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    How to make a pre-teen cringe

    October 15th, 2022

    Storm: Mom, I’d really like to watch Top Gun

    Me: The new one or the original?

    Storm: The new one

    Me: I’m not sure if watching the original first is necessary to make sense of it

    Storm: That’s fine.

    Me: I think the original has a sex scene in it though

    Storm: Mom, you know, you can fast forward through that

    Me: Huh… so you can watch people do it faster?

    Storm: [looks at me with discomfort and disbelief]


    It’s official — I’ve been surpassed

    July 4th, 2022

    Let it be known, that as of this week G is officially taller than me.

    I knew this day would come.

    …also, the “You’re short!” jokes have commenced.


    Colombia Trek

    December 30th, 2021

    Several years ago, I worked at SolarCity. On the first day of onboarding, we were presented a video of a sister-company to SolarCity: GivePower. GivePower was founded by one of the Sr. executives at SolarCity, with a mission to deliver sustainably-generated power to parts of the world without access. Today, in addition to power, GivePower also brings clean water to regions around the world as well, by setting-up solar-operated de-salination systems. Employees of SolarCity were occasionally invited to join treks. I remember seeing the video thinking what an amazing experience that would be, and how much I wish I could do it some day. Frankly, though, as much as I wanted it, I knew the reality of being invited to go would be so super, super slim.

    Fast forward to now. I happen to work for another company started by the same founders, so GivePower is still part of the family. In October, I got an email in my inbox, which I almost didn’t open. Looked like some HR marketing, so I had half a mind to just trash it. However, something told me to just read it. And the email went something like this:

    I get the pleasure of informing you that you have been chosen by your management team to be part of the next GivePower Trek.

    My manager nominated me! With Covid back on the rise, etc. I was worried the trek actually wouldn’t happen, so I didn’t talk about it much — I didn’t want to jinx it. Even the day before we left, it was still feeling out of reach. I just rolled with it, not believing it would happen until the flight took off.

    Now that I’m back, and it really happened, I can share more about it. Read below and pair with these photos and a few video clips. While 90% of these are mine, I shamelessly stole some videos and pics from friends to tell the complete story. A professionally shot video of our trip will come later (probably around February?).

    Where we went

    This trek was to the La Guajira region in Colombia. La Guajira is located in the north-eastern part of the country, bordering Venezuela. Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries on Earth, having everything from rainforests to deserts. La Guajira was desert, so hot (93 daily while we were there), but also very windy (which, thankfully, made the heat much less noticeable).

    The region is habited by the Indigenous Wayuu, who have lived in this area for centuries. Fun Fact: when Columbus arrived to the Americas, the Wayuu was actually the peoples he encountered.

    Much of the Wayuu-populated areas are still lacking in power and running water. As a result, the Wayuu sustain themselves through goat-farming and arts and crafts. Though these are the primary, practical economic means of survival, the Wayuu are very proud of their heritage and make a big point of passing their skills through their generations. More on the Wayuu later…

    I won’t lie: when I heard that this community lived without power and running water, my brain stereotypically assumed that their knowledge of the world would be restricted and limited. However as we drove up to the school (that housed us for our stay), there was a big-arse tower not even a mile away. I asked about it, only to hear “Oh ya, that’s the local cellular provider”. Many of the kids at the school had phones… and spent their free time on TikTok. Several of the desert homes we passed had satellite dishes. While there was no regular power, several homes had purchased generators, that they operated for important soccer (ah-hmn football) games. Priorities ;p

    Our trek’s mission was to install a 6-panel solar array at Cabo De La Vela’s main school. The school has 500 students, 100 of which live on-campus through the school year. The system we set up was actually the second on this site. The first was setup in Feb 2020 and powered the Information room. The Colombian government had issued laptops to the school, but without power, they weren’t very useful. The second system: the one WE setup helped power the dorms, and the kitchen, giving the kids light at night and helped power a fridge and a freezer (which GivePower also donated). Access to refrigeration is huge! Now kids could have greater access to fruits and vegetables: something difficult in the desert, where 1) getting these products is difficult with nearest market being 1.5 hours away, and 2) it spoils quickly. I’m excited to say that with the work we did, we not only expanded the education time for these kids (in giving them ability to study after dark), but also made their lives a tiny little bit healthier.

    11 people across our company were selected for this trek. It was really, really great to get to meet and know some of my co-workers better, and actually even learn what some of the roles these people represented did better. We worked, traveled, slept, ate together for the whole time we were there.

    Our days were divided between work & community engagement. We’d work for half the day, and then participate in either a field trip, or some other community interaction.

    About the work

    Each day we would split into 2-3 teams. I mostly spent time on the electrical team. It was indoors, so my whitey skin was happy with this plan. Also, it seemed really interesting, plus I figured I’d get to learn a later-usable skill. We ran piping through the dorms, kitchen and dining area. Ran wires through the pipes. Stripped said wires, and then connected them to junction boxes where we setup light switches and bulbs. I also helped stencil the logos of the contributing companies on the walls.

    Outside, over the course of the 4 days, the teams dug ditches, setup the ground-mounted system, and mounted the panels. They also setup the batteries and main control system.

    On the last day, we had a Lighting Ceremony, where we turned the power on for the first time. Until then, no one had seen any of the lights working (except, of course the lead coordinator, who was checking through everything to make sure it all worked). I won’t lie — I was super nervous about the switch and part of the system *I* put together. What if it was the part of the system that didn’t turn on? What if I messed it up and it shorted the entire system? It was indeed a proud moment to see it work, and work well. I took a picture with my switch ;p

    The 11 of us were guided through our daily tasks by 3 trek leaders, and 2 professional electricians. Neither electrician spoke any English. I was grateful for the few members of my electrical team that knew some Spanish, or in case of Ali, was their first language and could relay the instructions. Highly entertaining to watch 2 professionals squirm as we struggled to do basic tasks — you could tell on occasion they just wanted us out of the way because they could do the work SO much faster. For the half of the days were were doing tours, or playing with the kids, we’d come back the next day and see the two of them accomplish twice the work that 11 of us took in the first part. Where we probably legit helped them most was in the ditch digging and heavy lifting.

    A bit of a frustrating point was the limited number of tools. Two ladders for the entire team. Two drills. It absolutely would have made us more effective if we had more of these tools. The outside team also had a total of two picks. Turned out this was all purposeful: swinging too many of these around is a dangerous hazard, and I guess the scarcity did force rest for each of us as we took turns.

    Days outside of working

    For the portions of the day we weren’t working, we either engaged with the kids and staff on site, or had a field-trip to the regions.

    The on-campus activities included a bon-fire night, during which the students and teachers told us folk-tales of their culture; playing traditional games, or seeing a presentation from a local artisan about their hand-made crafts.

    The games were a riot. There was a “car” race, where we pushed hand-made cars to the fence and back. The cars were made by cutting the indigenous cactus down, and in the middle carving out the cactus meat, revealing just the reed center. Not to brag, but in my cohort group I came in second.

    After the group performance at the bean-bag race (see video) the staff decided NOT to have us directly participate in the traditional wrestling games. I think that was for the best!

    One of the afternoons we just got to hang out with the girls still on campus. It was neat to hear them talk about what they wanted to do after graduation, though paired with their cognizant reality that going to college was an activity few of them would likely be able to achieve. Many Wayuu don’t travel much farther than Riohatcha and getting to go to the University there is no easy achievement. Still the girls had important basics down: study hard and don’t get pregnant — words of wisdom anywhere.

    I also met an infant howler monkey. His name is Tata. Sadly, Tata was present because his mom (the family pet) recently passed away, and he wasn’t eating. His family was keeping a close eye on him, trying to get him to eat. Watch the video for some adorable Tata sounds. I can definitely see why they’re called howler monkeys.

    Our adventures off campus included a trip to Cabo de la Vela beach, a visit to the first school in the region GivePower installed solar to, a hike up El Pilon de Azucar, and another hike to Piedra Tortuga. At the beach we did go in the water, which was lovely, warm and shallow. We later learned that most locals consider that crazy because of all the jellyfish. Happily we didn’t see any until after we left the water. Something did get me in there though because coming out I had some bright red patches on my feet. Luckily nothing itched, pained or swelled. The lead trek guide gave me a lot of cautious side eye all evening. I did confirm with my squad that someone was going to have to take one for the team and help me out, Friends-style, if things took a turn for the worse. Spoiler: They didn’t! However, the experience did make me reflect on the Travel Clinic consultation where the doctor pretty much listed the 20+ ways I could die on this trip, from small, invisible virus and bacteria, to the venomous deep-water jellyfish. I swear she has the best job! We spent some time enjoying watching the wind-surfers, the beautiful sunsets and the local beer (or in my case a delicious soda called Columbiana).

    Night-time on site was beautiful. No power = little light pollution, so the skies were something amazing. You can see the Milky Way with the naked eye and shooting stars every so often. It was incredible, and something I tried (but failed) to capture!

    Getting to Cabo De La Vela & Living on-site

    Travelling to Santa Marta took 3 flights and 15 hours of travel. From there, we had a 3-hour bus ride to Riohacha. We spent the night at Riohacha. It was our last night sleeping horizontal (until we got home), and access to a shower with water coming out of a faucet. We had an afternoon of sightseeing on the main beach-front area and having a dinner together, getting to know each other.

    I guess for no better reason than “It was Sunday” there was a street party right outside of our hotel. People came out, listened to music, enjoyed each other’s company and danced. They asked us to join, which was super sweet and welcoming.

    The next day, we had a 3 hour trip to Cabo de la Vela, about half of which was off-roading through the desert. Traveling with large groups tip: I thought it was brilliant that we were assigned a vehicle. The entire time we were there we had the same drivers/cars. Anytime we had to go anywhere, that was your car. It made getting places so much faster: no one had to wonder which buddy they wanted to ride with. Also, though we’re all adults, we didn’t lose anyone either.

    Driving through the desert was a trip. No roads. No signs. I have no idea how anyone could get here without a guide. Probably explains how people get themselves lost enough and drive themselves into the ocean.

    Most Wayuu don’t have cars. They got around walking, biking, or using a motorcycle. We saw some…. interesting…. motorcycle arrangements. 4 family members on a single bike. Or a couple of riders with some ingeniously balanced products. Best thing which, sadly, I don’t have a photo of were goats on the motorcycles, as families were taking their goats to sell at market.

    We all slept together in the boys’ dorm. We slept in Chinchorros (big, beautiful, hand-made hammocks) during our stay. They were surprisingly comfy, and the tip we were given was to sleep at a diagonal, so that your body would be as horizontal as possible. Worked well, but I’m a side sleeper, and it wasn’t super easy to get to my side. Also, lemme tell you, with 19 people in that space (11 of us + 3 trek guides + 1 prof photographer + 2 cooks + 2 electricians) the snoring symphony was quite amazing. I can sleep through a lot, so it didn’t bother me as much, but it was def. difficult for some. Kindness note: for our stay, the local community lent each of us a Chinchorro to sleep in.

    Bugs were definitely a thing. Right after we arrived on-site, we had a little pow-ow that went like this:

    Ok guys, there are two bugs we want to talk to you about. 1) Before you get into your Chinchorro please check it for scorpions. Also before you put your shoes on, always shake them out to make sure no scorpions got in. You might also want to make sure your bags are zipped up; 2) These are really rare, and you’ll likely won’t see these, but watch out for escalopenas. What is an escalopena? Well, think part centipede, part scorpion, park demon. Their bite is bad enough that we’ll need to take you to a hospital.

    If you see photos of headlights looking at a Chinchorro, that’s illustration of the daily check. Good news: no scorpion encounters during our stay, and no one reported bringing home any unwanted bugs. Crazy news: those “rare” escalopena? We saw 5 during our stay. 2 of them found crawling on colleagues while they showered. The first one within hours of hearing about these creatures. I refused to shower in the dark after that event.
    The reality, however, is that these are the facts of living for the people that live here. I never realized how much brain-space caring about what could bite me/put me in the hospital at any given moment took up. Little elements like this type of basic safety I took for granted, because I didn’t know were a thing. Yet, this community has to take in consideration every day.

    Evenings were accompanied by mosquito serenades. Come 4am in the morning, when the desert heat would kick in I had to decide which was worse: the sticky heat or the mosquito bites. It was a continuous battle between blanket on or off. I’m sure the mosquitos were in heaven. They saw 19 people show up, put on their bibs and rubbed their little forelegs with a “Fresh blood!” battle-cry. Let’s just say I wore bug repellant day and night and was really, really happy that the Yellow Fever vaccine was mandatory.

    Speaking of showering (and using the toilets), as I mentioned there was no running water. We had access to delivered water that we could bucket-wash through, and use the same type of water to flush the toilets. Totally non-drinkable water. It was to be used externally only. I learned that you can have a surprisingly effective shower with very, very little water. I’m finding myself turning off the water mid-shower now that I’m back, so that it’s not running the entire time I’m in the shower.

    It was amazing to watch the group of girls fill-up and carry buckets of water from the school well (where non-potable water was delivered to) back to their dorm. Every kid had 2 hours of chores every day. This, being one of them. And here, at home, I can hardly convince the boys to put in their 5 daily minutes!

    Any of the water we drank was provided to us by the program, which in turn was generated by the solar-powered water system GivePower had setup the prior year. Anything we put into our mouth, really, had to be approved by the trek guides. Since our biomes were not acclimated to that region, all the food we ate had to be handled in a way that our poor, Gringo stomachs would not riot against. We made it with 0 incidents!

    Lighting Ceremony

    On the last day of work/on-site we had a Lighting Ceremony. The school gathered members of the community (teachers, staff, parents, students), their community leader to watch us turn on the lights in the dining area and dorms. The ladies were all given traditional Wayuu dresses to wear (which by the way are the bomb! light, breezy and comfortable) and our faces were painted with traditional Wayuu designs. Sadly (or maybe not?) the guys did not get to wear the traditional clothing, though I was really, really hoping I could sell our trek guides to get them to believe they had to.

    As a Thank You, the community made us a traditional dish of goat and arepas.

    More about the Wayuu…

    Our driver, Mario, married into the Wayuu community, so he was able to share a lot about Wayuu culture as we would ride to various activities. Here are some interesting things we’ve learned. Note, I’m totally taking the word of a single dude, and not researching separately to validate everything he said was true. So, take all this with as many grains of salt as you wish.

    The Wayuu live in tribes. Each tribe is led by a community leader and an “elder”. Each position can be held by either a man or a woman (Go Wayuu!). Gender doesn’t matter. However an attribute of selection seems to be age, as age suggests wisdom.

    When Wayuu would marry across tribes, the man would move to the woman’s tribe. Their community leader would show them were they could build their home. If for any reason their marriage didn’t work out, the dude would leave, but his ex/kids/home stay with her community.

    Historically, when a girl got her first period, she would isolate along with some of her female relatives, during which time they would teach her all the craft work the Wayuu are known for. Today, a year of isolation is no longer a thing (as they start teaching young girls traditional crafts much earlier), but for tradition, they would isolate for a month… just that first time.

    When a Wayuu dies, their bodies are buried. Historically, wrapped in the skin of a cow. These days, interred in a coffin. However, two years later, their remains are uncovered, so that their soul could be set free. The souls of the Wayuu ancestors go to El Pilon de Azucar before they pass on to the afterlife. It’s why that site has such spiritual meaning to these peoples.
    At El Pilon de Azucar there is a spot where you can leave an offering along with a bad thought. It was a beautiful and cleansing experience!


    Happy 11th Birthday Storm!

    November 1st, 2021

    This dude is 11! Can you believe it?

    He fully has his own sense of style and self. Last year on his birthday, he asked that he gets scavenger hunt clues for each of his gifts. THIS year he asked for a treasure map. I love that he looks to make things fun!

    • How old are you about to be?
      • 11?
    • What is you favorite color?
      • Black
    • Who are your good friends that you like to hang out with these days?
      • I have many. I can’t name them all
    • What do you like to do with your friends?
      • Play games.
        • Like what?
          • Video games
            • Do you have a favorite video game you like to play?
              • Minecraft
    • What is you favorite book?
      • The Splatoon series
    • What is your favorite movie or TV show?
      • Favorite TV show: the OWL House
      • Favorite movie…. I don’t have one
    • What is your favorite animal?
      • The Red Panda
    • What is your favorite food to eat?
      • Candy
        • What is your semi-nutritious food to eat?
          • Pizza
            • Sad marks to Mom that you’re marking pizza as semi-nutritional
    • What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
      • Oreo Cookies and Cream
    • What is your favorite toy?
      • Does my computer count?
    • What is your favorite outfit?
      • My pajamas and a t-shirt
    • What song do you love?
      • I don’t know
    • Who is your biggest hero?
      • Me, myself and I
        • Modest too!
    • What are you really good at?
      • Ignoring people
        • I was really expecting you to say something like drawing, or sculpting. Do you want to change your answer?
          • No!
    • Where do you wish you could go on vacation?
      • Maui
    • Tell me something that happened to you in the past year, that you wish could happen again?
      • Getting my second 5 star in Genshin. It’s an exciting experience.
    • What would you buy if you had $1000?
      • Nothing!
        • Say more. Why would you buy nothing?
          • Well, a $1000 at this rate wouldn’t buy you anything.
          • I couldn’t buy anything that I’d want.
            • What would you want?
              • A gaming computer! And an extra $1000 to give away to charity
                • What charity would you give it away to?
                  • Children’s Hospitals
    • If you could have a wish, what would it be?
      • That all pets could live as long as their owners
    • What do you want to do when you grow up?
      • A person that takes care of Red Pandas
    • What do you hope to do before you turn (X+1)?
      • I don’t know
    • What is a fun memory you have of the past year?
      • Playing games with friends
    • Give me a piece of advice…
      • Don’t spend money on stupid stuff

    Griffin’s a teen

    August 29th, 2021

    The house is pretty quiet right now with everyone still sleeping-in on a Sunday. But snoring quietly two rooms over is a teenager. It’s official. Today, Griffin is 13!

    In true teenager-wake-up style (which he’s been rocking all summer) I’d be amazed if he’s up before 10. Let’s see if I’m right 🙂

    • Do you know what the V stands for in your name?
      • Whatever I feel like
    • What do you wish it stands for?
      • I don’t know
    • What is you favorite color?
      • Blue
    • Who is your best friend?
      • I don’t know.
    • If you don’t have a single best friend, who are your several best friends?
      • Most of the kids at school and baseball?
    • Wanna give me some names?
      • No! That will take too long!
    • What do you like to do with your friends?
      • Play games
    • Which ones?
      • Play baseball, and then online games?
    • What are your favorite online games?
      • Minecraft
    • What is you favorite book?
      • Uh, don’t have a favorite book
    • What is your favorite movie or TV show?
      • Let’s see: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them
    • What is your favorite animal?
      • Don’t know
    • What is your favorite food to eat?
      • Pasta
    • What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
      • Cooking and Cream
    • What is your favorite toy?
      • My computer
    • What is your favorite outfit?
      • Pajamas
    • What song do you love?
      • The Nights
    • By Avicii?
      • Ya
    • Who is your biggest hero?
      • Don’t know
    • What are you really good at?
      • Games… or sports
    • Anything in particular you want to call out?
      • No
    • Where do you wish you could go on vacation?
      • Hawaii
    • What would you buy if you had $1000?
      • That’s not a lot of money in today’s currency, but sure, you keep thinking that.
    • Well it’s a lot of money for you
      • Ugh… pasta
    • You can buy a lot of pasta with a $1000!
      • Well, ya. Then I don’t have to wait for you to cook pasta, I can just BUY pasta
    • If you could have a wish, what would it be?
      • uhmn…Don’t know
    • What were you going to say?
      • Pasta!
    • Lol!
    • What do you want to do when you grow up?
      • Don’t know
    • What’s top of your mind, if you had to guess what job you would like to have?
      • Don’t know. That’s no where even close to my future, but oK
    • What do you hope to accomplish before you turn (X+1)?
      • Not get COVID!
    • So it’s a wish of non-wish, if you will?
    • Give me a piece of advice…
      • Uhmn… don’t drunk drive
    • That is actually a pretty good piece of advice.
    • Anything else you want to say for yourself?
      • Why am I doing this?
    • Because we do it every year.
      • Oh no!
    • It’s my tradition
      • Oh no! I don’t see your mom doing this
    • I know! I get to make my own traditions.
      • Oh, really? I wanna see your mom do this to you.
    • Ok! I’m happy if grandma do this with me
      • Ok cool!
    • I’d like to do that with her.

    It’s my fault

    May 20th, 2021

    Storm is having a bad day.

    It’s my fault.

    It’s my fault… because I gave birth to him.

    Ok… ya, that makes sense?


    I’ve been waiting 12 years to be asked this question

    May 20th, 2021

    I picked Storm up from school, and shortly after getting in the car, he asked me “Why is the sky blue?”

    I had to pause and double check if he was REALLY asking me this (because, no joke, I was waiting/preparing for the legit light refraction answer here this whole time).

    Later in the day, I was hanging out with Griffin and said:

    Me: You know…. your brother asked me a question today that I’ve been waiting 12 years to be asked

    Griffin (without missing a beat!!!): Are you really my mother?

    if your jaw is dropped, it’s ok — mine was too.


    Jelly

    May 7th, 2021

    Griffin: (lying in bed at 3pm, surrounded by cozy pillows, watching YouTube, and eating a snack) Mom! You too can be doing this if you had all your work done

    Me: (in my head) Jerk!


    My head’s under water and I’m feeling fine!

    May 1st, 2021

    Griffin (as he has his water bottle on his head): hey mom, look! My head’s under water… and I’m feeling fine!


    First Day of School smell

    April 10th, 2021

    Here we are: a year past school’s going remote w/ COVID shut-down. Now our school is re-opening for a hybrid in-class program, with Griffin and Storm going 2x a week (for a shorter in-class day).

    In preparation for a campus return there’s been a lot of parent community volunteering to make the necessary adjustments. Everything from marking off designated sitting spots in the lunch tables (6ft apart), to weeding overgrown yards, to disinfecting all surfaces. I mean, ALL surfaces. By the time we were done, each classroom smelled of Method. So, first day of school will now be linked to the aroma of a Method disinfectant bottle.

    Kids, 30 years down the line, if the smell of disinfectant brings you feelings of anxiety and anticipation, well… now you know why!