A Midsummer Day's Update

This summer has been a very different summer than last summer.  I knew it would be, but I hope readers can forgive the lack of updates since the first week I was here.  I'm halfway through my time in California this summer, and it seems fitting to share what a current "day in the life" is like.

Part of what makes this summer so much different from last summer is that I am working exclusively with the Puente Summer Youth.  Last summer, I was a volunteer, and anyone at Puente could ask me to do anything at any time.  The diversity of tasks I was assigned last summer was broad.  This summer, I really get to maximize my talents by working with the kids in a capacity similar to a summer guidance counselor and academic supporter.  Each of my days is filled with hour-long meetings with the students as individuals or in small groups.  I am charged with holding them accountable to completing their summer reading assignments, helping them draft (for most of them their first) resumes and cover letters, and offering academic supports in the present as well as in anticipation of the new school year.  My favorite part of meeting with the youth is getting to read to them.  Being read to as a child was something a loved.  I so valued those times when my parents would read to me at home and my teachers would read to me at school.  I loved reading to kids I would baby-sit as a high school student.  And now, I have the privilege of sharing those moments with the Puente youth.  I am up to my ears in books each night trying to read a little from each of their books so that I have some sense of the plot and can pick up with them when we meet in person, but it is so worth it.

In addition to meeting with the youth one-on-one or in small groups, I also meet with various Puente staff members and school officials from the local school district to make sure each of the students is uniquely served in the way that is most appropriate and helpful to them.  The relationship between the school and Puente is unique and almost fragile, but both organizations have the students' best interest in mind.  

Occasionally, I have the privilege of joining the students on field trips.  Last week, I led a field trip with the 14 & 15-year-old students to Facebook.  Facebook, through the good works of their employees Bryce and Angeline, does such an amazing job hosting student groups!  It was a fun trip, and the students learned a lot.  They also became very interested in pursuing internships with Facebook in the future.

Last Friday, we took the students to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and then to Cal State Monterey Bay for a college visit.  It was a long day, but hopefully the students learned something new and benefitted from the new experiences.

My day-to-day seems a bit uneventful to write about, but the meaningful parts are the relationships made along the way.  And hopefully the work that I've done for Puente this summer puts them in a better position to continue serving the students in the fall.  It's tough not having a school calendar that aligns with the students on the coast because my summer ends several weeks before theirs requiring me to leave in the middle of the work.  I don't like leaving a job unfinished, but I'm also looking forward to getting back to my own classroom.

A Busy First Three Days with the Youth

There has not been one dull moment or down time since bright and early Monday morning!  Puente's summer youth program kicked off this week with youth orientation for the students.  What I love about this program is that Puente not only finds paid employment for students, they also give them academic support and teach them all kinds of real world skills to make them better prepared for school, the workforce, and adulthood.

Monday, we began the morning with leadership training and TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, CA. This ranch has a leadership program for youth called Gallop Ventures where students learn about overcoming fears, the kind of energy we give off as humans, how we communicate verbally and nonverbally, and working together as a team.  This was an incredible experience because although many of the students live fewer than 10 minutes from the ranch (or some ranch), many had never interacted with a horse before.  Our first few moments in the arena with (trained) horses that could roam freely were full of anxiety and tension.  Not only were many of the students meeting new friend groups and being forced to mingle with new adults, we also asked them to be comfortable being approached by an animal that could weigh over 1,000 pounds.  The horses were incredible.  They were friendly, calm, and loving toward people.  By lunch time, the students were much more comfortable with the animals, and took turns leading them through a student-designed obstacle course complete with one right-turn, one left-turn, and one obstacle that the horse had to step over.  It was amazing to see the student-transformation from fear & anxiety to calm & confident.

After lunch at the ranch, we headed to YMCA Camp Jones Gulch were we continued orientation and spent the night in the camp cabins.  [In between the ranch and the camp, I also headed to El Granada/Half Moon Bay to meet my temporary landlord and get keys to the house I will be staying in.  My landlord is an amazing lady who does wonderful things for other people, for the environment, and for real estate.]  Back at camp, orientation continued with a conversation on power and stereotypes and what it means to be Latino/a.  It was an incredible conversation that I don't recall having until well into my collegiate career.  Part of the conversation included a focus on school power dynamics.  As a teacher, it was painful to listen to this conversation about how teachers and public schools abuse or misuse their power over students.  Despite knowing and having previously experienced these dynamics already, it was hard to listen and hear some of the students' experiences.  The conversation carried over to examples of power dynamics in whole communities and how the top 1% keeps the other 99% marginalized.  While these are things I try to introduce my own students to, I don't ever recall having these very important, challenging, critical conversations until I was much older in life.  (Perhaps my white privilege would not have allowed me to hear/understand anyway?)  This particular student group knows, understands, and lives the consequences of these power dynamics every single day.  We ended the night with s'mores around a campfire and general bonding time with one another.

The second day of orientation included a conversation about life after high school and understanding the academic world the students currently occupy.  Last summer, I did a workshop with the seniors on transparency, advocacy, and empowerment; this was an exercise in transparency.  Part of the role Puente plays for these students is helping them navigate academic systems including high school and college and the job-world.  The Academic Director works to make sure students can understand their transcripts, the options, the state graduation requirements versus the school's graduation requirements versus the requirements of a four-year university.  This morning presentation included a panel of newly graduated high school seniors, one of whom was my girl Daisy, reflecting on their experience in high school.  Repeatedly I got teary-eyed as I listed to Daisy talk about her challenges and offer advice to the other high school students about what to do/not do to be successful throughout high school.  She talked about how hard she had to work her senior year to make sure she satisfied all of the requirements to graduate.  While she is absolutely correct and honest about how hard she had to work and how many challenges she overcame in her last year of high school, I could not stop beaming with pride for her.  I love that girl to absolute pieces, and she did it!  She really did it!  After the high school panel, this morning session included a college panel with college students unlike those largely known by my Noblesville High School students.  All Latino/a, these students all had very atypical collegiate experiences, most beginning in community college and several getting stuck in a cycle of remedial courses and semesters of unnecessary coursework waiting for the courses they actually needed to have space for them.  They discussed financial challenges, academic challenges, housing challenges, familial challenges, and more.  It was such an insightful panel for me to listen to even as a volunteer because it illuminated for me yet another reason why Puente does the work that they do, and why I care to participate in that effort.

In the afternoon of this last day at camp, the students worked on a philanthropy training and got to experience the challenges of deciding where to give money when presented with a variety of non-profit organizations in which they could donate.  They were also given real money to collectively donate with a small group of their peers.  The organizations they had to choose from were Puente, the American Red Cross, El Teatro Campesino, Black Lives Matter, and a local food pantry.  Four out of the five students groups chose to donate to the American Red Cross citing that what they liked about the Red Cross is that they serve all people irrespective of their race, nationality, religion, etc.  They also liked that the Red Cross stepped in when unfortunate environmental circumstances forced dire straights on families.  I found this particularly interesting given each and every one of the students participating benefit from the services of a non-profit organization that specifically serves their families.  And while Puente does not discriminate, its aim focuses on Latino/as (primarily Mexicans) who are underserved, including specifically offering services in Spanish for non-English-speaking persons.  (Incidentally, the fifth group donated to El Teatro Campesino, but admitted later that they did not fully read the description of the organization and picked it because their group was an even tie between three of the choices.)  The philanthropy workshop concluded the second day of youth orientation.  We packed our belongings, cleaned our cabins, and took a bus back to Puente after that.

Today, the third day of orientation, included sex-education and a workshop on writing resumes and cover letters and participating in interviews.  (I taught the latter workshop, and the Public Health Coordinator at Puente taught the sex education class.)  The youth also got to meet the entire Puente staff today as well.  We concluded the day with Child Protective Services training provided by the mental health & wellness team of Puente's staff and also with etiquette and service training.  Many of the Puente students will be working at summer camps with younger children, which required the CPS training.  Others will be serving families and/or working in the Puente office, which required the service and etiquette training (on answering phones, what to do when you don't know the answer to someone's question, etc.)  Today was a reminder for me of how comprehensive Puente's summer youth program is.  As if the first two days of orientation didn't paint a clear enough picture, this third day extended the reminder.  This kind of comprehensive training, which my students likely take for granted or get taught by their families, is critical to being successful  as an independent adult.  I am so thankful for programs like Puente's that help fill in the gaps where families are not necessarily equipped to teach these skills.  To conclude my day, I met briefly with the Executive Director of Puente and then with the Program Director/Assistant Director of Operations (or something like that...I butchered that title I'm sure).  We touched base about my responsibilities for the remainder of the summer as the students go off to their work programs, and I begin working in a more one-on-one capacity (or small group capacity) with them to go over transcripts, work in literature circles on their summer reading for school, etc.  It has been an incredibly full and exhausting three days!

As I write this now, I am sitting in Foster City in a laundromat doing my laundry from the last week (of driving, camping, working out, sleeping at the cat-house, etc.).  I had the most amazing Chile Verde con Arroz for lunch today (can we say homemade Mexican food????) that is unfortunately not agreeing with my stomach.  I think I enjoyed the spicy food a little too much when I went back for seconds.  :)  Once I finish my laundry, I will be off to home for a good night's rest before my final full day of orientation.  The students have CPR and First Aid training on Friday, but I will not participate in that as I have fulfilled my hours this week and have other things to work on.  I will keep you posted, and thank you to those who made it to the end of this lengthy post about my last few days.

My First Weekend Back in Cali

I arrived in Pescadero, CA on Friday with about 10 minutes to spare prior to the Pescadero High School graduation.  It was heartwarming to watch several students I had worked with last summer graduate despite the many obstacles they face as students.  In particular, I was most overcome with joy for Daisy, the girl I spent the most time tutoring last summer.  Talk about overcoming obstacles!  Daisy’s family had been very transient throughout her school years moving as many as five times in seven years to different schools and locations.  Daisy often worked one or two jobs to help support her family, not to mention the fact that she attended schools where the primary language of the school was not her native tongue.  When we sat on the outdoor couches last summer reading The Fault in Our Stars and working on an online U.S. History course, Daisy was not slated to graduate on time.  She had many academic deficits in terms of credits needed to graduate, and the task of completing them seemed insurmountable.  Not only was Daisy able to complete all of her course requirements with fidelity, she also was the recipient of seven scholarships, the same number the valedictorian of the class received.  Her scholarships came from a variety of community members and organizations that recognized the deficit from which she began her school career and how hard she worked to overcome it.  It was an incredibly special occasion, and I am so grateful I was able to attend.  

On Saturday, I took advantage of the fact that I did not have to wake up at 5:00 AM to drive 12-14 hours across the country.  I slept in a bit and then went to Starbucks to work for several hours.  I was able to enjoy the incredible California weather (upper 70s, no humidity, nice breeze) to accomplish several hours of work for IU High School and also for Puente.  It was a beautiful day, and I felt fairly productive after three days of straight driving with little to no time for work.  I concluded Saturday evening by getting reacquainted with a friend from last summer whom I absolutely adore.  We had dinner and chatted for several hours catching up on all things personal and professional.  It was a wonderful evening.  I returned home to continue a bit of work for Puente, which involved watching the documentary Underwater Dreams.  It is an inspiring film about a group of Hispanic students from urban Arizona who overcome many odd and win a collegiate underwater robotics competition (against the likes of MIT).  

After a restless night of sleep, I woke up Sunday to head to California Avenue in Palo Alto.  I enjoyed brunch outside on a cute little patio and people-watched for several hours.  (The local farmers’ market was occurring on California Ave.)  I ran some errands today, and also took a short nap to navigate a horrid headache.  I think my body is definitely still adjusting to new time zones, different sleeping locations until Tuesday, and just general coping with being away from home.  

Tomorrow brings a full day of youth orientation at Puente complete with overnight stay at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch with the kids and in the middle of that moving into the place I will stay until the end of my time in California.  I still feel a bit like a weary traveler.  I’m anxious to get into a routine, especially one that allows incorporation of regular workouts and cooking meals at home.


"You're a Little 'California' for the Midwest."

Recently, I decided to start seeing a counselor/therapist from time to time.  I am pretty diligent about exercising and caring for my physical body, so I figured why not make sure I am caring for my mental health as well.  In my visit with her today, we talked about how my return to California this summer needs to be a time of mental reset and peace-finding.  It is one of the reasons I love going to the West Coast in the summer.  The West Coast lives life at a slower pace than Midwesterners and lifestyles pretty much across the board are just healthier.  For me, it is a time to reset, recuperate, and rejuvenate in between school years.  It allows me to remove myself from the routine of my Midwestern teaching life and still my soul.  Needless to say, I am thrilled to begin my return visit this summer (in 4 days, but who's counting). 

In my visit with my counselor this morning, I was flattered by her suggestion that I was "a little California for the Midwest."  She offered that sometimes the dissonance I feel in my current place in life might be due to the fact that I see the world differently than many Midwesterners.  This is neither to suggest a good or bad perspective here; its just different.  As I reflect on that comment, which she probably didn't intend to linger in my mind as much as it has, I wonder if that is why I find such joy and renewal in each visit I make to California.  People live and think differently there.  Although geography unites California and Indiana by country lines, we are really worlds apart in some ways.  

As I look toward this journey, I look forward to the reset, recuperation, and rejuvenation I find on the West Coast.  If nothing else, it allows me to understand a different world so I don't take the one in which I live for granted.  This summer will bring new challenges, development, refinement, and perspective.  I look forward to it, and I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to make this opportunity happen for myself again.  (And especially grateful to Puente for allowing me to return and serve their students.)  Heeding the advice of one of my administrators and evaluator this year, my head is on a swivel seeking opportunity and adventures from wherever they might come.  And maybe I will return to the Midwest even more California than when I left.


The Reason I Want to Experience EVERYTHING

One of the goals of my trip to California was to learn the stories of other people in the hope of bringing those stories to my students who might not (ever) get to experience the California coast and/or working with migrant farmworkers and their families.  The purpose behind these stories is to eradicate negative misconceptions that tend to saturate people’s beliefs and views.

One example of a negative misconception that formed the basis of conversation among my students today is that most illegal immigrants are criminals who are running from law enforcement in their country, which is why they flee to the United States.  As I listened to my students talk, I was stunned at the degree to which this idea was forming the foundation of all of my students’ other thoughts about immigration.  This idea that illegal immigrants are mostly criminals literally was shaping their entire idea of immigration policy and immigration reform, etc.  It seemed like a great time to interject in the conversation and ask my students to consider the assumptions they were making.

To interject, I told stories of some of the experiences I had in California last June working with migrant farmworkers, their families, and other employees and volunteers at Puente.  In particular, the story that came to mind was the story of my experience on the farms meeting the farmworkers and seeing their homes.  The man who was most predominant in my mind was the gentleman who asked Ben, one of the Puente staff, for help navigating a complex document from the United States government that had bureaucracy written all over it.  The gentleman was trying so hard to comply with what the document was asking him to do, but he couldn’t navigate the language barrier, which is why he asked Ben for help.  This story began to soften some of my students’ very harsh views of illegal immigrants.

After class, I received a message from a student that included this quote: “It’s nice to have a teacher who has the real world experience that you have, which trumps anything I could read in a book or hear second hand, like with your program working with migrant workers.”  This is EXACTLY why I wanted to have this experience in California last summer (minus the obvious personal growth and benefits I received).  I am so happy that these stories are at the very least forcing my students to pause and reexamine their thinking.

As I was preparing for Philosophy Club today, I came across this thought, “A conflict of ideas is conducive to the advancement of knowledge.”  I hope that presenting an array of perspectives for my students gives them the kind of “conflict” this quote refers to in order to help them solidify their perspective, values, and beliefs as young adults and human beings.

Everything we do has a purpose

September Reflection

I am overwhelmed by the amazing work that Puente does and even more overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to meet the people who live and breathe to make Puente function daily…While the physical space of Puente isn’t extravagant, the beauty of Puente that has left me speechless time and again is in the hearts, hands, and souls of the people who serve there.


I have spent several hours in the last month reading the blog I kept on my four-week trip to Pescadero, California in June mostly because I miss the place and the people and partly because a piece of me was left behind there.  It was an experience that changed me, and my blog allows me to relive my experiences over and over again.  I remember the trip feeling so fast, as though I left soon after I arrived.  However, as I read my blog, I did so many things.  I met new people, tried new foods, explored new places on my own, volunteered with students, and experienced a different “American” culture.  In hindsight, I did a lot in those four weeks.

My goal on the trip was to meet new people to learn their stories and to experience new things myself all in an attempt to increase the number of stories in my arsenal to share with my students.  I would say I accomplished this goal in unfathomable ways that I never could have imagined from airport to airport, beginning to end.  My mother has always teased me that I have a magnetic face or personality because I always find myself in situations where complete strangers approach me and just start talking; this trip is no exception.  No matter where I was, I was exchanging stories with strangers and while my purpose was to mingle with migrant farmworkers, this purpose in no way minimized the unique stories I shared with other individuals on the trip who were no farmworkers or relatives of farmworkers.  In my first official blog post of the trip entitled, “People are AMAZING,” I comment on how “I am convinced you can never really be alone in the world any more.”  In the spirit of the Innovations class summer project at Noblesville High School, I took this as my cue to look for opportunities everywhere. (#OAEproj).  That is exactly what I found!

Despite being in constant conversation with new people and seeing new places and being on the go constantly, I still managed to find such peace and rejuvenation in California.  Blogging was a cathartic experience for me, and I absolutely treasurereading my own words as I was living these experiences.  I also had time to read—for fun!  I spent many hours in the car driving along the coast of California on Highway 1 to and from different farms and camps and events.  The landscape was breathtaking!  “I also experienced moments of surrealism where the beauty reminded me of some of the landscapes in the Lord of the Rings movies.  Neither my words nor my photographs will be able to do justice to the majesty and beauty of the California coast.  It literally took my breath away on several occasions as I rounded a tight curve only to find a new landscape full of color beautifully spread out before me.  Several times along the drive I stopped at roadside pull-offs to take pictures and breathe in the fresh coastal air.”

I learned so many things on my trip, and words continue to feel insufficient to me as I attempt to describe this experience to others who weren’t there with me, but I have narrowed down my top seven lessons from the trip to help summarize my experiences.

To echo aforementioned sentiments, lesson number one is that people are amazing.  It didn’t matter if I was befriending my servers at breakfast or dinner, the owners of the bed and breakfast, other guests at all of my temporary residences, staff and volunteers at Puente, or the farmworkers and their families all of the people I met had such incredible stories to tell.  I felt like I was a stranger to no one and no one was a stranger to me.  An amazing thing happens when you make yourself vulnerable to another.  There is beauty in those human connections; even the ones you know will only be temporary.  And then others surprise you and end up lasting longer than one short season.

Lesson number two seems so obvious.  However, a resounding depth was added to my understanding of this statement: Marginalized people live in an unjust world.  This lesson became most apparent to me as I walked though the halls of the school and homes of the farmworkers’ children.  I met the students prior to seeing their homes and schools, and they seemed so similar to my students upon first introduction.  However, when I realized the challenges they have to overcome to merely function in the United States, I was blown away.  Another experience that added depth to my understanding of this statement was in the current event (current when I was in California) of the police shooting and killing a young girl, not that unlike the situation in Ferguson.  However, instead of the girl being a black male, she was a Latina girl with mental illness.  As I researched newspaper articles and followed the story while I was there, I realized how unlikely it was that the young girl’s family would receive justice for her death.  (Not that any outcome is truly just compensation for the loss of one’s life.)  For more on that story, see my blog post, “Justicia Para Yanira.”

Lesson number three is almost laughable as I think about the different cultures of the Midwest and the West Coast: California ain’t like the Midwest.  I learned so much about little ways that individual, families, and households can care for the environment and live more eco-friendly lifestyles.  From simple things like putting a bucket in your shower to help catch excess water to composting, to biking everywhere, I learned how simple it can be to do our part to care for the environment.  Additionally, I became increasingly away of how far behind the Midwest is from places like California, which is a much more environmentally conscious place.  I am convinced that 1/3 of the cars in California are Priuses, 1/3 are a different hybrid, and 1/3 are pick-up trucks (for the farmers).

Lesson number four is philosophical at its roots: People are inherently good.  While this notion has been debated for centuries, my experiences in California have led me to believe that people are genuinely good at their core even though we sometimes make bad choices.  Every single person I met in California was incredible compassionate and giving—even people who seemed to have nothing to give.  Everyone, including the migrant farmworkers, gave what they could give.  I’ve never been as humbled as I was when one of the farmworker’s daughters offered to buy my lunch or when the men at one farm offered me part of their dinner.  I still get emotional thinking about their generosity.

Lesson number five is one of critical geography: that not only are many people in other parts of the United States totally ignorant to the lifestyle of migrant farmworkers living within our own country, so are many people in the neighboring towns in California.  On my blog I reflected on the differences between my temporary residence in Palo Alto versus what I was experiencing on the coast in the small town of Pescadero:

First, let’s start with some critical geography.  In terms of mileage, the drive from Palo Alto (“over the hill” as it is called by people on the coast) is only about 40 miles to Pescadero.  However, due to the primarily two-lane roads that are curvy and winding and climbing up over a “hill” (errrr…we who are from the flatlands refer to these “hills” as mountains), the drive easily can take over an hour.  The changes in temperature, population density, and income (though this is beginning to change) as your go from one side of “the hill” to the other are astounding.  Regarding temperature, there is a consistent twenty-degree difference as you move from the coast side of “the hill” to the inland side.  Rarely have I worn a t-shirt in Pescadero and never have I worn shorts, especially as the sun sets.  In terms of population density, obviously the more suburban and urban spaces like Palo Alto, San Mateo, San Jose, and San Francisco are much more densely populated than the rural farmland along the coast.  And though there is significant gentrification beginning along the coast, for the most part people with money live in the suburban and urban spaces.  What I mean by “gentrification beginning” is that many wealthy people from over “the hill” are beginning to snatch up properties in towns like Pescadero so that they can have weekend get-away homes.  There is a small one-bedroom house across the street from Puente in Pescadero.  Although the layout is different, it is just about the size of my home in Fountain Square.  I asked some of the Puente staff at what price they thought the house was listed.  They suspected that house was approximately $750,000.  What!?!?!  Even in the tiny rural community of Pescadero where the graduating senior class of Pescadero High School this year was all of 23 students houses sell for ¾ million dollars.  It is mind blowing, especially considering the nature of the residential housing for the farmworkers merely ten miles or fewer up the road.

            Lesson number six is that I am truly a teacher through and through, to the depths of my being.  One of my absolute favorite parts of my trip was working with the students at Puente.  I primarily worked with the high school youth who were serving as youth workers for Puente over the summer months.  In addition to getting to see them in their camp trainings to be camp counselors for younger children and participate in leadership workshops with them, I also had an opportunity to tutor some of the ones who were behind in school, primarily in their language arts classes and social studies classes (the two subjects where ENL students typically struggle the most).  This was such a natural position for me because it is similar to what I do everyday in the classroom.  However, the Puente staff specifically commented on how quickly the students trusted me despite the fact that I was a native-English-speaking, educated, white woman.  The Puente staff noted that it not usually the case that this population of students is so trusting of “people like me” in generally let alone this quickly.  For me, this affirmed how teaching is at the core of my being, and it doesn’t matter who my students are.  Even though I already knew this it was nice to receive the affirmation when the current social and political climates tend to demonize teachers.

And finally, lesson number seven is that I am a better person now than I ever have been before.  This trip opened my eyes to my own personal growth as a human.  I realize I am more adventurous than I’ve ever been before.  I am more open-minded than ever before, and I’m more experienced than every before.  As I reflect on some of the new things I tried like a Latina Zumba class, which took me way out of my comfort zone, Guatemalan food, the San Francisco PRIDE festival, etc., I am amazed because as sad as it is, I know those are not things I would have or could have done ten years ago in my life.  For that I am eternally grateful.

As I think about what comes next, I am excited to report that I will be returning to California over the second half of my fall break with a group of students from Noblesville High School.  Although that trip has multiple purposes beyond serving Puente and the Pescadero community, I am so excited to share my experiences and memories with a group of my students.  Additionally, my experience last summer opened my eyes to how critical it is to take a break from work over the summer months to rejuvenate myself.  My hope is to travel back to Pescadero again next summer with my own funds to have a similar experience.  My Puente students have also invited me to attend their high school graduation ceremony in June.  What a significant event that will be as many of these students had the academic deck stacked against them and still managed to overcome.  I cannot wait to celebrate with them, especially Daisy who is one of the students I spent the most time with and wrote about in my blog.  She sends me weekly updates on her academic progress, and I continue to send her notes of encouragement to help her push through to the graduation finish line.  I cannot wait to return.  A piece of my spirit is still in California; and being in California gives my soul an amazing peace unlike any I’ve ever known.


I’m having a difficult time processing the fact that this is already my last week in California.  I feel like I’m leaving with so much work left to be done.  I’m heartbroken at the prospect of leaving the incredible new friends I’ve made and the amazing new students in my life.

Similar to week 3, this week has been filled with doing as many things for Puente before I go as I can.  I’ve continued work on organizing the backpack/school supplies drive, helping with PR and promotions for the 5K race, and of course working with the summer school students on their studies.

One addition to my California life this week has been the semi-communal living experience of my residence at Old Thyme Inn.  As I think back to my lodging prospects when I was planning this trip, I remember that I could’ve stayed on the beach near the Harbor in Half Moon Bay.  At the time, that seemed like a really good idea since I was making reservations during the winter months in Indiana.  However, after three nights at Old Thyme Inn, I regret nothing about this decision.  The innkeepers are a wonderful couple who know so much about the area and truly understand what it means to be in a service industry.  They operate totally in service to their guests at the inn and take great pride in ensuring that their guests have a wonderful stay not only in their inn but also in the area at large.  While I have absolutely luxuriated in having my very own claw foot bathtub in my room, my favorite part about staying at Old Thyme Inn is breakfast.  Not only is the food divine, but also breakfast at the inn is communal, so you have an opportunity to get to know other people and share experiences with strangers.  My first two mornings here were spent with a lovely couple from Cincinnati who were in California to visit their daughter who has a summer internship with a company in Silicon Valley.  They were great to chat with!  We shared a little about how we had spent our time in California, but we spent the bulk of our time talking about education (shock!), a topic about which I am very passionate (double shock!).  In addition to the couple from Cincinnati, I met a couple who resides in Sacramento, CA but who originally came from Russia.  The husband spoke almost no English, which works fine because they live in a community in Sacramento where English is rarely spoken.  I had no idea there was such a significant Russian and Ukrainian population in Sacramento.  The wife shared with us that they had moved to the United States years ago to escape religious restrictions in their hometown (and really entire country) because it was not permissible to practice Protestantism (as in any Protestant-based faith).  She and her husband found refuge here in the United States as they were permitted to worship almost any Protestant religion they wanted.  Their story was so fascinating to me, but even more fascinating was when their story overlapped with the conversation about education—in particular my Government and Economics classes.  The husband from Cincinnati asked me several questions about the content I teach in those classes.  In particular, he wanted to know if I teach my students to use multiple different sources, especially in Government class, to get the most accurate information possible.  His question prompted the wife from Sacramento to echo his concerns by sharing that in Sacramento, they are able to access Russian news and news from other countries formerly part of the Soviet Union.  She said it is so fascinating and concerning to her because the U.S. news stations often say literally the exact opposite of the Russian news stations, especially regarding international affairs and foreign policy.  She cited several examples of times when this was true (the most recent major conflict in Georgia, the Ukrainian conflict, etc.).  I loved participating in this conversation not only because it was stimulating my creativity as a teacher but also because it was reminding me of the importance of seeking alternate news sources in order to be a better citizen.  Our breakfast conversation that morning must have lasted an hour.  It was beautiful.  I am in awe of the kinds of things that can happen when you share a meal and a table with total strangers.

This morning, no one else was at the inn to eat breakfast with me.  However, Rick, one of the innkeepers, still treated me like absolute royalty anyway.  I enjoyed broiled grapefruit, pumpkin muffins, chicken apple wood smoked sausage, and blueberry buttermilk pancakes—all homemade and prepared in the inn’s kitchen moments before it was brought to the table.  I enjoyed the silence this morning while I ate and then Rick conversed with me for about thirty minutes at the end of breakfast.  We talked about the inn keeping business and the amount of time it takes to run a bed and breakfast such as this.  I had no idea how much of one’s life must be altered to do this kind of work.  It made me appreciate Rick and Kathy even more.

At Puente today, the staff gathered at noon for their weekly staff meeting.  It is so great to have everyone (or almost everyone) in the same room at one time.  It is also wonderful to hear updates from everyone on staff about the work they are doing, the initiatives they are spearheading, and the progress that has been made since the previous week.  At the meeting today, Kerry, the Executive Director of Puente, asked me if I had any final words.  Surprisingly, since I am not a crier and really hate just about everything about crying, I got very choked up.  I think I really only managed to say, “thank you…” before I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Here now, in the privacy of my room at Old Thyme Inn, I want to share some of the things I was unable to express verbally today.  Thank you is a great place to start…

While I have tried to thoroughly and accurately convey what this experience has been like for me on this blog, the reality is that words do such injustice.  This experience has changed my life and left a permanent mark on my heart.  I am so grateful to everyone at Puente for welcoming me so readily from the moment I arrived in California.  Your compassion, generosity, and love for other people and for me is profound and unforgettable.  While the physical space of Puente isn’t extravagant, the beauty of Puente that has left me speechless time and again is in the hearts, hands, and souls of the people who serve there.  And serve you do.  Without hesitation, you lay aside the power in any privilege you have been granted in this country, and you use all of your talents and gifts to be a bridge (as your namesake indicates) between those who have not been afforded the same.  You love unconditionally and give generously.  And all of these things that you do for others daily, you did for me despite the fact that I was a stranger who dropped into the middle of your world because of a brief encounter in 2012.  I am overwhelmed by the amazing work that Puente does and even more overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to meet the people who live and breathe to make Puente function daily.  I cannot say “thank you” enough for allowing me to be a part of the Puente team for the last four weeks.  I feel so honored that you shared all of this with me and made me feel like I belong.  I hope this is not the end of my work with Puente because I believe in the work that you do.  There is a strength in true community that so many fail to harness, and you are doing it so well.  So from the bottom of my heart, thank you…

…until we meet again… 

Pride in "the city"

This trip has been all about new experiences and ones that push my comfort zone.  Weekend number 3 definitely was all of those things.  This past weekend, I went to “the city.”  “The city” is how people in the Bay Area refer to San Francisco.  Any Midwesterner that has ever said “San Fran” would be chastised out here for using such a term for “the city.”  In case you can’t tell, I am speaking from personal experience.

Saturday morning, I got up and enjoyed breakfast on California Avenue in Palo Alto.  It is known as “the other downtown” for being a little more artsy and drawing a different crowd than the University Avenue downtown, which tends to draw more Stanford students, as I understand it.  I ate outside at a lovely little café and gallery enjoying the sun and my morning coffee.  I then proceeded to a neighboring nail salon, which my friend Abby happens to love, and got my nails done for the upcoming weekend.  Because THIS particular weekend was PRIDE WEEKEND in “the city.”

Getting in the spirit of “the city”

Once my morning errands were run, I headed to meet my new friend Jorge who works at Puente.  He and Molly, another Puente staff member and new friend, were my unofficial city tour guides for PRIDE.  And it was really something.  I had no idea what to expect, but it was more like Mardi Gras in New Orleans than I thought it would be.  All sorts of things that are normally illegal, like walking around naked, were totally acceptable in “the city” for PRIDE weekend.  It was absolutely unreal.  My favorite part about the whole experience was seeing people who supported love without limits (based on gender or sex).  Really the entire weekend was amazing.  There were parades, costumes, vendor booths, fair food, and colors and rainbows everywhere.  I had no clue what PRIDE would be like, but I’m so glad I went.

A total stranger at PRIDE who gave me a HUGE hug because our outfits matched.

Z: this was the outfit that reminded me of you! Skinny jeans, cute shirt from Anthropologie, and Sperry shoes.

And the crowds.  Wow.  Throngs and hordes of people everywhere!  There were places where I literally had to hold onto Molly’s and Jorge’s hands to push through walls of people because they were packed in so tightly.  It was insane!  Other places were not as crowded, but particular spots were literally “nuts to butts” as my friend Tim taught me in reference to crowded areas.  It was in one of these places where we were pressing through a massive crowd to get to the next street where my cell phone was stolen from the purse that was hanging over my shoulder and against my hip.  It was so crowded and so many people were pushing me and brushing past me on all sides that I didn’t even feel the person reach into my purse and take my phone.  Fortunately, I realized the moment we were out of the mob and was able to call my parents (the only two phone numbers I have memorized any more) to stop my service.  This is when I realized how dependent on technology I have been on this trip.  From navigating everywhere to reading reviews of the best places to eat and visit to communicating with my parents back home to communicating with the staff of Puente to checking in to airlines and obtaining rental car confirmation numbers, my phone has been an integral part of this trip.  It was very difficult to be without a phone for the next 24 hours.  Fortunately, Jorge had an old iPhone 4 at his house that he was able to give me so that I have a working device for the remainder of the trip (and hopefully until September when the new iPhone 6 comes out and I can replace my iPhone 5s for a little less than I could before the iPhone 6 comes out).

With Molly and Jorge before entering one of the most crowded areas of “the city.”

Upon arrival back in Half Moon Bay, I got checked into my final lodging place for the week: Old Thyme Inn.  It is a quaint, Victorian style bed and breakfast.  My room has a claw foot bathtub in it.  It’s pretty much the greatest!  I spent Sunday afternoon reading, setting up connectivity with the outside world again on Jorge’s old phone, and resting from a long night in “the city.”  I am so excited to be staying at Old Thyme Inn this week because it is such a peaceful place.  I want to soak up all of the peace and rejuvenation that I can before I head back to the Midwest.  How I will maintain that peace back home is beyond me.  I really do not want to leave.

Week 3 in Review

Outside of Puente sitting in the sun under this beautiful tree working with Daisy each morning.

Wow!  I can’t believe I’m already starting my final week at Puente!  This is heartbreaking to me.  As I drove along the coast to the Puente offices, my mind was whirling at the experiences I’ve had and how fast the time has flown.  I am interested in how it will feel to be “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

Week 3 at Puente was SUPER BUSY, which is why there was no post about last week.  Several of the Puente youth began working on summer school courses either as credit recovery or to get a jump-start on their senior year courses.  Every morning I began the day with one of my new students, Daisy, who came early to Puente to get some individualized tutoring time and also because she focuses better first thing in the morning.  We spent our time from 9 until around noon working through her online US History-2 course taking breaks to read The Fault in Our Stars, which Daisy is reading for her senior year English course.  (All of the students at Pescadero High School have summer reading assignments to complete as the first grade of the semester for their new English class the following year.)  Daisy, the person, is very different than Daisy, the student as viewed by her transcript.  Daisy is so smart and talented.  She has so much to offer and a lot of skills that will work in her favor.  However, she has had to face many challenges that other students can’t fathom.  Daisy worked through both her online course and her summer reading by reading aloud to me all morning long.  My job was to help her understand new vocabulary and the implications of the historical events about which she was learning.  We had a fabulous time together.  A couple of morning I got grossly sunburned, too, because the air temperature is so cool that when the sun is on you, you never feel hot.  As I result, I couldn’t feel myself getting sunburned.  I have a pretty awesome line from my cropped running pants. 

Sunburn.  Ouch.

After about three hours of work time, Daisy and I would drive around to the main street in Pescadero and get lunch.  I treasured these lunches because this is when I got to see even more of Daisy as a person beyond the scope of Daisy as student.  Plus, Daisy knows EVERYONE in Pescadero.  It was fun to hear Pescadero stories and meet new people that Daisy knows in the community.  Daisy also liked giving me the unofficial “locals” tour of the ins and outs of Pescadero from a non-tourist perspective.  After lunch, we’d head back to Puente and the other youth would start trickling in from their summer work assignments.  As they trickled in, I would begin helping them on their studies as well.  Students were working on courses that ranged from English 9-1 to Health, and Algebra and Geometry.  And all of the students had summer reading assignments to attend to.

In addition to helping the youth, I would also do other smaller tasks for other Puente staff as they requested as well.  One errand I got to run on Thursday was picking up the vegetables from Potrero Nuevo Farm.  I did this the previous week with Ben, but this week I got to drive the pick-up truck and get the veggies all by myself.  I had a blast!  Who knew I’d get so excited over driving a pick-up truck full of the freshest produce around!  I had the truck almost totally loaded at the farm when two of the owners and farmers rode up on their bikes.  They introduced themselves and finished helping me load.  They were surprisingly young, not more than 10 years older than me.  Their age really made me appreciate them even more for owning and operating a sizeable farm and donating so much of what they grow to organizations like Puente—all in their mid-30s!!!  They were really lovely people, and I am so glad I had the chance to meet them even for only a moment.

The farmers' market this week wasn’t as busy as the previous two weeks, but Michelle (another volunteer from over “the hill”) and I were ready with children’s activities if there were kids.  There were surprisingly few this week, but our activities focused on potential and kinetic energy.  We taught the terms and their definitions in simple language and then demonstrated with yo-yos and yoga.  We had the set up for a rubber band launching contest, but not enough kids were at the market this week, so that can be saved for another day.  The yo-yos and yoga were a hit, though!

A master yo-yo operator at the farmer’s market. The yo-yo was a little long for her, so she stood on the picnic table bench next to me and yo-yo’ed from up high. :)

This post seems so short considering all that I did last week, but because most of my time was spent giving the students my attention for tutoring, there isn’t much more to say here.  It was an awesome week, and I’m so happy to be here for one more, though sad that it’s only one more.

Enjoying the sun at the farmers' market

I briefly spoke to one of my colleagues in Indy this morning.  He used to live in Colorado, and he asked me, “Don’t people just seem happier out there?”  He’s absolutely right.  People do seem happier and healthier out here than they do in the Midwest, which is interesting because supposedly people from the Midwest are some of the friendliest people in the country.  To echo Mike’s sentiments, I noted that I had to buy a ¼ sheet cake for an event at Puente last week.  I had to go to four different grocery stores before I found one with a bakery let alone a bakery that made sheet cakes.  In general, people live such healthier lifestyles out here.  It’s no wonder Mike and I notice a correlation between health and happiness.  I have found such peace out here; it will be hard to leave this place behind.

Photo Op!

Another post of photos because some don’t flow in the narrative posts.  

In the first several photos, check out the fog/clouds as I travel over “the hill” to the coast side on my way to Pescadero, CA.  I tried to get several shots while stopped in traffic and at stop lights.  

One day when I was driving home from Pescadero back to Palo Alto, I saw a Jacob’s Farm Del Cabo truck.  Since it was relavent to a previous post, The End of Week 2: The Kids Have Stolen My Heart, I thought I’d snap a photo.  (Sorry it was a little blurry.  The truck was in motion even though it was slow motion as it chugged up the hills.)

Also in reference to that same aforementioned post, I decided to test an apple-eating strategy that the owner of the juicer cafe shared with me: How to Eat An Apple Like a Boss.  So I tried it, and it worked!  I am now the proud eater of the entire apply (sans seeds and stem).  It’s changed my life.  

Last and most certainly not least, one of my new students taught me how to REALLY take a selfie.  This is Daisy and me taking a break from her U.S. History course.  Haha!

I clearly did not know what I was doing.

Adventures to the South (of Palo Alto)

It’s the freakin’ weekend; baby I’m about to have me some fun…


This weekend was all about exploring, seeing new places, and being spontaneous.  Originally my plan was to visit Big Sur on Saturday, but based on the recommendation of some local Palo Altans (new term?), I ended up in Carmel (pronounced car-MEL in Cali as opposed the CAR-mul in Indy) and along the famous 17-mile drive at the Pebble Beach Golf Course.  Carmel, CA is upscale sort of like Carmel, IN.  However, it is much more touristy.  Street after street of the business district in Carmel, CA are lined with art galleries, shops, and cafes.  Parts seemed more like a multilevel open air mall while other portions were little tourist-traps.  (At least that is the name I use when referencing shops that sell 100 different styles of t-shirts and hoodies and pens and postcards and mugs that all say the name of a town or beach on them.)  I walked through a few stores before stopping to get lunch at a little French-style Bistro.  There, I had a lovely salad and clams and mussels for lunch.  From there I proceeded to a little coffee shop for coffee to take with me on the 17-mile drive.  The weather was overcast, breezy, and about 63 degrees.  Coffee was a must-have.

The 17-mile drive was peculiar to me.  The drive itself reminded me a bit of driving though the winding roads of Osage Beach and Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, especially the Horseshoe Bend area.  At the entrance to the drive, motorists pay $10 to have access to the area much like you would at a state park.  Then inside, you follow a hilly, winding road past elite golf courses and multimillion (possibly billion) dollar homes.  What was so peculiar to me is that real people actually live along the 17-mile drive, which is a known tourist activity.  Yet people make that drive almost daily to get to their homes.  There is a certain degree of security in the area as there are multiple check-points where staff of the Pebble Beach Lodge or Tennis Club or Beach Club stop you and ask you intentions, especially if you detour off of the main stretch of the 17-mile drive.  (If you’re wondering, I totally did this.  Truthfully, I had to use the restroom from the coffee I drank, but I also wanted to scope out the lodge, etc.  I only made it as far as the nearest restroom that I was permitted to use, which was in the Beach Club/Fitness Center.  I don’t even want to know how much money it must cost to be a member of such a club.)

Walking on a stone path

Hike through the trees

At the end of the 17-mile drive, I headed back toward Palo Alto.  Along the drive, I saw a sign that said “Salinas” as in Salinas, CA.  Because that is one of the main cities in my current (re)read, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and also because I was in no hurry at all, I veered off the highway and toward Salinas.  I had no idea what I would find or if there would even be anything worth seeing there, but it was all part of my adventure.  As I arrived in Salinas, I began seeing signs for the National Steinbeck Center, which totally peaked my interest.  As a result, I wandered through town until I found the Center.  Unfortunately, I got there in just enough time to see them lock the doors and close because it was 5:00 PM, PST.  However, when you’re on a spontaneous adventure, no moment is wasted.  The National Steinbeck Center merely became my destination for the next day!

Sunday, I got up after a terrible night’s sleep and headed back to Salinas.  The National Steinbeck Center was interesting in more ways that one.  The museum portion was interesting in its own right, though museum learning is not my primary learning style.  The visual part works for me, but all the reading you can do does not.  While there were all sorts of facts about Steinbeck’s life, the parts I found most interesting were the connections to the places in California that Steinbeck most often references in his books and the context of migrant farmworkers to the area at large and Steinbeck’s work.  I took several pictures of things in the museum that I thought were interesting to me or East of Eden, which I am rereading with a whole new perspective and connection since I am in the very context of the book’s setting.  The second most interesting part was meeting the museum docent whose job was to inform visitors that the museum portion was self-guided but that there was also a 24-minute movie to watch in the theater as well as a photography exhibit in the rear of the building.  While the information she gave regarding the Center was helpful, the part I was most fascinated by was the conversation she was having with another museum visitor when I arrived.  As the other visitor, a male, was signing in, the visitor and docent began a conversation and found out that they were both Army Nurses.  The docent, who is now 91 years old, was stationed in Guam and another place in the Pacific just a few years before the end of WWII.  How crazy is that?!  She was telling stories about being in her early twenties, single, and on an adventure as an Army Nurse.  Because opportunities like this were not widely available to women at the time, the docent was saying how important it was for her to make the most of this time in her life, and she really did!  She explained how her alternatives at home would have been to meet a farmer and settle down/get married early and begin having children.  Instead, she was afforded a whole new set of opportunities that included traveling, meeting new people, and experiencing things unlike anything in the Midwest.  She talked about how they lived in Army tents and how nurses were always escorted by two armed soldiers because they were primarily women (and there weren’t many women around if you catch my drift).  She talked about how she took care of Army soldiers and Marines because the Marines didn’t have nurses (or at least not enough of them…I wasn’t quite clear).  Then she talked about going on dates with soldiers because she knew the likelihood of meeting her husband in Guam was rare, so she casually dated for the fun and social experience of it.  Nowthat is not something you hear much about in that generation!  She said she went to a boxing match with one date, and she ended up being the only female there!  It was such a curious thing that the press caught wind of it and published in a military paper that there was one woman among thousands of men/soldiers at this boxing match.  She said she thought nothing of it at the time until she saw herself in the paper the next morning.  I must’ve sat and listened to her stories about her experiences in WWII for over 30 minutes before I ever even entered the Steinbeck exhibit.  She was an exhibit all her own, and loved talking about her life.  She indicated in the conversation that she recently revisited many of these experiences herself by rereading letters she sent home from the war and looking through her old Army Nurse scrapbook of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other artifacts.  She was an amazing lady, and really quite progressive for her age.  Multiple times throughout the course of the conversation she relayed the importance of making the most of every experience and every opportunity given to you.  She reflected on how much different her life might have been given the generation and location in which she was born (rural Iowa).  She said that her experience as an Army Nurse was really the first that set her on a path of adventures and seizing the day.  Huge shout out to Helen, the docent at the NSC, for reminding me of one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in life: experience everything you can, make the most of every opportunity, and live life to the fullest.  (A bit cliché, but true nevertheless.)

When I left the Steinbeck Center, I headed down the street to find a place for lunch.  A gimmicky little sign that said, “Steinbeck ate here” caught my attention, and I entered a dirty little diner full of many locals and some tourists.  That’s when you know you’ve found a good place: where the locals eat too.  The diner, in true diner style, served breakfast all day, so instead of lunch I had breakfast (again).

I left Salinas on day two of my adventure feeling content about the day.  On the way back to Palo Alto, I stopped at an outlet mall to do a little shopping.  (And I mean very little since it all has to fit in luggage and fly back home.)  The most important purchase I made at the outlet mall was a fleece pullover because the temperature swings here from midday to midnight are so much more significant than summers at home.  I’ve been using my jackets and long-sleeved shirts faster than I can do laundry!  The coast is cooler during the day for sure, but even over “the hill” it may be 50 degrees at night even though it was 85 degrees during the day.  And without any humidity, those numbers feel like just that.  So I added a fleece to my wardrobe this weekend.  That’s right everyone, a fleece.  In June.  In NORTHERN California.  Tricky weather.  

I concluded my Sunday at a taqueria walking distance from my lodging this week.  Not quite as authentic as the taqueria in the gas station in Pescadero, but delicious nonetheless.  A little light Steinbeck reading, and then to bed to prepare for a busy week at Puente.

I can’t believe week 3 is here.  It is going WAY TOO FAST, and I don’t want to leave.


The End of Week 2: The Kids Have Stolen My Heart

It has been such a busy week doing various tasks for Puente!  And now that I’m commuting back and forth from Palo Alto to Pescadero, I found it difficult to keep up with blogging toward the end of the week.  So here’s a little catch up!

Critical Geography and the Cost of Living

First, let’s start with some critical geography.  In terms of mileage, the drive from Palo Alto (“over the hill” as it is called by people on the coast) is only about 40 miles to Pescadero.  However, due to the primarily two-lane roads that are curvy and winding and climbing up over a “hill” (errrr…we who are from the flatlands refer to these “hills” as mountains), the drive easily can take over an hour.  The changes in temperature, population density, and income (though this is beginning to change) as your go from one side of “the hill” to the other are astounding.  Regarding temperature, there is a consistent twenty-degree difference as you move from the coast side of “the hill” to the inland side.  Rarely have I worn a t-shirt in Pescadero and never have I worn shorts, especially as the sun sets.  In terms of population density, obviously the more suburban and urban spaces like Palo Alto, San Mateo, San Jose, and San Francisco are much more densely populated than the rural farmland along the coast.  And though there is significant gentrification beginning along the coast, for the most part people with money live in the suburban and urban spaces.  What I mean by “gentrification beginning” is that many wealthy people from over “the hill” are beginning to snatch up properties in towns like Pescadero so that they can have weekend get-away homes.  There is a small one-bedroom house across the street from Puente in Pescadero.  Although the layout is different, it is just about the size of my home in Fountain Square.  I asked some of the Puente staff at what price they thought the house was listed.  They suspected that house was approximately $750,000.  What!?!?!  Even in the tiny rural community of Pescadero where the graduating senior class of Pescadero High School this year was all of 23 students houses sell for ¾ million dollars.  It is mind blowing, especially considering the nature of the residential housing for the farmworkers merely ten miles or fewer up the road.

In general I am finding the cost of living here to be beyond reason.  As I think about making a transition to California at some point in my life, I cannot help buy wonder how someone from the Midwest can actually afford to transition when initially their income is not adjusted for the cost of living (particularly someone in public education who does not have a multinational corporation who will pay for the move).  Most people out here that I ask about this issue say the only way to do it is to find a roommate until you can adjust to the cost of living.  Geesh.


I really looked forward to Wednesday all week because Wednesday I got to work with the Puente senior group comprised of five soon-to-be high school seniors.  Since this is also the age group of students I work with at NHS, I was particularly interested in getting to know these kids.  But before the senior group met, I started my morning with a Community Outreach meeting to update the Puente staff on some of the projects I had been working on regarding the 5K such as getting online publicity posted about the event and doing some research about prices for inflatable sky dancers that can be seen from far away to mark an event.  At the conclusion of that meeting, I continued my preparations for senior group, and then had lunch with Ben, the Puente staff member who took me to the farms the previous evening.  We ate lunch at the taqueria in the gas station again because it’s one of my favorite places to eat Mexican food on the planet now.  On the way to lunch we ran an errand at a unique farm that we had not visited the previous evening: The Willow Farm.  The Willow Farm is owned by a couple who emigrated from Australia and they are the only known woven willow fence makers in the world.  Most people don’t get to see much of their farm/property but because Ben knows the owners and had to drop some things off to some people who live on the farm, I got to sneak a peek.  Truthfully, where we went there wasn’t much to see.  We passed a few trailers and other small housing units lived in by farmworkers.  We also passed a barn inside which Ben explained was living space for animals and also a small studio-like apartment where a woman he knows in Pescadero lives.   Truly I continue to be fascinated by the residential spaces around Pescadero.  (Keep in mind this farm is probably only 1 to 1.5 miles from the $750,00 one-bedroom house across from Puente.  Mind-blowing!)  Ben also told me about the farm across Pescadero Road (aka Pescadero Creek Road) from The Willow Farm, which is calledJacobs Farm/Del Cabo.  Located in Pescadero with extensions in parts of Mexico, Jacobs Farm takes an organic, sustainable approach to growing produce.  Ben explained that they are also an educational farm whose main mission is to teach farmworkers how to grow organic produce to eat and/or sell; they even teach them to do this in their own land.  (Fun fact: evidently this farm is the main supplier of mint to the Cheesecake Factory for their famous mojitos.)   So Ben and I enjoyed lunch and continued to talk about Pescadero and education.  Afterward, I finished prepping for my time with the seniors.

I had an absolute blast with the seniors!  They are AMAZING kids.  In a message to my boss today I wrote, “Seriously, I wish I could take pictures of where they live and then show you how awesome they are in spite of that.”  And it is so true.  Only four of the seniors were able to attend this particular meeting, but of the four, 100% of the students are bilingual.  They were so open and honest with me about some of their struggles and life challenges, in particular regarding school.  Some of them expressed that they wished they had made different choices in high school because they are getting ready for their senior year but have a lot of classes to complete still to graduate.  In fact, I think I will get the privilege of helping them with their credit recovery classes next week or during my last week here.  Spending time with those four students has been one of the most significant highlights of the trip perhaps second only to visiting the farms and gaining context of these students lives.

I concluded the evening on Wednesday with a late drive to Burlingame, CA to pick up some school supply donations for Puente’s backpack drive.  Although I was not able to connect with the individual who was making the donation as originally planned, I got yet another glimpse of a town over “the hill” inland from the coast.  Like the other places I had visited thus far, Burlingame, too, was affluent, wealthy, and suburban feeling.

Wednesday was a busy and productive day overall.  It reminded me why I am a teacher and what I love so much about my job: the kids.


Thursday of this week was not too much unlike the previous Thursday as most of my time was spent helping Charlea, the Puente farmer’s market manager, prepare for the market.  We were super efficient this week since I had a better sense of the tasks that needed to be completed in order to properly set up the market.  This week I had one additional task, though.  Once we had all of the Puente supplies unloaded at the farmer’s market site, I left with Ben to pick up vegetables from another farm in Pescadero: Potrero Nuevo Farm.  This farm generously donates crates full of fresh vegetables and herbs to Puente (and other organizations) each week to give to the single farmworker men who attend La Sala and also to the people from Puente who teach the Zumba classes.  Since I will be picking up these vegetables and sorting them in bags for the individuals by myself next week, Ben showed me the ropes this week.  When we walked into the cooler on the farm where they leave the crated vegetables for Puente, I was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of fresh basil.  It was so strong and delicious smelling!  In addition to the fresh basil, we picked up huge onions, radishes, fresh lavender, cilantro, rosemary, kale, and more.  This was such beautiful produce.  We just don’t see the likes of this kind of fresh produce in the Midwest.  It kills me!  We picked up the crates, headed back to Puente, and divided the lot into twenty bags: ten for the Zumba instructors and ten for the men at La Sala.  After dividing up the vegetables, it was back to the farmers market to do whatever needed to be done.  Mostly, I got to spend time hanging out with people from Puente and playing with the kids.  The children’s activity this week was button making with the Half Moon Bay library.  It was the greatest!  Pretty sure I’ll be buying one of those machines to save me money every semester on gifts for my students.  $200 is a significant up front investment, but the dollars I will save every semester will far surpass that!  And it was super fun!

After tearing down the farmer’s market, I went to San Mateo again to have dinner with one of the staff members of Puente.  We had fun just getting to know each other and talking about Puente.  Jorge’s job at Puente is as a clinical therapist.  I got to hear more about what that entails as well as process through (because I AM an external processor) what I was thinking and feeling about all of my experiences so far.  Mostly, it was just fun to get to know Jorge as a person.  Seriously, some AMAZING people work for Puente.  They have hearts of gold!


Friday was sort of like a day off although I did still have some Puente business to take care of.  I began Friday by going back to Burlingame to try once again to pick up the school supply donations.  This time I was successful.  I then went to Reach & Teach, a social justice and equality-oriented store for educators and families, to drop off a box and signs about the Puente school supply drive.  The owners of this store also happen to be members of Abby’s congregation, and so they and the church at large try to support Puente in any way they can.  Part of the fun of this particular task was getting to shop around at Reach & Teach.  Really, it is a very dangerous store for me to walk into because it is FULL of materials and resources that I would use in my classroom.  I managed to walk away this time with only 4 books: one for government, two for economics, and one about educational philosophy.  As a gift from Reach & Teach for visiting, I got a gift certificate to visit the deli two doors down and get a free drink.  The drink I was eligible for was an apple orchard cider made from three different apple put through a juicer.  Nothing else.  No sugar added.  No water.  No nothing.  Just three apples.  It was the most incredible drink I’ve ever had.  I also got a chance to talk with the owner about his business and how he liked living in the San Mateo area.  Originally he was from southern California, but he seemed to really like the San Mateo area.  He asked me a little about my trip and then gave me some great advice for places off the main path in Half Moon Bay to visit when I finally end up there.  He told me about this great spot with amazing tide pools and taught me how to check the high and low tide times so that I make sure I can see the tide pools.  I think I’m going to have some early mornings in HMB, but it should be totally worth it!  I finished my Friday with dinner at a Guatemalan restaurant with the Puente youth who got to go on a fieldtrip to this restaurant in San Mateo after hearing a Guatemalan speaker as part of their summer responsibilities.  It was great because three of the seniors were there in addition to several other youth, and I also got to get to know another member of the Puente staff who teaches ESL and works with the youth year-round.  It was an absolute blast!  It was so funny to hear the kids’ comments on the Guatemalan food, which isn’t that different than Mexican food but different enough that many of them didn’t like it.  For example, our first course was Guatemalan tamales con pollo (with chicken).  In Mexico, tamales are served with the meat shredded and de-boned.  However, Guatemalans serve the chicken bone-in inside the tamale.  The Puente kids just could not understand why Guatemalans would do this!  Haha!  But most of them ate their tamales.  Our second course was fried chicken, again bone-in, con arroz, frijoles negros refritos, y crema (with rice, refried black beans, and homemade sour cream).    This dish was served with thick corn tortillas on the side.  It was delicious!  Most of the kids picked at this course but were pretty full from the sizeable tamale.  We finished the meal with platanos rellenos, which was my favorite!  If you’ve ever had chile relleno at a Mexican restaurant, the concept is similar.  Platanos rellenos is a breaded and fried plantain filled with refried black beans and served with the homemade sour cream again.  The flavor of the platano is the strongest, so this dish almost tastes like a banana dessert.  It isn’t overwhelmingly sweet like it would be had it been a banana, and you really can’t even taste the black beans once you add a dip of the crema.  It was so delicious!  Most of the kids couldn’t really get over the oddity of a deep fried, black bean stuffed banana-looking thing, so many of them only took a tiny bite, which was so funny to me because what I was eating didn’t seem all that different than some of the best Mexican food I’ve had.  But to native Mexicans, these dishes were worlds apart.  This was such a wonderful way to end the week because as I said before, my heart is with the kids.

I apologize for the lengthy catch-up post.  Weekend post coming tomorrow!

Speechless. Overwhelmed. This is why I came.

Speechless.  Overwhelmed.  Those are the best words I can come up with to describe my response to what I witnessed today when I got to go to the farms with Ben, one of the Puente staff in charge of outreach.  But first, Monday:

Monday I spent my day at the Puente office working on the activities and discussions that I will facilitate with the high school student leaders on Wednesday.  I also did some odds and ends jobs for Abby while she is away such as researching inexpensive start and finish lines for the Second Annual Puente 5K/10K Fun Run/Walk.  It was a pretty standard day at the office, and truthfully the Puente offices are quite as bustling on Mondays as other days.  When I left Puente, I had dinner in San Mateo with a new friend who has been in the United States for 10 years.  He came from Oaxaca, Mexico, which is where he was born and raised for the first 19 years of his life.  I must have asked him a million questions about his life at dinner, and his story is truly inspiring.  I was amazed at how good his English is considering he knew zero English words when he arrived 10 years ago.  He said working in the restaurant industry was one of his greatest teaching tools because you learn so much vocabulary in a restaurant by doing the job of serving people but also by listening to casual conversations and business meetings, etc.  Many of his siblings now live in the U.S. as well, but his parents and youngest sister still live in Oaxaca.  While his story was very interesting and inspiring, it was totally unlike what I saw on the farms today.

Today I started my day at Puente with a meeting with the Academic Director again.  She and I spoke about my thoughts for Wednesday’s activities with the senior youth leadership.  (There are five soon-to-be high school seniors in Puente’s program this year.)  She briefed me on some of the things that the seniors were anxious about as they prepared for their senior year including writing personal statements, preparing for the ACT, navigating course registration for their senior classes, and also how to get through their “senior paper,” which evidently is a school-specific culminating paper that all seniors at Pescadero High School must complete.  After that meeting, I spent some more time working on 5K/10K tasks that Abby left for me.  I did some online publicity work getting information about the race posted on as many event sites as possible for San Mateo County.  I also compiled more financial data about the possible start/finish line markers, which could include pennants, an inflatable arch, an inflatable sky dancer, etc.  Then, I continued preparations for the meeting with the seniors.

The day concluded with my trip to four different farm sites.  This is part of Ben’s job responsibilities each week, and I was fortunate enough to get to tag along.  Without a doubt, my experience would have been much different without Ben because Ben has done such an amazing job of building rapport with the farmworkers.  They trust him immensely and are clearly happy upon his arrival.  My observations were contingent on this trust and rapport as I am very white and affluent and female and don’t speak Spanish.  Without Ben, there is no chance that the farmworkers would have been comfortable enough to be themselves and interact normally around me.  Ben was able to introduce me as a friend who works with Puente and because of his relationship with each of the workers who he knows by name, I was not perceived as a threat.

Out of respect for the farmworkers’ privacy, I did not take my camera around their homes and places of employment.  However, what I saw will be forever engrained in my mind.   I will do my best to paint pictures for you with words.

The first farm at which we stopped was primarily a flower farm.  Many of the farmworkers were just finishing their “shift” around 6 PM when we arrived; their shift started at 6 AM that morning.  We pulled into a farm filled with rows upon rows of green houses full of beautiful flowers.  On the opposite side of the drive from the green houses were semi-truck trailers being loaded full of flowers to be shipped out early tomorrow morning (around 2 AM).  The flowers were mostly in pots and wrapped to be sold at stores like Home Depot and Lowes.  I asked Ben how far away he thought this particular shipment would go and he suspected only as far as the Bay Area, but I’ve got to tell you there is something that becomes really personal about a pot of flowers that looks exactly like what I would buy at Home Depot in Noblesville or Indianapolis when you’re simultaneously looking at the men who care for and harvest them.  At this particular farm I did not see any residential space for the farmworkers, just sheds and garages and the greenhouses.  The men were excited to see Ben arrive.  One farmworker in particular, who has to walk a lengthy distance to the fields where he does the bulk of his daily work, was particularly anxious to see Ben because Ben was bringing him a bike today.  The bike program is something I really love about Puente.  In addition to repairing damaged bikes for people in the community, Puente also takes bike donations in order to offer transportation assistance to the farmworkers and their families.  In addition to the gentleman receiving a bike at the first farm, Ben also spoke with about 6-7 other farmworkers.  Some just wanted to have casual, social conversation with Ben, and another had specific questions about a packet of papers he received from the county government.  I wasn’t sure exactly what the papers were about or what they were asking the gentleman to do, but it was clear that he was asking Ben to help him navigate the bureaucratic system.  In general the men were congenial despite my presence there as a stranger.  When we left, one even said “thank you very much” to me in English.  

Because we did not see residential space at the first farm, I left feeling burdened by the experience but not like how I felt by the time we left the second farm.  I felt a little emotional as we left the first farm for many reasons, such as feeling really grateful that I know someone like Ben who is my age but has dedicated his life to serving this particular marginalized population, seeing the joy in the farmworker’s eyes and on his face as he spun the pedals on his new bike for the first time around one of the greenhouses, and for the wonder of the incredible amount of manpower and labor it takes to produce the vegetation that people like me take for granted every day.  The second farm instantly triggered my emotions again because as we pulled in, I realized that I had driven past this farm dozens of times everyday that I drove to and from Costanoa.  It is set off of Highway 1 just far enough that you cannot really see it unless you know to look for it.  As I shared my astonishment with Ben that I had driven past this farm so many times but had no clue what it was or that it was even there, he looked at me and said, “You and everyone else in the area.”  As we rounded a corner of the drive, Ben pointed out two run-down looking houses.  (I use the word house loosely here because in a different context one might choose the word “shack” to describe these particular residences.  However, knowing the context and the real people who live inside, I have a hard time dismissing these homes as “shacks.”)  The two houses that Ben pointed out are the homes of two of the youth I had met earlier last week who will be serving as student leaders for Puente over the summer months.  Talk about a dagger to my heart.  These very normal looking teenagers live in places that look so much different than the normal, comfortable clothes and shoes they wear: run down, poorly constructed, decrepit.  We drove past the two houses, parked the Puente truck, and approached on foot a long narrow building that reminded me of a revamped chicken coop.  As we walked inside, Ben yelled a greeting down the hallway of the building to let the men inside know he was there.  As we made our way into the first room on the right, I realized what purpose this building has: it is residential quarters for the farmworkers.  The room we entered was a communal kitchen space where three men were cooking for the others in the barrack.  When I use the word barrack, what likely comes to your mind is something equivalent to what the Jews might have lived in at concentration camps during the Holocaust or perhaps what slaves on large plantations might have lived in if they didn’t have families inclusive of a wife and children.  If that is the image that comes to mind, you are right on.  My heart completely sunk as I realized what I was walking into.  It then quickly turned from sinking to breaking as Ben introduced me in Spanish to the three men preparing that evening’s meal, they reached out their hands to shake mine, offered me a chair, and welcomed me into their home.  Although I did not fully understand the conversation Ben had with one of the men making dinner, I know it had something to do with helping him get to a dentist due to some pain he was having in a tooth (or some of his teeth).  As Ben discussed, listened, and offered assistance to the gentleman, I looked around the kitchen in which I was sitting.  The table on the left hand wall was made of wood and looked like it could be 50 to 100 years old.  The wooden chair I was sitting in felt like it had been worn down by years of use and hundreds of people taking a load off.  Both of these pieces of furniture reminded me of things I had seen in historic sites that try to represent what life was like in the 1800s.  There was something similar to a stovetop we would see in our houses or apartments next to a dual-burner camping-like stove sitting on a countertop all fueled by gas running through a tangle of thin hoses that had been rigged for the purpose of cooking larger quantities of food at the same time.  The stovetop and camping burners were on the long wall I faced as I turned and entered the room.  The rest of that wall was filled with a large sink and another tabletop surface in the corner.  The right hand wall had a stool upon which Ben sat, and another table filled with cooking devices.  Some of the things I recognized were a radio/CD player (of which I have the very same one in my classroom at NHS), a George Foreman grill that looked like it came straight from a landfill it was so well worn and dirty, a blender that looked like it had never been touched, and other miscellaneous well-worn kitchen items.  Along the remaining wall where the doorway is cut out was a final bit of counter space filled with more kitchen gadgets.  This is where these men prepare their meals everyday.  The ceiling of the kitchen was plywood boards nailed to whatever surface is behind the plywood.  The floor was dirty linoleum.  But for these farmworkers, this is home.  Despite the unkempt and ragtag dishes, tables, and cooking surfaces, the smells of whatever the workers were cooking were incredible.  They had some produce available to them, but it certainly did not look like they had any semblance of variety.  On one of the wooden tables was what appeared to be chopped zucchini, but I did not see any other fresh vegetables.  There were also several cans of Coors original, a beer hard to find in the Midwest but very available around Pescadero and La Honda.  Ben shared with me on the way to the first farm that his responsibilities primarily include outreach to the men who are here without their families because without their families, they have fewer opportunities to get involved in social activities and they have less likelihood of obtaining access to social services they might get through the public school system if they had a child in the U.S. who was attending school.  Ben shared that for these men with few connections, finishing a day of hard labor often comes with sitting around the barracks or wherever it is that they live and drinking beers with the other men who are single and/or without their families as well.  He said if they aren’t doing that, they are on the highest points of the mountains along the coast trying to maintain cell phone reception long enough to communicate with their families in Mexico.  I was totally overwhelmed with emotion when we left this farm.  As we parted, the men once again shook my hand as a very warm gesture of hospitality.

The last residential place that we stopped was much different from the previous one.  It was almost like a small community of little houses all of different colors but mostly the same size (probably about 20’ x 30’ on average).  These houses also served as residential space for farmworkers but appeared to be much newer and better maintained that the previous stop.  What’s more is that each farmworker and/or family had their own individual space as opposed to barrack-like living.  These homes were very close together, and it was clear that the people who live in them are very close to one another.  Outside two of the houses, a group of 4 children was playing.  The children spoke very good English and even better Spanish.  They appeared to be around 5-7 years old, and probably know English so well because of their young age and participation in American public schools.  They so easily converted back and forth between languages.  While Ben was talking with one of the farmworkers who is a single man, I stood back and observed the children playing wildly and with so much joy and fun.  Then, one of the boys did something you wouldn’t typically see a child in the Midwest do.  He stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of speeding along the sidewalk on a scooter and shouted, “Policía!” before ducking and taking cover to hide.  What is particularly interesting about this scene is that all of these children and their parents at this particular farm have legal status in the United States and have actually been here for several years (I believe Ben said nearly 10).  Yet even so, they are accustomed to being around people in their community who have to worry about getting stopped by the police and then arrested and/or deported.  It was at this farm that I fell in love with the little boy who was probably 6 years old wearing black athletic pants, a t-shirt, and bright blue rain boots.  He was riding around on a small bike part of the time and a scooter the rest of the time, and he was so precious.  He kept riding the bike or scooter as close to my feet as possible and then stopping at the last second before he rammed into my heels or ran over my toes.  Then he would stop and just look up at me and grin in anticipation of what I was going to do in response to thinking I might get run over.  I don’t even know his name, but I wanted to shower him with love and bless him with a life full of resources and abundance.  It was hard to walk away from that farm.

As we concluded the rounds for that day and made our way back to Puente to get my car, Ben drove me to the top of a hill that overlooks Pescadero.  The view was divine (photos included; click to enlarge).  But the significance of the journey to the top of the hill was to see the juxtaposition of wealth in the town.  At the very top of the hill was a gorgeous multimillion-dollar home overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Highway 1.  It was a massive, beautiful, expensive house.  The drive immediately preceding the house’s driveway was a bumpy, ill-maintained dirt/gravel road that led to a rundown barn, a few trailers, and a building that was nearly burned to the ground.  This road leads to more farmworker housing.  The burned house only caught fire in the last 2 months and caused the displacement of 29 people.  The reason for the fire?  Too many refrigerators plugged into 1 outlet.  These are the living conditions of real people in the United States of America, one of the wealthiest, most affluent nations in the world.  How does one substantiate and resolve this in the brain?!

And the most egregious sin of it all is that most of never think twice about where our food might come from or whose hands and labor might have gone into producing the fruits, vegetables, and vegetation that we so love and take for granted every day.

I will never think about those things the same way again.  How could I?

The Weekend & La Honda Fair

It has been an eventful weekend in California!

Friday was my “day off” for the week, and I spent my time in Palo Alto walking around the downtown area and getting the lay of the land since this is where I start staying June 15 through June 28.  Friday afternoon Abby was able to finish work around 4, so we went and got our nails done, which we’ve only ever done 1 other time with each other.  (Typically, Abby is not really the mani/pedi type gal.  However, one of her friends in California recently got her hooked on pedicures.  To that friend, I am forever grateful!)  We then picked up Abby’s partner, Nathan, and spent the evening in San Jose.  I got to meet Abby’s running partner and some other acquaintances that Abby knows through her running partner.  We had dinner at a place called Sinos, which was a super fancy club-like Asian-American restaurant.  Truthfully, the atmosphere was odd to me because the food was of a decently high quality, but the music was loud like a club and the seating arrangements were mostly comprised of little nooks of posh furniture where groups of people could cluster together.  The “lounge” as I believe they prefer to be called was along Santana Row in San Jose, which is sort of like a fancy Clay Terrace (for all of my Indiana folks).  It is basically and open-air mall of shops and restaurants.  Overall Friday was a great day of rest.

Nathan & me at Sino in San Jose

Saturday I ran a few errands like buying postcards for my friends and family back home.  Then, I headed to the La Honda fair where I was scheduled to work the Puente booth from noon until 4PM.  The La Honda Fair was a fascinating experience because I got significant exposure to the La Honda locals at their finest haha!  I actually had no idea what to expect because the term “fair” seems to be used relatively loosely.  When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find a small meadow (privately owned) that had been opened up for the community to use.  It included about 20-25 tents/booths housed by local businesses, non-profits, and artisans and a stage and “dance floor” area.  Pretty much every hour brought with it a new sound from the stage, and the musicians were actually very good!  Many of the musicians play in the larger cities but have roots in La Honda, so they come back each year to play at the La Honda Fair.  Besides the funds that go to the artisans when people buy their goods, a large portion of the funds from the fair support the La Honda schools, in particular their art and music programs.  I have to feel good about an event that supports public education and local students!  A parent group from the elementary school was selling fresh tamales and rice and beans with a cilantro cabbage salad.  It was delicious!  I talked with some of the parents first inquiring as to whether or not they were teachers.  They laughed and said that they were merely the people who produce the children that currently attend the school.  One of the moms shared with me that the cabbage in the salad was grown in the school garden and that the students help tend to the garden and the fresh produce that comes from it.  (How cool!)  I shared with them that I was a teacher, so I was hugely supportive of the work that they were doing and shared that as teachers we are always so thankful for the help we get from parents.   The parents asked me what grade I taught, and boy did they get a good laugh when I told them I taught high school seniors.  They were pretty sure I was pulling their leg because they thought I looked like a high school senior.  Dressed in cuffed jeans, Vans, and a Puente t-shirt, I can see why they might have thought that.  I assured them that I don’t dress that casually when I teach so that I look a little more my age.  J  In addition to chatting with the elementary school parents, I also chatted with some individuals from the YMCA Camp in La Honda: Camp Jones Gulch.  As a former YMCA camper of 8 years and staff person for 3 years, I had to share my love with the YMCA camp staff at the fair.  The director of the camp in La Honda was familiar with the camp I went to as a kid and worked at throughout college.  (Shout out YMCA Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Indiana!)  It was great to be around camp family; we are a unique breed especially when we are fully in camp-mode.  I made a friendship bracelet at the Jones Gulch table to reminisce.  My absolute FAVORITE part about the La Honda Fair on Saturday, though, is that I bought two handmade bracelets from a young girl (probably about 10) whose mother was my breakfast server multiple days last week at Costanoa.  Because the restaurant wasn’t too busy during breakfast hours, I got to know my servers pretty well.  This particular mother often asked me questions about teaching and where/what I taught, but on this particular morning she asked me what I was going to do that day since the weather was absolutely gorgeous outside!  I told her that I was going to work at the La Honda Fair for Puente, and she got so excited because not only does she love Puente and the work they do, but she is a resident of La Honda.  She told me that her daughter would be there selling bracelets, and I told her to make sure her daughter stopped by the Puente booth.  I had probably only been at the Puente table for about 3 minutes when her daughter found me and sold me 2 bracelets.  It was so great to support her daughter!  (On Sunday morning she told me her daughter made more money from selling bracelets that day at the fair than she had made in tips haha!  Good for her daughter!  She’s quite the entrepreneur!)

Saturday evening I had dinner at Abby & Nathan’s with two people that are like pseudo-grandparents to Abby.  They know each other through Abby’s church.  We had a lovely dinner and I got briefed on how to care for Abby & Nathan’s three cats and garden while they are away for the next two weeks.  After dinner, I headed back to Pescadero for my final night at Costanoa.  (For those of you on Facebook & Twitter, you might have seen my “bunkmate” from that last night.  I’ll repost a picture here.  It totally gives me the creepy-crawly feeling every time I look at it.  Literally I think this is the biggest spider I’ve ever seen.  Ick.)

Seriously this thing was huge, and it has to be pregnant, right??

On Sunday, I checked out of Costanoa, drove Nathan to the airport (as Abby already left on a different flight), and then returned to the La Honda Fair for my final three hours of booth manning.  Sunday was a bit different at the fair because many people were hung over from the night before and unlike Saturday I was at the Puente booth by myself.  Being a new face (clearly not from La Honda), I attracted all kinds of unique individuals who asked all kinds of questions about Puente but really just wanted to know me.  At one point, a particularly interesting man approached me and began a conversation about Puente and his life in La Honda.  45 minutes (and a slide show of pictures of farm animals on a cell phone) later, another local spotted me still in conversation with this same guy.  He made eye contact with me, and I bore holes into his soul with my return look begging for help or relief from this man who was clearly not interested in leaving the Puente table any time soon and, in fact, had made his way behind the table to talk to me.  Recognizing that the man that had been talking to me for about 45 minutes was new to town and not particularly representative of the greater La Honda population, the other gentleman came over and relieved me by asking all sorts of questions about Puente.  It turns out, he is very good friends with some of the Puente staff and already knew all of the answers to the questions he was asking.  I am so grateful for this person who recognized an awkward situation and did what it took to help a stranger.  How about THAT for an #OAEproj tweet for the day???

I concluded my Sunday with a trip to the local Safeway in Palo Alto.  It turns out, this isn’t a safety gear supply store; it’s a grocery store much like Kroger.  (haha!)  So I bought some milk and cereal to enjoy for breakfast this next week, and then commenced laundry back at Abby & Nathan’s apartment.  Although it was not a particularly exciting Sunday night, it was good to rest and prepare for the week ahead as I have many responsibilities at Puente this week.  Stay tuned for more!

Pescadero Grown

Thursday was an incredible day helping Charlea set up and prepare for the Pescadero Grown Farmers’ Market, which Puente runs.  I learned so much about the beauty of the farmers’ market and about the amount of work that goes into running/hosting even a small famers’ market.  There are permits and certifications and a host of other more bureaucratic steps that have to take place in addition to lots of sheer manpower to run the event.  But this is a weekly event the Puente does well.

I had the privilege of attending Puente’s farmer’s market two years ago when I visited Abby, but it is now a well-oiled machine that is a raging success.  With over 200 visitors/shoppers, there was serious growth from in participation from when I visited previously.  And while 200 people may not seem like a lot compared to some of the farmers’ markets we visit in the Midwest, please keep in mind the geography of this farmers’ market: rural California; about 2 miles inland from the coast; on the main drive of Pescadero, a town with a population of 643 people according to the 2010 census.  Probably about 60% of the people that visit the farmers’ market are tourists, but Puente has done an amazing job of making the farmers’ market available to the residents of Pescadero, too.  They even accept WIC and other forms of payment to allow the residents the most access to healthy, fresh food as possible.  It was truly a wonderful and beautiful experience.

Besides the farm fresh items for sale, Puente also runs children’s activities including a creative activity and a physical activity.  This week the activities included jump roping, blowing bubbles, and coloring pictures.  They also had a book give-away where all farmers’ market visitors could pick out free books to read and enjoy.  They also had a husband and wife duo playing music throughout the 4-hour market.  A volunteer from Puente also repairs and “tunes up” bicycles for the local community totally free of charge! It is probably one of my favorite things about this month at Puente and the thing I was most looking forward to.

One thing I noticed about the farmers at the market is that many of the farmers are women.  I thought this was of particular interest as we have been socialized to assume that farmers are men.  I addition to the women farmers who came to sell their goods at the market, I also met the owner of the land where Charlea (the market manager for Puente) lives.  She, too, is a woman.  Although she really hates the term “landowner” and we joked about how she is a feudal lady (as opposed to feudal lord), it was fascinating to hear about the trades that farmers and landowners make out here to get help on their farms.  For example, several people who I have met here get their room and board in exchange for a certain number of hours of work on the farm.  This is such a foreign concept to a city girl haha!  But very cool that they have living arrangements such as these.

For the rest of this post, I want to give you a taste of the Pescadero Grown Farmers’ Market through pictures.  Enjoy!