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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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

100 days of "Solitude"

Today marks my 163rd day abroad, 100 days of it being “solo” travel. Can’t very well say 100 days of solitude.  My worries about being lonely haven’t had much occasion to be tested. I’ve had visits with friends and family from the US, England, Norway, and Germany and have made new friends here in Berlin.

Stacy told me that I would be fine on my own; that maybe I’d be better off without her. I didn’t really believe her but knew that I wasn’t ready to go home and risk getting pulled back into the comforts of home and abandoning my dreams. After three months on my own, I’m enjoying the freedom of being able to move through life with only my own desires and winds of circumstance guiding the way. I’m finding a deeper sense of independence, confidence and calm as a result of my self reliance. Sure, I have times where I feel lost and lonely and question what the hell I’m doing, but less frequently and less intensely.

One of the unexpected benefits of being on my own is that it's motivated me to put myself out there and make friends with people in a way that I wouldn't have attempted if I had the comfort of a trusted friend to rely on.  Berlin has a fantastic community of people who use Meetup to meet like minded people and explore all sorts of creative and entertaining pursuits.  It's even available in Kansas City, just go to or download the app.  Check it out! 

I'm rereading a book which I absolutely adore.  What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman. She talks about how she was a shy little girl until her mom asked her if she'd rather have a vacation with no friends or one scary moment.  My dear step father also liked to say something similar. It's taken a while, but I've finally embraced this way of life and as Kristin Newman found, it has big payoffs for little investment.

I’ve had the pleasure of using Berlin as my home base thanks to the generosity of my distant cousin and her husband’s family. I’ve been staying at her husband’s grandmother’s empty flat for nearly three months now. To say the apartment is barebones is an understatement. I can count the pieces of furniture on one hand, I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress, and there are only two lamps which I carry from room to room if I need more light. 

Early on, I found it depressing. The emptiness of the apartment reflected the emptiness of my life - no home, no job, no cats, no commitments, far from friends and family. Just me. As time has gone on, I’ve been able to shift my perspective. It’s been comforting to have a place to come “home” to. Comforting to learn the public transportation without having to rely on google every step of the way. It’s liberating to realize that I don’t need my tempurpedic mattress, I don’t need much really. Just me is enough really. I am enough. If I can live 3 months in austerity, what else can stop me? (Choosing a new phone plan might break me though!)

My time in Berlin is coming to a close. I need to be out of “my” apartment by the end of September. Berlin has been fabulous for my creativity.  My cousin encouraged me to attend a Meetup group called Shut Up and Write.  We meet and chat for 15 minutes then write for 45 and have another 15 minute break followed by another 45 minutes of writing.  I get more written in the two 45 minute sessions than I do in an entire day of in my apartment. I’ve met inspiring people from all over the world who share their stories, ask insightful questions, offer comfort and encouragement and make me feel like maybe I’m not crazy for doing what I’m doing, or if I am crazy I’m not alone.  Today the lovely bearded barista at Handbestand saw me come in and an eyebrow lift later, my customary iced latte was delivered to my table.

Though Berlin has been good for me and I'm going to miss the friends I made here, it is not where I belong. When I visit many other European cities, I am enchanted by the beautiful architecture and cleanliness.  Berlin doesn’t measure up in those categories. Considering that 90% of the city was leveled during WWII, and much of it was rebuilt in Soviet block style, it’s no surprise that the city isn’t as pretty as other European cities. Quite the contrary, it’s remarkable so much of it has been rebuilt and there is a feeling of resilience here that is tangible. I feel I’m being unfair to Berlin, it is more grand than my home town of Kansas City, but I’m not following my head right now, I’m listening to my heart.

The falling leaves tell me that summer is coming to an end and fall is on its way. Though the rebirth of spring is my favorite, I’ve always enjoyed fall.  This time it’s bittersweet. I reflect on the wonderful things I’ve done and seen, but feel regret for all I never got around to.  I really wanted to canoe or kayak or raft down a European river. The closest I got was a literally breathtaking cold dip in the Schlactensee, a lake near Berlin.

I approach the halfway mark of my commitment to travel for a year. It’s too early to allow the fears of what comes after or whether I’ve accomplished whatever I intended to on this journey. Still, like wolves circling a fire - I can feel the fears patiently waiting for the fire to sputter out so they can pounce.

When Stacy and I first dreamed up this adventure, her intense dislike of cold and winter led us to dream up a route that would chase the warmth. I abandoned our previous plans when she left, but now she’s reached out again and asked if she could rejoin me for a couple months.  Perhaps it’s a good time to pick up our previous plans and pursue those activities that I didn’t get around to this summer. The next chapter is about to begin. 

---Up Next!---

Meeting up with friends in Slovenia, Munich (Oktoberfest!), Avignon France, and my first house sitting gig with two adorable cats!  💗 😻💗

Monday, July 30, 2018

38 Activities From the Last 2 Months (I hear lists are popular)

A few people have gently reminded me that it has been a very long time since I wrote a blog entry.  This is especially embarrassing because I have mostly been staying put here in Berlin lately so in theory, I should have more time to write.  So what have I been doing other than trying to decide if I should write blog entries to catch up on the past couple months or starting from where I am now or something completely different?  I decided to go for the easiest for now. Check below for pics!

Here’s the high level on my activities since my last post:
  1. I took a long ass but stunning hike of the lovely Ronda Spain.

  2. Chased a sunrise.

  3. Spent a couple OMG hot days in Vienna where they don’t have AC because they usually never need it.

  4. Took a bike ride in the Wachau Valley and got caught in a flash flood.  Seriously!  Riding a bike in two feet of murky water after visiting three wineries is a crazy experience!

  5. Rented an Airbnb in a tiny town in Austria mostly because it came with two gorgeous cats.

  6. Saw baby swans!  They look so soft and cute!  The Ugly Duckling story is a lie!

  7. Visited Hallstatt, Austria - the town so incredibly quaint that my mom says it’s the most beautiful place in the world and the Chinese love so much that they have built a replica of it in China.

  8. Met up with my lovely friend David and his parents in Salzburg and had a great time on the Sound of Music tour.

  9. Took the train to Munich and stayed with a former coworker who turned out to be more of a kindred spirit than I realized.

  10. My friend patiently and calmly re-trained me on how to drive stick shift and even let me use her car and I only killed the engine twice!

  11. Had a lovely hike in the Bavarian countryside.

  12. Took the train to Berlin and met up with my cousin who lives there.  I am so grateful to her and her husband for giving me a place to stay.  Such a tremendous weight off my shoulders while I figure things out.

  13. My mom flew into Berlin to visit for three weeks.

  14. We revisited many of the incredible Berlin museums.

  15. Fell in love with the town of Dresden. Even loved the museum of Mathematics and Physics.

  16. Went on a bike tour of Berlin.

  17. Went on a bike tour of Potsdam.

  18. Rented a bike and made our own tour of Berlin with a highlight of the gardens in Tiergarten.

  19. Took the train back to Munich and met up with my friends from the states, Sharerah and Shabnom.

  20. Went on a bike tour of Munich and watched the surfers in the English gardens. Yes, you can go surfing in the landlocked city of Munich!

  21. Visited the fairytale Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles. 

  22. Had an exceedingly pleasant visit with the first person my mom ever went on a date with and his lovely wife and their bunnies.

  23. Went to the Sommerfest in Munich with Sharerah and Shabnom and explored foods, goods and music from around the world and bought a new purse that I love.

  24. Traveled back to Berlin by train.

  25. Went to the eclectic Mauerpark Flea Market.

  26. Had a meal with a native German, an Indian who used to live in the US and now lives in Australia, a Russian who also lived in the US and now lives in Norway, an Armenian who also lived in the US but now lives in Sweden and were served by a Croatian waiter. Didn't get a photo but there are a couple of us!

  27. Attended my cousin’s wedding.

  28. Planted flowers on my balcony.

  29. Met up with US friends Allison & James and their fun Airbnb host and Sharerah and Shabnom joined us for sushi.

  30. Had multiple visits from the foxes that live in the backyard in Berlin.

  31. Missed many buses (still don’t like them but I’m doing better).

  32. Attended a really cool night festival at the Botanical Gardens with all sorts of food, music, entertainment, flowers, lights and fun.

  33. Rented a bike and happened upon a Turkish market on the way to the graveyard and Viktoria park.

  34. Visited the smallest disco in Berlin - perhaps the world (it’s the size of a phone booth).

  35. Attended six Shut Up and Write Meetup groups.  Feels good to finally be making some progress on my book and meet a supportive group of folks.

  36. Bought a lamp which was advertised as being beautiful and faithful and he brings his own bulb.  He may be the one for me!

  37. Got a haircut. Now I look like a proper Berlin hipster.

  38. Last but not least - stressed a million times over whether or not I should pursue a German visa and ultimately decided yes.  They weren't happy with my health insurance so they gave me a three month extension to get that figured out.  I've been having oh so much fun trying to find an insurer that is reasonably priced with good coverage and accepted by the German government. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Facing Fears and Finding Joy and Gratitude on the Road to Ronda

On my last day in Seville, I felt less of the usual uneasiness when packing up and moving to a newplace.  I felt ready to start the next chapter.  Ready to say goodbye to Seville.  I wouldn’t have Stacy along to split a taxi fare, so I agonized about saving money and taking the bus. I could walk 8 minutes to the bus stop and pay 1.40 Euro and or walk nowhere and pay 12 Euro for a taxi. I previewed the route in my mind; the  warrens of narrow, cobbled streets girdled with sidewalks varying from 3 feet to 2 inches wide depending on how close the street pressed up against the building it traced. Then I recalled other bus rides:

  • Spending an eternity squinting at signs to puzzle out which corner to stand on and which number to get me there and feeling judged by the locals. 
  • Bad tempered bus drivers scowling at me for not knowing the fare amount, not having exact change and not knowing which coins represent what. 
  • Waiting 30 minutes past the scheduled bus arrival time, giving up and walking 3 minutes then seeing the bus speed past.
  • Giving up entirely and facing blisters over embarrassment of choosing incorrectly. 
  • Ending up in a deserted parking lot miles from anywhere in the middle of the night in Hungary. 
  • Being proud of myself for finding the right bus with ease, only to find that it was packed to the gills with loud school children loathe to make room for us and our bags.

Taxi it is then!  Screw the few Euros I would be saving.  Money's just like doritos, right?  Don't worry, I'll make more?  Somehow. Hopefully. Someday after I figure out what I want to be when I grow up!

My brother found an awesome route for our Oregon trip so I asked him for suggestions on a scenic route from Seville to Ronda.  He replied, "LMGTFY" (Let Me Google That For You 😏) A TripAdvisor forum suggested a route. I mapped it out and downloaded offline google maps of the area.  Yeah, I can hear you now, "But you worked for Garmin! Why didn't you bring a Garmin?" Well, not long before I left home, I accidentally left my car unlocked in my driveway overnight and someone stole my Garmin. Money and suitcase space were both in high demand so a new Garmin wasn't in the cards.

Once inside the brand new (no pressure!) Fiat 500, I looked at the gear shifter.  There was an N and an R which seemed pretty straightforward, but couldn't find Drive or Park! I googled something dumb like "What letters for Drive and Park Spanish cars".  No joy there, but a guide to driving in Spain came up so I figured I should read that. I noted that there are unmarked speed cameras which can ticket you by mail.  Ok, no driving the customary 9 miles above the speed limit then. I elected to err on the side of looking like a dumbass over having an accident in the rental parking lot and proving it. I asked an employee for clarification. He did a great job of not letting it show that he thought I was an idiot and showed me how it worked.

Next, I channeled the spirit of Marcie who doesn't lose her cool even when driving in central Paris, with its tangle of clogged, one way streets in a tiny BMW with our moms crammed in the backseat with luggage up to the ceiling and a GPS uselessly searching for satellites while I navigated using the rental agency map. The calm she exuded was contagious. Soon the cries from the backseat changed from, "Marcie? Do you know what you're doing? Do you know where we're going? Are we going the wrong way? Were we supposed to turn there?" to, "Ooh! Look at that!  It's the sister to the Statue of Liberty!  Look, Notre Dame!  There's the Eiffel Tower!" Intentions to pick up the car on the outskirts and heading directly to the coast, morphed into an impromptu driving tour of Paris that we couldn't have planned better and a good story to laugh about later.

The drive to Ronda turned out to be so much more amazing than I'd dared hope for. For the most part, the roads were nice and wide (200 times wider than roads in England, plus these have shoulders).  Driving was a joy.  The medians were brimming over with brilliant mafuchsia (you know, a cross between magenta and fuchsia) oleander bushes tall enough to block the view of oncoming traffic.  Then came the fields of sunflowers.  I saw this many sunflowers driving through Nebraska once, but let me tell you, seeing field after field of sunflowers on the sumptuous Andalusian hills with bright red bursts of poppies sprinkled in took it to a new level.  The sunflower’s heads all brightly gazed toward the sun and stood in neat rows blanketing the hills until the hills grew to hazy blue mountains in the distance.

Also spotted on the drive: three castles (two towering over quaint, white villages); a huge herd of goats; olive, chestnut, and cork tree groves; a shepherd herding his sheep; stately blue mountains; and vast mounds of wildflowers in yellows and reds and whites and fuchsia, blue and purple decorating every nook and cranny. The air with so full their sweet scents that I could even smell it over the new car smell with the windows up.

Many times, the view would be so intense that I couldn't help but squeal with delight. I wished there was someone else along to appreciate, photograph or share it, but my longing for companionship never overshadowed the joy, wonder, profound sense of gratitude and I suppose pride that this is my life.