The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: Life Goals

Wake Up And Smell The New Release!

It’s time, folks.

My fabled Cordoban saga has rocketed to immortality on the coattails of the shining comet that is the Travelers’ Tales anthology!

Listen, pooping is basically one of my hobbies. And the fact that I live in a world where I can not only write about poop, but also publish that story AND get paid for it?

This is unreal. My life’s dream.

Because maybe I HAVE been waiting my whole life to publish a poop story. In fact, this may be my culminating moment. If I die tomorrow…it will happen with the knowledge that somebody in the world paid me for a story about my bowel movement. 


And guess what? Wake Up And Smell The Shit is now available for purchase! Not just online, but also in real bookstores (if any still exist near you). My story is alongside plenty of other HILARIOUS and amazing tales, not all of which are about poop, mind you.

The front cover proudly displays some of the best praise I’ve ever seen in the English language–“Kirsten Koza is like Judy Blume on acid”. When your editor gets that sort of feedback, holy crap, you know it’s gonna be good.

I’m off to see how many copies I can find (and take pictures next to) in the bookstores near me. If you find one, send me a picture of you with the book…preferably pointing like a goon to my story or at my bio!

Buy it here: Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets, and a Demon Dildo (Travelers’ Tales)

Interviewin’ A Badass Series: STEPH SHAR

Stephanie Shar, you’re a pretty bad-ass chick. A mid-western girl by birth, you left home and moved out west several years ago to grab life by the balls: something I really admire in others. And in doing so, you started your own business; have launched a professional modeling career; you started a family; and you provide hope and inspiration to tons of ladies. It doesn’t get much better than that. So I’m here because I want to pick your brain a bit. Okay? Okay!

Let’s get right to it: in your life, what was the scariest trip you’ve ever taken, and why?

Well, first off, thank you so much for having me and for your kind words!  Wow!  I’m honored to be here.  Hmm, so scariest trip.  I’m not sure, because honestly traveling isn’t scary for me.  But I’d say it was the plane ride on my way to New York in high school, because I hadn’t been on a plane in years and I was nervous!  I’ve flown a bunch of times since then though, so I’m totally used to it now.

Yet the thrill of riding in a plane or going to the airport doesn’t ever totally wear off. There’s something so romantic about boarding a plane and taking off into the air. Sigh! Before you moved out west, what were your greatest fears? And how did you overcome them?

I was actually very naive and optimistic before moving from Michigan to California.  I had no plan and barely any money.  I didn’t have a job lined up and didn’t know what I was going to do there; all I really wanted was to leave!  I’m proud of where I’m from, but I wanted something different (and was sick of the snow).  So when my boyfriend at the time told me he was going, I decided to go too and off we went.  Things went smoothly at first, but it was rocky for a few years.  Moving to a new place was an easy decision, but ended up being a difficult adjustment.  Finding the right support system in LA definitely helped!

Well said, and SO true! Sounds a little bit like my own move to South America, in fact. But the bottom line is, packing up and moving elsewhere is a BIG DEAL. Oftentimes, there are a lot of naysayers who disguise their fears as ‘advice’. What did your family and friends think?

My mom cried and my dad barely spoke to me for 6 months.  I was raised in a conservative home and moving across the country to live with someone out of wedlock was far from what my parents wanted.  The rest of my family and friends were pretty supportive, because I think they always knew that even though I was a goody-two-shoes, I had a secret rebellious side.  I’m happy to report that, 6 years later, my parents are totally used to me being gone; of course, they do still miss me (especially since I now have a little one in tow).

Seeing your parents react that way must have been so heartbreaking. I’m glad you followed your dreams and that they came around to it in their time (though I bet they wish their grandson was around more!) Let’s talk numbers. Before you took the plunge, did you have a nest egg? Or did you just wing it? What would you recommend to other ladies looking to make a similar leap?

Haha, I wouldn’t recommend what I did to anyone!  I think I had a little over $2,000 when I left (which is NOTHING in Los Angeles).  I was fortunate to find a job right away, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about… it just paid the bills.  I would suggest doing lots of research before moving to your destination — figure out how much your cost of living will be, and then how much you’ll need to make in order to sustain yourself.  Try to save enough so that if you move and can’t find a job right away, you’ll be okay for a few months.  The job market still sucks in most cities.  Proper planning is really important and I wish I’d done more of it — but at the same time, if you wait until you’re “ready” then you’ll never be ready.  So pick a moving date in advance, create a plan and stick to it!

Stephanie Shar, creator of Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

Stephanie Shar, creator of The Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

You could drop 2k on a pseudo-luxury hotel room in L.A…for one NIGHT. This is all great advice, Stephanie. I think the line is quite thin between adequate preparation and never being ready. Somewhere in that tiny gray area, you gotta take the leap like you did.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, what was your favorite place? And if not, where do you most want to go?

The last time I went out of the country was when I was 19 for my friend’s bachelorette party, and we went to Canada because it wasn’t far from Detroit and we could drink there.  Ha!  I’ve been to Europe a couple times but I was really little.  So… I’m just going to say no, I haven’t traveled abroad, or at least not from what I can remember.  I’d love to go to Italy and France, maybe Spain too.  And Poland, because I have relatives there still!

For growing up only 2 hours away from Canada, I am embarrassed to report I’ve never been there. Someday…I’ll get there. I think your international travel list sounds great, and I heartily recommend Venice, Italy to you! As well as every other place you want to go, because EUROPE! So, did you hear about the travel apparatus that prevents people from reclining their seats, so long-legged passengers can have a more comfortable flight experience? ISN’T THAT CRAZY?! What do you think?

Wow!  Well, it looks rude, but I’m 5’8″ and I’m always uncomfortable on planes anyway, so I don’t think I would even notice if someone was using one.  Lol.  I always try to save for the bigger seats in front, or grab one in the emergency aisle because I think those have more room!

Would you rather have an honest-to-god Italian pesto in Venice, or some bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime dish from some obscure country you’ve never heard of that includes animal guts only so you could have the bragging rights?

I’d take the pesto.  I’m a wimp!

Be real: Malbec or Merlot???

Merlot, because I think it’s cheaper.  But if you’re buying, I’ll take the Malbec.  I just like alcohol, okay!?

If that’s the case, I’ll certainly buy us a bottle of wine the next time we’re in the same area! Or, you know, three. What do you miss most about home?

My family, the fresh air and wide open spaces…

Word, sista! Did you know that growing up, we used to refer to Michigan drivers as “insane”, “crazy”, and “out of control”…simply because your highway speed limit was 10 mph higher than ours in Ohio? Since living abroad, I’ve realized that Michigan drivers are none of those things…because in the USA, we drive so CALMLY compared to other countries!

That’s hilarious.  You haven’t seen crazy ’til you’ve tried to drive in LA!

What is one piece of advice you’d like to offer to my readers in terms of relocation, goal-acquisition, and starting their own enterprises?

Have so much confidence that you don’t need anyone else’s approval!  But be humble enough to ask for help.  Like, you know, from a coach or something…


Thank you so much for joining me today, Stephanie! Don’t forget to check out the Loudmouth Lifestyle website, or follow the conversation on twitter via #liveloudly or by following Steph here.

You Can Have Dreads AND a 401(k)!

Once upon a time, everyone who heard of my plan to put dreadlocks in my hair had a specific piece of advice to give. Usually they were tips based on second-and-third-hand experiences; other times, they were warnings about my future. They sounded like this:

“Oh, god, you can never wash your hair again! Did you know that?”

“You’ll have to shave your head afterward. Did you know that?”

“Everyone will think you smoke weed and are a loser pot head. Did you know that?”

“You won’t be able find a job. Did you KNOW that?!”

Ahhh, blanket statements about stereotypes! How snug and comforting they all feel, being hurled by well-meaning friends! I didn’t really care about these warnings. I had a firm game plan: put dreads in, and see what happens. I was positive I could wash my hair with dreads; I knew that shaving my head wasn’t the end of the world like some people seem to think, and actually is something I plan to do someday; and furthermore, being a non-loser, I was firm enough into my personal identity to not care what perfect strangers might assume about me because, hi, a small percentage of people are always going to think SOMEthing negative about you despite your best efforts.

Bottom line was: did I want the well-meaning but misguided advice of my social network (and beyond) to influence something that was a dream I’d had for years and years and years?

I can see the benefit to intervening in a loved one’s life choice if it involved something like, oh, I don’t know, deciding to become a private escort, or picking up a sleek new heroin habit.

But changing my hairstyle? Come on. Let’s reserve the stiff-lipped life advice for things that really matter, like procreating, earth stewarding, and ethical dilemmas.

Five years into the dreadlocks, I am happy to report that none of the advice I was given ever came into fruition. Well, almost none of the advice.

Bugs did not nest in my scalp, nor did all of my dreadlocks merge into one huge unmanageable hippie cranial cord. I do not smell — bad, that is, because my dreads are quite fragrant. People don’t assume I’m a loser — though some assume I smoke weed and tend to ask me in public spaces while traveling if I have any (sorry, guys). A small percentage of people assume I’m Rastafari (I’m not) and that my allegience has been pledged to Jah (it hasn’t).

The big one for me, though, was the job thing.

I get a lot of people who come to me wild-eyed and salivating, wanting dreads so desperately but too afraid to take the leap into locking up for fear of ruining any and all future job prospects. 

“If I put dreadlocks in my hair, I just won’t be able to find any jobs,” they tell me, eyes suddenly misty and contemplating the horizon. Somehow, they know the certainty of this. I’m not sure if they have a crystal ball or a time-warping capabilities forged from a black hole in their basement, but they know.

To be fair, some of the job prospect outlook depends on what you want to do with your life. I never had dreams of being a versatile hair model, an employee where neat, carbon-copy business attire rules over anything else, or working someplace where machines whir and spin at high speeds and could therefore catch my dreadlock by the tip and pull me into the complex, crushing gears of a truffle-making machine.

My post-graduate goals were speak Spanish and help people. I figured I could do that AND have dreadlocks, right?

More than right. Not only did I have dreadlocks, I had multiple jobs with multiple bosses and multiple career opportunities.

*collective gasp from the audience*

*a couple theater-goers look around in shock, trying to locate the source of that scream*

*someone tries to recoup their spilled popcorn from the floor before their friend notices*

In the past five years, the opportunities and experiences have been diverse.

I worked as a bartender with dreadlocks. I worked in retail with dreadlocks. I worked at a finance company with dreadlocks. I worked as an interpreter with dreadlocks. I worked at a health clinic with dreadlocks. I ran an OB-GYN office with dreadlocks. And finally, I had health insurance and a very-responsible-sounding 401(k) with dreadlocks.

You know what didn’t happen?

Nobody judged me for having them. Nobody said, man, you’d be a much better employee if you didn’t have hair like that. Nobody tried to demote me because of my hair. And probably most interestingly, not a single person has said, God, those are hideous and you look like a loser.

Curtain of Dreads.

Curtain of Dreads.

(Editor’s Note: Someone once DID tell me that I can’t have dreadlocks while not Rastarfari, since that is ‘what dreadlocks mean’. I directed them to educate themselves about the multiple and multicultural histories of dreadlocks around the world, which includes a wide variety of uses, methods, and meanings.)

I can’t speak for all people that have dreads, of course. Maybe some people have them in an effort to distance themselves from things like office jobs and traditional savings accounts. Maybe others prefer that marginalization that sometimes accompanies knee jerk reactions to the choice to lock up.

But I don’t believe that dreadlocks inherently equates to anything other than what it means for the person wearing them. In fact, the more people there are with visible “alternative choices” in terms of physical appearance that prove themselves to be intelligent and valuable human beings in general, the better.

Any chance to break down stereotypes is a welcome one. I’m excited for the day when people look at me and, instead of thinking “Wow, that’s a white girl with dreadlocks, she must be X and Y”, they instead think, “There’s a person I’d like to learn more about”, free from assumptions and pre-conceived notions.

We would all do well to remember this about every person that crosses our paths, as well.


I Travel The World Just So I Can Keep Doing The Same Old Shit

I’m a fresh vagabond.

That doesn’t mean I smell like a baby’s butt or am still slightly steaming from the International Vagabond Press, necessarily; but rather, I haven’t been doing this for very long, and this first year and some months has brought with it a high number of experiences, revelations and challenges that I never expected from the comfortable, flatish fields of Ohio. Of all the revelations I’ve encountered and otherwise greeted along the road, I’ve found that vagabonding requires a certain frequency of introspection and analysis: Where am I? What am I doing here? Do I even like what I’m doing here? How long will I be here?

Comfortable flatish fields of Ohio

AKA Home


This isn’t to say, of course, that regular life shouldn’t involve these questions. I am a strong advocate for asking ourselves these questions as much as possible – whether in jobs, relationships, cities, whatever. The answers might not always be known, but these questions are especially necessary components to vagabonding, which utilizes “now”-living in a way that sometimes goes overlooked amongst the routine in the hometown or urban adult landscape.

It’s that hometown or urban adult landscape that gets to us after awhile. How often do we look at our apartments or jobs or the unvarying suburban shuffle and think “What am I doing here? Do I even like what I’m doing here?” And sometimes those answers are “I don’t know anymore” and “No”.  So what’s the remedy? Some choose more material possessions; others choose weekend trips. Some choose ultra-packed schedules denying them the time to think about what they’re doing or why. And others flee.

Vagabonding, backpacking and other variations of long-term travel are initially interesting because they offer a sense of ‘escape’ from regular life. More variations exist than you can stick your backpacker hiking stick at. (Editor’s Note: for purposes of this article, I claim the title of “passive vagabond”, where one sits for an indeterminate amount of time in various cities, interspersing regular life with travel to new places.  This is in contrast to “regular backpacking”, where cities are visited for days or weeks, typically utilizing hostels or couchsurfing, mostly for purposes of sightseeing, heady foreign airs, titillating cuisine and racking up the country count.)

I was mired in my hometown landscape, looking around at life and thinking that while there were a lot of great things, I needed to leave for awhile. I needed to pack that bag and get the hell out. I really wanted to say adios to the routine, the familiar sights, the same old drive to and from work, the same restaurants, the same air, all of it – at least for a little while. Sure, I loved the comfort of my dad’s house, and snuggling with my puppy at nights, and having that perfect cup of Keurig coffee every morning. I loved the air, especially in the spring, and especially before thunderstorms, and especially in the crisp high point of winter. And I love my friends and family – to a desperate, crippling level, really. But I craved the open road, that fucking feeling you get from having a significant sum of money in your savings account, a one-way ticket to somewhere and generally no plan. Come at me, life!

I was, in a sense, looking to escape my routine, which a lot of people commonly associate with their notion of what’s wrong right now in my life. Many people travel to not only escape routine but slice it in the throat and leave it for dead — Routine is to be avoided! Routine is the devil! God, this damn routine is killing me! There can be something very suffocating about routines. Like a never-ending road forward, with no foreseeable variations except for a two or three week period “off”, and long weekends when the government decides. Awesome.

So I quit it. I quit the long dreary drives to and from work, I quit the morning Keurig coffee, I quit even the best, most fulfilling parts of my city that I’m pretty sure nowhere else can ever do better. And it fucking killed me to quit that part. It still hurts a year and odd months later.

Sierra the Wonder Dog

Just a part of what I miss back home

I arrived to Chile with my earthly possessions in two bags, a freshly re-issued passport, and (just) enough savings to warrant the kind of crazy-eyed, open-ended trip I was initiating. I had a clear goal: do whatever I wanted. This of course didn’t mean sleep with male prostitutes, join a drug ring or sleep til 5pm everyday, but it certainly meant live the life I want to lead. Which, in my case, meant devoting myself full-time to writing, practicing a crap-ton of yoga, continuing my vegetarian lifestyle, and finding creative ways to sustain myself for an interminable life abroad. Things I felt I wasn’t able to do satisfactorily back home.

The very beginning was fresh and new and thrilling. The second half of the beginning was frustrating, irritating, and sometimes downright intolerable.  The logistics of my living situation were far less accommodating than what I was used to, which had forced me to a lower level of Maslow’s Pyramid than I’d been in my entire life. What emerged from this difficulty in daily life was a desperation to just get my routine settled – find a place where I could have a reliable schedule everyday, internet I could count on, a living space that nourished me instead of crippled me.

And I felt somehow bad about this – wasn’t that part of what I had left behind? Wasn’t I anti-routine?  Once it all finally gelled and I had convinced myself to accept the truth, no matter how much I didn’t like it, I found that what made me happiest, what most stoked my internal fire of optimal Shannon, looked a lot like what I had been doing in the States prior to my departure. The surroundings were different, the language was different, but the substance of my days was almost exactly equal to what I’d left behind.

Needless to say, I was a bit dismayed to realize that I’d been dying to move abroad for years just so I could continue doing exactly the same thing I’d always been doing.

But ‘routine’ is still a loaded word for me. For most of my life, I thought I was definitively “anti-routine”, because to me ‘routine’ meant stagnant, boring and old. Predictable. Always the same, but in a painful and debilitating way. And yeah, routines require an inherent degree of sameness – but all that boring and stagnant crap? Completely my own attachment to the word.

So really, I’ve never been anti-routine; I’ve actually been “pro-routine”, but just “anti” the lifestyle I thought I was living. This is what vagabonding has afforded me – the chance to establish my life for myself. On my terms. With my eyes, ears, fingers and taste buds behind the metaphorical wheel. Some people can do this perfectly fine in their home country, and maybe far earlier than I managed to achieve it — but for some reason I had to leave my country (several times) to really do this.

I realize now that my desire to travel and live abroad is less about escaping what I know and recognize, and more about delving into that which I cherish and hold dear in my life. While family and friends might be left behind for extended periods of time, they are always in my heart and close at hand through technology. New friends are made, old ones meet up or wait up. What changes is the scenery, the language, the rhythm of life, and the social customs. Whether or not buses are used more or personal cars; walking versus biking; kuchen versus donuts; Spanish versus English; rolling plains of the Midwest or the craggy spikes of the Andes.

New Home Base

New home base scenery

Travel is and has been the focal point of cultural commentary for nigh on a millennium simply because what one discovers most about, apart from the geography of the world and the culinary differences and the overall essence of humanity, is themselves. Pushing ourselves into that awkward, uncomfortable territory – not only exceeding but often times demolishing the comfort zone – is a fairly reliable route to self-awareness and discovery. There’s something crippling and awakening in seeing oneself a mere fraction of the masses, and sometimes feeling that weight, heavy on your chest, almost painful, when wandering the world; just one face amongst the sea swirling beyond our personal lens of experience.

Our uniqueness is both condensed and imploded; life stories shrivel and shine. Who are we under the paralyzing weight of humanity? Under the suffocating impressiveness of Everyone Else In The World? The answer, we find, is that we are simply Who We Are, just another face in the sea, for sure, but one that carries its own story and weight along with the rest.

This is why I travel the world. I travel so that I can continually tap into these nourishing and enriching benefits of world travel, of comfort zone re-shaping and expansion, of life experience and savviness. But what I’m doing when I show up to the new continent, country or county is pretty damn similar to what I’ve always done when left to my own devices.

The scenery, therefore, is not what is most important. Scenery doesn’t make you long-term happy (though it can significantly contribute to temporary satisfaction and a fulfillment of life goals). Foreign languages outside your window, the use of cheek-kissing versus hand-shaking, the fact that businesses close for an unpredictable amount of time in the late afternoon to honor ‘the siesta’, these are peripheral details. These elements are not a sure route to happiness or fulfillment. In my case, however, they are merely bricks in the path that leads to the end goal.

I travel so that I can learn more about the world both around and within myself. I travel so that I can find that unchanging, effervescent glow that hangs silent and heavy, deep within me, somewhere between throbbing heart and sighing lung, immobile yet constantly absorbing. I travel so that I can discover what nourishes it, amplifies it, dries it out or soaks it full of savory experience. And knowing these juicy tidbits about myself – and the world around me – has allowed me to be myself so much easier and truer than ever before, no matter where I am…

…But especially when I go home.

Book now on Viator

I Blog, Therefore I’m…A Blogger?

I’m just sitting down with a freshly poured grande-coffee-with-soymilk at a Starbucks in the Nashville airport. With my scarf slung around my neck and warm beverage in hand, I seek out a nook where I can settle comfortably and begin writing the next entry for my blog. I’m utilizing time between flights to write, but really, I’m doing this here because the idea inside my head was so loud I felt compelled to get it out before anything happened to it.

This scenario reeks of modern blogger, that secret profession that remains so little-recognized in the physical world yet reigns supreme in the cybersphere.  Yet what does it take to call oneself a blogger? Is it the simple act of creating or maintaining a blog? Does it have something to do with statistical revenue, or maybe it boils down to traffic numbers? Am I still a blogger if no one reads my blog?

This issue weighs heavy on my mind, not because I feel particularly compelled to identify myself as a blogger on my next immigration form or when the relatives ask, “So, what are you into these days?”, but more because it highlights the fine line between passion and profession.

Here’s the backstory. I’ve been writing since I was 9 years old. I started out with short stories about badass girls becoming astronauts, dealing with broken family issues, and exploring the moon. I then personified the space shuttle and its booster rockets in a highly popular tale (in my mind) called “Spock The Space Shuttle”. Later, I received my first rejection letter from Highlights Magazine about a kangaroo that a boy stole from the zoo and took home with him and then tried to discipline and was surprised when the wild animal didn’t obey his wishes, which marked the beginning of the next 20 years of my life spent treading water in the rejection piles.


At least I started learning the lesson of Rejection as a Writer early on in my writing career.

I’m pretty sure someone will want something of mine. Someday. 

But then something changed. In 2012 I made a big decision to quit my day job and move to South America, and once I got there I found myself afloat in the abyss, profession-less and bursting with ideas and motivation. The real goal of the abrupt lifestyle shift was twofold: learn some damn Spanish, and finish those damn novels. I spent my days writing, my nights bartending, and my conversations hem-hawing about how I spent those days. When people asked me what I did, before I even had a chance to respond I’d get a sharp nudge in the ribs from my best friend who would then lean forward into the conversation and respond concisely, ‘She’s a writer’.

I denied this for a long time. How am I writer? I asked her. I have nothing published except for a few meager travel articles. For god’s sake, you can barely google me!

But eventually I came around. This was the change, the defining shift. Somewhere between the self-criticism and the fear that someone would leap out from the shadows and scream, “A-ha! I caught you! You’re not a real writer!”, I managed to become comfortable with the concept of being a writer.

Which is silly, when you think about the fact that it’s pretty much the only consistent thing I’ve been my entire life, aside from also a girl and a little spacey.

For some reason, it is a terrifying and difficult proposition to claim the title of enacting your passion. The most persistent goal I’ve had since as early as I can remember is publish a novel. I wanted to do it before I knew how and why, and I was writing these stories since I could hold a pen. I even learned how to program our old Commodore 64 just so I could get something printed onto a page. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that publication isn’t the goal as much as getting out all of the thoughts and words that sit inside me, vibrating and pulsing and getting hotter and hotter like spliced atoms in the Hadron Collider.

Seriously, it’s dangerous if I go too long without writing. Stuff gets backed up and I act irritable.

Now let’s fast-forward to more recent endeavors. Since my travels began, I’ve been writing almost full-time (because I’m a writer) and my project list has swelled considerably. I’ve found that a lot of my creative expression has been manifesting itself in the form of blog posts, all sorts of articles about my life, others’ lives, and life in general that I never once foresaw on my Docket of Creative Writing Endeavors.

I blog. A lot. And it inherently involves writing, so…does that mean I’m a blogger?

I find myself with the same hesitation in adopting this moniker. What’s the harm in claiming the title? Just like my best friend wrestled with me over the idea of what constituted a writer and why I rightfully was one, there is no golden height marker that we aspiring bloggers must pole vault over in order to be considered “part of the team”.

The difference between Pre-Writer and I’m-A-Writer Shannon was the fact that I finally accepted it. Not only had I been wearing the underwear the whole time, but I finally began to tell people that I was wearing them and it felt great and they weren’t even too snug or giving me a yeast infection.

But there’s another aspect to the hesitation in adopting monikers. While writing constitutes the bulk of my lifelong passion, something I feel like I can accurately claim has been one of the persistent fires in the pit of my belly since the dawn of man, it’s limiting. I don’t just write, or blog, or work on novels. There’s a bunch of other stuff I do too. Which is why the immigration forms and those dreadfully tiny boxes translate a bit too literally in my mind to ‘boxing me in’ to one life path.

Writing is a part of my life, and for concise society’s sake, at least for the part of all of us that feels the need to get an “at-a-glance” concept of who we are and what we do, writing is what I do. It’s how I spend my days, or at least a significant part of each week. But by the same definition I’m also a cook, a yogi, a house-organizer, a translator, a partier, an advice-giver, and a variety of other hats that constitute the fabulous hat rack of life.

Mermaid painting, Warwick Goble

Also, I’m a mermaid.

What matters is what matters to you. We humans are complex creatures, far more intricate and deep than one or two titles. It’s important to remember this when asking someone, ‘What do you do?’ Because the answer we get – I’m in HR, I play football in college, I program computers, I cook at a restaurant – is only ever one small facet of an otherwise beautiful, sparkling myriad of expression contained in one human-shaped flesh casket.

And because I’m a writer, I can get away with ending this post like that.

Helped and Hindered

Life in South America has proven to be just like life anywhere else, except that it’s in South America instead of North America. And everyone speaks Spanish. And there aren’t that many blondes wandering around. And it’s hard for me to find a size 9.5 shoe. And the culinary culture isn’t that refined. And people aren’t really that into spices. And everyone kisses each other on the cheek when they meet, even when they’re strangers.

Okay, so life in South America is a bit different than life in North America. (Oh yeah — tons more stray dogs!) But since I’ve been able to re-acclimate to life north of the equator, I’ve noticed a few ways that my life overall has been helped — and similarly hindered — by my jaunts down south.

Let’s investigate some!

1. My brain learns, but in order to do so, it must forget. And this involves forgetting English. My handle on idioms, cliches and other parts of speech is at an all-time low. This doesn’t bode well, as I am beginning a venture to brand myself as a language consultant *cough cough*. Hey — who knew they were called speedbumps? Roadbumps is just as effective at getting the point across. And my future language consultancy clients will understand this. (syn: road acne)

2. I now have measuring cups for eyeballs. That’s right, I see in 3-D AND in 1-tsp increments! Due to the absolute dearth of measuring tools in the kitchen (is it just because of where I’ve lived and who I’ve lived with? Or is this an invention that really never made it past the Andes?), I’ve been forced to eyeball, size up and otherwise scrutinize every recipe I’ve ever loved including in my eating lifestyle. Thanksgiving 2012 was a prime example, and my forays into Vaguely Healthy Cookie Creation were met with varying results until I finally pinned down the non-specifically-measured ratio a couple months ago.

Well, close enough. 

3. I am a tad more resourceful. Now, I don’t want you all thinking that I’d be able to fend for myself in the wild, because I certainly can’t, nor can I start a fire, always operate doors or change the gas tank for that damnable space heater in my Chilean living room. However, I CAN think around certain situations where common household items are lacking. For instance, are you making mashed potatoes? Were you scouring your new kitchen for a potato masher, only to find out that not only do you not have a potato masher, you also don’t have anything resembling a bowl in which you’d like to mash? No problem! Find one of those drinking glasses with the uneven bottoms and get to work! Serve AND eat the mashed potatoes out of the same pot you cooked it all in, and to top it off, don’t use napkins (because nobody buys them) and just use the dish towel. Hey, you might be asking, that’s a pretty good idea with the dish towel. Where did that come from? The Argentinians!

4. I speak great Spanish now. Finally. Also, I can understand almost any Spanish you try to throw my way. Thanks, Chileans.

5. I speak hodgepodge Spanish. As in, Mexican-Chilean-Argentinian Spanish. My accent shifts between all three, freely utilizing vocabulary and expressions from three distinct cultures. Someday, this will get me into trouble.

6. I am losing my grasp on normalcy. Some might argue this has been a long time coming, but I assure you, taking the leap has hastened this demise. I suppose ‘normalcy’ is a term that can be argued until the alpacas come home (what?), but living life this off the grid has certainly shifted (re: completely destroyed) my paradigm. In losing my grasp on normalcy, I am finding more expansive happiness, plentiful creativity and penetrating gratefulness. More things seem possible, life feels limitless, and joy lurks around every corner. This doesn’t mean life is some effortless, non-squeaking joint that operates perfectly at every moment. But rather, I’ve come to appreciate and laud the aches and groans and squeaks and eventual functioning of these joints, because these limbs are carrying me to places — both physical and emotional — I’ve always dreamed of.

7. Questionable metaphors, like the one found in item 6, tend to be more predominant. I don’t know why, or how to fix it.

8. I will probably only ever wear black leggings for the rest of my life. No, seriously — bury me in leggings and a slouchy shirt, because that’s all I ever want to wear.

A beach in Huron, OH, complete with sunset, lake,
slouchy shirt and leggings. 

It’s up to you, reader, to decide if these items have helped or hindered!

Reflections On An Important Anniversary

I’m not good at remembering birthdays, maiden names, anniversaries of any sort, and sometimes what I ate yesterday. Even things I feel I could never forget, not in a million years, tend to slip my mind.

I write today to confess that I have forgotten an important anniversary in my own life, a date that I swore to honor every year for as long as I had breath in my lungs.

For those readers who are not familiar with my journey, on May 29th, 2007 I had major back surgery to remove a benign tumor that had been growing for possibly a decade inside my spinal cord. The surgery to remove it was successful, but it left me paralyzed for an amount of time that my neurosurgeon said could possibly last the rest of my life.

Luckily, it didn’t last the rest of my life — ya’ll have seen me using two legs — but the window of time that included paralysis from my chest down was life-altering. The months spent in the hospital and the ensuing years of rehabilitative efforts were similarly life-changing. It was a transformative experience that not only reminded me to be grateful every day for the gift of mobility and independence, but one that reinvigorated the passion of living life to the fullest. I promised myself then that I would no longer limit myself based on fears, social norms, or any other form of perceived physical or societal limitation.

This is why I do what I do. We’re all familiar with the stories of mid-life crises that involve a high-powered exec or other mid-life professional dropping the cash and career in favor of extended travel, or starting their own business, or enacting that personal goal that had lain dormant for decades. What I took away from my experience is that life is meant to be lived now.

I do not want to nor will I wait until I am 40-something with too many years of unfulfilling income-earning behind me, with a host of material possessions to prove an ambiguous degree of “success in life”.

As homage to the neurosurgeon who saved my life — he resolved the excruciating pain of my daily existence, a pain that I’m embarrassed to say would have led to me taking things into my own hands down the road — and also reinvigorated my life, I bring him photos from my travels whenever we have a follow-up appointment. I tell him, “This is possible because of you.” I’m not sure I can ever thank him enough.

I believe we are all capable of living our dreams, and choosing our dreams. What I strive to avoid is falling into the trap of living a life that I haven’t chosen. Following a path that someone else decided was right for “someone my age”, “someone like me”, or “a successful twenty-something”.

I consider myself lucky and blessed in too many ways to count. And one of the best experiences of my life was going through the agony, trauma, pain and challenge of back surgery, losing my ability to walk, and then fighting to get that back. Not just the ability to use my own two legs, but the ability to live my life as I imagine it. 

This is why I am here. This is why I have embarked on many trips, why I do things differently than maybe what parental figures might suggest for their children, why I won’t stop doing this until I absolutely cannot continue any longer.

In 2009, during the climb up the 
Steps of Repentance on Mount Sinai

During a 2010 trip to Tikal in Guatemala…
Sweaty, humid pyramid climbing!

Cavorting around Cedar Point in 2012,
definitely a physical feat as mentioned in my previous post

My legs (and some planes) have carried me down south
as of 2012 to continue the explorations…

What inspires me most is the wide variety of goals and dreams in this life. It is a deeply personal decision, and nobody can tell you if you’re right or wrong. For some, living life to the fullest might mean studying in an ashram in India, or raising three children in a safe neighborhood, or twisting culinary conventions in a hip restaurant in NYC, or writing books about science-fiction robots, or perfecting their color-coordinated living space, or starting an e-Bay business that sells doorknobs. It doesn’t matter what it is…all that matters is that it comes from the pulsating, wrenching pits of your gut; that it forms the unseen lining of your blood vessels and internal organs and can only be felt, understood and enacted by you.

Life is meant to be lived now. Look around and ask yourself if where you are and what you’re doing is truly what you want to be doing. If so, congratulations, and keep doing it! And if not, the first step of an exciting new journey can begin at exactly this moment. 

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