Monday, June 24, 2013

A Week in the Wilderness

"Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her."
 - Hosea 2:14

Day 5: Near the summit of Bowen Mountain to capture the sunrise. 


Kenzie, Katie, Claire, Morgan.  These are 4 of the sweet junior girls I've had the great joy of meeting with every Tuesday morning at 7am in my classroom throughout the year.  Together we learned more about the character of God and how that should change the way we live our lives.  Addie, Erica & Natalie.  These 3 were members of the amazing senior class I had the pleasure to teach this past year.  Additionally... I had the opportunity to travel with Natalie to Spain in 2011 and took Addie to Washington DC this past January.  So there is some history with this group... but nothing brings you together like a week in the wilderness.  We learned much about living life in the woods: proper BIFF digging techniques, cleaning our 2-cups with dirt, the importance of "bomb proofing" your packs to protect from foxes and marmots, the fun snow can be while glissading and the annoyance it presents while post-holing in soggy boots...  I know they were challenged in many ways, but they did it without complaining which blessed us all.  Then I learned how beautiful their hearts are as they shared their life stories.  And each of those stories pointed to how amazing God is as he has redeemed each and every one of us from brokenness in some way or another. 

Melinda Brandt.  Rockstar.  Anyone who knows her, knows that she has insane energy.  On our "rest day" on Day 3 (which was a rest day for good reason), Melinda was doing a circuit workout... running around the campsite, jumping over logs, doing burpees, etc.  But what is even more amazing is the way her energy spills over into all aspects of her life.  She pursues her faith with determination.  She loves on and fights for Young Life kids at all hours of the day.  She serves her family - Justin, Macklin and Macy - tirelessly.  And what I see in her is that she does this all with excellence.  And for a reason.  She wants others to be changed by the love of Jesus like she has been changed. 

Bianca and Andrew.  Our guides.  The Good Lord knew what he was doing when he matched them together and then placed them as guides of our group.  Bianca was born and raised in Vail and became a believer at DU.  Andrew grew up in Denver, graduated from DU 2 weeks ago and is moving to Vail in September to put his hospitality degree to work.  These two served each other and our group amazingly throughout the week.  There were many mentions of... "Just wait til camp confessions" as there were a few glitches throughout the trip.  But they were masked by their smiles, seemingly endless "Plan B's", and deep faith that the Lord would provide.  They challenged all of us with amazing questions and scripture to help us dig deeper in our faith.  A question on Day 1: "What does it say about God that he wants you in the wilderness this week?"  And then on Day 2:  "What does it say about the world that you have to escape to the woods for a week?"  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  And this is the kind of conversation that makes me come alive.  Thanks Bianca and Andrew for leading us up and down this trail. 

God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I was reminded that God loves me.  My life verse surfaced again this week as I was reminded "I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I have drawn you with unfailing kindness." (Jeremiah 31:3)  I saw how Jesus changes lives as evidenced in the amazing stories each person shared with the group.  I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit as we each had the opportunity to encourage one another after each life story and be encouraged by the group after our own stories.  These words were powerful and something that I think each one of us will never forget and will cherish for years to come...

So, I was lead into the wilderness, in the company of some amazing people.  And the Lord spoke.  I can't think of a better way to set the tone for the year that is to come. 

And now "The Journey" has carried me to Peoria, Illinois to spend the summer with my family.  Good things will happen here.   I can't wait to share them with you. 


Friday, June 14, 2013

Leaving "The Valley"

Now it's my turn.

It didn't take long to learn how transient the Vail Valley was.  It seems to be the nature of the beast in a tourist town.  In fact, upon meeting one of my best friends, Julie, she asked "Are you going to live here for a while or are you going to leave in 6 months like everyone else?  Because if you are going to leave, I don't want to be your friend."  (If you knew Jules, you would know that that statement wasn't as bad as it sounds... )

And so I've been blessed with amazing friendships over the past 10 years here.  Many have been around for the whole time. However, I did experience what seemed to be a mass exodus of friends in 2009, whether from life changes like getting married and having kids to moving to survive the economic crisis.  I remember thinking, "Wait, this isn't supposed to happen to me now.  I've been here for 6 years, I shouldn't have to find new friends now!"  But, such is life.

I had considered taking a trip like this for many years.  My initial plan was to teach for 5 years, then take a year leave of absence and teach abroad.  But the reality was that my teaching gig was my dream job and I just didn't want to leave it.  During the 2011-12 school year, I didn't find nearly the fulfillment I usually had from teaching so that is when this whole sabbatical idea started to take root.

And here I am.  All my belongings are in storage and I'm ready to say so long to the Valley... but just for a year.  I have been surprised at how easy it's been.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it seems this is something people do around here so it's no big deal.  They leave and then come back...and you didn't even know they were gone.  I envision myself back in town a year from now and someone saying... "Oh hey!  I haven't seen you in a while."  "Yeah... I've been gone for a year."  "Oh, right..."

First Stop: I leave in 7 hours for a week long backing trip with 7 Young Life girls and fellow leader Melinda Brandt in the Arapahoe National Forest.  Can't wait to update you on the awesome week that will have been. Pray for no forest fires...

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Fly Around the World for $730




... well not exactly.  But I got your attention didn't I?

I'm actually flying to the places below for $730 (the taxes for these flights). 

 
   
 I have to purchase a couple of legs separately, such as: Madrid to Kathmandu, Kathmandu to Delhi, Amman to Nairobi and Guatemala to Roatan.  But early estimates put those purchases at $1500.  So... the post should really say: "How to Fly around the World for $2200." 

And the answer is this: Play the "credit card game."  I know... sounds scammy, right?  But it really isn't.  The bottom line is that you should be earning good rewards for using a credit card.  So if you are not doing that, go to creditcards.com and apply for the reward card that is right for you.  But... if you play the "game", you can earn some really good rewards. 

And the rest of this post is pretty technical so if you are not interested, please spare yourself and stop reading now.  But I have had some friends ask for details on how this works...  This is my best attempt to explain.  

So this is how this particular game went:
I'd been getting credit card offers from American Airlines for years.  But I was happy with my Wells Fargo card and the cash back awards I was getting there.  However, I noticed that the longer I held out from applying for and American Airlines "AAdvantage" card, the more enticing the rewards got.  They started at "Earn 20,000 miles for spending $1000 in 3 months".  Then it became 30,000.  I think I finally cashed in at 40,000... but that was by doing a google search of: AAdvantage card 40,000 bonus miles.  By doing that google search, I came across this blog: http://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/02/20/citi-2-browser-update-2/.  My new best friend Daraius described how to apply for an AAdvantage Visa AND and AAdvantage American Express at the same time (using 2 separate browsers) and turn that 40,000 bonus miles into 80,000 bonus miles.  (Unfortunately... it doesn't look like that trick works any longer... but there are still other good offers and way to work the system.)  So I spent $1000 on each card within 3 months and earned my 80,000 bonus miles.

And then I got lucky.  I took 16 kids to Washington DC in January on ... you guessed it... American Airlines.  And I booked all of the flights on my own credit card.  Double points for booking American Airlines tickets on your AAdvantage card... Cha-ching! That's another 16,000 bonus miles.  

I already had miles with American Airlines and I then continued to use my AAdvantage Visa Signature card for all other purchases, racking my total available miles up to 140,000. 

Also from my friend Daraius at millionmilesecrets.com, I learned about the "Explorer Award."  He explains it all on this blog post: http://millionmilesecrets.com/2012/02/06/american-airlines-awardchart/.  And by finding this chart (http://www.aa.com/i18n/disclaimers/oneworld_awards.jsp), I discovered I had accumulated enough miles to travel an ACTUAL 35,000 miles around the world.  Here are the basic stipulations of the "Explorer Award":
1.  You can use up to 16 segments (If I want to fly from Peoria to Paris: Peoria to Dallas is one... Dallas to Paris is two)
2.  You can only connect in the same city twice
3.  You are allowed one "open jaw" (I'm flying into Paris but arranging other transportation to get to Madrid and Khatmandu... so then I'm flying out of Delhi... because Khatmandu to Frankfurt took me to Hong Kong and put me over my miles) All other flights have to go into and out of the same city. 
4.  You must complete your travel in 1 year
5.  You have to end where you begin

I would add the following things to consider when planning:
6.  Be prepared to be on the phone for upwards of 6 hours
7.  Take advantage of the offer for American to call you back instead of waiting on the line
8.  If you are connected with someone who seems incompetent, does not understand how this award works or does not speak the language you speak, tell them thanks for their help and you'll call back later or ask them to transfer you to another agent...because your blood pressure will skyrocket quickly if you don't. 
9.  Use a flight mileage calculator such as this one: http://www.worldatlas.com/travelaids/flight_distance.htm
10.  The One World Explorer "Plan and Book" tool  (http://www.oneworld.com/flights/plan-book-online/) is helpful but a lot of the rules they have don't apply to this Explorer Award through American Airlines.  Don't panic.

And just a side note... another travel tool that I stumbled upon last night is called rome2rio.com.  You type in any two cities and it prices out how to connect via plane, train, bus or car and then gives you and estimated cost.  It appears as though it is affiliated with Kayak.  SUPER helpful!

Finally - I learned about this game from my savvy friends McKenzie and Cody.  They work the system this way and take advantage of travelzoo.com as well.  Cody also clued me into flytertalk.com where all the tricks of the trade are shared.  I believe that if you are an organized person, persistent, and love a good deal... this is the game for you!  ;)