Meat Free Monday__Arroz a la Cubana

Here's a quick and easy meal you can make in four steps, with just four ingredients, all easily obtainable here in Shanghai.  

I first learned about Arroz a la Cubana when I lived with a host family in Ibiza, in Spain. The grandma of the family always prepared lunch for us, and in the heat of the summer, she didn't really care to turn on the oven or stove for a long amount of time.  As it gets warmer and more humid here in Shanghai, this is the perfect solution to avoid a hot kitchen/apartment.  

Prepare rice.
Heat canned chopped tomatoes.
Fry a peeled banana.  Wait until it's caramelized.
Fry an egg.

*Salt and Pepper to taste*

Note:  You can also add an extra egg or include some beans, to increase protein intake and swap barley for the rice, to increase fiber and complex carb intake.  You can also make the meal with the style of Colombia by adding Queso Fresco (or Feta cheese, which is similar in taste and texture and available here in Shanghai).

Assemble the plate as shown below.  Ta-da!

That's it!  Very easy, quick and delicious!

Buen Provecho!

Graduation season is here again!

I'd like to dedicate today's "Wellness Wednesday" post to all the dreamers out there.  Especially high school seniors, who tend to have big dreams and optimistic attitudes.  Y'all are great!

Especially my seniors from this year's graduating class: Audrey, Bridget, Isaandra and Sarah.

Here was my dream from high school.  Please excuse the typos and the fact that I couldn't spell my own name correctly! This was written for my high school paper in 2004, clearly with Windows '98 or something.  LOL!

Even though I'm many years older and wiser, I thankfully still feel like I'm the same 18 year old kid with the same energy and spark to pursue my dream.  My dream to establish a permanent space for Youth Dance Alliance to bring arts education to young people is alive and well.  I'd LOVE your support! Find out more here.

This week has me thinking about graduations, and what to say to young people at this pivotal time in their lives.  Back in my first year of teaching, here's what I had to offer my students:

I think my message to students is still the same, because young people are the best!! They are excited and fired up to make positive change in the world. They raise money for causes left and right, volunteer many hours of free time to improve their communities and promote awareness and understanding of important issues.  I hope to encourage them to pursue their dreams, and trust in their gifts and abilities to give back to others.    

I am fortunate with work with some of the brightest, most sophisticated and savvy young people I've ever come across.  Every day I am inspired by their compassion, generosity and thoughtfulness. 

Media reports complaining about "them young people" drive me INSANE.  

Young people are the most promising part of our futures.  They are the hope and faith we need to continue to evolve and improve the human experience.  Investing in the education and well being of young people allows our communities to thrive and be enjoyable places to live.  

I am reminded of the honor and responsibility I have, to be a great teacher when I think about all of the young people I have interacted with, equating to about 200 children each year.  I love looking at old photos, letters and videos of my students from the past few years.  I am lucky I can keep in touch with them now, with the help of technology.  I also love keeping in touch with my old teachers.  They will forever be a source of inspiration and support to me. 

In fact, I hope to be as loved as dear Mrs. Kopman in the future.  This wonderful woman called everyone "bubbie", told us to stop "yenta-ering" and get back to class, happily and heartedly led square dancing lessons for [awkward] teens in HS PE, and had her office walls decorated with over 40 years of photo collages of students.  She and her husband are now in their 80s and still go dancing every week!  I LOVE THEM!     

This year marks my eighth year of coaching, my sixth year of teaching K-12 health and physical education, and my fourth year teaching in Shanghai.  Many things have changed since I first began, but a few things remain the same.  I love learning, I love my students and I love teaching!

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step!  Even if you are not graduating from a school this season, think about the steps you'd like to take to improve your wellness; specifically your intellectual and occupational health domains.  I'm here to help you achieve your goals!  Please don't hesitate to ask for advice!

To new journeys ahead! 

Here are some graduations of mine, throughout the years.  We all started with the same step, but the journeys have been different!

Angel now teaches PE in Hoboken, Mark is now a school counselor and Sean is teaching PE in south NJ.
Alan teaches elementary PE and Jillian is married with two cute little boys.
Jillian and I with Lauren, who teaches PE in Bloomfield and Dr. Saavedra, the man who required us to jump rope for 10 minutes straight without stopping, in order to pass his class (with no music playing, I might add!). 
Billy is now a fire fighter in West Orange, NJ.
Nicole is now married with an adorable son and Caleb is teaching PE in south NJ.
Anybody from MSU know if Chris and Jessica are teaching?
With the wonderful Miss Mitchell.  I missed her a lot this year!  She's now teaching in Frankfurt.
Proud to report that my former HS students are now all dancing and/or cheering in college!
Dr. K, forever in our hearts!
Right after receiving my Masters degree, I was all smiles, from ear to ear!
It was such a happy day!
I was really proud to have completed my goal!
My rock and my number one fan.  Also the man I hope to be dancing with in my 80s!

Enjoy the rest of your week!

<3 paz. amor. felicidad siempre

Kunming was a BLAST!

So as it turns out, Kunming is an awesome city!  I really didn't know what to expect, apart from the crowds at the touristy attractions during the Labor Day holiday.  But wow!  I was so pleasantly surprised at how nice Kunming is.  I would even go so far to say that Kunming would potentially be a great place to live.  The city has great weather, a lot of clean and green space, friendly locals and a more relaxed energy than that of Shanghai.  Most importantly, the sky is blue there and it appears to be less polluted!  All communication is strictly in Mandarin, so it was a great place to practice the few phrases I know (true story--few as in like 20 words).

Five things I learned while visiting Kunming:

#1: Stay near the "Green Lake".  There are many cute shops and restaurants along the path. It was fun to rent a bike and ride around the perimeter of the lake.  Riding at a very leisurely pace took about 15-20 minutes to get around the whole thing.

At the entrance to Green Lake
Panoramic shot of Green Lake
Love is in the air at Green Lake

I absolutely love the verbena flowers!
They were EVERYWHERE in the city!

#2:  Taxi drivers won't use the meters.  I'm assuming they might use them sometimes, since they are installed in the car.  However, the drivers I met seemed very motivated to make as much money as possible and refused to use the meter.  

#3: Along the same lines, if you hire a driver for the day, pay them for the number of hours of service, not the number of destinations you visit.  Also, always leave a paper trail and get agreements in WRITING!  

There was a severe miscommunication between us and the manager of the hostel we stayed at and the driver we hired to bring us to a national park.  As a group of 5 travelers, we made it very clear that we wanted to visit two specific places in one day for 600¥.  

Do we look like a group that only wanted to visit ONE tourist place?!? Hell no.
The manager of the hostel said it was fine and booked a driver for us.  Well it turned out not to be fine because the driver wanted to charge us more, to go to two places.  He wanted to charge us 800¥.  We tried to explain we would spend less time at the first place, in order to have time for the second place.  We tried to explain we would still return at the previously agreed upon hour.  We even tried to offer to buy the guy lunch, and even said we’d splurge and go somewhere that costs more than 2¥ a plate, but they wouldn’t budge.  The manager of the hostel and the driver were both unwilling to accommodate our requests.  In the end, we only went to one place in one day and saved the other place for the following day. It worked out fine, but it would have been better to have had the extra time to explore more places.
We didn't really need an entire day to look at rocks.

#4:  Yuxi is a small city best known for their signature cigarettes and the city smells like tobacco.  Apparently, there are also no Starbucks stores there.  We were traveling with a girl from the UK who has lived in Yuxi for the past year and she was very excited to visit Kunming because there are two Starbucks stores there.  These types of things seem trivial, but sometimes when a bad case of homesickness hits, it’s always nice to go to a Starbucks and get your usual beverage of choice.  You might not understand Mandarin and the local Chinese might not understand English, but it seems everybody speaks Starbucks these days.

#5:  Hostels aren’t so bad, especially if you get a private room.  I’ve had my share of weird/strange/gross/uncomfortable experiences in other hostels and as I’ve gotten older, more wiser and have accumulated more airline/hotel points for free rooms, I’ve avoided hostels like the plague.  

However, I realize why hostels are more appealing.  It’s the energy of the environment that makes the positive difference.  People are more friendly and open, other travelers are more curious and ask lots of questions, and the wall decorations are funnier.  Like the poster in the lobby asking the “underwear pirate” to return the black panties to the laundry room, as the owner was waiting for them.  You definitely wouldn’t see that at the Ritz!


#6:  I've been in Asia too long and definitely need a new adorable way to pose for pictures! 
Enough with the peace sign...  Yikes.

Here are lots of pictures from the weekend trip to Kunming!  

I hope you have an opportunity to visit someday!

For more travel tips in Asia, be sure to download my free e-book.  
  I like to pay my knowledge and experience forward!

<3 paz. amor. felicidad siempre

En route to Kunming with "Kunming Airlines".  The 3 Bs:  "Bueno, Bonito y Barato".
Well hello gorgeous blue sky!
Milkshakes to kick things off right.  Order the mango/banana milkshake.  Skip the orange milkshake!

First order of business: Get a map!

Check out the rainbow of colors!  
So many types of dried fruit!
Caligraphy is beautiful!

At the time, we had no idea why this monk was strangling himself in the middle of the park with a heavy metal wire.  We also didn't know why people were paying him money.  But when I gave him money, he gave me three wooden bracelets in return.  When I got back to work, I asked a Chinese colleague what the spectacle was all about.  As it turns out, this was a demonstration of "Qi Gong", or the principle of inner strength.  Well, I'm glad I gave him some money for his efforts!

It was very hot!  Took a time out in the shade with this pair. So cute!
We bought these matching bracelets for 4¥.
It's all about the 3Bs, everyone!
More color on the street with fresh fruit.

Entrance to the Yuantong Temple.
It's one of the prettiest temples I've visited.
It's a really important Buddhist temple, in existence since the Qing dynasty.

In the main, large altar.
I love how the red ribbons look, tied to the trees.
Fun factoid.  This is a papa lion.   How do you know?  The papa always has the ball under his paw. Mama lion has baby cub under her paw.

DAY 2:  When we only had the chance to visit the "Stone Forest".

Pretty view of the rock formations that have supposedly been around for over 2,000 years.  I say supposedly because a lot of landmarks in China are remakes of the original, and are not really as old as they claim to be.  But I have to say, this stone forest's craftsmanship was way too complicated to have been made by human hands.
Now this was the most dedication I've seen to sun protection:  Hiking through narrow stone pathways with an umbrella!
What a group shot!! These little girls were giggling and following us for quite awhile.  Mom was most excited to take a picture with us.

What a genius idea for parents who've lost their nerves parenting wild kids.  "Don't do that again or you're going to the rock prison!".  LOL.
We live in a beautiful world!

A little girl modeling the "rock prison".

Creepy CCTV cameras are that song.. "I always feel like, somebody's watching meeee".
Time for a little selfie.
Beautiful view!!

Postcard perfect day and view!

This man was so sweet.  And I really loved his hair!  

When I see people like this woman, I wish I could communicate in their language.  She looks like she has a story to tell!

Yes, that is a foot in my picture, because people are crazy and want to jump over railings for the perfect selfie.
Okay, I take back what I said earlier about dedication to sun protection.  This "Scuba Steve" takes the cake!
While we were wandering around the park, we stumbled upon a traditional dance show.  Very entertaining! But man, the sun was hot. Their polyester outfits didn't look very comfortable in the heat.
Very beautiful lake!

Love the Go Pro shots!

So many umbrellas, so much skin to protect!!

DAY 3:  Yunan Nationalities Park.  What a really cool place!  So many interesting displays representing the many minority ethnic groups of China.  The place was huge!

Had to do a selfie in front of the red ribbons in the trees.
I love the red against the green!  So pretty!

Traditional Mongolian yurt.

And onto the BEST part of the trip:  

It took most of these tickets and about 365¥ to see West Hill and Dragon Gate, but it was totally worth it.
The best way to travel in China:  The cable car!
The view of Kunming going up the mountain.

Love is in the air.. literally!

Then, we had to take another  cable car up to the highest point on the mountain.  

Not gonna lie.. it was pretty rickety and sketchy.. Definitely not for the faint of heart!
We finally arrived to the Dragon's Gate expecting a peaceful respite...

And came upon this spectacle.. Looked like Saturday morning at Carrefour! Aka too many people pushing and shouting.
In an effort to capture this moment, I yelled out, "HELLO!" hoping that everyone would turn and look at me.

No one did, except for Nando and this guy with a fake Marlboro hat. LOL!
Quick selfie with the crowd

Once we went down to another temple and to a lower platform, I was able to snap this shot, which I think better captures peacefulness and beauty.

Another beautiful temple along the path on the way down the mountain.

View outside the cable car station.   Wouldn't mind if this was my view while I was working.

Best idea we had all weekend:  Eat popcorn on the way down the mountain in the cable car!

Check out this picture!  What a great memory!  LOL.

Quick milkshake at our favorite Green Lake, before heading back to the airport.
I'm so grateful to have such a handsome, intelligent, funny and kind partner in crime.
If only I could pocket the sunshine, and keep it for days when it's gray, cloudy and polluted in Shanghai.. sigh.
Enjoying the final seconds of sunshine.

Bye Bye Kunming!

Go Pro/Selfie Stick Outtakes.. They are really funny!  We're "fishing" in every single one!  Ooops!

What a funny expression, Mr. Blue Pants man! LOL.
Well this was certainly a first.  This person wanted a picture with her hat, but WITHOUT it on her head.

That's a wrap!  Until next time and the next adventure...