The Fat Lady

Dear Internet,

We’re baaaaaaack!  Having been stuck in a rut of non-communication since January due to limited internet access in Cuba, and, consequently, paralyzed by how much there is to share about the last six weeks, we’re working hard on Candy Crush to process and sort through everything. So much to tell. So little blog space. So much magazine to write.  Continue reading The Fat Lady

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Gate F12. Don’t tell.

HEY! We are at the airport in Miami, and after fielding phone calls from worried family members, I thought I’d share a little about what we learned this week, what we’ll be doing, and how it’s all going to work.

To travel to Cuba, we needed two permissions—one from the US government, and one from the Cuban government. Through our host ministry (the org we are writing about for World Next Door), we got a religious license from the US government to travel to Cuba, and this involved one of our Cuban host pastors writing a letter of sponsorship.

Entering Cuba has nothing to do with the religious license from the US, and in fact we have to just sort of conceal the religious license and enter Cuba through the tourist visa we applied for and received from the Cuban government.  The Cuban government is not so into our host ministry due to their work toward religious freedoms and bypassing the Council of Churches which confiscated 8 of 10 containers of Bibles the last time they came through, so if we entered Cuba on a religious visa as other sometimes do, we’d likely be watched or followed, potentially putting the ministry at risk on the ground in Cuba. Continue reading Gate F12. Don’t tell.

Blizzard Avoidance.

Hey, all. I am writing this at the last second as we are in the air to Miami on the second-to-last flight out of Indianapolis before snowpocolypse hits the midwest.

Seriously, look:

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And furthermore, look:

1414_snowmap

See where it says the number 14? THAT’S MY TOWN, Y’ALLS! The low tonight is -17 in Indy, and the High tomorrow is -15. We are expecting a foot of snow. In Miami? A balmy 87 or something tomorrow, then, like, 63 when the cold front comes through. I know. You want me to shut it.

Our escape did not come easy, though. American Airlines told us yesterday as we begged to move our Sunday flight to Saturday that they were sorry, there had been no alert issued, but we were welcome to call every hour. By this morning? A total alert, and we could leave in 4 hours as every flight after 6p would be canceled. Our whole reason for going to Miami was to attend a Monday morning meeting at the organization’s headquarters, to plan the projects we would be visiting in Cuba and to meet the key leaders. The soonest departure after the storm would be Tuesday, although American Airlines projected NEXT FRIDAY.

We kicked it into high gear, cleaning, making arrival arrangements and banging our heads on walls as we packed. We are allotted only 44lbs total from Miami to Cuba, including checked bags and carry-on, making it a pack-weigh-pack-weigh-pack-weigh morning. In the end, it turns out the camera and computer equipment weigh as much as SIX WEEKS WORTH OF EVERYTHING ELSE!

Travel whining aside, I have two major things to share. Wait. Three.

First thing: The Nepal issue of World Next Door is available for download! Remember all those intense updates about undercover brothels and Himalayan hikes and swarms of monkeys and adorable kids? THIS IS THAT ISSUE! The absolute best way to view the content (because it’s the most fun an interactive) is on a tablet or smart phone. But if you don’t have a tablet, don’t worry, you. The entire magazine is available on our website. The first image is a link to the download, and the second image is a link to the online content. Treat yo’self with one!

WND Nepal Ad

Nepal Web Content

Second thing: The Las Vegas issue of World Next Door will be ready for download in Februrary. Remember all those intense updates about brothels and strip clubs and Christians and cupcakes? THIS WILL BE THAT ISSUE!  I have to remind you about the download now, because…

Third thing: WE ARE GOING TO CUBA! And we won’t have easy access to internet. The minimal access to internet we’ll have will likely be available by dial-up on a few hotel PCs.  No real-time Instagram, though you can bet I’ll be later-gramming when I get back. No Facebook. Real time blogging? I have no idea.

This is our last stop on the World Next Door fellowship year, which blows my mind, and we are partnering with an organization called ECHO Cuba. The headquarters are in Miami, and that’s where we’ll spend the week learning about the organization before flying out to Cuba on Feb 11th. We know very little about the work they do in-country, which is why it was so important to catch them at this Monday first-of-the-year planning meeting! They have humanitarian projects going on all over the country, and their mission is to grow the local Cuban church, which exists underground in some parts. We know they facilitate pastoral training and small-group mission trips. We can’t wait to see what all they have in store for us, and we really hope it includes an airport pick-up and a host family in Miami :)

We do know we’ll be staying with a local Pastor and his family, and we know the itinerary is carefully planned with mandated tourist activities during the first week to reduce any suspicions :)  We think that sounds fantastic.

We’ve been to Cuba before, but only for a week and on a vacation, so we expect this to be a very different experience. We loved it though, and we’ve been counting down the days until we got to come back, so we’re thankful for whatever it is that lies ahead!

Thanks for sending us and journeying with us, friends. It’s been one spectacular year!

Jeff & Brooke

*We are now in Miami and my hair is instantly curly and all our bags made it and we’ve been claimed by our new friend Dulce and her little dog and we have a place to sleep and we are blasting the AC and watching the Colts and eating pizza. And those are all the things that have happened so far in Miami ;)

2011: stealth deliverer of good things

Before I write anything, I would like to share that “ninja spanker” was my top search this week. Where do people come up with these things? And also, how did my space become relevant to ninja spankers? (As I type this, I recall mentioning Spanker Banker after Krewe du Vieux sometime in 2008, and also dressing up as a ninja for Halloween that year and fighting pirates on Jackson Square. The internet don’t forget, y’all).

That said, it’s been two years since I did a year in review, two years since I wrote some resolutions, and consequently, two years since I resolved some resolutions. In the two year gap, I got engaged, got married, moved to a new city, bought a house, started 3 new jobs, graduated, became licensed, acquired a couple more nieces- you know: Almost all of the most important things that can happen to a person besides being born. Now that I sit down to review last year, it seems like nothing happened.  But alas. It did.

January  Co-piloted a tiny plane from Belize City to PG. Swam in a blue creek. Climbed into a cave. Met some fun UWisc Physical Therapy peeps. Watched the Rose Bowl on a rigged up TV, under a thatch roof outside, sitting on benches removed from a mini-van. Spent nights in tiny cabins above water. Ate seafood caught on a kayak with a spear. Took a 6 hour bus to Cayo. Shed tears over this discussion with my former supervisor: “Your work is being used here, Brooke. Every day.” Discovered God doesn’t need a person to use a person. Understood that sometimes we don’t even know we’ve been used. Said goodbye to the BZ. Again.

More pics: here

February  Worked a 16-hour shift during Snowpocolypse 2011 and felt like a Lamb in a Bow Tie. Discovered, via Jeff, that cross-country skiing on the Monon during an ice storm is possible, and acceptable. Went to New Orleans and spent time with my good ole friends and co-workers. Got my Haydels King Cake. Got my Abita. Got my Steins, my Surreys, my house party with a nice brownie spread, my 2 days of 65/sunny, got my washboard band, got my Kim, got my Mandy. Could not have been happier until Tator Tachos appeared. Realized (besides the availability of junk food & supportive social worker friends) why the NOLA feels like home: it’s where I fell in love! J and my’s entire do-I-like-you-do-I-love-you-I-totally-love-you-let’s-get-a-daiquiri-let’s-get-married happened here. Sigh :)

March Went to Cuba Belize Mexico Belize Cuba Belize. Cuba with some good friends. (If you’re an immigration officer, I would like to state for the record I oppose the embargo.)  Had many rooftop mojitos. I neither confirm nor deny the Cuban cigar or the night dancing in Old Havana. Listened to old men argue about baseball in the center of the park. Watched a Cuban baseball game. Became entranced by and forever drawn to Cuba and its music. Thanks friends!

More pics: here

April  Unveiled Brooke 3.0 to the public. Not so bad, 30. Received breakfast in bed from a dude I thank God for by the minute, and a tent. Promptly camped in the backyard. Celebrated Lil’s 3rd birthday (where does time go?) Took down the Christmas tree… and put it in the Monon. Can you find it? Spent Easter with the Hartmans in WI, and got the Easter flu, which everyone mistook for morning sickness. If that had been the case, I’d be 9 months pregnant today. Told you guys.

May Started a new job! Waved goodbye to the hospital (although I still pick up ER shifts here and there when they need help) and joined a private practice in Carmel. Hosted the Kaminski Fam for Memorial Day and ran around Lucas Oil. Celebrated J’s birthday. He continues to be in his 30s. That’s all he would want you to know, I think.

June Celebrated our first anniversary with a romantic evening alone the Hartmans, Kaminiskis, Sellers, Sharon, Pat and 2500 others for the 18th annual Indy Nite Ride. Jeff and I enjoyed a burger at Bub’s after everyone left. The event has facilitated use of the following statement all year to justify anything we’ve wanted ever since: Well, this can be our anniversary meal/gift/trip since we didn’t really have one? Celebrated Maycie’s 2nd Birthday. Love her.

July Breckenridge! This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Also, it was truly the anniversary and location of our honeymoon! Hiked some hikes. Snapped some pics. Ate some good food. Drank with friends. Hot-tubbed with family. Surfed on snowfields. Biked down Vail pass. Garden of the Gods. Pike’s Peak. Celebrated a Hartman (the original Hartman- well, not the original original, but the Ron & Kathy Hartman ) Anniversary. This one gets 2 rows of pics, because I’m the boss of this space, and it’s what I want to do.

  More pics: here

August Hosted the Sellers/Wilsons for Labor Day. Shucked some corn. Grilled some food. Played with some noopy nieces. Dad’s family reunion in Brown County. Spent some time in Nashville and a good night at a Brewery. Hosted Elaine & Doug, also Sprinky. Cut into a sex cake. Found out E&D are having a boy! Can’t wait to meet brand new Baby Luke.

    More pics: here

September visited some good (fun!) friends in NYC. This was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. These friends appreciate my knowledge of pop culture, which is sometimes a foreign language to J (although he is the one who first informed me of the Kim/Chris split and insisted I see Bridesmaids. He heard both on sports radio). Observed 9/11. Held the Statue of Liberty in our palms. Went to the Catskills. Ate some good food. Played with an adorable baby. Participated in the first bonfire of Fall. Played in a kickball tournament, concussed myself on the pavement. Celebrated Callie’s first birthday. Love her. Joined a small group at church. Made some friends.

   More pics: here

October Destin! I know I’ve said this before, but this was our anniversary trip, since we didn’t really have one. Plus it was the location of our other honeymoon, between the ceremony and actual honeymoon in Breck. Spent some time with the Grampies. Spent some time at the Blossfolly (ceremony beachouse) beach, for nostalgia’s sake. Ate dinner at Henderson Park Inn, where God gave us the most amazing anniversary sunset ever imagined.

More pics: here and here

November Hosted the fam(s) for Thanksgiving: Hartmans, Sellers, the Grampies, Wilsons, Kaminskis, Sharon, & Grams. Got rear ended. Saw THREE rainbows in one day. Spent a noopy weekend with Callie.

December Watched the Badgers win the Big Ten Championships. For reasons unexplained, my nieces started calling me Uncle Brooklyn. Dressed up in snowflake placemats & battery operated lights for a party. Celebrated our engageaversary in Chicago on the 96th floor. Celebrated Christmas in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indy, and Sprinky (not a place, but a BFF). Celebrated the last moments of 2011 with good old friends and good new friends.

          More pics: here

The End! Cheers to all for such a great year, and thanks for the friends who hosted us.

Cuba (unofficially)

So. We went to Cuba Belize Mexico Belize Cuba Belize. Cuba. (If you’re an immigration officer, I would like to state for the record I oppose the embargo.) That’s how the conversation went in our heads all week, up to and including the nail-biting immigration line at  ATL.  J and I were looking at each other like, You talk? I talk? You? Me? You?

Turns out, nobody cares. They flipped through our passports and stamped without incident. On the other side of customs, J was wired and elated. All I could think about was how much Cuban Rum we could have brought back. And to think we worried about the rolled up stuffed-in-a-corner purple “Industriales” t-shirt we bought from some guy’s plastic bag at the 1pm baseball game. It’s Havana’s team, and current champs- equivalent to the NY Yankees, says J. He knows these things.

But what a rich country! Well, not literally rich. But socially. Sort of. And healthy! Infant mortality is lower than US, and HIV rate is less than .1%.  Architecturally rich. Beautiful. Colorful. Friendly. Inviting. Warm. Historically rich and totally preserved. Also pork-fat rich, which resulted in a day by the pool (read: bathrooms), and special “injections” by some lady named Julia. I think Jeff and Ricardo pretended to be sick the next day just to get a special injection from this Julia. No matter. Rachel and I made several trips to the crepe line, as the crepe maker was, how you say, crepetastic!

Catching a taxi feels like you’re at an antique car auction. Night club dancing with the locals feels like you’re in a black-lit, salsa-and-marengue-with-the-stars episode, where you can make up your own version as long as it involves some hips and twirls and drama. That experience was a fave.

And the mojitos. Don’t even get me started.

There is also a group of men in the square who sit all day and argue about baseball. J heard about this group, and loving baseball and old Cuban men, went to find it. It exists! He listened, talked to a couple people and stood-bye as we witnessed a few near-fights. While we were there, we made a friend who explained that 2 or 3 years ago, nobody could bother tourists. Now they are able to apply for a private license to be an unofficial tour guide in exchange for, like, a mojito. However, there is an officer every 10 feet, and if you say no, and the friend follows you, the officer blows his whistle and shakes his finger. Then the friend has to walk away. Poor friend. Our friend told us how to get out of the city and to the baseball game. He also offered us his aunt’s house for dinner.

The hotel we stayed at was a National Monument, with bullet holes in the front from mob shootouts, and our room faced the Hotel Libre, where Fidel ruled the country from the top floor during such-and-such time frame. Now it’s a disco.

Architecture is a colorful and stoic mix of Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. The culture is the same. I kept saying as we walked around Habana Viejo: this looks like the French Quarter! And Prague! And as we walked around Habana Central, with colorful laundry hanging and bright vibrant paint: now this is the Caribbean. And then with the all Spanish and dancing, Latin America. We visited Cuban China-town, took the cigar tour (I neither confirm nor deny that we purchased or smoked a Cuban cigar), went to a Cuban baseball game, ate lunch and dinners on several rooftop bars and in Cuban homes. We discovered this interesting new allowance the government is giving to individuals who apply for private licenses. People who apply can gut the inside of their home, fix it up, and serve meals- but limited to 6 or 12 people only.  Here is a lunch place we stumbled on, plus the house on either side showing the disparity in opportunity:

Within a week of being home, we had purchased and watched Motorcycle Diaries, both Che documentaries, and a 3 hour music documentary on the creation of the Buena Vista Social Club. Also, we also almost got bitch-slapped by my grandma who assumed our enthusiasm toward Cuba (and our realization that many revolutionaries were idealists gone bad, that any government in its ideal state has strengths) was a plug for communism (what?). How she tied Obama into the conversation, I’m not really sure…

We are not socialists. But the trip was fascinating, and we are already planning a return- thanks to good friends who coordinated and visa’d us to be there, and who also had birthdays to celebrate!  (No thanks to Julia for the injections.)

My pics are here.  Jeff’s pics are here.  Here are a couple of tider-overs: