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Friday, August 23, 2019

What do I miss most about the US?

I mentioned in an earlier post that one thing I really miss from the US is the clothes washing situation.  For any not familiar with the European washing process, it goes something like this.
  • Washing machines are the size of a small dishwasher. I cannot fathom how families cope with this fact alone.
  • Nearly all washers are front loading and 60% of them smell mildewy, so you leave the door open in the hope that the smelliness dries up.
  • Some have only a bunch of symbols and no decoder ring.  If you’re lucky there are words on it you can translate if they’re not in English. 
  • There is possibly a second dial for temperature. Don’t forget this is Celcius. Many times this is combined with the other dial so you just have to know that if you select Cotton it will be a higher temp and Delicate will be lower.
  • If you get the settings wrong you end up with infant-sized socks and your black and white bikini is now a black and grey.  
  • There’s a drawer in the top with three trenches with no labels.  Past experience and murky buildup indicates that the far left one is for detergent, the middle one is for softener which often has clogged to the point where it doesn’t make it into the wash, but enthusiastically sloshes out upon opening the drawer. I have heard that the third slot is for prewashing but no one uses it. 
  • There may be a display showing the approximate number of minutes till completion.  If you chose the wrong setting, be aware that it could take over three hours. Seriously.  The normal settings usually take about an hour and a half. Again... how do families do it?
  • Close the door firmly and find a button with a triangle/start button hope for the best.
  • Some washers have a “dryer” setting. I put dryer in quotations because I have never found a setting which actually produces dry clothes.  A British friend explained, “It’s easy, you just have to stop the wash halfway through when it gets to the dry cycle, and take half of the clothes out and then let it finish and then you can take those out and put the rest of the wet clothes back in and set it to dry only.  You might have to finish up with hang drying, but it’s pretty dry.  It’s easier than using a dryer.” Refer to the earlier note that Europeans don’t know what they’re missing.
  • Remove your clothes and look for the drying rack.  If there’s a clothesline outdoors, and you’re in England, hang the clothes to dry, go inside for 10 minutes and then run back outside and take them all down because it has started to rain.  Rehang them on the drying rack or if one cannot be located, use the back of kitchen chairs, towel racks, or cabinet handles and wait two days for them to be dry enough to wear. (Or wait 15 minutes when you're in Thailand summer heat!)
  • Put your clothes away immediately. You don't have the option to pop on the wrinkle out dryer setting!
  • Oh, one last thing, since there's no dryer, if you have pets or if you accidentally left a kleenex in your pocket, good luck removing all that residue from your clothes!  Best invest in lint rollers!

Did you get all that?  Now wasn’t that easy?? 

Americans, please go hug your washers and dryers for me and tell them that you appreciate them.

For my European friends, here is how washing works in the US.

  • Every home is equipped with a washer and a dryer. Each is typically a little less than a meter wide and a little more than a meter tall. When I was married and my husband worked construction and went through two pairs of clothes a day and I worked out and had a second set of clothes to wash, I could still fit everything into two loads - one for colors and one for whites.
  • Traditionally the washer is top-loading and the dryer is front-loading. No mildew smell unless you forget your laundry in there.
  • There is one dial on the washer where you select from settings like: Cotton (options for heavy, normal or light soil), Delicates, Permanent Press (colors that wrinkle easily) and possibly other settings for Heavy soil or Knits or Handwashing.  There is another dial labeled cold, warm, or hot. There is another dial for load size: small, medium, large and extra-large.
  • You toss the detergent directly into the washing tub. There's a separate slot on the side or middle of the basin that is labeled Softener, but most people skip that and use dryer sheets for softener.
  • Close the door and pull the cycle selection dial out to start.  The dial will turn as it goes through prewash, wash, spin, rinse, second rinse to note which part of the cycle it's on. There might be numbers to indicate the number of minutes.  I suppose new models are digital, but this is the way mine always worked.
  • The wash cycle usually takes about 30 minutes depending on the setting you chose.
  • Remove clothes from the washing machine and place ALL of them into the dryer.
  • Remove the lint catcher from the dryer and make sure it's clean before each use.  It's amazing how much lint and pet hair collects in this thing.
  • The dryer also has settings based on the type of fabric and options for timed dry or auto dry (less dry, normal, or more dry).
  • Throw a dryer sheet in to soften and scent your clothes.
  • Press start.
  • Come back in an hour or so and you have magically dry clothes!
  • If you forgot and left your stuff in there for a couple days, select the Fluff or Wrinkle Out setting so you don't have to iron them to remove those pesky wrinkles.
Joy!  😄

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Going Home without Going Home

Fellow nomads warned me that I might feel reverse culture shock upon returning to the US after 15 months of traveling. I’m not sure what that was meant to them, but I didn’t have it. Possibly I avoided it since I didn’t go “home” per se and I already had an outbound ticket back to Europe.  I could treat it as another chapter in my adventure and not worry about it being an ending. (Spoiler alert: it was another fantastic chapter.)

It was comforting to slide back into a space with familiar language, customs, laws, and roads (built for big American cars on the right side). Plus - clothes dryers!  Europe really doesn’t know what it’s missing out on there. 

My mom’s family plans a reunion once every 3-5 years or so. Rather than having it in someone’s home or hometown, we choose a place where we would all like to visit. We pick a place with natural beauty and interesting attractions, then rent a place big enough to house all of us for a week.  None of this spend one day together and then go back our separate ways nonsense!  We genuinely enjoy each other.  This is not some obligation to be fulfilled so it was a no brainer that I had to say yes when dear “Aunt” Ginger invited me to Pacific City, Oregon. 

I have long appreciated that I am terribly fortunate to have such a great family (on both sides) but since traveling and hearing many sad family stories ranging from apathy to abuse, I came to this reunion with a deeper sense of gratitude and it was returned tenfold. 

We met up at a Portland Food Cart pod before setting out to the coast and cousin Ben (7 years my junior) exclaimed, “Hey look! It’s that lady from the internet!” 

Over the week, we touristed, we laughed, we shared stories, we took turns cooking and eating fabulous meals, we paid each other lots of compliments, we hugged, we played games, we sat around the fire and sang, roasted marshmallows, some played guitar, some played the keyboard. There were tears of joyful sorrow and gratitude at the end of the week. I am so proud to be part of such an amazing group of talented, inspiring, caring people.

Plus I got to meet someone I’ve had a HUGE virtual crush on since seeing my cousin post photos of her a couple years ago.  Sonny was even more loveable in person!  <3

I wish I could bottle up the joy, the stories, the laughter, the love from that week.

The rest of my time in Oregon carried on with the same momentum. I went to writing meetups, I attended parties, I helped throw parties, I hiked to waterfalls, attended festivals, discovered an unexpected romance, had my tarot cards read, got my fortune from Zoltar, made new friends, reunited with old friends, and was so fortunate to have visits from my dad and stepmom and friends from Kansas City, Southern Oregon and Texas.  A new friend observed something about being a powerful woman to draw so many. Ha!  

I got to see “my” cat, Miss Mia Pretty Princess Mole Slayer. I admit I was sad but not surprised when I picked her up and she looked to my brother with a face that said, “Save me from this strange woman!”

AND! I got to finally check an item off my bucket list.  I got to have a bonfire on the beach!  Even better, it was right before the Fourth of July so we sat back and watched the fire, drank wine and watched people light off fireworks on the beach while hearing the ocean tide rolling in.  It was even more magical than I’d imagined.

Some asked me why I didn’t visit Kansas City, but no. I wasn’t ready. Even in Portland I felt torn in too many directions.  I knew in Kansas City I’d be overwhelmed with scheduling visits. Plus, I envisioned questions that I haven’t found the answers to yet. I didn’t want to feel that I was going back “with nothing to show for myself”. I know that’s silly, but that’s part of my inner dialog. Logically I know that I have indeed accomplished things but not as many as I’d hoped I would by now. (I probably will never be able to measure up to my inner critic.)

It was hard to leave Oregon and all the amazingness it embodies. The wealth of natural beauty is hard to beat. Lush forests full of ferns, wildflowers, and moss; incredible waterfalls and coasts with some of the coolest rock formations I’ve seen in the world. The people there really value individuality.  Plus it’s a foodie paradise!  If I didn’t have a housesit in Slovenia lined up, Portland could easily have been the end of my amazing adventure and the start of a new one.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Gazing Over My Cuppa Tea

A few months ago I got a message saying, "Tiddles and Shindig need you in May!" So here I am revisiting my first housesit. Greetings from Great Malvern, England. After a wonderful but uncharacteristically chilly and rainy stay in Germany, I told the homeowners that I was looking forward to going to England for some warmth and sunshine. I said it jokingly, but it's been surprisingly accurate.

It’s the first day since my arrival in England that I’m getting stereotypical English weather. Undulating shades of white and grey shroud the skies that were sunny, bright and blue yesterday. It isn’t exactly raining, but the air itself can’t seem to decide if its oxygen molecules are solo or married to dewy hydrogen.
My eye is drawn up from my “cuppa” tea to the clematis bursting with cheerful, pink stars pushing aside tiny, white clusters on the bush it embraces.  I smile at the profiles of two wood pigeons; their heads bobbing in unison, propelling them forward like a child’s toy along the mossy tile roofline.

Sprawling burgundy Japanese maple complements the column of chartreuse cedar behind it. The jaunty, handlebar mustaches of the hemlock seem to taunt the droopy cedar fronds that imitate an old man’s unkempt beard gently wagging under the muttering breeze.
Sharply dressed magpies come to visit each morning. Drinking from the birdbath that’s clad in the same ruddy-brown moss that covers the roof. One struts upon it, pecking the moss, looking for food or maybe he’s just being contrary because he can.  The magpies exude a cockiness that is absent in the bumbling of the pigeons and doves.

Behind it all are the Malvern Hills.  For a Kansas girl, “hill” is an incompetent word to describe the enormous, green-blue shapes hulking far taller than the tallest trees or church spires. It seems unreal that those white speckles at the very top are sheep.  I still remember my sharply aching knee and shortness of breath from the meandering hike to the peak last fall. The patchwork view and the conversation with my elderly hiking companion were worth the effort ten times over.  Raining or not, it’s good to be back in jolly old England.

***Note - photos were taken when the sun was shining!!! 😁

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Time Flies When You Follow Your Dreams

It’s been one year since I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket for Scotland. Not long before my last day at work, a coworker told me that others were placing bets about me. 

“Oh really?,” I asked, “Betting on when I’ll be back?”

“No, betting on whether or not you’ll be back at all.”

Shivering in the Edinburgh cold and watching a light blanket of snow coat the city seems so very long ago. Yet, it doesn’t seem possible that it was over a year ago that I sat at my desk and fired up Excel and Outlook. Time has a way of stretching and compressing and fooling us with its trickery. 

Setting out, I had this naive hope that everything would magically fall into place by circumstance and chance during these twelve months. I would know what I wanted to be when I grew up and maybe I would even be heading on that path. I would have used the boundless amounts of time to complete my book and with any luck I'd be on my way to being a best selling author. My photos would be selling well on stock photo sites.  I’d be proud of that my (door) Knockers of the World book would be gracing coffee tables near and far. I’d have found where I belonged and building my future there. And... just maybe I would have met Prince Charming and be living happily ever after. 

None of it has happened.  None of it. 

All that time I thought I’d have? I was so wrong. As mentioned previously, time plays tricks.  Turns out full time traveling is a job in itself. Don’t get me wrong, and sorry Garmin, it’s a much more fulfilling job to be sure, but it can be exhausting having so much fun! Not knowing where I’m going to be sleeping a couple weeks from now and making sure I get the best value so I can stretch out my travel as long as possible takes way more time than it should.
Some things that I was freaked out about before I left home ended up being no big deal: 
  • Living out of a suitcase for so long.
  • Wearing the same outfits every day. 
  • Not knowing when I’d make money again. 
  • Not having a place to call home.
  • Not having a full social calendar.
  • Not being able to go shopping.
  • Traveling solo and being alone in a city of strangers.
Unexpected annoyances that I didn’t anticipate or thought would get easier:
  • Packing deserves a two-part complaint: 
    • Staying below the weight limit is always a worry. Absurdly, my belongings fluctuate in weight just like I do. 
    • Suitcase Tetris - sometimes things fit easily and other times, I have to sit on my suitcase and swear in order to get it zipped up.
  • Button-press-o-phobia - Yep, I’ve still got it.  Finding the best deal on lodging/car rental/airfare and getting the dates right and pulling the trigger takes way more time and mental energy than I thought it would.
  • Choosing where to eat - Everyone can agree this is an ongoing universal struggle.
  • How long to stay - It’s impossible to get right, it’s either too much time or not enough.
  • Not being able to find Cover Girl Makeup or good Mexican food. 

I have seen many amazing things and met many wonderful people. I traveled enough to circle the earth 1.6 times this year.  I visited 14 countries, stayed in 51 cities and met up with 26 existing friends and made countless more new friends. 

Things I’ve learned:
  • To say yes to more experiences and shrug off social anxieties and preconceptions.
  • Isolation brings along his friends depression and self-doubt.
  • House sitting rocks!
  • People around the world are more similar to each other than not.
  • Car rental companies are the worst swindlers of the travel world. 
  • It’s impossible to answer the question, “Where is your favorite place you visited?”
  • Yoga & meditation are wonderful salves to ease a turbulent mind.
  • Everyone is braver and more capable than they realize.
  • The things you have the lowest expectations for often turn out to be the most amazing.
  • Getting started is often the hardest part of any activity worth taking.
  • Your worst fears never materialize as imagined.
  • Being in an amazing place doesn’t guarantee happiness.
  • Positive attitude, an open mind and the knowledge that everything will be ok can get you through just about anything.
As might be evident from this list, I alternate between being in awe of my experiences and wallowing in self-doubt and depression and everything in between.  These questions plague me whenever I stop long enough to listen to my inner critic. What do I have to show for this year of travel? Am I being irresponsible in spending all this money? What am I doing with my life? Why didn’t I accomplish more?  What should I do next? When is enough enough? Am I hopelessly ruining myself?  How will life after this adventure ever measure up? 

I don’t have answers, I may not ever, but I’m still on the road to find out.  I’m not done and for now, I’m going to keep on rolling down that road, following my dreams with the knowledge that whatever happens it’s all gonna be alright.

PS - Regarding the question, "What's next?" I'm heading on a quick tour of Vietnam after my Thailand housesit is over. After that, I'm excited to be heading back to Europe. I'm really glad that I visited SE Asia a bit, but Europe still has my heart. I'll be in Germany for two more housesits in April, then revisiting my first housesit to care for Tiddles and Shindig for the month of May. I've got a few weeks in June where things are up in the air before I return to the United States for a family reunion in Oregon at the end of June. Following that, I'm excited to be housesitting in Slovenia for the month of August.  I'm happy to report that I've been able to stick to my budget more or less (sometimes more, sometimes less) and I have the luxury of keeping on my path.  Maybe the puzzle pieces I've been seeking (and more magic) are waiting for me in year two!

PSS - Regardless of all else, I'm so extremely glad that I took the chance to do this. This chance to live this dream. Insurance against regret.  A chance to prove to myself that I could. I am eternally grateful to everyone that offered me support and encouragement and the biggest thanks of all to Stacy James for giving me the courage to get started. Getting started was the hardest part. The rest has been easy in comparison. I highly encourage any of you reading this to take the risk and find what makes you happy, what makes you glow with joy.  In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take.

Image result for life is short live it now

Saturday, February 23, 2019

HSFTW! (House sitting for the win!)

Way back when Stacy and I started scheming our adventure, we discussed saving money by house sitting. We applied for a couple sits on but never heard a peep in return. It didn’t take much to discourage us since we hadn’t tapped into our reserves yet, so we just moved on and Airbnb’d it. 

When Stacy went back home, I threw our original plan out the window and spent three months in Germany writing, contemplating, wondering what I was doing and what to do next. As luck would have it, I had a string of friends who had planned trips to Europe and gladly set my schedule to match theirs.  With all this running around planned, it felt like a good time to give house sitting a try again. works kinda like a cross between a dating site and Airbnb. Start with a profile describing how absolutely awesome and sane you are and what an amazing (animal) lover you are. Lots of pics of you and your pets to make you attractive to homeowners in need of sitters. From there, you put in a date range and a city or country and what types of animals you want to watch, find an attractive home and send a message designed to convince them that you’re the best match for their beloved home and pets. If you get chosen, you get a free place to stay and the homeowners get a free sitter.  Win - Win!

I found a two-week house sit in a small town I’d never heard of not far from the charming Cotswolds area in the UK.  In case you’re not familiar with the Cotswolds, it’s pretty much the epitome of quaint English fairytale villages. Buttery yellow stone homes each boasting a cute garden overflowing with hollyhocks and roses, many with black-thatched roofs set against rolling green hills with white sprinkles of sheep.

A few hours after my application, I got a message requesting a video interview. I was way more nervous than I am on a first date.  I set my camera to selfie mode and did practice runs in various rooms with different lighting and different outfits; imagining what questions they might have for me and coming up with a few of my own. All there was to do now, was sweat in the Berlin summer heat, twiddling my thumbs for a couple hours till I got an incoming video call.

After hello’s, the homeowner said, “Oh good, you look just like your photos.”  Guess she’d gotten catfished before, too! She asked me some easy questions and showed me around the house a bit as she held the phone up to the cats who were possibly even cuter than their profile photos.

Not long after, I got an email saying that they’d love to have me watch Tiddles and Shindig, so I booked my tickets for a couple months in the future; perfectly dovetailing with my other travels.

Once there, I found that staying in someone’s home was even more comforting than I imagined. I spent the first few days blissfully doing nothing more than petting cats, writing, and eating pre-made shepherd’s pies and Cornish pasties.  Tiddles informed me that she’d always aspired to be a writing assistant. I admired her persistence though her skills were pretty limited.

House sitting took me so far off the radar of touristy destinations that even my English friends didn’t know of this town. I was charmed but didn’t feel a pressing need to run out and “do all the things”.  I could slow down and just live. Live in a space that was actually lived in, with a kitchen people actually cooked in and best of all, KITTIES!!!

As my housesit in Great Malvern neared an end I found that I wasn’t ready to gallivant off elsewhere… I wanted more time with pets and a “real” home. Plus, there may or may not have been a certain boy that made it hard for me to leave.

I found another house sit in the area - this time with an even more amazing garden and two adorable Siamese cats.

Next, I found another at a home with two dogs (Fleur and Nell), one elderly cat (Tisha) and 14 sheep.  While there, a friend of the family offered to join me for a walk with the dogs.  We chatted like long lost friends and she invited me to her yoga class that evening. I liked it so much that I went again the following morning and happily accepted her invitation to dinner the following night! What a delight to make an unexpected friend.  She had a daughter in Australia that she’d be visiting again in December.  I’d always wanted to go to Australia so she graciously shared loads of insider tips.

My new friend informed me that Fleur would be devastated if she didn’t make it into the blog, so here she is. :-)

This home had been a barn in the 1700s and converted into a farmhouse somewhere along the way. I had fun learning how to use the AGA cooker.  It’s always on.  Two hot surfaces with covers to be lifted when in use.  Three ovens at differing temperatures, burning, warming, and roasting. It warmed the kitchen as well.  Fleur would stick her nose in the towel on the right when she was cold.

Though someone else tended to the sheep, I enjoyed giving them treats and petting them. They quickly recognized me and bleated whenever they saw me come out of the house.

By this time, fall had descended upon the Cotswolds and with winter looming, Stacy informed me that she was ready to escape the cold of Kansas and come travel with me again.  I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of the whole world being my oyster, so it was convenient to use Stacy’s distaste of winter as an excuse to chase the summer.

I found a gorgeous house sit in Perth, Australia over Christmas and New Years. We were enamored with the idea of spending Christmas on the beach.  Again, it was in a town outside of the main tourist destinations near the super cool, funky town of Fremantle which we never would have known about were it not for the house sit. The home was as comfortable and lovely as the photos and the owners and cats were a joy.  Van and Nala are possibly the most photogenic cats I’ve ever encountered and were very entertaining.

After our housesit, we flew to New Zealand to meet up with a dear friend from the US and another from the UK and raced across the country from top to bottom, East to West and back again.  It was so lovely seeing them and “doing all the things”, but I’m ready to slow things down again do another house sit, recharge, and catch up on my writing!  So now I'm looking forward to a month-long house sit near Chiang Mai, Thailand with two cats and two snakes!

I’ve always preferred Airbnb’s over hotels (especially Carole's Cinco B&B in Sintra, Portugal, with her lovely cats!). It’s so much more comfortable and makes for a more authentic experience of what it’s like to be a local, but staying in someone’s home and bonding with their animals takes it to the next level. I’ve kept in touch with all the homeowners and they’ve each told me that I have a place to stay even if they don’t need a housesit.  It’s been such a fabulous experience.  It would be super cool if I could make money doing this, but even just having a free place to stay and making friends is so worth it.  Hell, I’ve chosen Airbnbs just because they have cats!  To be honest, sometimes I feel like I should be paying them for the joy that meeting them and their animals has brought to me.

Friday, October 5, 2018

What is Identity Anyway?

95% of the time when we meet new people, they will ask one of these questions and not get much deeper than that:

“Where are you from?”

“Are you married?”

“Do you have kids?”

“What do you do?” (Of course this always means what’s your job, not what do you for fun.)

Generic questions sketch a convenient caricature.  For some, it’s enough.  Enough of their identity is tied to one or more of these things that there’s not much need for questions of a different ilk. I'm not saying that's wrong, but for me these questions are pretty tricky right now.  I’m from the US - but not particularly proud of that with the current political atmosphere.  I don’t have a home, but to say that I’m homeless sends the wrong message. I have been mostly single for 11 years. I am not a mother and never will be. I don’t have a job (and I'm sure not confident enough to say that I’m a writer). 

A few years ago there was a team building thing at work where they asked us to bring in a photo from our wedding or prom.  Gee, divorced and never went to prom, so here's what I came up with. 😂

Though I would say that I worked to live and didn’t live to work, I’m finding that a big part of my identity was wrapped up in my job. I find myself referring to Garmin as “we” still and referring to “my coworkers” instead of “former coworkers”. I had a really hard time reconciling that when I got divorced & I'm struggling with it again now, though with much less pain this time around.

I went to Garmin night at Oktoberfest in Munich last week.  It was good, but surreal seeing many people I used to work with. Enough time had passed that we couldn’t really talk about work much. Since I don’t have a replacement job, it almost feels like I’m on extended vacation rather than unemployed. A few of them said, “You’ll be back, just wait…”  It’s nice to feel that door is open should I care to pursue it, but for now, I’m not missing work and having no trouble filling my time.

One of the cool side effects being in my unique position is that conversations go beyond these easy questions.  I have had a higher concentration of meaningful conversations in the last 6 months than I'd had for years.  When those four basic questions don't have simple answers it pushes us out of our boxes and sometimes our comfort zones. It urges us to question what is truly important to us and think about who we are and what we want outside of those four things. It's really cool seeing people light up when they hear about what I'm doing and get fired up considering that they might be able to follow their dreams, too. 

A bunch of people have asked me what I've learned about the world or what I've learned about other cultures.  I'd been traveling quite a bit before this adventure so I really haven't had new epiphanies about the differences (I find more similarities personally) between Europeans and Americans. I'm learning about myself. Slowly casting off misconceptions I had about myself and what's important.

I haven’t updated my Linkedin profile. What do I change my employment status to? Who am I? A traveler, an explorer, a writer, a vagabond, a professional friend maker/ socializer?  I had to rediscover myself after getting divorced, and build a new “me”.  Guess that’s what I’m on the road to do again. Maybe at the end of this road, I'll figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  :-p

A friend shared this instagram post which I love:

My story doesn’t always feel important. 
Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth telling at all. 
Who am I to think my words, life, or experiences could impact someone else?
And then I realize - how self deprecating.
My story may not resonate with everyone. In fact, it probably won’t resonate with many. 
I am simply a human. 
A woman. 
A lover. 
Joy filled. 
To some, adventurous. 
But I am a steward of this earth. A student eager for knowledge. A medicine woman aiming to heal. A heart cracked open to spread love. And those things are relatable. Those things are important. Those are pieces of magic ✨
So I share my story. Not because I am more important. Not because I am any different from you, in fact. 
I share my story, because I have been lost. And it was other humans’ stories that led me home. 

Stories are the essence of humankind, and if mine means something to someone, than it’s worth telling. A thousand times over.

--Eva Lousie