Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Peace Corps Thanksgiving

So what does a group of 12 Peace Corps Volunteers do when they need to celebrate Thanksgiving and are hundreds thousands of miles away from their homes?

We invite as many of our international friends as possible, kai lahi (eat lots!) and celebrate!

On Friday (which makes sense because, due to the time difference, it was still Thanksgiving in the States) we all got together at Don & Norie's. We were able to find a turkey, too! Stuffing, mashed potatoes and even two pumpkin pies made brief appearances before they were quickly gobbled up. 

I made placecards even though we didn't eat at a table.
The Australian Volunteers and Japanese Volunteers who ate with us got a quick lesson on how to successfully do Thanksgiving correctly.

Here's what we taught them:
1. Give thanks. For everything in your life. Say it out loud! Tell a friend. Write it down. Bake it in a pie?
2. Eat a lot. A LOT!
3. Go back for seconds ... or thirds. This is a must. Plus, your dessert chamber (the special space in your stomach solely reserved for all things sweet!) will remain open even if you have two or three helpings of turkey because that's a completely different part of your stomach.
4. Sleep it off. By the time you finish eating on Thanksgiving you should be in a food coma. You should be so full that you want to lay down and not get up for a very long time. 

We also had a chance to celebrate Harrison's 24th birthday!

25 Days of Christmas // Day 1

(keep in mind - i live in the future - it's already December here!) 

i love Christmas so in honor of my very favorite holiday this blog is going to be dedicated to all things Christmas (don't worry - I'll keep blogging about what is happening here in Tonga), but now i'm just going to include some yuletide awesomeness.

25 days of yuletide awesomeness to be exact.
and challenges.

oh man, there will be christmas challenges.

like this one.

the other week my students and i had a lot of fun with the chalkboard and my camera.
can you tell me (in the comments section of this post) what the next line of this famous christmas carol is?
i bet these class 6 boys know it since i've been singing this particular jingle with them since september.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

25 Days of Christmas // A Sneak Peek

I love the Christmas season so I thought I would spend just about the entire month of December showing you just how much.

We can celebrate together.
Starting December 1st!

It'll be fun, guys.
A cyber-blog-party!
Who's bringing the eggnog hot chocolate frozen hot chocolate?

I have some fun stuff planned.

Videos, a little bit of crunchy granola hippy goodness, some fun projects my students and I have worked on and some Pinterest-y things that I know you'll just love.

So get excited...
Here's a sneak peek:
ooooh! and this:

It's gonna be good.


It's Thanksgiving in Tonga.
Tongans don't celebrate this holiday. Well that makes sense, Mandy.
But I taught them about it anyway.
I thanked each of my students today for being awesome.
They looked at me funny.
Then I thanked each of my coworkers for being a delight to work with.
They also looked at me funny.
Then I turned up the volume on my computer and we danced to Christmas music.
Then they smiled at me. And danced.
But mo'oni (for real)...
It doesn't matter that it's Thanksgiving. We should be grateful for the things we have every day.
Here's a good reminder of that:

Also? Here's a list of things I'm currently thankful for: God, my family, my friends, dairy-free pumpkin ice cream (that I make using fresh coconut milk), Christmas music, kids who are excited about EVERYTHING, dancing in school today and you! 
I'm thankful for you!

Monday, November 25, 2013

project 365 // week 7 // #43-49

This week's Project 365 is pretty darn eclectic. From dancing with wooden spears to serving kava to many men, it was a week full of goodness, happies and lots of smiles.
 Nov. 20 (#43): Today was the Hine Moana's last day in Vava'u for the foreseeable future. I am still working with the Tonga Voyaging Society to see if we can bring a waka (Polynesian sailing vessel) to Tonga for good. Right now we are grant writing and trying to find resources so that the TVS can have a full-time (read: paid) staff member and an office. There is so much good in the TVS - I hope we can make it a reality.
Nov. 21 (#44): The last few weeks of school have been dedicated to learning the kailao (Tongan war dance) and today my students performed the dance for the entire staff of the Ministry of Education. They were part of a Culture Day and each school in my district chose a traditional Tongan dance to perform (there were feathers, drums, tapa cloth, lots of flowers and even noise-makers tied around ankles!) Music, food and fun... and very very sweaty faces. The humidity was back and in full force!
Nov. 22 (#45): Today we had a little Peace Corps get-together at a local watering hole. We chatted with the new PCVs about their first couple weeks at site and collectively got really excited for Thanksgiving - I cannot believe it's next week! Creating American food in Tonga will be quite the creative task, but we're up for the challenge (Example: We were able to find a turkey down in Nuku'alofa and have it brought up on a boat... Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without a turkey. Unless you're vegetarian, and let's be real - your chances of finding a Tofurkey in Tonga are less than the probability that it snows here on Christmas. But you never know.)
Nov. 23 (#46): Today we journeyed with Don, Norie and the rest of the Baha'i study group out to Keitahi Beach and kaitunu (roasted food) together. We had time to swim/snorkel in the ocean, learn more about the Baha'i faith and fellowship with each other while enjoying this beautiful place in which we live.
Nov. 24 (#47): It was a rainy Sunday in Vava'u. I woke up to the sound of the water hitting my tin roof. I smiled a lot because lots of rain means my water tank will be full! Rainy day mornings are so needed sometimes. I was able to take it slow this morning, read a lot, sip my coffee and feel almost cool again.
Nov. 25 (#48): Camp GLOW/GROW is a mere two weeks and our final local fundraising effort was tonight. We (the planning team) invited the entire island to come and drink kava with us at a hall in Neiafu. Sarah, Katie, Kate, Ayyamiha and I served kava to over 100 men. There was music, gossiping [the kind that men do] and lots of laughter.  I would have taken my camera with me, but my hands were full serving kava to so many men. This time I was only proposed to twice, sat next to a guy that looked like a Polynesian version of an Avatar character (he had a long rat-tail braid that went down half of his back) with the voice of James Earl Jones and I may have had a lively conversation with a Tongan Jimmy Buffet (complete with the over-the-top Hawaiian print button up shirt) who kept talking about fishing. Overall, a good night. So instead of including a picture of that, here's a picture of Touna playing with my watch. "Uasi 'ahai? Uasi 'ahai?" (Whose watch? Whose watch?) "Fakaofoofa 'a e uasi!" (Beautiful watch) ... I just love her curiosity!
Nov. 26 (#49): Today I was a wee bit sleepy from the late night Kava ceremony, but powered through anyway. I made sure to make some time to play with these little ones (Class 1 & 2 kiddos). In school we practiced Christmas songs, I worked on some more Camp GLOW/GROW preparation, went over to a friends' house and then ended the day at yoga class.

What's on the schedule for next week?
A Thanksgiving celebration, the beginning of the last week of the school year, more prep for Camp GLOW/GROW and being grateful for this magical little journey that we're all on together!
Do you have anything fun, interesting, and/or relaxing planned?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kid President + 20 Things We Should Say More Often

This video only took about an hour to download here in Tonga.
And it was so worth it.
These are some words we should live by.
Happy [almost] Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cool Yule [Mandy's Fourth Annual Christmas Album] + My Favorite Movie

It’s that time of the year again.

It’s the time where I can finally be honest and openly embrace my love of all things Christmas!

I'll start with this. Here is a still-shot from my favorite movie of all time.
Do you know what it is? It was the first EVER movie taped in Vista Vision. It was also taped in 1954.

[Cue big old multi-colored lights illuminating a 6 foot 2 inch balsam fir, snow falling softly through the windows, the smell of freshly baked sugar cookies tickling your nose hairs, a comfy oversized scarf, thick wool socks, fingerless gloves, red waffley-long underwear with white snowflakes and a little Bing Crosby on the record player]

I'm so excited you guys! 

(About as excited as these guys.)
Can I just say how attractive Danny Kaye is? He's a 1950's version of Conan O'Brien. Funny, tall, looks good in a suit.

 Even though I’ve been listening to Christmas music on the reg (regularly) since the beginning of October (That statement had to have elicited some major eye rolling from a certain percentage of the population currently reading this, but I don't care. Christmas music can turn just about any bad day on its head! It's better than ibuprofen, your libation of choice, a foot massage or any other self-soothing activity you may make during the next few weeks. Trust me. Plus, 3 out of 4 doctors agree.), I can now openly skip down the dirt road behind my house hand-in-hand with school children singing anything by Bing & Danny and it’s perfectly acceptable.

Actually, here in Tonga it was probably acceptable to do that in September, but now I could do it anywhere in the United States. Fist pump. Deep lunge with arms in the air!
Have I told you how I especially can't get enough of Danny.
Soooo good looking!

Friends, Family and other not-yet-but-definitely-someday-friends from the interwebs, it is time for your early Christmas gift… 

Mandy's Fourth Annual Christmas Compilation.

The title for this year's mix? A Cool Yule.

And aren't you lucky? You will be receiving this little gift right before Thanksgiving, which gives you enough time to download it, upload it to your iPhone/iPod/mp3 player of choice and have it ready for all your Black Friday shopping adventures. And if you aren't a fan of Black Friday and you'd rather sit in your pjs and order off of, donate money to a charitable cause (like this one, this one or this one) or something else that's cool, too.

Or maybe you could watch my favorite movie (after listening to the album, of course). Here's another picture. In case you have forgotten.
I think we all need to dance a little bit more!
Side note: I have no plans on stopping this little tradition any time soon and cannot wait until next year when I can get back to sending out actual CDs. It's one of my favorite things to do! Even if some day I get married and make a cute little family I imagine that this little tradition will continue on. Family photo? Yeah right. Here's a CD instead!

Ha. Anyhoo. The title: A Cool Yule.

Cool, Mandy?

The temperature here might be described as anything but cool (ha. I typed that as I watched beads of sweat develop on my forearms.), but it is a cool season. It doesn't matter where you live. The Christmas season reminds us to love big and be grateful for everyone and just about everything, be kinder than necessary, and to spread joy wherever we go! That's the plan here in my corner of the world. My students are almost done with school. We are practicing for the final day - singing Christmas songs (inspired by Glee mash-ups) and getting excited for summer break (I still feel weird typing that).

The track list: 
1. Main Title (Theme from Elf)
2. Cool Yule by Louis Armstrong
3. It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Andy Williams
4. Mele Kalikimaka by Bing Crosby
5. Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives
6. Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Kenny G
7. Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding
8. White Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald
9. Baby, It's Cold Outside by Zooey Dechanel + Leon Redbone
10. So This is Christmas by John Lennon + Yoko Ono
11. Do You Hear What I Hear? by Eclipse
12. We Three Kings by Claymation Christmas (1980's throwback)
13. Oh Holy Night by Pentatonix
 14. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Mannheim Steamroller
15. You Make it Feel Like Christmas by Neil Diamond
16. What Are You Doing New Years Eve? by Zooey Dechanel + Joseph Gordon-Levitt
17. Joy to the World [Remix] by Eye Hahvnoh EiDia

Total time you will be transported to the North Pole: 53 minutes and 20 seconds.

Gee whiz. That is exactly enough time to do one [or more] of the following:
- Bake a batch of sugar cookies, let them cool for 10 minutes, frost and eat them.
- Build a snowman with a corncob pipe and a button nose. (Bonus points if he has a scarf that is buffalo plaid)
- Write a letter to a friend or relative (or many!) that you haven't heard from and put it inside a Christmas Card (include some pine needles and a sprig of mistletoe).
- Put up the Christmas tree and get the lights on. (Put it on repeat so you give yourself ample time to put the cranberry garland on and ornaments)
Wrap 4 large presents, 3 medium-sized ones, and 5 small ones that are all awkwardly shaped. (Challenge: See if you can use only 4 pieces of tape per present.)
- Ice skate with a crush cutie under twinkle lights and then sit and sip home-made hot cocoa. (Red mugs make it taste better. Also, so does sharing the same mug.)
- Make a Santa Hat out of red felt and cotton balls. (Watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for pointers. Or just use Pinterest.)
- Buy a gift for a kid in need. Or maybe for 3 or 4 kids in need? (Please do not buy a Barbie or one of those weird babies that wets itself.)
- Have a dance party with a best friend. (Dress up in the Santa Hat you made or any red/green/gold you have! The addition of jingle bells will spice things up!)
- Learn the words to "A Night Before Christmas" (See if you can knock your voice down an octave. It makes you sound like Leon Redbone that way.)
- Watch the snow fall outside. (You could also go outside and catch snowflakes on your tongue)
- Cuddle up in front of the television/computer screen/movie viewing device and watch the first 53 minutes of White Christmas on mute. (You could count the number of turtlenecks that Vera Ellen wears in the movie. Seriously. She is NEVER not wearing one.)
Turtleneck #1: This actually looks pretty comfortable.
Turtleneck #2: Lots of lace!
Turtleneck #3: Flowy, sparkly and pink.
Turtleneck #4: Nothing like a little mustard.
Turtleneck #5: Just stylin'.
Turtleneck #6: That's a lot of sparkle right there.
Turtleneck #7: I would actually wear this one now.
Turtleneck #8: Iconic.
...and that isn't even all of them. 

A little back story about this year's album:
I don't like assigning themes when it comes to Christmas albums. I also don't really like listening to Christmas albums that are put together by just one artist/band (However, there are exceptions. Since you were wondering, they are: anything by Neil Diamond, anything by Bing Crosby, and anything by Mannheim Steamroller. That's it - it's a very short list.) In my opinion, the more eclectic the better. A special thanks to my sister who paid attention to this post last year and was able to unearth the craziest Christmas song I have ever heard (#17). Ever. It's played all over Tonga and my students love it so hard. I am still sitting comfortably on the fence regarding this mash-up, but it will forever remind me of my time here so I added it this year. You know, gotta spread some South Pacific love.
Color-coding for Your Listening Convenience:
The Classics: What would a Christmas album be without them? Chances are you know at least 87.43% of the songs coded green.
The Newbies [otherwise known as the slightly-more-obscure-but-equally-as-awesome]: I'm a teacher and my job is to reveal new + interesting information. You don't have to like them, but if there is a particular one that tickles your fancy then I have done my job. It should be noted that my taste in music is... unique. It is most definitely a little bit different than what you'll hear in department stores. These choices aren't going to be found on the radio station that plays Christmas music 24/7. They also sometimes include memories and long forgotten tunes that were popular when stone Pogs, Mouse Trap, Lisa Frank, Walker: Texas Ranger and Steve Urkel were cool.

If you have read all the way to this point in this post then bravo. Good on you.
Here we go, people.
Go ahead. Unlock the magic.

In all seriousness, thank you for reading my blog. You all bring so much joy to my life and I am so grateful to know you [even if we haven't met in real life!].  

Kilisimasi fiefia! (Merry Christmas!)

Check out the album from last year: "Make the Season Bright" 
It even includes a song from this movie.
Sometimes I wish I was alive during this time period. Such cool clothing!
**If you did choose to download this and really want to be placed on the list for 2014 [when I will be returning to hard copy] then either comment on this post, shoot me an email or message me on Facebook.**

Life According to... [Volume 3]

This segment of Life According to... follows 1-year-old Gloria and what I've learned from hanging out with her.

When I arrived in Tonga, Gloria was just a little peanut. Her parents (Moala and Neru) would carry Gloria wherever they went. They lovingly nicknamed her "the tornado" because every time they'd put her down she would get into things... and most times make a big mess. Gloria has since learned to walk and begun to talk. Her parents are hoping she will be tri-lingual someday (speaking Tongan, English and Samoan). Gloria is one of those little girls that makes her presence known wherever she goes. She's spunky and sassy and it's been such a blessing to watch her personality develop over the last year.

 5 things I've learned from Gloria:
1.  Stay curious! Sometimes it's just so much fun to sit back and watch her explore. I wonder what goes on in her little head.
 2. Enjoy eating! Enjoy the little things! Gloria enjoys most of what she does and it shows. She almost always has a smile on her face and is enjoying whatever it is that she is doing.
 3. Life is juicy. And not just when we eat our food.
4. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and walk some and write some and sing and dance and play some. Here she is enjoying eating papaya and making sure that I'm enjoying it too.
 5. A little dirt don't hurt. A little dirt can be a lot of fun.

Thank you, Gloria!
Until next time!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

5 Mantras to Help You Survive Your First Year in Peace Corps

Now that the new group of Peace Corps Volunteers has arrived and is settling at their sites I can't help but think about how tough the first few months as site were and what kept me "swimming" (yep. I used a Finding Nemo reference). I know that some of the new PCVs read my blog and here is what I have to say to you. There is a chance that you will not experience any homesickness, you will breeze right through the integration process and you will never have a really rough day. If that happens... I applaud you. But for the 99% whose reality is not that, maybe you could check this out and remember that you aren't alone.
I think these 5 little sentences helped pull me out of some really dark spots. It's been so cool to look back and see how much things have changed around me and how much my attitude has changed too.

And if you aren't in Peace Corps, well maybe they can help you through a tough spot in your life? 

 Maybe not.

Here are the mantras:
Just do it. If given the choice to retreat or to do something scary, choose scary. Immersing yourself in the unknown builds character and introduces you to newness which can be fun and exciting.
A negative mind will never give you a positive life. You have to train your brain to be a "glass-half-full" type sometimes. It comes with practice. It isn't always easy.
Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. Have a bad day? or three? Remember that tomorrow is a new day. Maybe pull away and watch a couple episodes of Friends and drink some tea. Tomorrow you will get back on your feet and rock it.
I can do this. You can. Even if you think you can't. And if you can't? Well maybe you learned something along the way.
Mistakes are proof that you are trying.  Language mix-ups, culturally inappropriate choices, said the wrong thing? We learn from our mistakes. If we didn't make them then life would be no fun. Sometimes mistakes make us laugh and remind us to sit up and pay attention.

Happy Friday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

20 Interesting Facts About Mandy

It's occasionally fun to participate in trends on the internet and I love me some interesting trivia bits and factoids. Couple that with living in the South Pacific and I realized recently that I've picked up some unique habits and interests over the last year.

20 Interesting Facts about me: 
1. Whenever anyone calls me "Amanda" (my given name) I think I'm in big trouble. Seriously. I've never ever been called that name. Not that I can remember anyway.
2. My feet are naturally really wide, but I'm pretty sure that they have grown even wider after living in flip flops everyday.
These are not my feet. These are gorilla feet, but probably just as wide.
3. I love dogs, but am really scared of them. It seems that each time I think I am getting over it some incident renews my fear. Tongan dogs have "attack" imbedded into their DNA.
4. Bananas are my favorite fruit. Papaya, to me, smells like farts. Mangoes are good as long as they aren't too ripe. Passion fruit is a lot like pomegranate, but I much prefer pomegranate. 
5. I have an obsession with [almost] all things Christmas. I usually start listening to Christmas music mid-September. But come December 26th? Turn off the Yuletide tunes, please. And take down the tree.
6. Referring back to #5, the only Christmas thing I'm not on board with is Santa Claus. I'm really really afraid of him. My family finds this really funny. I think this is due to the fact that I was not a very sweet kid and that shopping mall Santas are just creepy.
Exhibit A. Seriously? Why? Just why?
7. I have a very weak stomach. I believe that some people here think that I am puke loi (faking sick), but it's the truth. This means that I suffer motion sickness more than most and I have to be careful with what I eat. My stomach bug count in Tonga to date? Too many to's well over 15. I'm fairly certain that I have some sort of food allergy but I'm not sure what it is.
8. One of my most favorite things in the world is to be cold and living in Tonga has provided me with a renewed appreciation for -40 degree winter weather in Wisconsin. I'd trade in sweaty back for numb toes any day.
9.  I'm realizing that I am most happy when I'm around kids (teaching, playing, hanging out), making art and/or taking pictures.
10. I feel prettiest when I'm in yoga pants and a flannel. With no make-up. And my glasses.
11. I don't tell my parents how much I love them as often as I should and how much I appreciate my up-bringing. I want to get better at this.  Love you, M & D!
12. To gauge my stress level I just have to look at my nails. I'm a horrible nail-biter and have tried to fix this (foul smelling fingernail polish, sitting on my hands, manicures, etc.) but haven't found a cure yet.
13. One of my many dreams is to become a children's book illustrator. Other dreams include: National Geographic photographer, sailor, yoga teacher, Christmas tree farm owner, and coffee shop barrista.
I just think it would be cool to hang around Christmas trees all day and help families pick out something that is going to help make a lot of really sweet memories.
14. I like the Carpenters and Neil Diamond more than someone my age should or would care to admit.
I think we should all choose to sparkle just like Neil. That's some glittery goodness right there.
15. Here is a list of things that people usually like that I do not like: beach vacations, tilt-a-whirls, pedicures, pastel colors, NFL football (except the Green Bay Packers... but really I just prefer to watch college football), beer [most of them], nail polish, socks, and horses. 
16. My favorite thing to eat in Tonga is fresh fruit. It feels the best in my stomach and I tend to not get too sick when I eat it. My co-workers believe that I'm allergic to "all Tongan food" since I get sick so often so I get a lot of cookies sent my way.
17. My best friends live all over the world (Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and England).
18. I don't know how to drink drinks with ice in them. It's just an awkward mess and I end up dribbling all over myself.
19. Diet Dr. Pepper gives me the hiccups. Every. Time.
20. I tend to over-think life (the day-to-day stuff), but when it comes to BIG decisions (moving across the country, joining the Peace Corps, buying a car) I tend to make them really quickly. 

What about you? What's something unique about you?

finally... a smile!

i finally got little kalo to smile in a picture... and here's the proof!