Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: Transitions and Gratitude

This year was rapid moving, adventure filled and life changing. So many transitions, realizations and lessons happened this year and I am grateful for each one...even the most painful. In Chinese Astrology, the year of the horse began back in February, which was when everything went full force, just like a wild mustang running, mane everywhere, nostrils flared. 

For years, my spirit animal was a horse. I identified with its energy and symbolism. I raced through life, determined and galloped past anything in my way. My energy was intense, like the color orange. I didn't accept "no" for an answer, was outspoken and successful; but unfulfilled. Then, my heart and soul started to speak louder than my brain and ego and I surrendered to some pretty tough lessons that had been begging to be learned. 

The lessons removed a lot of stored up stress, resentments and pain and I began to feel lighter. I started identifying with birds more, mainly hawks. The power of surrender helped me soar over the painful path I had created and provided insight to who I really am; my authentic self. So, I began to live more intentionally and this is how the year progressed...

-finally went to Costa Rica after dreaming about it for 10 years
-took an intuitive painting class and was given the word "brave" for the year
-hiked the Grand Canyon and let nature blow my mind
-went to Sicily with work friends and sailed on the Mediterranean
-visited Spain and fell in love with Flamenco and Pinxos
-spoke more Spanish (the little I know) than I ever had
-went to Bali for a month and learned a lot of lessons through much discomfort
-learned forgivenesss and mended/released relationships
-went to Australia to celebrate 21 years of friendship and meet Baby Fox
-realized that wanderlust doesn't grip my heart as strongly and decided to STAY HOME for a while
-went to school to become a Spiritual Life Coach
-visited Washington DC
-learned to love the snow
-visited the Pacific Northwest a few times
-rode the lovely Amtrack a couple times and fell in love with train travel
-met some lovely people who have made this year sparkle a little bit more
-ran hundreds of miles and changed my really can be fitter in your 30s than your 20s!
-started writing my book
-loved more deeply
-opened my heart 
-accepted my imperfections
-recognized compassion
-changed my vibration
-listened to my intuition
-embraced my authentic self

I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store. I feel like this year created a great spaciousness for growth. Every year, I realize that the path is perfect even with its setbacks. Each lesson is a stepping stone and when I look back, I see a lovely mosaic of different colored stones. My heart is so full of gratitude and love for this year and its transitions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Race Inside My Head

Last year, I decided to take up running as exercise after recognizing that life on the road was not helping me stay fit. After turning 30, I noticed my metabolism become slower and slower with each year. Hotel gyms weren't cutting it and I found running to be a great way to achieve goals and get fit. What I didn't realize was that running was a mental sport as well.

I started and stopped after 1 mile, panting with side pains and red in the face. My fitness level wasn't where I thought I was after years of gym memberships and yoga classes. I got myself up to 2 miles but I was still feeling like I wasn't getting anywhere. I wanted results quicker. I wanted my body to perform better and I was getting impatient.

All of a sudden, I started meeting new friends who ran. We didn't meet because of running, but it was a coincidence that they liked to run as well. But these people ran races and marathons on a regular basis and I felt so insecure about my running abilities and felt like my 2 mile milestone was a joke. But, there was one gal who was the most encouraging and she got me thinking about it in a whole new way.

I had to overcome my mind telling me I couldn't go any further. She invited me to run "I'm only doing 3-5 miles today." I cringed thinking I would die at mile 3. I told her how slow I was and how I had not run very far before, but she just kept encouraging me. So, this year, I made a goal to run 20 miles a month. I was out of the country a lot this year and there were several weeks and even a whole month when I didn't run a mile. But today, I hit my goal and I ran the farthest, fastest and longest time ever. I text my friend to let her know. She replied "How did it feel?...I love milestone running." It felt amazing. I coulnd't believe I just ran that far and for that long. I didn't even think about it while I was doing it, I just ran. And today, I finally felt like a runner. 

After an entire year I realized that my mind is stronger and my lungs and legs are toned for endurance. There is a lesson in all of this of course and for me it is that I am strong enough to overcome obstacles, especially when I am the obstacle. All my thoughts of "I can't keep going, I'm not fast enough, I'll die after mile # ___" were just me defeating me. When I changed the belief into something empowering and began believing the new empowered thought, I lapped my brain with positivity, strength and perseverance. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Snow Angel

My travel buddy and dear friend just returned back from being out in the world. We haven't seen each other since Bali and decided to take a road trip up to Lake Tahoe to spend a couple days and hopefully experience some snow. Earlier this year, I set an intention to learn how to enjoy the snow. I have had pretty bad experiences with snow and wanted to learn how to appreciate being in it. When I was in Melbourne earlier this year, I got my first 2014 snow experience and had so much fun being caught in a freak snow storm. I was hoping Tahoe would solidify my new found appreciation.

We drove almost 10 hours from San Diego through some pretty diverse terrain. I had never seen the Eastern Sierras and enjoyed seeing the other side of the mountains I grew up looking at and visiting. After leaving San Diego, a rain storm swept through as quickly as it started and within and hour, we were driving through a desert sand storm. When the mountains started to take over our view, I really started getting excited. We watched snow falling over the tops of the mountains while we remained dry below. Snow started falling and accumulating on the road as we passed rivers and climbed higher and higher. 

Once we arrived to Tahoe, the weather was cold, but there wasn't any snow to be seen. The next day brought beautiful sunny weather and the only snow we could see was on the very tops of the mountains far away. The hotel where we stayed was near a ski resort and we kept seeing "snow surfers" dressed up in their gear carrying skis and snowboards. I wondered where they were finding snow. 

We found a place with an outdoor fire pit and live music and sat near a couple guys who had just come down the mountain from snowboarding. They informed us that the snow was man made but that the next day promised to bring real snow. We chatted and ended up talking by the fire until late with a few other people sharing stories and travel tales. I love how sitting around a fire brings out the storyteller in some people.

The next day we drove up the mountain and saw the valley covered in fog and snow began to fall. The scene was beautiful. I am so used to sunny locations and although I was a couple of hours from where I grew up, I felt like I was in another world. The rest of the day, snow fell steadily and we found another cozy fire pit to stay warm by and met up with our new found friends from the night before. There were a few bands that played live music and the evening was spent in friendship and music. 

This year continues to fill my heart with gratitude with each new adventure. Deciding to live and travel with intention has proven fruitful and I am so excited to see where life continues to take me. I have worked through so much discomfort and have fully embraced a new level of comfort this year. By doing things that are hard for me, I have grown and finally authenticated the brave part of my soul.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New Adventures and Horizons

I didn't travel on an airplane last month and that's the first time I can say that in a very long time. It was strange not to feel the undeniable urge of wanderlust...the same urge that has captivated my heart for years. I am changing, yet my sense of wonder remains in tact. I am learning to be home and feel myself blooming where I am planted, my roots reaching deeper with each day.

I have the above saying at my writing desk; a gift from my sister. She gave it to me on my recent trip to her home. I keep this up as a reminder that I am on a "new" adventure. When I decided to put the brakes on travel for the time being, I was afraid that I would lose my sense of adventure. But, I realize that this break is allowing me to harness the knowledge and wisdom I will need for the next phase of my life.

Last month, I took a class and started working on a project that will someday put me in a new career. I felt the sweet tinge of anxiety from starting something new and expanding my mind. Taking a class was intense and reminded me how much there is to learn. I thrive in diving into the unknown. I've entered both of my previous careers as a novice and had fun climbing as far as I could go. This time, there will not be a corporate ladder to climb and that feels right in so many ways. 

"Now you must go from Success to Significance" my elderly seatmate encouraged me on my trip to Bali this year. I was meant to sit next to him. His words really moved me and sent my soul on a journey to find just what that means for me. Part of this journey led me right back to my own front door and inward to my soul. In short, I have been on a soul searching journey all year and I think significance is on the horizon. I am excited to be trekking on this new path and can't wait for everything to unfold.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Planting my Feet Firmly on the Beach

I have walked all over the place this year. My feet have walked through unpaved, dusty streets in Costa Rica where every night, I walked to the ocean to clean them off before dinner and watch the sunset. The sand was coarse and warm in Costa Rica. During the day, I ran across the dry sand because it was too hot to walk on. 

The Grand Canyon pushed me to see how far I could push myself physically. Trekking up and down the canyon was both difficult and memorable. Switchbacks and carrying a pack did not stop me and I have a new found appreciation for nature and my body. I think it was the first time I offered gratitude for my feet and legs.

In Sicily, I walked through the streets of Catania dodging trash and finding my way to gelaterias. In the countryside, at the foot of Mt. Etna, I walked along a path in the early morning before work to get some fresh air and spend some time in nature. 

Las Ramblas and the entire city of Barcelona was probably my favorite walk this year. I loved getting lost in the city and finding my way to Barcelonita and tapas bars tucked in alleys in the Gothic quarter. The steep hill climb required to get to Park Guell was difficult, especially on a warm day. However, walking in Park Guell was meditative and relaxing and made the uphill climb worth the work.

In San Sebastián, I found myself on part of the Camino de Santiago and walked up a windy road just to see the view that pilgrims of the Camino see. At night, I walked up and down the streets of Old Town San Sebastián reveling in the Pinxos and Txakoli. 

Bali was done almost completely on foot and I faced my fears stepping over dead rats and dealing with incessant rain. But the meditative walks in the rice fields were my favorite part of Bali. There is nothing as peaceful as the bright green terraced fields, especially at sunset. 

I've had sandals break, soles worn down and callouses formed with all the walking I've done. I have decided to ground my feet at home. This is very exciting to me. I have spent many years traveling around and exploring. My address has changed 5 times in 5 years!  I want to establish roots and bloom where I am planted for once. This is a new adventure for me, especially my gypsy soul. But, nothing seems more right and it brings me so much peace. The decision was hard for me and I wrestled with it for quite a while, but when a decision brings such calm its the right one. I found a place that feels like home to me and its a place I can't wait to return to when I am away. And the saying is true...Home is where the heart heart found it's home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Time Travel in a Train

I traveled from Olympia to Salem by train yesterday and was excited to see parts of the Pacific Northwest with a new perspective. I arrived to the station in time to catch the train only to find out the train was running 40 minutes late. I sat in the sun and inside the station watching people, wondering where they were headed. I saw people bidding farewell and others anxious to move on. 

A sheriff appeared from behind a door calling out a name. No one looked up. She approached a young girl sitting alone and asked for identification. The girl matched the description of a runaway and a list of questions began to be asked. Apparently it was a mistaken identity, but for a moment the air was filled with tension. The Sheriff retreated back behind the door and the young girl went back to her phone to texting.

When I was sitting in the sun, an old man in a volunteer's vest came out to chat with me. 
"I'm surprised you're the only one out here sitting in the sun." He said as he raised his face towards the sun's warmth. "This is much better than our typical weather of clouds and rain". He went over to tinker with the gate and returned to let me know that the train wouldn't be much longer. I appreciated the information and watched him change the arrival time tile on the outside sign.

The train approached with a squeal and we boarded quickly. The ride was lovely passing woods and meadows. It was quite a contrast from the browns in California. Pine trees, rivers and Mount Rainier were the scenery as we traveled through Washington. I went to the dining car and ordered a beer, Black Butte Porter, and settled in my seat to write and enjoy the views.

Passing all the small towns in Washington was interesting. Football practices, truck stops,  school buses and Main Street America passed me by. It was a lovely picture. Train travel gives a perspective that driving doesn't allow. While on a train, one can stare out the window and enjoy the views that don't usually parallel a major highway.

My favorite part of the trip was watching the sunset through Portland and northern Oregon. The sun created silhouettes out of the evergreens, framing the sun with a jagged edge. There was smoke from a fire nearby creating a haze of pinks and oranges. The sky was lit up and glowing vibrantly. The train rode into the sunset which cast a ruddy glow onto into the train.

The ride ended in Salem where my sweet friend was waiting to pick me up. The station in Salem is quaint just like I imagined a train station would be. There was a certain nostalgia about the trip. Riding old school, quaint train stations and passing towns that I had never heard of before gave me a view into Americana. I felt like I was in a different time where things moved slower and people connected differently. For a few hours, the train allowed me to be completely present while providing a glimpse into the past. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Patriotic Me

I haven't done much travel in America. In fact, there are very common places and cities I have never seen. Travel is definitely one of my passions and perhaps I put all these American places on the back burner since I figured they would always be there. Therefore, I ventured off for places further away and collected passport stamps as a hobby. This was also true in college when I declared History as my major and signed up for all the classes covering foreign lands and distant conflicts. I later declared my minor as American Studies but never really went to any of the places I learned about.

But, this year, I am venturing off into America and seeing things that are incredible and even feeling a little patriot. My most recent trip was to Washington DC and I loved every moment of my visit. I arrived late one evening and was surprised by the intense heat and humidity. Grateful for my friend's air conditioning, I fell asleep hopeful for a weekend full of exploration.

The first place on my list to visit was the United States Holocaust Museum. I knew I would spend a lot of time there, so I decided to go while my friend was at work. The museum is not for the faint of heart, but tells such an important story. I spent so much time in each exhibit and found myself very choked up at the end walking through a hall of victim's pictures; I needed to sit down it was so overwhelming. There are many places to sit and reflect and a hall of remembrance where I lit a candle and watched an older woman, clearly upset, sit on a bench and weep. The most amazing part were the stories of survivors who spoke of the pain they went through but I did not catch a glimpse of bitterness or resentment. It is such a beautiful picture of resilience.

I was told by DC natives that after the Holocaust museum, I had to do something happy. So, I went outside and walked around the Smithsonian and up to the Washington Monument then followed the path to the World War II memorial, Vietnam Memorial and finally the Lincoln Memorial. I loved the ease of walking around and being able to see so much history. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and contemplated my day and offered gratitude for the opportunity to visit such a cool city and to my grandparents for coming to America so we could have such amazing freedoms. I don't think I really appreciated their story until that moment.

That night, we went to a Washington Nationals game and watched America's pastime wearing red, white and blue and rooted for the home team. I love visiting ballparks and this stadium was so much fun and they have great fans. It was such a fun experience and a really good game including home runs, extra innings and presidential puppets. 

The next day, we headed to see a couple more museums and monuments. We stopped in the National Gallery of Art and I geeked out over Degas and the Dutch paintings. But the highlight of the day was the Library of Congress. I have forever loved books and this was heavenly for me. The building is amazing and I was envious of the researchers sitting below at reading desks among the glorious collection of books. 

That night, we celebrated our friendship and birthdays, which are a month apart. We found a lovely wine bar with delicious food. It was so nice to sit for a while and talk to a friend who has become so dear to me. I miss having her in the same city as me, but am so happy that she lives in a great city where I can visit. We ended the evening dancing the night away accompanied by lots of laughter.

On my final day, we headed out for a late brunch and walk around the monuments on the Tidal Basin. The weather was cooler and there was a lovely breeze. I loved the Jefferson and FDR monuments. They each contributed so much as presidents and I think the monuments were beautiful and great tributes to these men. There are so many monuments and museums in Washington DC, I definitely need to return to see everything else. This trip has changed my view on American travel and I am excited to explore more domestically. I am grateful for the opportunity to see all the history and renew my sense of patriotism. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hopeful Homecoming

I returned to San Diego very late one night due to delays from a hurricane approaching Hawaii where I had a 4 hour layover. The Honolulu airport was a flurry of activity with people trying to get off the island before the hurricane hit. It took a long time to get through customs and then again through security, but luckily there were delays to help get my bag to the right place and find my gate. I stopped for a beer and some lunch and listened as the bartender proclaimed "We fly through storms, there shouldn't be any worries about flights." I felt reassured that I would get home.

My flight landed only 20 minutes late and my dear friend, Katy was there to pick me up. I waited and waited at baggage claim for my suitcase but it clearly did not make it. A woman came up to me and asked if I had flown from Australia because that was the only bag that didn't make the flight. I was so tired after travelling for 24 hours that I got a little choked up and upset. I asked when my bag would make it and they gave me a confidant "I don't know". I filled the claim form out and slumped into Katy's car with apologies for the delay. She was sweet about it and even had bananas and granola bars for me to eat in the morning.

The next afternoon, my bag arrived along with an epic case of jet lag. My body was sure that 4am was bedtime for most of the week. I tried sleeping pills, sleepy tea, yoga, meditation and the lay there until you fall asleep approach. My body just needed time. I spent 4 weeks in a time zone that is 15 hours ahead and finished in one 17 hours ahead. I clearly needed to be patient. It took a full week, but I am now able to fall asleep at a normal time. I forgot how hard it is to recover when flying East. 

Lost baggage and jet lag aside, I am so grateful to be home and reconnect with my friends who have been so wonderful. I went on a harbor cruise and saw San Diego from the bay while enjoying laughter and friendship. Yesterday, I met up with an old friend that I haven't seen in 6 years. She just recently moved back to San Diego and it was almost like that much time didn't pass. It was great to reconnect and learn about each other's lives and transformations. And today, I was able to practice oceanfront yoga after my friend dropped off her beach cruiser for me. It was a lovely morning totally unplanned and absolutely perfect. Later, another friend came over and brought me flowers to cheer me up and we had dinner together.

I am feeling so much gratitude for the people in my life and the place I live. There is a renewed sense of joy that has come over me, especially after learning through so much discomfort on my trip. Today I did a meditation that went over 2 kinds of hope. There is the anxious hope of things to come and then an open and active hope tied to aspirations. The second is expansive and all encompassing. I feel this type of hope. I am open to whatever may come and acknowledge the closed doors and chapters as hopeful signs of better things to come.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Feeling at Home Down Under

I traveled to freezing, cold Melbourne after a month in balmy Bali. My dear friend, Becky has lived here since 2008 when she came to visit the man she fell in love with and never returned to the States. This is my third trip to visit her. We figured out that we have been friends for 21 years, so we are trying to celebrate the longevity of our friendship as well as the birth of her son, Fox. 

The change in weather has been quite the adjustment, but since I learned to embrace the rain in Bali, the cold is just another thing to embrance. In fact, on my first day here, we drove up to the snow. I know I manifested this outing since I consciously voiced that I wanted to learn to be okay in the snow. My memories from that day include numb fingers and toes, a cold nose and lots of laughter and awe. We stopped by a waterfall to look at the pretty view and the snow started falling softly and steadily. The combination of waterfalls rushing in the snow made me forget any discomfort I may have been feeling. 

This leg of my journey is about reconnecting and meeting a baby that was wanted and dreamed of for so long. It is lovely to go from a journey of growth to a place of comfort. Becky is like family to me and meeting her son has been quite profound. He is the ultimate successful manifestation. He is definitely a baby that has been wanted and loved way before his arrival. I am blessed to have the opportunity to meet him. 

The ability to feel at home in different parts of the world has been a great lesson for me. Staying in Bali for a month and finding a routine was difficult at first, but became second nature after a while. Then, returning to Australia and being able to jump right back into a long time friendship has been refreshing and comfortable. Although I am excited to return home later this week, I am grateful that home is truly in my heart and follows me around the world. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Bali Taught Me

I came to Bali a month ago ready to embark on a spiritual journey and figure out my next steps in life. I thought a month in a spiritual place would bring peace, enlightenment and immense joy. Bali offered everything I asked for, but there were lessons I was not prepared to encounter on this journey and I am leaving Bali with some bumps and bruises but a smile on my face. 

I didn't know that spiritual journeys included tears and heartache. As I look back, I can see that the pain and discomfort was part of the growth and change. I had to let things go that I didn't know I was holding onto and deal with new hardships that arrived almost as soon as I began this journey. I think the timing was perfect as I was in a place where I could focus on growth and healing. 

There were four very distinct lessons I learned here...

1) Stillness: Staying in a small town among rice fields provided ample time to be still. I found meditation and prayer came much easier without the distractions I can provide myself at home. In stillness, I was able to listen to intuition and seek direction and discernment. I found comfort in the silence and solitude. My mind was able to shut down and peace began to bud.

2) Grace: This journey showed me that lovely things can blossom out of pain and hurt. The water lily is a symbol for grace and it grows out of the mud into a beautiful bloom. Without grace, I would drown in the messes and mistakes I have made. Grace is proof that the universe has greater plans for me and provides lessons and strength just when I need them. That thought alone blows my mind and fills me with gratitude.

3) Offering: I watched women place offerings in reverence every day on alters all over town. They spend time creating beautiful, colorful gifts daily. This encouraged me to offer something each day to show my gratitude and intention. I am beginning each day with an intention and offering gratitude and seeing a difference in my outlook. This practice is my offering.

4) Bravery: This is a theme that keeps coming up for me this year. In Bali, I faced my greatest fear time and again and now I barely flinch when I see rodents. I had to bargain and negotiate with a language barrier often and even demand our passage on a boat, which we had to ride on top of at full speed. I forged paths, dealt with scary truths and let go. Bravery frees my mind from fears I held onto and creates a new spaciousness for courage.

I am grateful to have had this experience, even with all the discomforts. I was told that in order to grow, one must experience pain followed by joy. I appreciate the patience and friendship Penny provided as I went through some difficult transitions. Our friendship is stronger and now we have even more epic memories to share.

My hope is to return home next week equipped with the lessons I learned here and practice them daily. Intentions are powerful and it is amazing what they can manifest. My journey in Bali is proof that by setting an intention, results follow, even if they don't take the planned path. Let go, be fluid, ask for guidance and the answers will appear.

Monday, July 28, 2014

To Market, To Market...

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Ubud, the central market sits with many vendors ready to sell their wares and strike a deal. We ventured downtown to pick up some clothing and jewelry and were invited to look at every stall we passed. I remembered from my trip a couple years ago to not buy right off the street, but to go into the market a little bit for the best bargaining power. I also remembered that if you were the first sale of the day, they rubbed your money on their goods for good luck.

We stopped at our first stall to pick up some flowy Bali pants that I had seen all over the city and the guy automatically gave me a price higher than prices I had seen in clothing stores. I countered with a price much lower and we went back and forth until we found a happy medium. It was exhilarating. Since my background is in sales, I love the art of negotiation. It is fun for me. Penny on the other hand, finds it stressful. So, before we set off to the market, I asked her what she wanted to buy and the prices she expected to pay so I could do the bargaining. 

At a couple places we bought from, they rubbed our money on their merchandise. It was already 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I thought how disheartening it must be to wait that long to make some money in the vast market. One woman had not sold anything that day and followed Penny whispering in her ear. I stopped to look at the jewelry and she yelled after us as we walked away "It's cheap, I give you good price. 3 for 1. Please! I need good luck." 

We found ourselves deeper in the market than we had ever been and people offered sarongs, pants, jewelry and art for just about free. I realized that they probably never see quite as many shoppers as the people on the way in. We were just trying to find our way out of the maze and ended up walking back into the whispering lady. I made a quick turn and luckily we found the staircase down to exit the market. 

It is funny to me that I enjoyed this experience so much. I can't stand shopping. Malls feel like a trap to me. Perhaps it was the negotiation. Maybe the layout and culture. Most likely it was the lack of advertisements and the certain energy of a street market.  I don't think this sales model would work well back home. But, just for a moment, I found myself having fun while shopping. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bali Dogs: Heartbreak and Hope in Paradise

One of the most vivid images for me of Bali are the dogs that wander the street. They walk around with mange, broken limbs and malnourishment. There are a few lucky dogs who live in homes and are well taken care of. In the place I am staying, there are about six pups who live on the property. I am in dog heaven. They visit us in the morning and I get to love on puppies. However, when I am walking around, my heart breaks for the street dogs. I remember my first day walking around the neighborhood and seeing a dog with terrible mange; his tail was about to fall off. I wondered if there was something I could do to help.

This led me to a bunch of research online were I found out about the native "Bali dog" and the history of the very old breed, Kintamani. These pups are beautiful with furry curved tails and pointed ears. There is a Kintamani puppy that lives here and he is my favorite visitor. My research also revealed that I could not actually work with the dogs without an anti-rabies vaccine, which I don't have. But there are many organizations that are working on feeding, sterilization and rehibilitation of dogs and other animals on Bali.

One of the characteristics of these dogs is their fierce independance. These dogs are scavenger survivors. They aren't aggressive, but will bark with what seems to be a helpless hopelessness. The other night, we were out very late. The entire town was mostly shut down and the only thing roaming around other than us were many dogs. They just roamed aimlessly ignoring us and howling every so often. One dog followed us for a while and then moved beside us eventually leading us. I don't know how this dog knew where we were staying, but it layed down at the top of our driveway as if to say "okay, you're home safe now." I felt so much affection for this sweet doggie protector while we walked home in the dark. 

Although I wish I received the vaccination so I could physically help out and be close to the dogs, I am grateful to know there are organizations that help them out...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leaving Gili: The Day I Learned to Let it Be

We left Gili Air in an adventurous way. Departure tickets were bought a day early to ensure seats on a boat. When we arrived at the harbor, it was clear that all boats were over booked, 150 tickets sold for 30 seats to be exact. I went up to the counter and a man took my ticket and started walking away. I followed him along with a few others who seemed to have given him their tickets as well. 

One of the travelers was on the phone as he walked with us explaining a tragic loss of friends. He needed to get off the island to get home to attend a funeral. There were a couple gals needing to get back to catch a flight and they were very insistent that they get on the boat. Every time I tried to get information, the man just walked away. I made sure to follow since he held our tickets off the island.

We returned to the harbor office where fellow travelers sat waiting. Time was nearing our scheduled departure and I still had not heard how we were getting off the island. It was as Gili Air was acting like a jilted lover tugging onto our coattails as we walked away. 

The gals with the flight to catch were yelling at the staff and I realized that I would have done the same thing only a year ago. I realized how demanding I was and how forceful it sounded. I was surprised that I did not feel the need to yell or panic. There was a calm that was new to me and I just asked what was going on and he responded to my calm. He asked if we could take the 3 o'clock boat, but my gut told me that boat was also over booked and I told him I preferred to leave at noon as we originally paid for. He got on the phone once again with my ticket in clear view.

In the meantime, I asked the fellow traveler what had happened to his friends. He told me that his friends were on a plane from Amsterdam to Bali and the plane was shot down. He lost 12 friends in one night. Immediately, the boat ride issue was minuscule. He explained how his football team was coming out to Gili to visit him and that he held a beach memorial for the dead until 5am that morning. He explained that he was still in shock and didn't know how to process the news, but was trying to be strong since he had a lot of travel ahead of him.

He assured me that the GIli way was to overbook the boats and not communicate, but that another boat is always found. The man with my ticket was still on the phone, so I went to sit next to Penny to explain what was going on. I saw the boat that we paid to get on enter the harbor and I got up and told the man my boat arrived and that I wanted my ticket back. He handed another person my ticket who then created another ticket and told me to go down to the harbor and speak to the captain of the boat to try to get us on the boat.

When we got to the harbor, one of the crew members was yelling "No room!!!" as people started climbing aboard. I walked over to the man I figured was captain like and showed him my ticket and he told me there was no room. I responded "We must get on this boat" and he responded "Ok, but you sit on top."

I turned to Penny and told her to follow me onto the boat and how we had to sit on top. We climbed on and were told to sit on top of the cargo bags. I was immediately grateful that we did not bring luggage and settled in hoping not to get sick.

The boat started moving and we started laughing at the fact that we made it on the boat and we were sitting on top of the cargo like stowaways. The boat stopped at Lombok first and we heard the chanting from mosques while we waited to head out. I am not sure if people got on or off. We applied sunscreen for our journey in the sun while we waited.

There were about 15 of us on top of the boat including the gals with the plane to catch and man who lost his friends. He began singing "Let it Be" with his arms outstretched and we all joined in after a bit. We sang together as we sped across the Java Sea towards Bali. The boat came to a dead stop in the middle of nowhere while we were singing and we quickly changed our tune to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and the boat started back up after a couple minutes. 

One of the crew members offered us massages, which added to the humor of the entire situation. He was the one yelling "No Room!" and now he was trying to make our journey more comfortable. One of the gals took him up on his offer after I asked him to quit rubbing my neck. I am so happy I did because he asked her to take her shirt off so he could "properly" massage her. I inched farther away from him and took in the lovely scenery that sitting below did not offer.

When we arrived back on Bali, the dock had many people holding up signs directing us to our proper shuttles. I found our driver and he told us to head to the office. Not knowing where the office was, I asked someone who led us to the row of offices and shuttle vans. We used the toilet which cost money and ended up being a squat pot with a bucket of water for flushing and half a door for privacy. I downed a Bintang after to calm my nerves and forget the toilet situation and boarded our van.

We paid for the van to drive us back to our place in Ubud, but apparently he was too tired or didn't want to sit in the horrific traffic and dropped us off in the middle of the city at a grocery store. Luckily, Penny and I knew where we were and began the 3 mile walk home. We cracked up at the hilarious events of the day as we dodged motor bikes, trucks and stray dogs. 

All of a sudden the reason we were not driven home revealed itself. I had been looking for 2 weeks for a certain item to buy my friend who is house-sitting for me. I went into several stores and finding similar items, but not the right ones. And then, on the street we were dropped off on, in a window, I saw them. I picked out the amount I wanted and I was ready to negotiate the price and she quoted exactly what I told Penny I wanted to pay a couple days earlier. It was a manifestation for sure. I was giddy for the rest of the trek home happy to have found her gift.

This adventure was further proof that being open and allowing things to flow as they intend to delivers joy. I could have had anxiety and stress but instead chose to stay open and let go. We returned to rain and I feel like the ride on top provided me one more chance to get my fill of sunshine and I definitely consider it a gift from the universe. I learned so much about myself that day and I am so happy that everything transpired the way it did.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gili Air

The Gili Islands consist of 3 small islands off the coast of Lombok. The forecast promised abundant sunshine, so we decided to leave rainy Ubud for a couple days in the sun. Negotiation seems to be the norm when it comes to purchasing travel or anything over here, so I was ready to bargain for our boat tickets. I had a price in my head that I decided was the highest we would pay. When I asked the travel agent for the tickets he quoted a price cheaper than the lowest I had seen available. It was so easy to deal with them and the ticket included a pickup from where we were staying and ride to the harbor. I could not wait to leave and grateful for the easy transaction.

Our ride picked us up and dropped us off at the harbor where we had to move through a crowd to check in and wait for the boat. The dock was filled with island hoppers and there were many boats waiting to take us to our destinations. The whole boarding process was pretty chaotic. Women purposely bumped into us trying to sell snacks and sarongs. Travellers looked like deer in the headlights trying to figure out which boat to board. I asked which boat was ours and it was parked next to a boat that sat next to the dock. We had to climb onto that boat and then hop onto our boat. The whole process was silly and confusing. 

Once we were on the boat, the crew passed out bottled water, Dramamine and barf bags...not a good sign. I decided to take the medicine since I have had sea sickness in the past. We settled in and the ride was immediately choppy. The boat bounced up and down, speeding its way towards Gili. The back of the shirts the crew wore stated "the fastest boat to Gili" and by the waves crashing on the windows, water streaming through the cracks and the feeling of being airborne, I agreed. 

We arrived almost two hours later and a bit queasy from the ride. In order to get off the boat, we had to shimmy our way on the side and down a make-shift gangplank to the sand. I was so happy to be on the beach and the sunshine cured everything immediately. 

The island is small and there are no motor vehicles. The only way to get around is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. The beach is lined with restaurants and bars with thatched roofs and beds to lay in the sun. The road is covered in sand or is entirely sand and traces the circumference of the island with a few roads crossing through. Everything seemed to move at a slower pace, including the waves. 

We checked into our very minimalist home stay and headed right back out to the beach. The sun was warm and intense and the water was perfect and turquoise. I spent my days alternating between laying in the sun and floating effortlessly in the Java Sea. Every morning, we ate banana pancakes with instant coffee. On the beach, we drank coconuts, watched boats bring goods from nearby Lombok and melted into the easy rhythm of the island. In the evening, we walked to the West side of the island to watch the sun set. Each evening, the sunset provided a spectacular show

I really didn't want to leave so we stayed an extra night and found a lovely place right across from our first place for less money. As we were walking to the hotel after the beach, the staff said "Welcome home, Miss Emily" and it warmed my heart. 

I wanted to try a new road on the last night to get to the west side. We trekked through the village and saw houses on stilts, children holding children and men building houses. The road was a lot of loose, fine dirt and our feet were filthy once we reached the coast. I could smell the ocean the entire walk and felt rewarded by the sight of the sea. As we were walking up the beach, Penny proclaimed "I knew I'd find one!" as she pulled an Indonesian phrase book out of the sand. 

I am not sure how she found something buried in the sand, but she had wanted one since we began our trip and its amazing that she found one on the beach. We continued walking and I saw men walking far out into the sea and felt drawn to see how far I could go out. I walked as far as I could to get as close to the sunset as possible. I felt fish and seaweed brushing against my feet; a sensation that usually bothers me. However, I am embracing my new found calm and let nature do what nature does and found myself enjoying everything about that moment. 

Allowing things to happen when they are supposed to has been such a valuable lesson for me. As we sat watching the final colors from the sun, I told Penny that a bonfire would make the night perfect. We walked up the beach stopping at a few places to drink a beer and relax. Right before we found the road again, we came upon a bonfire with no one around. I instantly felt giddy by the serendipity. We sat in the sand and a man came over to add more wood. He owned a home stay on the beach and said he had fireworks earlier. I could not believe the gifts the beach provided. Although small, they were incredible.

I think letting go has cleared up so much mental and emotional space where these positive little things are making such a difference. It is exciting to think about the significance of intention and manifestation. Small changes have been key for me this year. The manifestations are results of the intentions and the intentions come as small changes are made. I am so grateful for the trip to an island I had never heard of and the courage to jump on a crazy boat to get there. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Raindrops and Moonlight

A shift happened for me this weekend. I made my way through discomfort to find a new level of comfort. After almost two weeks finding myself in a constant inward and outward struggle, I decided to surrender and let whatever was going to happen (bugs, rain, rashes...), happen. And it has brought me so much peace. The decision to just be present has really affected my happiness quotient and has turned otherwise dreaded happenings into opportunities for joy. 

Last night, the full moon was out and it was raining but we didn't let it stop us from going outside and practicing yoga--moon salutations. The power went out and we found the only candle in the cottage and lit it with the propane burner. Yoga was practiced by clouded moon and candle light. It was so much fun. In fact, after our practice, we jumped in the pool and the moon peeked through the clouds to give us ample light for back floats.

Earlier, the rain was pouring down in sheets, I thought it was hail. I saw Penny just sitting by the pool under the downpour. She looked so happy and content. I wondered what would happen if I tried sitting in the rain. She got up and I went out to try it. It felt amazing. It felt invigorating. It made me want to swim in it. I could not believe myself. I have been a lifelong fan of sunshine and opposer of gray skies and especially rain. But, yesterday, I think I may have fallen in love, just a little with rain. I jumped in the pool and the rain just kept pouring and all I could do was laugh.

It may seem simple to just decide to be present, but for someone who is often in her head figuring out a dozen things at once, it is very very difficult. However, I like where it is taking me. Those dozen things will always be there for me to figure out, but the present will not. I think it is interesting how water has been the constant symbol for me in regards to letting go. Water is fluid and adaptable...things I am still learning. I know growth and letting go will forever be a part of life, but I think I am finding a way to peacefully and joyfully embrace them.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Discomforts of Paradise

Everything I was expecting Bali to be has not happened. I have had a hard, uncomfortable first ten days here. My intention on this journey was to write, be still and meditate on my next steps in life. All three things are happening, but there have been environmental and emotional factors that I did not expect.

One of my first nights here, I was bit in the middle of the night, hopped out of bed and sprayed DEET all over my body in hopes of warding of nighttime critters. I woke up the next morning covered in big, red and ugly bumps. They burned and itched. I went to a clinic and picked up some benedryl after looking up pictures of skin rashes online. Apparently, I am allergic to poisonous DEET. So, now I just deal with bites and luckily the rash is almost gone.

Then there is the rain. The endless rain. I am someone that needs sun. I learned about this years ago while living in Seattle. It was my first encounter with Seasonal Affectedness Disorder, aka: SAD. There are periods of sunshine and I rush outside and sit in any sliver the sun provides. Yesterday, the sun was abundant and I was able to lay in its glory for an entire day. However, the rain has definitely affected my mood, but provides ample indoor time for writing and soul searching.

I think the most uncomfortable occurrence was while getting a pedicure, a large rat hopped out of a pile of clean towels and scurried up the wall into a hole in the ceiling. Rodents are my biggest fear. I even had a hard time with squirrels until recently. So, this really sent me to another plane of fear. I figured I would see rats in Bali, just not that close up or in a spa. I wanted to cry, pee my pants and scream all at once. I was assured by the staff that it was only a small mouse, but I know what I saw and couldn't get out of there quick enough.

With all that said, there is a certain sacredness to Bali that I appreciate. The day I saw the rat was a turning point for me. It was gray outside, the rat thing happened, I was tired and moody and then we walked by the temple. Women were dressed up in beautiful attire with large baskets filled with offerings on top of their heads. The ceremonial feel of the procession filled me with awe as I watched them perfectly kneel down to offer their goods. I thought about my own offering and what I had been giving lately. My conclusion was complaints, tears, questions and frustration. However, I realized in that moment that offering is a ritual and the answers may not appear immediately but the practice is what was important.

Images of these women have stuck with me and I am determined to change my offering to positivity, love, compassion and trust. Trust is the hardest for me. I am fiercely independent and trust requires surrender. Letting go has been my theme for a couple years now; I expect a couple more. But, when I look back on my life, I have always been okay, despite my worry and anxiety, the universe has provided everything I needed. These provisions come through prayer, meditation and trust. I am a product of grace. When I look back at the gifts and opportunities in my life and see the complaints and negativity that have at times clouded my offerings, I know that grace has provided the lessons along with the gifts.

Today I realize that my lesson is getting through a transition with grace, peace and love. My gifts are experiencing this discomfort in a beautiful place and the realization that growth is eternal. I look forward to mindfully entering each day differently and offering myself in a more loving manner. I recently read someone feeling like hugging the universe. Today I offer my hug and trust. I can't do this alone.

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Connection

One of my favorite things about travel is the gift of connection. I find myself so wrapped up at home that I tend to forget the beauty of human connection. On an airplane, we have the choice to ignore the person next to us or engage in a conversation. I admit, I don't always want to have a conversation on an airplane, but the ones I do end up having are great. It is fascinating to learn about other people's lives and hear their perspectives on things. If I'm lucky, maybe even hear some words of wisdom.

While I am here in Bali, I am with my dear friend whom I stay connected with through the beauty of the iPhone and FaceTime. But, seeing her face to face trumps whatever technology has to offer. There is a certain energy I feel when I am around her; a calm appreciation and acceptance. We also have to rely on each other to forge our way in a somewhat familiar place but still carries with it a foreign language and customs that we easily forgot. This interdependance draws us closer and strenghthens our friendship. I wonder if this would happen if we were next door neighbors again, like we were years ago...but I somehow think it would not.

Travel shakes you and makes your senses open up because of the unfamiliar. This makes me think that is why connection with strangers is easier away from home. Fellow travellers have stories to share, they are looking for a slice of familiar while away from home, and most likely don't have internet access, therefore, face to face connections happen more fluidly. Everytime we are out, we end up having long conversations with complete strangers, most ending in hugs. It's as if we have a silent code of honor "We're in this together. Let's connect"; especially if travelling alone. When I was in Costa Rica, I found myself with many new connections that I am so grateful for. 

I think my challenge will be to try to find this certain intimacy when I return home. Because even if I am not faraway from home, we are all still in this together. Spending quality time together just feels better than a quick text. Perhaps schedules will not allow the languid conversations that travel provides, but my goal will be to foster connection in each place I am by striving to be present and open.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"There's No Sauce in the World Like Hunger"

Today was a lazy day spent lounging by the pool and soaking up the sun. Our neighbors in the cottage next door came over to chat with us. They are an adventuous couple in their 80s who have so many tales of their travels around the world. Orginally from Austria, they now live in Australia and have travelled together all over the place including a VW bus trip from Germany to Australia over land through the Middle East and South East Asia. They are fascinating to say the least.

While they were telling their travel tales, I found myself missing my grandparents. They didn't travel the world, but they always encouraged me to get out in the world as well as learn as much as I could about other cultures. I don't think it is a coinicidnece that we went to the grocery store earlier today and I bought Bali's equivalent of ingridients for spaghetti sauce. After our conversation, I was inspired to go make sauce. I put on songs that reminded me of my grandma, including Patsy Cline and the Rat Pack's greatest hits and I diced, chopped, sang and simmered to her honor.

My grandma had a sign in her kitchen that said "There's no sauce in the world like hunger". The image of that sign hanging over her stove stayed with me as I made dinner tonight. In fact, while I was taking a shower after the pool, a ladybug landed on the bath mat. I know this was symbolic of my grandma. After she passed, a ladybug flew into my car and stayed on my steering wheel for the entire weepy trip. Therefore, ladybugs have always been a symbol of my grandma for me. The ladybug just chilled in my hands until I placed it on a nearby leaf. 

I think she would be proud that I brought some Italian vibes to Bali tonight. I may be in a foreign country, but I can still bring the essence of home with me, wherever I go. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bali Sensory

Bali is the perfect place to awaken the senses. The colors are so intense and bright and everywhere. Kites, flags, temple garb and nature burst with colorful blends. Walls are alive with geckos, various bugs and plants reaching for the sun. The scents range from the sweet tropical aromas of plumeria and pineapple to the near putrid smell of petrol coming from exhaust pipes of the numerous motorbikes whizzing by. Each evening, the sound of Gamelan, Balinese temple music, can be heard from afar. Every morning, I awaken to the smell of the rice fields burning. It is like Bali's morning incence; a ritual. 

In fact, incence and ritual are everywhere. Women bring offerings known as Canung Sari everyday consisiting of flowers, rice and incense. The offerings are prepared daily as a form of self-sacrifice to offer praise and thanks. Everything is sacred and the offerings can be seen on the street, dashboards of cars and alters in the rice fields. We received one during our yoga practice yesterday morning. I was rising from a forward bend as the offering was being placed on the alter next to the front door. I felt gratitude and reverence in the display of the sacred during my yoga practice. 

The intensity of Bali's sensory makes it impossible to go through each day without a certain awareness. Perhaps this is why there is so much gratitude and prayer offered daily. It is easy to find oneself wrapped up in the traditions and feel part of the commuinty that has graciously opened their doors to each visitor. Most of all, this display of sacred and sensory has encouraged me to find and appreciate the beauty surrounding me each day. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On Leaving my Job...

Bravery has been a recurring theme for me this year. The word was bestowed upon me in Costa Rica by my Intuitive Painting instructor and it has really resonated with my experiences thus far. I recently exercised my bravery when I resigned from my job. I have been contemplating this for a while now and never felt quite ready.

I knew I wanted to move on but feared what would happen. Work has been my security for years. Wine has been a passion of mine for years and it turned into numbers and conversions. The art was still there, but buried under sales goals and science. I surprised myself the first time I spoke to a client about chemical reactions in wine. I laughed at myself when I practiced saying the technical names of chemical compounds so I wouldn't mess up in a meeting. And then, all of a sudden, it became second nature and I found myself playing with wine. It was fun, messy and rewarding. I'm going to miss that the most. The magic enchanted me.

But, my soul has been urging me to move on. I'm not quite sure where I am headed, but I am not worried, my hope is strong. I know that travel is on the horizon and that is when I am at my best. I am going away for a month to sort some of this out and just relax. It's surprising how much space a job takes up in the brain. It will be strange at first to taste a wine without thinking about it technically. Most important, I will have time to travel to places I crave and stay home and solidify the life I have been creating. This scares and excites me at the same time. I am ready to venture into the unknown.

Farewell magical, technical and tasty wine industry. Thank you for expanding my brain farther than I thought possible.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pintxos and Txakoli: San Sebastián's Perfect Pairing


San Sebastian's food scene is a lively display of artful, gastronomic hedonism. The main characters in this scene are pintxos; small bites of delicious food prepared in mouthwatering variations.

When I walked into my first pintxos bar, I was a bit intimidated. On the bar, there were dozens of plates filled with amazing finger foods and the choice was hard. The bartender handed me a plate and I chose mussels with a pico de gallo on top with a glass of Rioja. I watched as people made their choices and sipped on beer or wine and then left. When I was finished, I went up to pay and was shocked that my bill was only €3! 

The next place was very similar but their specialty was anchovies. I chose an anchovy skewer with pickles and a green olive. The briny taste of the pickles mellowed the saltiness of the anchovy and the green olive was the perfect finish, like an olive in a really good martini. I ordered white wine with this bite and knew I had fell in lust with a new way of eating.
Then, I found the pintxos bar that would become the favorite of my trip. Zeruko is a small unassuming place with mind blowing food. Part of their charm is that they incorporate molecular gastronomy for those who really want to geek out on their food. What kept me returning were the sea urchins topped with roe and olive oil and their gold dipped artichokes stuffed with scallops. I could.not.get.enough!! I also learned about a local wine called Txakoli which is poured with a dramatic raise of the arm into the glass below; this is to let the small bubbles settle. The wine is a light, refreshing white with the perfect amout of acidity to pair with some of the more heavy seafood bites. The staff was kind and knowledgeable and never tired of my many questions. 

The charm of San Sebastián was solidified by the pintxos experience. It is such a lively and social way to spend an evening. Perfect strangers or friends meet around a bar filled with food, choose their bites and sip their drinks while chatting. Each night, I met lovely people and learned about the various parts of the world they had travelled from. Travel never ceases to amaze me when it comes to the people I meet, especially when I am alone. Everyone's story is fascinating in their own right and the pintxos experience was like a large moving dinner table.

Every time I travel, I try to find a place or dish that commemorates the taste and feel of the region I am visiting. The Basque proved to be geniuses when it comes to capturing the feel of their region. Everything I ate tasted fresh from the sea and the wine paired perfectly with the abundant flavors. From my time in San Sebastián, I will always refer to pintxos and Txakoli as the most unforgettable tastes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

In Catania: At Least the Food was Good


I travelled to Sicily with 2 dear friends before a work conference. We stayed in Catania and planned on walking around, sipping cappuccinos and eating delicious seafood. We were able to do all of these things, but not in the way we expected...

At the arrival gate, we searched for our names on the signs being held up by drivers. I had spent some time communicating with the hotel about our arrival and they assured me that a driver would be there to pick us up. I didn't see our names or the hotel's name on any of the several signs. We looped 3 times with no luck. However, the hotel did send me detailed directions for taking the bus just in case I needed them. So, we hopped on the bus and arrived a bit later only to be told by the front desk, that our driver was looking for us at the airport. We laughed an exhausted laugh and checked into our room to figure out dinner for the evening.

Catania is located on the Southeastern portion of Sicily and is a port town where seafood is abundant. We were told to go to a certain restaurant near the center of town for "amazing seafood". I think all of us were too tired to try to translate the Italian menu, so we had the waiter pick for us and soon we had Prosecco, oysters and bread in front of us. The more I ate the heavier my eyelids became and it was apparent we were not going to last much longer. But we wanted to toast our first night in Sicily together and found a wine bar and ordered Campari spritzers to commemorate our journey. Soon after the clinks of the glasses and a short cab ride, we were all asleep.

The next morning, the clouds had found a comfortable spot right above Catania and we decided to venture into the city for some shopping and lunch. Shopping was limited but we did find an amazing place to eat lunch. The sun started peaking through and we found patio seating and ordered arancinis. Arancini is a large fried ball of various flavors of risotto. They are delicious. We ordered 3 different flavors--eggplant, pistachio and spinach. All wonderful and savory. 

After lunch, we walked around the city and found that it is full of graffiti and litter. I was planning on taking pictures of history and found my camera roll full of graffiti instead. There were a few times when we felt like we needed to get out of an area quickly only to find ourselves in a likewise situation. It was adventurous and we were happy to hop on a bus back to the hotel.

That night, we decided to eat dinner near the ocean away from the city and hopefully redeem the day, especially since we were headed to work the next day. There was a lovely section near the ocean with a few restaurants and we found a table inside overlooking the water. Pizzas and wine were ordered as we watched the lights twinkle on the water. Our food was delicious and the wine paired perfectly. We laughed about our adventurous day and offered appreciation to each other for our ability to travel well together.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

San Sebastian Arrival

When I arrived in San Sebastian, it was raining and dark. I had taken the train from Barcelona that afternoon, watching the Spanish countryside pass by in anticipation for my arrival. I was dreaming about laying on the beach and practicing my slowly growing Spanish vocabulary. I was tired from my adventures in Barcelona and could not wait to be in a smaller beach town. So, when I arrived to a rainy seaside town, I was a little disappointed. The cab driver spoke very little English and something that sort of resembled Spanish, but not enough for me to understand. After 5 minutes, he was able to figure out where I needed to go and off we went.

I rented a room in an apartment off like I did in Barcelona and hoped my little research on the area would pay off. As I entered the building, I saw a tall twisting staircase in front of me and proceeded to climb the stairs up to the 3rd floor. I reminded myself that I was strong as I hauled my heavy suitcase up the stairs.

The man who was to be my roommate for the next 4 days greeted me with a smile and pointed to the lift and asked why I didn't use it. I laughed at myself for not looking around the lobby downstairs for such a thing. He was kind and had a map ready for me with points of interest marked as well as the apartment's location so walking around would be a breeze. I was grateful for his kindness and very clean apartment and went to sleep.

The next day, I rose bright and early to wander around to familiarize myself with the area. It was very cold with strong winds and drizzle. I decided my first stop was going to be a coffee shop with warm pastries. I found a lovely spot near a square which had an amazing variety of pastries and coffee. I sat at a window and wrote while watching people walk by in the downpour that had started while I sipped my cortado.

When the rain stopped, I walked to the beach in hopes of tanning. The weather was still very cold and windy so I just walked the boardwalk until I reached a mountain. I saw the famous symbol for the Camino de Santiago that I have been contemplating on walking and decided to follow the sign to see a portion of this 500 mile trek. As I was ascending the mountain, the views became more spectacular and the weather warmed. I offered up my gratitude on this small portion of the trail and descended to revel in the sun on the beach below.

With the sun out, the water was a brilliant turquoise. A few brave sunbathers and swimmers flocked to the shore. I found a patio overlooking the beach and ordered what was to be my first mind blowing dish in San Sebastian...Iberican jamon tosta-- Iberican jamon on top of crusty bread with tomato rubbed into it, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. The jamon in Spain is amazing. It is full of flavor and sliced perfectly thin. So delicious.

Contentment was the only emotion available at that moment and I basked in its beauty. With the gorgeous water, mouth watering food and warm sun, the beginning of my San Sebastian trip proved to be just what I needed after the vibrant, gorgeous and addicting cacophony of Barcelona.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Love Letter to Barcelona

Your streets are the veins where life flows through you. You are vibrant, colorful and always alive. Your serenade is boisterous laughter, perfectly played guitars and the stomps of flamenco dancers. You wear the uniform of the bohemian--free flowing, one where colors are mixed not matched. Hair is uncombed yet beautifully tousled, thick with waves and colors from years in the sun. Your skin is bronzed with a slight hint of freckles, each telling of a sun drenched adventure. You feel passionately; fighting like a feral cat yet your love runs so deep it balances you out. Your scent is smokey and sweet--a blend of tobacco and fruit blossoms with a hint of petrol.

You are my lesson in anything goes and letting go. I was shown that nothing needs to happen in patterns. Life is messy, loud, chaotic and most of all beautiful. I learned to get lost and wander; opening my heart to peel back yet another layer. I held my breath in your presence...tense yet excited at the same time. You challenged my bravery and showed me another facet of my strength.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grand Canyon Hike and Visions

Every new year I make a list of goals. This year, I also made a vision board and look at it every day that I am home. I drew my idea of the Grand Canyon in the top center of my vision board. The drawing shows a deep reddish brown canyon with a deep green river flowing through it. To my surprise, that is exactly what I saw when I made it to the bottom.

About a week after I created my vision board, my friend called me and asked me if I wanted to hike the Grand Canyon. Surprised by the serendipity of the offer, I agreed to go. This trip required hiking gear, which I have none of and lots of leg training which I started immediately. Luckily, I have some outdoorsy friends who provided a backpack, advice and lists of necessary items. I also changed my workouts and ran more, hiked and added copious amounts of strength training to my regimen.

All my preparation did not prepare me for the immense awe that I experienced during this trip. As we descended, I felt like such a tourist with my camera out taking pictures of the changing scenery and sheer grandness of the appropriately named canyon. We hiked through several geological layers and my inner nerd got excited identifying each rock layer. The cactus were blooming their colorful gifts to the dry landscape, lizards scurried out of our way, birds soared overhead and below and the sun  provided warmth and light.

The hike was intense and the sight of the Colorado River gave hope to the nearing end of the hike. As we crossed the bridge, the clouds rolled in and rain poured down. It felt refreshing after a long strenuous hike. We watched the raindrops dance on the river as we waited for the rest of the group and then headed to our destination; Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch is a hikers oasis at the bottom of the canyon. There are cabins, dorms and a canteen. The dorms brought flashbacks of summer camp, circa 1993. We stayed for 2 nights and had a wonderful time getting to know other hikers and each other more. The stories people share when travelling are fascinating to me. The days were filled in the sun and at night, we sat down by the creek stargazing. It felt like the stars enveloped us. The silence in the canyon was comforting and provided reflection and calm. We talked about our journey, life and shared laughter. It's amazing how meaningful time is filled when unplugged from the world.

At the bottom, there was a beach with fine sand calling my name. I spent a day laying in the sun with friends. We read, slept and attempted to swim. The water was frigid. After a few hours in the sun, I felt warm enough to brave the cold water. I dunked myself in and fought to swim back the few feet as my limbs began numbing and my heart started racing. The water was that cold! Another lesson in letting go ensued as I allowed the water to push me towards the sand so I could kneel and catch my breath. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

On our final day, we woke up early and began our hike up the canyon. This hike was more strenuous and longer than the descent. The hike follows a creek and towels and shirts were dipped into the cold water to keep us cool. The landscape at the bottom was more lush as green near the creek and provided a nice canopy from the sun. The middle was ruddy desert switchbacks that seemed to never end. As we ascended even further, granite and pine became the terrain along with steep uphill portions. My pack felt like it weighed a ton. The elevation also started to affect the speed of my hiking as I stopped to catch my breath and slowed down. At each stop, I looked down to see how far I had come and felt amazed. At the top, I offered gratitude to my body for getting me up the canyon. It was the hardest physical activity I have experienced thus far. We celebrated with ice cream, hot showers and naps.

Since I decided to say "yes" and be more brave this year, I am amazed at what has transpired in 4 short months. My vision board was a tool for dreaming and I have already experienced many things I have only dreamed about. I am excited to challenge myself even more, grow my courage and experience the reality of my dreams.