Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mr. Sancho's and Sunburn

Friday, September 16, 2016
Mr. Sancho's Aquatic Park
Today we rented a car and hit the road! Our first stop was Mr. Sancho's, where we bought wristbands for the Aquatic Park. The Aquatic Park is a buoyed off section of ocean filled with blow-up water fun and obstacles! Water trampolines, log roll, Rock-It, climbing towers, and slides! Of course I put sunscreen on as soon as we got there, and waited for it to soak in. We swam for about an hour before Jayme and Andy headed back into town for Jayme's Team USA picture. Once they left, Sue, Dave, and I swam for a bit longer then found a place in the shade (obviously) and ordered lunch - right on the beach! After lunch I reapplied sunscreen, and again waited in the shade. I headed back out to tackle some obstacles! I climbed the giant "iceberg" twice and slid down Level 1 and 2. When Jayme and Andy came back we climbed it to the top and Jayme and I went down Level 3 once together, then Andy joined us in going down. We moved to the log roll, determined to make it to the opposite end trampoline. After countless failed attempts, I made it! What a sense of accomplishment! I've worked at Camp Luther, which has a Rock-It in the lake, for two summers, but never went on one until Mexico!
The Iceberg
It took until Mexico, but I went on the Rock-It!

When we left Mr. Sancho's I could tell I was a bit sunburned. It was probably a lot worse than I thought it was, but I hoped for the best. Hoped that if I kept my long sleeve cover-up on the rest of the day, the pain would be minimal. 

If you are not familiar with Cozumel, it's a small island off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The populated side (where we stayed) is the West Coast, facing mainland Mexico. The ocean is fairly calm here, making it beautifully clear to swim in, with no big ocean waves. If you want the waves you picture when you think of the ocean, you need to head to the other side of the island. There's one road the circles the island, and the Eastern Coast is almost entirely unpopulated, except for the few beach hangouts. After Mr. Sancho's, we drove around the island, looking for a nice beach with waves. We stopped at one beach, but quickly decided to move on. By the second beach, I was spent. I now realized my sunburn was worse than I originally thought, and all the sun and activity had me physically and mentally exhausted. Sue and Dave played in the waves, while the rest of us sat - you guessed it - in the shade.
A few pictures before retreating to the shade
Before going back to the resort, we stopped at a few shops downtown and stocked up on more water at Mega. When we got back, out of the sun, I could see just how bad I'd been burned, and lathered on the aloe. I've definitely been burned worse, but it really hurt nonetheless!
So much sunburn!

Saturday, September 17, 2016
With Jayme's race the next morning, Saturday was a complete lazy day at the resort. Sue and I washed some clothes in the tub, and hoped they would dry (with the humidity so high, even the air conditioner didn't take the moisture out of the air!). The rest of the day was spent reading, sitting in the lobby, lounging in hammocks, and cooling off in the pool. Jayme dropped her bike off at the race site that afternoon, and we went to bed early because we had a big - and early - day the next morning!
A pretty accurate depiction of our Saturday

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life Changes in Mexico!

Thursday, September 15, 2016
We planned to stay at the resort all day because there were 6 cruise ships in port on the island (one with 9,000 people), and roads were closed at different times for the Triathlon.
Our view Thursday: cruise ships
The day started with me in the lobby (only place with reliable wifi connection) working on a resume and cover letter that were due the next day. Before leaving for Mexico, I had interviewed for my dream job, a position at Camp Luther in Three Lakes, WI. I would find out either while in Mexico, or shortly after I got back if I got it. While the thought of not working at camp full-time made my heart sick, the "responsible" part of me begrudgingly knew it would be wise to start looking into second options. So, I would use a lazy day in Mexico to apply for a "Plan B." It was extremely rough-going. It seemed like everything I typed sounded cheesy or dumb. I finished a [very] rough draft of my cover letter, took a Facebook break, and saw that Woody from camp had messaged me. This was it - I either had a job or didn't. I took a deep breath and opened the message. 

"How about another first day at Camp Luther?" I quickly read the rest of the message, almost in a daze, tears welling up, and hurried back to the room. I cried. A lot. It took several moments for the others to comprehend I had good news because I couldn't get words out. When I was finally able to tell them I got the position, there were cheers all around and more happy tears. It was only 10:00 in the morning, and already we had our highlight of the day.

Andy joined in towel folding
Later that morning we learned how to make the towel animals the housekeepers left on our beds at a lesson lead by Adrian, the resort's activities director. In the afternoon, Sue and I attended a cooking lesson led by Adrian as well. When he told us the ingredients in what he was making, we were pretty sure we weren't going to like it, but went to the lesson anyway. Boy, were we glad we did! The ceviche was surprisingly SO delicious! During the lesson, a lady overheard Sue and I talking about my "exciting news" and she asked if I was newly engaged. "No, I got a job today!" Everyone in the lesson-strangers-clapped and congratulated me. "Even better!" a lady exclaimed.


Sue, Dave, and I ate supper in the restaurant, and then met Jayme and Andy in the lobby where Jayme was watching her volleyball girls play via skype. The resort had a program on the pool deck for Mexican Independence Day, which we watched from the lobby. There was a buffet, followed by dancers and a mariachi band. While others were still eating, Adrian led trivia. The first question Andy googled and told me to yell the answer from the lobby. I was invited out in front and got a mini sombrero for a prize! 

Decorated for Mexican Independence Day

Monday, November 14, 2016

Swimming with Dolphins

I know some of you read this post title and are judging me for swimming with dolphins. Believe me when I say I debated doing it or not. I want animals to be treated fairly. I don't want them to live in small, unnatural environments, and be beat just so I can swim with them for an hour. I decided to experience it myself and come to my own conclusions. In the end, I was pretty happy with what I saw of how they were treated, and I'm glad I participated because I learned more about dolphins in that hour than I have any other time.

A bit nervous, but ready to meet some dolphins!
We were in a taxi on our way to Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park a little after 8:00am. Andy and I had passes to swim with the dolphins; Sue and Dave weren't too interested in it, and Jayme couldn't because she was pregnant. The enclosure for all the dolphins and manatees was a large square of docks with fencing under, so their habitat was all ocean water, but they couldn't get out. Along the edges of the big square were smaller enclosures where 1-2 dolphins were housed if they were going to be meeting people, the rest were free to swim in the open middle. Andy and I were led to one of the smaller enclosures around the outside. Our dolphin "guide" Brenda went in first and got their attention by feeding them. We had two female dolphins, Krista who was 15 years old, and Olympia who was 20 years old and a bit shy. Brenda invited us off the dock to stand on the submerged platform that went along the perimeter. First, she had them swim past us and we got to pet them. We felt their back, belly, tail, teeth, and tongue while she told us facts about dolphins!
  • In the wild, dolphins live between 20-25 years, and under human care they can live up to 50.
  • Dolphins can make 400 noises, and all noises are made through their blowhole!
  • We saw their belly buttons! 
  • How to tell a male from a female: Males have 1 slit on their underbelly, females have 3.
  • In the wild, they nurse 1-3 years, and under human care just 12-18 months.
I'm touching a dolphin!
Brenda taught us hand movements and we instructed the dolphins. We got to kiss them, they kissed us on the cheek, they opened their mouths, and we touched their flippers. We swam to the middle of the enclosure and they both kissed us on the cheek, laid in our outstretched arms, and had a splash fight with us (they won). They showed us how to spot the difference between sharks and dolphins by their tail movements (dolphin tails go up and down in the water, shark tails move side to side). They pushed us up in the water with their noses, and gave us a ride with their fins.

After the dolphins, we were led to another enclosure where we got to feed manatees lettuce. They were a bit more shy than the dolphins and stayed under the surface of the water. For existing in water, they sure have leathery skin!

I came away with a greater knowledge about and appreciation for dolphins and manatees because they became tangible creatures I interacted with, not simply a picture on a calendar. Brenda said they only use positive reinforcement to train the dolphins to do all their tricks, and the animals are never "punished." One of my favorite parts of their care is that they still live in the ocean environment, not a pool.
Sea Lion kisses! Disclosure: sea lion kisses are a bit smellier than dolphin's

The five of us spent the rest of the morning in the park. We walked through Mayan replicas, saw alligators, and swam in the open ocean. We had lunch overlooking the dolphins, then saw part of a sea lion show. After the show, Jayme and I got kisses from the sea lion!

As if the day couldn't get any more exciting, that night was the Parade of Nations and Opening Ceremony for the Triathlon World Championships! Before heading into town for the festivities, we stopped at the official Team USA hotel where Jayme and I had the team doctor look at our knees (they were pretty nasty from our volleyball escapades). I maybe, probably, technically wasn't supposed to get free care from the doctor since I wasn't competing, but he helped me regardless.
Note the band-aids on our matching injuries

Once in town we shopped a bit before it was time for Jayme to line up with Team USA. We followed the parade to the Municipal building square for the Opening Ceremonies. At the beginning of the parade there was a mariachi band, as we walked there was a drumline, and as the athletes entered the square, there were Mayan drummers and actors. We stood behind the fencing, but it wasn't long before Jayme's paparazzi (aka Andy on video and me with my camera) made ourselves at home in the athlete area. Jayme and I spotted each other, and I joined her in the sea of triathletes. One of the speakers reminded everyone, "You are the best triathletes in the world!" I turned to Jayme, "Yea, you are!"

I think she's smiling :)

Teaching us the importance of recycling

Rollerblading & Volleyball in Mexico

Sunday, September 11, 2016
We had breakfast overlooking the ocean at our resort's open-air restaurant, then took a taxi and actually made it to the supermarket we looked for the day before. The store, Mega, is just what it's named. It was like the Mexican version of Wal-Mart, and had everything! Jayme and Andy were the only ones in our group who knew any Spanish, so shopping was an adventure all in itself! Trying to figure out what the packages were telling us, converting pesos to dollars to see if the prices were fair, and trying to explain pesos, dollars, and exchange rates to my aunt took up our entire morning.

Our afternoon was spent relaxing. We ordered Pizza Hut for supper, and it was delivered on a motorcycle! We spent the night like any loyal Wisconsinite would, watching the Packers! Only our commentary was in Spanish...

Monday, September 12, 2016
When we met with David on Saturday, he told us we could get free breakfast one day if we listened to the resort's timeshare-esque presentation. Jayme, Andy, and I heard "free" and were all for that, so we had breakfast with John, from the resort on Monday. After breakfast, Sue and Dave went with John for the presentation while Jayme, Andy and I went back to our room and strapped on some blades!

I rollerblade about once every three years in the United States, but my cousin can get me to do some
pretty crazy stuff, so when she told me to pack rollerblades I did. My experience rollerblading is limited almost entirely to roller rinks with smooth, maintained floors. We were in Mexico with varying sidewalk conditions, including cracks, drop-offs, and textured cement. Jayme cruised on ahead, while Andy and I followed, a little shakily. Our destination was Mega again, this time to buy supplies to make Team Wyss/USA shirts. The journey there and back was a little stressful at times (especially when it came to trying to stop), but I'm glad I did it! It's not everyday you rollerblade in a foreign country. What a truly unique experience!
Rollerblading in Mexico!

After lunch and taping the shirts, Jayme and I joined Andy and Dave for some beach volleyball. I dove for the ball, and skinned open my knee. I thought I had hit a big rock in the sand until we later discovered there was cement under the sand, and the sand actually wasn't very deep at all! Under the cover of darkness that night, I spray painted our shirts in the grass off our patio.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Feeding the fish
Our resort had daily activities scheduled, and this morning Sue and I fed the fish off the pier with two ladies from California and Azael, one of the activities leaders. The heat and oppressing humidity in Cozumel is so intense that after an hour of doing nearly nothing, just throwing bread into the ocean, we were ready to retreat to our room again. I taped the letters on the front of our shirts, and when Jayme joined us she made the people figures.

That afternoon we hit the sand volleyball court again. This time it was a resort scheduled activity, so our group of four was joined by Azael and another Dave. I'm such an intensely competitive athlete (wink) that I dove for the ball again, and reopened my knee from the day before. A little later Jayme dove and got a big scrape on her knee as well!

Going in the ocean!
Remember when I mentioned the heat and humidity? Yea, it's bad enough when you simply sit, and if you do any real physical activity you are dripping gross! After playing volleyball we were more than ready to cool of in the ocean! My first ocean swim of the vacation. Inside our resort's buoyed swim area was a sunken airplane used as a movie prop, and an old anchor which I eagerly went to see. The ocean was so clear, I simply put my head in the water at the surface and could see perfectly to the bottom!

Deciding nobody would yell at us for spray painting, I sprayed the front of our shirts before it got dark because that night was a movie on the pool deck!
"Tri Mommy Tri"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Viva Mexico!

I'll be honest, Mexico has never enticed me as a travel destination. However, when you have the opportunity to tag along to beaches, and get another stamp on your passport, you don't pass it up! We didn't exactly choose Mexico either, it was chosen for us. When my cousin qualified for the 2016 World Triathlon Championships in Cozumel, Mexico, my aunt started making plans to attend as well, and I wasn't going to miss it! When I boarded the plane, I was excited to be traveling again, but not necessarily for the country and culture that would meet me. When my two weeks in Mexico were over, however, my attitude had certainly changed! Traveling has a way of doing that, turning what you were skeptical or judgemental about into something you appreciate and maybe understand just a tiny bit better. My short time was filled with new experiences and people. I learned new things and was challenged in new ways. It may have only been two weeks, but there is certainly much to tell!

Saturday, September 10, 2016
We were literally the only people in the MSP airport at 1:30am!
My aunt Sue, uncle Dave, and I arrived at the Minneapolis airport at 1:30am. We didn't need to check in until 3:00am, but we knew we'd be too excited to sleep, so might as well stay up in the airport! In case you were wondering, airports are dead at that time of night! We were the only ones there, aside from a couple of janitors, for the first hour. They opened check-in shortly after Jayme and Andy joined us, with Jayme's large bike bag in tow. Even though we had checked in online and printed our tickets, we still had to check in at the new kiosks and print new boarding passes, so that was rather annoying. Other than that, check-in and security went smoothly and we started boarding our flight a little after 5:00am!

We landed in Miami a little earlier than scheduled, which was nice because we didn't wait long before our connecting flight began boarding. At this point, we could already start picking out the people who were going to be competing in Cozumel. You shouldn't judge by appearances, but it's hard not to assume who's a triathlete when they are all wearing Garmin sport watches and tech shirts advertising they had competed in this or that race.

We arrived safely in Cozumel, and at least 80-90% of the people in the customs line were triathletes. When it was finally my turn to go through, the customs agent didn't ask a single question. Simply looked at my paperwork and stamped it all. After a dog sniffed our carry-ons, and my checked bag was randomly selected to be searched, we were free to enter Mexico!

I stared out the taxi window, trying to take in everything. Narrow, often cracked or broken sidewalks. Small houses and buildings built right next to each other, their painted exteriors faded. We drove alongside the ocean, and got our first look at the clear, bright blue water. We arrived at our resort, and met with our concierge, David, while waiting for our room to be ready. Our room was perfectly located on the first floor. The "hallway" to get to our room from the lobby was open to palm trees, shrubs, and the tennis court. Once in our room, there were sliding glass doors to a small patio which was steps away from the hammocks and volleyball court on the resort's beach.

After unpacking we walked out of our resort in what we thought was the direction to the supermarket. On the sidewalks around our resort, the invitations from store owners to come into their stores were never-ending. We got past all of those and started walking out of town. Approximately two miles later, we concluded the supermarket must be in the opposite direction, and turned around. We checked out a small convenience store across from our resort, and bought water. They didn't have groceries though, so it was supper at Hard Rock Cafe!

 Views of our resort:


View from our patio
The "hallway" to our room

Sunday, July 17, 2016

If It Doesn't Challenge You...

...it doesn't change you. I find this saying to be applicable in nearly all of life, and particularly where I find myself now: camp ministry. I want to change. I want to grow. I want to follow where God leads, but challenges are hard! Especially when the challenge isn't being forced upon you; when you have to choose between doing something scary and staying where you're comfortable.

I am deathly afraid of heights. Standing on a ladder to change marquees at the movie theater I worked at involved consciously telling myself to take deep breaths. Last summer when the rest of the staff had zip-line training, I stayed behind to work on my program. I was relieved I wouldn't have to face the decision to climb the 40ft pole and zip down or not. I wanted to challenge myself, but also knew my comfort zone (on the ground) was safe.

Then there was the accident. During that same staff training that I was excused from, we were all reminded of the risk involved with the zip-line, and we shut it down for the summer. Fast forward nine months to the first meeting with my boss in my new position. You can imagine why I hesitantly said "I'll think about it..." when he asked if I'd be interested in being a back-up facilitator on the zip-line this summer. The victim of the accident had made a full recovery, our zip-line had been inspected and deemed safe, but it would still be a huge personal achievement if I simply climbed and rode the zip-line - how could I lead groups on it!?

I could have easily said "I'll think about it" and then told my boss no after a few days without actually thinking about it. That would have been safe, comfortable. But I did think about it. I prayed about it - a lot. I knew my fear, but also wanted to challenge myself. Something in me was saying I should do it, but how could I get over my fear!? Later that week I gave my answer: "I'll get trained to be a zip-line facilitator. I'll definitely be scared, but I feel this is something I need to do. I want to challenge myself."

When the first day of training came, I was more than a little nervous. My first time climbing the pole to the zip-line platform seemed to take an eternity. When I reached the top, the trainer called up from the ground, "okay, now walk back and forth on the platform." I swallowed hard, gripped the tethers of my lobster claws, and took baby steps to the other side, my body stiff, eyes not daring to look down. Later in the day the trainer asked if I wanted to be the first to zip. My attitude and response was "I'll have to do it sooner or later, might as well be now!" She hooked me up to the zip-line tether and asked how I was feeling. "Like I should have gone to the bathroom before..." I inched my body forward on the platform, took a big breath, gripped the tether connecting me to the zip-line wire, and leaned forward. I let out a scream, and then almost couldn't believe it as I zipped down the wire. This was...fun? I had been so afraid, and now I was having fun?!

My fear didn't instantly dissolve in that moment. It didn't disappear at any point in training. But it did subside. As I repeatedly tied knots, set up the needed equipment, zipped others down, and rode the zip-line myself, I became more confident. The sense of accomplishment, along with the conviction to do my job to the best of my abilities and keep others safe became bigger than my fears.

I can climb the pole a bit faster now, and walk along the platform a little less stiff, but I maintain what I call a "healthy fear." I respect the height and equipment. I still prefer to hold onto a staple when I'm waiting for the climber to reach the top. But my fear doesn't stop me. My comfort zone has expanded, and I'm starting to see why this is in God's plan for me.

A group of 5-7th grade girls came to the zip-line. The first girl to climb the pole was so excited. When she reached me at the top, she admitted she was very nervous, but also really wanted to zip down. She sat down on the platform, and I connected her to the equipment. When it came time for her to leave the platform she couldn't make herself go. We let another girl go down the other side, while this one sat on the platform. After seeing her friend go down, she was so excited and couldn't wait for her turn. Again, when it came down to her leaning forward and leaving the platform she couldn't do it. Overall, she sat at the top for over an hour! I stayed right by her, encouraged her in every way I could think of, prayed with her, and sat with her. I told her many times that it was ok to feel scared, that I had been scared my first time, but that you feel so great after you've conquered your fear. When she finally was able to leave the platform and had a huge smile as she rode the wire, my first and only thought was "this is why we lead zip-line." To give campers the opportunity to face their fears. To see the joy and confidence they have after they do so. To facilitate the challenge that changes them.

What incredible things can we do if we are willing to accept the challenge?!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Sweet Side of Things

For the past few months, discovering His world, and discovering myself has looked like living with my cousin's family in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, working two part-time jobs, and babysitting my cousin's kids.

I've been told now that I'm 24, I really need to start looking for a full-time, long-term job because as I get older people won't want to hire me for the types of part-time and seasonal positions I've had since graduating. The first time I heard this it stung me fairly hard and I spent the next portion of the day questioning what I was doing, and what I should be doing with my life. A phone call to Mom later, I was reminded that as long as I can pay my bills, I'm doing just fine. I don't need to follow the rules of what a person my age is "supposed" to do.

Yes, I'd love a full-time position, doing what I enjoy, but until that happens I'm going to enjoy life and pay my bills by working part-time and seasonal jobs that are actually pretty sweet (both literally and figuratively).

One of my current part-time jobs is at the Fun Factory Sweet Shoppe. We sell old fashioned, and novelty candies, gifts (cards, mugs, etc), fudge, and homemade flavored popcorn. Our real business, however, is in the chocolates that are hand made and dipped right in our store by our chocolatier.

On my first day, the manger informed me that eating the merchandise is a part of my job - literally. When a customer asks what something tastes like, actually being able to tell them is better than "I don't know." I continue to have a chocolate or two of my favorites each time I work, but my first few weeks were full of sampling what we have to offer:

Day 1
Caramel Apple Popcorn
Cherry Peppermint Popcorn
Sour Cream & Chives Popcorn
Milk Chocolate Divinity
Milk Chocolate Raspberry Cream

Day 2
Beer Cheese Popcorn
Milk Chocolate dipped Orange Peel
Mint Meltaway
Cream Cheese Graham

Day 3
Milk Chocolate covered pretzel
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Sour Heart gummies
Milk Chocolate Maple Meltaway
Peppermint Cookie Bark

Day 4
Caramel Marshmallow
Lemon Cream
Non- Pareils
Milk Chocolate Cream
White Raspberry Cheesecake
Spicy Buffalo Popcorn

Day 5
Blackberry & Raspberry gummies
Milk Chocolate Dark Raspberry Meltaway
Chocolate Covered Raisins
Confetti Popcorn

Day 6
Peanut Butter Ball

Day 7
Sugar Free Peanut Butter Meltaway
Amaretto Truffle
Sea Salt Caramel
Black Forest Truffle

Day 8
Peanut Butter Sherbert
Dark Chocolate Divinity

Day 9
Rum Meltaway

Day 10
Dark Chocolate dipped Lemon Peel
White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle
Chocolate Cheesecake Fudge
Chocolate Raspberry Fudge

This is by no means all we have to offer, or what I have sampled here and there since I stopped keeping track. Even so, I've made some conclusions... 1) Sugar free candy is gross! Many people would probably say, "Well, duh, Hannah!" but I wanted to try some for myself and draw my own conclusion. I took one bite, and could barely swallow it. That was the only piece of chocolate that I have thrown away after one bite. 2) I normally do not care for dark chocolate, but I've found there are certain times when it is actually better than milk. Sea Salt Caramels, Divinity, fresh strawberries, and marshmallow are by far better dipped in dark chocolate! 3) My favorites continue to be Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Dark Chocolate Divinity, Milk Chocolate Dark Raspberry Meltaway, and any peanut butter/chocolate combination.

I do more at work than just eat though! It wasn't long before I was helping our chocolatier, first dipping the nougaty center of our Divinity in chocolate, and spreading caramel on almonds for turtles, then dipping strawberries for Valentine's Day. I've helped make caramel apples as well, dipping them in the caramel and drizzling them with chocolate. As Easter approached, I spent two weeks decorating chocolate eggs, and have most recently made our solid chocolate bunnies. Putting the molds together, filling them with chocolate, tapping the air bubbles out, then shaving the excess off the finished product - I've done it all. 

Maybe I should be searching for a long-term, full-time job. Maybe my career clock is ticking, and soon I won't get hired for the kinds of part-time and seasonal jobs I've held in the last two years. Maybe. But soon I'll be leaving this sweet job and returning to Camp Luther for another seasonal position, one where I feel fulfilled, and know I am making a difference. And that is more important to me than following the "rules" of what a 24 year old is supposed to do. So for now, I'll continue to pay my bills, learn new skills, and eat some chocolate.