Monday, December 12, 2011

The Twenty-Third Tale: Lock and Key

Every time in the last three months that I've sat down in front of this blog to write something, my mind just has gone blank. The crazy thing is that I'll be out and about on the train and something, some detail will happen and I think "Man, I gotta write about this gorgeous moment..." but then the memory passes and I can't, or I start to write and nothing seems to do the memory justice.

This time of traveling has been, I believe, more formative in many ways than before. Every once in a while in life I feel like a hamster on a metal wheel, learning some of the same lessons over and over again, with the same feelings attached to the experiences. At the moment, I suppose my wheel should be more exciting than most, being tinged with bravas sauce and chocolate and all.

There are more ups and downs here, lots of vulnerability--which is positive in that it seems to bring out the creativity in me, and it forces me to evolve as a person, even though I sometimes feel stagnant. I read the other day in part of Gail Sheehy's book "Passages", which my mom recommended to me, an analogy she gives about stages of life being comparable to a lobster whose shell is re-growing. She says with each stage in life you become more vulnerable, but you are also ready for evolution. I realize that I do feel saturated in life, a part of it, when I'm feeling a bit melancholy. I guess that's what draws most of us to drama, especially those "creative types". The challenge lies in not wallowing in it, and not creating my own drama for the sake of feeling like a participant.

Life here in Madrid is okay. That's such a blah word because on the whole, that's how I've felt here. It's a feeling compartmentalized as something separate from the city itself, which is gorgeous and amazing and full of life and cultural intrigue. Most days I feel guilty for neglecting to explore each and every Sainted street there is, and when I do I feel even more guilty. The moments that the feelings of love for the life around me overwhelm me are unfortunately far too seldom, but when they do they are powerful (to say the least). The majority of the time, however, I still feel like I'm floating around, bumping into people and things, half-committed to doing what I'm doing here and not highly interested in any of it. I'm grateful to have a nice roof over my head, I'm grateful to have some friends here, grateful to have enough money to live and enough food to eat and that I have finally learnt how to cook vegetables. I'm grateful to have learnt enough Spanish at the moment to "get by", even if I do have many moments that still get lost during wild gesticulation. I'm grateful to have all that I need in order to live.

I suppose the rub is that I'm still not really feeling, well... joyful. I mean, seriously Anna, you have everything else, why do you need to feel JOYFUL?? Or, more importantly, why can't you quit your bitchin' and just feel that way?!! Both of these questions are still within my well-seasoned ego's direct line of questioning, believe me. They bore into me like a hot spotlight on the brain.

I know it seems horribly ungrateful for me to be just feeling "okay" in this fantastic place, where so many people I know have felt immense joy and wish they could be right now. Yet still, this feeling of "meh," *shrug* remains. As my mom says, I'm allowed to feel how I feel. I honestly haven't felt joyful in a fact, I'm trying to remember the last time I truly felt joyful. Let's see, this comes to heart: I remember hanging out with my friend Kate on a blanket in Forest Park in St. Louis on a warm, sunny Spring day, eating fruit and talking about life. I felt calm, secure, totally comfortable, un-judged, loved and accepted. This is my happy place.

Entonces, pues, de todos modos...I am going home in a few weeks, and I'm really curious to see how I'll feel there. Maybe it'll help put things in perspective. Maybe it'll just make me realize I need to take anti-depressants again after all and quit my whining. Maybe, just maybe, I'll re-encounter some small missing piece of myself that I can use to repair this little heart and move forward in my adventures, as the fearless, ever-loving Anita. I am praying it's the latter.

If you stay tuned, I promise (at some point) I'll let you know how it all goes. ;)

Much love,
Anna <3

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Twenty-Second Tale: From Evil Baby to Hillbilly Talk...

You never know just how humiliated you can become until you go to another country where you don't know the language, and are trying to learn. Trust me; if you've never had this experience, it's beyond humbling, and it really teaches you a lesson in kindness.

I was talking with my friend and former roommate, Caitlyn, about feeling like a small child when you need to express yourself here in Madrid. The difference is that Caitlyn came to the culture with a relatively good base to learn Spanish, whereas I have never learnt Spanish before in my life (other than the odd Shakira/Selena song). With only bits of Italian and my French ability to draw on, after about three weeks it's difficult not to feel frustrated when I am searching for simple words and phrases. I am a communicator, so to feel like you've had your vocal chords amputated is a very difficult thing to deal with. Though, I have to say, for three weeks and never having learnt any of these things previously, I suppose I'm truly not doing too badly. It's just putting everything together that's really the tough part, and learning past and future tenses of verbs. Even all of my experience as an English teacher couldn't have prepared me for this feeling of helplessness...before, I could sympathize with my students, but not empathize.

It reminds me of a particular phrase from the book "Me Talk Pretty One Day" (sorry, don't have underline option) by David Sedaris, the humorist writer. In it, he talks about his experience going to France and learning the language:

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned "Lie down," "Shut up," and "Who shit on this carpet?" The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. "Is thems the thoughts of cows?" I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window. "I want me some lamb chop with handles on 'em.”

All I can say is, Amen brother.

Yesterday was the most interesting/awful day I have had in Madrid thus far. Thus far, things have been relatively great, as I've had another American around to help me out when I am lost/confused/completely and totally don't have a clue.

Ok, let me start further back. The past two weeks I have been working but building up my hours slowly. I specifically told my boss that I didn't want too many hours, as I want to spend some time learning Spanish. Then his boss (who is my big boss, apparently) came in and explains to me that I have priority on getting as many hours as possible because I displaced my life from Oxford to Madrid...and as I try to interrupt him to tell him it's okay, I don't intend to horde hours, nor do I really want so many...I see that it is a futile attempt and give up. So, whether or not I want it to, my schedule has been filling up more and more. However, two days ago (Friday) my boss tells me that I will now have a class on Saturday. That was the final straw. I told him that it's necessary for my mental health to have some time to get used to all of this and to take some time off on the weekends, and that even though I'm a trooper, I really would prefer not to work 6 days a week. I mean, I know we Americans have a reputation for being workaholics, but even most of us take two days off per week.

At the time, he was unable to change anything (of course). So, Friday night I rebelled by going out with my American roommate for her final farewell dinner. "Screw getting up at 7am! I'll show them," I cried with maniacal glee. Then I got up at 7am, feeling like shit. I showed them.

Luckily, I managed to make it the 1.5 hours on the train to teach this poor girl for 1.5 hours, then my boss came by the center to answer some questions for me, and we had a chat and he kindly managed to move the morning lesson after all. So, I was very glad about that, but the fact remained that I was feeling a bit disoriented from the night before. Carrying this feeling with me into the day turned out to be a very not good thing when I then had to say goodbye to my roommate, Caitlyn.

Caitlyn has been such a wonderful friend to me here. She's not only hilarious, but she understands the value of handmade birthday cards with Spanish cartoon fruit flies on them. That's a keeper, for sure. She helped me acclimate myself to this city and communicate with the people around me, and she helped me find any resources I needed. She also lent me a large sum of money when I first arrived to Spain to help me pay for my rent without even knowing me very well. I'm fairly certain after having put up with me for that long that she deserves some kind of medal.

In any case, it was such a bummer to say goodbye to her. For the first time here, I really felt alone, lost, scared, helpless...the list of negative adjectives running through my mind went on and on. So, needless to say, I felt pretty bad when I came back but (true to my nature) tried to see the positive side of it. I will be forced to learn Spanish now, okay! I will have to explore more by myself, okay! I will have to learn to be self-sufficient here...okay.

To make myself feel better, I took an offer from one of my former students here to go out and have a "relaxed night with a beer", even though I already somewhere in my mentality knew deep down that a "relaxed night" in Spain still doesn't start until 10pm and lasts until at least 3. I also had a bad feeling about the evening, which I attributed to Caitlyn's leaving and thus shrugged it off. Still, I thought, better that than sitting around in my room moping by myself...right?

I met Oscar, my friend/former student, in Plaza del Sol. I made the wrong choice of wearing a leopard print skirt here, which I'm still not really sure if people wear here or not. It seems to be a bit hit and miss in different countries-for example, in England, leopard print is popular and totally acceptable in accent pieces, in the U.S. it would have been fine, Korea fine, in Paris never (people think you're a prostitute), and I'm not sure on which end of the spectrum it falls in Spain. I only know that I arrived at Sol too early (about 1/2 hour) and spent the first 20 minutes people watching, and in the following 2 minutes I think (still not sure) I was propositioned by some creepy guy who came up and murmured something in Spanish, then just stared at me like I owed him something (which I'm pretty sure I didn't). I told him I didn't speak Spanish, he confirmed to me that I don't speak Spanish, and then walked off. I didn't know exactly what transpired except that I felt slightly more ashamed than I had before.

Anyway, I met Oscar and we headed off to the pub which was nearby, and that was by far the best part of the evening, from 10-12 or so. In hindsight I should have called it a night, as I explained I was exhausted from the night before and not in the mood to be social, but he told me he had a surprise for me-that we were going to meet his friend. I thought, okay, fine, we will meet his friend (who is a girl) and maybe I'll make a new friend. YAY! First he tells me we are going to take a cab there, and I explained to him that as the metro stops at 1:30, I was a bit worried about getting back okay as I still don't know my way around very well yet. He said not to worry, he would help me. So, we headed out and arrived at a small cerveceria (bar), and when we walked up I saw not one girl but four. If this were the U.S. or England or some other English speaking country, I would not feel intimidated in the least, I'd be excited by the prospect of meeting other people. This, however, to me seemed daunting (especially given the way I was feeling). So, the first announcement I make after awkward kissing is that I speak really poor Spanish, and I'm trying to learn, so lo siento.

I think that women in every culture have certain tendencies, and I will say that I still haven't quite figured out Spanish women yet. I, for one, feel that it's really important when you meet new people to talk to them and make them feel comfortable, even if they don't speak your language. Clearly, I spoke enough Spanish to carry on small and polite conversation, so prodding me for more questions would have eventually yielded some kind of result. However, they proceeded to speak as quickly as possible in Spanish and completely ignore me, which made me feel worse and more sorry for myself by the minute. I was glad they were having a good time, but felt really bad for myself and decided after sitting there like some kind of lamp post for two hours with an idiotic grin slapped on my face that I needed to get away from the situation. Clearly, this wasn't the time for me to make best friends, and I sincerely doubted that they would miss me much. Just as I decided this the restaurant closed and everyone needed to vacate the premises anyway, giving me the perfect opportunity to bow out. The funny thing is that as soon as I mentioned leaving, all five girls were on me like flypaper asking why I was going, as if I had committed some kind of heinous and unforgivable crime. For all of the time these people could have talked to me and gotten to know me better, the two hours of stick-up-the-behind awkwardness that occurred, I felt it a bit ironic that at that moment they wanted to get to know me. I really don't get Spanish women.

With Oscar's "help" I managed to get to a bus stop on the corner and onto a bus headed back to Plaza de Cibeles, where there is a bigger bus station that runs night buses around the city. By now it was approximately 2:15 am, more or less. When I got on the bus, I used a ticket which is a monthly pass that Caitlyn had given me. I knew that I wasn't really supposed to use this ticket, because it was hers, but figured, how the hell will they know if it's not mine, and who cares? What's the worst that can happen? (I have since learned not to ask this question). The ticket looks like a metro ticket but it comes in a pouch with the person's information on it, including their picture. I saw Cait using the pass for two weeks without anyone giving her a second glance, so I figured I would be fine-and also, so as not to risk suspicion, I took the ticket out of the pouch to use by itself. Ohhh, naive Anna.

Of all of the buses in all of the city, my bus had the honor of being one of the select few chosen by ticket inspectors for a pop inspection. I fumbled for my ticket and showed them, and immediately they started to puff up-"where is your identification?" one demanded in Spanish. I feigned ignorance at first and told them that my Spanish was very bad, and that I didn't carry identification with me. After a moment of trying to be brave, I stuck my tail between my legs and admitted that it was my friend's, and that she had given it to me when she left the country. They said "your friend has a problem, you can't use this ticket. You have 30 euros?" I told them I would be happy to pay for a ticket and that I didn't have 30 euros. I also told them that I don't usually carry much cash (which is true), but that if they brought me to the nearest ATM I'd be happy to pay them whatever they needed. At that point, I was incredulous at the situation, not to mention really overwhelmed and scared, and would have probably done anything just for them to leave me alone. We got off the bus and I asked where the nearest ATM was, and they said it was about 10 minutes down the road and that they would walk with me. Along the walk, one of the inspectors was being rude and said in a slightly joking manner, in Spanish, "yea she doesn't understand anything"--implying that I was stupid. I said "si, entiendo, pero llegue aqui hace tres semanas..." Which means something along the lines of "actually, I understand, but I just arrived here three weeks ago." If I would have known the word for "dickwad" I would have added it at the end, just for good measure. Then he proceeded to ask me inane questions in Spanish like "do you like ham? What do you eat in the United States?" I'm fairly certain he was just messing with me. Clearly, if 5 of these "ticket inspectors" could come with me all the way to the ATM and didn't have more important things to do, it shows what difficult work being a ticket inspector is.

Anyway, humiliated after being marched through Seoul like a prostitute caught for working the streets (which clearly I was because I was wearing a leopard print skirt), I compromised myself by taking out 40 Euro from the cash machine (hey, might as well get some extra if I gotta do it) and giving them 30 of them. With that, they wrote me a receipt (how nice)-I'm sure it wasn't a ticket, I asked- and gave me back the illegal pass, which I explained to them I didn't need if I couldn't use it, but they gave it back anyway. They then asked me if I knew where to go to catch my bus and told me directions, and seemed genuinely concerned about me getting there. I apologized and played the innocent foreigner card, and they said "it's okay, and thank you." After that all that was left was for me to lick my wounds.

When I got back to my place I realized that my landlady was coming in the morning, because there is a new flatmate moving in today, and I didn't know what time she (the landlady) would arrive. I set my alarm for 12 and called it a night.

This morning at 10am, I got a call and it was my landlady, who is here now, invading the space. I know it may seem politically incorrect to be annoyed by one's landlady when that person actually owns the apartment, so technically you're the one invading their space. However, I'm paying, so it's still my space, and I hate having her here because even though she's sweet she is a bit nosy, as most landladies are traditionally (in my experience-though nothing was worse than the landlady in Korea). However, as I am writing this my landlady has come into my room and is cleaning my floor, which is very nice but which I did not ask her to do (nor have I any desire for her to do), especially because that means she's even more in my space, not to mention she's cleaning with something that smells like almost straight ammonia and my eyes are beginning to water. Joder., I'm exhausted, overwhelmed, upset, anxious, again those negative feelings. I also stupidly signed myself up for an intensive Spanish course next week, which means that I will have no time in the day or evenings for teaching prep, so I need to do it all today AND I have a new roommate coming and I have no idea what time, so I will have to be slightly antisocial.

I know in my positive self that it could have been worse last night, and if they didn't catch me that time maybe they would have caught me at another even more embarrassing or inconvenient time. I knew I wasn't supposed to use the pass, so that was my risk...and I take it as a sign from God that I am totally and completely incapable of lying or being an unethical person. Every time in my life that I try to get away with something, no matter how small, I'm put in, thanks God, I guess ;). haha.

I also know that this coming week will be tough, but I can see positivity in the future. I know that I'm not really alone here, even if it seems that way, and this is all part of the experience. Still, I haven't let loose crying yet, and I'm feeling like that may be the thing to do-just wish I could, to relieve some stress. It's like being emotionally constipated.

As I've mentioned before, I think that people don't always know the challenges that come along with traveling or living in new countries. Don't get me wrong-I chose this lifestyle for myself and I am fully conscious of that, and I appreciate the positive aspects of it. I think, though, that sometime in the near future this kind of lifestyle will not be for me anymore. It's too stressful. I really need support of other people that I care about around. So, I am grateful for the support I have from my friends and family back in St. Louis, Florida and around the world, and I'm grateful for the people who have made themselves available to me here.

I just pray it gets easier, and that my hillbilly talk progresses into slightly uneducated adult talk.
In any case...prayers/wishes for well-being are always appreciated, as usual.

Love and miss you all,
<3 <3 <3,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Twenty-First Tale: Take a Chance, Take a Chance, Take a Chance...:)

As I live my life here every day, I can't help but think what an amazing life I have led thus far, and what an amazing life I continue to lead. I thank God, Spirit, the Universe, the amazing Universal Force that is so incredibly good to me...whatever label you want to slap on it. I am being taken care of, forever and always.

Let's list the blessings...first, I am truly living; I feel alive. I am in a different country, and have (with the help of many others) been able to prove to myself that I am confident enough to live on my own in another country and make it work-including such things as finding a job, a place to live, making my own money, and being able to teach ESL to adults (which I never thought I could do before).

I continue to be surrounded by incredible, loving people, who support me through all of this. I mean, how many people have a family that is so unselfish and supportive that they sit by and encourage their child to travel halfway across the world, even when it's incredibly hard for them to have that child away?

Then, there are my friends, who happily listen to my random freak-outs about where I'm going to be next or what I'm going to do, offering their wisdom, advice, love, and patience. Mind you, these are friends who are located in different places all across the globe. How cool is that?

So, on that note, things here are really great. I got a full-time job teaching in Oxford, where I am currently, and had been working here for the last two weeks when I was offered another job teaching full-time in Madrid. I had been feeling really uneasy the last couple of weeks about staying in England...even though the opportunity was amazing, and it certainly didn't look bad on the resume, I still felt that something was missing. I took the job offer as a sign from the universe that Madrid was still an option, and perhaps just what I needed. After a hard week of hemming and hawing over the options, I decided that I would take a chance.

In two weeks, I'm headed to Madrid to start yet another ESL adventure. I have secured a room in a flat already rented by my friend Caitlyn, and I'm really excited to be living with her (and the one other flatmate, a 35 year old man from Northern Spain named Oscar who is apparently very nice and easy to live with). I have a little over two weeks before I start the job to explore the city and settle into the new place, and just relax and mentally prepare. I feel that's a great idea before this transition!

England has been a lot of fun. I've met really great people at my job, and I am sad in a lot of ways to leave. This current job has given me the confidence to start my new, very grateful to have had that experience. When I first started I was terrified to teach grammar, but I have to say I've been learning as I've gone along and it's been great. I currently teach adults from all over the world, so it will be a bit sad to not have that crazy mix of students and not be able to discuss cross-cultural differences (which has been really wonderful at this job!). However, I am sure there will be benefits to teaching the new students as well, just have to find that out once I start teaching.

The weather here feels like fall already, so it will be very strange to go from the cool air to the very hot and humid. However, weather in the winter in Madrid I'm sure will be much more pleasant than the weather in England...!

Anyway...wish me luck all, I'm so grateful to have you in my life...keep the positive energy coming my way! <3

Much, much love,
Anna :) <3

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Twentieth Tale: Be Warned, Holy Longness...Filling You In! :D

Oh my..SO much has happened since my last entry here-I have covered a lot of ground. I have sat down to write new blogs several times, only to be interrupted by the temptation to get off of my computer and enjoy my surroundings (as most of the places I've been to thus far I have only had a few days to enjoy). I also was an idiot and didn't think about the fact that the UK has a different plug than the rest of Europe, so my computer and my phone were both dead on and off for large periods of time until I got off my arse and went to find an adapter. SO, I'll try to catch you up as briefly as possible on the places I've been, and then discuss the current happenings...:

After leaving Jesi (the little town near Ancona I was in), I went to Ravenna for a couple of days to hang out by the sea and see a concert (indie band called The Pains of Being Pure at Heart). I ended up staying in a very lovely hostel called "Ostello Dante". The staff there were extraordinarily kind and interesting, and they made my stay really enjoyable. They are all also from very diverse backgrounds-one is Kenyan but grew up between Italy/Kenya, one is half German, half Italian and speaks Italian, German, and English, and one is French and speaks French, Italian and English. They are so cool that they even let me friend them on Facebook, and the Kenyan guy named Omar has offered to host me on a trip to Kenya in December (which I am definitely considering). When you travel a lot, you realize just how few languages you know in comparison to the rest of the world, and how much world there is still left to see. It's truly insane.

Ravenna was a nice town; quiet and very ethnically diverse. The beach there, in my opinion, wasn't quite as nice as the one in Senegallia, but it was also a lot more crowded. Just depends on which beach scene you prefer.

After Ravenna, I flew to Paris from Bologna Airport. I was excessively irritated in Bologna, as the airport there was kind of crappy and the information people kept telling me I could log on and pay for internet with my laptop, but that seemed to be a dirty lie. To make matters worse, as I was sitting down with the cash change I'd gotten, a man came and accidentally "tripped" over me, and he said sorry in Italian and touched my head, which I thought was weird, but didn't think much of it. I looked down a minute later and realized he'd gotten my cash. It was only about 15 euro, thank goodness, but still was enough to piss me off. Then, when the internet wouldn't work I went back to the info desk and they just acted like I was insane. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down my cousin's cell phone number to put in my new phone, so I needed that info as I was headed to her place. I had pretty bad cell reception there and had to dance around the room while trying to talk my mom through logging onto my Facebook account and getting into my messages to get the info. By the end of that, I was feeling pretty cranky and decided to go for a beer. I noticed a group of English speaking guys across the room who were also drinking beers, and they saw me and invited me to join them. Turns out they were a group of Croatian guys who had just finished a stint on an oil rig, and they were just celebrating their return home. They were really great guys, and by the end of our time together they had all offered their homes and families as hosts to me if I should decide to visit Croatia (which they raved about).

Eventually, I made my way to Paris, to the Bastille area and then to my cousin's little apartment. I was laughing when she greeted me at the top of the stairs, because every time I first see my cousin it seems I am always sweaty and carrying luggage! ;) While it was really good to see a familiar face, I was having a pretty hard time in Paris, feeling shuffled around again. Whenever I move back and forth from place to place so much, I always crave stability. I think this is really normal, but it can be hard to keep things in perspective sometimes when that happens, and my first instinct is always to rush back to familiar places and people. Even with that, I had a really lovely time hanging out for a few days and journaling at the Jardin des Tuileries, one of my favorite spots there.

My next move was to England, where I am currently. I arrived in London at City Airport, and found the transport system really easy-I was able to get to my destination at Eden Park really quickly, without much of a struggle.

My first impressions of Oakfield House, where I was staying (in Beckenham, Kent, Southeast London) were like something out of a Jane Austen novel. As I walked out of the train station, the vegetation was what immediately struck me; the trees were of a large Oak variety that have distinct, heavy leaves and twisty trunks that only English trees can have. My friend Caroline came to meet me out of the gate, and she led me to a beautiful little room inside of the mansion where we were staying. This had apparently been the conductor's house, and the side facing the station (even though it was the back of the house) was much more ornately done than the front side, so as to keep up appearances.

Caroline's family are all from this area, so she was my tour guide. She took me to an area near Bromley called Crystal Palace, to a Pub she liked, which also quickly became one of my favorites. This was called the White Hart Pub, and it's definitely a place I want to go back to. The staff were really friendly and it was just a relaxed and happy place. I even made friends with a bartender named Victor (or Awot, he goes by both)-he was (and is) a really interesting guy. He is the first Eritrean I've ever met (and I will admit, I had never heard of Eritrea...)!

The things I love about traveling always come so clear once I do it-mainly, meeting other people, and learning about other cultures and places. I realize once I am doing it just how ABSOLUTELY necessary it is to understanding other people in the world and other cultures. I personally don't understand how people could not want to learn about other cultures. It is so essential in life to learn that there are other people in the world who think or act differently than you do, and to learn how to be humble and adaptive to other environments. As soon as I start to think I'm "different" from most Americans, that I am more well-traveled, I make some sort of cultural faux-pas and then am forced to learn from it. I know there is so much more to be learned from this world and the people in I have to keep going. I think that, no matter what, I will always want to travel and learn.

Most importantly, this is such good research for helping other Americans to be able to learn about other cultures. I don't pretend to be an expert on any culture I have visited, but it certainly helps to dispell certain myths or preconceived notions many Americans may have about certain cultures.

So-now I am in Oxford, England, UK, at St. Hilda's University. I am teaching at a summer camp called Bucksmore Summer Programmes, a reputable company accredited by the British Council. The first few days I came in were really rough, because I had to do airport transfers right off the bat and I hadn't even got my bearings yet in Oxford. To make matters worse, I couldn't find the bus stop and the bus was late to go to the airport, and when I tried to call my manager on the company cell phone I found out it hadn't been topped up. All I could envision was some poor 13-year-old running around the airport, helplessly looking for me, and I wouldn't be there. Luckily, I managed to be there on time and met the kid, who looks more like he's 16 than 13, and he just happened to be with his dad. It was slightly awkward because of course I was exhausted and super stressed from running around and had to put on a happy face and pretend like I knew exactly where I was going. The father also kept asking me all of these questions about Oxford and London, and of course I had no idea what to tell him, so I ended up sort of half bullshitting, "oh yes, I think so" and then just telling him that I was "still getting to know the area myself" and that I would be "happy to ask a manager and find out for him", which we all know is basically code for "I have no f*cking clue, and please stop asking me thank you very much".

Thankfully, I made it back in one piece, and soon all of the other kids started to appear. Now at the camp there are kids from Russia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, and Lebanon. The kids are aged 13-17 and are low-level beginners to advanced-level English speakers. They are all really happy to tell you about their respective countries, and it really gives them a good reason to speak English. In the beginning, they were really sticking to their own cultural groups, but they seem to be comfortable enough now with each other that they are trying to speak to each other in English. I am learning so much from them all! It's really nice because they are old enough that they can discuss things like political systems and current events, and they are so smart and passionate about the world.

The camp has been much better since the transfer days, and I have had the opportunity to go on excursions with the kids so far to Bath and to Stratford and Warwick Castle. It was amazing to go inside a castle that truly looks like a typical castle! :) It offered a gorgeous view of the town as well. The people I work with have been an interesting mix-two directors, both English nationals but one who grew up in Australia and lives in Greece, and then an English Centre Manager who is also English but lives in Italy now. The other teachers range from being my age to twice my age, with two guys, one who has taught in Sardinia and Taiwan and one who has taught in Canada and China. Then there are two girls, one who is Kenyan (caucasian tho, 4th generation Kenyan) and has been teaching in Oxford the last month already, and one who is Serbian, Lebanese and Turkish but who lives in Edinborough, Scotland (and loves salsa dancing).

I really love England's climate and vegetation (English roses...GORGEOUS!). I love the feeling of quiet calm that comes along with being in Oxford, but I definitely feel I'm more of a London person. I think I would really like being in a place such as south London, where there are more suburb like areas that aren't far from the city. Oxford is nice but is a bit too conservative feeling for me I think to be here full-time. I have definitely decided that if I can do it, I am going to stay in England when I finish my job here. I am going to do my best to get a job in London! :)

Anyway, I have so much more I could write about, but this blog is ridiculously long. I apologize to anyone whom I haven't been able to have a coherent conversation with for the last month and a truly has been a crazy experience, but a really great one as well. I also apologize that this blog isn't as detailed as I'd like it to be for each one experience, mainly because I've had so many these last few weeks. In any case, I am really glad that I am feeling better about things now, even though I do still miss friends and family (and always will, wherever I am!).

Glad I got a chance to fill everyone in! Hope you are all doing fabulously well.

Much love, XOXO,
Anna banana :D

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Nineteenth Tale: Italian Bliss

F*ck, I love Italy. Excuse my language...but, today I was walking back to my host family's house from work and I just couldn't help but appreciate my surroundings to the fullest. I'm in Jesi, which is a small town near Ancona, in the Marché region.

This place is beautiful (which is definitely an understatement). Walking home I was surrounded by the mountains, which are green and just look like massive rolling hills. I followed the signs to the Palazzo dello Sport and wound up on a bike path filled with people doing their daily jog or walk. There were corn fields on my left, and to my right old Italian style houses with laundry hanging up outside, drying like raisins outside on the line in the mellow evening sun. Finally, I recognized the small peach colored apartment building, which looks so industrialized and modern compared to the rest of the city.

Inside my small room, I am gazing out the window, and what I see is beyond gorgeous. There are double doors which open out onto a small balcony. Hanging on the edge of the balcony is a box of petunias that are tenderly looked after by my host mother. Looking out I can see a modern church steeple, whose bells are happy to call out at 9:30 am. Beyond this I see the gorgeous hilly mountains of green and white and tan, all dotted with tiny specks of white that represent other small surrounding villages. The air is the cleanest I've ever felt and breathed, no doubt due to the gorgeous vegetation. Since Korea, I appreciate vegetation more than I ever have before.

The sounds are numerous, and include car motors starting and stopping and people cheering and clapping while whistles blow for a soccer match across the street. Motorcycles buzz and sputter by, and cars slowly woosh past.

My host family is lovely, and include a middle aged man called Renato, his wife Federica, and their two boys aged 12 and 7, Francesco and Alessandro. The boys are quiet and well-behaved, and Francesco patiently helps his mother translate her Italian to English so that she can communicate with me. "Come si dice??" she asks frantically. As is typical in Italy, the husband (Renato) speaks better English than Federica because he travels more internationally for his job. They are interestingly enough both in the furniture business; he is in some kind of furniture information technology, and she designs and sells furniture. I also met Federica's brother Luca, who is studying to be an architect. The whole family is from Jesi many years back, and Luca is the only outcast who was bold enough to venture out to Rome. It is clear that Federica wants him back here, as she speaks her broken English and waves her spoon at him menacingly, "you MAST come back to Yay-si!" (as they pronounce Jesi).

Federica is an excellent cook, and the family feeds me ridiculous amounts of food (as is also typical in Italy). These people eat more than I have ever seen in my youth or adult life, and yet they are so slim. My first dinner consisted of prosciutto, toasted pita slices, three different kinds of cheese (ricotta, mozarella and a local cheese), fresh basil salad with tomatoes and olive oil, roasted zucchini and breaded stuffed olives. "Mangiare!" they insist, as soon as my fork appears to waver for even a moment. Federica was upset that my first day of camp I only ate half a slice of the coffee cake and coffee for breakfast; I tried to explain that I was still full from the night before, nervous and stressed and just plain not hungry, but that didn't seem to appease her at all. Now she says at breakfast, "eat, eat, eat!" and she tells her husband in Italian that I eat such a small amount (even though I ate two breaded chicken breasts last night at her insistence). My nightly routine has become popping two Tums 750 and saying prayers that I don't throw up my dinner.

Camp has been going much better than the last two camps I had in 2008. I chalk this up to the fact that I have the older kids, who are much calmer, and that I'm in a smaller town, so the children are better behaved. My kids are good and they actually enjoy down time, so that makes me happy. They have a wide range of interests and their English comprehension is much better than all of the kids I've taught in the past.

So, all in all, life right now is excellent. Alora, speaking of food, I have just been informed by Federica that my dinner is ready.

I'll update everyone again ASAP.

Love you all,
Anna <3

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Eighteenth Tale: A Little Taste of Madrid...

It's 12:34 AM on Sunday and I'm sitting awake in my bed after trying (obviously, unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. I leave the hostel in less than three hours and have approximately two more hours to, instead, I decided to blog.

Chueca, the district in Madrid where my hostel is located, is still bustling insanely at this hour, and it will continue to do so until about 5 in the morning. Even with my earplugs in, I can hear and feel bass from a neighboring dance club (most likely a gay club, as this is the well-known gay district). Different intonations and accents meld together and glide through the panes of glass in my windows; laughter can be heard distinctly above the din. This is Madrid: alive at all hours of the day and night.

During the day, the weather here has been absolutely perfect- mid 70s-mid 80s, and always a breeze. The breeze carries with it smells of tapas, jamon and spices, freshly baked bread and occasionally, perfume.

Today was spent with a new friend, Caitlyn, whom I met through my longtime friend, Paul. She will soon be completing her thesis with a program called Network Of Humanitarian Action or NOHA, and has been living in Germany for the past year. She moved to Spain to do an internship with an NGO here, and knows quite a bit more Spanish than I do. We had a really great time together, sitting at the cafes both outside and in, having meals and discussing life.

The great thing about traveling is finding a lot of like-minded people...people who believe in learning about the world and other people in it, people who are interested in humanitarian action, people who believe in maintaining an open mind about others, people who enjoy having more philosophical discussions about life in general. I won't say that everyone I've met has been like this (especially in Korea), but I have found that many who travel abroad do seem to share these qualities.

As an aside, I should mention that another great quality Caitlyn had was being extremely helpful to me...because of course, I had only been here for two days, and managed to roll my ankle by falling down some extremely uneven, antiquated stairs here at the hostel. Luckily, nothing seemed too serious, but my foot did swell on the left side and turned black and blue. So, Caitlyn also volunteered to be my crutch, helped me locate ice, an ankle brace, even bought me snacks. How wonderful is it to meet people that will treat you so well upon first introduction? I felt quite guilty for taking so much advantage of someone whom I had just met. When I thanked her profusely for her actions and told her that I felt bad she had to do all of those things for me, she said "think, if the situation were reversed, you know you would do the same for me." I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that what she said was quite true. Wouldn't I do the same thing? So, I decided I should just be thankful and resolve to do the same for someone else, if it is needed. :)

The timing of the ankle roll was quite perfect, in true Anna style, because I am leaving for Madrid and will start training camp in San Remo tomorrow, which is very physical. I really am hoping that they will take a little pity on me and let me rest the ankle a bit the first couple of days, so that I can recover fully before starting camp. The ankle/foot itself already seems much better than it was when it first happened yesterday morning, and has been reduced to only one black and blue spot, and seems to support my full weight better than before. Anyway, always a reminder from the universe to slow down and take care of myself...just wish I wouldn't get that reminder when upcoming outward events require that I speed UP!

So...all in all, I am grateful that my ankle seems to be healing quite well; grateful to have met a new friend, grateful to have spent time with an old friend, and grateful to have gotten a little taste of Madrid. I am hopeful that the feelings of disorientation that come along with starting a new journey and taking lots of short trips will subside soon. I can't help still feeling a bit homesick already at times and missing friends and family. As I remember, I felt pretty similar upon my arrival in Korea, and I think it's only a natural feeling, especially for me. Just gotta "give myself some Grace", as my friend Kate says, and as much TLC as possible. :)

Missing you all, wish you were here experiencing life with me, but grateful that you can even get this close.

Much, much love,
Anna <3

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Seventeenth Tale: Ready or Not, Here I...Am?

This is by far the strangest I've felt going on any trip I've ever had. Sitting in airplanes and airports for hours is starting to feel very familiar...they all look relatively the same.

However, the feeling I had while starting this trip is wholly unfamiliar. I think this is the first time I've gone overseas and actually consciously second-guessed my decision to do so, and felt SO nervous about it. Panicked, even. I could feel myself starting to get panicky on the plane, realizing that I am all alone right now. If something happens to me here, I am alone. I don't remember feeling this nervous at all about going to Korea. I remember feeling really excited, but not nervous. Part of me is saying, "what the hell am I doing?!" But then, I consider going back to my comfort zone, and although there are attractive aspects of that idea, I don't want to.

Then I look around, and even though this airport looks relatively the same, all of a sudden it's hitting me that I'M SITTING IN DUBLIN, IRELAND! That in and of itself is pretty cool.

So, I guess that, even if it doesn't feel normal, it absolutely IS normal that I'm feeling the way that I am (especially considering that I have basically been up for almost 24 hours straight now, and lack of sleep if certainly having an effect). Given that fact, I have decided that the thing to do for now is: 1)Focus on one task at a time, and 2) Live in the moment, or I will miss out on what it happening around me. It's so easy to worry. period...that's why paying attention to what is around you is so important.

So...what's happening around me right now? Bet you wanted to know. There is a group of Irish girlfriends chatting away merrily about a magazine they're reading. There's a small group of Chinese people to my left, annoying me with the tonal nature of their native tongue. To my right is a group of older, attractively well-dressed French ladies, chattering away so fast I can only decipher "l'avion" out of the plethora of words. The direction signs are all written in Gaelic and English, so "Gates" reads "Geatai", and airline lounges are "Tolglanna Aerlinte". I passed a shop selling Irish gear and of course right away am tempted to buy a fitted green soccer jacket that says "Ireland" in white letters across the front, accented by white cuffs and collar with pink stripes. Ah, but that 26.50 Euro is too steep a price tag for my budget at the moment, and I'd have no room to pack it, anyway.

There are lots of attractive people here; also a few unattractive. I hate to say it, but the most unattractive people are usually Americans and can be spotted from what seems like miles away. Sometimes I am embarrassed by my fellow countrymen while I am traveling abroad. For example, behind me just a moment ago was a rather impressively large lady who was clearly from the U.S., somewhere in the south. She had a thick drawl and felt it fine to take the liberty (quite unabashedly) to practically yell across the aisle (a good 10 feet away) to her counterpart, a younger southern American woman. Nobody could ignore the conversation about "creamed corn" and "cooking broccoli to mush", gotta be careful not to do her opinion. While I might agree with that opinion, I cannot say that I would have cared to be let in on it in the first place. I simply don't understand why we Americans do not adjust ourselves according to the tone of other cultures when we are visiting them. Have we no perception of what is going on around us? We are such a loud breed. I can understand why people perceive Americans as obnoxious. So, take a tip from me: if no one else around you in another country besides the US is yelling, you probably shouldn't be, either. Can that creamed corn and broccoli mush. Or shut your pie-hole, whichever you prefer.

And another thing, Americans- don't dress like crap abroad, please. YEA. I'm talking to you, miss giant oversized Boston Red Sox Tee Shirt woman. Yea. You. In fact, you should probably throw that shirt out altogether...or at least wear it in the privacy of your own home, where it belongs. People should not be subjected to your dirty fashion faux-pas.

So, that's that for now...I'm off to the airport pub for lunch and a pint. Need something to calm the nerves, and have a sneaking suspicion that Guiness may be the best solution to that problem.

Stay tuned, folks...more updates coming your way, ASAP.

<3, Me

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Sixteenth Tale: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.

Today I want to talk to you all about something that's on my mind every time I have made a cross-country trip: friends and friendship. It's really strange, but I think about my friendships in my life and there are only a few people that I really feel connected to. The number of friends I feel I can truly count on fits on less than two hands...still, I consider myself to be SO lucky to have these people in my life.

That being said, what does true friendship mean to me? I guess I have pretty high standards for friends...but who you keep company with, in my opinion, who you share your precious time on this Earth with reflects a lot about how you feel about yourself. A friend, for me, is first and foremost someone who takes the time out of his or her schedule every once in a while just to check in and see how you are doing. A friend is someone who will make the effort to tell you that they are thinking about you and that they care about you. In other words, a friend is appreciative to have you in his or her life. A friend does not take you for granted; period. A friend comes to you for advice, and is happy to offer his or hers when it's obviously needed. A friend loves you unconditionally, and is quick to point out your many good qualities as opposed to pointing out your obvious flaws. A friend recognizes when you're hurting yourself, and gently and lovingly points it out to you. A friend is not afraid to tell you the truth when you most need to hear it. A friend is forgiving, even after you've hit a bump together. The best friend will continue to cultivate the friendship when it most needs cultivating.

Friendships are relationships, plain and simple; they are just like romantic relationships, without the obvious physical aspects. Even when you have a spouse or significant other, in my opinion, these relationships should have just as much importance in your life. I know I don't have a significant other and so it's easy to say that, but I believe this with all of my heart.

I truly give thanks for those who have supported and loved me when I most needed it, when I have felt unable to pick myself up. You know who you are. Thank you SO much. I love my friends, and I carry your hearts in my heart in every step of every journey I take across this vast world. I am always here for you, no matter how far away we may be.

Much, much love,
Anna <3

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fifteenth Tale: 'Twas the Night Before Europe...

This blog has come about as a direct result of me being completely unable to locate the new blank journal that I am sure I have somewhere around here, so here's a forewarning that it could be either intensely emotional or honest or uncohesive or what have you. Just be glad I am not drunk. Or maybe that would make it more time for that now. Focus Anna, focus.

So, it's the night before I begin another year abroad. I'll be starting my trip in Madrid, then going to Italy, Paris, England, then back to Madrid. Ever since before I left Korea I kept seeing this plan as being somewhat far off in the distance, as a sort of dream that you talk about but never really intend to do. Like, "oh yes, that novel I am going to write one of these days...*tinkling laughter*". Towards the end of my time in Korea, I was instilled with such vigor and confidence that I could keep traveling and feel wonderful about it. In direct opposition to this longing for continued confidence, there was a fear of coming back to, well...what I've ultimately come back to: living as a dependent and sitting around on my ass. Not that I mind that at all for a while; in fact, I think it can be just what the doctor ordered. It's just that I didn't want to get TOO comfortable and forget how good it feels to be on the move.

Well, apparently three months is long enough to get somewhat comfortable, but not completely. It's become comfortable enough that I'm going to miss the coziness of the house itself and of being in an environment where I'm loved and taken care of unconditionally. I'm going to miss my parents, and of course, my puppy dog.

Despite all of my attempts to deny that I'm affected by any of this, I have realized that the day is upon me. As of tomorrow (well, today...12:15am at the time of writing), I will leave this country again, leave this cozy little nest, and I'm not sure for how long I will be gone (I intend to be gone a year, but planning in pencil just in case). It could be the summer; it could be the year; it could be longer.

All I know is that even though there is a certain level of excitement, I've actually been feeling pretty scared. Scared of feeling lost, friendless, alone. Scared of not being able to make ends meet for myself. Scared of not knowing how to get somewhere and then not being able to get there.

Those are the demons I've been up against today. Some of them can be dismissed as silliness from the ego. Let's take, for example, the fear of being friendless. Well, I don't think I could be more friendless (we are talking lack of social life here) than I have been in this place this summer, so it can only get better from here. As for being alone, well, that's not always so bad, I can read, meditate and journal. Feeling lost, well, there's that...but these journeys seem to help me find myself, if even for just a little while...and I suppose that's why I keep on taking them.

As for getting physically lost...well, it could happen. However, no matter what, I can always get where I need to go. Always. As for not making ends meet, well, I have Euro already changed, and a credit card (with no debt on it right now, I might add). Thank God for that. Seriously, thank you!

Writing this has already helped me feel a little better, as writing usually does. Anyway, I AM excited, despite all the worry. Just please, whomever is reading this, pass along your prayers and love and support from afar that I will not only have safe and enjoyable travels (with EASY transitions from place to place), but that I will perform well at all of my new jobs and make lots of great new friends. :) Hey, I need all the help I can get (and trust me, it does help)!

Hope all of you are doing superbly well. Thanks for reading, good luck, adios, adieu...I'll keep you updated!

Much love, xoxo
Anna <3 <3 <3

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Fourteenth Tale: The Lamentations of a Fashion Fiend

I'd like to speak today on a topic that is close to my heart: fashion. Now, I rarely vent my frustrations about this using social media outlets, but seriously people! Some days I watch news anchors and weep for their tragic images, which are often filled with too-long hair in an attempt to conceal sagging jowls, not to mention hideous comb-overs and bad ties (a la the Donald). Ok, so I don't really weep, but I do have serious conversations with their stylists via the television set (and my mother).

You may be wondering, who are you to talk or give advice about fashion habits? What credentials do YOU have? Well, I grew up as the daughter of an aesthetician and visual artist who did makeup for movie stars and trained in Paris, then co-managed my father's salon. My father is a hairdresser who owned one of the best salons in St. Louis and took me to Paris to see the worldwide hair show. My grandfather was the CEO of Genesco (shoe company that now owns Journeys, Shii, etc.). Fashion is in my blood. I also worked in retail at The Buckle for a year and helped numerous people out of their fashion slumps, and have done personal shopping for close friends and relatives. Not that any of this should really matter; this is my blog and I can say whatever I want about it. Whether you take it seriously or not is ultimately up to you.

So, I can safely say that aside from some of the larger metropolises such as New York City, Chicago, and LA, America has a serious problem with fashion; mainly, with fit. It's not that people don't always know which colors to wear for their body or which styles are popular, it's just that they have a serious disconnect with seeing how clothes look on a rack and seeing how clothes look on themselves. They don't understand how to dress their own bodies.

I fully understand the feelings of anger and frustration that come with a long day of shopping and feeling like you cannot find anything made for your body. Folks, I lived in Seoul for a year as a size 10 pant. In case you didn't know, they barely make over a size 6 in Korea-you are literally not allowed to be fat in the culture (unless you are a foreigner, in which case you are relegated to Itaewon shops only, where buyer traps abound--"Good qualrity!! Good plriiiccee!!"). In short, I know it can be defeating-but you simply have to keep looking to find things that really fit you and not just settle for crap that makes you look like Eeyore in slacks.

On the positive side, living in Korea showed me that there are actually aesthetic standards other places in the world (even for older people, fancy that!). Now, one can argue that this goes to an extreme and is part and parcel of a highly pressurized society. I do believe it's cruel for women to have to wear stilettos and miniskirts every day, year round, but I did notice that as a consequence of this higher standard, women there really had learned how to dress their bodies well. I almost NEVER saw anyone, even an overweight person (which is rare in Korea-I mean overweight, not super morbidly obese) who didn't know how to dress themselves in a way that was flattering to his or her shape. Frumpy-ness just didn't exist. I'm including some example pictures here for anyone who doesn't believe me- this is what Koreans dress like, on a daily basis:
Sorry about the alignment of the pics, folks, that's the best I could do. Anyway, see how well their clothes fit them? They understand their bodies. It's a cultural value, which seems to have escaped us here in the U.S. In Korea, it's considered rude and disrespectful to others show up in a public place looking like something the dog threw up. It just isn't done.

You may be saying to yourself, "yea, but they're Korean- slim and trim. How do I dress my disproportionately sized 14 hips and my small top, or my size DD boobs?" The truth is that there are ways to dress to flatter your body. I'm not advocating taking no responsibility if you have let your weight get out of control, which happens to the best of us (yes, me). I'm just saying: dress for the size that you are at that particular moment in time, and don't try to deny it with your clothes, cause trust me... you 'ain't foolin' anybody; except maybe yourself.

So, what do I personally suggest to remedy the issue? First, be honest with yourself about your size. Denial is so easy and it's the worst way to begin looking for clothing. Don't dress in tight clothing because you think it will make you look sexier. It doesn't. Don't dress in shapeless sacks because you think you are fat-you still need to emphasize or create a waistline! Get out the measuring tape (or buy one, I'm pretty sure it won't break the bank) and measure yourself starting from the top to bottom. For women, measure around the bust (around fullest part of your bust), around the smallest part of your waist, and around your hips, which means around the fullest part of your butt. <---this link from About.Com is great. It will help you with measurements and some basics about fashion and designers. Women, everything starts with good underwear. Support the GIRLS!! Who has not heard Stacy London say these things? We all watch "What Not To Wear" and "Project Runway" but still don't get it! No one wants to see your chi-chis, so keep 'em tucked. As for men, for most casual looks measure around the chest and the hips (where you are widest at the chest, and fullest at the butt). For tailored suits, visit an actual tailor or enlist the help of a salesperson at the store.

I want to make something abundantly clear: clothes need not be ridiculously expensive or in designer labels to be a good buy; they just need to fit you well and be made well. Take your measurements into a store with you and enlist the help of a sales person. Yes, they may try to sell you things, but they really are there to help on some level. When I worked for the Buckle as a Team Leader, I really did want to help people find clothes that fit them. It is true (shock, surprise) that when they bought the clothes I made money. It was a mutually beneficial deal- but I was never pushy, and if someone says no or is not comfortable, that's that. So, enlist help and say no if you are uncomfortable.

Another issue to discuss on this same vein is that of men's fashion in the U.S. I was seriously in love with men's fashion in Korea; tailored suits, slim jeans, bold separates, interesting colors and patterns, accesories!! Scarves, PURSES for goodness sake! They even made the 'man bag' sexy. They did all of this with confidence. Guys will barely try any of these styles in the US. I attribute this to our way of gender socialization. As an aside, I hate the term "Metrosexual". This is a homophobic term to me. If a guy dresses well, it implies that he is gay? Tell me that's not what that implies. If not, it wouldn't have the term "sexual" tagged onto it. Seriously, men here are such wusses when it comes to fashion, afraid that if they dress in a bold color or in a jean that actually fits them instead of sagging off of their ass and legs that they will be labeled as a homosexual. If anyone else disagrees with this I would be happy to hear it, because I simply cannot come up with any other explanation. Okay, maybe I could see some guys arguing about comfort; but if comfort is the only issue that men can come up with as an excuse not to wear slimmer pants and tailored suits, I would suggest that they try them and find out. I had several men that I helped at the Buckle who were afraid to transition to a slimmer jean for fear of discomfort in 'the pals' and they ended up doing just fine.

So, moral of the story is, do not be afraid of your body. It is there, whether you like it or not, and other people have to look at it every day. For women, if nothing else, dress it well so that the rest of us don't have to sit around wondering if we should congratulate you on your mid-term pregnancy. For men, venture outside of your box! I'm not talking about kooky patterns or anything, just try a slimmer jean instead of the pitchfork hauling Wranglers you usually wear. Heck, even Wrangler makes a slim men's jean!!!!!!!!!!!:

If I were going to be in the country any longer, I'd be happy to go shopping with you and tell you my personal opinion ;) having done this once or twice myself. Unfortunately, it will be another year before I can bitch about this subject some more, because I'm fairly certain that Madrid will be a fashion extravaganza.

Enjoy yourselves, good luck!!

Much love, xoxo,
Anna :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale: Get Ready, Get Set...

Hey all...

It's pretty interesting...I was talking to my friend the other day about my emotional connection to St. Louis, seeing it as home, yet that I'm glad I've been able to build character through my travels away from it. He noticed and pointed out to me about about the fact that I seem to mention these two things a lot. At first when I heard this, I felt kind of bad and self conscious, like...oh gosh, am I just totally redundant? Who wants to listen to my whining anyway? He assured me he didn't mean it in this way and I'm sure he didn't, but it was enough to make me think (oh no, everybody watch thinking?! Could be dangerous ;).

After rolling it over a few times in my mind, I decided this: to just give myself a break. After all, I think that it's pretty hard for most people to realize or relate to what I've been going through this summer. First, I leave Korea after having been there an entire year to come back to a place that I have never known in my entire life, with only 1/2 my family there 1/2 the time (dad is still going back and forth to St. Louis for work). This is also a place where I have, let me tell you, zero friends my age, and the ones my age I have made haven't exactly been fabulous. Nobody's fault; if I had more time, I'd be trying harder, but I'm not really. It is in this place that I am to prepare myself for another massive adventure abroad, which includes me visiting and living in three different countries in the span of about three months, plus then being another 9 months abroad in (I'm not exactly sure which) country.

Look, I don't mean to complain. I don't mean to say that I am not happy about being here or that I didn't ask for this upcoming adventure (because I am and I did), but I do think that these few months have seriously been a time of trial for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I've learned to internalize my emotions, almost too well, and sometimes I don't even realize when things have seriously affected me. I think it's safe to say that this is where some of the 'redundancy' in expressing these recurring themes comes from...and you know what? It's okay. I'm allowing myself to feel whatever I want to about this stuff, because it's how I'm coping with it all. Addressing these things through talking or blogging (even over and over), is just how I personally deal. Feel free not to read if it bores you. :)

Other than mulling over that, I have been really trying to mentally/physically prepare myself for the travels. I know there is a part of me that is drawn to this traveling thing (thanks to Kate for expressing it to me that way:) but I do get jitters before I go. Mainly they're about things like taking public transport/getting lost (still seem to have a random, inexplicable fear of this), making sure I have all of my travel docs, making sure my luggage isn't overweight, making sure I have contact info for people I'm meeting there, plus maps, language books, professional docs, etc. Might I add, thank you RyanAir for allowing only ONE piece of luggage up to 20 kg for an extra $ rip. That's about 46.5 pounds, people, not to mention that I'm leaving to travel for a YEAR, and the cost of international shipping is murderous. So, even though I am trying to look at the positives of getting there and doing the things that I truly love, the actual logistics of traveling to me are really stressful. This morning, I couldn't remember where I put my passports (yes, 2-France and US), and I spent half an hour tearing my room apart like a madwoman, only to finally discover them in the suitcase I left outside in the garage (smooth move, ex-lax) that point I was near hyperventalation and surrounded by a white squall of random papers, which I spent the rest of the day trying to rearrange (rather unsuccessfully).

I also get a little nervous about meeting new people (I know, gasp). I really love it, but there is that little ego voice that sometimes says "you'll be the oldest one there", or "what if I don't like the people, or the people and I don't get along?" Now you and I know that both of these things are ridiculous, but I hear the voices nonetheless. For one, even if I were the oldest one, who really cares? I know that just a few years ago when I was in my early 20s, I wouldn't have counted someone out as a friend who was a few years older than me. So, this notion is really stupid. Then, the not liking the people thing...umm, there are over 180 tutors going to the camp in Italy...if I don't find at least one person I like amongst them, there is seriously something wrong with me. And if none of the 180 people like me, then there is seriously something wrong with me. Or them. Eh, probably me, but it's not gonna happen! I feel since this post has mostly been more on the negative side, I should cheer it up a bit, and cheer myself up a bit, by looking at the positives of what's going on. I'll soon be enjoying gorgeous landscapes and fun new places and languages, eating gelato and awesome pizza, having small parties on the beach late at night in San Remo, talking about the world with new people and gaining new perspective, having picnics in the piazza (my FAVE!). I get to eat Jamon Iberico, drink Sangria, and dance on the street at night in Madrid, not to mention see my good friend Paul. I get to hang out in England, see Windsor Castle and meet up with my dear friend Caroline. I also get to return to Paris for a few days and see my cousin Diane, which is never disappointing. I get to celebrate my Grandma's 100th birthday in France with my French family. Life is good!! So, need to stop my worrying. Everything has always worked out well on my trips, and the things that I've worried about have never been as horrible as they seem even if they do, worrying is a fruitless activity.

Well..thanks for enjoying me on my journey of a post. I wasn't sure what I was going to write about when I sat down, but things have all come out, in my opinion, for the best. :)

Love you all,
Anna <3 :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Twelfth Tale: Smells Like Twenty-Something Spirit...or Norwegian Cod?

27 is, I think, one of the strangest ages in your life. Or at least, it seems to be for me. Wait, WAIT a minute, you say--- what's that? I haven't even TURNED 27 yet! Yes folks, right now I am 26 years old. It is May 4th, 2011, and on June 9th, 2011, I will turn 27. However, somehow I am already treating myself like I have turned 27 and for some reason, this is an incredible catalyst that seems to be hurling me over the medieval stone wall and into my early 30s as we speak.

The ovaries have a lot to do with it, I know. Us ladies get to a time in our lives (which begins at about age 25, I believe) where we can feel our eggs moving through our lady tubes faster than sand through an hourglass. "PROCREATE, PROOOOCCRRREEEAAATTTEEE!!!!!" they scream. When they're inside of your body and regulated by hormones who are triggered by chemical reactions in your brain, you can't really help but listen in some way, shape, or form. Some of us may try madly to find someone to mate with, convinced that if we haven't found someone by the time we're 30 than we've failed and then we're totally worthless. Some girls try to cover up this urge by having massive amounts of casual sex; others, like me, simply go about their lives and try to wildly deny these urges altogether as they are in sharp contradiction to what our rational minds tell us we simply have to get accomplished (by the time we're 30, of course. Then our hands and brains and tongues and ovaries all shrivel up and we are completely husbandless and useless altogether).

In addition to the body's urgency to tell you to find a mate, many of us may also experience a wild scrambling to figure out what we 'want to do with our lives', as if at 30 there will be an iron gate suddenly cutting us off from all others besides our spouse and children and shutting us out of any places other than those which we decide to call "home", and "work", and we will no longer be able to function outside of those entities at all. Socially, we feel we will not be accepted unless we have places to nest and to recognize ourselves by. I'm not sure which weirds me out more- the fact that you're not supposed to have an identity BEFORE 30, or the fact that you must decide on one at that point and stick with it for the rest of your life.

Along these same lines, I'd like to discuss another thing that I find pretty strange. When I tell people about the kind of work that I have been doing, teaching ESL and traveling, 9.8 times out of ten they say to me, "that's great, do it now, while you can" (the last three words are always either "while you can" or "while you're young"). This means one of two things: either this has become the conditioned response to people discussing their travels, like "I'm fine" : "how are you?", or people actually believe this is true-which really gives more weight to my iron gate theory. I mean, nomadic cultures did/still do it. There are army brats still alive to tell the tale of their crazy childhoods. There's even spouses who (GASP) travel while the other spouse stays at home. Look; I'm not blind to the logistical and mental challenges that arise once one does decide to have a family and children, I'm only saying that it's not absolutely impossible, as everyone else seems to think (or, maybe the problem is really that they don't think because they don't really care).

Anyway, this post wasn't supposed to be about all that (haha). Really, it was supposed to tell you all about the fact that I always seem to have a hard time deciding when it should be that I will 'settle down' (see above for definition of this term), or at least go back to grad school, which would be the largest commitment to staying in one place for an extended period of time that I've had in about 8 years (with, hopefully, the exception of an overseas practicum). At this point (27, er, 26) I can see the exact outline of a project that I really want to complete, which may evolve into several other projects and requires that I go back to grad school. The problem with this is that I really have an almost constant urgency to start this project, and then another opportunity to learn something else and do something else seems to present itself that is just too COOL to pass up. Not to mention, it adds to the resume and gives me more experiences which will eventually help with said project. While I am grateful for these opportunities, sometimes they seem endless, and therefore I feel overwhelmed- as if this project is floating up in the clouds somewhere and magical unicorns are just tossing it back and forth with their spiky, luminescent horns (or maybe that's just the acid I'm on...haha...KIDDING folks, seriously. You would know if I were on acid because I would imagine I would probably be writing something like this: sittyyyy doooooahhhhhehe plsdhuf dh. fh.). I digress.

To give you an example: I recently found out about the amount of Fulbright Scholarships that are available for people who want to go teach English in a foreign country. You don't even have to be a REAL teacher, only an "English Language Assistant"! I imagine this involves eating cotton candy all day long and occasionally turning a movie on once in a while while I go check my Facebook (which is pretty much what I'm doing now anyway, minus the cotton candy). Okay, maybe not. But still, it is seriously less involved as you only teach about 20-30 literal (not teaching) hours per week, and live on a stipend given to you as part of the scholarship. So, what did I do today? I spent the entire day writing an essay on why I just HAVE to go to NORWAY to be an English Language Assistant in 2012. I hope these people can't smell bullshit, because I imagine the kind I'm puttin out there smells something like Norwegian Cod. I really just think going to Norway would be cool. I feel there is injustice in the fact that I can't just write that same line over and over again 500 times and be accepted to this wonderful program. At least it'd be original (if only slightly redundant). Harumpfh.

Well, who knows where I'll end up. Cod fishing in Norway, sewing with Peruvians, riding ponies in Iceland?? Or perhaps, even wilder, BACK IN THE U.S.

Only time will tell.

Until the next tale...
Anna <3

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Eleventh Tale: The Pros and Cons of Wandrin'

As many of you know, I am currently in St. Louis, Missouri, my hometown, visiting some of my oldest and dearest friends. Given the situation I'm currently in, one can only imagine the feelings of temptation that arise in regards to "settling". Just like any woman, my
ovaries are probably starting to tick a little, and sometimes the thoughts associated with this phenomenon are more along the lines of comfort over adventure.

However, I DO still have that travel/adventure bug in me, and it just doesn't seem to want to go away, ovary-ticking and all. Given this conflict of, um, head and heart, I decided to compile a pros/cons list for traveling, and one for "settling". :D. I intend to be brutally honest, so watch out.

Traveling: Cons
- the act of traveling itself (sitting on an airplane for hours, etc.)
-trying to figure out directions to places
-getting lost in foreign countries
-not being able to talk to people b/c of language barriers
-living out of a suitcase
-sleeping in crappy beds
-having to budget money all the time
-getting ripped off by locals
-having to start all over again wherever you are
-having to share bathrooms with other people (and decades of crud. I should
mention that this is my absolute least favorite part of traveling)
-meeting attractive foreign men
-missing friends/family

Traveling: Pros
-getting to experience amazing landscapes, historical sites, museums, parks, buildings, etc.
-trying new/awesome types of food (this is a huge one for me)
-making new friends from varied cultural backgrounds
-completely experiencing another culture as natives do
-learning new languages
-being an ambassador for your own culture
-overcoming logistical challenges on your own
-gaining confidence from being able to overcome those challenges
-feeling independent and strong
-getting to try new activities
-meeting attractive foreign men

Settling in St. Louis: Cons
-being bored
-missing out on many of the aforementioned pros
-being surrounded by "things", possibly learning to value those things more than experiences

Settling in St. Louis: Pros
-having my own bed (you can tell this is #1 for me, call me
the Unsinkable Molly Brown)
-being surrounded by good friends/closer to family
-living in a diverse community
-having the opportunity to date someone steadily without worrying about where I will be in 3 months
-feeling a sense of comfort and security that only a home can provide
-investing my money instead of throwing it away

So, interestingly enough, it seems that I value NOT being bored so much that traveling is where I turn to. This is especially true because when I get bored, I also tend to get depressed and anxious, which in my book is no good. So if I were to settle, I would need to have constant projects at a job that kept me challenged. I have to say that I know something about myself: I value having a sense of security more than any traveler should. However, I have found that when I am able to stay in a place for at least a month and not be essentially
living out of my suitcase, I feel much more secure about living wherever I am and tend to enjoy the experience more.

One thing is for certain: the lifestyle I have chosen isn't for everyone, and it certainly isn't for the feint of heart. I have to say, though, that even with the temptation to stay, my heart still wants to see far away places and experience different cultures. I guess it's good to be aware that the possibility of coming back here still exists, but God willing, St. Louis will still be here should I ever choose to take that route. For now, the jury's still out. :)

Thanks for reading, God bless,
Love you all!
Xoxo, Anna

P.s. I wrote this all on my iPhone so I apologize if there are any spelling/syntactical errors. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Tenth Tale: Back in 'da Lou!

Yesterday, I departed Orlando for my 10 day trip back to my hometown of St. Louis. Waiting in the airport, I had the feeling that the flight would not be a comfortable one; children were abundant and screaming, fresh from their wild adventures at Disney World. In fact, one gorgeous looking curly-topped boy in particular spent the entire 1.5 hour wait running from one side of the waiting area to the other, in front of the window and just past the chair I was sitting in, forcing his very lanky looking mother to run after him with arms outstretched. There was a pole with a keypad on it that seemed to hold the same appeal to him as a rocket ship, and he took great pleasure in voicing his discontent every time his mother managed to pry him off the thing.

So, of course it was no surprise to me that I was seated right next to this boy and the mother on the airplane. The surprise that did come was that as soon as the plane ascended, the boy dropped off to sleep and slept almost the entirety of the 2.5 hour flight. However, behind me was a mother who kept scolding her toddling, 2 year old-ish child harshly. At one point I heard, clearly, "you been at gramma's one week a'ready and you acting like such a baby...a spoiled baby", and I thought, well...the child LOOKS about 2 years old. How is he/she supposed to act? The worst out of all of the child scenarios, however, was the one towards the back of the plane that could be audibly heard by everyone. As soon as the plane started to descend, this particular child started crying and screaming, "I want to be off of this plane!! I don't want to be on here anymore!! Get me off of here mama, get me off of here, please!!!!" This was particularly traumatizing, because as we all know, the act of flying itself can be stressful for a lot of people. That, coupled with this child's lamentations, really was cause for one to start hyperventilating.

Lucky for me, we touched down and I felt a feeling of overwhelming peace and was so strong, I almost started to cry. The voices of all the children started to mellow when I realized that I was home, and it had been so long since I had been here. This is a place that I have such a strong emotional connection to. I was born here, grew up here, and had so many life experiences here-not to mention that it is home to a few of my best friends and so many connections. It's impossible not to feel bonded to this place.

Soon after I landed I was met by my father at baggage claim, and we headed to downtown Clayton for dinner. We were originally planning to go to Chez Leon, but were informed by a half toothless concierge that "thur [was] a prahvate pahrta" going on. After that lovely intrigue, I remembered that we were very close to one of my favorite sushi restaurants called "Tani". It is owned by the same people who own "Haruno", my favorite sushi restaurant in Springfield. So, we went there and had the most amazing sushi and personal favorite is the "Eye of the Tiger" roll. I could have thousands of those. In any case, it was nice spending time hanging out with my dad. I don't get to do that very often!

This morning I woke up at my friend Kate's house (after a lovely night of catching up with her) in U. City, and went to my former workplace: the St. Louis JCC (Creve Coeur). I was instantly greeted by some of the amazing people I used to work with, and was able to spend some time talking with them. Then I went out to lunch with my former boss, James, and we had a really wonderful time. I was so glad I got to reconnect with these people.

The odd thing is that this place is just like I remember it. Everything about it is the same as it was yesterday...only I am the one who is different. I feel different in it; foreign, strange. It's like traveling back in time, though so much has happened between now and then.

I have concluded that I am a different person than I was when I lived here. Because of that fact, I don't think I would ever choose to live here again. Right now this just seems like a beautiful dream of nostalgia, an island off the coast of life I've envisioned for myself and continue to circumnavigate. I appreciate it, I love it, and I will always visit it when I can. However, I have moved on. the purpose of my life is still a mystery and so I must go forward and explore. Until then, I am just listening to the cacophonous sound of multivariate birds and the quiet wind slithering through the brilliant blooms on the Dogwood trees at the house in Wildwood, and loving the feeling of peace and serenity that only gorgeous nature can afford us (well, I'm also looking forward to the cacophonous sounds of the people at the bars and restaurants in U. City, Clayton, CWE, Tower Grove...etc. Not gonna lie ;).

Anyway, I hope other people out there are feeling as peaceful as I am right now.

Much love, xoxo,
Anna <3

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Ninth Tale: Love vs. Independence

I was talking the other day to a good friend about something I read that made me think a lot about this whole situation of love vs. independence. I was reading about 'birth numbers', which to me is basically the equivalent of astrology: just as unsubstantial; while entertaining, it should not be taken as dogma. Anyway, I am, according to this system a "37/10". When I read the chapter about myself, it said, "emotional neediness sometimes clashes with a deeply rooted independent streak." Strangely enough, that struck a chord with me.

How true have I known that to be my entire life, thus far. If I am feeling emotionally needy, I am at my worst. If I'm feeling independent, I'm fiercely so...and I feel happiest when I'm in this mode. Given this nature, I often feel conflicted about the thought of sharing my life with somebody. I'll admit, sometimes I really want to have someone to share life experiences with; to confide in; to love and be loved by. Hell, I appreciate the cheesiest chick flicks with the rest of 'em. Yet, right now, the thought of committing myself to someone still feels like being hog-tied. I start asking myself all sorts of logistical questions as soon as I see a possibility of a relationship becoming serious, and then I freak out. Well, what if I want to travel more? Is he going to come with me? If he doesn't, am I going to be sitting by the computer waiting for emails? HELL NO. I don't want to do that!! AHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! See my point?

As for the relationships I've had so far, I can honestly say that I have never really known true love throughout them. The feelings I felt in those relationships, while harsh to say out loud, were more like infatuation. Did I care deeply for the people? Of course-- I felt like a mom. But, who wants to feel like a mom in a romantic relationship? I don't think love is the kind of thing that is bred out of desperation to feel something deeper than you actually do. True, I believe infatuation can grow to love if it's nurtured properly...but I wasn't with the people long enough to get to that point.

Then there's the issue of independence. I LOVE being independent...knowing that I only have to answer to myself. If I make a mistake, it's my mistake. I made it and the consequences affect only me. If I want to go somewhere or do something on a whim, I can, and I don't have to run it by anybody. I don't have to worry about someone else's feelings, or 'entertaining' someone else or being 'on'. I can just be myself, honestly, and make no apologies for that. I can be happy or sad or grumpy and feel whatever I want to feel without it affecting anyone else.

That may sound seemingly like the sick and twisted confessions of a control addict (which I can definitely say I am), but I have found that my experiences in relationships thus far have only had negative effects on my personality. I have felt the emotional gamut, straight up from pure jealousy to sheer insanity. Mostly, though, underneath those feelings, I have felt smothered and resentful (even though, believe me, I was a willing participant in every aspect of these relationships).

I don't pretend that these issues weren't brought about in part by the other party in the particular relationship-I certainly didn't feel that way just out of the blue. So, maybe part of the reason I haven't been able to love is because I haven't been with the 'right' person (someone who brings out more positive qualities in me, and doesn't make me feel bad every time I open my mouth). Then there's also a deeper issue; maybe another reason I haven't ever truly loved anyone before was because I was impulsive about getting involved right away, then it just seemed like the correct evolution of a relationship. It was immature. Sort of like getting drunk for the first time- you don't really want to, but it's intriguing-and everyone else seems to be doing it. Before you know it, you're stuck with your head in a toilet, vomiting your guts out. So, I was going through the motions. I may sound crazy on this one...but I think a lot of people get into relationships this way: unconsciously.

Unfortunately, even after having confessed all of this, I'm not feeling any more resolute about the situation. Just slightly more honest, lol...and maybe a bit sheepish about past behavior. Oh well. I guess the only thing that I can do moving forward is to keep living my life, goals in mind, brain in head, with my eyes and heart open. Sounds easy, doesn't it? ;) Guess I'll have to give updates later and let you all know how that worked out for me.

Anyway, those are the thoughts for today. Hope everyone is well. :)

<3, Me

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Eight Tale: Chain, Chain, Chain...

Hey all,

So I'm going to take a break from the outrage I've been expressing concerning the U.S. Government and what's going on right now politically (yes, you can all breathe a sigh of relief for a moment) to express something that's on my mind this morning: how our actions affect other people.

I woke up too early and can't get back to sleep (It's 5:23 as of now, I am supposed to get up at 6, woke up at 5...don't you hate that when that happens? I so do). You know what happens when you can't go back to sleep...your mind starts to wander. My mind this morning was wandering about how the actions of others can affect so many people.

On the negative side, I was thinking about some of my mom's family members on her mom's side (there is about a 0.0000001% chance of any of them reading this, so not to worry). Not her immediate family, mind you, but some select ones further down the line. These particular people have estranged not just my mom over the years, but her entire family (including me). On an everyday basis, I don't really think about them, but occasionally I do and I start to get upset about it. You see, my mom was born Jewish into a pretty wealthy family. When she married my dad, she not only married someone who wasn't very wealthy, but he was older, a foreigner, and raised in a Catholic family (basically, she hit the trifecta ;). When my mom married my dad, she essentially converted to Christianity, but it was of her own accord. Still, the mystery remains as to why these people just won't accept any of us. Is it because of one of these many things? Are we not wealthy enough? Are they pissed about my mom's conversion? Or are we just too plain 'weird' for their taste?

The strange thing is that I HAVE NO CLUE; none of us do. These particular feelings have never been expressed on their side, and whenever we encounter these people, they act like everything's fine and normal, are pretty darn friendly even. Yet, over the years we have been excluded from certain family events. At one point, my mom saw one of these family members and that person expressed interest in getting together with my family...however, no matter how much my mom tried, they never could get a date set. Some of these family members who are closer to my age are nice to me when I see them...over the years, I have tried to communicate with them, even go so far as to see if they would like to get together...but every time I try, it's worthless.

It just goes to show that our actions, no matter how small, DO affect others. We might think that they don't matter, but even now, at almost 27 years old, I feel hurt because of their actions (or, non-action). So...the question for me is, should I express my feelings at some point and give them a chance to tell me why they behave this way, or do we just let these kinds of things go?

It makes me reflect on my own actions, and I'll just take the opportunity in this blog to express regret to anyone I have caused pain: if there's anyone who has been hurt by me, I'm very, very sorry.

Anyway...I intend to use the lesson that they have taught me, and devote some more time spreading love to others instead of ignoring them. It's always a good wake-up call.

Much, much love...xoxo,

<3 Me

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Seventh Tale: The State of The Union (wait, what Union?)

I have decided that I need to stop reading/watching the news so often. It's hard to ignore so many big things going on right now. The thing that's on my mind most recently is the direction of our government and how much politics sicken me.

Believe me, I'm as Rousseau-ian as they come. I definitely believe in a social contract-we give up some rights in order to have protection from the government. However, it makes me so mad that intelligent people, such as the economist James K. Galbraith, are being completely ignored when they say that "spending" is good for the government. The issue of "spending" has become such a talking point for the Republican Party. For those of you who criticized Obama's "Campaign for Change" movement, it's time to look at the tactics of this party and see them for what they are: talking points for the next election. What caused the Great Depression of 1929? The fact that people panicked, and they stopped "SPENDING". Because the government is not going to INVEST (not "spend", which has become the umbrella term for all things good and evil) in new and existing programs that create jobs for people to have and products for people to buy, there will be less liquidity in the system. So, people have less jobs, less money, and they individually spend less. How is this good for our sytem? Please, someone tell me.

I'm not saying we can't revise our budget. Of course we should, and look at programs that are completely ineffective. I really this is no easy or small feat, because almost all programs will be effective for somebody. I'm just saying, let's look at that, and let's also look at the things right in front of our faces-- like giving tax cuts to the wealthy. According to the Center for American Progress, "the Federal Treasury loses twice as much revenue due to tax breaks than Congress appropriates on all nonsecurity discretionary spending". Also, why are so many of the programs being cut those which benefit poor and older Americans? This is a good article which graphically shows some of the cuts being made in all areas: If that's not enough for you, check out FOX News' own story about budget cuts, which says "Republicans are already pushing extreme measures like privatizing or making deep cuts in Social Security...At the same time that Republicans are threatening to undermine Social Security, they are defending $20 billion in government giveaways to oil companies that are raking in record profits, arguing that these handouts should be off the table when it comes to spending cuts." Read more:

I believe in a more collectivistic society, and am saddened by the fact that in the U.S. we have become so increasingly individualistic. I remember when I was canvassing for Obama, and this guy came out of his (million dollar) house and said "I'm not gonna give my money to a welfare woman on dope." I mean, SERIOUSLY?!! Have we reached this level of ignorance and selfishness that we have lost all compassion for those needing help? I got news for ya: there are ALWAYS going to be people who take advantage of social programs, but they are a small percentage. Also, how can we blame those who have not had the education and/OR opportunities afforded to them that we have had? Of course, we all have responsibility to be active members of society and we can all rise above our circumstances- I am not advocating for laziness, and get just as pissed about those who take advantage of the system as the rest of them. However, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even my own mom at one point in my very young childhood needed the support of food stamps. My mom is one of the most intelligent people in the world in my view, and had lots of financial opportunities that others did not during her own childhood. All I'm saying is, anyone can find him or herself in the same situation. Say Mr. "No welfare woman on dope" man might at one point find that his business isn't able to be supported anymore, and then he isn't able to make his house payments (certainly I am not wishing this on this guy, just using it as an example). Where is he going to get a new job when people won't hire applicants above 45 in his highly specialized field? Where will he go when his kids need to be fed? We all need help sometimes, and we all need social programs to get people back on their feet. We can't do it without financial support, and that's a fact.

I sometimes feel so helpless in the face of what's happening politically here. More and more I see our society becoming like that of "A Brave New World" a la Aldous Huxley- being bred into caste systems from birth, retarded in utero. Only now we can't even do what we were bred for. No wonder I have thought many times that I don't want to live here, in a place where we don't care enough about our people to find a health care system that works for everybody. Then I know that there's no perfect system, and that there's no place in the world that won't be affected by U.S. action. Everyone follows the U.S. lead and is affected by us economically. Pretty soon, even health care systems in Europe may not be able to (financially) be supported, and they may find themselves in the same predicament. It is just sad when it's too much to ask to have a clean, decent place to live for a reasonable price, basic and preventative medical care, healthy food on the table, opportunities for education and a job in order to be able to contribute to society.

I am grateful and so blessed to have what I have. I just want others who want the same thing to have the same opportunity that I have. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe there are a lot of other people out there who have these hopes and dreams. I also want the same for my future kids, if I decide to have them.

My contribution to the world will be to help people educate one another about where they come from, especially those with preconceived notions about other cultures and their understanding of the rest of the world. I want people to see that it is OKAY to listen to other people's viewpoints, that they don't have to be afraid of their own opinions being changed unless they want to change them. I want people to see that, underneath everything, we are all just people trying to live together in this crazy, mixed-up world. That is my dream. Call me an "idealist", "socialist", sticks and stones.

That's all I have to rant about for now...chew on that. :)

Much love,