Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Homesickness – a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

Wanderlust – the wish to travel far away and to many different places.

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Growing up in small-town, Warren, Ohio, one of my favorite things about summer was church camp.  Every year that I was of age to attend, my parents put my suitcase in the car and off we went to Seneca Hills Bible Camp located somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was only about an hour or so from Warren, but it seemed far away.  They would drop me off, help me find my cabin and I was ready to say goodbye.  There were never any teary eyes that didn’t want to stay, those showed up at the end of the week when I didn’t want to leave to go back home.  Not because I didn’t love my family, friends or home, but because I just loved going places and experiencing things.  I can still remember the way the woods smelled first thing in the morning, damp with dew and a chill in the mountain air.

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Aunt Jackie and Dee in Florida

When I was older and could drive, I had an aunt, Jackie, who would call me out of the blue on say a Wednesday evening and ask if I could drive her to Florida on Friday. If I was available or could make myself available, I almost always said, “yes”.  What adventures we had.  She was a bit eccentric in choosing our accommodations, a certain city, a certain floor, things had to be just so, but what fun.  When we arrived at our destination, it was usually 2 days on the road, I might stay a day or two or a week or sometimes she put me right back on a plane home.  I loved these journeys as they were always an adventure.  Even the time she wanted me to drive her to Texas.  We stopped and enjoyed Nashville on our way there.  We arrived late in the evening in Pilot Point, Texas, our destination.  We visited a bit with our relatives we were staying with and then went to bed.  When I woke up in the morning, Aunt Jackie told me she changed her mind and wanted to go back to Warren.  So, we got in the car a few hours later and headed back to Warren, Ohio.  No, I wasn’t upset, it was Jackie and just part of the journey.  My dad used to say, “always expect the unexpected”.  Maybe those crazy trips with Aunt Jackie helped mould me into my current solo travelling self.  I have learned to not let disrupted travel plans upset me and I can usually quickly adjust to just about anything thrown my way.

Once when I was living in Paris, I decided to take a trip to the countryside by train.  I got off at the wrong stop.  I decided to walk to the village, after all, it was only a 3 km walk…WRONG…it was 8 km (I didn’t put on my glasses and the 8 looked like a 3).  Oh well, it was flippin’ hot, I didn’t have any water, but I got to see some beautiful French countryside and got a little exercise.  When I arrived in the village and found a bistro, I remember thinking it was the best glass of wine and meal I had ever tasted.  Not really, but, if you can make the best out of a bad situation, you will be much happier and if you don’t, nobody is miserable but you.

I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years travelling.  Not just travelling, but also living abroad mostly on the other side of the world, 10,000 km (6700 miles) from home.  In the beginning, I would return to Warren, Ohio for a couple weeks every 6 months, then it turned into a year, and most recently, a year and half….I have just left Warren, after being home for the longest period in over 5 years.  I spent 2.5 months in my hometown.  It was great seeing family, friends and making new friends. As you are going through a whirlwind of activities, meeting for coffee, doing lunch or dinner, going to events, visiting people’s homes or just out shopping, the one thing you always hear is, “I missed you”!  The natural response without even thinking is, “I missed you too”. Then, it’s on to the questions, “how was Bali?”, “do you miss, China?”, “how do you like your place?”, “are you glad to be back?”, etc.  You get the idea.  Being it was also around the holidays and the opening of my brother and sister-in-law’s theatre, the Robins, it was a constant flow of events.  It was a never-ending cycle of crazy, mad chaotic, fun. But truth be known, as February was drawing near, I was ready to leave.  Ready to get on with my nomadic lifestyle.

 

February 2, 2020 rolls around.  After what was at least a weeklong send-off, I boarded a plane and am now in Warsaw Poland.  I plan to be here, there, everywhere, probably Bali too, for at least the next year and a half, maybe longer.  Two nights ago, I had a video chat with a group of girlfriends playing trivia at the bar of Jacked Restaurant in Warren.  The place was packed and hard to hear at times, but the phone got passed around and all the I love you; I miss you’s were said. Near the end of the video chat, someone asked, “don’t you miss us and wish you were here”?  Well, a couple of seconds passed, I didn’t answer, and my friend Teri said, “look at that face, that tells it all”.  All I could do was shrug my shoulders and give a half of a smile.  I chatted with a few more people and we ended the call.

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For the last two days I have been thinking about that question and my response, or should I say, non-response.  Was it snobbish?  Does it seem like I don’t like life in Warren/America and the rest of the world is much better?  No…I know my friends know me better than that. They know I love to travel and it is what I want to do currently.  I am living my dream. But, am I being honest when I say, “I miss you too”? Now I want the chance to explain my non-response.

The first time I left for an extended period, I went to Paris, France for nearly 7 months.  Honestly, I didn’t miss anything while I was there.  It was a dream come true.  I didn’t miss any foods from home, I didn’t miss my stuff, I didn’t miss my family or friends.  I do think social media had a lot to do with it on my first extended trip.  Facebook whore that I am, my life was and is pretty much an open book.  The other thing, my family and friends knew this was what I needed at exactly this time in my life.  They also knew I had an end date, a date when I would return for what everyone thought was long term.  I arrived back in Warren, Ohio and discovered more than anything I missed the adventure of living abroad.  I seriously missed being gone and soon made plans to move to China.  Again, this had an end date.  My visa was only good for 6 months and I had to leave China whether I wanted to or not.  I returned to the USA and immediately got another visa.  This time good for 10 years and I returned to China without a return ticket.  Although I would return for a brief visit after 1 year. During that first 6 months and the 3.5 years that followed, I thought I missed things, especially cheese.  I quickly learned that I could live without these things.  The things I was seeing, doing, eating, experiencing far outweighed what I thought I was missing.  I also realized that some of my feelings were really FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  Missing out on family and friend’s life events.  Missing that wedding, that “special” birthday, that funeral, that birth…but the more I thought about those things the more I knew that my family and friends understood that I could still love them without being geographically near.  They know I share in their joys and sorrows. They know I am a text, a Facebook post, an Instagram picture or a video chat away.

I don’t think I have ever felt homesick.  The closest I may have been to homesick was when I broke my back.  But even then, that was probably better described as feeling helpless not homesick as I had to have a caregiver assist me with everyday simple tasks.  Yes, I have a bad case of wanderlust.  I have met so many beautiful people along my journey, I must honestly say, I will miss many of them.  That is because I know I will never see them again and they have taken a piece of my heart.  So, friends and family, when I say, “I miss you, too”, I am being honest, but I miss you in a different way than I miss those I will never see again.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but not always in our home environment.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but my wish is that I could see you and share with you the geographical and cultural situation I happen to be in at the time.  I know this isn’t possible for everyone and I hope you understand when maybe I don’t answer that question, “don’t you wish you were here”.  Maybe that’s why I always say my theme song is “I Wish You Were Here”.  Because I really do wish you were here. Thank you all for being a part of my journey, I love you.

I’m going to end with a quote from Hannah Arendt.  “Loving life is easy when you are abroad.  Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than any other time.”

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Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

After leaving China and before I returned to Warren, Ohio for the holidays and most importantly the Grand Re-Opening of the Robins Theatre, I knew I wanted to first travel to Vietnam and then on to Bali, Indonesia.  Having been to Bali twice previously, I wanted to spend an extended period on this trip.  But what would I do for nearly 4 months?  Yes, I had friends coming to visit me!  Yes, there is a lot to see.  Yes, I wanted to take a side trip to Singapore.  Yes, I had my Kenari House family, but I felt like I wanted to “do something” while I was there.

Okay, so what kind of “something” can I do?  GTS…. Google That Shit!  But first, I knew I better check immigration laws.  A work visa was out of the question, but a social visa was a possibility and an extended stay visa even more doable.  After more research on the social visa, being that I was living in BFE China, I would need to travel to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and most likely need to spend 5 to 7 days.  As an American citizen living abroad, the task was a bit more difficult than applying in my home country. I would have to find a sponsor in Bali, they would have to write a letter and then I had all the hoops to jump through.  Since I didn’t have “something” to do yet, finding a sponsor was, well, not likely.  A little more GTS and I learned how to go about an extended stay visa.  As a US citizen, I had 30 days visa-free without a fee.  I found out that upon arrival if I paid $35 for a visa on arrival, I could extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office in Denpasar. The free visa cannot be extended.  This would mean I had to make 3 trips to the immigration office and more hoops, but, if I used a visa agency in Ubud, for a fee, of course, they would jump all the hoops and my visa would be extended for another 30 days.  Since I also wanted to go to Singapore for a weekend, I just had to go before my 60 days were up. Then because I had left the country, when I returned to Bali, I could go through the whole cycle again and easy peasy, I had my 120 days in Bali.  Just for the record and if anyone is interested for future travel to Bali, it is 120 days, not 4 months.  They count days, so if a month has 31 and you leave Bali on that 31st  or 61st day, you will be fined 1,000,000 rupiahs for overstaying your visa.  It is 1,000,000 rupiahs fine for each day you overstay.  Yes, they check because I know people who had to pay the fine.  They don’t take immigration lightly in Indonesia.

Now I knew how I could stay for 120 days, but I still didn’t have “something” to do, it was back to GTS.  Since I had spent the past 4 years teaching English, I started with teaching opportunities.  Of course, without a work visa, I would have to volunteer my time.  That is how I found Yayasan Widya Guna in Bedulu, Bali.  It was a mere 15 minutes down the road, by car or scooter, from Kenari House.

Yayasan Widya Guna is an Indonesian non-profit organization whose focus is their children’s learning center.  It serves Balinese children who come from unfortunate situations.  They have taken in orphans and provided them with food, shelter and an education.  They support children with all ranges of physical and/or mental disabilities, including but not limited to; downs, autism and cerebral palsy. They also offer English lessons to the village children after their regular school day is over, free of charge.  Their mission is to: Educate the underprivileged Balinese children to be independent and bring them a better future with their own knowledge, culture and skills.  I decided I had found my “something”.   I contacted the Yayasan and they welcomed me to volunteer and sent me all the information to get started.  I decided I would give them 6 weeks of my stay in Bali.  This left me plenty of time to entertain my guests, visit Singapore and just enjoy Bali.

I spent the end of July and all of August at Kenari House.  It was during August that my guests from the USA came to join me at Kenari House and discover Bali.  On Sunday, September 1, 2019, I left Kenari House and moved to Ketut Sadia Homestay which is a 2-minute walk from the Yayasan.  Ketut Sadia is the founder of the school.  He encourages volunteers to use his homestay.  Just like at Kenari House, I paid for a room in the homestay.  By using the homestay of the school, the monies you pay for accommodation directly support the school.  Also, in exchange for your volunteer time, the homestay provides 3 meals a day at no additional cost.

I was the only volunteer at the homestay when I arrived.  This is because many of the volunteers leave the area and explore Bali and the surrounding islands on the weekends.  Our volunteer hours were Monday – Thursday and from 10 am until noon and from 1 to 3 pm, unless you were teaching English to the Village kids then you worked from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.  I spent 1 week of my 6 teaching the English class.  Finishing at 3 or 4 on a Thursday makes for a nice long weekend.  Being it was my 3rd time in Bali and I would have 6 weeks free after my volunteering time, I often chose to stay in Bedulu and enjoy the solitude of the weekends.  By Sunday evening, most of the volunteers had returned from their adventures.  We had “kids” from the Netherlands, Germany, China and Australia when I arrived.  I say “kids” because they were all mostly between 21 and 25 years old.  There is a constant turnover of volunteers at the Yayasan.  Some come for 1 week, some 2, others 3 to 6 months.  I met a lot of great people during my 6 weeks and became good friends with several of those “kids”.  I also learned as we sat around and chatted that first evening that many of the volunteers were students and this was fulfilling an internship requirement, many of them in Physiotherapy.  They also filled me in on the ins and outs of a typical day and a bit about some of the students.

I’m not sure if it was because of my age or I just got lucky, but the rooms at the homestay were all doubles or triples.  I had my room to myself for the entire 6 weeks.  In the mornings, I was usually the first one up…ha…imagine that…me who loves to sleep.  Well, it wasn’t exactly the wee hours of the morning.  Breakfast was served at 9 and we didn’t have to be at the Yayasan until 10.  So, I was usually on my porch around 8:30 so I could sip my coffee and get ready for the day.

Day 1…. I walk to the Yayasan with the other volunteers at about 9:55. It really is no more than a 5-minute walk.  The kiddos (students) immediately noticed a new face…me!  I was bombarded with hugs and “what’s your name”? By now it was time to get started with our day.  Every day begins with 30 minutes of meditation.  WOW!  I can’t tell you how great this was.  I honestly think it made a difference in not only the kids but the volunteers as well.

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Morning Meditation

After meditation, its time to head to the classroom.  I was assigned to what I later found out they called “the zoo”.  It was the largest and most active class.  Each class has a local Balinese teacher and then us volunteers.  The number of volunteers changes from week to week.  All I can say is by 12:00, I was exhausted.  Not only day 1, but every day after also.  From 10:30 until noon Monday-Thursday is spent in the classroom with a 15-minute snack break about 11:15. While the classroom sessions are going on, some of the children are also receiving physical therapy.

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The “zoo” with a few missing

Many of the children receive therapy every day.  Along with the volunteers who are doing their internship, the Yayasan also has Balinese therapists on staff. We also had 2 deaf children that were learning sign language.

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Monday Lung – Nasi Goreng

 

After the morning session, we headed to the homestay for lunch and a much-needed rest.  As a side-note, the other “younger” volunteers got worn-out too. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging working with these children.  But more than anything, it was very rewarding. The morning sessions rarely changed, but afternoons were different every day.  Monday afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts.  Often making things to sell in the small gift shop.

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Music Class

 

Tuesday afternoons were music.  A Balinese volunteer brings a keyboard and some rhythm instruments, and the afternoon is spent singing, dancing and having fun.  I think it is the kid’s favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are yoga.  Again, a volunteer comes to the Yayasan, the kids get the yoga mats and practice yoga.  After 1 hour of yoga, the last hour is spent dancing.  The volunteers don’t work on Fridays, but Fridays are when the local teachers help them learn traditional Balinese dances.

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Yoga

 

They also have several older students at the Yayasan.  They prepare the morning snacks; they assist with preparing lunch and spend time working in the garden.  The Yayasan has a large garden a few minutes’ walk from the property.  Here they grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the preparation of the meals.  There are also many fruit trees; papaya, banana, mango, guava and avocado on the property.  Everything grown is used at the school or at the homestay.  After I left, I found out they were going to open a café so the students could learn not only to prepare food but wait on customers and take money.  They want to teach the students to be as self-sufficient as possible. The older students are also responsible for the daily offerings that are an important part of Balinese culture.  One of the older boys also taught me how to make incense sticks which they sell in their gift shop.

You will often see parents hanging out at the Yayasan.  They assist with clean-up and general maintenance of the property along with any other needed tasks.  I really felt like part of a big extended family during my volunteer time.  It was hard not to get attached to some of the kids, parents and staff, and I must admit, I had a couple favorites.  It was a wonderful, rewarding experience and I’m glad I found my “something to do” for 6 weeks of my time in Bali.

I’m going to end with two sayings that were painted on the outside of two of the buildings:

We are all from the same seed, growing to the same sun.  Together our love will color the world.

Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.

Why I Came Home

Why I Came Home

I am sitting in my temporary home in Ursus district of Warsaw Poland, having just spent 2.5 months back home in Warren, Ohio after leaving Bali, Indonesia in mid-November.  Why?  Simple…my brother, Mark and my sister-in-law, Lori.  Did I come home to see them for the holidays?  Not really, as I hadn’t spent the holidays in the USA in 7 years.  I came because they had turned a dream into a reality.  The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…..closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening January 9, 2020.  It was re-opening because Mark, Lori and a crew of dedicated workers spent 2 years restoring it to its original glory.  Although he had developed other areas of our downtown, the Robins Theatre was the crown jewel of his vision.  Mark and I had always been close growing up.  He will always be my best friend.  Lori and I worked together for years at the local YMCA and that’s how she met Mark.  There was no way I was going to miss sharing this evening with them.

How do you begin to describe the most amazing evening of your life? I keep an album of quotes. One I look at frequently is “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!” I’ve had some pretty amazing moments/days/nights. I have sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight with who I thought was the love of my life, my bff and her hubby.  I have overnighted on Mount Everest Base Camp where I witnessed the most glorious sunset. I’ve dined at the Captain’s Table on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.  I’ve walked the same path the Dalai Lama walked in the Potala Palace in Tibet. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the DMZ between North and South Korea.  I’ve stood at the Gate to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang, Bali and have seen the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin in Xi’an, China.  In 2002, I watched the funeral procession of the Queen Mum in London.  I’ve ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert, had an “elephant massage” in Thailand, visited Angkor Wat and exhumed, cleaned and prepared a body for cremation.  The list could go on, but right now nothing can top January 9, 2020.

Mark is a structural engineer by trade.  A little over 2 years ago he purchased the Robins Theatre in our hometown, Warren, Ohio.  Prior to that, he had developed several other properties in the downtown area, including 10 condos and some restaurants.  But the Robins Theatre would be the star, the House That Mark (and Lori) Built.  Living in China for those 2 years, I was always excited when he sent me updates, photos and news articles about the Robins.  It seemed all of Trumbull County was getting excited.  I was too.  It was also bittersweet, as the 2 people, our mom and dad, who would be most proud, where no longer with us.

I arrived on November 15, 2019, and my life was a whirlwind of activity.  With a 13-hour time difference from Bali to Ohio, I only slept about 2 hours that first night/morning.  I know Mark is an early riser and would be at the theatre as time was getting close to the “soft opening”

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Sure enough, I found him in coveralls and a bandana at 6:30 am working on last-minute details for the December 7th trial run.  I was “blown away” is an understatement.  From a paint peeling, broken down, dilapidated building, to the hidden gem it was…..it was breathtaking!.  The “soft opening” took place with a few minor glitches, but it had NE Ohio buzzing about January 9, 2020.  The theatre also held 2 Christmas Eve Services which were attended by nearly 2000 people.  The city couldn’t wait for the Grand Re-Opening.

The big night is getting close, the grand piano has been delivered and is centre stage.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark sits at the piano and begins to play.  A talent no one knew he had.  He had studied with a woman who had trained students for the Metropolitan Opera, Audrey Benedict.  I wouldn’t write this here except a video of Mark playing got out to the news.  He studied under her for 11 years.  At the age of 12, she enrolled him in a 4-year course from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago.  Between the ages of 10 and 16, he won four local, three district, three state and 2 national piano titles.  He also won a Beethoven, Bach and Sonatina national piano guild title in each category.  But the stage January 9th was not about him.

January 9, 2020, finally arrives with headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and 3 local musicians with National Fame, Dana Morgan, Cheryl Warfield and Dennis Drummond.  But they would have to wait…wait until the true stars were introduced.  First, I need to backtrack.  The night was like the Oscars.  The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles.  The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players.  It was a black-tie night and I was in my gown.  I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most.  At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me.  He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry.  This is the night he has been waiting for.  He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”.  The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.

The theatre is buzzing, people are oohing and ahhing and I know my brother is behind the curtain.  He told me as he stood back there, the pride he felt was unparalleled in his time on this earth.  He walked out to a standing ovation.

The theatre was at capacity (1350) and they all stood for him, but as he soon told them, not for him but for every single person who had a hand in the restoration.  He then, one by one introduced his tuxedo-clad crew.  They walked head held high and proud across the stage as he introduced each one and told what their part in the restoration was.  Then, he asked if everyone liked the chandelier and all the bling in the theatre.  Hands clapped and patrons yelled yes as he introduced the person responsible, the “person near and dear to his heart”, his wife, Lori.  It truly was a night to remember and the best night of my life, so far!

 

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Goodbye, 2019! Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

Goodbye, 2019!  Hello, 2020! My Year in Review!

It’s twelve o’clock noon, December 31, 2019. I don’t make resolutions for the new year. I try every day to live my best life. I do, however, like to take time to reflect on the past year and how blessed I have been, to focus on the beautiful people who have crossed my path, the adventures I have had, the places I have visited and really be thankful for all of these things.

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Surin Beach, Phuket, Thailand ~ VW Bar

2019 was a great year for me! In January, I travelled to Surin Beach, Phuket Thailand. I was fortunate to find a wonderful family to stay with at Muchshima House. They welcomed me to their homestay and in the short time, I was there, became part of the family. They drove me to the beach in the morning, taught me to make traditional Thai dishes, my favorite being green Thai curry. They took me to the local night market to sample more traditional foods. It was the perfect start to 2019 and to leave my broken back of 2018 behind me.

February I celebrated my last Chinese New Year in the country I had called home for 4 years. Celebrating CNY in China is an experience I won’t soon forget. I loved the 4 years I lived in China. I am fortunate to have travelled more of the country than most people who live there. Although, I never really mastered the language. A language based on tones I couldn’t hear. I learned to speak the basics, numbers, directions and food but found learning to read the 汉字 (han zi) or Chinese characters a bit easier. I knew this would be my last Chinese New Year in the Middle Kingdom as I had begun the process of obtaining a work visa for Poland. Yes, I am going back to Europe to live for a while. I had always planned to stay somewhere in SE Asia, most likely Vietnam, when I left China, but Poland just fell into my lap and I decided why not?!

Not many people who say they will come visit you in a foreign land actually do. Well, in March and for the second time, my friend Debbie, who in 2017 came to meet me and we travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, came to see me in China. We hung out in Beijing and where believe it or not practically had the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China all to ourselves. After a couple of days in Beijing, we flew to Seoul, South Korea for a whirlwind tour including the DMZ. Back in China, we headed to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors before returning to Dong’e, the town in which I was living.

April was a quiet month and life in Dong’e consisted of tutoring my kids in English, eating noodles, aka Lanzhou LaMian and getting my $5 per hour massages. I needed some downtime because after a broken back caused me to cancel a trip to Paris in September of 2018, May was the month I would meet my cousins and my friend Teri in Paris. We did most of the typical Paris tourist stuff since it was Bob and Sally’s first time, but then we took a couple days for some mad fun in Amsterdam, a first for the cousins and also Teri. Then it was back to Paris for a few more days. This trip also let me add country number 37 to my list as I scheduled my flight for a long layover in Qatar so I could take some time in the capital city of Doha. My second time in the Middle East and for the second time I arrived during Ramadan. It was still a most amazing experience as a friend from the states had a friend who’s daughter was living in Doha, so she was my tour guide.

June…time to wrap up life in China. It was a bittersweet month filled with dinner invites and farewell parties. I had spent two and a half years living in Dong’e whereas I only spent 6 months in the other cities I had lived in. My China life had been good to me, but it was time to move on. You don’t realize how much you accumulate in that amount of time. Decisions, decisions, decisions…what to keep, what to leave behind. My plan was to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam on my way to 4 months in Bali. I can only travel with what I can carry so that meant I shipped 6 boxes of “stuff” including all my “winter” clothes back to the USA and 1 box of school supplies, books, etc. to Bali. Microwave, toaster oven, air fryer, more clothes and shoes, all had to stay behind in China. Luckily for me, when Chinese people get together for a meal/party, it is always a feast, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure I got to eat all my favorite foods before I left. Saying goodbye to my students and their families was difficult and lots of tears were shed. They had become my family. After all the goodbyes had been said and the tears wiped dry, it was time to move full steam ahead to Vietnam.

I started off in Saigon, which it is still called by the locals, although its official name is Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed in the guesthouse I have stayed several times. It is right around the corner from my favorite pho shop. Yes, I ate pho, every.single.day! It is my crack. Then, I wanted to travel to HoiAn. I’m not sure why I thought taking a 24 hour bus would be fun, but I bought my tickets and off I went. The bus had sleeper seats, but being old, chubby and having had a broken back it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. Not to mention the only restroom breaks were whenever the bus decided to stop. No matter, I arrived in HoiAn around 6 am. I messaged my host at my homestay who met me at the bus stop. Since my room wouldn’t be available until around noon, he took me to his sister’s home so I could shower and rest until my room was ready. I loved HoiAn and decided to cancel my return bus ticket, stay a few more days and then fly back to Saigon. I planned to visit a friend I had met in 2016 but she had moved to Singapore. My time in Vietnam was winding down…next stop Bali, Indonesia.

There is nothing like stepping off the plane in Denpasar, Bali. I’ve always described it as a feast for the senses. My driver met me at the airport and off we went to Kenari House and my Balinese Family. Remember my friend Debbie who came to visit me in China in March? Well, she and her husband and another couple travelled to Bali in mid-August to spend 10 days with me at Kenari House. It was an amazing time.

Come September, it was time for me to move to another homestay as I was going to spend 6 weeks volunteering at a school for special needs children. I worked with so many amazing people and met the beautiful children and their families at Yayasan Widya Guna School in Bedulu, Bali, an experience that touched my heart and soul.

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Yayasan Widya Guna School for Special Needs

I also took a long weekend mid-September and flew to Singapore I was happy I was able to visit my friend from Vietnam. After 6 weeks at the school, I returned to my Balinese family at Kenari House. Bali has stolen my soul and my Kenari House family is my family. I will return as soon as I can. Loving my Bali life, I still hadn’t purchased a ticket back to the USA. Finally, at the beginning of November, I made a plan…..

After 53 hours, missed flights, Visa problems, cancelled flights and long layovers, my Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia home 9964.3 miles behind me, I arrived home in Warren, Ohio, USA. For the first time in 7 years, I would be returning to my hometown for the holidays and more importantly for the Grand Re-Opening of my brother’s historical theatre. I have gotten comfortable spending Christmas abroad including 4 years in a communist country, predominantly Buddhist and therefore does not celebrate Christmas….China. My first Christmas abroad, I spent in Paris, France. The next year I was also in Paris, but on Christmas Eve I decided to catch a train and spend it in Amsterdam. My Christmas’ in China brought me some of my most memorable experiences, but there is something about coming home and spending time with family and friends. Not that I didn’t have friends abroad, but those are friends for a season and most I will probably never see again. When you come back to your roots, the ties that bind are tight. The most beautiful thing is being able to pick up right where you left off as if not a day has passed.

So what’s it really like coming home for the holidays? It’s complicated, it’s hard, it’s chaotic and it’s wonderful!

Goodbye, 2019, you have been good to me! Hello, 2020! I can’t wait to experience whatever you have in store for me! From a flag, I saw in Bali and my mantra for 2020, “Free your spirit and dance with life!”

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My Bali Life

My Bali Life

Bali…Island of the Gods…Island of a Thousand Temples…The Last Paradise…whatever name you choose to call it, Bali is a feast for the senses. Stepping off a plane in Denpasar, day or night, the first thing you notice is the warm, humid air almost immediately turning to moisture on your skin. Yes, it is the same in all tropical destinations but in Bali, it is just the beginning. Since I am talking about “feeling” Bali on your skin, I do highly recommend Balinese massage. Balinese massage is a full body holistic treatment. It uses a combination of gentle stretches, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy to stimulate the flow of blood, oxygen and “qi” or energy to bring a sense of well-being, calm and relaxation. It is also a bargain at anywhere between 70,000 and 120,000 rupiahs or $5 to $10 per hour.

After clearing customs and grabbing your luggage, you are met by your local driver. Wow, men in skirts… correctly called a kamen and on their heads an udeng (symbolizing a clear mind). You soon notice men and women all around you in colorful, traditional Balinese dress. Along with a kamen, women will be wearing a kebaya (lace jacket) and an anteng or sash around the waist. So, off you go with your driver and the next thing you notice is the sight and sound of motorbikes aka scooters everywhere. With close to 3 million registered scooters on an island 90 miles long and 50 miles wide (2176 sq. mi) they are hard to miss. If you plan on renting a scooter while in Bali, be sure to get your international driver’s license before arrival, it’s mandatory along with wearing a helmet. Fines can be steep and it’s not unusual for foreigners to be pulled over for seemingly no reason.

So, you have left the busy, capital city of Denpasar and arrive at your destination, most likely Ubud or a beach town such as Canggu, Kuta or Seminyak. Although 88% of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is 85% Hindu and you will see symbols of the religion and culture everywhere you look. You will probably notice statues wearing a black and white checked cloth called a saput poleng which symbolizes the coexistence of opposites and the ultimate goal of harmony. The Balinese people believe that joy will always be balanced by sorrow, that good and evil exists in the world and everyone. They embrace the differences because they create balance and harmony.

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You will see many split gates or Candi Bentar which are an important feature in Balinese temple architecture. They mark the entrances of the temples or puras in Balinese, drawing a line between holy grounds and the outside world. Legend tells us that Lord Shiva split the mythical Indonesian Mt. Meru (home of the gods) into 2 halves which became Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur, Bali’s 2 primary volcanoes. It is believed that the candi bentar represents the 2 halves of mythical Mt. Meru. Sadly, in my humble opinion, because of Instagram, the most famous candi bentar is at one of Bali’s oldest and most sacred temples ~ Pura Lempuyang and is nicknamed “Gate to Heaven”. If you have any interest in Bali, I’m sure you have seen photos of the now-famous Gate to Heaven that frames the peak of Gunung Agung. I say sadly, because when I first visited Pura Lempuyang almost 2 years ago, I was one of maybe 6 people at the temple. This year, August and October 2019, there was a 2 hour and an over 3-hour wait respectively to take a photo between the now Instagram famous “Gate”. Many are also surprised/disappointed to discover there is no lake or water at the gates but merely a camera trick of placing a mirror beneath the camera lens so that the picture appears to be reflected on non-existent water. Not only that, but you must hand your phone over to a “local” photographer with a donation so he will snap your photo and you get 3 poses. I personally find the Gate to Heaven stunning without the Instagram sham of water. I also feel that most people are there to get that all-important Instagram shot and forget or maybe don’t even know that Pura Lempuyang is one of Bali’s six major temples known as Sad (six) Kahyangan (place of Gods) or that it is only one of seven temples in the complex. Whether you choose to take a number and wait for the “shot” or not, the temple is well worth a visit just for the view of Gunung Agung, but please respect the fact that it is a sacred place to the Balinese.

With over 25,000 species of plants in this tropical climate, you may next notice the flora. The vivid colors of bougainvillaea and lotus flower then the sweet scent of my favorite the frangipani are everywhere you turn. Flowers are an important piece of Balinese culture. As part of their everyday life, they are used in the offerings or Canang Sari. Canang is a small woven basket from palm leaves and sari means essence. Broken down further can = beauty (like you feel the view) nang = purpose and sari = source. Typically, a family places about 15 offerings per day, more on special ceremony days. The canang sari is handmade daily and it is considered self-sacrifice with the time it takes to make the offerings. The offering must have certain elements representing the Trimurti or 3 major Hindu gods; white lime for Shiva, red betel nut for Vishnu and green gambier plant for Brahma. On top of these are placed petals. White petals facing East for Iswara, red petals facing South for Brahma, yellow petals facing West for Mahadeva and blue or green facing North for Vishnu. The offerings also can contain food items, rice, crackers small cakes, etc. Along with an incense stick, these offerings are placed with a prayer ritual to deliver the sari (essence) of the canang to heaven. A flower dipped in holy water is sprinkled over the canang along with a spoken prayer as in a symbolic merging of earth, fire, wind, and water. The smoke from the incense carries the essence of the offering to the gods. These offerings are to maintain balance and peace on earth amidst good and evil and between heaven and hell. Within this ritual is an understanding that both positive and negative energies exist in the world. It is up to us to seek balance and harmony in our personal lives, in our community, and in the world. What appears to be a simple basket of flowers is really an important part of Balinese life.

Outside of the roar of motorbikes, you will also hear the entrancing sound of gamelan music. The gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Javanese, Sudanese and Balinese in Indonesia, made up of mostly percussive instruments. The predominant instrument is the metallophone which is played using a mallet. I have been fortunate to attend gamelan lessons with the children from my homestay.

Gamelan is played on formal occasions, during many traditional ceremonies and as an accompaniment to Balinese dance. For most, gamelan is an integral part of Balinese culture. Certain pieces are believed to have magic powers and can be used to ward off evil spirits. Interestingly, gamelan is also used in the Catholic Church of Indonesia. Another sound that I relate to Bali is the sound of the tokay gecko. Nocturnal, you will hear them “barking” at night. You will also need to get used to seeing them wandering across your walls and ceiling.

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I said earlier, Bali is a feast for the senses. I have covered sight, smell, hearing, and touch. That leaves taste, the taste of Bali. Ketut, from my homestay family was a chef before they opened their homestay. That means I learned a lot about Balinese foods and traditional spices during my stay. I love the spiciness of the food in Bali and that sambal comes as a condiment with most dishes. Sambal is a blend of chilis and spices. There is no one recipe and it can be prepared a hundred different ways. It is definitely a food staple in Bali. A few of my favorite foods are nasi and mi goreng (nasi meaning rice, mi meaning noodles and goreng meaning fried), pisang (banana) goreng and the easy to grab street food nasi jinggo which is rice, meat, vegetables and condiment, usually a type of sambal all wrapped up in a banana leaf. I can’t forget about the sate ayam (chicken), babi (pork) and kambing (goat) all topped with peanut sauce. Of course, no trip to Bali is complete unless you try the babi guling or suckling pig.

Oh, and I must mention the avocados (sometimes as big as my head, well, almost). You haven’t tasted avocado until you eat one plucked right off the tree. The same holds true to eating the fruits….mango, papaya, dragon, guava….there is nothing like it! Another personal favorite, right up there with pho and Lanzhou LaMian, is mi ayam which is actually an Indonesian dish versus Balinese, but an almost daily menu item for me.

Bali, you feed my senses and you have stolen my soul. Until next time. I’ll leave you with the traditional Balinese greeting… spoken with hands clasped in front of the chest in a relaxed prayer position …. “Om Swasti Astu” or “peace and greetings from God” and the traditional goodbye… “Om Santih Santih Santih Om” or to wish you “peace in body, speech and mind”.

Do You Hate Being Back?

Do You Hate Being Back?

I left Bali just over a week ago. I left 90 degrees and wall to wall sunshine to spend 53 hours in planes, trains and automobiles to arrive in grey, chilly NE Ohio.  The temperature was hovering around the freezing point, my plane touched down around midnight in Cleveland, the gate wasn’t ready, and we had to wait about 20 minutes on the plane. Welcome to Ohio.  I finally got off the plane and got my plastic-wrapped broken bag (one wheel and the handle had come off) and was greeted by my friend Cathy with a pizza from our local pizza joint, Sunrise Inn.

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Boy did that taste good as I settled in for the approximately 70-minute drive home.  Home ~ a condo I had not yet lived in, that was stacked with boxes of “stuff” I hadn’t seen in several years. My sofa and bed freshly steam cleaned were also waiting for my arrival.  My condo is in a building in the downtown area of the city where I grew up.  I knew we wouldn’t have any trouble finding a parking spot at 2 am.  The problem being, my suitcase weighed in at 27 kilos or nearly 60 lbs and my condo is on the 3rd floor of an old, but newly remodelled building with no elevator (it does have a chair lift) and it is 42 steep stairs to my front door.  Lucky for me, the bar in the basement of the hotel a few doors down was still open.  Nick the bartender gladly and with ease, I might add, carried it up the 42.  You would think after over 2 days of travel I would be ready to crawl into that bed.  Wrong!  It was sometime between 4 and 4:30 am that I finally dozed off only to awaken again at 6:30 am.  And so it begins…….#mywarrenlife!

Not able to go back to sleep, I got up, ate some Sunrise pizza, found my electric kettle, the coffee I brought back from Bali, put some shoes on, headed down the 42, out the door and down the street to the Best Western to get some condiments for my coffee. Thanks, Pia!  Back up the 42, coffee made may as well start opening boxes, etc.

My brother was in town as he has taken on a huge renovation project of a local theatre which has been closed since 1974.  I knew he would be up and working so I shot him a text and he was indeed at the theatre.  He told me I should head down to the Sunrise (the restaurant of my prior night’s pizza) for breakfast.  One nice thing about downtown living is the ability to walk to many places.  It was a sunny morning and I took a 10-minute stroll down to the Sunrise.  It was great seeing my brother and sister-in-law after over a year and a half.  Next, it was off to the theatre for a peek at the renovations, a visit to FattyCakes Soap Company (owned by a friend) and then into Nova Coffee Company (next to my building) for more caffeine.  Little did I know what the day had in store for me.  My friend Teri then picked me up and off we went to start some day drinking at the Buena Vista Café, known locally as the BV.

From there I met my brother and sister-in-law for dinner at a new wine bar in town called CharBenays Wine on the River (proprietors being Char and Ben).  Then I made my way to the restaurant that I live above, Jacked and finally ended the evening with cocktails at Speakeasy in the basement of the Best Western with Nick the bartender that hauled my luggage up the 42.  All I know is I was a bit tipsy and exhausted when I climbed back up the 42 and into bed.  All this and I had only been back in town for less than 24 hours.

At some point over the course of the next few days, I was asked, “Do you hate being back?”  I actually had to stop and think for a few seconds before answering.  First, hate is a strong word, so no, I don’t hate being back, but yes, there are things I don’t like about being back.  Most people complain about Ohio weather this time of year, but I have been lucky, and it has been rather mild so far, so no complaints on that.  I love my condo; I love downtown living and I love what is happening in downtown Warren. What do I not like about being back?  First let me say that Warren, Ohio is probably one of the cheapest places in the country to live.  That being said, I was quickly reminded that I don’t like the cost of goods.  A trip to the Dollar Store cost me over $50 for what would have most likely been less than $10 in China.

I got very used to fresh fruits right off the tree in Bali that were bursting with flavor.  By the time a mango arrives in Warren, Ohio, it has probably artificially ripened on a slow boat from somewhere and lacks that juicy deliciousness.  Can you even get a bowl of soup for $3 or under?  I have gotten very used to paying about 45 cents for a big bowl of noodle soup.  Food, in general, wasn’t what I had hoped for.  The places I have lived don’t sell things in cans or boxes and they don’t have preservatives.  My stomach has not liked eating since I have returned.  Of course, coming back around the holidays and after nearly 2 years of being gone, everyone wants to meet for food and drink, so I’m sure overindulgence is a big part of the problem.  Driving…..I DON’T LIKE DRIVING.  Of course, I didn’t like driving before I left either so maybe that doesn’t really count.  I had gotten used to walking 5 to 10 km (3 to 6 miles) a day in Bali.  At least living downtown, I do walk a few blocks to local establishments, but here, driving is a necessity that I don’t like.

The thing that I really don’t like about being back is I miss the simplicity of life.  Life here just seems more complicated.  Life is a big timetable of schedules and deadlines.  Even when I was working in other countries, I didn’t feel like I was a slave to the clock.  People just seemed more casual about time, whereas here, everyone seems to always be rushing around. Unpacking my boxes and looking at my stuff still in storage, I ask myself, why do you have all this stuff?  I’m not talking about things I have brought back from my journeys, but do I really need 50 wine glasses? Or more clothes than all the students at my school combined?  Really, 12 pairs of jeans?  I have 4 fancy espresso machines, a French press, a portable espresso maker, an electric kettle and 4 Vietnamese phins, when in Bali I was used to ground coffee put in a cup with hot water, just don’t drink to the bottom.  I did also have my French press, but that was all I needed.

I learned to get by with less, to live simply.  I wore only what I could carry with me, I ate what the locals ate.  I thought I missed the food I couldn’t get where I was living.  Now I find myself missing foods from China, Vietnam and Bali.  I felt healthier.  I miss the nights of sitting on the porch playing Uno or other games with my homestay family or just sitting around chatting.  There was no TV and no one had their faces glued to their phones.  It was simple.

Don’t get me wrong, as I sit here on Thanksgiving morning I have much to be thankful for, I love my condo with my Toto toilet, I love my stuff (I just have too much), I love my family and friends and I love America!  There is something about coming through customs and the border patrol stamps your passport and says, “Welcome Home”!

Do I hate being back?  No, but I’m just not ready to settle back into life in the USA quite yet.  I’m sure the time will come, just like when I knew it was time to leave China.  I loved my life in China, but one day I woke up and knew I was ready to move on.  I loved my life in Bali, but I knew I wanted to be home for the holidays this year.  I’ve committed to a job in Poland, so that is next for me.  It will be different from life in SE Asia and different than life in America. How long will I be gone?  I have no idea.  I don’t see myself returning for at least a year.  I also plan to return to Bali as it has taken my soul.  As for the simple life……I will sort through my stuff and downsize.  If you plan to come to visit me, I can make all kinds of coffee and I have plenty of wine glasses, but don’t expect to watch TV…..I have no plans to get a television…it’s simple!

Do I hate being back? It’s good to be home….for now!

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Going Home

Going Home

I’m sitting on my bed at Kenari House in Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia. Kenari House has been my home for the better part of 3.5 months in Bali and Ketut, Koming, Kirana and Kiara have been my family. If you ever make it to Bali and want to stay in the Ubud area, be sure and look up Kenari Guesthouse. You won’t regret it, especially if you are looking for a true Balinese experience. This is my third trip to the “Island of the Gods”. I have spent each visit at Kenari House and truly consider it “home” when I am here. I arrived at the end of July and at the end of August was fortunate to have 4 friends visit from the USA. I know they will agree that Kenari House is home and I was thrilled to be able to share my Bali life with them. Shortly after they left, I moved to a new homestay so I could volunteer at a school for children with special needs, Yayasan Widya Guna, but more on that in a future post. I spent 6 weeks at the school before moving back home to Kenari House. My life in Bali is coming to an end (for now) and I am “going home” for the holidays.

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Koming, Ketut, Kirana and Kiara. My home and family in Bali

So, where is home? I was born in Kimbrough Army Hospital in Fort Meade, Maryland. I grew up in small-town Warren, Ohio. I had a home for over 6 months in Paris, France in 2014/15. I lived in China for 4 years beginning in 2015 and now I have just called Kenari House in Bali home. Life abroad changes your thoughts about “home”, but for this post “home” is my hometown, where I grew up, went to school, where I still have friends and family, and from where I first moved abroad. I first wrote about going home a little over 2 years ago after a brief visit back to Warren, Ohio, my roots. It was then I discovered that my own country can indeed feel like a foreign land and give you a sense of reverse culture shock. My latest post about home was last year before the holidays as I was about to spend my sixth holiday season away.

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Now, as I’m preparing to leave Bali and return to Warren for what will be the longest period in several years, many thoughts, memories and emotions are bombarding me. Christmas 2013 in Paris…. alone after my breakup and something I needed to do to get back to me. 2014 in Amsterdam……on a whim, I boarded a train on Christmas Eve morning from Paris, spent the night on a boat on a canal with a dozen strangers and shared Christmas breakfast before heading to the zoo. Then it was back to Paris to meet friends from the states joining me for the New Year. 2015, 16, 17 and 18 in China…. a communist country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas yet gave me some of my fondest memories celebrating with people I will most likely never see again. Thanksgiving 2018 in Incheon, South Korea when the chef at the Hyatt prepared a turkey dinner just for me.

2019…. for the first time in a while I am a bit excited to be going home. I have travelled all over the world, mostly Asia, for the better part of the last five years. During these travels, I have met amazing people from all walks of life. I survived being hit by a car and suffering a broken back in China. I have a new condo in Warren, Ohio I have never lived in waiting to be filled with memories of my life abroad. My hometown is amid a resurgence with many new places to explore. My brother is re-opening a vintage theatre with ties to Hollywood that he has restored to original. Most importantly, I have family and friends that I haven’t seen in over a year and a half waiting for me to come home.

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Although I say I am excited, that also comes with a plethora of other emotions, thoughts and words. Sad for one…. how can I be sad about going home for the holidays? I’m not sad about going home, but sad about what I am leaving behind. I have spent the last 4+ years on the Asian continent and travelled not only all over China, including Hong Kong and Tibet but also to Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. I love this part of the world. My plan is to move to Poland at the end of January beginning of February 2020. Which I am also very excited about, but that also means that most likely I won’t be returning to Asia anytime soon. Hence, the sad part. As the saying goes, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”. So, I guess my next word should be happy. Yes, I am happy. Happy for the experiences I have had and happy to be going home…. for a while…wink, wink!

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Apprehension…..going home after a one or two week vacation is one thing, but going home for an extended period after 5 years on the road is another. Everyone back home has been going about their everyday lives in small hometown America while it appears you have been living life in exotic, far away places. It’s true! You have been far away and sometimes visiting exotic locales, but for the most part, you too have gone about day to day life, most often routine. Can you fall back into that small-town life? Other than what you know about their lives on social media, you really don’t understand or know their daily struggles and triumphs. So how do you ease back into their lives? Do people really care about what you have been doing? It’s okay if they don’t because you made your choice for you, not for anyone else. I think if everyone who has been gone long term is honest, they must be a bit apprehensive about going home! I am.

Hopeful……. I wish my family and friends could meet every one of the amazing people I have met on my journey. They are the reason I chose the word hopeful. These are the people who give me hope…. hope for humanity. Last night, 8° south of the equator beneath a star-filled sky, I was sitting outside on the porch with my Balinese family playing Uno. The kids weren’t watching TV, mom and dad weren’t looking at their phones and I wasn’t trying to unblock my Facebook account. We were laughing, talking (they sometimes in Balinese), eating chips and sometimes there was a little cheating (all in good fun) going on. These are the moments that truly give me hope. I have experienced moments like this in every country I have visited. There really are more good, kind people in the world than not.

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Fortunate…. I don’t want to use the word lucky here. Luck didn’t bring me to the other side of the world. It was a conscious choice. A decision initially made because I wanted to run away, but eventually turned into a lifestyle path on which I choose to remain. Although I do often feel blessed, I’m not sure that is the proper word, so I am going with fortunate. I have been fortunate to have good health (a broken back was just a minor setback) to travel, the courage to continue as a solo female, the desire to meet new people and experience other cultures and the means to accomplish these things. I have also been fortunate to have the support of family and friends throughout my sometimes-crazy journey.

Hungry…… YES, I am hungry!!! Hungry for pizza from my local hometown joint, Sunrise. Hungry for a bloody, rare sirloin and a blue cheese olive stuffed beefeater martini from the Buena Vista. Hungry for all the hometown favorites. I have loved the food all over the world and I will miss “real” Chinese food. I will miss eating pho at a corner street stall in Saigon. I will miss the 7000 rupiah (50 cents) mie ayam at the local warung and all of Ketut’s Balinese food. But, I’m hungry for food I can only get “at home”. Thanksgiving dinner here I come.

Hungry ……. Besides the food I’ve missed, I am still hungry for new adventures, new locales, new experiences.

So, I’m going home. I’ve touched on a few of the “feels” I’m experiencing, but more than anything, I am thankful. When I think back over the past 5+ years, I could fill a book on things I am thankful for. To each and every one of you who have touched my life and had a part in my journey, thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts and homes to me. I know I have left pieces of my heart in so many places around the world. I’ve often said, Paris is my heart… now Bali is my soul ….. and finally Warren, Ohio you are my home and I’m coming. See you soon, its only for a couple short months, but I’ve missed you.

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