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The Art of Reading and Eating

I am cross-legged on top of a tie-dyed blanket, my bike leaning against the tree behind me. The sound of the lapping waterfall churning through the pond enfolds into the whistling of the birds and the distant train.

The breeze chatters its way through my loose curls, tossing it away from my face. The grease stain on my inner right calf left from the chain of my bike combines with my crazy hair and isolated geography to make me feel like a wild woman.

To my immediate left rests a glass bottle of kombucha; to my right rests God’s most perfectly ripened avocado and a generous hunk of Radina’s sourdough Pain Ordinaire.

In front of me, staring eagerly with it’s simplistic white cover, perches Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Issue one: I really want to read it. Right now. I picked the book up this morning at the Emporia Library and the fifteen minute window before my next class had resulted in too tantalizingly a teaser.

Issue two: I am starving. Not literally, obviously, because one never seems to be anything but liberal with that kind of adjective in this day and age.

I had had an episode with my beautiful steadfast companion of a bike after my last class ended at 2, which lead me to spend a good hour leaning over the aluminum counter of the local bike shop watching the front derailleur get it’s act together, prolonging caloric intake.

So now I find myself almost literally growling at the food in front of me, the peanut-butter-oatmeal from the morning having made an executive decision to fully vacate the stomach and leave me in a lurch.

These two issues combine to lead me to:

Problem one: I am the worst sorts of multitasker.

Part of this is because I have declared to myself that no one truly is a multitasker, leaving my “get better at this!” life-goal permanently obliterated. Part of this is because I believe the most joy and pleasure in life is reaped by being fully 100%* aware of each and every moment.

*I would normally write “1000%” in that situation, except that my magical introverted computer-science flatmate in Austria would absolutely abhor it when I used “obscure and completely ridiculous” statements like saying something is “1000% of anything”. This edit is for you, V.

This problem then leads me to:

Dilemma one: which do I do first?

This dilemma then leads me to:

Blog Post one-hundred-and-one: “On Eating and Reading: Perfection of a Simultaneous Sort”.

First, I split open the avocado with my spoon, reveling in the perfection of it’s flesh. I tear off a hunk of pain ordinaire and generously lather it in avocado. I take a breath and my taste-buds explode in fresh-sourdough-creamy ecstasy. Slowly, very slowly, I chew: letting my teeth work their way over each and every crevasse in the little sandwhich.

Once I have swallowed, I take a sip of kombucha, letting the bubbly chia seeds act as refreshment.

I exchange the spoon for Outliers, and I read four pages or so.

Then, I slowly set the book down, and reach for another hunk of bread and sliver of avocado. Again, my mouth floods with saliva, ready to escort the magic to a safe resting place.

Chew, chew, cheeeeeeeeewwwwwwww. Swallow. Set down. Pick up book. Read five pages. Set down. Pick up spoon. Chew, chew, cheeeeeeeeewwwwwwww. Swallow. Set down.

And the cycle repeats, covering about forty pages of Outliers and thirty minutes of slow, mindful eating.

When I do it this way instead of just shoveling in the food so I can go on to do some thing else, I find that I am so much more satisfied gastronimically. After eating in this manner, I am so aware of the fullness of my own stomach and that the needs of my body have been met on a gastronomical basis, that I am completely 1000%* satisfied.

*Can’t win them all, sorry.

I also find that I have absorbed my reading material better because it is untethered to doing any other kind of activity. Simultaneously, I find that the avocado and crispy sourdough tastes infinitely better because I am aware of each and every sensation.

One might argue: I just don’t have time to do that! I got places to be and things to do so ergo let’s do everything at once at the same time at a breakneck speed at the speed of light if we can manage it!

I might respond: that doesn’t sound very enjoyable. Or effective.

Total time of meal: forty-five minutes. An episode of Orphan Black.

Level of satisfaction (both on an appetite and an intellectual level): 100%

 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Happy 100! Letter from the Editor and Most Memorable Posts

Dear Squadron,

Hey there.

You beautiful, auspiciously good-willed bellwether of a callipygian nature.

You, my formidable invisible audience, have changed me over the past year and ten months. I don’t usually write for you specifically, but your very arcane presence has given me opportunities to practice authenticity, courage, vulnerability, and passion.

This site doesn’t generate that many hits, I am fully aware and fine that: but it does generate more than zero, which means that the things which are spewing out of my mind and into the mechanics of my fingers are being absorbed by a population made up of more than just me and my mother.

That’s kind of a daunting mentality to maintain when writing pieces that are intimate, as “good” pieces tend to be. There is now accountability. Social pressure. Possibilities of judgment or disapproval.

Through that pressure–much of it being an intrinsic pressure applied upon myself–I have been given so many opportunities to practice authenticity. To stand up and back my own belief set, my own form of world analysis; by committing my thoughts and musings to a post, I am announcing externally that I “actually think this way”.

Again, daunting, especially when the stage of life I am in is one that is centered around changing my mind and future plans and habitats and relationships and food choices on a weekly basis.

I am horridly disinterested in committment, on many many levels. Settle down to a nice, comfortable job within my degree of skill set? Nope. Find a nice jolly man who matches at least 3 out of the gazillion “this would make a good life partner” I have and settle down to put a ring on it, followed by some sperm-egg interaction?  Huh-uh.

I don’t like staying in the same place for more than a week. When it comes weekend time in Emporia, and I get the approval of the hefty chunk from the time-stamp at Nature’s Paradise, my whole being is itching with the desire to break routine, to get out of Emporia, to go somewhere and do something new.

The idea of spending my future in a place longer than five years at a time is not interesting to me. Actually, rather repelling.

And I don’t write these things to spit on those for whom these things might be true. There is no hierarchy of dreams except for within oneself.

If you tell me that you want to apply for a teaching position in the school in which you student taught in a town in which you went to elementary school: I say, that absolutely rocks. You’re going to do amazing.

If you tell me that you want to marry your childhood sweetheart and get started with that family of nine you’ve been craving; I say, you’re going to make an amazing husband/wife/father/mother and that kid is one lucky duckling.

But those aren’t my dreams, just as constant motion and lack of formed geographical committment might not be yours. No hierarchy here.

This constant perpetual motion dream of mine leaves something missing, though: namely an easy accessible source to be grounded in.

Writing this blog has made me feel grounded.

Grounded in my ideas. I can go back and re-read old posts on how I viewed nutrition or motivation and realize that I don’t fundamentally deter from my previous mindsets. I have been exposed to different perspectives and options in order to see a progression in my own learning, which is equally as thrilling as realizing that past-Josie wasn’t just a complete loon.

Re-reading old posts puts me back into nostalgic aesthetic. It gives my own past a credibility, I no longer just automatically dismiss my former self as being immature or underdeveloped.

Furthermore it has given me incentive to practice the craft of writing, a craft in which I I would like to spend the rest of my days improving.

For this–to both you my reader and you the palpable spirit of my blog–for everything in our past and in our future together, I thank you from the depths of my heart for who I am right now.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie


In the spirit of a one-hundredth post, I would like to flashback to my favorite, most memorable posts that I have written over the nearly two years. Ones that I still reread and from which I still derive empowerment and excitement.

A list of fourteen of my FAVORITE blog posts (In chronological order):

  1. Musings upon Moment March 15, 2016
  2. What I learned When I shook the President’s Hand | May 24th, 2016
  3. An “Open Letter” To the Person Who Honked At Me During a Run | July 1, 2016
  4. Mo’ Clothes Mo’ Problems: Encounters with Nudists | October 4, 2016
  5. The Part Where Josie Realizes She Needs People | December 2, 2016
  6. A Midnight Bath in Vienna | December 31, 2016
  7. Welcome to My Mind PalaceJanuary 27, 2017
  8. The Misadventure of the Off-brand Moroccan Bus | February 23
  9. A 62-Hour Journey Home | March 11th, 2017
  10. So Many Questions | March 24, 2017
  11. To The One I have Given My Heart | April 17th, 2017
  12. An Adventure Featuring Hammocks and Old Austrian Gents | April 28, 2017
  13. Incomparable Evening Plans | July 6 2017
  14. Dorothy Got Lucky with the Tornado: A 78-Hour Journey Back to KansasAugust 11th 2017

In order of personal enjoyment:

  1. To The One I have Given My Heart | April 17th, 2017
  2. The Misadventure of the Off-brand Moroccan Bus | February 23
  3. The Part Where Josie Realizes She Needs People | December 2, 2016
  4. Mo’ Clothes Mo’ Problems: Encounters with Nudists | October 4, 2016
  5. Dorothy Got Lucky with the Tornado: A 78-Hour Journey Back to Kansas | August 11th 2017
  6. So Many Questions | March 24, 2017
  7. A 62-Hour Journey Home | March 11th, 2017
  8. An Adventure Featuring Hammocks and Old Austrian Gents | April 28, 2017
  9. Welcome to My Mind Palace | January 27, 2017
  10. An “Open Letter” To the Person Who Honked At Me During a Run | July 1, 2016
  11. What I learned When I shook the President’s Hand | May 24th, 2016
  12. A Midnight Bath in Vienna | December 31, 2016
  13. Incomparable Evening Plans | July 6 2017
  14. Musings upon Moment | March 15, 2016

 

To hundreds more, friends,

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

 

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Pretty Sure Emporia is Stars Hollow

I peel left into the Nature’s Paradise drive way and tuck my bike inside the earthy-scented doorway. I give a quick wave to Tasha and head to clock in. As I move, I catch a whiff of the my staff shirt; a combination of fresh air and lavender-musk dryer sheets, fresh from last night’s session at the laundromat.

The mighty chunk of the timestamp ensues, and I jaunt my way to join Tasha behind the counter.

The store is as crisp as my shirt; the smells of new whole-bean coffee and local honey waft around me from the bulk foods section. The radio underneath the illuminated OPEN sign is detailing the beginning of the K-State football game against North Carolina’s 49ers, the husky voice of the announcer raising in pitch and excitement at each play.

It has been an age since I’ve gotten to listen to a game on a radio; first, from being in Europe for the past year, and second from the relatively “archaic” medium of radio.

This harkens me back to days of bouncing along in the family jeep on some sunny Saturday mid-morning adventure, border collie on my lap, my hair whipping around me. It’s a good memory for a good day.

The door jingles open and a burly man with tan skin and a bushy moustache enters, his small-boned flannel-clad wife behind him, stopping to glance at a flyer advertising local eggs.

“Hey there, Tash!” He says, his moustache bouncing up and down at each syllable. He comes over to me and introduces himself as just a “constant loyal customer in this here store!”, and we quickly and authentically become friends.

We spend the next half hour chatting with the couple, showing them some new products, giving tips and advice on “what worked for Jan’s ulcer”. They check out and leave with a hearty promise to, “see y’all later!”, and “nice meetin’ ya!”.

Moments later another couple come in; older this time, with sincere wide-stretching smiles.

“Hello there, ladies! Will or Carol in today?” They ask.

Carol and her husband own Nature’s Paradise and Will, their son, is the manager and health-and-nutrition-advice-giving expert.

Of course they know the owners. Most people who come into the store do, because it’s that kind of store in that kind of town. Where everyone is friends with everyone, and if they don’t know you, that’s too much dissonance to handle.

The shift passes quickly, featuring a full 45-minute conversation over essential oils and face scrubs with an elementary school teacher, a detailed conversation about coconut oil, a number of opportunities to help someone pick out a good coffee, and a plethora of “Hmm….good question, lemme ask Tasha”s to go around.

The mighty chunk of the timestamp signals an end to the shift, and I hop on my bike to head off downtown.

And here is the part where I am firmly convinced that Emporia is Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls:

The entire Main Street is blocked off, and in lieu of traffic or parking there are hundreds of stalls set up framing the street. Stands for flea market items, kettle-popped popcorn, boutique goodies, coffee, gymnastics bake sales, farmer’s market veggies, breakfast food trucks; taco stands, snow cone stalls, charity stalls, book sales.

This is the Emporia Annual Great American Market.

Halfway down the street someone has set up about thirty hay bales, all directed towards a trio of flannel-clad, heavily mustached banjo-wielding men. Children, aunts, grandfathers, cousins, identical twins, fathers…the whole family wakes up and down the stalls hand in hand, giving waves and “howdy!”s to the stall owners and to each other.

Because of course they know each other. The people here in Emporia do, because it’s that kind of town.

I half expected to be met by Lorelai or Luke; I definitely saw my fair share of individuals who could play the part.

Even now as I sit at the garden table outside of Java Cat, typing up this post and sipping espresso, a man with bright blue eyes rimmed in wrinkles has passed me and waved goodnaturedly.

Who are you? is never asked here. Because it’s that kind of town.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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How to Smash Sub-par Performance

 

“If you were a boat, my darling, a boat, my darling…”

My alarm-song goes off, the tune forever ruined by my self-subliminal associations with waking up. 5:17am.

I roll over, my fuzzy brown blanket entwined around my legs, and root for the switch for the lamp. I give a groan as lamplight floods through the dark room. I throw myself out of bed before the snooze button can defeat me and pull the covers taunt, signaling a start to the day.

I wiggle into Emilie Forsberg–my new trail shoes–and tighten a bandana around my frizzy morning curls. Fill up the water bottle; get the house key; switch the watch on; last minute pee-opportunity.

I’m out the door.

I take off along the loose gravel at a slow pace, allowing my body to loosen itself up as it goes. To shake off the dregs of motionless sleep and to create challenges for my sleepy brain. I wait for my hips to relax and my stride to lengthen, for my calf muscles to stretch against the uneven ground and my feet to pulse up and down. I wait for my shoulders to relax, my arms to swing evenly, my core to engage.

I wait.

A mile…two miles.

Waiting. Patiently.

More miles pass.

More, more, more.

Suddenly, I’m back at the apartment an hour later and the only difference is that I’m a bit sticky and it’s a tad lighter out. Otherwise, I feel no significant amounts of gain, as if I had been in this extended warm-up for the whole run.

It’s as if my body can’t obey my pleas for it to go faster, for it to relax, for it to get itself together and show some damn improvement, please, we’ve got races to run!

It doesn’t matter that I went to bed an hour earlier. That I ate a well balanced meal of carbs:protein the night before. That I stretched thoroughly and did a short ab workout before in order to engage muscle groups.

None of those things matter, obviously, because I’m still slow and tight.

So I go inside the apartment, chuck myself in for a cold refreshing shower to minimize inflammation–if any of that could even have happened–pat myself dry and snuggle into my favorite Patagonia hoodie.

I take to the kitchen, brew some french press coffee, craft some oatmeal with chia, flax, honey and peanut butter; backtrack into my room to sit up next to my oak desk and pull out the keyboard.

Writing. Mind palace. Discovery center.

I start this day’s blank page with a definitive “WHY”.

Not a why me?, or a TELL ME WHY, or a bu-bu-buh why, George, why?, kind of sniffly, aggressive, I’m-not-responsible kind of manner. Just a simple, inquisitory “WHY

Okay, Jos. This has been a trend for the past week. This symptom of unambitious, rather disinterested lazy running. And this is what it is: it’s a symptom. So why? Why is it there? Why the lethargy?

So I talk myself through the steps:


Acknowledgement Number 1:

Performance is dictated by behavior.

This makes sense, right? How we behave is indicative of how we will perform. If I behave like a child in my classes, then the resulting performance will be that my teachers will not take me seriously.

Same with running: running performance and success is based in part on running behavior. If I were to “behave” with bad, sloppy form, then my running performance will be founded upon that.

But my form is fine, I’m conscious of that part. Conscious to do strides and to do calisthenics to make sure neural connections are activated. So it’s something deeper.

And we proceed:

Acknowledgement Number 2:

Behavior is dictated by thoughts.

Our behavior–how we act–is coming from what we are thinking. If I think that Sally is an idiot, it is going to be all too easy for me to treat her like that. To talk more passive-aggressively, to be more aggravating within our conversation.

With running: form and eating habits and stretching–all behaviors of running–are indicated by thoughts. How do I think about running? Do I like it? Because if I do, I’m going to run like I like it. I’m going to run with grace and pride and intentionality, because that’s what I think about it. And therefore my form and habits will be graceful and intentional.

I mean, my form is not the most graceful. But I do really, really love running. So that’s not the issue, either.

So we proceed:

Acknowledgement Number 3:

Thoughts are dictated by feelings.

Many lump “thoughts and feelings” on equal terms, but I soundly believe that feelings are going to be a deeper substance in oneself than a thought is. You may think that, logically speaking, a food is good for you and healthy for you and you should just consume the damn thing and then you’re going to be perfectly fine.

But if it makes you feel wretched, there is a strong chance you will kick it to the garbage.

Running: I can think that I like it for ages and ages, but if I don’t let myself actually feel like I like it, than it loses it’s power. And that impacts behavior, which impacts performance.

On this note, I sincerely believe you can think yourself to things. That you can think, over and over again: “I LOVE RUNNING”, and if you stick with that thought and reinforce it, it’s going to happen for you.

And then it all becomes this nice little intrinsic package of glory and wonder, and running life becomes easier to stick with after that.

So thoughts and feelings have to be interconnect: but I love running and I also FEEL that I love it. Not the problem.

Moving along:

Acknowledgement Number 4:

Feelings are dictated by emotions.

Vhut?!, as the Germans would exclaim. How are feelings different from emotions?

Feelings are the actions of emotions; the body has registered the emotions and has put that energy into motion (hence e-motion) to form a feeling.

For example: anticipation is an emotion. Optimism could be the resulting feeling.

Concerning running: if our feeling is “I love what I am doing right now”, the emotion upon which that feeling is based could be energy, or confidence.

But I feel energetic enough…kind of. And less confidence than normal, but still I have running self-efficacy. So…close to the problem, but that’s not the root source.

Last one:

Acknowledgement Number 5:

Emotions are dictated by physiology.

The heart rate increases, the blood pressure rises, the pupils dilate: that is the physiological basis for the emotion of fear. Pretty typical example.

The pulse increases, the breathing deepens, the mouth gets dry: that is a physiological foundation for the emotion of attraction.

Concerning running: the emotion of energy is based on all neural activity firing properly, my metabolism working well enough to supply me calorically for my task. My muscles working properly and balancing well enough to promote running economy.

That’s where the issue is. I don’t feel physiologically capable to go faster.


A lot of people say that; “I can’t go on, I simply can’t!” And they end up being wrong because no, actually, the problem wasn’t all the way at the root of physiology, it was because you weren’t enjoying what you were doing and your success terminated at “feeling”.

Or because you kept reinforcing for yourself the thought that “I can’t go on, stop making me”, so naturally your behavior-and-then-performance gave you the A-Okay to just give up.

Sometimes it is all the way to the root of it, though. And that’s okay: because even though all of those inner workings seem complicated and vastly out of my own realm of knowledge as a 21-year-old English major, there is something I can do.

Into this autonomous system of ours–heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, sweat regulation–we have a small button at our disposal specifically designed for our own control.

The breath.

This is something that can easily switch from autonomous to conscious in a mindful second. And that’s what it takes: a mindful second.

Meditation.

Not just some phony, little mind-diddie. I’m talking about the pure, raw, beautiful control that we have over our breathing. This is our ticket into changing and manipulating our physiology, in order to start a chain effect to reach performance.

Dr. Alan Watkins approaches the twelve different ways to manipulate the breath for the body in his Ted Talk titled “How to be Brillant Every Day”; but he highlights the role of specifically three to have profound impact. 

First: rhythm.

This is in-for-five-and-out-for-five, not in-for-three-out-for-two-deep-breath-in-for-one-out-for-three disorganization. Rhythmic breathing aligns your system. When people are telling you to “just breathe deeply” in order to calm you down, what they really should be saying is “breathe rhythmically”.

Second: smooth.

Jerky breathing is disorganized, and allots you no permanent hold over your breathing pattern. Smooth, even, long, beautiful strokes of rhythmic air movement.

Third: directed towards the heart.

The heart is a powerhouse of electricity; sending purposeful breath to this area of the body promotes the powerhouse. You do this by just placing awareness and attention on your chest as you breathe in and out. In-in-in-and-out-out-out. Slow and smooth and steady.

So after I get to the bare bones of my issue, I do this: I breathe in the manner of the three, mindful and slow and rhythmic and even. It adjusts my blood pressure, it regulates my heart beat, it relaxes my muscles because of increase in oxygen.

I’m breathing now from the chest, and my emotions are similarly turning more positive: there is a reason why we say “I love him with all of my heart” over “I love him with all of my brain”: the chest yields positive, happy emotions.

My emotions, based on a properly functioning mindful physiology, are becoming positive, which in turn promotes healthy feelings. Those feelings turn into productive thoughts which turn into useful behaviors which turn into successful performance.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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A Round-of-Applause for Bruce

It was a jumping kind of day.

Jumping out of bed because I missed my first alarm. Jumping into the shower after a run that took longer than I thought. Jumping into the pantry to scramble together a some-sort-of-lunch and jumping into a bowl of muesli for breakfast because all of my jumping seemed to be in slow motion for the day.

Jumping on the bike and jump-biking to class.

To make matters a smidge more unnecessarily panick-y, as I was slamming my bitty-sized road tires into the myriads of wedges in the choppy Emporia streets on my jump-bike to class, I was watching the front tire literally deflate in front of my wide eyes.

Pinch flats, you little stinkers.

My beautiful wonderful bike is my main man. That’s how I zip to work directly following classes every day like a good little capitalist. That’s how I get home after work. That’s how I get anywhere, really, because I hate driving in towns.

I didn’t have any time to go back home and get my car before going to work. And I equally didn’t have any time to just walk to work after courses.

After I squeal into the bike rack in front of Visser Hall, I give a downhearted squeeze on the front little guy.

Yep. Flat. Sad and flat like a wooden puppet who just wants to be a real girl.

I sit in two hours of courses, calculating: I’ve got one hour in between my classes that is my only hour to get things done until after I get off work at 6. Where can I squeeze in “light bike maintenance”?

That hour, on this day, was devoted towards biking downtown to my landlord’s office and turning in the rent of both me and my roommate, and also sending emails with a professional resume (that I hadn’t made yet) to the five teachers I will be interning under for my Phase 1 Education semester. Those things being due by 3:30 this day (surprise!).

I’ll just zip to the on-campus bike pump before booking it downtown.

Yeah, okay, good game plan.

Class ends, I skimper to my bike and walk her to the bike pump. I twist off the golden cap and lock the head of the bike pump to her securely. Like a dynamite expert I grip the handlebars and give it a solid pump.   

Hussssssssss.

The air swooshed out of my tire faster than I was able to pump it in. I checked the nozzle to make sure the head was securely fastened and locked; it was. I checked as much as I thought to, thinking that perhaps I was simply being an idiot who couldn’t properly air up a bike tire.

In the midst of my downhearted and severe struggling, visibly becoming more and more agitated, I suddenly heard, in a long Midwestern drawl; life-breath:

“Can I be of assistant, ma’am?”

I turned around to face a tall, overalled man with a mechanics hat and a big bushy moustache. I nodded feverishly and he crouched to examine the situation, deeming that my presta tires needed an adaptor in order to properly connect to this bike pump.

Immediately he jumped into his ESU-issued golf cart and declared his intent to go purchase one for me from the local downtown bike shop; as he peeled away, he called over his shoulder:

“The name’s Bruce.”

Bruce, you hero.

He came charging back, adaptor in hand, 15 minute later. Like the true champion he is, he swiftly latched the adaptor on the bike pump and had my tire at proprer PSI in minutes. My tears dried up, my throat stopped thumping, my body stopped shaking.

It was as if all the wrong in the day–hell, all the wrong in the world–faded in those moments. The fact that someone was so willing to just help me. To shimmy all the way downtown to get something to aid a struggling stranger.

“Eff you ever need this here tired aired, just come to on o’er to the shop”, he said, gesturing over his shoulder. “Ask for Bruce”, he added.

I nodded furiously, grasping his hand in mine and giving it at least seven solid pumps to show my appreciation.

We need more people like Bruce. Beautiful wonderful helpful Bruce, just observing people in struggle and doing what he can–above what he is expected to do–in order to salvage them from their own sense of panic.

 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

 

bruce

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How to Make Friends with Exchange Students

Kansas local, a vast working knowledge of how Emporia State University works, an established group of friends, a bubble of comfort. Strolling through campus saying hi to those I recognize, pleasantly in my cultural comfort zone. I know where I’m going, I know what I’m doing.

At least enough to pretend like I do. Suddenly; who do I intersect with?

The Exchange Student.

Exotic. Mysterious. Holy.

Two of them actually, arm in arm, speaking in either a language or accent unaccustomed to my ears. They seem…unapproachable. Again, set apart. From a different land. They’ve got each other, both of them vastly more interesting than myself. How could I go talk with them? How could I ever make friends with them? What would they want to do with me?

I remember thinking these things before going abroad to become the Exchange Student myself in Graz, Austria for the 2016/17 school year.

There I realized, very quickly:

Yeah, this doesn’t feel exotic, mysterious or holy. It kind of just feels like I’m….inevitably lost, late, and behind in the game.  

I went over to Austria a month early in September to take an Intenstive German course. Naturally this experience was peppered with other international students: what Austrian local would take a German class?

I would spend 3+ hours a day with other international students, all equally feeling lost, late, and behind as myself and in the market for some friends. In our breaks between course we would have picnics in the Stadtpark. Our conversations would usually be in English as we made up such a wide spectrum of German language ability that to be fully inclusive we would settle with a language almost every European knows to fluency.

I went over to Austria with the desire to be as Austrian as possible for the year. I was going to learn how to speak the dialect if it killed me; I was going to assimilate to the culture; I wouldn’t hang out with Americans of course because I can just do that in America.

But it didn’t work out that way so much.

It definitely took a while before I got to know local Austrians.

Right off the bat I fell in love with the other international students; getting to know about Croatia, Australia, Hungary, Slovakia, France, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, Finlad, Germany, Bosnia, Alaska…instead of just getting to know Austria.

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It was easy to fall in love with the other international students. We were in the same boat, right? Out of our element, desperate for friends, desperate to share horror stories of the Austrian bureaucracy system. We spent much of the first month together struggling through German grammar. We went to the same parties, the same pubs, the same events geared towards welcoming International Students.

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The Austrians are really lovely. Really lovely people. But the local Austrians had friends already, had Austrian-German knowledge, had residency permits and flats and favorite pubs and knew how to get around and where would our paths cross?

Eventually through a mutual Hungarian friend I got to know one Austrian really well; who then introduced me to his Austrian buddies; who then accepted me into their open inclusive Austrian arms; who then hung out with me and taught me Austria.

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But it took a bit of time.

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Now, being back at Emporia State Universtiy, strolling through a campus I am very familiar with, saying hi to friends and buddies that I’ve known for ages, whistling along in my cultural comfort zone…I see Exchange Students again.

And I hear whispers:

They only hang out with each other.

Well, uh, yeah. Of course. It’s the beginning of the year. Many–if not most–of them feel varying degrees of lost, late, and behind in the game. They’ve been introduced to each other, they’ve been given opportunities to bond amongst themselves and you can bet it feels amazing to talk with someone who knows how hard it is to be here as an exchange student.

For myself as an Exchange Student, I never felt like I was in any way better than an Austrian local student. They were always the superior; this was their ballpark. Because of this it was difficult for me to approach them until they approached me. Or at least made it seem like they were willing to have a conversation in the broken German I could muster.

It just took a few of them to open the doors for conversation before I gained the confidence to talk with whomever I wanted.

 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Being Back: Uncut

I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed!” he snorted. “Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something. Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

Let’s you and I go to a place of being real.

A place of trust.

I need to trust that you won’t think of me as simply being stuck in pity. Confusion. That I just want sympathy.

I need to trust that you won’t think I require anything of you; I don’t begin this post with a list of expectationsIf you have been following my writing then you will have heard me mention my need to write in order to process life. So I also begin this post from a place of simply needing to process what I am feeling.

I publish this because I know that there are some reading it who have experienced the same.

I arrived back in Kansas last Saturday. For a full account of that particular adventure refer to my previous post, “Dorothy Got Lucky with The Tornado: A 78-Hour Journey Back To Kansas”. 

I spent six days at my parent’s house in Manhattan and the following Saturday those same parents helped move the immense cultivation of necessary apartment items down to Emporia.

This past weekend, then, was spent unpacking and decorating with my brilliant new flatmate and her magical entertaining boyfriend. Which is fun. You know, moving and decorating and snuggling in…those types of safe, exciting changes are, well, exciting.

Distractingly exciting.

But then I had to come back to Manhattan on Monday morning to participate in an activity that may be the absolute bane of my existence: a dentist appointment. 

Friends who might become dental hygienists in the future:

We can either have a kickass conversation about life, OR we can deep-clean-wth-a-saw my teeth. We cannot do both. 

Maybe expect a separate blog post on the Dentist Appointment, because I’ve got a lot to say about those.

This activity was shortly followed by Things-I-Hate-Most-in-Life’s runner-up, the Bank. Last year‘s banking experiences were awful, I have no reason to believe it will ever get better. And honestly I am never disappointed.

Anyways.

Being back in Kansas is a wake-up call. Suddenly my days are filled with driving to the dentist, driving to the bank, driving to go update my driver’s license. Dealing with scholarship and loans, buying textbooks for school, buying supplies, buying apartment necessities, buying permits and passes. Did I mention I have pretty much zero money?  There’s a lot of life admin that has had to happen this past week before I can move to Emporia.

Which doesn’t improve the whole “adjusting process” that is trying to take place.

I have been living in an alternate Universe this past year.

Yeah, the beginning of living in Austria kind of sucked: getting residency paperwork taken care of, figuring out the culture, having to meet new people, being out of my comfort zone. But after all of that passed–after the first month, really–then my life was filled with 3 days of Uni and 4 days of non-stop adventures.

Filled with turkish market 1 euro avocado-and-bread lunches, late-night kebab with friends, outdoor concerts and performances, brilliant flatmates, a close-by train station and close-by countries. Not to mention pleasant weather (i.e. not saturated with humidity and bugs).

Now this has been replaced by the dentist and bank. Two things about America that drive me nuts.

It’s a negative outlook, but everything that the people around me are doing feels meaningless. I stand in line at the grocery store and overhear the people behind me complaining about how “well, the sprinklers aren’t as powerful nowadays, my lawn is not as emerald green as it was last summer!” and “Last night Russell and I were watching   Late Night on our massive expensive DVR and the recording cut out 5 minutes before the end!”

These stupid complaints are then shortly followed by a sympathetic sign of exasperation and a, “Well, now, that really sucks!”

I’ve returned home with different priorities. And I feel dissonance because of this: I am simultaneously way more strong-willed with my beliefs and also more empathetic to the point where I realize my new priorities and beliefs are not wholly welcome here. Or beneficial.

No one wants to hear that I think their complaints are needless.

I feel stuck-up and arrogant. Like I am declaring myself to be superior because, well, lived in Europe for a year, so “obvi” I am better than you narrow-minded Kansan.

I am trying to reign myself in. To remind myself that I am young and basically anyone who is older actually does know more simply on the grounds that they have lived longer. They have done more life than I; I need to give them some credit for that.

But I am young, and you know us millennials: I sometimes sincerely believe I know everything.

I am digressing: this is not a blog post to justify my negative feelings. This is a post written as a reminder to stop judging myself. 

You look back up there, and you can see judgement, can’t you? Palpable judgment?

Yeah. That’s why I am writing this.

I think that is one of the first things that needs to happen in order to move forwards from this past year. I need to let go of judgement. I need to let myself simply feel whatever it is I am feeling, without trying to label it and cap it.

Last night was rough.

I don’t feel like I belong in this Kansas world.

After my parents came and picked me up from the airport and then drove me home back to Manhattan, one of the first things I did was shower. Because God-knows how many people died in the presence of my smelly aura during those last couple of flights.

I took a shower, and then–as my suitcase was still in the car with all of my clothes–I picked through my Kansas-Josie closet for something into which to change.

It was weird. Seriously weird.

I didn’t remember owning any of these clothes, and most of them fit me wrong. My “fashion style”–if one could dare call it that–has changed over this past year.

So here I was…looking into the mirror on my wall. Not having looked into a full-length mirror in a month. Wearing someone else’s clothes. Trying not to cry in my state of extreme jet-lag.

I felt like my entire room back “home” was not mine but Kansas-Josie’s and I was a visitor.

I am different. I am thankful for this, because it would be even worse if nothing had changed, but nevertheless it has rendered me feeling like I don’t belong here.

Last night was rough.

I sobbed myself to sleep; there are still forty snotty tissues all over the floor. It was ugly crying, too. Like, Josie gasping for air because her nose was so clogged kind of crying.

I am sad. That’s kind of what it comes to.

Initially, I was labeling it: I am sad to be in Kansas. I am sad because it’s hot and humid and if I go outside than the mosquitos murder me. I am sad because my hair is SUPER frizzy and attacking every facial orifice. I am sad because I feel unprepared for everything here. 

When I attached justifications and qualifiers like that, suddenly immense amounts of anxiety arose. I can’t control that I am in Kansas right now. I can’t control the humidity or the bugs. I can’t control my RAGING INSANE hair.

And when I feel entirely out of control like that I get really anxious. Which is a pretty human condition.

We’re told that there is a hierarchy of emotions, right? That happy and excited and motivated are close to the top and acceptable forms of feeling. And sad, angry, miserable are at the bottom of the acceptability ladder.

How many times have you been told, “It’s okay, don’t be sad!”; “Don’t get angry…”; “Don’t be anxious!”? I’m betting loads. If not by other people, than by yourself.

What does this lead to?

I get more angry that I’m angry.

I get more sad that I’m sad.

I get more anxious that I’m anxious.

So point being: I’m sad. That is what I am feeling. And I want to be sad. Not forever, not for much longer even. Just for now. Just for a little bit.

Being sad doesn’t mean that I am being a bummer. Or that I am simply “throwing myself a pity party”. Or that there is anything wrong with me.

It’s okay to feel like I don’t belong. It’s okay to sit with that emotion and feel it out.

When my feelings “turn south”, my go-to is to simply distract myself, right? Watching movies, playing games with friends, drinking, reading, being on the internet, buying new toys.

Then those “negative” feelings just get buried and trapped and smothered.

So I am going to make a linguistic change. There aren’t things as “negative” or “positive” emotions: there are, perhaps, desirable and undesirable emotions. Feelings you would rather be feeling and things you would rather not feel.

Whatever I am feeling is justified simply because I am feeling it. To deny it it’s chance to breathe and be exposed and discovered is doing myself a serious disservice.

Accepting myself–every stinking part of myself–is the first way for me to regain my sense of belonging.

It was an intense year. I’m not going to add stupid happy-ending things like “but this year is going to EVEN BETTER!” because I want to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation.

 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

 

 

 

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Dorothy Got Lucky With The Tornado: A 78-Hour Journey Back To Kansas

Today marks one week after the day after the first day I started traveling home to Kansas from Italy. 

I would like to share with you my voyage back to the motherland for three reasons: first, to celebrate this phenomenal achievement of a day. Second, because I have been physically in Kansas for 5 days now, and while it’s been…adjectives…to be back, I’m already restless. Like, itchy. I need to move, I need to go somewhere, I need to hear different languages and I want to look at the jam shelf in the supermarket and not quasi-explode by how many options there are. All I want is purple jam, damn it. There is literally nothing that gets me out of my head and calms me down quite like writing. 

I hope you appreciated the pun subconsciously layered in that last sentence. Three points for identifying it correctly. 

Thirdly, the journey home makes for a darn good story. I think you will be sufficiently entertained. 

If you consider yourself an empathetic person, prepare for something akin to boating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in a dingy, the monster waves around you threatening to capsize your entire system at any moment. 

We begin our narrative at 3:30pm on Wednesday, August 2 in Perugia, Italy. Pretty Perugia, situated in the rolling hills of Umbria, somewhere in between Florence and Rome. 

Featuring: Josie, slightly sticky from the massive heat of the Italian summer and from lugging her pack across hills and mountains to the taxi stand. 

I had been in Umbria (primarily Assisi) since July 1st, teaching English, drinking espresso in the mountains, and attempting to thwart the GABILLIONS of flies that plague the south during the summer. 

Wednesday. I’d been in Perugia for a few days, traveling around with a good pal from the U.K. We said our farewells and I chucked my pack in the trunk of a fuel-efficient taxi. Off we go, whisking away to the random parking lot way outside of town that Flixbus decides is a decent enough place for pick up. 

The temperature is that of the sun, friends. I’m wearing pants–curses–and my favorite black traveling top. I call it my “non commitment shirt”, because it’s flowy fabric doesn’t seem to stick to my body no matter how sweaty I am. This top plays a fun role in the story, so pay attention. 

I’m sitting underneath an olive tree, pleasantly fanning myself with my paper ticket fast enough to cool myself down and also defeat the flies. A woman–middle-aged, round in the middle, very tan, energetic–comes up to me:

Questo è il posto dove verrà flixbus?”

I nod, successfully recognizing only the word “flixbus”. At this point in time, I pat myself on the back for my italian conversational ability. 

Something something something?

I don’t get this one. 

Urm, inglesi?”

This unleashes an excited giggle and an explosion of strongly-accented English. The woman is a former English teacher, thrilled beyond my personal belief to have a chance to update her vocab. I think the only words I said to her where the first ones in Italian, and then “wonderful to meet you” concluding our time together, because this chick was eager. 

She tells me her life story while we wait, and when the big green flying machine pulls up we exchange some cheek-wise kisses and bid each other a wholesome farewell. 

Not even an hour into traveling and I’ve made a friend. I do some mental heel-clicks, trying to savor the feeling of being somewhat of a commodity in a foreign country that will soon disperse when I get back to Kansas. 

Wednesday, August 2: 6:00pm: Rome.

The bus gets to Rome, the sketchy ghetto of all places. I clamber out with my pack and duck into a snack bar for a sandwich and some coffee while I wait for my connection onwards. The two hours are spent by alternately reading some Terry Pratchett and watching Justin Bieber music videos with the bartender. 

Wednesday, August 2: 8:00pm: to Slovenia.  

I scale the steps into a second flixbus, this one destined for Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. I choose my seat wisely: perfect distance from the bathroom, comfortable enough to produce a restful night’s sleep, eastside of the bus for a good sunrise viewing. 

The bus is relatively empty which is always good: taking a night bus is one thing, but taking a night bus when you are packed like a peanut with a bunch of slightly sweaty strangers is another. 

I’m a floppy sleeper. 

I begin well, you know, upright and normal; good sleeping-on-public-transportation form with chin-over-heart-over-pelvis. But then as I trance into deeper stages of sleep, I begin to flop. Flop to the left, jerk myself back to stage one sleep. Flop to the right, jerk myself back to stage one sleep. Flop again, back and forth. 

Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t the inspiration for the “whip my hair back and forth” music video. 

A half hour into the haul we make a stop, and a tall, gangly gent climbs on board, over-eager with his thumbs hooking around the straps of his backpack. We make brief eye contact: this is bad. 

There are certain tactics you have to learn to if you want a successful, smooth long-long-soverylonghowmuchlonger bus ride: you can be friendly to the other passengers–should be friendly, they’re human beings after all–but not too friendly. You’ve got to be just the riiiiight amount of unapproachable to deter anyone from sitting next to you. 

At the time of above-mentioned eye contact with Gangly Gent, I was nodding along to some Nina Simone. Gangly Gent gets the idea that my nods and eye contact were to be interpreted as, “come join! Let’s be friends forever!” 

He makes his way up the aisle, locking eyes with the seat next to me, and the entire time my eyes are slowly squinting and my eyebrows are slowly knitting in a last effort to subconsciously deter deter DETER! 

Finally he gets close enough and my facial features relax into the societally-appropriate “you’re a human, I’m a human” expression. He sits next to me, we shake hands, I attempt to subconsciously warn him of my sleep-flop disorder. 

Fast forward about four hours: it’s midnight and I awake with a start, my head very INAPPROPRIATELY making a home against his upper arm. 

Damn the sleep flop! 

Blissfully, he’s passed out. Or dead. His neck bent at a bizarre angle, head back, mouth cavernously open. His breathing sounds like an asthmatic cat attempting to purr. 

I lightly wind my head back to the center, softly wiping off the little drool spots that have blossomed on his sleeve. And we fast forward about four more hours:

It’s three in the morning and I awake with a start, my head AGAIN nuzzling against his arm. Sleep flop! I panic and check his face: nope, still dead. Crank crank crank, wipe wipe wipe–leave no trace, Josie, just like the woods–and we’re good to go. 

Thursday, August 4: 6:30am: in Ljublijana. 

I don’t even bend my legs as I hobble off the bus, the joints in a state of extreme stiff. I’ve got two hours to kill before boarding the train to Maribor, and these are spent tucked into the train station cafe holding on for dear life to a paper cup of espresso. 

I’m staring into blank space, much like my zombie compadres seated around me, when all of a sudden! Guess who walks up to me!

It’s classmate-from-class-whose-name-I-dont-recall! I do remember he’s a Ljublijanan local and briefly wonder why he’s at the tiny train station cafe, then briefly wonder if I’m awake or sleeping on the bus still, and why are there people around me again?

We have a nice jolly chat–none of which I can now remember, including his name and purpose–and he departs. This encounter makes me unnecessarily happy. Like really really happy, because it makes me feel like somehow I belong here. I went from being little baby itty Kansas Josie with no European contacts to suddenly I can be in a random European country and bump into someone I recognize!

Thursday, August 4: 8:30am: to Maribor. 

I board the train destined to Maribor, the little beautiful town situated on the border of Slovenia and Austria. The Slovenian countryside is delightfully beautiful to pass through by train, perhaps one of the most beautiful countrysides in lower Europe. 

Do people call that part of Europe “lower-Europe?” Not sure. Must google that later. 

I’ve had the immense fortune to have taken the train through the Slovenian countryside three times prior to this jaunt, and had been looking forward to rushing again past cottages and hills. 

So naturally I fall asleep the entire two hours. 

Thursday, August 4: 10:30am: to Graz 

Mini-pause taken at the Maribor train station as I wait to change for the Graz-bound train. My little body is bouncing back in forth as it approaches, because I am so excited to be going back to Graz, even just for a few hours. It’s only been a month since I’ve been in Graz, and I’ve missed it. A lot a lot. 

I get to Graz around 11:30, nab a banana and peanut butter from Spar–I pay for it of course–and walk back home. 

No. Man, get out of that thinking. 

I walk back to my former home, the beautiful pre-lived in Wienerstrasse dorms. I sneakily creep to the laundry room, change out of non-commitment top and into my running gear. I tuck my pack behind a random shopping cart, and hit the trails. 

Wooooooo! Flying free! Running alongside the Mur brings a rush of beautiful nostalgia, passing familiar trees, saying hello to familiar benches, getting weird looks from the other runners. 

It’s hot. Heat of the day hot. 

I finish the run and shuffle down to the banks of the Mur, sweaty sweaty sweaty but happy. I chuck my watch and rings and shoes to the side and jump in the river, the cold water soothing my pulsing body and cooling me down. I duck under the water playfully, no cares no worries. No one can see me, this is safe zone. Graz is safe-zone.

I spend the next hour dozing off on a rock, waking up to crispy clothing and bizarre tan lines. I bounce back to the Wienerstrasse dorms, change back into non-commitment top, and then go upstairs to meet CECA AND MARKUS!

We collide into firm hugs and I drop my pack off again at Ceca’s. We hop onto bikes and peddle down to the Hauptplatz

It just so happened that my time back in Graz aligned with a street festival, random variety acts free of charge and out in the open taking place randomly throughout the city. Open-mouthed we watch an act of acrobatic-piano players, dancing on top of four hastily-stacked pianos. 

Suddenly, who taps on my shoulder but MATTIAS AND LUKAS! Yay yay yay, friendships! The act ends and Markus, Ceca, Matthias and I head over to the Kunsthaus Cafe for spritzers and life chats. 

We spend the next hour and a half in the above manner, then pause to watch a clown. More spritzers, further life conversations. Refreshing. 

It’s now 9 o’clock, and as wir haben Hunger, we go grab take-out noodles and kebab and jaunt over to the river again. We spread out our catch on the rocks by the shore and bathe in some more friendship. 

After our dinner we head back into the city center to Flann O’Briens and share some cider together in the courtyard, listening to the live music and cracking ourselves up. 

The clock strikes midnight, and through yawns and stretches we depart and head back to Wienerstrasse. 

This part is sad. 

I say a final–actual final–goodbye to Markus and Mattias. Spy Vedad, my flatmate–former flatmate–and give him a big hug, too. It’s sad. I don’t want to add more adjectives. 

Ceca and I go back to her flat and I shower, scrubbing the stiff bus-night-of-sleep and crusty Mur waters off my skin. Repack, gather my things. Finally, with extreme reluctance, we leave her flat and Ceca helps me carry my two bags to the street to catch a cab to my next flixbus location. 

Markus, Mattias, Vedad, Dardan, Dardan’s girlfriend, Nordin–even you, Irfan–Ceca. Manfred! Max, Taher! Zsofia, Zoli, Zibi, Senka, Thomas, Alexander. Lindsey, Aubrey, Dan, Joe, Laura, Lukas, Katie. Ahh. I know is annoying to name so many people in a list, but these people that I was now peeling away from–either physically or metaphorically–mean so much to me

And there are so many others who have filled my year with smiles and giggles and epic adventures and now pain because as I was being carted away in the stupid taxi cab my heart was tearing into shards and pieces. 

Friday, August 5: 2:20am: to the Vienna airport. 

I hop the flixbus and my oozing sadness serves to deter any European body from even thinking of sitting next to me. 

Sleep ensues. I wake up, fresh and bouncy–lies–two and a half hours later and stumble down the steps. I find a quiet corner in the Vienna airport next to a kid with lungs the size and velocity of a repeatedly exploding volcano and attempt a tuck-in for an hour and half of doze before checking in my luggage. 

Friday, August 5: 9:00am: to Cologne. 

I’m seated on the plane now, and the long-haired man sitting next to me has elbows that seem to be stuck in the second stage of the chicken dance, but all is well because soon I once more become dead to the world and slump fully against the window of the plane. 

I don’t remember the take off, nor do I recall anything more than the jolt after landing. I do remember being ravenous, though, upon awaking and my body being confused on what is even going on.

I follow Sassy Locks down the steps of the plane and we all jam into small airport shuttles which take us to the terminals for connections. I’m awake now; the many bodies pressing against me keep me upright and send signals to be alert to my brain. 

I’ve got three hours to kill before the long-haul to Miami, so I grab a massively overpriced salad and snuggle into the black leather seats at the gate. It’s a satisfying brunch situation, but like I mentioned before, I was quite quite hungry. 

Upon the demolition of my salad, I considered going in search of more sustenance. But the price of food in airports has always deterred me, and the effort of leaving my comfy semi-fetal perch upon the armless seats was too much to handle. 

They’ll feed you on the plane, little Giblett, I say to my body, patting myself on the stomach. 

Friday, August 5: 2:00pm: to Miami.

Well, joke was on me.

Perhaps the airline company was attempting to do its passengers a favor by adjusting us to the time change. What was a 2pm-midnight:thirty flight for a European was an 8am-6pm flight for an American, and I guess lunch is usually lighter than dinner.

Perhaps the flight I had stumbled upon was one of those fat-camp-on-a-plane flights which I am not convinced don’t exist. Our promised “one hot” meal consisted of a solitary package of Belvita breakfast crackers given graciously at 10pm Euro time and a routine amount of water.

So I missed the BYOF memo, and consequently the flight was spent in random fitful naps and attempts to distract myself from my angsty teenaged stomach with more Terry Pratchett.

There also weren’t any movies on the flight, which is fine–because surprisingly one can exist without consistent entertainment–but it was a further misunderstanding on my part. I had been looking forward the time travel that seems to happen when you lose yourself in a good film. And as I had been living in a box the past year, I was curious what movies had been out while I was gone.

However, it proved a good excuse to finish a book, and the boy whose-parents-only-gave-him-Velcro-shoes-as-a-kid seated next to me provided some light aerobic exercise as I consistently dodged his wandering elbows.

What is it with elbows these days? They’ve either developed abandonment issues or have grown in diameter. Back in my day those puppies were slender.

Finally the plane lands in Miami. At this point, life is so confusing it’s now become just whatever. I’m hungry, still, have been for what seems like my entire life, and it’s also sunny and bright when it should be midnight.

My angsty teenaged organs have zero chill.

It takes about forty minutes to get past customs and card-checking and stamping and I’m confused about why flying into any American airport is so insanely complicated. Nothing is labeled, there are no signs anywhere, only stern-faced guards saying “just keep going” over and over again. Who knows why, but I follow the crowd and find myself thankfully at the baggage claim.

I grab my big black suitcase, and backpacked up I follow a big gaggle of people.

Suddenly they split off along a corridor, and an employee and woman-who-only-drives-fuel-efficient-cars pulls me aside and scans the tag on my suitcase.

“You go that way, number one”.

I have zero idea of what she is talking about, having no recollection of seeing any kind of number. But I follow her super vague directions and come across this tiny itty sign reading, “Aisle one: missed connection”.

There is a bored looking man leaning against the wall, and as I approach he says with pity:

“Aw, so you missed your flight?”

“No,” I say slowly, looking around me.

“Why are you here, then?”

“I don’t know, really. That woman back there told me to go here.”

“Well, that’s probably because you missed your flight.”

“But I really didn’t–”

“What time was your flight?”

“It’s at 5:45 tomorrow morning!”

“Oh, so you didn’t miss your flight.”

“Correct!”

“In that case, just keep on going.”

I follow his finger with my eyes and it’s pointing down a corridor consistently marked with “missed connection” signs. I raise an eyebrow, and ask:

“But I didn’t miss my flight?”

He chuckles, which annoys me, and replies, “I know. Just follow it.”

People are telling me where to go but they aren’t telling me why I’m going there or what I need to do. There are no signs or indicators of direction, and anything logical seems to have been thrown out with the 1970’s remodeled carpet. I can’t imagine how Germans feel being in the Miami airport, because absolutely nothing is logical.

I follow the corridor until I get to a white door marked “crew exit”. I pause, uncertain, and the woman employee standing next to the door nods her head and mutters, “just keep going.”

But why?!

I exit the door and there is a kiosk, randomly standing alone in the middle of this wide room marked “American Airlines check in”. I go to it, because my flight to Dallas the next morning was on American Airlines, and if I could check everything now and get my boarding pass it would allot some extra sleep.

I print my boarding tickets, and then a woman comes up to me and tells me to go stand in this line in front of what looks like a baggage check in, no questions asked. I don’t know why, but she’s wearing a nametag and I’ve never had a good reason to not trust a “Harriet” before, so I comply.

Now I’m standing in the long line, my stomach audible, for forty-seven minutes, when another woman comes up to me and asks,

“Have you missed your connection?”

“No. I. Have. Not.”

What is it with these people?!

“Well, what are you doing here? This line is for people who need to check in bags for missed connections.”

All I want in life is to be home, showered and wrapped in a duvet, spooning a jar of Jif’s natural peanut butter.

She tells me to keep walking down the terminal until I get to the number three, and I can check in my bags for a future flight there. Guys, there are no numbers anywhere as I’m lugging my heavy backpack and heavy suitcase down the terminal. After twenty minutes I happen to glance up to my right and see a teeeeensy tiny little “3” above the exit door, and to my right is a random line of people queuing in no logical order.

It is now 8:30pm Miami time which equates to 2:30am Josie time. I haven’t eaten anything except the crackers and water since 11am and the past two nights have been spent on a bus. I’m confused, weary, angsty.

After another thirty minutes I reach the head of the que, and a woman behind the desk gestures me forward.

I hand her my boarding pass and passport. She scans it and glances down at my black suitcase. “Have you checked it in?”

What. I’m assuming that’s why I’ve been standing in this line for the past half hour, to check it in. I tell her as much, and she shakes her head saying that I’ve got to check in my bags at another random kiosk duh and I can only do that three hours before my flight. Then come back.

She asks what time my flight is, perhaps forgetting that my boarding pass is clutched in her tiny unhelpful fist, and I tell her 5:45. She nods, oh yes, she tells me. They will open the kiosks and the baggage check in desk at three am, plenty of time for my flight.

Fine, cool. Whatever. I find a corner that looks quiet and less dirty and that most importantly had a Starbucks about fifty yards south. Its overpriced, but I’m too hungry to be sad. I get a bagel, oatmeal, and a green Naked smoothie and go back to my corner.

Since I haven’t checked my black suitcase yet, I pull out my blue duvet that I had shoved into it, and wrap myself into fetal position, placing my suitcase as a barrier between me and the rest of the world. It’s 3:30am Josie time, and I get to be horizontal for a change.

Saturday, August 5: 5:45am to Dallas.

It’s actually a good night’s sleep, and I wake feeling rested at 2:50am Miami time (8:50am Josie time). I lug my stuff to the kiosk and find that when the woman said “we open at 3am” she really meant “4:15”. That’s a very different time.

I wait for ages, I don’t know how far away my gate is, and when I finally get up to the counter with the appropriate “checked in tags” that I had to pay for, I’ve got forty minutes before my gate closes.

The employee behind the counter and man-who-does-not-retain-body-fat weighs my bag as slowly as he can, and announces in an annoying southern drawl:

“Your bag is overweight. You have to move seven pounds.”

What? It was fine coming to here from a different continent, surely it can make it to Kansas. I have zero room to move things easily, and most pressingly I have zero time to do any of this. I’ve still got to go through security and find my gate. I tell him such, and he raises his plucked eyebrows and says sassily,

“Well then, that’s going to be ah handred dallahs.”

I have no choice.

As I hand him my credit card, I begin to cry, because this pushes me over an edge. It’s like the entire Miami airport was set up to make me fail. I just wanted to be home, I just wanted things to make sense.

Spiteful Skinny Man doesn’t care about my tears and sends my suitcase down the little conveyer belt. I take off, backpack snug on my shoulders, now openly bawling as I jog to the direction of my gate.

Welcome back to America, where it’s money über alles.

I make it through security and to my gate seven minutes before the gate closes. I board the plane next to Gigantor Elbows, the biggest of the whole trip, and as I lean my head against the window my stupid stomach growls and I realize that I am hungry again, damn it!

Ugh.

Saturday, August 5: 9:00am US time: to Kansas City.

While waiting for an hour in the Dallas airport, I eat hummus and pretzels and get to hear a lovely conversation featuring a woman complaining about how her iPad is at storage capacity and her companion repeating animatedly, “that really sucks, Doris.”

Finally I board the plane destined towards Kansas City. I doze, trying to make it go by faster.

My reunion with my parents is genuine and sweet, we embrace and I am so unbelievably happy to not be flying anymore.

Then we get to the car and I remember we have to drive two hours home to Manhattan.

Saturday, August 5: 11:00am: to Manhattan.

We get home and I am reunited with both Makenzie and Jif.

Peace and Blessings,
Josie

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Ali Menite Sprechen Inglese, من فضلك? A Note On The Language Barrier

Right now the only sounds swaying through my ears are those of the wind whistling through the leaves and the voice of Davendra Banhart coming from my speakers. It might not sound like it, but this is monumental.

I am perched on the sofa-bed on the back terrace overlooking the impressive surrounding mountains, haven given up my chance to accompany the 12 italian children alongside my colleagues to the nearby springs in favor of some desperate catch-up on my summer courses.

They have departed, and so I am here. The coursework can wait.

Mind palace. 

It’s funny: I forget how badly I need moments of quiet and isolation in order to think, and then situations like 12 children screaming italian and hitting each other with couch cushions come along and remind me. When peace is allotted to me–by the grace of my beautiful colleagues–I realize how entirely grateful I am for the chance to be in control of the sound which is going into my mind.

I’ve had a year to practice, but I still let language barriers get to me.

What I really want is to communicate to precious Theodora as she uses my body for her personal climbing tree that her and I can still be best friends even though I have no possible comprehension of the spew of words coming from her mouth.

What I really want is for sweet Martina to know that even though I don’t understand why she is crying, comfort can come from hugs and the nonverbal.

What I really want is for Marco to please stop hitting the piano keys with his shoes because it’s making the most god-awful noises. 

More times than I can count, I have been exposed this year to the idea that a person’s worth, value, intelligence–you name it–can come from other faucets than language. I like big fancy words, but whether or not the person with whom I am speaking uses them in a language I understand makes their worth no less.

The non-verbal can be as informative as the verbal.

That energy which comes out of me and mingles with the energy of similar souls comes from somewhere deeper than words. This is shown to me right now by how connected I feel to some of these Italian kids.

I know that they are frustrated I don’t speak Italian, as much as I am frustrated that I can draw pictures, do charades, stand on my head and yet they still will have no clue what I mean when I say what is your favorite thing we did yesterday?

Jodie bear-hugs my waist and whispers: c’e –io abbiamo –o something cosa and looks up at me with her gigantic blue eyes. I shake my head, saying that I have no idea what she is saying to me. Of course, she doesn’t understand, and replies accordingly in Italian, which then I don’t understand.

But she just keeps on hugging. Because sometimes hugging is more important than talking.

It took Katie and I 72 hours to get back to Austria from Morocco. On the last morning of our journey we were waiting to board the train back to Graz in Maribor, Slovenia, and we stopped in the little cafe for some breakfast.

It was quite early and Katie and I were the only customers. We dropped our packs off at a corner table, and sauntered over to the linoleum counter to order. We were in quite high spirits, as getting home was now finally in the cards (for more information, please reference my previous blog post: A 62 Journey Home).

A Slovenian woman came out from the corridor behind the counter, swinging her hips between fry pans and ketchup dispensers in this quasi-diner cafe. She heaved her elbows to rest on top of the counter, head supported in palms.

Kaj dobite za vas?*

  • *I google-translated that puppy so as to not just type phonetic nonsense like I did with the Italian. Sometimes I do try to be respectful. Sometimes.

 

Katie and I exchanged glances and some telepathic communication–per custom–and smiled.

“Do you have a breakfast menu?” I asked.

The woman rocked back on her heels, taking her head out from her palms. Her eyes went wide, her gaze suddenly fixated at the top left ceiling corner.

“Breakfast?” I tried again.

Her mouth went slack.

“Menu?” Katie offered.

The woman looked down.

Caffee?”

Katie and I looked at each other’s baggy eyes and shook our heads with more enthusiasm than is appropriate. The woman exploded in laughter and Katie and I immediately joined her. We spent the next full minute slapping the counter and howling like the animals we were at that point after so much traveling.

The beautiful Slovenian turned around.

“Wait, food?” Katie and I asked in unison.

With her back still to us, she grabbed a spatula and waved it in our direction, laughing out more Slovenian and motioning us to sit down at the table.

A few minutes later, she swings out from behind the counter, her arms supporting a tray full of coffee, french fries, tomatoes, grilled cheese, beans, and apples. She laughs again, shaking her head, as she sets the tray on our table. We look up at her with big adorning eyes, and thank her with our smiles.

At that moment, I wanted to shimmy out of my chair and wrap myself in her arms, begging her to be my best friend. There were so many factors connecting us in that moment and none of them had to do with language.

Today I had a little breakdown.

On the first night we made cardboard-covered “diaries” with the kiddos and each night after have been helping them to write a few sentences about the day in English. We exchanged diary-time for a massive epic feast last night, and consequently forced them to write in their diaries this morning.

I was seated between Andre and Jodie, with Theo and Jacobo looking onwards. Each one of them, pencil clutched behind tiny tan fingers, were just staring at blank paper until I would tell them a sentence to write.

And then they would keep staring at the blank paper until I would write it for them.

I turned to Jodie:

“Could you draw? Draw pictures? Pictures of yesterday?” I drew some sample pictures. Her gigantic eyes registered none of it.

I pointed at her pencil.

“Draw. Draw pictures. Pictures!”

I checked her eyes again: nada.

“Pictures! Paintings! Art!”

Zilch.

I took a breath, and left her to the blank paper, turning towards Andre.

“Andre, what did you do yesterday? Yesterday? Today–oggi, tomorrow–domani, yesterday…” I didn’t know what “yesterday” was in Italian.

He stared at me. Blank as his page.

“You did theater, yes?” Nothing. No registration. “Yes. Yes, you did theater. T-h-e-a-t-e-r.” He perks up: we had a bite on the line! Yes, finally! He scribbles something furiously on his paper. Proud, he pushes it towards me.

I were theuter.

Lord, help us all. So this was what the Austrians thought when they tried to teach me German.

I give him some affirmation, commending him on a try well tried indeed.

Meanwhile, Jacobo tugs on my sleeve and unleashes a spew of Italian.

“Jacobo,” I say slowly, “I don’t speak Italiano”.

It doesn’t help: the stream of Italian doesn’t cease.

Inglese, per favore.”

His face falls. Visibly falls. He smacks his forehead with his palm.

Suddenly everyone is talking to me in Italian and asking me things in Italian, and I am being immersed in an Italian river of Italian words and chaos and I realize the extent of my un-usefulness at this moment in this capacity.
My patience and calmness is usually higher, but as a result of bad sleep and exhaustion from the week, neither meters were filled. I found myself making panicked eye contact with one of my colleagues, and then taking off. Almost literally running away from the dining room and the kids.

I think I might have tripped on a rug going out the door, but there was no way in hell that I was going back in there.

I clumsily run into the garden, passing Irztke who is reading on the porch swing. She is Davide’s friend, a beautiful Italian teacher from Perugia who doesn’t speak any English and is here to observe teaching patterns and to help where she can.

There’s this alcove tucked into the bottom of the garden, hidden from the view of the house but fully exposed to the panorama of the mountains. I hugged my knees and sat down, bawling, tears flowing down my face, my chin wrinkled.

It was not attractive, ladies and gents. Not attractive.

I’m not even sure why I was crying: a mixture of things. Being tired, overwhelmed, frustrated…a bit homesick myself.

After a few minutes, Irztke, beautiful Irztke comes over to me and whispers some Italian words, kissing my hair and wrapping my head in a beautiful embrace. She rubs my back and holds me for a bit, letting me sob onto her shirt. We don’t speak: we can’t speak.

But sometimes hugs are better than words.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Holy Chaos 

William Shakespeare comes up to me, his fur so curly it hides the exact shape of his canine body. He gives me a nuzzle, flipping my hand onto the top of his nose for a stroke. I push back the curls hanging down from his brow and stare into his wide anthropomorphic eyes.

There is so much emotion within a dog, so many feelings and complexities. I wonder what it feels like to mentally be a dog. I wonder if they feel the same language barriers; undoubtedly, there is palpable frustration when a dog wants to get inside and there is no one to let them in. 

I spread the airy tie-dyed blanket on the stiff dried grass, tussling with the cool breeze for the blanket to lay unhindered. William licks my ankles. 

It is uncharacteristically cool for a mid-afternoon in Assisi, although the top of the mountain tends to be cooler than the city itself. It had rained for a spell the day before, the lapping rain wrapping the air in a shroud of pleasant coolness which carried over into this afternoon. 

I am alone. Blissfully alone. Wrapped in my fleecy patagonia sweater and black jeans. 

The gang–a total of 14 now–had bounced their way down the mountain into Assisi to examine the ancient roman structures of amphitheaters, circuses, baths, temples, and houses which were speckled through Assisi. 

I had stayed behind in order to meet deadlines for summer courses that I had neglected when the group of us spent the weekend in Florence. I had overestimated the amount of time and effort it would take for me to meet these deadlines–blissfully a full 7 hours later than my American counterparts thanks to the European timezone–and was finished with what needed to be done two hours after the gang left. 

So I had the next wonderful magical five hours to myself. 

The breeze tickles my face and whispers through my hair as I lay down on the blanket, the slope of the hill perfect against my back. I’m not used to having curly hair during the summer. The humidity of a Kansas summer usually causes the curls to frizz and bloat into one swarm, but Europe is a different story. 

William stretches out beside me, resting his chin against my thigh. He takes a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. I do the same. 

Fuzzy green mountains surround me from all perspectives, the atmospheric effect casting me into a trance of aesthetic. The grass under me is dry and course from many afternoons of the sun, but the softness of my blanket and the incline of the hill counteract any discomfort. 

A short line of ants scatters their way across my shins. William licks a few away and the rest got the picture; my mighty Warrior canine is not interested in making friends. 

I spend four of my hours finishing Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. This is one of my favorite things to do, to spend an exuberant amount of time in a beautiful setting reading intense mind-colorful books. Having a beer to accompany the aesthetic is even better, but this afternoon was too perfect to complain. 

The last hour I spend dangling in a chair hammock at the edge of the garden, again looking out at the hill. Just thinking. Breathing. 

I love the group of people here at Humanities Springs. Our three-story mountain chateau is breathtaking and filled with buzzing activity and exploration, which excites me and stimulates intellect.

I love sitting at the table with Valerie, writing out my name in the Chinese characters that she has sketched for me. I love making Italian espresso in the kitchen while Laura buzzes around preparing dinner and telling me stories about her Iranian sister-in-law. I love dangling my feet off the verandah with Maria, talking about running and passion and watching the stars. 

But there is something about breathing at the edge of the garden at the edge of the world that is irreplaceable. 

I would say this doesn’t happen often enough, that I wish I could spend hours upon hours laying on the hillsides reading. But then it wouldn’t feel like this afternoon. It has to be set apart, holy. Special. The exception to chaos. 

This kind of chaos is beautiful. The rush to learn and absorb information about Italian verb conjugations, roman street plans, a history of St. Francis of Assisi; Jenny pulling books upon books down from the shelves of the library for us, Tanya dancing around pointing out different pages for research. 

But, if I’m being honest with you, it can be overwhelming. The times laid out for rest and relaxation are the my times times for summer coursework and post-semester essay-writings. If that is done for the day, than it is for chores and life admin. It feels as if there are so many things running around in my mind, that sometimes I forget to breathe and I forget what day it is and where I am and why I am learning what I am learning in the first place. 

But this afternoon I sit here, swinging in the chair hammock at the edge of the garden at the edge of the world, my lungs again full of air. 

When I get into states of complaining and self-pity–”woe is me, I have no time to do anything that I want and there is no time to be a human”–my father sits me down and reminds me that we all have the exact same amount of time in a day. 

The day is spent in a series of choices; yes I have things that are expected of me to do, but I also have things I do not have to do and I control those. Therefore, who am I to complain about how little time I have? Who am I to act as if the choices I make are not my responsibility?

My complaints add nothing to those around me. More often than not, those who have to receive my self-pity are busier and more stressed than I, and the weight of my complaints add to theirs. 

I swing and breath and be, the soles of my feet reaching towards the edge of the world. 

There is a palpable difference between complaints dripping in self-pity–”It’s fine, whatever, I just have a million things to do and no one seems to be helping me and I don’t know why everyone expects these things from me”–and expressing feelings–”I feel overwhelmed and burdened by this and this and I wish that I could do more of this because it makes me feel lighter”. 

So what I don’t want you to hear is that I believe all utterances of any kind of negativity should be burned at the stake along with the speaker. 

I would take a world of negative realism far over a world of superficial positivity. 

I believe that reality is our perception of reality, and a perception founded on self-pity is detrimental to not only our own goodwill and mindset but of those also around us. I am an optimist, but only because I choose for my reality to be optimistic. 

We are made up of choices. Some that are made for us but a great many that we make ourselves. 

Peace and Blessings, 

Josie 

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A Red Moon Rises

Blood has been spilled this day.

And by blood, of course, I refer to the melancholy state of damper that oozed itself out from under the blanket of the day.

For some reason everyone was absolutely wiped the entire day, as if the heat of the summer sun evaporating all manifestations of energy. What happens with a massive decrease in energy?

The rise of crabbiness and irritations.

We all seemed to be at each other’s throats, and there was naught that could stem the tide of quick responses and a lack of interest in attending to each other’s needs. No nap, no cup of coffee, no slices of apples, no handpicked figs. None of these beautiful things could plug the growing hole of disinterest.

During the Italian course that predominates the morning, we began to speak in raised voices towards each other. Eighteen eyebrows would rise in annoyance over the one who wasn’t listening to instructions. Legs rocked back and forth in subconscious attempts to run away. There were so many faces of exasperation that were exchanged, it was almost uncountable.

After the two hours of italian came the clearing of the table for lunch. Again, same situation: no one could count correctly the number of plates we would need, there was miscommunication regarding what silverware we would need.

Instead of this being a cause for laughing at ourselves and for dancing around in the confusion that is the massive language barrier of our group, we internalized this frustrations and turned it into passive-aggressiveness.

Our lunch was taken in silence.

William Shakespeare, the beautiful happy puppy, bounced on in and assumed his position under the table, routinely cycling through the toes he could reach, giving them sincere and affectionate licks. Usually this is endearing, William is a hard creature to be annoyed with. But curt words were issued under the table, and he departed quickly, sensing the mood.

Instead of doing our afternoon Greek lessons and art history, Jenny decided to devote the time to catching up with homework, hoping that the damper was a result of stress. It did alleviate a bit of the stifle, but when we piled into the car to bounce on down the hills to the city of Assisi, there remained traces of disinterest and lethargy.

We arrived in Assisi rather much later than intended, and sauntered our way down the massive hill to the basilica, stopping on the way to get some gelato and talk about our intentions for observation within the basilica.

It might have been the pistachio gelato. It might have been the wonderful breeze that whispered through our group and slew away the sweat from our brows. It might have been just the physical movement of walking down the hill after spending the day inside and stagnant.

It might have been being in the basilica itself; walking alongside Jenny, watching her point excitedly to various frescos and do her best to contain her energetic explanation to a whisper. It might have been Kevin, one of the greatest fifteen year old Chinese boys you might ever meet, coming over to where Maria and I were staring at an early gothic fresco to whisper, “Guys, you can see his butt!” in the most unholy of manners.

It might have been the rotund, red-faced guard having to almost forcibly remove our group of eight from the lower basilica after asking us five times to leave. There is something absolutely wonderful about watching Jenny stretch the rules; this wild, curly-haired woman with so much knowledge about art and so much passion for one basilica make time her own.

We made our way up from the lower basilica into the upper one, and spent a large amount of time perusing around and observing the characteristics of Gotto’s frescos, eventually being rather kicked out of the upper basilica as well because of closing times.

With an amazing amount of renewed energy and buoyancy, the eight of us skipped out of the church, laughing and jolly once more. Jenny immediately walked up to the metal barriers that prohibited visitors from taking a shortcut out of the basilica to the top of the hill, and attempted to remove them in order to push past.

“Jenny! What are you doing?” we laughed. She shrugged with a smile.

“It’s so much faster, though!”

The van ride back through the hills was suddenly exhilarating. Things were funny again. A giant moth flew into the van and decided to perch on the window beside Kevin. He spent the remainder of the ride in a posture previously unrealized in the human anatomy, bent over as far as he could go from the direction of the window, his neck craned backwards in order to gain more distance.

This was hilarious, there’s no other way to describe it.

We made fun of him the whole time, telling him all the horrendous things that could and would happen if the moth made a move. As the van took speeding corners and inertia enacted itself upon the members of our van, he did his absolute best to avoid being thrown against the window as the van turned, making a myriad of painful sounding noises as he counteracted the inertia.

When we got back home, there was a message waiting for Jenny that announced that our two beautiful cooks–Lydia and Rita–wouldn’t be home for dinner.

Jenny about died of laughter when she heard this.

“The cooks–won’t be home–for dinner–!” she bellowed, bent in half. We gathered around her in quasi-alarm, many of us joining in with her laughter.

“For dinner! The cooks!”

I’m still not entirely sure why this was so hilarious, or at least to the degree in which Jenny presented it. But her laughter and goodwill was absolutely infectious, and our already-heightened mood improved two-fold.

We spent the dinner huddled around the table, excitedly dishing each other random courses from the fridge and leftovers. Jenny would enter into the dining room with wild-haired flair, announcing:

“The second course, m’Ladies and gents!”

We cleared the table and cleaned the kitchen, everyone pitching in to make a chaotic and not-as-efficient system of clean-up, but with the resumed laughter that follows the chaos.

Daisy, Valerie–magical wonderful beautiful sixteen-year olds from China and Taiwan respectively–Maria, and I jaunted ourselves to the verandah. The cool summer night in the Assisi mountains surrounded us in breathable refreshing air, the stars peeking their way out from the salmon and red clouds, the sun setting in it’s dramatic fashion.

We listened to music and told each other stories, laughing at each other and at the general atmosphere. Valerie and Daisy went inside and Lydia and Rita came home, joining us out on the verandah to watch the stars and tell adventure stories.

Gabriel made Brazillian cahipiña cocktails of kiwi, lime, and vodka and brought some out for us. We spent the rest of the night sipping and watching the most breathtaking red moon rise, huge and prominent against the dark blue starry sky.

Yes, there was blood shed today.

But there were band aids of gelato and rebellion and atypical dinners and laughter.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Defeat and Perspective: Lessons in Gratitude

Umbria in July is the temperature of boiling water.

The flies can’t seem to catapult themselves off your sweaty, sticky skin; the sun pulses down sweat beads into your eyes; the backs of your thighs leave embarrassing prints everywhere you dare to sit. The very notion of consuming anything hotter than gelato swipes the appetite away.

No wonder the Italians have perfected the art of the cold dessert.

My favorite thing about this weather is how much everyone enjoys complaining about it. It’s difficult to engage in a conversation with an Italian (or honestly, anyone of any nationality) without bringing up the stifling heat at least once.

It tends to run in a competitive format:

You think today is hot? You don’t know hot. You should have been out in the garden with me three days ago trying to water the roses. That was hot for you. 

It’s a nice bonding conversation.

The heat sucks. It tends to ruin the desire to bounce around the fuzzy tree-covered mountains in which our little countryside Italian villa is nestled. We are forced to hug the dark green shutters against the huge windows in attempts to block the invasive abrasions of the sun from igniting the rooms, thereby blocking the natural light and the beautiful views of the mountains.

Yes, the heat can suck. 

But. It does do something really well:

That ahhhhhhhhhh moment of relief from the discomfort is worth the discomfort in the first place. The first step into the cool cascading water of the shower after a sweaty morning run is bliss. Those licks of ricotta honey walnut gelato in the shade of the city square in the heat of the day are magical. Peeling down the windows of the hot stuffy van as it bounces off towards a next adventure, the wind suddenly billowing across the skin, the strong velocity of which renders it no longer stifling, is majestic.

Oh glorious juxtaposition. You gentle creature of innumerous worth. 

Yesterday we trucked off to the hillside city of Perugia, home of steep hills, 3rd century Etruscan wells, and a beautiful Raphael fresco.

The weather was….toasty. (See second paragraph).

We moved like prisoners condemned to a slow and unyielding death. There was defeat in every step as new sweat stains eked their way across our clothing.

We passed beautiful Italians, panting for air and for breath, and together we combined forces to overtake the horror and hell that is the heat of Umbria at 1500, desperate for survival, clinging onto lasting images of yesterday’s cold water and shade.

Okay, perhaps a bit dramatic.

The six of us sometimes got snippy with each other, the discomfort transforming itself into irritation with anything that would so much as look at us.

“Could we go a bit slower?” transformed itself into: “Stop walking fast”.
“Could I have a sip of your water?” became: “Water.”
“How much longer will it be until we reach the site of the fresco?” became: “Nooooo mooooore movement.”

But then, as it so often does, our good friends gelato and shade stepped in to salvage the day. We trudged into the city square of Perugia and lurched into the Pasticeria. Upon being handed the wonderful majestic cones of hazelnut and pistachio gelato, we collapsed into the black wire chairs in the shade of the umbrellas outside the door, spirits restored.

From that moment on, a new surge of happiness overtook our group. We practically sang our way back to the van, not even minding the fact that the shade that we had so carefully stalked had disappeared and exposed our van to the sun.

On the way home, windows pulled back as far as possible, the wind sung through our sticky hair. Laughter overtook glares, gratitude slapped away complaints, apologies ensued and politeness resumed.

Ah, juxtaposition, you beautiful scholarly-highbrow animal. 

It was golden hour as we swung our way back home to the country. The light blues of the sky were beginning to be replaced with the faint rose and purple of the sunset, and the hills were set on orange fire.

The temperature dropped a couple of degrees, and the wind felt even better, even at times a bit too cool. Excepting Tanya who was driving, we were a sleepy bunch. Melanie rested her head upon Gabriel’s shoulder in the front seat, Hannah was quietly pondering life’s many scientific enquiries in the back, Maria and I were having a gentle conversation on our favorite bands.

It was the essence of peace.

The countryside zooming by us was winking, lulling, singing. Hares danced alongside the van. Birds swooped through the valleys, calling to each other.

All prior discomforts were swallowed by an overwhelming sense of community.

We began to play music, various rider calling for requests. This already perfect aesthetic was enhanced by the banjo of Mumford and the gentle breath of Bats for Lashes.

We ended up taking a few misleading roads and driving the extra-long route back home, arriving later than expected. But as we pulled into the gravel drive and sauntered out of the van, William Shakespeare greeted us with great happy barks from within the dark green iron fence.

Maria and Hannah went to pull in the laundry, and I scared the absolute daylights out of Oliver when he poked his head out to see if we were back. I wish I could describe his reaction to seeing me so close to his face, but alas it will not do it justice. It shall remain, however, among my Top Five scaring moments.

Jenny greeted us with a huge smile. She had been frying french fries for the first time ever, ellated by not only the adventure of embarking on deep-frying territories, but by the beer which she promptly offered to us.

Together we set the table; Jenny eased back the green shutters, exposing the Assisi landscape. Two of us pulled over the floral table cloth, another grabbing the necessary amounts of glasses and filling them with cool mountain water. I took the basket of plums that Oliver had picked in the afternoon; Maria brought in the huge bowl of chicken salad that Laura had crafted the day before.

Then the eight of us collapsed into our chairs, poured each other beers, and recounted the day as the light slipped away into the valleys.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie