Archive | Travel Tips RSS feed for this section

Turkish Delight

24 Feb

Don’t let the title alarm you.  I’m still in South Korea. It’s a Sunday afternoon here and for me… it is a work day.  I am working a two month weekend shift – that is I work the weekends and have two days off during the week.  English Village is open 7 days a week and sometimes there are programs on weekends.  When there are, we need staff around to teach.  Therefore, until the end of March, that includes me.  I am not alone in my weekend working escapade… but it is a smallish group, about 6 other English teachers.  Today is a quiet day of work and not much action at the English Village.  We still have our regular winter coat of snow… the one that seems to be replaced regularly whenever the old one starts to melt.  Since I have been here, snow is no longer a surprise for me.  It is a regular occurrence… to wake up and discover… it snowed again.  I am unsure how long this will continue.  I have heard rumors that sometimes it snows in April.  I try not to think about that…

This week I have been finding my way in my new rhythm of working on weekends and having Wednesdays and Thursdays off.  This past Thursday I went to run my errands and walked to the grocery store down the street.  It was about 11am and for some reason, the store was closed.  I don’t know why.  So, I walked back and then later took a cab to a bigger grocery store further away and..it too was closed.  It seems to be some great mystery as to why these stores were closed.  It was no holiday.  The best answer I have heard so far is “sometimes stores are just closed”.  Hmmm… surely there must be a reason…  Any ideas?

This week I taught college students visiting from a university in South Korea.  I really like teaching college students.  In general they are bright, mature and ready to learn.  The students arrived on Monday and departed on Friday which is typical for many programs here.  I noticed they left with more confidence in themselves around English speakers and more confidence in their own ability to speak English.

Friday night I wandered off campus with another teacher to grab a little bite to eat.  We are in the city of Paju, but it’s really not much of a “city”.  There is mostly open land surrounding English Village and little clusters of businesses and restaurants are not too far away.  Our dining destination for the evening?  Kim’s Kabob.  Doesn’t sound very Korean, does it?  That would be because… it’s not…

I am a food lover who is super sensitive to refined sugar… and Koreans put sugar in almost everything.  Therefore  it can be challenging for me to find food I can eat in Korean restaurants.  Not long ago a fellow teacher was talking about a Turkish restaurant nearby.  Aha!  I thought… it sounded like a culinary adventure with my name on it!  And so… I found my way to Kim’s Kabob.

I heard that the owners, Korean, had lived in Turkey for 8 years.  When we arrived at the restaurant we found a simple but welcoming restaurant with friendly Korean owners.  As they did not speak English and we did not speak Korean, a lot of pointing and smiling was done.  On occasion, I sheepishly offered a grateful but humble “gamsahabnida” (korean for thank you).

It was a delight to see the menu – a visual cornucopia with a selection of fresh meats and platters inviting our appetites to take note!  We decided to order a few different things and share them – an eggplant salad as well as a beef kabob and beef and chicken platter.  My dining companion also ordered some lovely bread that looked delicate and lightly crispy on the outside and virtually “empty” on the inside, like a baloon.  The menu did not disappoint!

It was fun to eat out for a change and enjoy food that was simple and basic but delicious.  It was strange to notice that at around 7pm on a Friday evening we were the only ones in the restaurant.  I am not sure why – but it certainly had nothing to do with the quality of the food or the hospitality of the hosts…  Perhaps it’s somehow related to the grocery store being closed… part of a Korean mystery…

It was a brisk walk back but not far really.  As we got closer we saw the English Village sign lit up on the hillside in “hollywood” style, leading us home. Just a hop, skip and a jump and I was once again within the walls of the English Village campus.

And so today my Sunday continues to unfold in its easy leisurely manner.  I am enjoying a cup of tea surrounded by my fellow teachers, each equally entranced in their computers while I type away at my blog.

I am wondering, for those of you who live or have lived in Korea, what is your favorite place or places to eat in South Korea?  Do you have a secret dining destination where you love to escape?  And for those of you Stateside, or anywhere else in the world… perhaps you have a favorite recipe to share?  Something simple and Korea friendly, perhaps your favorite crock pot recipe? (With just a hotplate to cook on, the crock pot is my current appliance of choice!)  It would be fun to see!

As always, thanks for checking in!  It’s always great to hear from you!

Shameless Tourism

15 Feb

It was a great day.  The temperature was above freezing (I think it reached a balmy 3 degrees Celsius) and, coincidentally, it was Valentines Day.  It wasn’t a typical day for me here in South Korea.  In the midst of my 5 day Seollal Korean New Year holiday, it was time to explore.  And so with the company of two fellow teachers at English Village,  it was off to Seoul for some sightseeing.

It was a day of shameless tourism…. without a doubt.  We boarded the Seoul City Bus Tour and within minutes we were whisked to various locations throughout the city.  We even had our own headphones to listen to recordings of information about each site in English (or if we chose Korean or Japanese).  Headphones on head, nestled in the seat of our bright red tour bus, one of my travel companions said “I have never felt more like a tourist then right now.”  And so it was true.

But for the day, being a tourist, well… it suited me.  The bus was a great price, only 10,000 Korean won (about $10 American) and for that basic rate we were toured to many of the highlights and tourist destinations of the city.  We could get on and off the bus as we liked and every 30 minutes a new bus would come.  It was a great overview and introduction to Seoul. There was even a tour guide on the bus and while admittedly, some tour guides were more helpful than others (one tour guide fell asleep in between stops) it was generally helpful to have an English-speaking guide on the bus.

There were a total of 36 stops on the tour. The first three stops spun by before we could get our bearings.  We took a quick diversion and departed the bus at Itaewan, known as the ‘foreigners area” of Seoul and close to the American military base.  We grabbed a bite to eat at Petras Palace enjoying a satisfying lunch of mediterranean food complete with delicious hummus!  Then we hopped back on our tour bus and once again we were on our way.

We enjoyed seeing many sights and destinations from the window of our ride, but didn’t depart the bus again until we reached the Namsangol Traditional Korean Village.  We took a quick stroll through the village, happy to find traditional Korean homes.  We even stumbled upon a traditional Korean dancer!  As it was just the Korean New Year, there also was an opportunity to write down a wish for the New Year on a piece of tissue-like paper and tie it onto a string decorated with many other wishes.

Our next stop was Seoul Tower.  As we approached the tower, our bus drove up a windy road and dropped us off nearly at the top of the “mountain”.  Still there was one more steep hill to walk up until we found ourselves at the base of the tower.  There was a spectacular view of the city from there as well as the Seoul Tower itself looming even higher on top of Namsan Mountain.  This is not just an ordinary tower, but actually a radio wave tower broadcasting television and radio to Korea since 1969.

Of course, you can go up in the Seoul Tower.  The friendly Korean staff load you on the elevator and then shoot you up into the sky over 700 ft to an elevation of more than 1500 ft.  While you ascend, the roof of the elevator plays a video that simulates looking out the top of the tower into the sky and the music sounds like a modern-day rocket.  Me, well, I chose to look down at the ground during that part.  We departed the escalator and was greeted by an inviting space, spectacular view and… gratefully on my part, nicely protected glass windows.

Looking at Seoul from the tower was just another reminder of the size of the city.  Seoul has a population of more than 10 million people and is flooded with apartment high rises filled with the massive population.  From the observation deck of the tower all you could see from any view were buildings, high rises and apartments outstretched far and wide. We took our time there, enjoyed the view as well as  a cup of tea from the little coffee stand.  Then in no time at all, we were on the ground and quickly found our way back to our tour bus.

By now the day had nearly slipped away from us.  The palaces that remained on the tour were now closed.  So we chose to enjoy the rest of our tour from the comfort of our coach, peering out the window as the city of Seoul slipped by. For me this tour was a great introduction leaving me with a wish list of things to do in the future and a sense of where I’d like to go and spend more time.

We hopped back on bus 2200 Paju-bound and in no time at all (just under an hour) we were back on the steps of the English Village.  As were were approaching the gate, one of my fellow teachers/travelers  said, “It’s good to be home.”  I agreed.  Seoul is an interesting and stimulating city, but after a day noodling through its streets it felt good to return to the peace and tranquility of Paju and English Village.  There was a sliver of a moon in the sky and the fresh cool air was invigorating as we made our way back to our apartments.

Today is a quiet day as I prepare to return to work tomorrow after my 5 day break.  I am switching to a weekend shift starting Saturday and will work weekends for two months, with two days off during the week.  All staff take a turn on the weekend shift and I am looking forward to a little change in my schedule, classes and students.

As I sit in the comfort of my little EV apartment, I am grateful for the balance of this new adventures – time to explore new places, time to work and time to rest.  It’s good to be in South Korea!

Egg-citing times

24 Jan

Hello everyone!  Well it’s been a great week here in South Korea!  I happily made it through the big flu and cold epidemic among students and staff at English Village with just a few days of sniffles and fatigue.  Now we are practically in a heat wave with three days in a row of weather above freezing.  Amazing!

I made my way to Seoul again last weekend and was so grateful to connect with a local  Soka Gokkai International chapter, a buddhist group of which I am a member.  It was so much fun!  I joined the International group of SGI in Seoul.  There were members from the United States, Japan, and South Korea.  The nice thing for me is that everyone speaks English and it felt like a little taste of home.  It was comforting to connect with a new group of people who were so welcoming and open.

I learned about this SGI group through a connection from a friend and great  SGI supporter back in New Orleans.  She heard that there was an SGI member who used to live in New Orleans who now lives in Seoul.  So she reached out to him and let him know I was here and within a day I was connected by email with other SGI members in the area and within a week I was directed to the meeting closest to me.

We met in the private home of one of the members who lives on a US Residential base for the military in Seoul.  Their spacious apartment had all the comforts of “home”… a kitchen stocked with American food, a dishwasher, and plenty of good company.  What was on the menu that day?  Good ol’ American chilli!  What a treat.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting every member of the SGI group and look forward to attending regularly.   They could not have been more generous, supportive and welcoming with their time, energy and attention.  I am so grateful and it will be nice to have connections in Seoul outside of my English Village life in Paju.

This week of teaching has been good, but has felt busy to me. At English Village we get new students every week, therefore my schedule changes very much from week to week.  This week I have taught elementary students and high school students from South Korea.

Here at the English Village our curriculum is developed for us and our job is to teach it.   Many of the classes here are created to be fun and engaging for the students with topics like Drama and Cooking.  This week I assisted with a class that learned about gravity.  They were given a piece of newspaper, string, tape and straws to create a “home” for an egg.  At the end of the class they drop it from a second story and hope it lands safely on the ground… in one piece… (some do… some don’t…)  We teach all classes only in English and students are encouraged to only speak English and not Korean (or whatever their native language is)…  This, as you can imagine, can be challenging for some students.

It is Thursday and it has been a full week for me and I must say I am looking forward to the weekend.  Friday is a light day for us as our students have classes just in the morning and then leave in the afternoon for home. This weekend I will be heading to Seoul again.  It is nice to teach and work during the week… and then satisfying to have a few days off to do something different!

Thanks for reading and for staying connected!  As always, I would love to hear from you!

Top photo is a truly foreign sight in Seoul – Girl Scouts!  And Girl Scout cookies!  Yes it’s Girl Scout cookie time, even in South Korea!  Here are a few Girl Scouts I spotted selling cookies on a US Military base in Seoul.

A funny thing happened on the way to Korea….

12 Dec

Greetings from the “midpoint” of my journey to South Korea!  After spending a few days with my family in the mid-west, I left in the wee hours this morning for Korea. With over 19 hours total travel time, I knew I was in for a big day!

My mom, who is always there for me, got up this morning at 3:30am and made me scrambled eggs for my trip.  By 4am we were out the door and on the one-hour trek to the local airport.  We arrived with great ease and found our way to the gate.  There was a small delay entering through security as an alarm was going off.  The security guard, with his laid back mid-western fashion, joked, “maybe it means that the bacon is ready!” Eventually, it stopped and we were allowed to proceed.

All seemed well as I waited to depart for my 6:10 am flight traveling to Denver then connecting to San Fransisco and then the long flight to Seoul Korea.  It was about a half hour before my flight was to leave when the “on time” status came off the flight board.  There would be a delay.  There was a plane maintenance issue and we would have to wait for a new airplane.

Eventually we loaded onto a new airplane and in one hour and 40 minutes we were landing in Denver.  My flight and several other passengers’ connections were very tight and so they allowed us to deplane before the others.  Moving as quickly as I could down the long corridor to my next flight I arrived at my gate only to find it abandoned and desolate.  No sign of life anywhere.  It appeared they departed… and quickly leaving no sign that they were ever there.

I was rerouted to a later flight to San Fransisco and also changed to a different airline for my flight to Korea as I would miss my connection in San Francisco.  That’s okay, I thought.  Doing my best to “go with the flow” while also doing my best to keep track of my checked-in luggage looking out for  it in a manner somewhere between a pit bull and a protective mother.

Then arrival in San Francisco.  Next?  Head to the ticketing agent of my new airline to get a boarding pass.  It turned out that their flight was full and there was no room for me… or the Korean man also rerouted making his way to Seoul via St. Louis, Missouri.  We were directed back to the ticket counter of our original airline, United Airlines.

There we met a very friendly staff member willing to take his time to help us and go out of his way to make sure that all was well.  His first suggestion?  Rerouting our flight through Shanghai arriving in Korea around midnight on Wednesday Korean time.  Hmmm… I don’t think that is my flight!  “What about tomorrow?”  I asked… can’t we just stay the night and take the same flight out tomorrow?  He was quickly agreeable offering ways to cover additional expenses… giving us complimentary meals tickets for lunch dinner and breakfast tomorrow.  And while he couldn’t pay for the hotel upfront, he hooked us up with a discounted hotel rate with promises of getting reimbursed by the airline.  So I took it!

And here I sit… quite content… at a pink Spanish style chain hotel just a stone’s throw from the San Fransisco airport.  I have Internet, a big cumfy bed.  In truth I am grateful for an afternoon break and a good night’s sleep before my 12 hour flight to South Korea!

So here I am!  I am on my way… and content to be delayed until… my late morning flight tomorrow.  Tonight is sure to include a relaxing evening in the comfort of a quiet hotel room, a good night sleep… and tomorrow…once again…on my way to South Korea!

My Indiegogo campaign, “Gypsy Woman Goes to South Korea, ” is still going strong.  I invite you to visit the campaign and watch a brief video about my journey at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there, if you’re inspired to make a donation, that would make a world of difference to this Gypsy Woman! Thanks for stopping by!

And as always feel free to write and connect.  I’d love to hear from you!


Don’t be fooled by the photo above.  It’s not the Golden Gate Bridge!  Alas, it is the view from the San Fransisco Airport while waiting for my hotel courtesy van pick-up!

The Road to South Korea Just Got Shorter

5 Dec

The scenery is starting to change.  The bright leaves of fall have given way to naked trees.  My laundry that has been scattered all over my room is now finding its way in an organized fashion to my suitcase.  And my Passport, previously mostly barren except for a stamp here are there from Germany and England, now has a Korean Visa in it.  Funny, it seems I am going to Korea…

I am in that busy hazy phase prior to making a life-altering shift.  You know the one, where you tend to the immediate details at hand preparing you for something that… hasn’t fully consciously hit you yet.  Yep, that’s me.  Although it’s starting to hit me… waves of excitement and anxiety are finding their way to my body.  I wake up before the sun rises, before the busy little bodies in the home where I stay rise.  I get up and I start to work… on whatever I can think of to do next to make sure I have everything cared for before I leave.

Bye the way, did I mention that I am leaving on Tuesday?  As in less than a week from today?  I was patiently riding on the slow visa train to Korea when all of a sudden, I switched tracks and landed on the express.  And here I am wandering in everything I want to make sure is complete and wondering about the little things I am not thinking about that still need to get done.

Last week it suddenly dawned on me… that I needed to buy a plane ticket.  I felt sort of like an expectant mother who had gotten so comfortable in the process of pregnancy that I almost forgot about giving birth.  And then one day, the alarms sounded… it is time!  It is time NOW!

So here I am bustling in the wake and energy of my plane ticket purchase preparing for my imminent trip to Korea.  My new place of employment, the Gyeonggi English Village (GEV),  is ready for me to arrive and to begin training for their new program.  I will be teaching English at a hands-on-learning campus created to immerse Korean and international students in the English Language.

Happily I will be making a brief stop in the mid-west to visit with my family – my parents and my sister and her family.  My gut says its important to spend some time with them before I leave, even for just a few days.  I will leave for Korea from there.

This is not something that happens for me every day – preparing to travel to Asia!  It’s my first time there.  I am grateful for a few little tokens of comfort like knowing that I will be picked up at the Seoul airport by a taxi driver sent just for me who will be holding a sign with my name on it.  It’s funny I have always seen that scene played out in the movies, but it has never happened in my own life… until now.  I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it!  From there I will be taken to my apartment on the GEV campus.  Yes, my own apartment – a luxury that I have not had the pleasure of since I have been traveling.

I am wrapping up my time here at the family residence in Philadelphia that I have called “home” for the past 3 months.  The youngest boy has been feeding me a steady diet of hand-made presents, since I won’t be here for Christmas.  Practically speaking, this home has been a perfect place for me to be at this time of transition and visa making.  I have been just a stones throw away from the post office, UPS office and other “city needs”.  Additionally I have been most fortunate to have use of a happy, thriving, macintosh laptop computer.  It’s a lovely toy, if even for the short-term, and especially with the expected death of my slow but well-loved PC laptop… hanging in there for now, but… it doesn’t look good.

I am trying to make the most of these last few days here… preparing the family as best as I can to transition to life without an extra set of hands.  I did my best to stock up on groceries and even cooked a few casseroles to put in the freezer for a little added comfort and joy when I leave.

And now, well,  I keep walking the walk of “what is there for me to do next?” on my road to South Korea… getting shorter and shorter as the days go by.  A busy and expectant time!

If you’d like to learn a bit more about my journey and trip to Korea, I invite you to view the video I created.  It’s on my Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/southkorea.  And while you’re there please consider a contribution of any amount to support the continuation of this long lovely journey and big school of life.

Thanks for joining me from time to time on the road.  Much more to come!


Photo of Forbidden Road, my favorite “getaway” in near-bye Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia, PA.

My Next Big Step!

28 Nov

Well the time has come… I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!  I am ready to share the NEXT BIG STEP on my journey.  After taking the leap and buying a ticket to Europe over a year and half ago and recently returning to the States for a few months of preparation, it is nearing time for me to depart on my next adventure.

Where am I heading you ask?  Well…I will be traveling to South Korea to live and work for a year teaching English as a Second Language!

Here is how this NEXT BIG STEP came to be.
While traveling in Europe, as I am sure you can imagine, I was always open to, looking for and wondering how I could earn some income to support myself as I travel.  I lived very modestly and simply but as time went on I was nearing the edge of my finances.  I needed to find a way to earn money and travel.  It was suggested I look into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  I explored this in a light and curious way about 6 months into my journey.  I searched online for jobs and schools.  I read blogs of others who had traveled and done the same. I met other travelers who were preparing for jobs teaching English.

My initial investigation was into jobs teaching English in Europe.  My inherent enthusiasm began to dwindle as I knocked on virtual door after door only to hear repeatedly that if I was not a citizen of the EU or did not have a permit to work in the EU, I would not be considered for a job.  This seemed like a catch 22 as the only way I knew for an American to get a work visa in Europe was to be sponsored by a company.  Alas, and so it goes…  I was sure there were Americans teaching English in Europe and that somewhere there were indeed jobs to be found, but how or where to find them was a mystery to me.

The next question that arose was certification.  I have a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Higher Education, but with no experience teaching ESL. I wondered if I needed to get a certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  The programs vary widely from quickie on-line courses to in-depth courses where you get your certification on-location.  The better courses come with a price tag which didn’t help my initial call which was – replenish the well and earn some income.

Unsure of where this would lead, I did my best to take in information and stay open to new possibilities.  Later into my journey a trusted friend urged me to more seriously consider teaching ESL.  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would get a job teaching English in Europe, especially without a TEFL or TESOL certificate, so I expanded my outlook and began looking into teaching in other countries.

When I opened the ESL door wide open I started reading about and looking into the best places to teach English for Americans.  There are many countries that easily welcome Americans to teach English and many are willing to hire you without a TEFL or TESOL certificate.  Still I wanted to be mindful as I was seeking a quality experience.

I was referred to a website called Dave’s ESL Cafe by a fellow traveler.  This site lists jobs teaching English in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and all over the world and is well-known in the ESL community.  I found it to be a simple and straightforward website with plenty of job listings primarily in Asian countries.  I scanned through them regularly, curious and yet nervous about working and teaching English.

One day I found a job listing that peaked my interest.  It wasn’t a typical teaching job, but in a learning environment created to be like an English Village.   Children came to the Village for a week-long experience in speaking English.  Teachers were more like facilitators and learning was active and hands on.  With my background as a leader in experiential education and creating workshops where students learn by doing, the seemed it may be up my alley.  The job was in Paju City, South Korea, about an hour outside of Seoul.  I was interested, but I ignored it at first and continued on with my day.

Later that night as I was going to bed, my intuition whispered to me “take a leap!” and apply for the job at the English Village in South Korea.  So, excited but nervous I submitted my resume.  Time passed by and I heard nothing… but still in the back of my mind I had a “feeling” that something may come of it. Then one day, just a few weeks before my time commitment was to end at my helpx exchange in France, I got an email from the English Village in Korea asking if I was still interested in a position.  Yes!  Yes I was interested!  I was scheduled for a Skype interview at 4:00 in the morning my time…ugh…  All went well and I was offered the position.  That was the beginning of a long process in preparing to work and teach in South Korea.

This news changed my travel plans and redirected me to the States.  The process of obtaining all the documents needed for a work visa would be much easier in the US.  Presently, about three months into the process of obtaining a visa… I am getting closer and nearing the final steps.  Yippee!  And Oh my God!….

The BIG LEAP of my NEXT BIG STEP
I am really looking forward to being in a learning environment again and strengthening some teaching muscles I have not used in a bit.  I am also grateful to begin a travel opportunity that will support my financial needs. In the meantime… there is a bit of a financial gap… between now and when I receive my first paycheck.  My staff contact in Korea reminded me recently that I won’t actually receive a paycheck until I have been there for a month.  With my extended time in the States preparing my visa and the continued gap of working in exchange for room and board and no income, I have some unmet financial needs.  This is what inspired me to … TAKE A LEAP…. and create a campaign on Indiegogo, the on-line fundraising resource, to raise funds to support myself during this time of transition and the continuation of my journey.

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign. Preparing this campaign has been fun and inspiring.  I have invested some time and created a video/slide show presentation called “Gypsy Woman: an unexpected journey”.  I would love for you to check it out. If you’re inspired… make a little donation.  No amount is too small… really…or too large.  I am excited to share my story and my journey with you through this campaign. Also… if you’re inspired… please share my campaign with others… maybe someone you know who might enjoy my story and mission.

And for now… the path continues.  I am not sure of the exact date of my departure to South Korea as the visa process seems to have a mind of its own.  But likely I am about 4 weeks away from leaving for South Korea.  Wow…my next big step!

Photo of Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

Being at home

26 Oct

It is around 7pm on a school night.  I can hear the kids outside up to some sort of mischief with neighborhood friends.  I am seeking a bit of refuge up in my room on the third floor.  The chaos of full on busy family life has its interesting spins and for me, sometimes, it is exhausting.  I have to laugh as I find one of my primary roles here is the evening meal cook, a job I scarcely thought myself capable of holding.  But it seems that I am doing okay.  After spending 8 months in the busy but capable kitchens of the Seminar Haus in Germany and four months mostly a witness to the beautiful meal preparation of the kitchens of Les Battees in France, it seems, to some degree, I can cook.  This is a revelation for me.  Tonight as I was preparing dinner the oldest son, 7, said to me a bit sheepishly, “I have to say, I don’t know what recipes you’re using but… you sure are a good cook.”  From the mouths of babes.  No better compliment.

I am still finding my way a bit in this home…. As a “helpxer“, or living with folks in exchange for room and board, I find there is an ebb and flow to each new experience and my job is to learn to ride the wave.  I have found you can try to set parameters, do you best to set some boundaries, but in the end the experience is its own creature.  Here in this home in Philadelphia I am still exploring how to make the most of my trade in service to them in balance with my own independence.  Some days I feel that “I’ve got it” and other days… I wonder. It’s a dance and every new experience has its own rhythm.

In this home, in the midst of some chaos of a family of good people with “too much” on their plate right now, it seems being here is also a place of healing.  Living here I sometimes hear the cries and yells of children and parents doing the best they can in a stressful situation and I find my “inner child” shrieking and shriveling in response reminded of similar echos from my own childhood.  As my travels and experience are ultimately a journey of healing, it has been useful for me to get present when this happens, get clear that what is happening in this home at this moment is not about me… that it is not my “fault” and that while I can contribute to the well-being of this home, it is not my responsibility to “fix” what is going on here.  And so it continues…

Being here has also given me a profound new understanding of the complexities and challenges of being a parent…. up close and personal in a way I have never experienced before.  At the age of 42 with no kids, I had no true idea of what it takes to be a parent and the limits that children can stretch you to… even in their innocence.  I have a new perspective of my own parents and my own childhood.  I am now thinking that parents are miracle workers to do it all… even the basics of clothing, feeding and educating a child.  And if there are challenges in the environment, it is now easier for me to understand, while those “challenges” may not be an environment that is best for the child, that the parents are often doing the best they can.

And so I continue the syncopation of my gypsy ways currently in family life in Philadelphia.  As someone who has spent a lot of my adulthood alone and independent, I appreciate the ways it is stretching and growing me.  And that said, I also need and love my time tucked in my bedroom, or at the yoga studio, or strolling through the neighborhood.

Last weekend I had a wonderful adventure!  A few weeks ago at a neighborhood festival I heard a Samba group play and the drums just made me feel alive!  It turns out that they were from a local class taught just a few miles away from where I am staying.  Last Sunday I took a leap and joined the class… and I LOVED it!

It was so amazing, everyone playing there was filled with such joy, beaming smiles on their faces as they played.  As I became more familiar with my drum and my role, I let go of my concentrated effort and allowed my own beaming smile to join in with theirs… moving and grooving as we played collectively.  It was fabulous!  The teacher was a wonderful leader and I am welcomed back in the future while I am visiting in town.  It is so great!

I also discovered a BEAUTIFUL park just a few miles from here.  The park is called the Wissahickon and my hosts here guided me to a friendly and beautiful walk down a road in the park called Forbidden Road.  It was … amazing.  The fall leaves are in peak and the road runs along a gurgling river.  It was truly one of most beautiful parks I have ever been too.  The magesty of the surrounding trees just took me in and brought me home to that place where I feel nurtured.

The adventures continue, it’s fun, it’s beauty, complexity and simplicity… .  Life with a family… its blessings and its challenges.  I suppose its all just a part of learning to be…at home.

Photo just a little slice of Fall!

I’m home

2 Oct

From the very beginning, this journey has been an adventure.  A big part of the experience has been the practice of being in the present moment while exploring multiple options for the future and seeing what unfolds.  And so it seems on this journey that just when I think the road is taking me in one direction, a new possibility presents itself and another path is considered.  Just four weeks ago I was in the countryside in France.  I had connected with various hosts through the website helpx in different areas of Europe with the intent of continuing my time in Europe.  And just when it seemed the next step was there to take… something would change.  I had considered various possibilities… house sitting on an Island in Greece, working at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy…. none of them it seemed was just the right fit…

Then about 6 weeks ago I got an email.  A new opportunity was presented to me… an opportunity that for now I will keep secret… but with that opportunity my travel considerations looked… different.  I followed up with the email.  As things began to unfold it seemed a new direction was emerging.  A new thought entered my brain in the face of this opportunity… Maybe I should return to the States for a bit… wow, that… is unexpected!  This presented a few challenges for me, the lightest of which was, “what will I call my website if I am no longer a wondering flower growing in Europe…”  Alas, I digressed and started opening doors to possibly return to the States…

I began with my trusted friend helpx.net and started sending off letters of interests to many different hosts in the States that looked inviting and welcoming to me…  An artist in Hollywood, a bed and breakfast on a boat in the bay near San Francisco, picking fruit in Hawaii.  I shopped hastily for cheap flights back to the States.  I had a time clock that was ticking… my commitment was to leave my current host in France at the end of August… the number of days remaining were getting fewer and fewer.  There was new possibility… but still no definite plans.

I eagerly checked my email daily, hourly, moment to moment awaiting news from possible helpx hosts who could provide me with a place to land in the States.  Simultaneously I was also considering a possibility to visit with a host in Northern Spain, an opportunity that was still tempting.  Days ticked by until… finally… I got a reply from a host in the States that seemed like the right connection.  A few more precious days passed until clearly I had an agreement with the helpx host in the States and I had a green light to purchase a ticket.

I used the search engine whichbudget.com and found some very affordable flights back to the States on just a few weeks notice.  And so, in somewhat of a daze I booked a ticket and it seemed I was going back to the States.

After being in Europe for 15 months with a mind focused on travel and moving forward, going back to the States was unexpected.  But I did the only thing there is to do on this journey… I walked step by step through the path and plans I laid out for myself.  I couldn’t believe I was going back.  Boarding the plane in Paris seemed like going through a wormhole… like some sort of time travel from one way of being to another that was familiar… and yet not the same.

My journey back was long enough.  I flew from Paris to Frankfurt Germany and then Frankfurt to Baltimore, Maryland.  In Baltimore I took a train to my destination and so I now  find myself… in Philadelphia.  The City of Brotherly Love.  I flew Condor airlines back to the States after discovering their great last-minute deals on International flights.  Oddly enough, there was a great deal flying from Frankfurt to Baltimore.

When I arrived in the States, I prepared to go through customs.  I showed my passport to the officer and he said to me, “welcome home”.  While I wasn’t exactly weepy eyed to return, it felt good to be someplace where I was a “member”, where the information on my passport communicated very clearly “you are welcome here!”…

It took about a week for my mind and body to more fully arrive in the States.  I stayed at first with a friend from New Orleans now living in Philadelphia who graciously offered me her futon, a place of refuge to relax a bit before beginning my next adventure in trading.  I walked in legs that didn’t feel like my own through the familiar strangeness of an American city.  It was joyful for me to be able to communicate with strangers in the streets after months of limiting conversation in the midst of foreign languages.  Even though I was in a new city, after negotiating foreign cities in Europe where I didn’t speak the language, finding my way in Philly was easy… and liberating. It took me a few weeks to get used to the idea that the people in the city around me did indeed speak English and that when I picked up a paper, magazine, or grocery item, I could read whatever it might say on the headline or package.  I woke up once in the middle of the night truly startled and unclear about where I was… “I don’t understand what’s going on…” I cried.  My kind friend immediately responded, “You’re in Philadelphia”.    Her words came through a thick wall… just a glimmer of information received while I put the pieces together and slowly laid down and went back to sleep.

After a week of much-needed time for adaptation, I connected with my new hosts.  I hitched a ride with my friend’s friend as she was heading just a few miles from my host’s home.  We easily connected and I hopped into her 1994 gold Mercedes and we were off.  A new adventure to begin.

Since I am back in the States, I must admit, I feel less like a traveler.  Sure I am in a new place and I have seen some touristy things like visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, very cool by the way.  But here, in the States, the syncopation feels more to me like… my regular life then daily living in Europe.  While I am here I have a little business to take care of… like renewing my driver’s license that expired some time ago and preparations for my new possibility more easily sewn from home soil.

And so I continue… my practice of being present in the midst of change and new plans unfolding.  My helpx hosts in Philadelphia are a busy family living in a sweet historic area just within the city limits called Mt. Airy.  I am happily placed in a private room on the third floor amidst a busy family, running a business from home and two young boys, ages 4 and 7.  It is a big change for me from the quiet respite of the French countryside.   Since arriving, I have found my way here in little ways… attending yoga classes at a studio down the street, meeting with my New Orleans connection for a Reiki exchange.  The neighborhood here is filled with regular faces who I am already recognizing as I make my way in their world… to the neighborhood street festival and local co-op.

I am doing a variety of things here as part of my help exchange.  I am using my design and marketing skills to help support their growing home business.  I also help with basic things around the house like keeping the kitchen clean and organizing places and corners in need of attention.  From time to time I am able to give my hosts a Reiki treatment and sometimes give an extra hand with caring for the children.

But here I am, back in the States.  Just another step in my unexpected journey.

And so, I leave you pondering one of  the deeper questions of life… what should I call my website now that I am no longer “a wandering flower in Europe”…  Any suggestions?

Photo of the Liberty Bell, up close and personal.

Being at Home Anywhere in the World

18 Sep

It was recently the 7th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as we were reminded with the arrival of Hurricane Isaac.  I lived in New Orleans for thirteen years and like so many others was uprooted by the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  That was the beginning it seems of my Gypsy training.

I was in Houston, TX attending the Landmark Forum for “just the weekend” when Hurricane Katrina hit. From there I traveled to Austin, TX where I lived for about 18 months before returning home to New Orleans.  With my former apartment flooded and rents on the rise because of increased insurance costs for homeowners, I was lucky to find an affordable place to live when returning.  I rented out two private back rooms and a bathroom in a comfortable Mid-City home.  It wasn’t quite the “home” I imagined for myself, but I was grateful for an affordable place to land. Time flew and I was there for 3 years.  When my landlord’s daughter was to return home and she would need my space, it was my time to leave.  As I no longer had my affordable place to live, I started taking some creative leaps.

I stayed for one month in a private home that used to be a bed and breakfast in exchange for graphic design work.  Next a friend wanted me to house sit while he was out-of-town and his home was for sale.  Six months later I left that home when it sold and moved to another home for sale until, six months later it too sold.  It was from there that I flew the coop and headed to Europe.

These years of transition and travel have accentuated the necessity and importance of creating and cultivating an inner home.  I began to rely on and develop an inner sanctuary and place of respite.  This is a place I can turn to no matter where I am in the world and no matter what may be happening in my world, inside or out.  It isn’t always easy moving from place to place, in foreign environments with life handing unexpected twists and turns.  Here are some ways that I have come to rely on to support myself and the cultivation of an inner home as my world around me shifts and moves.

Spiritual Practice
For me, connection to spirit is a place that I go to for comfort and ease when life around me is constantly changing or when life seems chaotic.  A spiritual practice is like a daily (or more) taste of the divine.  It is like visiting that greater place we call home no matter where I am or what is up in the world.  I find the more I visit that place through daily practice, the more it surprises me with visits during my regular ordinary life.

Some of my favorite spiritual practices are:

Time in Nature.
There is nothing that satisfies my spirit or soothes my soul more than spending time in the outdoors.  The feel of a gentle cool breeze, the bright colors of a blossoming flower, or the warmth of the sun on my skin are core experiences that bring me joy and that I have come to rely on for peace and comfort like a tender, loving parent.  Every day, no matter where I am, I take a little time for nature.  Sometimes it’s been a stroll along a farmers road between potato fields in Germany.  Other times its been a walk along a near-by river or park.  I am usually alone and it is often quiet as I am greeted by whatever that day has to offer.

Dance.  I love to dance.  I am not a professional dancer or anything, but for me there is nothing like listening to some music that makes me want to shake my booty and just moving and dancing for a bit.  Nearly every day in the privacy of whatever room I might be in at the time, wherever I am in the world, I put on a little music from my iTunes on my computer and I dance!  Sometimes mellow, sometimes not.  But it always feels good to just move!

Practice being in the Present Moment
We all know the phrase… “wherever you go… there you are…” and so it is true that no matter what has happened or what is to happened what is always there is the present moment.  I am no different from anyone else… with my mind wandering at times hastily to what has been or to what will be.  But I take the time to practice… being where I am… in the moment.  Sometimes it may be as simple as calling my attention to my fingers and the feel of the iron and the sheets as I was ironing at Les Battees, feeling my feet in my shoes as they meet the ground.  Sometimes it is noticing my breath… sometimes breathing easily, sometimes not… When I remind myself to slow down and pay attention to just the present moment I am often awakened to expanded perception in that moment… and expanded joy.

Eating Well
A simple healthy diet is the cornerstone of well-being for me and makes a big difference in my well-being and feeling at “home”.  As lately I have been living in other peoples homes and kitchens, I do my best to be a fair and good communicator to ensure that my new home can provide the basic foods for my health and well-being.  This includes no refined sugar in anything that I eat and access to whole grains and fresh veggies and proteins.  A little good food goes a long way!

Reading from inspiring books and texts
Nearly daily I lean on and rely on books and texts that lift and inspire me.  For me these are often of a spiritual nature.  Even just a quote or paragraph that reminds me I am of something greater than myself gives me perspective on whatever opportunity or challenge I may be facing at the moment.  My favorite book to lean on is currently A Course in Miracles , but I also have enjoyed books by Catherine Ponder and Gary Renard’s Disappearance of the Universe.

Goofing Off
I also find it is important to have time just to goof off – to just do that silly unsophisticated thing for a little bit each day that nurtures the little child in me and brings me comfort.  Sometimes it may be reading a light novel or magazine.  Lately it has been watching old episodes of the show Medium on the internet.  Just a little something, often “brainless” and fun, to take a “break” from whatever I may need a break from that day!

These are my basics for cultivating my inner home, wherever I may be, whoever I am with.  I am grateful to have the time and experience of cultivating an inner home as I currently travel from place to place, some plans known… some still unfolding…

Photo from the gardens of Les Battees.

Two Days in Paris

5 Sep

It was almost a miracle to me that I was able to carve out two days in Paris.  After spending the summer just hours away I wasn’t sure I would make my way to Paris.  But I found a way to do it… even on my very small gypsy woman budget.

The cornerstone of my stay?  An inexpensive place to stay!  We are talking unbelievably inexpensive…  Through the website airbnb.com I booked a place called Paris B&B for Girls.  Now, the term B&B may be stretching it a bit but for the remarkable price of 8 Euros a night (about ten dollars) I got my very own bed in a group room.  While it was far from “fancy” it was a very clean place run by a nice family who spoke good English.  It was tucked away in a safe neighborhood that had easy access to all there is to see in Paris.  They even offered complimentary croissants and orange juice in the morning!

After my first night’s sleep on Friday I woke up on Saturday raring to go.  I hit the streets walking and purchased an overpriced map of Paris.  I became a shameless tourist, map in hand and camera not far behind.

For me Paris was a visual feast.  Here are some of the highlights of my two days in Paris!

That’s me in front of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral 
There she was in all her glory.  I was easily led there by my trusted map companion.  Just arriving there felt like some sort of personal victory for me.  I soaked up the fair weather day as I admired her flying buttresses.  It is free to enter the cathedral and I eagerly joined the queue.  Within minutes I found myself inside gripped by the sense of majesty in the silence.  I wondered around looking up at the ceilings and down at the floors.  I was in awe of the stain glass windows.  Being there felt epic and I felt large and small at the same time.  I wandered through an exhibit on St. Teresa the Little Flower and then stayed around for mass.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
I almost didn’t go here.  It was “out-of-the-way” from where I was visiting and staying.  But one night I found myself heading in that direction and gave way to a visit.  I wandered down the nearby Avenue de Clichy and couldn’t help but be struck by the contradictions.  As I walked down the street I passed the Moulin Rouge and various other sex shops and shows with their bright colors flirting with the tourist crowds.  And then a quick left turn, a short walk up a hill through a crowded street and Sacre Coeur was in view glistening in the evening sunlight.

I have to say she didn’t disappoint.  I may have even gasped in wonder at first sight.  There she was on top of a hill overlooking the city.  I made my “pilgrimage” to her, one step at a time, one flight of stairs at a time.  My ascension was surrounded by street musicians and vendors.  Shameless tourism danced and played all around the Cathedral.  There was a puppet show of Noah’s arc and designer knock-off purses for sale.  I paused from my determined trek up the stairs and turned around.  I felt my heart leap as the city of Paris opened up below me.  Around me there were people laughing and lounging while beer and water were peddled to the masses.  By this time it was early evening on a Saturday night and the monument had turned into a party.

I stood around and took in the scene.  The musician playing his guitar and singing to the crowds.  The performer swinging from the street lamp while juggling a ball with his feet.   And then finally… I entered Sacre Coeur.  I was greeted by the gentle but awesome energy of the  mosaic of Jesus with his arms open wide and his sacred heart.  I let the basilica, her beauty, her history, move through me as I walked around.  Until… it was time to leave and I made my way back out to the party.

On  the way down I discovered there is an elevator of sorts that looks almost like a ski lift or a carnival ride to take tourists up and down the someone daunting elevation to Sacre Coeur.  Ever the budget traveler, I smiled at the idea of taking a ride then continued down the path by foot until once again surrounded by the streets of sex and scandal.  I found a metro station and made my way home.

In the Jardin de Luxemburg

Jardin de Luxemburg
I found this unexpectedly.  The Jardin de Luxemburg.  Me and my map had been playing around town and I was on my way to the Pantheon.  What a thrill to stroll the streets of a city speckled with so much astounding history and beauty.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Pantheon.  I got tired.  I mean really tired.  And in no time at all I was offered gentle respite.  It was an inviting reclining chair in a park-like setting.  I wasn’t yet sure exactly where I was, but for a good long moment I took it in and just enjoyed relaxing in the moment baking in the late morning sun.  As my body gave way to the chair and the moment, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of music coming from not too far away.  Like following the tune of the pied piper, my body, despite its fatigue, rose to find out where it was.

In no time at all I discovered a bandstand surrounded by a cafe in the midst of a garden and trees.  A Parisian jazz band was playing and the crowd soaked in their tunes.  A little girl was up front unabashedly struttin’ her stuff and I appreciated the musical respite.  In time I found myself distracted by a beautiful array of flowers framing the front lawn of the French Senate building.  As I investigated further I found a large fountain where children could rent and launch miniature sailboats.  The garden led me to neatly manicured cubist trees and locals and tourists alike enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon.  What a beautiful detour, distraction and delight!

Thrift Store Shopping
No, not the typical Parisian diversion.  A friend of mine suggested that I buy myself a little something at a local thrift store to remember Paris.  A great idea that fit my budget!  I am not a vintage or discount designer kind of gal.  It took a while to find your basic thrift store where one could find a sweater for just a few Euros.  But I found one.  It’s called Guerrisol.  A not-to-trendy but popular store with five locations throughout Europe.  It took a little effort but with some time I found a sweater that suited me for just a few Euros to take home.  I happily brought it to the check-out counter and handed them a 2 Euro coin.  The man took my money and smiled and said “c’est bonne”  which means literally “it is good”.  Yes it is!

Food
As someone who doesn’t eat sugar and does my best to stays away from breads and pastries, France was not the best place to eat on a budget.  Mostly I ate very simply purchasing a few items at local markets doing my best to eat healthy simple food.  I found a beautiful little bakery in the streets of the Ile Saint-Louis that had lovely little open-faced sandwiches that were calling my name.  For only 3 Euros 50 I had a beautiful piece of toasted fresh bread with tuna, roasted veggies, lettuce and cheese for lunch.  Delish!

Croque Madame at Le Nemrod

For a treat one day I took myself to a local budget friendly restaurant called Le Nemrod.  I went there curious to try what is called a “Croque Madame” kin to the Croque Monsieur, Paris famous ham and cheese sandwich.  The croque madame adds a fried egg to the sandwich. I arrived at the restaurant after much walking.  Grateful to be seated at a table I was soon greeted and playfully teased by the local staff. I ordered my croque madam, a small cup of decaf coffee and a glass of water.  I enjoyed a little conversation from other waiters curious about where I was from.  Happily, I enjoyed my meal and for the bargain price of under 10 Euros.

Even with a very small budget, my visit to Paris was priceless.  The city itself has so much to offer and I am much richer for the experience!

%d bloggers like this: