There is a Problem in our World, and it Isn’t Islam

Hate is such an infectious thing, and it is way too easy to let it plant roots in us. This should be the first indication that it’s wrong. Is it easy to win the lottery? To make good grades? To be married? To raise children? No. The answer is no. The good and rewarding things in this life require effort.

I refuse to believe that ridding the world of the human beings who practice Islam will end bombings and violence. Ridding the world of guns won’t do it either. The problem is in our hearts and minds – in our failure to understand the needs of others; in our lack of compassion; in how easy it is for us to assume and expect the worst in people; in our “me, first” mentality. 

Instead of trying to destroy and demonize the things we don’t understand, we need to learn from them – otherwise we will spend our entire lives running. When you’re faced with a challenge, no one is asking you to like it. Heck, if everyone liked their challenges then we would have nothing to complain about (*sarcasm*). You don’t have to like it, but you do need to learn from it. Look at it from all angles, see it through the eyes of the person on the other side and genuinely try to understand. It doesn’t have to change your belief, but opening your heart and mind in the genuine hope of understanding another person will, in turn, make you a better person.

I am so heartbroken by what is happening in our world – not just the acts of violence, the death, and destruction. There is so much more than that going on all around us. There are people who are hungry; who are cold; who are lonely. The worst part is that there are so many ways that we can be helping each other and we aren’t doing it. There are so many things that are in our power to change if we would only make the effort.

Through all of this, I continue to be amazed and humbled by the goodness in others. We are all capable of it, because at our very core, we are all human beings. And in that, we are all the same. Our many dynamics and layers on top of being human are what make us unique from one another, but we all have that basic fact in common- and we need to remember that. 

The world could be in a post-apocolyptic, zombie-ridden frenzy and I will STILL choose to believe that there is goodness and love. Why? Because I believe in those things… so, even if I am the only human being alive who is spreading love and kindness, understanding and goodness, then that means it is not gone from the world. I find so much comfort in that.

It is 4 am in Paris, in the heart of the 10th arrondissement, and I can hear people singing outside. Hope is not gone. Love and light and joy have not gone. Let these be the things that infect us and take us over.

LIGHT

UP

THE DARKNESS.

Love each other, take care of each other, help a stranger, smile more, laugh at yourself, recognize and work on your shortcomings.

I am sick to death of the tone-deaf, closed-minded crap that is spreading like wildfire through the internet machine: seeing the same person share a post talking about how Islam is “a hate group, not a religion” only to follow it up with a post saying “the world is full of nice people; if you can’t find one, be one.” DUDE. Come on!

Treat people better. Give without expecting to receive. Love, share, give, help. Don’t return hate with hate. Rise above it. Be better.

Make the effort.

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To the Man Who Changed My Life

It is difficult for me to talk about my dad without getting choked up. There are no words good enough to describe him or the strength and beauty of his role in my life.

Whether I’m playing music or sharing my heart, when people tell me I remind them of my dad, it’s one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive. He is the best man I know.

Patient and hard-working, he has taught me to be the master of my mouth. The only time I can remember ever hearing him raise his voice to yelling-volume was when he was coaching baseball and sending instructions to the team who, otherwise, would not have heard him. Growing up (and even now), when my father speaks, my brothers and I are still and silent. This has not been an easy or quick lesson for me. It has taken me a long time to control what I say and how I say it (or to be silent and say nothing), but it is so important to me for my words to be meaningful and impactful in the situations that call for it. I won’t be the person who yells when I am angry, or who says hurtful things for the sake of causing pain. I don’t want to look back on my life and regret things I’ve said.

My dad has taught me to work hard and to be self-sufficient. “Make an “A” in all areas of your life, Kitten,” he would tell me, “and never put yourself in a position where you have to depend on a man or on anyone.” I will always be able to take care of myself, and I will always work hard and make it a point to do well in every role I take on: daughter, sister, friend, employee, student… Make an “A”.

Most importantly, my dad was there to teach me about love and life; to encourage me and celebrate with me in times of joy; to coach me through challenges and failures; to lift me up to the One who loves in my times of brokenness… my dad was there. Working hard to provide for his family, he still made it a point to be involved and to play an active role in teaching his sons and his daughter how to become impactful human beings; how to love one another; how to forgive; how to be true to ourselves.

Today, on his birthday, I would like to leave you gentle readers with his words. Happy birthday, Daddy. “Thank you” will never cover the bill for the lessons you’ve taught me and for the value you’ve brought to my life. I love you so… and I’m ever thankful to have the privilege to be your Kitten.

“…as we reach the end of our days in human form, we wonder……did we do okay…did we do enough…can those questions even be answered truthfully?  The irony of looking for the bar being set in heaven for us to reach a passing score.  I remember one day on Deming street, I left to go play music or witness somewhere, and you and Josh walked me out to the front gate for hugs and kisses and stood at the fence to wave and watch me leave.  I knew that very day, watching you run and wave to the end of the fence (and my heart broke), that my life’s greatest work HAD to be…living a life at home that somehow honored God in a way that the ones that I loved the most, who saw me at my worst (and hopefully an occasional best), would be encouraged and compelled to find the greatest adventure and rescue known to mankind…forgiveness for a debt we could not pay…help for a burden we could not bear…a hope beyond our dreams…the only King of Heaven.  Prior to that day, I had envisioned battles against the enemy, wars against the dark, but the greatest battle turned out to be trying to kill myself daily in hopes that He would live in me…would live through me…for the sake of my bride and children.  The souls of you 5 are the only precious thing that I know of on this planet.  When He said to take up my cross and follow Him, it meant at home first, and it has been the most difficult thing that I have ever hoped to accomplish, and I am still working on it today even after all these years.  If I have done anything right, it is by His mercy, and nothing short of a miracle, what God can do with clay that yields to the Creator.  Surrender and Yield….are 2 of the most frequently used words when I pray.  Enough for now, all my love and prayers on your behalf……my Kitten.”

sweethearts

sweethearts

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the man, the legend

the man, the legend

Wooden Heart

Day by day we are presented with opportunities to change. Whether you’ve made good or bad choices, you’ve become someone different from who you were before. In our lives and in the relationships we build – friendships, marriages, partnerships, we are taking chances by putting different, changing people together and letting the chips fall where they may. Sometimes you’re up to the challenge and can tackle the changes as they come. Other times, you wake up one day and realize that you no longer recognize someone you love. Someone you loved. And you wonder: When did you change? When did I change?

But it doesn’t matter who changed or when it happened. Because the truth is you both did. And it didn’t happen together. Somehow, the mark was missed and now you’re looking at a complete stranger with a borrowed face. These experiences teaches us about heartache and loss. About how strong we are. About growing up. Lessons that teach us to remember and to forget.

These lessons carve us out of wood. They may leave us warped and splintered, but we are also left with the chance of becoming something new. We are changed and hardened, but we do not sink. Instead, we float and fight, choking and struggling and growing stronger. Making our way towards the shore.

Washed up on the beach, we look out at the ocean and revel in how far we’ve come. In how much we’ve learned and grown. We have found strength within ourselves and become excited for new challenges. We move forward from the wreckage we left behind, wounded but alive. Hoping for one more day to breathe. To feel. To see. Fighting for one more day- even if it hurts.

so I’ve built a wooden heart inside this iron ship,
to sail these blood red seas and find your coasts.
don’t let these waves wash away your hopes
this war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors
pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors
but I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores
so come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember
” – “Wooden Heart” by Listener

Give me Symphonies

When I was a kid, I would blame the trees for the wind.

hate the wind; and because I couldn’t see the wind, but could see the trees being affected by it, it was easy for me to believe they were causing the problem instead of providing protection from it.

As we get older and learn more about the world around us, we start to discover that things aren’t always quite like we think or expect, and we are forced to make a choice:

a. See things as they are

b. See things as we would like to see them

Not often are these the same.

I firmly believe that there is a lesson to be learned in every situation. We may not be able to understand the lesson right away, sometimes it takes a long time for us to learn, but the opportunity is always there.

Lately, one lesson I have been learning is about the love and goodness in people. I often have a difficult time being anything but skeptical about the intentions of others, and when I am proven wrong I am always humbled and contrite to the point of tears.

I started taking violin lessons this year. It was always a dream of mine to be able to play, and having something of a knack for music, I picked it up quickly. I had to email my teacher this past weekend to let her know that I would no longer be able to continue my lessons because I can’t hold the violin. The truth is, my body isn’t working the way it should. Without going into detail, it’s been in a gradual process of wearing down. Walking and even breathing normally have been challenging lately.

I asked my teacher when I could bring her back her violin, telling her that I was so thankful for the short time I got to spend learning with her. I told her that I don’t understand yet, but that I know there’s a lesson in this, and this was her response:

Dear Lauren,
 
you know, even though we sometimes find it difficult to see the positive side, we just have to remember that it’s there,- no matter what!
You are MUCH more powerful than you think, believe me!
 
You are capable of taking a very good care of yourself, and even of reversing a seemingly “unhealable disease”.
 
The most important thing now is to focus on where you want to BE and not where you seem to be right now…if you know what I mean 🙂
 
Make a plan and go for it,- I have faith in you and I just know that very soon you will send me an email, telling me how everything worked out after all and how great you feel.
The lesson in this could be that you had to deal with some challenges, heal yourself and then come back and teach others how to take care of their health!
 
Who knows?
 
All I can tell you is that I am not worried about you. You are a very capable and beautiful person and you will be able to see it yourself some time soon 🙂
 
Until then, keep focusing on where you want to be, eat lots of fresh fruits and let me know how I can help you.
 
Don’t worry about the violin.
 
I would like to give it to you as a gift.
 
Allow me to do it, please, since giving is much more fun than receiving and I’m just being selfish 😉
 
Take care, dear Lauren.
 
Blessings.
 
E

I was so touched by her kindness that I broke down. This woman who has only known me a few weeks gave me such a beautiful gift: a goal.

I’m so grateful to her, and I’m so grateful for being able to see things as they are– to see people as they are in their most real and raw moments. I never expected such kindness and love, and now I see that it surrounds me. I have people all around me who teach me every day to look at the world differently, to look at others differently, and to see more than what I choose to see.

I am happy to learn lessons about kindness and grace- to experience moments that are so beautiful that I’m forced to be still and silent, appreciative and reverent.

These moments, these people are the harmony in the discord.

They are the symphonies of life.

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Things I’ve Learned From Mario (Which Came to Light Whilst Playing Super Mario World)**

**EDIT: This post was previously titled “Things I’ve Learned From Playing Super Mario” until my friend Dave pointed out that gamers everywhere would ostracize me (technically, he said they’d be calling for my head) for being misleading. These lessons, as Dave pointed out, are more learned from Mario in general than from Super Mario World. I believed my title sounded better than “Things I’ve Learned From Mario,” but apparently Word-Nerds cannot beat the Gamers in this argument. Dear Gamers, forgive my folly. Leave my head alone. My looks are all I’ve got going for me.


I decided to pull the Super Nintendo out of the basement today (actually I wanted to do it around 4 am, but for the sake of trying to sleep, I thought better of it.) As a kid, I used to love video games (including many from Atari, SNES, and Sega Genesis). Though I have fond attachments to many different games, Super Mario World is, and always will be, my favorite- I love it even more than Guitar Hero.

"I can't talk right now, I'm at a show..."

“I can’t talk right now, I’m at a show…”

Reflecting on Super Mario World now, and after having played for a few hours today, I’ve realized there are many things that I’ve learned from that chubby, mustachioed, Italian man.

1. Turtles are evil and to be feared (and also gross, but I learned that from the movie Radio Flyer) I’ll expound on the “gross” part because it really has more of an impact on me. If you haven’t seen the movie Radio Flyer, then you’re dead to me. This is where I developed my very first (and still very real) celebrity crush on Elijah Wood. (Rest assured, I am partial to his adult self, but he was an adorable kid).

I imagine that our children will be born with bowl cuts

I imagine that our children will be born with bowl cuts

In the movie, Elijah’s character “Mike” has a younger brother named “Bobby” (Joseph Mazzello). Bobby is regularly on the receiving end of his violent, alcoholic step-father’s fists. They called him “The King.” At one point, the family moves into a new house and Mike and Bobby decide to explore. They find a shed in the backyard and open the door, at which point, the hateful filmmakers ruined my life. As soon as the shed door opens, the screen cuts to a huge image of a turtle’s head lurching out of the shed in a nightmarish way. Scared the dickens out of me. They named the turtle Sampson and later in the movie were feeding it (yes, “it”) a piece of fruit. The fruit was all over its face and it was smacking and making a scene, and I decided right then and there that turtles were gross and awful.* The internet has no footage of this, so you’re all spared a trip to the loo to toss your cookies. *(Forced to somewhat eat crow because I now work for an amazing company called “Tortuga Backpacks”… but I don’t let my loathing for turtles get in the way of my love for the company. Please don’t fire me for this, Fred.) Super Mario has affirmed and solidified my beliefs that turtles are evil and only good when you’re riding a green dinosaur who can swallow them or use their blue shells to fly. (Unless you’ve got the Blue Yoshi, and then any shell makes you fly!)

Blue Yoshi for the win!

Blue Yoshi for the win!

2. Super Mario stays with you in ways you don’t expect I permanently burned the image of Mario’s face into my ex-boyfriend’s television because I left the N-64 on for a stupid amount of time. I don’t feel that guilty about it now.

"It's'a me'a Mario!"

“It’s’a me’a Mario!”

3. Always have a cape Don’t waste your time with the fireball flowers, those only really help you defeat Iggy and Ludwig (Von) Koopa in castles 1 and 4, respectively. It is much better to defend yourself by running and flying over your troubles, rather than by facing them head on. (I’m going to be a terrible mother.) supermariofly 4. Life is easier and better when you can figure out the secret cheats and escape to secret worlds

For the Rainbow Road fans. You're welcome.

For the Rainbow Road fans. You’re welcome.

I do this by over analyzing everything that passes through my brain. Dissect situations, figure out how you could have done something better, then do it better. Repeat process until you’re perfect, like me. Figure out the cheats and hacks to simplify your life (unless this involves cooking meals with a microwave… be better than that.)

Unlock freedom, people.

Unlock freedom, people.

Have a place that’s all your own. Secret worlds to escape to. Read books, set yourself free for a bit. Otherwise you’ll go crazy.

5. Women need to be better (and thankfully, many more are becoming this way) Peach, grow a pair and stop waiting for a man to rescue you. You’re a princess. No one feels bad for you, you’re not fooling anyone.

This gets you NOWHERE.

This gets you NOWHERE.

Also, no more of this nonsense, ladies: letter Be direct with your intentions; you know Mario is expecting a lot more than what she’s probably going to give him.

6. Naps are great! Take them!

"I'm'a tired."

“I’m’a tired.”

I feel like we live life backwards. We start in a stage where we are forced to nap when we have enough energy to blow up the moon, and then we aren’t “allowed” to take naps in our 9-5’ers, when we are old and tired and hate ourselves. Move to Europe, they love resting over here.

7. Food is important, don’t let physical fitness stand in your way (again, please don’t let me bring children into this world) imgres Take a look at Mario’s physique. The dude is a pudge-fluff. (I can make up words, I majored in English.) Despite his husky exterior, he’s got the moves of a jungle cat. Eat away, my friends. Eat. Away. It clearly won’t stop you from being able to double bounce off of walls and throw Bowser off a cliff.

Would being tall and skinny have helped him in this situation? NOPE.

Would being tall and skinny have helped him in this situation? NOPE.

8. Life’s gonna throw some monsters at you Crush them flat before they destroy you. monster 9. Sometimes you’ve gotta ditch Yoshi

Such betrayal.

Such betrayal.

There will be times when you need to figure things out on your own. Don’t freak out. Take care of your business and Yoshi will be waiting for you up ahead. He’s a solid dude, he gets it.

10. Ghosts are real ghosty Nothing further to say on this one.

11. Fish are only good for eating fish They’re not pets. Stop being weird.

This is a falsehood.

This is a falsehood.

12. Positive thinking is your best friend star This one is hard for me. Cynicism is my crutch. But a good sense of humor and some can-do attitude can make terrible things seem not so bad. This is me trying to get a grip on a good attitude:

Wrestle it into submission.

Wrestle it into submission.

13. Have a sidekick luigi Have someone on stand-by when you can’t get past the Ghost House; or someone who can coach you through the water levels because they make you nervous. We know you’re tough and amazing, but it’s ok to ask for help. (I struggle with this.)

14. Life doesn’t have a “start/select” option If you’re familiar with the video game, you’ll know that pressing “start” and then “select” will allow you to quit a level you’ve already beaten without losing a life. Brilliant, but unrealistic. If you’re facing a tough situation that you’ve dealt with before, apply what you’ve learned from the past, grit your teeth, and truck through it (if you can’t fly over it (see #3)). gumprun 15. Help others

(Note the cape)

(Note the cape)

Be kind and good, even in the face of ugliness. The rewards of behaving like a decent human being far outweigh the consequences of acting like a jerk- so don’t be one (as tempting as it may be). Be aware of the things you say and the way you say them- become the master of your own mouth. Life is so much better when you don’t have to regret the things you’ve said. Exercise some self control, eat some spaghetti, and go save that worthless princess.

60 Books in 2014

Earlier last year, I mentioned how a friend of mine had challenged herself to read a book a week. I thought this was awesome and decided I would give it a shot. Knowing that some of the books I wanted to read were longer than others, I wanted to balance out with some faster and simpler reads to meet my goal. I also have to give some credit to the Audible app. There is an awesome feature for many Kindle books called “whispersync.” This allows you to read the book on your Kindle, and then if you have to go to the gym or the store, you can turn on the Audible app and the audio book plays right where you left off. It’s amazing. I used Audible for a few books this year so that I could keep powering through novels like Anna Karenina while I was traveling through Rome, Paris, and Amsterdam in April.

I always start a new year by reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin, a book I have read every year since it was assigned to me during my senior year of high school. It is my favorite book: a book about a woman who learns that though she may give of herself, she refuses to give up herself or who she is. She learns that she belongs to herself and no one else; that she is valuable and strong and not something to be owned. It is a story about how she sets herself free. I learn something new every time I flip through the pages. I am heartbroken because I left my copy of The Awakening on a KLM plane during our trip to Russia last February. I’d had that book for almost 10 years. I’m hoping that the person who found it is enjoying it as much as I did. I only have the Kindle edition now. Doesn’t feel the same.

I also wanted to revisit the Anne of Green Gables series because I hadn’t read them since I was a young girl. Anne Shirley is one of the greatest literary role models that a girl can have, and while I wish I could have finished reading George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons before the year ended, I like that I finished the year with the final Green Gables book.

I read books that didn’t challenge me at all. (*cough*theDivergentseries*cough*) And I read books that challenged me a great deal. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs was a colossal headache. Definitely one I need to try and read again, but probably won’t.

I read Dickens for the first time this year, and have learned that he is one of my all-time favorites.

I re-read the Harry Potter series for the 5th time, and want to start reading it again every year. There were several re-reads in my list this year: The Awakening, Harry Potter series, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (one of my favorites), Green Gables series, The Wind in the Willows, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… all fantastic books. All books that I would pick up and read again at any time.

There were some that made me laugh out loud: Hyperbole and a Half, Yes Please, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Disco Bloodbath.

There were some that broke my heart: The Book Thief, Mystic River, The Road, The Idiot, Anna Karenina, Atonement, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Hours, Twelve Years a Slave, On the Road.

There were some that inspired me: Into the Wild, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Book Thief.

I loved this book challenge, and I am so lucky to have had so much time to read this past year. If you’ve got some time to read, definitely check out some of these books.

Happy reading!

Here are the books I read last year:

  1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  4. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  5. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
  6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  7. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  8. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  9. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  10. Into the Wild by John Krakauer
  11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  12. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
  13. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  14. Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery
  15. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  16. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  17. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  18. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  19. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  20. Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
  21. Disco Bloodbath (“Party Monster”) by James St. James
  22. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  23. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
  24. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  25. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  26. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
  27. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  28. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  29. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  30. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan
  31. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
  32. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
  33. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
  34. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
  35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
  36. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
  37. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
  38. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  39. Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
  40. Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery
  41. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
  42. Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
  43. A Game of Thrones: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
  44. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  45. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  46. A Game of Thrones: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
  47. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  48. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  49. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
  50. A Game of Thrones: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
  51. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  52. Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King
  53. Filth by Irvine Welsh
  54. Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery
  55. Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery
  56. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  57. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  58. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  59. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  60. Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Everything and Nothing

I have tried countless times to sit down and write something since August– to write about 9 days in Scotland with Jenny and how disappointing Loch Ness was; about how 2 days after that trip, we drove from Wiesbaden to Paris, Paris to Dresden, and from there caught a train to Prague– one of the most exhausting adventures of my life.

 I’ve wanted to write about funny things. Like how my sweat glands were operating in firehose mode this summer- I was perpetually perspiring. I seriously thought I was going through menopause at 28 years old. I’ve wanted to write about running full-speed through the Dresden train station, frightening the locals, while carrying my Tortuga backpack on my back and my Billabong backpack in front of me (40+ pounds of luggage and souvenirs), praying that we caught the train to Prague, and then collapsing into the sweltering train car, slumping over, and sleeping (sweaty and unashamed) while strangers (and Jenny) surveyed me.

I'm a chronic over-packer

I’m a chronic over-packer

Feast your eyes upon my glistening countenance. I look like Ernest Borgnine.

Feast your eyes upon my glistening countenance.


Prague's metro makes me fierce

Prague’s metro makes me fierce. I look like Ernest Borgnine.


Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine

I’ve wanted to write about how I accidentally tattooed my own face to my inner thigh when I went to get my international drivers license (and couldn’t get the ink to come off).
facetat

lesson learned here: where NOT to rest your photos while you’re waiting

I’ve wanted to write about when Jenny and I went to Dumfries to visit Cameron and he gave me a tour of the Drumlanrig Castle Tree Trail using a haughty British accent and pretending it was his home.  Also in Dumfries, we had the privilege of listening to Scottish people sing karaoke; and watched as one adorably inebriated Scottish woman with the face of a collapsed lung stood face to face with some of the men who were brave enough to sing, and awkwardly rubbed their backs and stomachs while they tried to act unaffected and finish their songs.

Cameron!!

Cameron!!


Mischief Managed

Mischief Managed


KARAOKE!!!

KARAOKE!!!


Train ride to Edinburgh

Train ride to Edinburgh

Or the time Jenny and I met 3 Canadian fellows on her birthday in Edinburgh- how Jenny fed us all falafel off of her fork in turns, like a momma bird (without the vomiting), even though we had all only met a few hours before. How they sang to us in the streets of Edinburgh a song about a “broken man on a Halifax pier.” Or when Jenny and I did the beer tour in Prague and had so much *ahem* “fun” that we missed the tour of the concentration camp the following day. (Not one of our better moments.)

Na zdraví!

Na zdraví!


"she walks in beauty"

“she walks in beauty”

I’ve wanted to write about recent things. Like how SK has been in Egypt since right before Thanksgiving; how we got to spend the weekend before he left with Cameron in Lisbon; how we solved the Lisbon Escape Game after 4 hours of sleep; how I’ve spent so many days at home watching Disney movies and crying; or crying on my friend Angela’s couch, or at my friend Nicole’s dinner table, or in my friend Brandon’s office. Crying because I’m happy. Crying because I’m sad.

What happens when you put three left-handed people in a room? WE SOLVE CLUES.

What happens when you put three left-handed people in a room? WE SOLVE CLUES. Seriously, give us the Black Dahlia and Zodiac Killer files. We’ll get them figured out.

 I’ve wanted to write about Wife’s visit to Germany- about how great it was to have her here for Christmas; about our road trip to the Prague Christmas market- getting caught in a snowstorm on our way there and spending 11 straight hours in my car blasting Disney songs because it’s the only thing that is guaranteed to keep me awake behind the wheel; about how beautiful and cold the Christmas markets in Europe have been, especially Prague. I’ve wanted to write about how much she makes me laugh. How everything that comes out of her mouth is comedy gold.

cookie-making-creep

cookie-making-creep


Prague Christmas Market

Prague Christmas Market


just a couple of clowns

just a couple of clowns

I’ve wanted to write about exciting things- like how I have the opportunity to work for Tortuga Backpacks and how it feels like I am dreaming. I never thought I would find a career that would line up so perfectly with my own beliefs about travel, customer service, and helping out your fellow man. (Not to mention, I can completely stand behind the product they’ve created, which has revolutionized travel.) I get to travel the world and see amazing things without giving up the possibility of a career. This can’t be real life.

I’ve wanted to write these things and many more. But ever since Daisy died, I can’t get past a few sentences about one topic. And perhaps that is as it should be. Sometimes we need to skip the details and focus on the highlights. The highlights show us everything and nothing- opening us to a taste of a memory, of a story- without the hassle of chewing.

2014 was a year of learning, as they all should be.

I visited 9 different countries this year (and got to see Paris, Ireland, and Prague twice).

SK and I got to see the Winter Olympics in Russia. Unbelievable.

I had skin cancer, and was healed from it.

I read 59 books. ** (blog to follow)

(** Edit- I actually read 60)

I learned about death and love and brokenness from losing the first baby I ever really had all to myself. I learned that I may never fully recover from it; and I’ve learned that 4 months later, it hurts just as much as the day I lost her.

my heart is so broken

my heart is still so broken

… and I live in so much fear knowing that someday I will have to say goodbye to Bella too.

Holding on to every minute I can with her.

Holding on to every minute I can with her.

I learned (and continue to learn) that there is so much ugliness in the world, and that surrendering to the ugliness only perpetuates it. It fixes nothing. Love one another. Be kind. Be gracious. Forgive. Teach the future generations how to be better than we are. Bitterness and hate are not tools for building, only for tearing down.

I learned that there are always opportunities to improve and to welcome them instead of being prideful.

I learned that there are always reasons to smile, even on the days where it feels like there never will be.

I learned that it’s ok to depend on your friends. The good ones won’t let you fall.

I learned never to give up hoping that people can be good at heart- that even strangers can surprise you with kindness; that even good people can have bad moments; that a little love can go a long way.

Learning to Say Goodbye

Today I had to say goodbye to my baby. I have spent the last month doing everything possible to figure out why she was continuing to lose weight; a laparoscopic surgery this morning gave us the answer: tumors. I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. I have never known pain like this. As I sit here in this empty, quiet house, I am surrounded by memories of her pain and suffering, and my heart breaks all over again. I don’t know how to be okay. I don’t want to get over it. I don’t want to move on.

My first memory of Daisy was coming home to a tiny little puppy who’s first act in her new home was to pee on and (somehow) forever stain an afghan that my grandmother had made for me. I knew right then that this little thing was going to be a force to be reckoned with. And I called her “Little”; it was my most special nickname for her. This little pup saw me through my darkest days. She carried me and gave me a reason to love and hope and laugh. Through the past six years of my life, I have been able to smile every day because of her. She never saw a gray day— she was all sunshine, all blue sky.

And everyone loved Daisy. She never met a stranger. Everyone was her friend and every problem could be solved by playing catch with her ball. I used to sometimes find her ball in my purse when I would get to work, and it was always on a day where I felt like giving up. It’s like she knew I would need a reason to smile that day. I’m not going to have any more days like this, and I am seized with sorrow, panic, and pain each time I realize she is really gone— knowing that I will spend every day for the rest of my life missing her.

They say the world doesn’t stop turning just because someone dies. But today I wish it had. I lay here on the couch, wrapped in her blanket, waiting and knowing— waiting to hear the jingle of her collar, the clicking of her four sweet little paws on my tile floor, the ornery growl of her demanding to play… waiting for these things and knowing they will never, ever come.

Even though I feel like I am drowning in grief, I am so thankful that I was the one who was able to love her. I know that even though I brought her home, it was she who rescued me.

 

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little bean toes

little bean toes

 

busted for puking EVERYWHERE

busted for puking EVERYWHERE

 

the time she grew her hair out

the time she grew her hair out

 

always making us laugh

always making us laugh

 

so sleepy

so sleepy

 

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a rainbow on one of her last days

a rainbow on one of her last days

 

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sisters

sisters

 


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our last picture together

our last picture together

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showing Bella how much she loves her

showing Bella how much she loves her

 

I will miss you and love you every day, darling girl

I will miss you and love you every day, darling girl

 

Little, I am sorry for every ounce of hurt you’ve ever felt. I’m sorry for every second of my life that wasn’t spent with you. I am sorry that I will never get to kiss your sweet little head again. Thank you for all of the love. Thank you for being my girl. You have made my life so wonderful.

 

Love,

Your momma 

“The time has come,” the Walrus said…

to talk of Ireland.

 

I have been hesitant about writing this blog because I hate admitting to myself that this trip is over. Even now, I’m not wanting to write this.

 

Last month, Wife made the trek across the pond to visit me. She did not, however, come to Germany… we decided to meet in Ireland, instead. Tracking down our Irish roots. I had been to Dublin before on a 4 day weekend with SK, Andrew and Jarod… and I was looking forward to doing more things than just spending time at the pubs. Wife and I scoured the internet looking for the perfect way to spend 10 days submerged in the 4o shades of green. Luckily, on the 4 day trip I had taken with SK, we had gone on a tour of the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede bridge with a company called Paddywagon Tours. We loved the day tour, our guide was really fun and funny, and it was worth the price. I had remembered taking a brochure with me that listed all of their tours, because they also listed tours of Ireland that lasted several days. When it came time to start planning what to do in Ireland, we had found the perfect thing… a 6 day tour of all of Ireland. And it cost about 400 euro– including transportation, guide, hostels, and breakfasts. We would only have to pay extra for shopping, drinks, lunches and dinners.

 

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It was seriously a steal. So we went for it.

 

We had a few days in Dublin before and after the 6 day tour so we could spend some time seeing the sights, and I had even arrived 2 days before Wife because the flights were much cheap; so I was able to work in a Paddywagon day tour to Kilkenny and Wicklow (which was beautiful and didn’t cost me anything at all). I got to see the Guinness Lake and the gorgeous castle in Kilkenny.

 

Jeff Jr at Guinness Lake

Jeff Jr at Guinness Lake

 

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The next morning I set out early to the airport to pick up Wife. She had made it to Ireland. Her luggage, however, did not. We were told her bag would be delivered to the hostel the following day, so we hoped for the best and then went shopping. We had scheduled a tour of the Jameson Distillery that afternoon, so we made our way there after we had found some suitable sleepwear for Wife.

I always like doing tours more than once because you’re able to get a different perspective. The perspective I got from the Jameson Distillery tour THIS TIME was that my last tour guide was better. But the whiskey is still grand.

 

Jameson, Ginger and Lime. Don't be fooled by our expressions, it was quite good.

Jameson, Ginger and Lime. Don’t be fooled by our expressions, it was quite good.

 

not as good as this, though. This was called the Honeycomb... Jameson, steamed milk and honey. *bliss*

not as good as this, though. This was called the Honeycomb… Jameson, steamed milk and honey. *bliss*

 

We didn’t venture too far that night because Wife was tired from traveling, BUT… we went to one of my favorite places in Dublin- a little place called The Celt, where we enjoyed Bulmers Irish Cider and good old fashioned Guinness Stew… and for dessert…

 

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING

 

The next day, we took the train out to Dun Laoghaire and we took pictures of the boats and the water. And I got pooped on by a seagull. I think they do it to me because they feel my hatred for them.

 

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We shared our first pint o’ the Black together before heading back to Dublin.

 

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We went back to the Celt that night to enjoy dinner and live music, and we were delighted to see that Wife’s luggage had actually arrived. It was nice to know she wouldn’t have to go on the 6 day tour without any clothes.

 

We headed down bright and early the next morning to start our tour. Our guide came in, a jovial strawberry-blonde (you’re a ginger, Freddie, let’s be honest) who asked how we were doing. I replied, “Wonderful!” And he made fun of me for the rest of the trip for using that word. Besides Freddie, our tour guide, we met other amazing and interesting people on the tour. Couldn’t have asked for a better group to travel with. The only exception being a newlywed couple who we nicknamed “The Intimates” primarily for publicly requesting “intimate time”…

 

Um, YOU’RE STAYING IN A HOSTEL. In a room with 4 OTHER PEOPLE.

 

Please don’t.

 

The Intimates made our trip interesting because they were the types of people who required everyone’s attention. They were the ones who claimed to have better stories, better adventures, better jokes… they dominated conversations and demanded that the people around them do what they wanted, when they wanted it. They were DELIGHTFUL! After a few days of being forced to room with them and spend time with them, Wife and I had run out of patience. We severely injured their pride by rooming with 4 other girls (who were AMAZING), but they rebounded by collecting a group of young 20-something year olds who didn’t know any better.

 

We met some amazing Aussies and some awesome Americans who kept us sane and laughing, and I am happy to say that we have remained in contact with all of them!

 

I want to walk you, dear readers, through each of the 6 days of the tour, but it’s truly something you need to experience yourself. In these 6 days, we saw so many beautiful things. We did so much. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more… Ireland, and everyone in it, absolutely changed my life. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version…

 

Titanic Museum in Belfast

Titanic Museum in Belfast

 

My contribution to the Peace Wall in Belfast

My contribution to the Peace Wall in Belfast

 

Wife's contribution

Wife’s contribution

 

in front of the Peace Wall

in front of the Peace Wall

 

Carrick-A-Rede Bridge

Carrick-A-Rede Bridge

 

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The Giant's Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

 

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Stroke City

Stroke City

 

Friendship Bridge

Friendship Bridge

 

We met some friends on the Friendship Bridge- a group of Irish kids who were fascinated by our American accents. The kiddo standing between Wife and me compared the two of us to characters on his favorite show… Ugly Betty.

 

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the stunning Cliffs of Moher

the stunning Cliffs of Moher

 

the Famine Cottages

the Famine Cottages

 

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the Sleeping Giant

the Sleeping Giant

 

Slea Head Beach

Slea Head Beach

 

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learning the game of Curling

learning the game of Curling

 

leaving a temporary piece of New Mexico on Slea Head Beach

leaving a temporary piece of New Mexico on Slea Head Beach

 

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

 

Jeff Jr and the Blarney Stone

Jeff Jr and the Blarney Stone

 

In 6 days, we went from Dublin to Belfast, Derry, Galway, Dingle, Killarney and back to Dublin. I never saw so much beauty in my life. And, for the record, Dingle is home to the best ice cream I have ever had- a place called Murphy’s. Everyone must go. It’s a consciousness riser.  Not only is Ireland beautiful, but the Irish are the most friendly, happy, and helpful people I’ve met in all of Europe. Never met a stranger. (AND, Ireland definitely has the best live music and street performers in Europe. It’s like they’re born playing instruments and singing.)

 

Paddywagon Tours was the best way to experience Ireland. And we couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Freddie, he kept us laughing and is one of the best people I’ve ever met.

 

Ireland stole my heart. And I am so glad that I got to experience it with Wife- the person who understands me better than anyone. I can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

“Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli” … Or Just Pack it All in the Tortuga

There are not enough good things that I can say about the Tortuga Backpack. You may remember the review I had previously written for Tortuga… the one in which I was so overzealous that I wrote it without having actually seen or purchased the bag… Well, now I have one, and I have used it, and it is wonderful.

Let me start by reviewing the promptness in which I received my bag…   I was on a 10 day trip to Ireland with Wife (blog to come soon, I promise), and she will attest to the fact that I was hovering over the Tortuga Backpacks website for the entire trip because I was awaiting the moment when they would put their latest shipment up for sale (they’d been out of stock for a while, you see). They had sent emails out saying that there were more people on the waiting list for a bag than there would be actual bags, so I was on their website as often as possible. They didn’t post the new bags until June 24th. I was leaving for Scotland July 3rd.

People, I tell you no lie… I ordered 2 bags as soon as I had seen the email, and this was how quickly it got to me:

June 24th- bags ordered
June 25th- bags shipped
June 30th- bags received!!!!

This company got 2 Tortuga Backpacks shipped out to an APO address in Germany in 5 days. Folks, I can barely get a postcard to someone in the States in that amount of time. Seriously unbelievable.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

So I was able to use my Tortuga for my 9 day trip to Scotland with Jenny. Full marks to Tortuga for swiftness of delivery.

radiant with majesty radiant with majesty

Now for the quality of the bag… Ladies and gentlemen (but mostly ladies) (and also gentlemen), I have figured out the secret to Mary Poppins’ bottomless carpetbag! Here it is: she owned a Tortuga. (An earlier, English model.)

I honestly feel like if a WOMAN can pack for a 9-10 day trip in a bag that fits in the RYANAIR CARRY-ON BINS then we have ourselves a miracle product. If you have flown with RyanAir, then you understand the small confined space that is the entire airplane.

As for the space inside the bag… I managed to fit a hat rack, mirror, chaise lounge, and 2 full chests of drawers into my bag!

Not really. But here’s what I did fit:

1 pair of jeans
3 pairs of leggings
3 pairs of shorts (2 denim, 1 khaki if you must know)
plenty of undergarments
10 shirts/tops
1 pair of pajamas
1 pair of workout clothes
2 pairs of nice sandals
1 pair of flip-flops (shower shoes)
1 pair of running shoes
1 denim jacket
1 FULL SIZED TOWEL (not a travel towel, mind you)
Toiletries including: Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, face wash, makeup removing pads, a bottle of eye makeup remover (there’s an important difference between this and the pads), contact solution and case, toothbrush, toothpaste, q-tips
ALL OF MY MAKEUP (which is a feat in and of itself)
1 hardcase for my glasses
1 hairdryer
1 hair straightener
2 umbrellas
1 Nikon D5200
1 Macbook Pro
chargers and cords for camera, computer, and iPhone
European and UK plug converters
Both of my passports
Wallet
Keys

and 1 traveling gnome who goes by the name of Jeff Jr

And I carried it right onto the plane with no questions asked. Take that, RyanAir!!

cue the celebratory dance cue the celebratory dance

It costs 35 euro to take a 20 kg bag on a flight ONE-WAY… so traveling round-trip costs about $100 USD… taking 2 trips and using the Tortuga will mean the bag has already paid for itself in airline baggage fees. It is sincerely revolutionary.   Not only is the bag suitable for women like me who pack everything they own, but it was easy to carry! Granted, it was heavy, but that’s because of all the things I put into it. The shoulder straps were thick, padded, and contoured comfortably. The straps that go around the waist were absolute lifesavers- also thick and padded, and allowed for the weight of the bag to be shifted to the hips instead of the shoulders.

This made the bag seem almost weightless thanks to my “birthing hips”.

I could have carried the bag to the top of Arthur’s Seat if I had wanted to (“wanting to” would have been the only problem).   Not only does Tortuga make a great product, but they offer helpful blogs to people like myself- blogs that teach us how to not bring everything we own on 4 day trips. Apparently there are ways around it.   AND… prepare yourselves… they have new products being released soon!

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My fellow travelers, you would do well to give this bag a shot. It is, as I said before, a game changer.