water aerobics

January 29, 2017

Before heading back to Boston, I visited my aunt and uncle in Florida. One of my favorite moments happened during a water aerobics class with A. Kelly (which we didn’t think would be much of a workout but it turned out to be both a workout and entertainment): While kicking around in circles on a ball, I got an episode of the giggles, couldn’t stop laughing, tipped off my ball, and swallowed some water. The older, more experienced ladies liked to show me how to do moves correctly, which also gave me the giggles. If you ever get the chance, go to water aerobics in a retirement park in Florida; you won’t be disappointed (unless you’re a grumpy person and/or embarrassed of looking silly).

On this trip I LOVED driving out to the tiny rural towns of Sebring and Avon Park to visit some friends from my mission. Waldir joined us for the weekend and on Saturday we celebrated his birthday by going to the beach and meeting up with friends. After the beach, A. Kelly & U. George cooked a special birthday dinner for Waldir, we had flan for dessert, and then Waldir opened presents. Sunday, Waldir and I went to church and visited more mission friends. It’s a blessing to still be connected to many people from my mission. As I showed Waldir around places where I spent so many days knocking doors, I felt so much love. Driving by all those orange groves in the beautiful Florida countryside had me waxing nostalgic. I truly loved my mission and I love the people I met. I wish I could go back and live one of those days again.

the duck at zumba

January 3, 2017

Hello and Happy New Year! Highlights of the last week of 2016:

-Visiting the pyramids at Teotihuacan with in-laws.

-Visiting a neighbor’s cat, Coco, whom I love dearly. He’s white with one hazel eye and one blue eye. I met Coco after the neighbor rescued him from the street a year ago. He sleeps on the roof of the house and I like to go find him in the mornings to say hello. He can’t jump from the roof to the street because it’s too high, so I hold up my arms toward the roof, he crawls down my arms, greeting me with a kiss on the nose, and purrs as I hold him. After a few minutes, I hold my arms back up toward the roof and he goes back to his spot.

-Attending the Mexico City temple with Waldir and feeling an outpouring of love and gratitude for Jesus Christ.

-Attending El Rey León (the Lion King) musical in Mexico City. We found a deal for tickets and although we didn’t get to sit together, we were in the 5th row! I loved that I could see the details of the costumes and the facial expressions of the actors. The Lion King speaks to my soul, and I was so happy to be seeing the musical that I cried a little during the opening number (I was definitely having a spiritual moment). I loved the performance, and so did Waldir! Plus it was fantastic to hear it in Spanish.

-The Flores side of the family rang in the new year with a BANG. But the New Year’s Eve party only went until 4 a.m. (not 6 a.m. like last year). Around 11:30 p.m. I decided to take a nap but by the time I got up at 2:00 a.m. ready to party, the rest of the crew was winding down. Waldir and I danced salsa and bachata for a few songs but he was exhausted. By 3:30 a.m. the entire family was slumping or sleeping on couches and chairs.

-Speaking of dancing: this morning, my mom-in-law, sister-in-law, and I went to the local park and joined an outdoor Zumba class, which was a blast even though I couldn’t keep up (the instructor started filming us live-stream on facebook and I was not happy—people who saw that gringa in the back must have thought, “What is she doing?” The answer is: I don’t know). Anyway, funny story: Throughout this class there was a duck hanging out right by the speaker. He just sat there and enjoyed the music, I guess. Periodically throughout the class, the instructor used an ipad to change the song. At the end of the class the instructor picked up the ipad to choose a slow song for us to cool down; he set the ipad back down and started dancing, and we followed. Suddenly as we started dancing to this song, the music changed—we looked toward the speaker where the duck was, and low and behold: that duck was pecking the ipad and CHANGING THE MUSIC! Apparently he was content with a faster song by Shakira. He moved his wings as if he were dancing, then turned around to watch us finish our class! I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t there. One of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life.

Here’s to 2017! I’ll take as many cute cats and ducks and happy musicals as I can get this year.

Powder Mountain

In November, Waldir and I celebrated Thanksgiving, Dad’s and my birthday, and Christmas with the Carson side of the family in the mountains (Powder Ridge) in Utah (we combined holidays since we won’t all be together again this year). We enjoyed a warm little condo and the scenery of heavy snow fall outside. I convinced certain (brave) family members to bundle up, put boots on, and come outside with me for daily walks. I also held “Jenna aerobics,” which no one participated in, but Kaitlin played obnoxious music (think A*Teens) for me while I jumped around, and I caught Shalane filming me while doing jumping jacks and tae bo moves. That little stinker put the video on her snap chat with the captain: “I thought this was vacation.” I’m glad I at least provide entertainment. Shalane did join me for yoga. Tyler only wanted to do yoga long enough for me to fly him in the air for bird pose. I’ve got a video of him *almost* falling on me—ask Shalane to send you that video for a laugh.

During this much-appreciated break and family time, we mostly played card and board games—the Carson thing to do. I wanted to re-watch all the Harry Potter movies but we only watched two (HP 1 and the last HP) because we were busy playing games. Some Carson favorite games right now are any version of Ticket to Ride, Play Nine, and Hand and Foot. We gifted Dad the game Exploding Kittens, which was a hit.

United Nations

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September 2016

I was humbled and grateful to attend the UN High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace with four other HDS students and an alumnus. We represented Harvard and the Religions and Practice of Peace initiative. You can read our joint report here.

By far my favorite part was a panel titled ““The Role of Youth in advancing the Culture of Peace.” I loved hearing from and meeting Mr. Ahmed Alhendawi, the UN Secretary General’s very first Envoy on Youth. He speaks with conviction and urgency. I believe he’s doing some fantastic work in this world.

I liked his urgency because while virtually all of the diplomats proclaimed the importance of peace and the evils of violence, only a handful of representatives named a concrete project instituted in their country that worked to alleviate human suffering. I had hoped to leave the forum with new ideas of what to do in order to improve the well-being of oppressed individuals living in nations rife with conflict; upon leaving, however, I had more questions than answers. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing—questions are vital—but I want to learn details about how leaders from various sectors might effectively come together to respond to dire needs of millions of people living in, and working to escape, areas of conflict. Escalating crises in the Middle East continue to call for the special attention of leaders committed to uniting across disciplines—and across cultural, racial, religious, and linguistic differences—in order to not only speak to, but also respond to, blatant violations of human dignity.

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Eating Vegan in Mexico

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Breakfast at a juice bar/taco restaurant with Aunt Carmen, Uncle Carlos, Elii, Emma, and Dafne.

Before Waldir and I traveled to Mexico to spend a month with his side of the family, we sat down to have a conversation about food with my in-laws via Skype. They were worried because Waldir had mentioned, in a previous conversation, that I’d become vegan. They didn’t know what that meant and what sort of food I’d be eating, so I explained what vegan means and then asked them to please not worry about feeding me. At the same time, I realized they were going to worry no matter what, because as our soon-to-be hosts, they wanted to make sure everyone would be comfortable.

“We need to make compromises on both sides,” said Waldir—which meant that I would sit down at the dinner table while the family ate animals, and in return, the family would not expect me to eat what they eat. Edgar, my father-in-law, promised me that the family would not be offended when I said “no, thank-you” to dishes they cooked.

With that in mind, I said “no, thank-you” often in Mexico. And my family, extended family members included, took it pretty well. There were a few funny comments that took me by surprise, like, “You need to eat! What are you going to do when you want to get pregnant? You need to be strong to get pregnant!” (as if me not eating animal products means that I’m not eating and that I’m not strong). But no one shoved food down my throat, disowned me, or got terribly offended. My mother-in-law, Lili, repeatedly went out of her way to help me eat well. On Christmas Eve, she made two pies: a traditional pineapple pie with cream cheese in it (a favorite in the family) and a pineapple pie without cream cheese so that I could enjoy a dessert. I didn’t ask for that; she just did it out of love. A few weeks later she surprised me by bringing home large quantities of vegan food for me from a special vegetarian restaurant.

When a few friends invited us over to eat, Waldir warned them that I don’t eat anything from an animal. Then I learned surprising things about our friends: they had also, for a time, eliminated animals from their diet! The Camarillo family ate vegetarian for about a year in order to cure a stomach illness that one of them had. Leti explained to me, “We loved it! We felt so good! Our skin and hair glowed.” But it was hard, she added, so they didn’t stick with it. “I would like to go vegetarian again someday,” she explained. Leti made potato tacos for us with different salsas and lettuce and cucumber on the side. It was one of the best vegan meals I’ve eaten.

A few days later at Franco and Perla’s home (other dear friends who invited us to dinner) we arrived to a colorful vegan spread on the table: lentil salad, quinoa, lettuce, nuts and cranberries, strawberries and blueberries. Perla explained that she changed her diet a few years ago, eliminating animal products, in order to get pregnant. It worked. Her baby is 18 months old now.

Not every day went as smoothly. Restaurants could be a little tricky; sometimes waiters seemed confused when I asked them to serve me something without cheese and with beans instead of meat. I asked for modified dishes and repeatedly explained: No carne, no pollo, no crema, no queso. No meat, no chicken (in Mexico, chicken is not considered meat), no cream, no cheese. Things turned out funny sometimes, like when I asked for a burrito with beans inside and instead the waiter brought me a burrito with only shredded lettuce and tomato inside. Both Waldir and I explained again that I wanted beans, so the waiter returned with a tiny spoonful of beans beside the burrito. We explained a third time. “She wants beans instead of meat; she doesn’t eat meat. Her meal is going to be beans, lots of beans, instead of meat inside the burrito” said Waldir. This all felt rather awkward, because the exchanges of plates had taken place over a 15 minute period, and my family had almost finished eating. The waiter once again whisked the plate away as I, embarrassed and frustrated with my face rapidly turning read, stared down at the table. “Never mind,” I said, shaking my head, “it’s fine.” I thought the waiter had taken the plate away for good because he was angry. But five minutes later, he returned with beans inside the burrito. “I’m sorry about that,” he said, “I didn’t understand.” I’m still confused about that misunderstanding (I thought we made it clear). Learn from my experience–when you go to Mexico, be prepared: bean burritos aren’t a thing there.

In general, though, subbing beans for meat in dishes at restaurants wasn’t a hassle. And outside of restaurants, I was surprised to discover that eating vegan in Mexico was far easier than eating vegan in other places I’ve lived, because the produce is much more affordable, abundant, and better tasting. The fruit is ripe, juicy, and sweet. The vegetables are fresh and flavorful.

Enjoying ripe, delicious produce in abundance was a highlight of my time in Mexico. Waldir and I loved to go walking in the morning and then stop at a local juice store to purchase fresh squeezed juice or smoothies for about $1 a liter. When we didn’t go to our favorite juice stand, I made my own smoothies in the morning: almond milk, spinach, bananas, and frozen berries blended together.

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On the way to the Mexico City temple one day, I was hungry but we didn’t have time to stop anywhere. Instead, when we were stuck in traffic, Waldir rolled down the car window and purchased a bag of freshly picked mandarin oranges (with beautiful green leaves and stems still attached to the fruit and poking out of the bag). I happily peeled the fruit and ate it on the way to the temple.

My mother-in-law made rice, beans, and fresh salsa that I stuffed inside tortillas. She cooked nopales (cactus) that I ate inside tortillas, too. She took me to the market and I picked out ripe fruits. I walked the streets of Mexico City, passing vendors selling fresh fruit cocktails and smoothies, and bought a cup of freshly sliced mangoes for $1.

We went to a popular chain restaurant called “La Casa de Toño” and I ordered vegetable pozole (broth with mushrooms, pumpkin flowers, and corn) and a no-cheese quesadilla with pumpkin flowers inside. In Cuernavaca, we went to a taco restaurant and I ordered a huge plate of grilled veggies—mushrooms, peppers, onions and pineapple—and ate the veggies in tortillas with copious amounts of salsa. I drank cucumber water. Also in Cuernavaca, I went jogging with some of my cousins in the morning and then feasted on ripe, juicy, yellow mangoes from a local fruit stand. Waldir even ate fruit for breakfast, too. “I’m only eating this because I’m sick,” he assured me, which made me laugh (he would have been eating carne asada for breakfast had he not been sick).

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When we visited Aunt Carmen and Uncle Carlos in Querétaro, Aunt Carmen prepared a vegetable soup and stir fry for lunch. And she and tío Carlos took us to breakfast at a local juice bar because “Jenna likes to eat like that.” I ordered a big fruit smoothie and tacos with mushrooms and cactus inside.

I realize that cooked cactus and pumpkin flowers might not sound appetizing to you, but let me tell you: it’s good stuff. The whole country could go vegan and live off these foods without missing out on a thing. Now that I’m back in Boston, I feel like I’m definitely missing out. And I don’t have any cacti or pumpkin flowers to cook. I can’t find a ripe, juicy mango at the grocery store.  A liter of fresh fruit and veggie juice would cost me $12-14 (I’m not kidding) and I don’t have that kind of money to spend on juice.

Mexico, I miss you. You are a vegan’s paradise. I will love you forever.

Family, I miss you even more. Thanks for spoiling me and for being so kind and respectful, for caring for me and providing me with abundant, nutritious food.

Thanksgiving & 25th Bday in Michigan

Aunt Kelly & Uncle George invited Waldir and me for Thanksgiving, so we took a road trip to Michigan. The 15 hour drive was worth it! We love our family! ❤

The day before Thanksgiving, we went to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and admired its exhibit of Christmas trees decorated to represent countries and traditions from all over the world.

I also especially enjoyed the “tropical gardens” room (which felt like a jungle–a welcome climate change for a moment!), the Christmas train tracks, and Leonardo da Vinci’s horse sculpture.

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My cousin Tyson came home for Thanksgiving day and George Sr. also came over and we enjoyed a delicious meal together. I made three vegan dishes: stuffing, green bean casserole, and sweet potato casserole. The green beans were my favorite–Waldir and I loved this recipe so much that I made it again this week.

On Black Friday we had breakfast with Aunt Laurie, Uncle Brian, cousins Jacqueline and Luke, and Grandpa–but we didn’t take pics! Shame on us! We love you guys! ❤

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For my 25th birthday on Saturday, Waldir surprised me with 75 balloons, which he stayed up late into the night to fill–and when a few of them started exploding around 1 a.m., everyone woke up except Tyson. Oopsy! It was pretty funny. 😉

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In the morning, we visited my great Aunt Rose and cousin Julie + her boyfriend Joe (I wanted to take Smokey the cat, the little cutie I’m holding in the pic, home with me!).

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We enjoyed a lovely, quiet day watching some college basketball (go Spartans!), taking a walk in the woods, and bringing in some firewood for the fireplace.

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Uncle George made veggie & tofu curry for dinner, and afterwards we had vegan chocolate cake with almond milk–let me tell you, this cake is to die for (you should make it!)–and Skyped with Momzie & Dadzie while opening gifts.

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Family: thank you so much for having us, for loving on us, and for sharing the holiday together. 🙂 ❤

Salem

We headed over to Salem a few weeks before Halloween. The little town was packed (that’s how it is on a Saturday in October) and it was freezing outside, but the sun shone brightly and we ventured around happily with mittens and hats on. We loved exploring the House of the Seven Gables (a mansion built in 1668–my favorite part was the “secret staircase,” and I also loved the black cat hanging around outside) and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace.