BFFs Angie and Kristan blog about anything, everything, and sometimes even nothing.

New official site for our JBU columns

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www.jbucolumn.com

Look for all column updates to be there from now on.

Going forward, this site will be primarily for “off-topic” items.

Loving Spain, then and now

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Seven years ago, I fell in love with a boy. He was my closest friend in college – someone who made me laugh, challenged me to challenge myself, and listened to all my hopes and fears without judgment. One night while we were hanging out in his dorm, I confessed my feelings for him and then bolted out the door. By the time I got back to my own room, there was an email waiting. He had feelings for me too.

For the next month, things were perfect. Every touch was electric, every smile laced with the shared secret of our affection. When we left campus for winter break – me to Houston, him to upstate New York – I expected the absence to make our hearts grow fonder. I expected the new year to be better and brighter and blissfully full of our burgeoning love.

Instead, on our first day back for the Spring semester, he broke up with me.

Naturally I was devastated. I had no idea what I’d done wrong and no idea how to fix it. I spent the following two weeks in a depression, robotically going to classes and club meetings, doing my homework, and eating only because I had to.

Eventually I pulled myself from this abyss, forced myself to take care of my mind and body so that my spirit could mend. And when an unexpected opportunity arose to escape my regular life – which felt like the mere husk of an existence – I snatched it. An old friend was studying abroad, and a surprise stipend from my summer internship meant that I could afford to visit her.

Nine days in Spain didn’t heal my broken heart, but it helped. My feet kissed the cobbled streets of Granada, my arms embraced the scorching air of Sevilla. I drank in the architecture and history of Valencia. I floated in the shining blue waters off Barcelona.

On the last day of my trip, I took a stroll alone through Buen Retiro park in Madrid. Couples in rowboats drifted across the small lake, and behind that, groups of young people sat chatting and laughing on the steps of the big stone monument. The lush green park made me feel small, and the cheerful conversations made me feel alone, but in the best possible way. Because I was finally happy, all on my own, even on the other side of the world from everything I knew.

My lost and drifting love had found a new place to anchor, a new place to call home. The gaping emptiness inside of me had grown smaller, because Spain had started the process of filling it.

The rest I would have to do on my own, of course. With time.

* * *

Seven years later, I returned to Spain, very much happy and whole. This time, I came with the very boy who had once broken my heart. Between then and now, we had weathered many highs and lows. I supported him through a campus controversy; he supported me through drama with friends. We got back together and we broke up; we fought and we made up. He graduated and accepted a job in another city; I graduated and moved in with him. We met each other’s families, we adopted a puppy, we got a joint credit card.

We had started building a future together, so I wanted to make peace with our past by visiting Spain. In a way, I was introducing one lover to another. But there was no jealousy or fighting – just good food, good sights, and good company. As we strolled hand-in-hand through Buen Retiro park, I was reminded once again of why I fell in love. With both of them.

10-27 Retiro 017

Lessons on Humanity From a Cheetah

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Meet Savanna, the 6.5 month old, 38 pound cheetah that I hung out with tonight. (Took everything in me not to snuggle and/or steal her.)

With the spots of a Dalmatian, the build of a Greyhound, and the paws of a Great Dane, Savanna is clumsily put together but unbelievably cute. She’s also entirely feline — a cheetah cub, about 7 months old and 38 pounds. (Full grown, she could weigh double that.) I met her at the zoo, but not with bars or glass or a moat between us. No, she stood less than an arm’s length away at times, restrained by a simple leash.

This happened at an event for Andy’s work, hosted at the Cincinnati Zoo. As part of their “Ambassador” program, Savanna has been acclimated to a variety of human sights and sounds so that she can attend functions such as our party that night, or more importantly classrooms, to help teach people about wildlife studies and conservation efforts. Savanna stayed with us for nearly an hour, during which time she calmly sat for pictures, climbed on a table to monitor the room, and even nuzzled her 3 handlers like a house cat. With such affectionate gestures, and some of her baby fuzz still visible, it was easy to forget Savanna’s true nature.

Despite her training, Savanna is still a wild animal, ruled mostly by instinct. She was one of two cubs born to the zoo, but her brother didn’t survive. Apparently cheetah mothers won’t raise just one cub, because after 18 months cubs are left to fend for themselves, which would be hard to do on their own without siblings. Thus Savanna’s mother abandoned her, and Savanna became an orphan.

That’s when the zoo stepped in. They hand-raised her, secured her a spot in the Ambassador program, and even partnered her with a puppy of similar age and size to be an adoptive playmate and brother. The two will be best friends until she matures, at which point instinct will kick in again, because female cheetahs live alone. Fortunately one of the handlers is already eager to adopt the black lab, Max, when Savanna outgrows him.

The push and pull between the laws of nature and the intervention of mankind has defined Savanna’s life, and in some ways it defines ours too. Do we let things occur as they may, or should we step in and control when we can? That’s what I kept thinking about later that night, long after Savanna had left our party. It’s a pretty philosophical takeaway from a mere hour with a cheetah cub, but then, hanging out with Savanna was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I both enjoyed and was affected by.

And that, to me, is the mark of a great ambassador.

Our Holiday Break

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Kristan

While there was no snow or sleigh bells, my holiday was otherwise fairly traditional. I flew home to Houston and was greeted with lots of hugs from my parents — as well as lots of kisses from mosquitoes.

That first weekend, we battled the crowds to do our last-minute shopping. Funny enough, nowadays my parents and I tend to buy our own presents and then wrap them as a surprise to everyone else. It may sound weird, but we enjoy it. Makes Santa’s life easier too.

After Christmas, my half-sister came to visit with her granddaughter, and we showed them a few of Houston’s highlights: Moody Gardens, Kemah Boardwalk, NASA’s Space Center, the Galleria and the Waterwall. We also drove around nice neighborhoods to look at their sparkling holiday lights. Though I had done it all before, it was fun to see my hometown through a newcomer’s eyes.

For me, the new experience was babysitting my cousin’s daughter for 3 nights. She’s now 5 years old, which is a fun but exhausting age. We colored Hello Kitty activity books, read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and watched My Little Pony. I gave her a bath and brushed her teeth. She ate the ham and eggs out of my kolache. I felt like I was playing Mom for a few days, and it was… illuminating.

Now it’s 2013, and I’m back home, back to my regularly scheduled life, back to work. I don’t have any specific resolutions, but I would like to continue applying a few themes across all areas of my life: (1) Don’t try to do/have it all; (2) Don’t worry about what people think; (3) Keep It Simple, Stupid; (4) Push yourself; (5) Be more assertive/decisive; and (6) Don’t aim for perfection, just keep getting better.

Angie

My parents and I always celebrate Thanksgiving in a big way — lots of friends and a massive feast — but for whatever reason, we don’t do any of the December holidays. So after a wonderful extended stay at home in November, I decided to do something different this winter: Freeze my butt off in Canada. At –10°F to be precise!

Why give up the balmy Texas climate for arctic Canadian weather? I wanted to learn how to ski. Also, as a child I had visited Banff National Park, a World Heritage Site notorious for its scenic beauty, in the summer. Now I wanted to witness firsthand its breathtaking views in the winter.

I was not disappointed. I spent a couple days touring the towns and then three full days skiing the popular sites: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay. Each day as I arrived on the slopes, with an instructor leading the way, I ooo-ed and ahh-ed – even falling once because I was so captivated by the view.

Needless to say, I fell quite a few more times trying to complete a green (“easy”) run on the second day. Although I picked up the basic skiing techniques quickly, gravity sometimes won. Nevertheless, I slowly but surely conquered the mountain, turning and braking my way down the steep inclines. By the third day, I felt confident on the slopes, and eager to return for more someday.

After my skiing adventures, I spent New Year’s Eve in Seattle with one of my best friends, eating and exploring the city. We even toured the old city underground and then watched the fireworks shoot off around the Space Needle.

On January 1st, I flew back to New York City, with sore legs and a clearer mind, ready for change in 2013.

angie skiing

After the storm

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We Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. Living in former swamplands about an hour from the Gulf Coast, we’ve had to stock up on non-perishables and supplies, fill our bathtubs with water, board our windows, and evacuate. Our city has experienced major flooding, power outages, and even the loss of homes and lives. Recently, those on the East Coast experienced similar devastation. Sandy caused enormous damage, and some people lost everything.

The New York City area was hit particularly hard. Living next to Times Square, I was very lucky. While my office was closed for three days, other than flickering power, my apartment was fine. It was surreal, however, to witness for the second time since moving here, how empty and quiet the City That Never Sleeps had become because of a hurricane.

When we finally returned to work, one of my friends set up a volunteer effort for my team. With the little gas that we had, four of us made it down to the Rockaways early in the morning, with hot food and supplies – all generously donated by a local diner and colleagues.

We walked amidst the destruction, amazed not only by what was lost, but also by how many others had come out to help. We spent the day at a local church where the National Guard was also present, all of us organizing, distributing and delivering supplies. Despite being inside the building, we were very cold, which led us to worry about the dropping temperatures and wonder how residents would stay warm.

I have only these few words and pictures to share from my experience volunteering in the Rockaways. It will take a while for everyone to recover from Sandy, but what I saw growing up in Houston is very present here in New York: People helping people.

All photos taken and copyright by Angie Liang.

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