The Fantasy: Life Abroad, Part I

To my friends who have jokingly plus sincerely expressed jealousy at the idea of my new life abroad: Yes, yes and yes! (My nickname in Spanish, plus an extra Sí!). My first few weeks in the Andean valley city of Medellín fulfill every fantasy you can possibly imagine. My life is all sexy salsa dancing late into the night; it’s riding fast on the winding roads leading up and down the streets of Medellín on attractive men’s motorcycles, hair whipping long and free behind me; it’s trekking through the cloud forests above the city with parrots perched on my shoulders, large exotic beetles buzzing all around; it’s spending supreme quality time mejorando my Spanish via constant communications with strong, yummy Colombian men who wear cut off shorts and floral tanks; my life is—

If this is a game of two truths and a lie, you’ve received ALL lies, my friends.

I haven’t succeeded even once to get out salsa dancing, much less ridden on any attractive man’s motorcycle. But that’s all right, because I have an even better arrangement. I’m learning gritty Medellín slang along with the valley’s musical Paisa accent from my delightfully sarcastic, comedic flatmate, Camilo; and Camilo’s boyfriend, a professional salsa dancer named Pablo, will next week Monday embark on the epic task of teaching me how to dance. To top it off: Camilo wears the snazziest floral tanks and cut off shorts, so…I didn’t in fact tell all lies, my friend. There will be salsa dancing (at decent hours! in my own home!) and yummy floral-tank touting men.

To be honest, I’ve been so busy teaching cute kiddos from China and Taiwan at the crack of dawn every morning of the week I can’t even remember what salsa dancing is, only that it starts at 10:00pm, the time by which I must be asleep if I am to survive four hours conducting English-speaking puppetry via Internet in those wee hours. The process of converting myself into an early morning English teaching wizard has been a challenge–it’s LOUD in a boisterous, cheery way here in Colombia, and for a light sleeper such as myself, getting solid sleep sometimes feels like a stroke of luck. The salsa and reggaeton music people liberally enjoy is played from large speakers everywhere, and often wafts through the open-air concepts of our apartments. The sound of revving motorcyles and humming helicopters and airplanes echoes against concrete walls. Add in the rain resounding like firecrackers on plastic roofs, and you’ve got an urban style orchestral symphony that takes some getting used to, and has left me a bit bleary-eyed.

But I’m adjusting, and with the assistance of French press coffee, I plough through the mornings and days. Frankly I’ve become attached to my fledgling routine which comprises the following somewhat flexible activity blocks: [Teach in the Wee Hours] [Write Novel] [Gym] [Almuerzo] [Spanish Study] [Saxophone] [Teach Again or Spanish Class or Friends or English Hour] [Book and Bed]. There you have it, the Minnesota Gringa’s life abroad in a nutshell.

Lots of props (plus coffee) needed for teaching online.

After I teach, I head out for fresh air and lunch. In Colombia, all restaurant cafés serve healthy, cheap lunches every day. This is pleasantly true of all the cafés around my neighborhood. Almuerzo consists of a grilled meat, freshly steamed rice, a light green salad, freshly squeezed fruit juice, and a creamed vegetable soup.

To the café I bring books, my laptop, and work on slogging through Pedro Páramo, a god-awfully-tricky piece of gorgeous literature written by the acclaimed Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo.

A typical almuerzo.

To those of you that fluently write and speak and even work in a second language, I applaud you. Although I generally have no day-to-day problems understanding and using the language, the deepening of my Spanish knowledge into a more academic and professional level is a very slow-going process. I recall from my days studying how to teach English that developing an academic sense of a second language can take years of deliberate study. Thus I’m slogging forward, deliberately. My goal is straightforward: freelance translation work.

It’s a labor made easier with the help and encouragement of my friend and Spanish tutor Óscar, with whom I studied last year. We meet Mondays and Thursdays for an hour at my second home in Medellín, a bookstore café called Exlibris. He consistently and skillfully elucidates the intricacies of Spanish grammar, often circling back to the dreaded Subjunctive Mood with which I still struggle, and smooths out my pieces of writing and translation pieces while I wildly take notes and drink a Tres Cordilleras beer. On Thursdays we top off Spanish class with a game of chess, which I always lose (I’m getting better, though, so watch out, future matchmates!).

Exlibris, in Carlos E. Restrepo (neighborhood).

On Tuesdays, I’ve started an English coffee hour. It’s relaxed, no prep, just me hanging out meeting new people and speaking English. Interestingly, I’ve been meeting a Colombian student of German to study and speak in German, not English. So perhaps I should call it the Whatever-Language-We-Want Coffee Hour.

And, glory in the heavens, I’ve started playing saxophone with a musician named Diego, who I met at a friend’s house. He’s from and studied in Cali, which is well-known for its musical scene. He is a traveling troubadour in the truest sense, having spent years exploring different parts of South America, from the Amazon to Buenos Aires, learning and playing music. He’s also a composer, mainly doing work for documentaries and sometimes commercials. He is very good at teaching improv, and very patient—which is partly due to his background teaching K-12 music for a few years. Even still he gives me arpeggio exercises and throws musical theory at me every week, which I find obnoxious only because I’m out of practice, and it’s hard. But I’m diggin’ it, and I’m learning some chill slang from him to boot. Right now we’re working on bossa nova tunes, with the idea that I will accompany him on guitar at some point in some of the bars and cafés around the city.

Diego and I before playing for a friend’s going-away party.

Let’s see…what else is different? A fruit vendor from whom I buy my bananos and bananitos comes by every morning promoting his wares via singsong shouts to which dogs howl, a charming occurrence. There’s also a shopping cart that rolls by with a loud speaker, advertising tamales ricos y calienticos. I bought one of these tamales the other day and I confess it was both hot and delicious, just as advertised. A corn-based dish slow-cooked in plantain leaves, the meat falls apart when you lift it with your fork.

A glimpse of Medellín.

Carrying on…for the first time in my life I have a personal trainer at a stellar local gym called Bodytech. Victor, a nice guy who apparently didn’t realize I spoke Spanish until a week ago, came with the gym membership. The result: I’ve never lifted so many weights in my life; and yet, after six weeks, nothing seems to be changing, which I blame on my genes. A muscle on my arm or my thigh? Naught to be seen. Also at the gym: a lovely long-haired woman taking proud selfies of her beautiful chiseled buttocks, which were hard not to admire. They do a lot of plastic surgery here for those kinds of posterior curves, but I’m pretty certain hers is endowed and she does a ton of squats. And more baffling: cinched corsets, bright magenta pink in color, on women doing cardio workouts, a sight I can’t look at for too long without feeling suffocated.

Avenida Colombia, and Bodytech, my gym for a few months.
Very few colonial buildings are left in Medellín. I found this one in the very lively downtown sector, or centro, of Medellín .
Giant plants abound in the concrete jungle of Medellín .

I have a wonderfully gregarious friend named Najet, a French journalist based here in Medellín, who I spend most of my free time with (she’s also my flatmate). She always has to work, so I have a buddy to sit in coffee shops with. Which as most of you know, is my preferred life. Coffee shops, books, writing.

At my friend Daniela’s house, La Casa Morada, on the mountainside overlooking Medellín.
Notice the lovely flowering guayacan tree in background.

My friend Najet and I are thinking about visiting Leticia in November. If the Amazon is still standing, that is. We joked that, but not really. To answer the question some of you posed regarding Amazon fires: yes, the Amazon is burning, and burning more than ever before, and it’s Bolsonero and his lax policies on logging and deforestation that is causing it. So far the fires haven’t reached Colombia. The president, Ivan Duque, went to Leticia, which is located on the Amazon river, and filmed a short video saying something like: We will do everything we can to preserve the Amazon in Colombia. Who knows what that means; I know there’s plenty of illegal logging, etc. in the Amazon here too. Overall it certainly isn’t looking great. A plant biologist who attends my English/Whatever Language Coffee Hour told me she cried for a day straight when she found out about the extent of the fires. How do I feel? I have to admit–a bit calloused in the area of the environment. It’s hard to live and proceed with daily tasks when you think too deeply, too often about the Amazon burning, and everything else going wrong with our environment (or the world, for that matter).

Enjoying an evening of literature at the Annual Book Fair at the Botanical Gardens in Medellín.

As for other news—yes, I did read one morning that Iván Márquez, the leader of a dissident faction of FARC—the once-guerrilla group turned political party—has decided to take up arms again here in Colombia. What does that mean? I think most Colombians don’t really know at this point. Some remain positive regarding the peace treaty that’s being upheld by many former members who are now part of a political party. Others are skeptical. Most others are tired of it all, and also recognize that Colombia has a long history with this sort of military versus guerilla conflict, and that it might not dissolve completely anytime soon. At least for now and perhaps for the indefinite near future, none of this activity will affect me and others living a middle- to upper-class life in Medellín. The possibility of low-income teens getting sucked into fighting again, and violence breaking out in rural areas and poorer neighborhoods is likely.  

Talking about black cats and horror stories.

And let’s see…what else? I’m slowly thinking about fiction writing again, and have a few thousand words down for a new novel. It’s a start, right?

Speaking of fiction, I did a reading of Edgar Allan Poe last week Sunday for a literary salon hosted by my friends John and Najet. It was truly a lovely affair, with around thirty people packed into John’s cozy, wood trimmed barber shop. A retired literature professor came to provide commentary on the fragments I chose (The Raven, Ulalume, The Black Cat, etc.). The professor and I discussed the fact that in Spanish there isn’t the concept of unreliable narrator, a term coined by an American writer in the 1960s. I was fascinated by this cross-language discrepancy, given the concept is such an important one for psychological thrillers and works of literature such as Lolita by Nabakov. Of course, I find many of the same sorts of discrepancies the other way around: complex ideas encapuslated by one word or verb which cannot be translated well into English. These sorts of intriguing linguistic crevasses keep me pondering at night.

That’s all for now.

Yours sincerely, fresh from Medellín,

Cici Woolf


Minneapolis, and “Liquid” Existences

Peace Rock Garden, Minneapolis

Dear Friend,

You wanted to hear about my experience living in Minneapolis for a few months after getting back from my backpacking trip in South America; you also wanted to hear what I planned to pack for my new life abroad as you pack up yours for a move back to Minnesota. I’ve combined the two answers into one post; in the end, they go together. I’ll do my best explaining my transition into the nomad’s life.

The book I’ve been contemplating amidst all this movement is, suitably, Modern Liquidity by Zygmunt Bauman. The unique anxiety that comes along with flexibility, and fluidity in living choices, as he terms it, is trademark of our era, and my life, so it seems.

An Incubation Period: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Being back in Minnesota was a re-organized, revived version of my life a year ago, before I traveled through South America for seven months. Although I had no plans of where to live or work during my short stint back, these pieces fell into place snugly during my final month traveling as I reconnected with friends and coworkers.  At a friend’s house, a snug yellow room filled with books and a garden view became my homespace, and my work consisted of covering a former coworker’s maternity leave at The English Learning Center, an organization I’d worked on and off for the past seven years. At the age of thirty-four I sometimes wondered about the fact that I am floating between rented rooms like a college student; but at the end of the day, the fact of my life’s levity right now gives me contentment.

I relished settling into a routine—going to the gym, meeting friends regularly for dinner, taking leisurely lake walks, playing music in parks, sneaking hugs from my three-year-old nephew, enjoying green smoothies at Zoe’s Café in the mornings while I wrote and listened to the café’s murky, soft jazz tracks. Lessons with a local jazz saxophonist helped me get into a practice routine again.  I’d spent seven months being an amorphous individual—a backpacker; now, back in Minnesota, I reverted back to living within routines and systems.

Wonderful coworkers, Habiba and Hayat, for a 3-month stint at The English Learning Center, an organization that provides free English classes to adult immigrants and refugees.

Routines and systems provide the structure needed to create and thrive on a regular basis; the open-ended time traveling stimulates creativity. They work in pair with each other, at least for me personally. The fact that I could change up a routine for a different one; to dissolve one life’s structure for a traveling life and then gather up again a different structure in which to rest awhile is one of the boons of my life today.

Allergies, Memories, Failures, oh My!

Enjoying a Flowering Catalpa Tree with a friend.

Not all was pleasant in Minnesota–seasonal allergies hit me almost as soon as I stepped off the plane mid-March, plaguing me with fatigue and sinus headaches through mid-June. My life in Minnesota has always consisted of sinus headaches, infections, rotating allergy meds, steam face baths and sinus rinses. Illnesses, I should say. A friend wondered if feeling so ill in Minnesota had anything to do with the general uneasiness I felt with returning to a place where I’d felt unhappy for so long. It’s probably true; the immune system is never as strong when under stress.

Part of the experience of being back in Minneapolis therefore involved accepting and reframing the familiar, and somewhat heavy physical and emotional landscape it presented, and cutting through the haze of dense emotions that at times triggered my mind and body into more depressive moods. Reminders never ceased to drift in and out of my mind’s windows: of a failed marriage, my first, painfully awkward dating experiences post-divorce, reminders of grad programs I never got into; reminders that the novel I finished last year didn’t cut it, and sits in a box now somewhere with the few belongings I have left.  If not for the gentle envelope of friends, my wonderful interim job, and my friend’s house where I lived, I might have felt completely ground under those months back in Minnesota.

Considering the life I had previously, and everything that’s changed in the past two years since my divorce—all the necessary lessons, the not so agreeable consequences from the mistakes I’ve made—the road I’m carving out has felt like a Herculean endeavor at times.

Insecurities hinder my decision-making process, and anxiety blankets my chest and body at times—breathing, even just four breaths in and four out, is truly a tool worth mastering, I discovered.

Grounding myself in the necessary ambiguity of my current life, celebrating it, and letting go of all the elements I feel have been missing, or that I “ought” to have organized and developed in order to be happy, became a practice while in Minneapolis. Better stated: I’ve started to feel a bit of a relaxation in “goals” and “aspects” that I used to think were so important. It was when I was unhappiest, and deeply unconscious of that unhappiness, that I grasped as hard as I could to goals and aspects that I considered essential to being myself. For example, at times I feel a jolt of anxiety that perhaps I’ll never publish a novel, or never make very much money, but then I look around and don’t see why it should matter, given my strong tapestry of friends, my comfortable places of living, and the books and music I always have access to.

Related to this idea of fulfilling goals and aspects of myself, I was afraid to make decisions because I wasn’t sure they would be the “right” decisions. Sometimes it felt to me like life was a game of chess, and I hadn’t been properly taught the rules or strategies—so every step I took felt monumentally important. And wrong.

Ultimately, I’m coming to believe that living life is not a game a chess; it’s a dance of finding balance between relaxing into my life’s routine without stressing over whether it’s “absolutely right”, and also being true to one’s natural trajectory, and being reasonably open to the possibilities out there given one’s circumstances.  It’s the sweet spot of making a decision based on both logic (do I have money and resources to actually do this thing?) and emotion (does it excite me/properly frighten me to do this new thing?).

Recently, one of my favorite questions to ask a friend is: What would you do if you had no fear? After my divorce—I was able to start living with less and less fear because deciding to end a marriage was the most frightening decision I’d ever had to make. And then I was—yikes!—fired from my first, and I’ll be honest, horrible, job post-divorce.

Suddenly, I was very and uniquely free, and had to make some huge decisions fast. That meant packing up and moving to South America, what I always wanted to do in the first place.

Liquefaction — of everything?

“That work of art which we want to mould out of the 
friable stuff of life is called ‘identity’.”
Zygmunt Bauman, Modern Liquidity

While at first I balked at Bauman’s seemingly simplistic explanations of “liquid” and “solid” states of human existences, the more I read, the more I had to admit, that to a certain extent I perhaps epitomized this concept. All my anxieties, the plethora of choices (or illusion thereof?), the nervousness that comes with wondering whether I chose correctly or not; or whether I will feel content doing what I am doing…uffdah.

It’s true, after my divorce I’ve liquefied much of my life, literally and metaphorically. I’ve chucked most of my physical belongings in preparation for a lightweight future (if you consider 150 lbs of instruments and luggage filled with books lightweight, chuckle).

And yet, as I’ve been unpacking boxes I’ve had stored at my parents’ cabin, selling items, I’ve been feeling more and more settled in my liquid, nomadic state. I’ve contemplated how content I feel to live so simply.  I feel like a child, the physical parts of my former adult life (house, pets, marriage) now set aside. And there’s relief: I get to build a home and life based on a better foundation and understanding of myself and my needs. In fact—I’m grateful for this current phase of liquefaction, and the fact that it is possible for me to do what I am doing—instead of being stuck in structured life that was not right for me for many reasons.

Now the question you asked, Mere, is what I will pack in my carry-on luggage and two checked bags? Well, here is my list:

  • Saxophones, alto and soprano (brought as carry-on luggage)
  • Books (at least 10 lbs worth, all of them in Spanish)
  • Chess set (given to me by a German friend’s dad, made in Romania)
  • Wireless keyboard and laptop stand and mouse
  • Noise machine (Medellín is a loud city; I’m a very light sleeper)
  • Grammar books for teaching; flashcards
  • Blanky, AKA my childhood blanket (watch my sister cringe!), which is basically now a witch’s shawl (I would’ve brought a my little stuffed wolf pup but I couldn’t find him before I left), because it still gives comfort
  • Asus Laptop
  • Kindle
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 phone
  • Wireless Speaker
  • Numerous cables, chargers, mini HDMI cord that fits my laptop
  • Vintage print of wolf in snow
  • Extra pair of Crocs tennies, pair of sandals
  • Toiletries, cosmetics
  • Camping gear including backpacking inflatable mattress and chair
  • Water purifier
  • Clothes—whatever fit, the rest were donated

There you have it. Condensation of my life. It feels right to me right now and offers the opportunity of expansion in the future years to come.  

Communities in a Liquid Age

Bee community in Minneapolis.

Bauman writes that we are sinking into a new kind of individuality that prompts observation as opposed to involvement. He frames us as “individuals” and “consumers” as opposed to citizens; the consequences being that the private sphere is what we inhabit more and more, the public sphere less and less.

Bauman’s observation that liquid nomads such as myself tend to focus on individual needs over civic is probably correct—but not because I mean it to be. I do think I have, even if I’m a “liquid modern”, responsibilities, and what those are perhaps will morph depending on which community I am living in. One of my challenges, therefore, is to—despite my light existence—to get involved in the communities in which I live.

Incubation Over

A birthday party for my three-three old nephew, replete with Mickey’s and Minnies, and 4th of July spent on the mid-summer lambent lakes with friends and family ended my 4-month residency in Minneapolis, MN.

My time in Minneapolis completed, I’ve set foot again in Medellín, Colombia, and I know the decision to pursue my path—though at times opaque like the great Mississippi—is correct. I know for certain I’ll be in Medellín for six months, perhaps longer; I’ll also be on my way to Buenos Aires again, perhaps to play music with new friends late into the night, a glass of wine at my side.

Besitos, Cici Woolf


Colombia, and Why I’ve (Mostly) Given up Chocolate (For Now)

Making artisanal chocolate in Ecuador.

On the train ride to Machu Picchu, I found myself enveloped in the warm conversation of several Colombians sitting around my table. Having spent the last few days alone in Ollantaytambo, one of the lovely, small Incan villages in the Sacred Valley, I welcomed the prospect of connecting with people from a country I had such fond memories of.

After a few minutes listening to them speak in Spanish, I introduced myself. Patty, the woman sitting across from me, asked what I did for a living. I told her I was an English teacher and a writer. And that I was really interested in chocolate at the moment.

Her attractive dark eyes widened. Her sister and brother-in-law were getting into organic, artisanal chocolate making, she explained. “You should come visit and try the chocolate!” We exchanged contact information and a few months later, while thinking about chocolate in Argentina, I decided to take up her offer.

The thought of returning to Colombia, the country in which I’d started my journey in August of 2018, pleased me. I couldn’t wait to see the emerald green mountains again, and my friends in Medellín.

My friend Patty, at the university where she works as a professor outside of

After meeting up with Patty my first day there, we went to her family home in Bogotá, where her mother lived, and where the family convened on Sunday afternoons after church to make chocolate. Inside the two-story townhouse in a quiet neighborhood, they brought me to a bedroom on the second floor. A balcony looked out onto a garden and patio where a coffee tree grew along with other fruit trees and flowers.

Gloria–Patty’s sister– and her husband Alberto, toasting cacao beans in the kitchen.

After church the next day Patty’s sister and brother-in-law began the chocolate making by toasting beans in a pan on the stove. After the toasting was finished, we sat at the dining room table to peel off the shells. Then we put the beans into a metal grinder to make a peanut butter like paste. We processed the paste three times, until it became shiny and syrupy enough to pour into heart-shaped molds.

Foreground: Cacao beans ready to be ground into a paste. Background: coffee tree in the courtyard.

This is artisanal style chocolate. There’s no sugar added, and no time spent conching, refining, or tempering, processes normally important in chocolate making. You can read about refining and conching here, shared by one of my favorite chocolate blogs, Chocolate Alchemy. Refining happens over one or two days–depending on how smooth you want your chocolate; conching is a heating and stirring process that has more to do with teasing out of specific flavors and adding in additional flavors, such as vanilla or milk powder, to the chocolate. Tempering is the process by which you heat and slowly cool chocolate to a specific temperature so that it crystallizes in a way that produces a bar with good shine and snap. I enjoyed this video on tempering and what it does for chocolate made by the French Cooking Guy, Alex.

Sunday afternoon chocolate making.

The experience of taking an afternoon to make chocolate from scratch is unforgettable. The smell, the textures, the peeling process is delightful—though long.

The following weekend, Patty drove me with her mother four hours southwest of Bogotá to Los Llanos, an agricultural region where her father manages a small farm. After he showed me the cacao and mandarin trees on his land, a trail of ducklings followed him as he walked around the house. He also showed me a pile of beans that’d been fermented and dried, now ready for roasting.

Pile of fermenting cacao beans.

The family enjoyed fresh hot chocolate with slices of mozzarella-like cheese—and no sugar. The bitterness was a bit too much for me, and I felt a bit shamed as the family scrounged around the kitchen at the farm to find a bit of sugar for me to add.

We spent the entire day Sunday together driving around. I felt like I was part of the family. First we ate a hearty breakfast consisting of beef and fish stew and patacones—the latter is mashed, flattened and fried plantains. We drank espressos at Patty’s father’s favorite café and then we visited the cacao farms. Besides Patty’s family farm, we went to Granja Rinconcito, where the cacao beans recently won a chocolate award in Colombia. Strikingly—and as per the norm—the caretaker, the farmer on site, had never tasted chocolate made from his beans.

Patty’s father showing me a cacao tree on his farm.

The style of fermentation in both the cacao farms I visited is done in a mountain-like heap under heavy plastic coverings. Read this article from the Chocolate Journalist and read about what fermentation is, and how it affects flavor.

In Bogotá, I had the chance to peruse a few independent coffee roasting shops and find locally made chocolate brands there. Lök Chocolate, a French-owned company with a factory in Bogotá makes a smooth and easy to enjoy 70% dark chocolate bar. It was the first chocolate bar I’d eaten since Ecuador that I wanted to keep eating (I often gave away the chocolate I bought to people at my hostels because I couldn’t finish the bars).

Check out this fabulous bar of dark chocolate! (Pardon the coffee shop background noise).

So far my favorite Colombian brand has been Caofiori’s 70%–they have a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel, appealing cacao brown color, and a malty, caramel, steady flavor. Carlota Chocolat 72% Nariño region was also very good, smooth, fruity, with a bit of honey.

I still like chocolate, just not every day.

When I went to a coffee shop the other day and saw they had Dandelion Chocolate, a craft brand based out of California, on display at $10 a bar, I shrugged and passed by. Didn’t feel like having chocolate. I still haven’t bought a bar since coming home—though I did enjoy some 70% Equal Exchange chocolate chips, which I used to make cookies for a friend. But after those were finished I did not buy more.

I’ve been asked by nearly everyone since returning to Minneapolis how this ambivalence is possible. I’m the one who used to eat a bar a day of 70% dark for the past ten years. Perhaps I overdid it; after all, I tried a lot of chocolate–mostly because I was searching for a good bar of it.

Below: Much of the chocolate I tried while traveling in South America. These bars represent every country I visited except for Brazil. Unfortunately, I did not like most of them.

Still, when I taste a dark chocolate with a flavor that is pleasing to me—then YES, I enjoy it. But overall, my desire for chocolate has waned as my preference has become more refined. So much chocolate today has a flat and short flavor profile, contains vanilla—a loud ingredient that covers more than it adds—and soy lecithin, which also muddies the true flavor tones of a piece of a chocolate.

The other odd thing? I started to get itchy, burning lips and mouth after eating dark chocolate, and a stomachache soon after. So perhaps it’s time to back off for a bit and enjoy the other fruits of the earth.

Chocolate dreams to you,
Cici Woolf

At Patty’s house, with my favorite dog in the world, Cookies.