart, IA on September 29th from 7-8pm. Let me know if you're around and interested in going.

until next time...


Taking time.

It feels as though it's been an eternity since I've been 'round these parts, and as usual I'm being pestered to update. So here we go...

As per the previous post, you may know my sister visited me in Berlin for my last week in Germany. Instead of re-posting everything, I will just direct you to her blog for stories and photos. She captured everything much better than I could even attempt to.

Just days after moving back to the US from Europe, saying goodbye to many dear friends I met over the last year (photo above was taken at a little "going away" dinner we had the night before my sister and I flew home) I embarked on a long-awaited journey to Honduras for the annual HOMBRE medical brigade I've been participating in since 2005. This year we spent eight days providing medical consults to adults and children in some of the poorest areas of the country. The first four days were split between two villages in remote villages in the mountain, La Hicaca and Las Lomitas. We set up consult rooms for the first couple of days in la Hicaca, and also cleaned and distributed 25 new water filters to replace those that were left two years ago.

The third day we made the journey to Lomitas, about an hour drive from La Hicaca. On a good day the roads are bad. This year the road was nearly impassable. The worst part is always the narrow, steep, winding road heading up the mountainside. My heart nearly stopped as I was trying to get one of our pickups to the top, and we got stuck in the enormous crevices. The only thing I could think about at that point was the story the priests told us about last year about a woman that died driving on the roads up in that area last year. She lost momentum, the car died, and as she tried to go up again she lost traction and fell off the cliff. You can probably imagine the terror surging throughout my body at that moment. I was about to make everybody get out of my truck so I could give it another go, but at that moment the priest came running to my rescue, and safely took us up the mountain. Padre Enrique is my hero.

In Lomitas we brought another 25 water filters for families that had never received one before. Their source of drinking water is the river that runs not too far from the villages. They previously had not been treating the water before drinking it, thus GI infections were common, and death in young children from dehydration along with diarrhea was just a reality. After cleaning and installing all of the filters, we gathered at least one person from each household to run through the fairly simple instructions on how to use and maintain the filter so it lasts at least two years. The entire system (bucket and filter) is purchased locally (in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras), and costs approximately $25, and provides clean drinking water to an entire household for two years. It is such a simple and cheap solution to preventing illness and death in young children due to diarrheal infections. If you are interested in supporting the work done on these trips, including the purchase of these water filters and medications, please visit the Golden Phoenix Foundation website.

The trip ended with four more days of clinic in Coyoles (following a day of rest at the beach in Trujillo - photo above), a town surrounded by Dole plantations. This year we noticed more so than in past years the effects of poverty, low-level education, gender discrimination and broken families. As always, it was a pleasure to work with the local people who make these trips possible. The group of youth this year in Coyoles was more energetic than ever, which made working in the heat and humidity so much more pleasant. The photo below is of several of the doctors and students with the wonderful people we had the opportunity to work with again this year.

Immediately following the brigade (unfortunately I didn't even have time to make it to Tegucigalpa to visit all of my little loves and friends at NPH), I embarked on a journey to another part of the world that is unfamiliar to me...Washington, D.C. Days later I began a summer internship through the Global Health Fellows Program of the Public Health Institute. I am working in the Office of HIV of the Global Health Bureau at the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID). I am working with the Orphans and Vulnerable Children technical working group, as well as with the team addressing the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. My role is still a bit in the developmental stage, but it sounds as though things might become a bit more solidified this week. Great opportunities are popping up, and I'm meeting many wonderful people, and working in an environment that is new to me, and one which is providing an opportunity to learn another side of international health work.

I guess that about sums it up for now.
Happy 4th of July weekend!



check out these rainbow throwing chimneys i captured out my kitchen window yesterday.

these last few weeks top the list of my best weeks yet in berlin/europe. i was able to spend lots of time relaxing, finishing a book, hanging out with friends, and enjoying the city. trying to savor it all before heading home in just over a week.

...a cook-out on the terrace of classmate's flat, a house-warming party, brunch at a friend's place, baleadas at my place, a cook-out in the park in friedrichshain and out for a drink afterwards, the best homemade mexican dinner night yet, sangria at treptower park, strolls along the river, old man jazz at zosch, taking in the body worlds exhibit, hitting up street markets, and more.

BUT this next week is bound to be even better! my sister arrives tomorrow morning, and we will do out best to live up this last week in germany before heading back to the US on the 25th. my european adventure has been just that...and i am sad to see it come to an end, but am excited about the things to come.

until next time...


what says spring better than a juicy fruit?

i seem to be on a kick of blogging about sphere-shaped fruits. well this time it's not so much about the fruit itself, but the life-altering tool i have used for years to access the sweetness that awaits inside this fruit. my mother is a Pampered Chef consultant, and loves supplying her children with her favorite kitchen gadgets. including this one

i have always loved to eat oranges, but before this "Citrus Peeler" came into my life, i admit that i rarely ate them because i couldn't stand to peel them. i know that's a lame excuse, right?

mom has given me several of these peelers, and i take one with me whenever i travel. people watch in awe when i whip this gadget out and access the sweet goodness of my orange in record time (and i don't even have to pick the orange peels out from my fingernails afterwards!) really, this thing is amazing, and only costs $1. so worth it.

do i sound like i'm on a commercial? i guarantee you that i get absolutely none of the proceeds from their sales. i'm simply just trying to spread the love. so having said that, i would really recommend it if you have children that are orange-lovers. when i worked in honduras with something like 60 children from the ages of 2 through 9, i always feared the day when we got oranges as snacks. those days meant that the staff and volunteers spent hours peeling oranges for the kids (this was before i had my very own citrus peeler). if there was a knife nearby, the kids would use those to peel their oranges. i would be on stand-by to take them to the clinic for stitches when they cut themselves (luckily that happened infrequently...). but there was still always that fear someone would lose a finger.

i'm contemplating buying loads of these peelers for the orphanage. 1 - so the caregivers and volunteers don't have to destroy their fingers peeling 60 oranges, and 2 - so the children can just do it themselves without the running the risk of cutting their pretty little fingers off.

i know you want one. or more. you can order them here.


"Shoot for the moon...

even if you miss you’ll land among the stars."

After googling to find the origin of this quote, I found two options. One site said it was a quote from Brian Littrell, who I discovered is a former member of Backstreet Boys. I knew I couldn't possibly be quoting a Backstreet Boy on my blog, so I continued searching. And it looks as though the quote actually comes from Les Brown, a motivational speaker. Yes, that sounds much more appropriate. We'll stick with that.

Anyways - to the point. Difficult decisions have come upon me over these past couple of days, and we all know how amazing I am at making decisions. Well, I finally just came up with a solution to this little dilemma, set the wheels in motion, then strolled into the kitchen to make lunch. As I threw together the fixings for a salad, I noticed the end of the tomato I had pulled from the fridge. See photo above. I choose to take this as a sign. So maybe my decision wasn't perfect, or maybe something went awry along the way that got me into this situation, but look. I still landed among the stars :) I'm certain things will work themselves out. Thank you tomato for making my day.



They say Americans love Heidelberg...

I was told that three times in one day shortly after arriving in Heidelberg. And after spending two weeks there, I can see why they say it. Not specifically about Americans, but for all people. It's a quaint little town, and of course a place with lots of history (maybe that's why Americans like it? our history just isn't quite that old).

I didn't get out to take in the sites until my last weekend there. A shame. A friend came to town on Saturday, so we hit up the old town and grabbed some lunch at a Mexican place. Yeah, I know. German Mexican food - just not the same, but was still good nonetheless. Sunday I took a hike on the "Philosophenweg", a trail overlooking the old town. That's where the photos were taken. I proceeded to lose myself in the forest once I deviated off the main trail a bit. Was a beautiful escape after finishing my courses.

Feels like home....

Monday I said "tschuss" to Heidelberg, where I lived just "down the road" from the US military base, and enjoyed being in the land of the soft pretzel (which I have learned used to be hidden on Easter just like eggs are these days. I must say, I would prefer finding pretzels) and journeyed back to Berlin. Stepping off the train station just blocks from the place I'm staying (same place as before I left for my great European study adventure), I felt like i was coming home somehow. As strange as it may be, this is the place I've lived for the longest amount of time in the past 3+ years. Who thought I'd ever call Berlin "home". But, I guess for another month it is.

Berlin is a whole new place when there are leaves on the trees, the snow has disappeared, and the sun is out full-force. Ahhh spring. I'm really going to enjoy relaxing a bit and getting to see the city over this next month now that there are no classes to worry about - only planning my thesis.

And having said that, it's time to hit the patio for some vitamin D, vino and a book on qualitative research. What a combination.


Wrapping up...

I guess it's about that time again...

I arrived to Heidelberg, Germany about a week and a half ago to finish up with my Advanced Modules for my program. This final course is on consultancy skills in international health for the evaluation of health projects and programs. The professor is a pretty fantastic woman (a fellow nurse), with many years of experience as a consultant, and has done an amazing job at convincing me that short-term international health consultancy is not the career for me =) Maybe someday, but definitely not any time in the near future...too tough of a game for me to manage right now.

I am happy to announce that although we have two days of lecture left, our assignments for the course are finished as of today. I'm looking forward to seeing a bit more of Heidelberg now that the rush of the first week is over. All I've really seen so far is the castle (see photos), but Heidelberg is a pretty small place, so I guess there's not much left to see! Saturday a dear friend I met six years ago in Honduras will come to visit, so I'm really looking forward to seeing her again and to finally meet her family.

Next Monday it's back to Berlin, to prepare for my sister's first ever European vacation! Only one month away, and I can hardly wait. In the mean time, I'll be working on preparing the research for my thesis, and on May 25 it's back to Iowa for a few days, then off to Honduras for the annual medical brigade to Olanchito. I've been dying to head back that way, and am really excited to spend some weeks on the Ranch. Missing the kids like crazy.

Well, here are a few pictures from the castle, and probably more to come after this weekend.
hugs all around...