Archive for the ‘Writing by my students’ Category

The expression comparing apples to oranges means examining the similarities of things that are completely different. It’s a widely held belief that one cannot compare apples to oranges, but they are both fruit, which are relatively the same size and can be compared.

Let’s first look at the obvious physical similarities. The apple and the orange are both fruits that grow on trees. They both come in many varieties, ranging in size from very small, about the diameter of a quarter, to quite large, about the size of a softball. On average, most apples and oranges are about the size of a baseball. Both fruits are edible in their fresh, natural state. They may also be used to make delicious juices and are also excellent sources of vitamin C. Either fruit will add a sweet twist to a traditional green salad. The uses in the kitchen are endless.

Of course, apples and oranges do have some obvious physical differences as well. While both fruits are covered with skin, the skins are markedly different. Just by looking, the first thing we see is the color. Oranges are, well, mostly orange. Although there are some green and yellow varieties, apples are, for the most part, red. Oranges come in many varieties as well, but again, they are orange. Upon closer investigation, we see that the skin of the apple is very thin, smooth, and shiny. Orange skin or rind as it is known, is much thicker and has a leathery quality. It has many tiny dimples, giving it a more textured feel. The sheen of the orange rind is not as shiny as that of the apple. So we see that there is a difference in aesthetics.

We must now look at the edibility factor. Generally, apple skins are eaten, and orange rinds are not, at least in the sense of just biting into an orange. Not that eating orange rind is bad for you in any way, but most people find the bitter flavor a bit unpleasant. However, orange zest, which is a thin peel or scraping from the outermost surface of the rind, is often used to add citrus flavor to many culinary dishes. Next to vanilla, orange is the most used flavoring in the U.S.

Used most often in desserts, apples and oranges both make for sweet after-dinner treats. I have seen both used for glazed toppings on several kinds of tarts. Apples are a bit sweeter and smoother than the tangy orange, but both flavors can be married quite well with a number of other fruits and berries. When it comes to pie, we all know that the apple is, without question, the king. I should mention that I once had a mandarin orange pie with a chocolate raspberry cream sauce which was absolutely astounding. That being said, I cannot deny the apple pie its rightful place as the quintessential all-American dessert. I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying as American as apple pie.

Now let’s look a bit more in depth at the nutritional similarities. First of all, apples and oranges are both fat free, cholesterol free, and sodium free. Both contain about the same amount of pectin. Pectin is fiber. Fiber is necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system and has been linked to the prevention of high cholesterol and some cancers. Similar quantities of vitamins B1, B2, and B6, vitamins A and E, as well as proteins and sugars are found in both fruits. The amounts of these nutrients only differ by mere tenths of a milligram per medium fruit. Oranges, however, do contain more vitamin C than apples. Both are about 80 to 85 percent water and have about 80 calories.

Throughout history, we can find some symbolic meanings of both fruits. Apples are thought to symbolize love, youth and health, as well as beauty and happiness. In Greek mythology, the apple is often referred to as a declaration of one’s love. Casting an apple to a love interest was used as a proposal of marriage. If they caught it, that meant yes, and if they didn’t, that meant no. In Renaissance paintings, oranges are used as a symbol of love, with many depictions of married couples holding them. Orange blossoms are traditionally worn in a bride’s hair on her wedding day. Apples and oranges are also symbols of physical health and vitality. In Scandinavian legends, Northern European gods were fed an apple every evening by Iduna, goddess of spring and youth. Traditional Feng Shui practice also employs apples and oranges to bring energies of good health and prosperity into the home.

Evidence of the cultivation of apples and oranges has been found to go as far back as 6500 B.C. At present, numerous cultivated varieties are grown worldwide. There are about 7,500 apple and 650 orange varieties, but only about 100 of each are grown for commercial use in the U.S. Of these, about 30 percent are for consumption as fresh fruit, while the rest is used for juices, sauces, jellies, and other prepared foods. Neither fruit is native to North America, but both were brought here by European settlers in the late 1400s.

On the outside, apples and oranges do appear to be very different. And perhaps, on a surface level, they cannot be compared. I would agree that they do have differences, but when looking deeper, we can find many similarities. As it has been said, don’t judge a book by its cover. Apples and oranges can, indeed, be compared.

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Kanji symbol for family

Tattoos can tell so many stories. They may help someone cope with a painful memory or celebrate a new a chapter in their life. While there may be somewhat of a stigma against body modification, tattoos and piercings, they seem to be more widely accepted now than they have been in the past. Here is a tale of my tattoos and what they mean to me.

When I turned 18, I received my first tattoo on my foot. I’d had the tattoo planned for months, and there was little doubt in my mind about what I wanted and where I wanted it. I had chosen a kanji symbol for family.

I chose this because my dad had the exact same symbol on his upper arm. I felt our matching tattoos would bond us on some level. I also chose this symbol because without my family I would not be able to make it in this crazy, chaotic world. My mom, my dad, and my two younger brothers mean everything to me.


I received a second tattoo two months later as a graduation present from my parents. I chose a cherry blossom branch that wrapped around my kanji symbol. I chose this piece not only because of its beauty but because cherry blossoms symbolize living life to its fullest. I like to think that the two tattoos together mean living like there’s no tomorrow with the people you love.

My third tattoo was a Christmas gift from my parents. It had been a while since I’d had any work done, and I was itching to get back into the tattoo shop. For this piece, I chose a peony flower on my upper arm. These flowers symbolize living life without regrets.

My fourth tattoo was a piece that took a bit of time to put together. I knew it was going to be rather large and costly. After doing a lot of research on the symbolism of flowers, I decided I wanted dahlias tattooed on my ribcage. They represent elegance and pride.


I’m going strong now with these four tattoos and plan to have many more in the future. I have put a lot of thought and time into each one, and I would not trade them for anything. Because of the permanent nature of tattoos, people question whether I’ll regret having them later in life.

Tattoos have served as rites of passage, marks of rank and decorations of bravery for centuries. With each new tattoo, I’ve received not only a cosmetic change but identification with the marks and what they symbolize. They are decorations of liberation in my life.

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Worker in Rancho Grande, Mexico

I yelled and kicked with frustration at my parents, and I made sure they knew how I felt. I wanted to be a problem for them because they were forcing me to go to my grandfather’s house in rural Mexico, and I didn’t want to spend the next three months there. Even though I was a big embarrassment at the airport to my parents, I slowly realized nothing was going to change their minds, so I decided to give up and tag along for the journey.

As a ten-year-old boy, I knew that this three-month summer “vacation” was going to feel like eternity. I stayed quiet on the plane thinking about how dumb and disappointing the trip was going to be. I had no other option but to explore Mexico, a country that I had little interest in. The entire time I spent in Mexico that summer was difficult, but it made me appreciate the way I lived in the U.S.

My first impression of Mexico was just as I expected. It was 100 degrees inside the airport, and I could feel the sunscreen melting and dripping down my face. As it melted, it began to irritate and sting my eyes. The stinging sensation in my eyes made me start yelling again, but once again my parents paid no attention. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve, gathered my luggage, and dragged my bags into immigration services where I was slowly introduced to new family members.

Although we were complete strangers, my grandparents treated me like family and hugged and kissed me. Complimented on my height and looks, I felt loved and popular, but I still refused to crack a smile. We drove a couple of miles away from Mexico City into a small town called Rancho Grande. Our family of four was welcomed at my grandfather’s house. I had never met my grandfather before but was anticipating the meeting. However, he was was not there, and when I asked where he was, the only response was from my mother who simply said work.

They next morning I was forced to wake up early. I woke up around 6 a.m. to loud animal noises coming from outside. I opened my cracked window and found that a bunch of chickens were squawking in the yard. I threw a pillow over my face but the terrible noise was no a match for a pillow. I had no other choice but to wake up and see what the day had to offer. As I walked out of my room, a room without a door, an old, dark man stared right at me and held two shovels in one hand. He smiled at me but in a gruff, deep, and intimidating voice, he said, “Get ready, we’re going to work!” I quickly responded without hesitating, “Yes sir.” This man was my grandfather, but I had no idea what to think or say.

I quickly tagged along and drove with my grandfather to a job site. We drove and drove down acres of land that were being worked on. It was obvious that agriculture is what I was here for. The quiet ride finally came to an end. I stepped out of the truck and was not surprised to find the back of my shirt filled with sweat. We wasted no time. I was instructed to clean debris out of a blocked irrigation stream.

I could not believe that I was expected to clean a stream that was about two miles long. I gave my grandfather a serious look and asked him if he was for real. He laughed hysterically and said yes. The day continued with the sun burning down on my neck. I could not believe that I was forced to leave my good life in California and had been thrown into the middle of nowhere to work like crazy in the hot sun.

Each day there was filled with pain and emotion. My muscles began cramping and blisters became something I had to deal with daily. My legs where tired from lifting stacks of beans and molded hay. My hands were rougher than ever. They had blisters and cuts from different reasons. In the end, my painful hard work paid off. I was now considered a worker in my grandfather’s eyes. I learned that respect was big in Mexico and working was a way of earning that respect.

I began to build a relationship with my grandfather over time. Working with him made his serious personality less intimidating, although I dreamed of being at home playing my play station while lying down on a comfortable couch sipping on lemonade. Work made me realize many things and value what I had back home in the U.S.

When my work was finally done in Mexico, I accomplished something that I never knew was possible. I matured as a person and lived to see how hard life can really be. Traveling to Mexico was overall a good learning experience and most importantly I learned to value my lifestyle.

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Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-1989) ruled
the Communist Party in Romania
from 1965 to 1989.

I opened the Webster dictionary last night and I tried to find a word – fear. I found these synonyms: dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation – and I wanted to add another one – communism.

I will continue with another word, a name – Ceausescu. This name was synonymous with communism in my native country Romania. For more than 25 years this word inspired just fear in the Romanian people. But in one day, the hour of justice had arrived and that day was Christmas Day 1989.

On Christmas Day 1989, after 27 years of communist dictatorship, the Romanians had their two leaders, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, executed. I am not a religious person, but when I ever think of justice, that was it.

The endurance of a patient, peaceful and talented people had, finally, reached its limits. In December 1989 a spontaneous revolution surprised the government, the secret police, the military, and – yes – even the people. The two leaders, much feared by everybody, after killing civilians in one major city in Transylvania showed up to a balcony in Bucharest for a speech to condemn the people from Timisoara, the city where the Revolution started.

They condemned the people who were hungry and mad because of lack a freedom. The perfectly organized show, where thousands were demonstrating in front of the Presidential Palace their “love” for the “leaders,” sparked for a moment against him. A few followed, and in a minutes thousands. In less than one hour all square was invaded by slogans against the “beloved leader.” The Revolution in Bucharest began.

The army in Timisoara was against the people. The soldiers shot them days before. In Bucharest, was a different story. The General Commander of Army at that time committed suicide after the demonstration in Timisoara when he saw the killing of civilians. Ceausescu called him traitor the people called him hero. The orders for killing in Timisoara were given by the Ceausescu himself.

The Revolution in Bucharest had started badly for the people, even though the military had decided not to kill their own and sided with the people. For the first days, rows and rows of dead were lined up: soldiers, children, women, men, sergeants, captains, doctors, even colonels were killed by the Secret Police, who outnumbered all, and knew everything.

Arabian students, guests of Romanian Universities from Lybia’s Gaddafy were overnight armed to the teeth and killed hospital staff. They turned out to be mercenaries fighting for Ceausescu.

The people were terrified of their leaders, and, it turned out, their leaders were genuinely afraid of the people they abused, spied on, imprisoned and tortured. No country in the communist block had a good life, but Romania got the worst. People were spied upon, in a KGB style, in their own homes, at work, on the street. Their moves, conversations, likes, dislikes, or opinions, carefully recorded by a colossal collection of massive banks of cassette tape recorders. Files were kept for the older and younger generation with the precision of a Swiss watch.

The rules to avoid trouble were simple, and we all understood. First

· Do not think.
· If you think, do not talk.
· If you talk, do not write.
· If you write, do not sign (your name).
· If you sign, do not be surprised.

It was a diseased society, where the inmates have taken over the asylum. Neighbors were encouraged to spy and report each other. So were children, about their parents. The statistics on how much crops or food country produced, published by the government, had nothing to do with reality. There were no drugs, no medication, hospitals were applying tea leaves rather than running tests and operations.

Disease and depravation was the general standard of living. Homes were cold and dark. People were mugged in the street, right under the approving eye of the Secret Police. Television was non-existent. There was only two hours a day of broadcast and that was just about Ceausescu’s family.

“Private property” was considered a dirty word. Twenty seven years of living without electricity, without basic foods, without heat in the homes, without being able to talk about it … or anything else for that matter. Nobody smiled on the streets. Parents were constantly worried about the next day and how they would feed their children. Potatoes again, beans again, not any meat. It was starvation for children, starvation for parents. Chocolate became a dream.

People who had a chance to leave the country never returned; they were promptly declared “enemies of the country” and their homes were confiscated. The question, “What is a quartet?” was answered with, “That’s what’s left of the Romanian Philharmonic after a tour to Germany.”

People have become rude and mean to each other.

“We will win!”

And Revolution came – and people started to show their hate against the leaders, who for such a long time kept them in a dark – 27 years of dark.

On the Christmas Day – 25 December 1989 – Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the Stalinist couple, was caught near by Targoviste, a small town in South Romania. After a short trial, they were accused of genocide against their own people, by the military prosecutor. They were executed together. Two old people with dementia. Two old people who kept Romania under terror for a quarter of a century. Their bloodied bodies were shown on television after 11 calling hours. After that – people cheering on the streets – Ceausescu died, Ceausescu died. So much hate, so much relief. Regrets? No, never. Forgiveness? No, never. A new Era of Freedom began for Romanians.

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Krishna, Arjuna, Kurukshetra in a 18-19th century  
painting, depicting a scene from the Bhagavad Gita,
a book of Hindu scripture.

O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.Bhagavad Gita

I lived in India for 11 years and had the chance to observe the practices of the people. The two prominent religions are Hinduism and Islam. Muslims always tended to have a certain image about them, with the beards and the long shirts. Hindus had a tendency to wear a certain type of long garment called dhotis below their waists. Followers of both had their own type of names, their separate type of foodstuffs and practices, and their particular festivals. Though completely distinguishable, neither religion tended to be more dominant or less accepting of the other. With a constant sense of discipline and submissiveness to their faith, they lived their lives accordingly. In addition, with a general mindset of simplicity, which was not so simple. They strived to live a colorful yet rewarding lifestyle.

Hinduism and Islam are two of three world’s largest religions. Religion has been widely accepted as part of a person’s lifestyle. It can be seen as a cultural system with organized behaviors and values. Hinduism and Islam are both classified as two leading religious groups in the world and are practiced by 2.5 billion people. They both have foundations that help define truth and value. Both have specific traditions, symbols and ancient texts intended to explain the history and origin of life and the universe. They also have similar gods, festivals and ethics. In addition, both have lifestyles based on traditions of art and public service.

Ganga Puja festival.

Beliefs About God

Islam rests on the belief of a single God and that this one God is incomparable and has no equal. It is stressed that God is a one single truth predominant over all, who is unique and independent of the universe. God is said to generate both good and evil. Evil originates from God’s power to create anything. It is not believed that God was created, but that people are. Belief of divinity in an individual is an unpardonable sin. Commonly speaking, the intellectual history of Islam can be regarded as the unfolding of the increased understanding of God’s oneness.

Hindu mass offering of lamps or deepas.

Hinduism is more accepting in choosing or classifying a god. God is generally accepted as a single entity, however, unlike Islam, people can worship more than one god. There is complete freedom concerning belief due to this diversity. In fact, the faith of Hinduism consists of an extensive variety of gods, generating from a single god, each serving a separate function or symbol depending on the sect. These gods are classified by the personalities they possess. For example, the primary belief of Hinduism is that Vishnu or Krishna is the principal god, however, Dharma, an entity who symbolizes justice, is worshiped in regards to prosperity. In fact, there are separate festivals revolving around various gods and their pastimes. Festivals of note are Durga Puja where the goddess of war is worshiped and Ganga Puja where the goddess of the river is worshiped as a sign of thanks for providing water.

While there is such a diverse system of thought in regard to the gods, there is a general belief factor in the soul as one’s true self. This soul is believed to be eternal and the same as the creator’s. The ultimate goal for most Hindus is to understand their true self and their relation or connection with their creator.

Islamic worshiper prays facing Mecca by bowing on the floor.

Practices and Rituals

The Islamic faith has five obligatory acts followers practice as a sign of faith or commitment. These include a prayer which is recited five times a day, involving a connection with God. To the general eye, this tends to happen randomly but in general they believe that prayer is mandatory at any given time. The individual bows down facing Mecca and recites a prayer. In addition, a month of fasting is included as well as giving of alms to the needy. A pilgrimage or Hajj to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca is also encouraged.

With Hinduism, religious practices are included, however, it is done so on a more broad and somewhat less strict scale. Practices are carried out to enforce the individuals connection with God, which can be at any given time. For example, a Hindu will typically worship and offer foodstuffs to a deity or icon in the beginning of the day. This offering to an idol is known traditionally as puja. Music can be included as vedic hymns are chanted to invoke spirituality. Hymns or mantras that are chanted center around pastimes of different gods, and their importance in an everyday lifestyle. A mantra can be sung as a song, with a large community of devotees gathered playing an array of instruments to play along.

Mantra singing in the community.

In Hinduism, there are spiritual shrines or temples constructed to accommodate idols or deities, where devotees visit on major festivals. These festivals tend to feature foodstuffs and celebration based on the theme. For example, to commemorate the childhood pastime of God, a certain song is sung at nightfall, accompanied by a mass offering of lamps or deepas. Another festival includes the celebration of the return of a Hindu god back to his hometown. Mass amounts of candles are lit on the balconies and doorsteps of households as well as in the streets, illuminating entire cities in lights. This repeats the action played out by devotees for hundreds of years.

Prasadam, offered in the Hindu ritual of Puja.

Meditation is a practice highly encouraged by Hindus. However, the process does not involve the conventional form of meditation. It is specific and involves repetition of a mantra. It is presumed to be a spiritual discipline where the repetition develops a focus of mind and body.

Overall, Hindu practices are generally geared towards assisting the individual in the awareness of a presence of divinity in everyday life.

The foodstuffs consumed by devotees are particularly different in both sects. Hindus tend to be strictly vegetarian, and their diet revolves around vegetables and fruits. However, even though they are restricted to vegetarian meals, their recipes are elaborate and extensive, giving a new meaning to the term vegetarianism.

Muslims, on the other hand, eat meat. In fact, Muslims tend to keep flocks of chicken or packs of goats. On specific holidays, these animals are sacrificed and consumed in celebration of the occasion.

Taj Mahal in Agra, India, built between 1632 and 1653.

Beliefs About Marriage And Art

Hinduism and Islam are similar in the respect to family life. They both highly encourage arranged marriages, which consists of a bride or groom proposal from one party to the other. The proposition is then decided when both families and witnesses are present. A bridal gift is usually donated by the family of the groom.

Islam has an extensive artistic history involving a vast magnitude of art forms and styles. The representation of God as an entity is prohibited, which results in a greater focus on architecture and abstract forms of art rather than human forms. A significant example illustrating the Islamic style of art and its ingenuity, is the monument of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a tomb built by an Islamic ruler for his deceased lover. The architecture applied is symbolic of Islamic art with the rounded domes and columns lining the perimeter.

Child incarnation of Vishnu, known as Krishna in Hinduism.

Hindu art forms, on the other hand, encourage depictions of god in different forms and expose the works as visible productions. Due to the lenient belief in a vast number of gods, there is a wide variety of artistic interpretations. Hinduism is known to consist of vast histories of personalities and pastimes and most of these are expressed artistically. These are done in an extensive variety of representations depending on the region from where it is created. For example, in India, Hindu art in Orissa tends to focus around the God Jagannath, who is believed to have manifested there. In northern India, art forms center around the child incarnation of Vishnu known as Krishna.

Both religions are similar in various ways, particularly regarding the constant awareness of the presence of a god or divinity in everyday life. However, there is a considerable measure of differences between the two. These range from festivals to significant prayers and foodstuffs. While Islam is very particular on how God is expressed and how its religion is practiced, Hinduism is more at ease with how a follower abides to its beliefs.

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My knee’s instantly lock up as I feel the shrilling goose bumps tingle down my spine. Suddenly I lose my breath, and for a moment I feel like this must be a dream. I clench my fists as I start to feel my heart pounding through my shirt. We just met, and I can’t believe that he has managed to make me feel absolutely crazy inside. I almost feel as if I should just jump before I let something bad happen, but I can’t move. I find myself completely numb.

It is a warm summer day, and I hear the birds conversing outside my window. I stretch and have a feeling of adventurous ambition. I go to wake my sleeping roommate, Alisa, and know she will help me think of something exciting to do. We sit and ponder for awhile before deciding to go out into the sparkling sunshine. Being cooped up in the house just doesn’t seem logical. We grab a fresh cup of coffee from our favorite shop and start heading over to the ponds.

As we arrive, I immediately notice that the atmosphere is everything I hope for. So much life fills the crisp air, fishermen, joggers and laughing children. We snatch our cameras out from the backseat and start to take pictures of the dazzling lake and the geese that mingle over the ripples. Then much to our surprise, we see two very good looking guys smiling at us from across the water. When they notice us looking back, they don’t hesitate to jog over in our direction. It doesn’t take long before we feel a strange connection. Kyle is 23 and he is wearing a hat on his head. As he approaches me, I catch the drift of an amazing smell that is on his loose t-shirt. Tony, 25, is dressed in similar attire; it’s quite simple to see that they are close friends. Butterflies instantly crowd my stomach as I smile from ear to ear. We can’t wait to learn more about them.

We begin walking around and making small conversation with one another and before we know it, the sun starts to slip behind the purple mountains. We want to spend a little more time with these new acquaintances, so they suggest going to a beautiful location in the Front Range to watch the sunset. As we walk to the fairly empty parking lot, we approach two shiny crotch rocket motorcycles. Kyle glances over in my direction and suggests that I go with him. The weather is ideal for a ride. I hesitate for a moment before remember my desire for adventure that morning. This really would be adventurous, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Tony doesn’t wait much longer before asking Alisa to hop on the back of his bike, and soon enough, we are riding off into the evening.

Even though Alisa and I are wearing nothing but small tank tops and a pair of jean capri pants, we manage to keep warm. As we arrive at the mountain, the scenery takes my breath away. Pink and orange cotton balls fill the pale blue skies, and the twinkle of the stars is just becoming apparent. We sit in the soft green grass for a short amount of time as we enjoy each other’s company for a little while longer. I stand up to thank the boys for spending the day with us, and I tell them that we need to get home before it gets too late. They agree and suggest that we swap phone numbers so we can get together again sometime. We take one last look over the city and the lights that are beginning to take over, then we start to progress back down the mountain.

The ride back starts with a different look and feel from the enjoyable ride in the beginning. There is now a faint chill in the air, and the two boys want to make a lasting impression. The highway is full of bright headlights and the sky is dark. I wish I had a jacket. I turn my head and see Alisa and Tony speed passed us. I know she wouldn’t be comfortable driving at high pace, so I begin to worry. Thankfully, it’s not long before I see their bike coasting next to ours again. Before I can finish my breath, they quickly become a part of the past. I know Kyle is trying to show off.

Our speed begins to increase at an excessive rate, and I think to myself that it will only be a moment before he starts to slow down, that he’s made his point. Weaving in and out of traffic quickly becomes very uncomfortable. The faint chill turns into a brutal cold as I tightly hold the little piece of cloth that separated us. I can see our speed reach 90 mph, and I dig my nails into his chest in hopes that he will realize I want him to stop. My gut tells me that I should look back to make sure Alisa is not close behind, but my body becomes paralyzed. I glance over his shoulder wanting the speedometer to read less, but we are now over 100 mph. I start to think that this can’t be happening to me but am interrupted by the flashing of blue and red lights in the mirror. Just as I start to feel incredibly relieved that we are being pulled over, he continues to speed up.

For a moment I try to tell him to stop, but my voice is carried away with the wind. As I hold on tighter and attempt to look back once more, my glasses are thrown from my face. Our speed has now reached 120 mph, and I realize there is no stopping him. My heart starts to pound harder and harder with every second, and my thoughts become incredibly unpleasant. I want to scream, but it takes everything I have to keep myself breathing calmly. I bury my head in his back and become completely lifeless. I don’t know what he is trying to do. Has he forgotten that I am on the back of his bike? Even though it seems like an eternity, we quickly arrive back into town. With the cop still on our tail, we approach the first red light coming off the highway. I am now wishing that this might finally put an end to the crazy race, but once again, he doesn’t slow down. Without looking left or right he flies through the bright red and starts gaining speed down the busy city street. I start to lose all hope. We are either going to lose the cop or end up in a terrible crash. My life rapidly starts to flash before my eyes. I’ll be leaving so many people I love with no answers and such sorrow. I question myself over and over, how I could let something like this happen, I don’t even know him.

We are on a straight path to the other end of town when he takes a sudden right turn, and I feel the bike’s tire start to slip from under us. I hold my breath and get ready for the impact, but by some miracle we keep going. The cop is never more than a couple of feet behind us, and I become more terrified. As if the situation isn’t bad enough, he manages to find another unusual path to pursue the chase on. We begin launching over speed bumps and soon we are riding through a deserted grassy park. I begin to lose track of our location and start begging him to let me jump off. He shakes his head no as he repeatedly promises me that everything will be okay. Just as I begin to think that the ride will never end, I find myself flying through the air. I become abruptly shaken up as my body slams to the ground. When I jump up, my adrenaline is flowing harder than ever before. I start screaming at him as he tries to embrace me with comfort. I had never experienced so many emotions all at one time.

Watching him being carted away in handcuffs is a huge relief. His new bike is still on the ground lifeless and bashed up. I take a deep breath and can’t believe I somehow escaped with my life. With only a few scratches present on my body, I drop to my knees and begin to cry. I scramble to find my phone and call Alisa to make sure she is okay. She is back at her car and hurries to come find me. As she arrives, I can see she is more shaken up then I am. She has found alcohol hidden in his bag. I hug her and we promise each other that we will never be so irresponsible again. Having that single experience makes me appreciate everything  I have and all the friends and family. Anything can happen in an instant and take you out of this world. Even though I will always be looking for a fun adventure, I won’t proceed again without more caution.

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Growing up at Trout Lake, Minnesota, I learned to appreciate and respect the wilderness and all it had to offer. I remember making forts in the woods. One fort was lakeside between Cabin No. 5 and the campground. It had a squishy bed of moss that stretched six-square feet I pretended was a bed. The pure and rich aroma of damp dirt and luscious moss were comforting. An old tree stump served as a kitchen sink, and through a break in the trees, I had a custom-built kitchen window with a view of the lake. I pretended to slide the window open and shut and could actually hear a difference between the two in my mind. With my imaginary window open, I heard a soft breeze through the trees, loons calling from across the lake, water as it broke on the rocky shore, and shouts of excitement from fishermen as they hooked a Rainbow trout. With it shut, the sounds disappeared and quietness came over me.

The cabin and resort had been built by my family. After long days of catching tadpoles and crawfish, fishing, swimming, and helping out with cleaning the cabins I could smell Grandma Nancy’s cooking rise over the unpolluted air of northern Minnesota. Whatever she cooked for dinner was a delicious closure to a busy day. The family, and sometimes cabin guests, would sit at the kitchen table in the lodge to share wonderful meals and stories. Each time they told a story, the fish got bigger. Often, we would add multiple card tables to the end of the table to extend seating. The more the merrier, Grandma said.

All of this beauty took an unexpected turn for the worse in 2009. My brother and I, having moved to Colorado, received a horrifying, early morning phone call from dad. His message frantically stated a fire had taken place at the lake and he was just leaving to find help and would call us once he knew more. He was shaking, and I could hear it in his voice. Stumbling over his words, he explained he didn’t know the extent of damage and said, “Everyone’s alright, but this is bad, real bad.”

I, too, immediately started shaking and crying in fear for the worst. Was is one cabin or seven? Was it the lodge? Could all our history at Trout Lake go up in flames? I felt helpless. As I anxiously waited, I received another phone call with an update. An electrical fire had spread throughout the lodge, and it was simply a pile of burnt wood and ashes.

Those roaring flames burned so many irreplaceable items, backed with so much history. The loom great-grandma Char used for making cabin rugs, my grandfather Bud’s Lion’s Club pin collection, my grandmother Nancy’s magic oven, home videos, family photographs, even grandpa Russ and uncle Mark’s cremation ashes.Family and cabin guests made it out safely, and we were thankful.

I was seven years old when my father received a call from grandma Char to help run the family resort. We packed up our Colorado life and moved to Minnesota. My mom, dad, brother, two dogs and cat left for one of the most beautiful places on earth. Once we arrived, great-grandma Charlet, grandma Nancy, and uncle Mark greeted us. We were all filled with excitement to be together.

Trout Lake was discovered by my great-great aunt Grace and her husband Bill in 1938. They were traveling west but happened to find heaven on earth and ventured no more. The lake was so clean, and pure fish could be seen swimming 25 feet underwater above the rocks that lay peacefully at the bottom. The rainbow trout were lively, colorful, and plentiful on the dinner plate. The land was screaming potential.

For the first years, Grace and Bill had no building on site other than an icehouse. They lived in a trailer and rented boats. A boathouse was the first structure built. In northern Minnesota, the construction and building season are short lived. With the help of family members, they built four cabins in the next few summers, making it a resort. In the spring of 1946, my great-grandparents, Bud and Char, moved from Chicago and bought Trout Lake Resort. The hard-working, task-orientated couple built the rest of the resort, with a total of seven cabins and a lodge. Through the years, they added electricity, plumbing, a water pump, and other necessities. They did it all themselves, paneling the walls, building cabinets, and putting in door frames. Every square inch was built with determination and a desire to make the resort beautiful.

Years later, Bud passed away and grandma Nancy moved in to help her mother. They, with the help of friends and family members, kept the resort up and running. My family moved north in 1991, lived at the resort for one year, and eventually found our own house closer to town, staying involved in the family business.

Now that the fire has taken place, grandma Nancy, uncle Guy, uncle Rusty, mom, dad, my brother and his family work each day on the rebuild. With every board nailed, we reconstruct the hope we so tragically lost in the fire. Once again, nights are filled with beautifully cooked meals, stories, and laughter. The new lodge is breathtaking, but more importantly, we’ve discovered the magic wasn’t in the old oven but in grandma Nancy herself, who continues to instill in us an appreciation for what we have, even through times of turmoil.

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The tires of my jeep crunch the tiny pebbled stones as I weave slowly down the driveway. Trees, as large as buildings, line the side of the gravel drive as if guarding a fortress. An army of twisted bark and thick-rooted foliage stand silently behind, extending for miles on end. The lime green ferns sway and dance in the light as I pass, welcoming me back. I am finally here, my favorite place on earth, The Great North Woods.

The beaming headlights slice through the black of night, proving to be the only light for miles. The lights catch eye of the only place that I will ever call home. A clearing emerges, bearing a modest timber-frame structure, adorned with a sinking wrap-around porch. The cinder block foundation crumbles gently with age into the ground, making the first two steps warp and crooked. A long picnic table sits parallel to the house, taking up more than half the porch.

The wood siding is worn and soft but bears scars and wrinkles from a long life. A clothing line droops across the entire side yard, with clothing pins randomly clinging to the rope. I step out of my car and take a deep breath in. The sweet air is fresh and carries the smell of the lake. A feeling of relief floods deep inside. I gaze upward to see thousands of sparkling lights strum across the deep black velvet sky. They are bright and clear and sit boldly in the sky, like crown jewels displayed in a high-end jewelry store. I keep my eyes fixed on the sky to allow the picture to burn into my memory. The clarity of starlight is not compromised by lights, pollution, or the hustle and bustle of city life.
The night is eerily quiet. There is no movement, and the earth is silent. I quickly reach and fidget under the driver’s seat of my car in search of my high-powered Maglite. I leave the brights on in the car and the door wide open for an escape.

Although childish, this ritual began early in childhood, during a visit from my mother when my brother had a group of friends up for a fishing trip. The house was destroyed and smelled of rancid meat and stale beer. She cleaned up the cabin and heaped the garbage into the garage, hoping to take it to the dump.

After returning from the store late that night, she had a visitor. The door had been forced open and clung to the hinges like a loose tooth. As she flipped on the light, she met eyes with a 400-pound black bear, sitting human-like on his bottom eating spoiled meat by the fistfuls. My mother dropped all the groceries and sprinted for the car. The bear was not ten steps behind, and my mother was terrified. As she reached the car, she fussed with the keys jingling in her hand desperately trying to unlock the door.

Unable to unlock the car, she sat and cried until my neighbors responded to the terrible screams and sprinted over with shotguns and flashlights in hand. Flashing their lights into the forest, they slowly inched toward the edge of the foliage in search for the monster. The bear was nowhere to be seen. To this day, the family loves to tease my mom about how massive the beast was and what actually happened that night. Although we give my mom a tough time, I still always leave the door open, just in case I have an encounter with an unwanted visitor.

I slowly make my way toward the house, the tiny, deep volcanic red pebbles crunch under my flip-flops. The house is masked in shadows from the brightened headlights that shine directly on the front door. I slowly step up the three steps on the porch. The weathered wood whines and creaks as I move upward. Cobwebs hang in elegant patterns in every corner, glistening and shining like silk on display in the makeshift spotlight of my flashlight. I reach for the rusted screen door handle, also covered in cobwebs.

As I force the door open, the springs squawk and squeal. I carefully insert the key and lay my body weight against the door. The seal is warped and holds a tight grip on the bottom right edge of the door, making for a trying entry. I stumble in after the door releases from the hook of the trim and reach my hand out for the light switch. The smell of sandalwood and faint mildew flood my nostrils as the lights dim on.

Everything is exactly the same, outdated and full of stories and memories. In front of me, green, lumpy couches are positioned inward to the fireplace, with antique side tables placed on either side. Thick fleece blankets, that match the color of rug, hang on the back of the couches cleaned and waiting to be snuggled with. The fireplace is bulky and holds massive stones as large as dinner plates. Each stone has been hauled from the lake and meticulously placed. Oval-shaped wicker baskets are placed on either side, full of toys, movies, and blankets for guests.

To the left is a kitchen far too small for my mother’s cooking talent, adorned with an avocado-green oven and microwave from the late 70s. A large oak table with room to fit twelve sits on an angle just to the right of the kitchen. Each chair is different, adopted over the years from different times and locations. Floor to ceiling windows line the walls, allowing for a perfect view of the lake. A tiny layer of dust wraps around everything in the house.

To the right, a tiny hallway holds two bedrooms and the house’s only bathroom. I flop lazily on the large couch and allow myself to absorb the room. The energy is warm and welcoming to my soul. The house, which is usually crawling with families, friends and dogs, is silent and peaceful. I am home.

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Patagonia is a wild and vast country with seemingly infinite horizons, skies with ever changing clouds, and very long winters. The southernmost part of Chile is the most isolated place in the country. You can reach Patagonia by airplane or by land through Argentina. Patagonia lies in the very bottom of Chile where the land become dispersed into many little islands, canals, and finally emerges in the ocean. I lived in a city at the end of the world named Punta Arenas (Sandy Point). This region is known for its unique geography: islands, fjords, glaciers and icebergs.

The winter nights in Patagonia are dark, long and cold. Summer days are long and bright. Patagonia is a pristine place, wild and silent where the nature remains still untouched by civilization. The only thing that breaks the silence in this desolated place is the strong and untamed wind that makes the trees surrender under its power. People call this wind Devil’s Broom because it blows away everything in its path. Patagonian trees suffer under these severe gusty winds. Consequently, the average height of the trees in Patagonia is below normal, but the trees are short and strong.

One summer day in January, I and a group of friends planned a trip to the National Park Torres del Paine, which is one of the main attractions in Patagonia. Torres del Paine in the indigenous language means The Towers of Blue Sky. You have to drive three hours on the gravel road to reach a city called Puerto Natales. Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are located alongside the Magellan Strait. When I arrived to Puerto Natales, I could see a flock of black neck swans swimming happily in the cold water of the Magellan Strait. Even though it was summer, the weather was chilly and windy.

After we stopped in Puerto Natales, we continued our trip to Torres del Paine. We drove for many miles through vast grasslands called pampas. I saw settlements and ranchos, sheep and grass all along the way. The trip seemed to be long in this far away land with no trees or mountains. I was observing this isolated landscape, when I witnessed one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. In the distant mountains, I saw the spectacular Group of Las Torres. This is the geological formation of three enormous gold-colored granite towers that give the national park its name. The towers are part of the Paine Massif rising from the east and dominating the Patagonian pampas. I was speechless. It seemed like the hand of a giant had mysteriously put the three granite towers there to look after the park.

The flora in Patagonia is very rich. When we drove through the national park, I saw a millenary forest of Lengas. Lengas are short and strong dark-green trees with sturdy leaves. The vegetation is really spectacular. They grow many different kinds of flowers, and there is a Patagonian bush called calafate that has black sweet fruits. It is believed that if you eat this fruit once, you are destined to return to Patagonia.

Fauna in Patagonia is very rich and diverse. I saw next to the road a group of guanacos rooming through the park. Guanacos are big animals with a thick reddish-brown fur, closely related to the llama. They are herbivores and eat grass and trees. In those vast latitudes, they run very fast. You should not approach the guanacos because they could spit at you. Guanacos spitting is a defense mechanism, and their spit is as fast as a shot.

I also saw ñandus. Ñandúes are related to the ostrich, but they are smaller. They run very fast trough the Patagonian steppes and lay big eggs. In pampas, a wide variety of wild birds and wild geese live. Lakes and lagoons are a big habitat for wild ducks, beautiful black necked swan, and the unique and graceful Chilean flamingos that show their pink feathers to delight you. Flamingos have pink pigmentation due to their diet of algae and shrimp. The most majestic bird among all the birds is the South American condor. The condor lives in high mountains and is a huge bird that flies over the vast plains of the Patagonia observing the panorama from the height.

The lagoons have a vast range of colors. One of the lagoons is called Laguna Amarga, and its color is emerald-green from minerals that exist in the deep water. When I was there, I left the car and touched and smelled the water because I wanted to be sure that the smell was really from the minerals. When I tasted the water, it was salty. Amargo in Spanish means salty or sour. Another lagoon is called Laguna azul due to the dark-blue color of its water. The fishing in Patagonia is a must. People can fish wild salmons and trout and also, one of my favorites, the king crab.

The glaciers in Patagonia are millenaries; one of them is Glacier Grey. When I visited the Glacier Grey, I walked toward the big ice blocks. I always thought that the ice was white, but after being in this far away landscape, I realized that the ice is light-blue. Glacier Grey is a mass of blue-icebergs that are cold, immaculate, and untouchable. I continued walking to get closer to the ice blocks, but it was very difficult because the wind was so strong. The wind was so cold, that I felt it was penetrating inside of my bones, and it was so strong that I was barely standing up. There are not words to describe this place. The sound of the wind, the coldness of the air, and the beauty of the landscape mesmerize you.

Returning to the shelter was pleasant after being in the cold. We sat by the fireplace, and we drank some warm coffee while we enjoyed the view of the glacier at the distance. The quiet crackling of the firewood and the comfort of the warm fireplace made me feel calm and restful. We sat next to the fireplace for awhile until we decided to get back to Puerto Natales, and we planned to stop in a ranch of a friend. When we arrived to Puerto Natales that afternoon, we went to a nice restaurant to have a delicious plate of scallops made in the Patagonian style. After the dinner, we were very tired and went to our hotel to have a very comfortable night sleep because the next day we needed to get up very early to go to the ranch.

It was early morning, and the day was very pleasant. We drove to the Magellan Strait shore and we boarded a small boat. Then we crossed the channel. It was a short boat ride. On the other side the owner of the ranch was waiting for us in a jeep. The ride in the jeep was fun because we drove through the grass. We crossed little creeks and meadows. The jeep rode through narrow pathways. It was a big adventure, the air was fresh and pure, the sky was blue and the clouds were dancing in the blue sky. I could hear the birds singing, and I could see a lot of sheep wandering through the meadows. After an hour drive, we arrived at the ranch. The ranch was a big old house surrounded by a fence, grass, and flowers. There was a barn where the owner of the ranch kept the sheep’s wool. I also saw pigs, chickens and horses. The house was located in front of the ocean and next to the mountains. We spent the afternoon sitting by the fireplace. Then we had a dinner and we went to sleep.

The next day, the people that worked in the ranch, the gauchos, prepared the horses for us, and we were ready to start our horse ride. Our guide was a Chilean gaucho, dressed with a white gaucho’s attire. The gaucho was very experienced in horse riding. A group of sheep dogs followed him. We rode for a while, and we saw a big group of sheep. The gaucho whistled at the dogs, and they begun to lead the sheep to the corral. The Patagonian dogs are trained to help gauchos with sheep herding. They group the sheep together, and with one whistle from the gaucho, the dogs understand what they have to do. The job of the gauchos without the dogs would be very difficult because they have to herd thousands of sheep.

We rode the horses through the meadows, and we saw streams and creeks where the people fish salmon and trout. When we come back to the rancho, near to the lunch time, we were very hungry. The gauchos had prepared a fresh lamb outside in the open fire, the people prepared salad and we ate a very delicious meal. Then we visited the barn, where we learned how the people of the ranch shaved the sheep to get their wool. People in Patagonia export the wool sheep all over the world.
Next morning, I returned home. My trip to Torres del Paine will always remain in my mind, and it will be forever an unforgettable experience.

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Swoosh! My bedroom door flew open with my roommate yelling at me to get up. “Buy Tickets!” he raved, as I laid in my bed half asleep, and confused. He came up to me and started shaking me awake. I groaned and sat up looking at him blankly. He stared back at me with his Sean grin. I realized it was something intense by the look in his eyes. “We got to go to Texas, for Nocturnal Festival!” He said excitedly. He began to explain to me that it was a two-day jam and electronic music festival outside of Austin, Texas. With many of our favorite bands and DJ’s performing, including Bassnectar, Disco Biscuits, Lotus, Pretty Lights, Rusko, and Mimosa. I became excited, and the best part about it was that it was only $60. I bought my tickets that second and we began to plan our trip.

A month and a half went by, and it was time to travel to Texas for a rage fest during Labor Day weekend. Sean, another roommate Clayton, and I packed the Subaru and began to head south. We were excited to head down to Texas, because we are all from there and a bunch of our friends would be at Nocturnal. We arrived in San Antonio a day before the festival started. We woke up early that Saturday and met up with one of my buddies Thomas, who was going. We all drove up to Austin together, and picked up our buddy Hannah. We were ready.

We had a bunch of hummus, camping gear, and almost too much beer. The car ride was only about 45 minutes to the festival campsite from Austin, and the car was full of good energy during the whole trip. We arrived at the campground around 4:30 p.m. and started setting up our tents. There were already copious amounts of people there blasting music, getting drunk, partying, and getting ready to go to the festival grounds. We were all ready to head over to the festival to catch the first act we wanted to see.

We arrived at the festival grounds and were thrown in the mix with all the rave kids and electro nuts. We were getting hyped from hearing the massive bass drops in the distance. We waited in line, finally got in, and were observing our surroundings. The festival grounds were very nice with four massive stages and one with a giant LED pyramid for DJ’s. There were huge trees all around covered in giant glowing ornament orbs.

The main stage was called The Labyrinth and had most of the artists we were interested in seeing. Our buddy Hannah ran off to the Queen’s Ground to go dance to the DJ’s. We knew we would run into her randomly. All of us made it over to the Labyrinth to catch The Pnuma Trio. We made it in the middle of their set. The sun was going down, and the lights became more intense as the Pnuma Trio jammed on through the sunset. We were only able to catch half of their set and then we wanted to explore the grounds.

We started to head to other stages. We made our way through the queen’s ground, and were captured by the energy. Everyone was dancing and getting down really hard. We were disoriented as we pushed our way through the bodies of sweat to get out of the heart-stopping bass. We walked towards the water station because we had none. It was like walking through a sea of mad zoo creatures, with all the crazy lights and faces.

The water station was just in front of us when I heard someone yell my name. Everything was quick, and I was looking around because it was very noisy. I made a complete turnaround, and there was my buddy Paul. He smiled and gave me a big hug. We caught up a little, and then I introduced him to my roommates. We got water and then headed back over to the Labyrinth stage to rage Girl Talk. On the way back to the stage we lost two people in our group. Thomas and Clayton wandered away. Paul and I arrived there right when Gregg Gillis was coming on stage, and he rocked the house. He was throwing down really groovy dance beats and mash ups. The crowd loved it.

Paul and I were wandering around the stage area, and we ended up getting separated as well. I was by myself just wandering around, through the crazy lights and noises. Every person I saw had a unique characteristic about them. A lot of people looked very confused and lost, as if their minds were elsewhere. I made my way all the way to the front and was just dancing with random rave fairy girls. One girl who came up to me started hooking glow sticks all over me, and then her friend joined in. I was literally covered. They even put them through the gauges in my ears, so I had mad colors dangling off of me everywhere. The girls gave me a hug and pranced off into the crowd.

Girl Talk was done playing, and I gathered my thoughts before the Disco Biscuits came on. There was about an hour break before them, and I wanted to find everybody in our group. As soon as the crowd dissipated, Paul came running up to me. “Damn,” he said. I just laughed and drank a lot of water. We went to go back to the water station and got water. On the way back to the Disco Biscuits I ran back into Sean. We rejoiced and went into the crowd. I turned around and saw a huge group of our friends who we have not seen in a year.

The Disco Biscuits had really intense lasers, and they were not afraid to let them loose through the crowd. We showed up in front of our buddy James who was very confused and did not realize we were even there. I was even confused during this epical time in my life. I was lost in this paradox of the labyrinth of life itself. Finally he realized it, and he took us to everyone.

Thomas and Clayton were there, Sean, Paul, and I were the only people lost. Like it really mattered anyway because it was crazy. We all just chilled and laid in the grass and waited for Bassnectar. About two hours passed, and Bassnectar was about to melt the faces off of these poor helpless souls. We chilled in the back and watched him do just that. After he was done it was about 3 a.m. Everyone was beat, so we headed back to the campsite and the party was just getting started.

There was a lot of beer, and I began to drink heavily to sleep comfortably, as the hot Texas sun began to rise. I crashed around noon until Sean shook me and told me it was time to go. We still had a full day of music to attend. We arrived on the grounds with everyone, and we made our way to the upside down room to see Fukkk Offf perform. His genre was a unique style of electro. We were in the middle of the chaos, and I got separated from everybody.

I went to the back of the crowd and scoped out the situation. I pulled my phone out and saw that one of my really good friends Sophia hit me up. She was at the same stage as me and I asked where. She said at the front right, so I made my way up there and she gave me a big hug. She was wearing a crazy peacock feather mask that was very vibrant. I was lost from everyone else, so I just danced with Sophia all night.

A couple of hours went by and one of my favorite bands Lotus was about to come on. Sophia loves Lotus too, but she has never seen them, so she was very stoked to partake in this. Sophia and I got good spots and we were in awe as lotus tore it up with their funky, groovy, electro jams. They’re really talented musicians and kept a live upbeat dance groove going till the end of their set. During all this nonsense, Sean found us. We all had huge smiles on our faces and Lotus kept them up. They ended their set on an upbeat note and we were blown away. We went to go lay down for a couple hours before Rusko ended the festival. We made our way back to the upside down room and Rusko was just coming on. Sophia and I sat in the back and observed the dub step nonsense that Rusko put out. We were so tired. By then, 2:30 in the morning.

Sophia is a massage therapist, and she offered me a massage. I gladly accepted and right when she started I passed out. I slept through the whole set of Rusko and when I woke up Sophia was crashed out next to me. When she woke up we just looked at each other and made our way back to the campsite to sleep. Everyone was at the campsite, and I was sad when I realized this fun weekend was over. I acquired important realizations at that moment, and I tried to piece this puzzle together in my head. It was Memorial Day morning, and we had to make it back to Colorado the next morning for school.

Sean, Clayton, and I were not looking forward to this drive at all but it had to be done. We packed up the car around noon, and drove back to San Antonio to drop off our other friends. We slept for three hours in San Antonio then hit the road back to Colorado. We had class in 20 hours. The drive was awful and no one wanted to take the wheel, but we had too. We arrived back in Colorado with two hours to spare before school. It seemed so quick to be back in reality.

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