Brazil Update

So close, and yet, so far away.  

I'm going to write today about Brazil, as I need a short mental vacation from the -15 degree winter that is currently taking place outside my window.  Seriously, MN?  WTF?  This has to be the worst winter EVER.   Yes, EVER.  I'm declaring it.  Really wish we would have planned Brazil for February, I need to escape stat.  

My backyard

We finally settled some details about Brazil!  After much procrastination, we sat down and hashed out some ideas.  Here's what we decided:

We will fly to Rio, spend 3-4 nights there, see all of the beaches and tourist stuff.  Then, we will hop a short flight to Florianopolis, a beautiful beach city about an hour up the coast from Rio.  We will be there for 5-6 nights, bask in the sun and sand, then fly back to Rio for a night before flying home.  

We decided to forgo a trip to Manaus to visit the rainforest, as it would have easily added a few thousand dollars to our trip price tag for just a few days in the jungle.  I'm bummed we will miss it, but not too bummed since it means spending extra time on the coast.  I plan on living in my bathing suit in Florianopolis! 

I have started my Portuguese lessons, and so far, so good.  Its been pretty basic stuff so far, so it has been mostly review for me, but im sure it will get harder soon.  I am now able to count to ten, tell you what color your bicycle or car is, and tell whether the boy/girl is running, walking or swimming.  Cant wait to use it!

Ashley and Chester sent in their passports to be renewed, and they should get them back soon.  Next step is applying for visas, which are stupid expensive  For an American to get a tourist visa for Brazil, its $160 a person.  Yikes.  I'm thinking they jacked up the prices for the World Cup and Carnaval?  Oh well, nothing we can do about it.

So that's where we are at, only 45 days to go before departure!  :)  In the meantime, I will just change my desktop wallpaper to this beautiful photo of Florianoplis:


Early Christmas Present for Me! Bom Natal!

I just bought myself an early Christmas present:

Ever since we started talking about going to Brazil, I have wanted to buy Rosetta Stone for Brazilian Portuguese.  Normally $400, I held off since it was so expensive.  Then, I got an email saying it was on sale for $250.  Hm.  Then 2 days later, another email saying it was only $240.  Still, I waited.  When I got another email today saying the price went down to $230, I decided that was a fair price and took the plunge.

Citizens of Brazil:  Be ready for me to come practice!


Steamboat Springs, CO

March sucks.  It's really a terrible, terrible month.  Cold, snowy, cloudy, gray, and there is ALWAYS one last brutal blizzard that hits just when you think winter can't possibly go on any longer.  March is inevitable, and almost unbearable.

You know where March is bearable?  In Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  Spring skiing!

If you aren't familiar with Steamboat, it's a fairly small mountain town in the Rockies a few hours northwest of Denver.  People come from all over the world to ski and snowboard down Mount Warner's long runs in the winter, and who can blame them?  It's excellent skiing with a less pretentious and snooty attitude than nearby Aspen and Vail, or so I am told.  Not only is skiing great, but the residents are all pretty great too.  I have yet to find a mean Steamboatian.

Anyways, every year for the past 10 years, my dad, sisters and I road trip out to Colorado for some spring skiing and to visit our relatives, Aunt Sandy and Uncle Jamie, and our cousins JJ and Nick.  Usually I can only go for a long weekend due to work, but this year I was able to go for the full 9 day trip.  So we hopped in the old van and made the 18 hour road trip to Steamboat for a week with the Langhans fam.  As an added bonus, our cousin Kelsey from California was able to meet us out there, as well as cousins Pat, Tim, and Nike from Denver. 

Our trip was filled with family, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, yoga, relaxation, hot springs,  a Langhans twist on charades on St. Patrick's day, nighttime misadventures, amazing food, wine, and as always:  dad's special cookies.

The details don't matter.  The photos speak for themselves.  Finally got to test out the new camera a bit :)  All you need to know is, it was an amazing week with family.  Enjoy!

PS - If you are ever in Steamboat Springs, you MUST eat here, I guarantee it will be some of the best food you have ever had!  
Harwigs L'apogee Restaurant

Rabbit Ears Pass, coming into Steamboat Springs
Sisters and Cousin Kelsey
Long lift
Dad enjoying the view Cross Country Skiing

Brother and Sister!  Dad and Sandy
Nicky love skiing
Cross Country Skiing
Cross Country Skiing
Family Dinner

Exquisite Cuisine from Harwigs L'apogee, our family's amazing restaurant in Steamboat

Tori caught a nice view of Mt. Warner
Langhans sister sass

Tim and Nick
This was an interesting night
Cousin fun
Bailey, our cousin Pat's daughter.  Coolest kid I know.



Back in the saddle again.  Took a brief hiatus from the blog, and a friend inspired me this past weekend to pick it back up.  Sometimes a little inspiration is all you need!

Just to update, we have booked our trip to Brazil!  We will be leaving on March 7, returning on the 17th.  10 days seems long, but subtract time for two 16-hour flights, and we are left with about 8 days to take in as much Brazil as possible. 

We are currently planning to split our time between Rio de Janeiro and Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest.  Dustin is worried about snakes, but if I can deal with the spider factor, he can deal with snakes.  Last time I went to the Amazon, I learned about the nightmare that is what the locals call "community spiders."  Probably not the technical term since that's a translation, but nonetheless terrifying.  Maybe that will be my next adventure blog post.

Excited to get back to blogging! 


Wish List Item Granted!

I was planning on writing a post about this wish list item a while back, but now my wish has been granted!  

I am now the proud owner of a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR Camera!

On our recent Europe vacation, our friends Ryan and Kari brought a really nice DSLR camera along to capture the trip moments.  When we came together after the trip to share photos, it was painfully obvious that the quality of photos I took with my little point and shoot was significantly lower.  It has served me well for the last 4 years, but it is time to upgrade.  After a lot of research on DSLR cameras, I knew the Canon T3i was the right one for me.

Not only does it shoot in 18 megapixels, it has a super fast processor, HD display and video recording, a million shooting modes and options (ok maybe not a million), super fast shutter speed, continuous shooting mode, and its fairly light weight.  

Now, when I post future trips and adventures on the blog, the pics will be super swank.  Time to start practicing!


Yes Please

At the tail end of the most unbearable season in the Midwest, I'm sure you can relate when I say my cabin fever is at an all time high.  To make myself (and you) feel better, today's post is all about BEACHES!  ENJOY!
Cristiano, where did you come from???  What a surprise. 
CNN's "17 beaches we'd like to be lounging on" 

CNN's "World's 50 Best Beaches"

US News' "Best Beaches in the USA"

Coastal Living's "21 Best Beaches"

And Minneapolis' Very Own "Best Beaches"


A Map of the World for the Kids of Jarabacoa

The summer of 2004, after graduating high school, I embarked on a community service trip to the Dominican Republic.  My fellow travelers included thirty or so juniors and recently graduated seniors I had attended high school with, along with my Dad and my cousin Kayla.  My Dad had volunteered to be an adult supervisor, and though I was a little nervous about having him on the trip at first, we had a great time together.  I hardly ever get to spend enough time with Kayla, so I was really excited that we got to take a trip together!
Kayla, my Dad and I
We hopped two flights south to dark and sleeping Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R, and arrived around 2 A.M.    Our cranky and smelly group hopped a clunky old school bus that shuttled us to Jarabacoa, a small town of about 4,000 people an hour and a half inland from Santo Domingo.  We arrived at a ranch style hostel and despite the early hour, were greeted by the owner, a short and graying man who spoke enough English to welcome us.  After a brief introduction and guidance to our bunks, we shuffled into our rooms of bunk beds, checked for giant fluorescent spiders, and went to sleep.

We awoke the next morning to our surroundings drenched in morning sun and dew.  We seemed to be sitting in the middle of a tropical paradise, minus the beach.  The air was humid, but cool and fresh.  Down a narrow dirt walking path, a rushing creek sparkled, bordered by tall fronds and flowers.  Butterflies scattered the grounds, and the air was filled with the calls of strange birds and insects.  The place didn't seem real!  After a few moments of awe, we made our way to the dining patio for breakfast.  Waiting for us were colorful mounds of fresh fruit, sliced meats, pastries, and yogurt.  After eating to our hearts content, we were given a couple hours to freshen up, relax, and explore the grounds.  I washed off the previous day's travel and headed towards the river.  I sat on the bridge alone, jotted down a few notes in my journal about my new location, and spent my remaining minutes admiring my surroundings.
The bridge over the river
Kayla admiring the flowers
Dad enjoying a moment of reflection
We reconvened at the dining area to learn about our community service projects.  We would be working with a local organization named Duolos, a group that ran a private school for kids who wanted a better education in Jarabacoa. The public school system in the Dominican Republic is poorly funded and is unable to provide kids with the resources and teachers needed to get an education that prepares them for a university education.  Duolos relied heavily on donations, from local organizations and from abroad, to operate, and though they had to charge tuition to its students, extended scholarships frequently to families in need.  
Duolos School

Our group would be split into two groups:  The majority of our group would stay at the Duolos compound, cleaning the grounds and repainting the buildings, and a smaller group of us would travel to a local public school in Jarabacoa to help where needed.  Kayla and I were chosen for the smaller group, and we were soon whisked away in the back of a pickup truck to the edge of town. 

Upon arrival at the school, it was hard to believe what I saw as we hopped off the truck.  The school was a single room building, about 600 square feet in size.  One unisex bathroom.  Kids were running around outside on dirt and pavement.  No grass, playground equipment, drinking fountains, nothing in the school yard but 1 broken soccer goal.  Inside the school sat about 30 desks.  Since the school had about 60 kids of all different ages, they could only house half of the students at one time.  The older kids would come to school in the morning, and the younger group of kids would come in the afternoon.  Our arrival had caught the attention of every the students playing outside, and soon, we were mobbed with a group of smiling, screaming kids.  It was pretty cute.  We pushed our way through the sea of smiling faces towards the teachers on site, who were laughing at our struggle against our new fan club.
The school
New friends
"Welcome!" said the first woman, who introduced herself as Raquel.  "Thank you for coming to our school, we are very excited you are here."  The two other teachers, unable to speak English, simply smiled and nodded.  We smiled in return and introduced ourselves.

 "While you are here, we would like you to paint us a large map of the world on the side of the school.  We do not have the money to buy maps, and we want the children to be able to see exactly where they live in the world."
She ushered us toward the side of the school with a large, blank yellow wall in the sun.  "Here is where you paint, and make sure you paint our country on the map so the children can see it."  
Our group studied the wall and chatted for a few minutes to decide who would do what and it was decided that myself, Kayla and another girl Katie would draw the outline of the map on the wall while the others went to buy the supplies.  Using a Spanish world map found in a book, we began to outline the countries with marker on the blank wall.  Resizing a world map to fit the wall was no easy task!  We scaled the continents as best we could, and we decided that we would make the Dominican Republic much bigger than it was so that it would stand out on the map. By the time our group returned, the map was outlined, and we sat down to decide how we would attack the painting.  We decided to paint in the land first, the oceans second, and fill in the details on the third day.

Day two arrived, and we began the painting process.  One thing we did not anticipate was the hot afternoon sun.  It beat down on our backs as we painted, and we had to wear towels and bandanas on our heads to help catch the sweat.  After a few hours painting, we stopped to play with the kids on their recess break.  The sweetest little girl named Gloriluz eyed me bashfully, and finally came over and asked me to read her a book.  I sat down with her, and in Spanish, we paged through a few books, and she named all of the animals and people for me.  It was pretty darn adorable.  She even got some of us to join in on a game of hopscotch with a few other girls who had brought chalk to school.  We laughed and had a great time bonding with the kids.
How cute is she?
Gloriluz and I
Early stages
Working hard on the ocean
Looking good!
By day three, we were done with the large areas of painting!  Now all that was left was filling in the country names in Spanish and adding some key landmarks to different areas of the continents.  This was the fun part.  We painted mountains, kangaroos in Australia, polar bears in Antarctica, the Eiffel Tower in Europe, drew the route of Christopher Columbus (since he was the first European to land in the Dominican) and other landmarks.  As our last task, we painted a dove above the quote, "Que la paz prevalezca en la tierra" (may peace prevail on earth) and we signed our names to the map under "Hecho con Amor" (Made with Love).  Sweaty, hot, and covered in paint, we stood back to admire our finished product.  The kids and teachers all came out of the school to see their new map.   It was rewarding to watch the kids get excited about different things on the map, and when they could find the Dominican Republic easily!
Finished product!
On our final day of work, we brought the rest of our group in to help mix and pass cement to help build the foundation for a new, two level school.  It was gruesome work in the hot sun, but after getting to know the kids and teachers, we all felt good knowing we were contributing to what would hopefully be a much nicer place for the kids to learn.  I never did get to see the finished product, but I hope those kids finally got the school they deserved.
Beginning stages of the new school