September 3 2018

Things I miss about the USA

Happy Labor Day. These random holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July and Memorial Day has never really meant too much to me. Working in health care, days like these are really just regular days. There’s no such thing as ‘holidays’, or at least not in the traditional sense where I’d get the same days off as everyone else and get do things like hang out at the lake with friends or enjoy cook-outs for the holiday. So in that sense joining the Peace Corps has been interesting. At one point or another I’ve celebrated every American holiday outside America, and some countries’ holidays inside that country. But nothing can replace celebrating the holiday in its original form… And while I’ve only been gone from the USA for a few months, there are still things I miss.  This post is from my previous travel blog from when I spent 16 months traveling around South America (with some updates from what I’m missing now… Some things change; some never will… like my love for good pizza).

  • Pizza  Pizza is probably my favorite food on the planet.  Back home, I probably ate pizza 3-4 times a month.  Not always the same kind or from the same place, but pizza (and a salad when I’m feeling healthy) has been a staple in my diet since the early years and I don’t suspect it leaving any time soon. I did find pizza goodness in Buenos Aires and Mendoza; however most of South America and all of Rwanda has been a huge disappointment in terms of pizza.  Bad crust, bad sauce, strange ingredients.  I can’t wait to hit up Barley’s Taproom or Sidewall’s or the Mellow Mushroom for some good pizza with olives, feta cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.

One of my Peace Corps goals is to make a pizza… a delicious pizza like the one pictured below.

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  • Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, college bowl games, or stressing over Tennessee football. Fall is always the hardest because college football in nearly a religion in the south, and I am a follower of the sacred University of Tennessee. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it, and while going to sporting events where I am is a small comfort, I am never going to follow Mexican bullfighting, Venezuelan baseball, Peruvian football, Rwandan basketball, or Buenos Aires polo when I am at home.  [Although I happily watched Super Bowl XLV live.]

I am grateful that I was in a country that was a soccer loving one with time time zones close to the original for some of the world cup matches.  Before joining the Peace Corps, I had hoped to score tickets to World Cup|Russia, but watching the games in this tiny corner of the world where soccer rules, is great for international bonding.

  •  Food variety. If I ever eat white rice again, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I’ve eaten over the few months. I wasn’t a big fan to begin with, but having it on the plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner got old. Fast!

  One of the staples of Rwandan cuisine is–you guessed it–white rice.  It’s no wonder I never eat this in America.

  • Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free snacks, but free water? Not a chance.
  • Public transportation. Even though back home I do not live in an area with good public transportation, I like going to places where it’s accessible and easy to use.  MARTA in Atlanta has gotten me where I needed to be on more than one occasion.  Subways in Rome, New York, London, Moscow and Buenos Aires are amazing.  If I didn’t live in a rural area, I’d be all about using light rail (like Seattle’s metro link that whisks me to and from the airport to the center of town without issue) or whatever was available.  Motor bike taxis, bicycle taxis, mini buses, cars nearly falling apart, and cabs—not so much to my liking.

Bogota’s TransMileno is surprisingly efficient, and while crowded at times, it is a much better option than loading up a minibus to maximum capacity +1 and having people yell ‘stop’ when they want to get off the bus.
  • Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road even in tiny remote villages in the middle of nowhere.  But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited (and Madagascar is no exception), daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me days (or weeks) to figure out where to go for what I needed.
OH, how I love Target. I spent part of my last visit to Seattle walking around this three story gem located right in the middle of the city. They had everything…

  • Not paying to use the toilet.  Or even finding a toilet when needed. I think this one is self-explanatory.  Fun fact:  did you know that, according to The Guardian, the top 10 worst places in the world to find a toilet are in Africa. One is Madagascar [4th worst place in the world to find a toilet] and two of Rwanda’s neighbors also make the list [Tanzania and Congo]  and there is a World Toilet Day (it is November 19th if you’re curious), dedicated to keeping everyone’s shit corralled so that fecal contamination of the water supply as well as diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route are diminished.

  Another Peace Corps’ goal:  to make myself a luxurious toilet where my knees don’t creak every time I must use it or in emergency             situations, shit does not splash on my shoes/feet.

  •  Respect for people’s time. Even though I am not a scheduler by nature, I do appreciate time.  At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 8:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 8:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 8:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:00 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning anything that include non-Americans  we always gave a fake time. 7:00 meant 8:00 or so. Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 8:30. I think this just reflects a more laid back attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around for no good reason, I will take the American way every day.
German trains and s-bahns are always so punctual. If I lived in Germany, I’d never be late anywhere.
Alexanderplatz

 I have found a general lack of respect for time in nearly every corner of the globe… except Germany and Switzerland… oh how I love that  place; they are so punctual.

  •  American men. I know many women love over foreign men.  Heck, I have even dated foreign men [One abroad, one who had moved to USA], but overwhelmingly, the foreign men I have met [mostly Italians and Hispanics] are overbearing, controlling, condescending, and overprotective.  I do not like being yelled at or whistled to in the street.  I do not like being asked if I ‘want to fuck’ because those are the only English words they know.  For me, that machismo attitude is such a turn off!  Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. A guy that smells clean, wears cologne sparingly, and bathes regularly. A guy who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, and who is at least my height (5’9).  If he has green eyes and curly hair, well, I’m a smitten kitten.
  • Free wi-fi:  Wi-fi is slowly making its way down south, but it is not always free, nor is it always reliable.  It brings me back to the Ethernet cords I had in college. Or dial-up.  Both make me appreciate how prevalent wi-fi is in the USA. [and Canada and Europe].  2018 hasn’t brought many upgrades to the poorer corners of the world.

But what I miss most about being away from the USA, is people and kitty cats …co-workers, friends, and family + Lucy and Molly.

 

April 8 2018

Breaking the rules in Aberdeen, Scotland

Ignorance is no excuse

One of the very few things I remember from my Business Law class is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’ nor is it a valid defense.  However, in Aberdeen not only did I unknowingly break several laws, had I been caught, ignorance would have been my only defense.

Aberdeen is not quite the Scottish Highlands, but it is getting closer. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city behind Edinburgh and Glasgow, and its location on the North Sea gives it an amazing coastline and busy shipping docks.

Nearly everything in the town is constructed with granite mined from the Rubinslaw Quarry. The quarry was active for nearly 300 years, but was closed in 1971. Now it’s a big giant hole in the ground filled with 40+ years of rainwater.

Sheriff’s court

History Nerd Alert #1:

Robert I, popularly known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. Robert was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against England.

Marischal College–now a civic building in Aberdeen

History Nerd Alert #2:

A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish towns, cities and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fair was granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh’s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an autonomous kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. (Thank you Wikipedia)  Aberdeen’s cross was constructed from granite and was designed by local architect John Montgomery in 1686.

History Nerd Alert #3

The Gordon Highlanders was the name of a British Army Infantry Regiment. It was active from 1881 to 1994, and I always thought that Gordon Highlander was a single person in Scotland’s history.

They used to hold public executions in the spot across from Old Blackfriar’s pub. Nothing like a good public execution to stir up an appetite for fine Scotch and good grub.

St. Nicholas Church

Courtyard at St Nicholas

I’m not very good at following rules. It’s a badge of honour that I have not yet ever spent time in jail.  I certainly have done some things in my time that could have landed me there. In my wanderings out and about in Aberdeen, I have inadvertently broken the following Scottish laws today:  [I can only hope that I don’t end up at the roofless Scottish prison in Edinburgh]

  1. Took pictures in a shopping center
  2. Took a picture of a police car and perhaps a police man[person]
  3. Touched an old rusted propeller in a museum that had it labeled as something “too fragile to touch”
  4. Read an article in a magazine in a store without purchasing it
  5. Took pictures in a church
  6. Took pictures of Scottish people without their permission [ In my defense though, no one will be able to recognized the aforementioned Scottish people.]

Aberdeen–you are a beautiful, unexpected breath of fresh air.

September 26 2017

My one travel regret

I have made it a point in life to not regret the past. Sure there are things that I wish had not happened, but I also think that for better or worse, these life experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. That being said, my one regret is that I didn’t study abroad when I was in college. It wasn’t as if I actively made the decision to not study abroad; my college, being a small (tiny even) liberal arts school did not have contracts in place with foreign universities.

chichen itza
Studying Mayan art and architecture in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras was most certainly interesting, but not all that practical

And also, let’s be honest. Even if they had had those agreements in place, most likely I would not have been able to afford it. It was all I could do to afford college to begin with. I worked full-time hours throughout my entire college career. Going abroad for a semester or a summer would have meant 3-4 months of no job and no income.  Putting that together with the added expense of being overseas and it just didn’t add up.

I did manage to travel while in college so it wasn’t as if I never left the country.  I turned a two week vacation into a three month tour of Northern England, Scotland, and Wales with a side of Ireland after my freshman year. While my friend were actually graduating college, I did an ‘independent study’ in Mexico AFTER I’d taken all my other classes needed to graduate thus delaying my official graduation for a year.

llanfair
I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair.

I am quite certain that if I had studied abroad, my life would be 99.9% different than it is now–or maybe I would have arrived at the life I have now a lot sooner. I am quite certain that NOT studying abroad in college led me to take a ‘career break’ in 2010. And that ‘career break’ in 2010-11 led to me changing my career over the last 5 years. That career break also led to me choosing an elective where I got to spend time in both St Petersburg and Moscow (studying plants of all things) , Russia and Cardiff, Wales (studying the UK’s National Health System).  Both of those experiences, while amazing, was not the immersion experience I was looking for. And while travel nursing in the US is totally a thing; international travel nursing is not.

cardiff
At least I got to do a little exploring in and around Cardiff whilst working/studying at the Wales Hospital for Children.

All these experiences (and lack of experiences) has led me to the Peace Corps.  Peace Corps is not something I’d even strongly considered even though I had heard its existence while in high school. I pondered joining after I graduated college, but there was always this reason or that reason holding me back. But it is something that has been nagging at me, sometimes gently, sometimes with a bit more force over the last 15 years.

So maybe not studying abroad in my initial college experience was a good thing; after all, it has brought me to the Peace Corps where I’ll finally have that immersion experience I have been craving since I was 19 years old.  Let’s only hope I don’t regret joining at this stage of life.

 

July 4 2017

Happy Birthday USA

I am not the most patriotic person around.  I don’t know where all my ancestors hail from.  I know there’s some Cherokee [the original Americans], Irish, English, Scottish, and possibly German… What I do know is that my ancestors come from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee from as far back as the early 1800’s/ late 1700’s.  In spite of all that or maybe because of it, I do love history  and am often called a history nerd… History classes such Western Civ, US History, and even Spanish/New World Latin American history were always my favorite classes in school; I even wrote my senior thesis on Mayan Art and Architecture.  I love stumbling up hidden historical markers and visiting well known historical sites whenever I am out and about.

The USA is massive and each different geographic area boasts of a different history. For example, the southeast is completely different than the Pacific Northwest.  Almost as if they were different countries.  Yes, we’re all Americans and speak the same language, but culturally, politically, and historically, this two areas are as different as night and day. On this 241st birthday of the United States, let’s s explore some of the things that make the USA different from its neighbors and former ‘masters’. This is more of a Happy Birthday USA post than anything else, and with that I’ll leave you some of my favorite photos of historical sites.

First up:  America’s friendliest city and representing my home state, Charleston, SC

Historical homes on the battery at night.

Boneyard beach… on one of Charleston’s barrier islands

Charleston-Mount Pleasant bridge

And the famous live oak trees that populated the coastal south nearly everywhere

Next up:  Washington DC, the capital city of the USA and sort of the cultural divide between north and south

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Washington Monument and American Flag

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Washington DC, as the US capital, is one of the most historic spots in America has something photogenic at every turn.

And of course [although not my favorite] New York City

Lady Liberty and her island

The craziness of Times Square

And the Empire State Building viewing sites

Moving on to the West Coast…

Hello San Francisco…

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Moving out to the west coast, it one of the more iconic bridges in the world… the Golden Gate Bridge painted in its infamous International Orange colour.

Hello, Las Vegas…

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The wonderment that is the Grand Canyon [Read my posts about hiking the Grand Canyon]

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One of the best natural features in the USA

Mount Rainier–outside of Seattle in Washington.

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and beautiful mountains

and awesome hiking trails on both sides of the country

November 13 2016

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting remembrances was the Ceramic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

tower bridge ceremic poppies 2

The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

tower bridge ceremic poppies 3
Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

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Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

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A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

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They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

Ninety six cannon
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.

October 2 2016

An Ode to Semmelweis

Medical Museums

I graduated nursing school last year and as a flashback to that time in history, I’m dedicating the month of October to my fascination with all things nursing, medical, and otherwise health related.

First up in my orgy of medical museums and such is the Semmelweis Museum in Budapest, Hungary.   I feel bad for Semmelweis.  He made a major medical discovery, yet couldn’t explain it, so all his colleagues mocked him mercilessly, and then he died… a broken man.  Only to have his discovery proven right a few short years later.  He is one of the reasons we do a 2-minute scrub prior to entering surgical delivery rooms.

Here it is:  my ode to Semmelweis and his discovery of germs…

It’s a tiny little thing; it’s hardly ever seen.

But once inside, it can turn you  green.

Germs are many; treatments are few

For many years no one knew

What they were or their effects

Sickness was caused by air or a hex

Then Semmelweis figured it out

“Wash your hands” he wanted to shout.

But no one listened; no one cared

And no one cared how patients fared

A crusade against the little beasts he undertook

He gave speeches; he wrote a book

When he died he was outcast

But twenty years later, a hero he was–at last

Today entire classes are taught how to wash their hands

To wash away beasts tinier than a grain of sand

Semmelweis is the hero; he’s the man

Except to the microbes; talk of him in banned

semmelweis museum
Semme;weis’ father’s apothacary shop

Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor teaching medicine in Vienna. He noticed that the [male medical] students moved between the dissection room and the delivery room without washing their hands and their patients had a death rate of over 30%. [Oh, the infection control police at the hospital would be horrified] while the midwives’ patients, who didn’t do dissections, had a death rate of only about 2%. On a hunch, he set up a policy.  Effective immediately, doctors must wash their hands in a chlorine solution when they leave the cadavers.  Mortality from puerperal fever [aka childbirth fever] promptly drops to three percent and further drops to 1% after physicians began cleaning instruments in the same solution they washed their hands.

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The museum is also a medical history museum

Now here’s the part of the story where things grow strange. Instead of reporting his success at a meeting, Semmelweis tells his boss, but his boss orders him to ‘stand down’. Semmelweis says nothing. Finally, a friend publishes two papers on the method. By now, Semmelweis has started washing medical instruments as well as hands.

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The hospital director feels his leadership has been criticized [by Semmelweis]. He’s furious. Livid. Beyond angry. He blocks Semmelweis’s promotion. The situation gets worse. Viennese doctors turn on this Hungarian immigrant. They run him out of town. Finally, he goes back  home to Budapest.  He is an outcast among the “civilized” Austrian medical community. He brings his hand washing methods to a far more primitive hospital. He cuts death by puerperal fever to less than one percent. He does more. He systematically isolates causes of death. He autopsies victims. He sets up control groups. He studies statistics.  His has it all figured out.

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Requisite skull with a hole in it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, in 1861, he writes a book on his methods. The establishment gives it poor reviews. Semmelweis grows angry and polemical. He hurts his own cause with rage and frustration.  He calls his colleagues idiots and ignoramuses.  He bashes their stupidity. He turned every conversation to the topic of child-bed fever.

After a number of unfavorable foreign reviews of his 1861 book, Semmelweis lashed out against his critics in a series of Open Letters.  They were addressed to various prominent European obstetricians, including Spath, Scanzonia, Siebold, and to “all obstetricians”. They were full of bitterness, desperation, and fury and were “highly polemical and superlatively offensive” at times denouncing his critics as irresponsible murderers.  He also called upon Siebold to arrange a meeting of German obstetricians somewhere in Germany to provide a forum for discussions on puerperal fever where he would stay “until all have been converted to his theory.”

By mid-1865, his public behavior became irritating and embarrassing to his associates. He also began to drink heavily; he spent progressively more time away from his family, sometimes in the company of prostitutes.  His wife noticed changes in his sexual behavior. On July 13, 1865 the Semmelweis family visited friends, and during the visit Semmelweis’s behavior seemed particularly inappropriate.  Later in 1865 he suffers a mental breakdown. Friends commit him to a mental institution. Semmelweis surmised what was happening and tried to leave. He was severely beaten by several guards.  He was put in straitjacket and confined to a darkened cell. Apart from the straitjacket, treatments at the mental institution included dousing with cold water and administering castor oil. He died after two weeks, on August 13, 1865, aged 47, from a  gangrenous  wound caused by the beating. His autopsy revealed extensive internal injuries, the cause of death  pyemia–the very thing he spent his life trying to eradicate.

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Semmelweis was buried in Vienna on August 15, 1865. Only a few people attended the service.  Brief announcements of his death appeared in a few medical periodicals in Vienna and Budapest. Although the rules of the Hungarian Association of Physicians and Natural Scientists specified that a commemorative address be delivered in honor of a member who had died in the preceding year, there was no address for Semmelweis; his death was never even mentioned.

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A memorial to Semmelweis, savior of women and children

That same year Joseph Lister [the person whom Listerine is named after] begins spraying a carbolic acid solution during surgery to kill germs. In the end, it’s Lister who gives our unhappy hero his due. He says, “Without Semmelweis, my achievements would be nothing.”

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The anatomical Venus mad of wax… see I do see art from time to time

PS:  I don’t write poetry often; there is probably a reason for that

March 27 2016

Modern Medicine, circa 1900

 

Eric Johnson, Eve Hewson, Clive Owen in ‘The Knick’/Image © Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

I admit to being a nerd…especially when it comes to medicine, or more accurately the history of medicine.  Medicine today is strangled, but this is not about that.  I have recently discovered the TV show The Knick.  As per usual, I am late to the party as season 2 finished up last fall and it is uncertain whether of not, despite it’s good reviews, it will return for a season 3.  For those who have been living under a rock (much like myself) or completing nursing school (much like myself), here’s a quick synopsis:  Medicine, or more precisely surgery, in 1900’s New York City at a hospital  called The Knickerbocker or The “Knick” was a dangerous proposition. (To be fair, surgery anywhere in 1900 was a dangerous proposition.)  The Knick’s chief surgeron is a fellow named John Thackery (very loosely based on Dr. William Halsted, who happens to be one of my medical heroes). Thackery has a very serious cocaine addiction (because in 1900 cocaine was a wonder drug and it’s addictive properties were not known at all) as well as revolutionary – if not mildly terrifying – ideas that turn patients into guinea pigs at a time when doctors were only slightly more knowledgeable about medicine than barbers.

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I travel a fair amount, and not just to the beach for R&R, and in my travels, I’ve been to Semmelweis’ lab in Budapest, and the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London (you should totally go by the way, especially if you like The Knick)

you see, just like the TV show.

Summary:  The Knick is awesome.  It’s bloody; it’s gruesome.  It’s realistic.  But there’s only two seasons, and I have binged watched it in a whopping two days.  I have had to turn to books to get my fix.  A few I’ve discovered so far:

Fever by Mary Beth Keane: The search for Typhoid Mary, who is responsible for a massive outbreak of typhoid fever, is a fascinating side-plot during the first season, and Keane writes a great fictionalized account of the actual Typhoid Mary.

Genius on the Edge: The Bizarre Double Life of Dr. William Stewart Halsted by Gerald Imber: The character of Dr. John Thackery is loosely based on Dr. William Stewart Halsted, and this biography is a fascinating examination of his personal and professional life.

Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery by Richard Hollingham: Though it covers a broader period than The Knick, having a sense of where these surgeons and their work sit in the larger history of medical history is helpful for context. And it does shed some serious light on surgery during the Victorian era.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz: Often described as the P.T. Barnum of the surgical theater, Dr. Mutter’s flamboyant approach to medicine is a great primer for appreciating Dr. Thackery’s methods

February 28 2016

30ish things I still need to learn to do

Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me.  Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet.  When did being an adult get so complicated?

  1. How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
  2. How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
  3. How to flirt.  It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
  4. How to say no to something I really don’t want to do.  I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch.  I have also done things I  wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no.  And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
  5. How to wear make-up.  You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly.  I am not even talking about special occasion make-up.  I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
  6. How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run.  That would be me.  I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
  7. How not to take criticism personally.  I try.  I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.”  or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.”  and then I think no one likes me.
  8. How to sew. Clothes.  Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
  9. How to air-kiss.  I mean what’s the point.  Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men.  Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands.  Or hug.  I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
  10. How to change a diaper.  And I work with kids.  In a hospital.  Where diapers are being changed constantly.  Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained.  They just tossed them away.  So cavilier–these people we call parents.
  11. How to use a budget.  I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
  12. How to drive a stick shift.  I am ashamed to admit it.  It has held me back in some of my travels.  I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
  13. How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing.  Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring.  Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting.  Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
  14. How to have meaningful conversations.  I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even.  I make light of serious subjects.  Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well.  Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations.  And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
  15. How to tell people what I want.  Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general.  How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you.  I’d really rather just stay home.

  • 16.  How to ask for help.  I grew up super independent.  No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed.  I probably went years without asking anyone for anything.  Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help.  At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself.  At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel.  In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
  • 17.  How to say I love you.  Especially when I really mean it.  I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG.  But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you.  I am glad you are in my life.  There I said it.  Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
  • 18.  How to tip people?  I mean why is this even necessary.  [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of  my income was from tips]  I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me.  Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels]  But why should I tip someone for doing their job.  No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service.  I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
  • 19.  How to break up with someone.  Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me.  And while that sucks.  At least I am not the bad guy.
  • 20.  How to select produce or meat.  Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me.  I usually walk around looking lost.  And I don’t generally buy more than bananas.  It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up.  Unless I select a plantain by accident.
  • 21.  How to match shoes and purses with my outfit.  Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
  • 22.  How to really work my cell phone.  It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as.  Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it.  I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text.  I know…I sound so OLD.  [I am getting better at this one though]
  • 23.  How to do cool things on the computer.  Ok, so I have a blog.  I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue.  Making cool videos–no idea.  I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
  • 24.  How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player.  I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player.  In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
  • 25.  How to pack a real lunch.  I always end up packing too much or too little.  It’s never just right.  Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
  • 26.  How to walk in heels.  Especially the spiky ones.
  • 27.  How to network. I am horrible at this.  I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself.  But I have taken small steps to work on this.  Baby steps are better than no steps
  • 28.  How to use a fire extinguisher.  Only because I have never had to.  I have to take the yearly competency exam at work.  I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
  • 29.  How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
  • 30.  How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]
Oh how I love cute little tiny kittens…when they are sleeping.

 

February 16 2016

Let’s get honest: traveling solo

Today is Valentine’s Day–a day where couples celebrate their love, or for the more cynical among us, a day capitalized on by card makers, candy purveyors, and jewelry hawkers. Despite any appearance I may give, I’ve been coupled up [and mostly happily coupled] every year since I was 19 years old.  My sole year as a singleton, I happened to spend in Italy–a placed designed for romance.  I survived asking for a table per uno when dining alone in Tuscany.  I was treated to a free tour and then some by an amazing vespa driver who decided no one should be alone in Rome, and no one should be alone on their birthday.  Never-mind I was meeting a group of people for a tour the very next day.  What happens in Italy, stays in Italy [you know, at least the non-travel parts].

Overall, I am a private person and just because I choose to be on the internet doesn’t mean my partner does.  I respect that.  My current partner hates airplane travel, and doesn’t really enjoy long car rides– the most distance we’ve traveled together is Florida [about 8 hours in the car together].  And you know what, that’s OK.  That means I have an automatic support system at home.  I have someone to feed the cats and check the mail.  I have someone who can contact banks and such if  I’m abroad.  Sure, we haven’t invented a way to literally ‘reach out and touch someone’ but with technology being what it is, I can video-chat, talk, text, or whatever anytime I’m gone.  And missing someone makes coming home so much sweeter.  And there’s always someone to pick me up at the airport. So, I am not a solo traveler.  Or at least not by choice.  Given the opportunity, I would rather share amazing sunsets or  discover interesting things or go on hikes with someone than do it alone.  But I’d rather do all these things alone than not do them at all.  And therein lies the quandary.

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Long-term solo travel is still an uncommon practice in the United States [as compared to Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but getting more popular every day] so when I announced my plans to travel around South America for a year plus my news was met with trepidation more than excitement.  Perhaps the main issue was that most of my friends, co-workers, and family had never heard of someone taking a year off and heading off without concrete plans.  Add in the media hype of danger at every turn outside the US borders and I can *somewhat* understand their concerns.

However, sixteen months after leaving, I returned, all in one piece, only having one real story of danger to report. I have since traveled even more extensively, to places where I don’t speak the language, and *somewhat* off the tourist trail. I have not found the media view of danger at every turn to in fact be a fact.  BUT in the early days of planning every time someone told me of ‘something’ happening ‘somewhere’ I wondered if I needed to be prepared for that–whatever ‘that’ may be [‘That’ ranged from the plague to kidnappings to earthquakes].  Eventually I said fuck-it-all, and just went with the fact that I’ve successfully gotten myself ‘un-lost’ on several occasions, have survived natural disasters, and have even managed to disentangle myself from unsavory characters while at home.

DSCF0298

So while safety was always the first thing someone brought up upon hearing my plans, the ‘solo’ aspect was immediately next as in ‘aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?‘ or ‘what if you get lonely?‘ or several other well-meaning but misguided questions. The truth of the matter is that as an only child who grew up in the country instead of a neighborhood full of other kids being by myself is the least of my concerns.

For me, it was always the opposite.  I am/ was worried other people would get on my nerves and I’d have no alone time.  I have since learned that as a solo traveler I can have as much or as little ‘alone’ time as I want, and it’s always easy to meet up with other travelers for activities, day trips, or whatevs.


At 19, I planned to go to England with my then-boyfriend.  I worked my entire freshman year of college to save up enough money for flights, train tickets, souvenirs, ect. A last minute change of plans on his part meant either go by myself  or not go at all.  And so I went.  By myself.  Which was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I hate asking for directions, or talking to strangers.  I don’t trust easily. But I went anyway. And I had fun.  I learned to trust my judgement.  I learned not to be scared of everything and everyone.  I hung out in pubs in England.  I discovered the joys of hiking in Wales. I discovered Harry Potter in Scotland. Sure, I read some when I was out eating.  I didn’t eat a whole lot of dinners in restaurants.  I was 19!  I wouldn’t have felt comfortable eating in restaurants with someone.

sleepy kitty at the farm
At Muckross Farm in Ireland

What I did learn is that young, solo female travelers are pretty much on the lowest of the low of  in terms of travelers. Couples have safety in numbers, even groups of 2 or 3 females traveling together have it made compared to the single traveler, and male solo travelers — well, it’s just different for a solo man. And as I’ve gotten older, well, let’s just say I attract less attention than I used to– and I am more than OK with that. Of course I still get nervous if I get lost and followed by strangers; that’s just the evolutionary equivalent of being chased by saber toothed tigers.

Taking Risks

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life, and travel, is about constantly assessing a situation, making predictions, observations, and acting based on those assessments. I do this everyday at work. Seeing people, assessing the situation, making decisions based on those assessments. Traveling [and working in healthcare] has greatly increased my ability to size up a situation and a person and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes I have created a mental book of knowledge from which I pull when I encounter something new. If safety is the topic, then I have only increased my safety by traveling and added new experiences from which I can draw in uncertain situations.

So what have I learned

  1. Understand local cultural norms…. don’t expect them to conform to you.  I always try to learn a bit of the local language before I arrive– even if it’s just hello.
  2. Involve others in your safety…. let others [even if its just the hotel staff] know your plans.
  3. Stay aware….
  4. Stay sober…. being fucked-up greatly diminishes your situational awareness
  5. Know basic self-defense…. even if you never plan to use it
  6. Carry travel insurance… stuff can be replaced; you can’t
  7. Pay for your safety [even if that means a paying more for a cab or hotel versus the metro, u-bahn, subway…].

alexanderplatz christmas market
Enjoying local beverages should be fun; getting drunk while doing so should be verboten!

Which brings me to my final point– Anything can happen anywhere.

  • I have never been robbed while traveling. But I have had my wallet stolen and my car broken into in my driveway while I was  at home [upstairs] minding my own business.
  • On the other hand, I left my backpack in a taxi en route to the Cancun airport in 2002 and not only did someone return it to the airport lost & found, but everything was intact, including cash [$MEX and $USD] and credit cards.
  • I’ve never been physically hurt while traveling… I can’t say the same for life at home.
  • Other than a few cat-calls while in Mexico and Italy, I’ve never been sexually harassed while traveling.  Not so for life in the good ‘ole U S of A.

Above all, whenever you are out and about – at home or abroad – be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.  If something feels wrong, it probably is.

Beware of  bears
January 3 2016

Travel Mistakes I Keep Making Over and Over

We all make mistakes.. .especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone… maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again…when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.

galapagos iguanas

Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room in town [#truestory] also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year + in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I know it was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… .Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Danger...danger
Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER.

Update:  I now have a smart phone. Life is grand.

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

meow meow

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself well enough to know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I am likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I have missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.

See… all is not lost… I do learn from my [oh-so many] mistakes… eventually.