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Archive for the ‘Leaving’ Category

Well, here I am, sitting back in the exact same place I was about 10 months (thanks again for giving us your bedroom you-know-who), feeling very different than those days leading up to our departure.  Unfortunately, I’m still incredibly stressed, though the reasons couldn’t be more different.  It’s funny to think how apprehensive and unsure of the whole trip I was back then.  Now, my worries revolve around jobs, apartments, and trying to relocate to Portland. But, more on thoughts about home later.

plaza central, otavalo, ecuador

First, to fill you in on the rest of our trip.  We did go to Otavalo on Saturday, and the market was indeed quite extensive, though I wouldn’t say impressive. While you could find every souvenir you wanted, and even some new ones, at much better prices than anywhere else I’d seen, I’m not sure it was worth the 2-hour each way bus trip for the day.  However, the surroundings looked absolutely gorgeous and if we had had more time, I hear there is some amazing hiking nearby. Instead we spent every last non-US US dollar we had on llama paraphernalia, and even had time to have a late lunch at a seafood restaurant, savoring every last bite of ceviche and arroz con camarones. We still had time to spare and ended up back in Quito earlier than planned, not that I minded the extra time to pack.  I even got a special seat on my final South American bus ride: up-front, next to the driver, right next to the door.  What an honor. 😉 Meanwhile, Tyler was in the very back making friends with families.

Once back in Quito we had planned to eat at a particular restaurant, Mama Clorinda’s, and I had virtually planned out the entire menu in anticipation.  Unfortunately, Tyler got carried away with WoW and the restaurant was closed when we got to it (in his defense, it did close early – 9 pm – for restaurants in the area, on a Saturday).  Devastated, we found another Ecuadorian restaurant, more on the gourmet end of things, and had a nice meal.  Highlight include coconut-encrusted fish and canelazos (a drink with passion fruit juice, cane sugar liquor, and cinnamon).  And since we were late, I did get to see and hear the disappointment of Argentina being eliminated from the Copa America, as well as thoroughly pack, get rid of lots of things, and get ready for the early day to come.

Our flights home went fairly smoothly – we made it to the airport on time, and even got a good rate on the cab on the way there, not that we cared the slightest by this point.  We checked into our flight just fine, and even though the first leg of our flight was only 1 hour to Lima, LAN served us a real meal, including glass glasses and real silverware! I didn’t even know that still existed.  Our next flight from Lima to LAX was equally enjoyable: we each had individual TVs we could control and had a ridiculously huge variety of movies, TV shows, documentaries, music, and even games to play. Highlights include Tetris and the 30Rock pilot.  The only downside, towards the end of the flight our stewards got confused and we almost missed our 2nd meal (yes, our secondmeal – craziness), they forgot Tyler’s drink order (free wine! free beer! free drinks!) once, and we never got our bon-o-bon’s, which were my favorite chocolate treat in South America.  But, we also didn’t pay a single checked baggage fee, even for our connection from LA to Portland, so I’m trying not to hold it against them. In LAX we went through customs smoothly – there weren’t even that many lines and we hardly had to carry our big bags at all! We also finally got our hands on some real craft beer, yummy pizza from California Pizza Kitchen, and before we knew it we were off to Portland, so surreal.

red trolley ale to welcome us back at LAX. not as good as a northwest IPA, but what could we except, it's LA

We spent the first few days staying in the always lovely Rose City with friends, catching up on the year of cultural events we missed (that Friday, Friday, Friday song mainly) and trying to realize we were back in reality.  Much to my joy, I didn’t get any serious migraines (just a few headaches) nor did I get sick! I think all the sleeping in, free tap water, delicious food and drinks, and kitten snuggles really helped, not to mention incredibly welcoming friends that we’re lucky to have. We had the opportunity to go to a Timber’s game, as well as look at a few possible apartments in the area, and cook dinner for everyone.  I even baked a coffee cake because I was so overjoyed to see an oven I could use.  And we got a free case of hummus and box of pita chips from anonymous sources.  Good times.

There’s a few pictures from the last days in Otavalo and Quito HERE at the end of the album, as well as some pictures from Portland HERE.

Now we’re back in Salem, taking over the Wheeler household once again.  Today we went to EZ Orchards for strawberry shortcake, and I spent ages looking at everything on every aisle; there’s actually pretty and interesting things on the shelves again!  It hurts my brain to comprehend it all.  I found a recycled cutting board, that the company will pick up from you when you’re done with it and re-recycle it.  Its still crazy to me that things like that exist after coming back from living in the developing world for so long.  Great idea; just seems frivolous after peeling yucca and potatoes by hand with no cutting board for 100 people every day, twice a day, for 2 months in the jungle, and it worked just fine.

In the meantime, my head has been swirling with the dozens of minute and macro tasks that need to get done: car insurance, registering the car in Oregon, opening 10 months of mail, opening the boxes we sent home (like Christmas! except the havanettes went bad, so sad!), Easter baskets, opening actual Christmas presents (I knew it!), activating credit cards, updating account info, cell phones, not to mention applying for jobs and looking for apartments, and trying to see friends, and family, all while bouncing around between 3 cities for who knows how long into the unforeseeable future.  Tomorrow we go back to Portland to play with our grown-up friends on their days off; Sunday we’re back in Salem, Monday we’re running more errands (wash the car, change the oil, license plates, new glasses…), hopefully early next week I’ll have a job interview in Portland at an Immigration Services law firm downtown, and by the end of the week we’ll be in Seattle, hopefully getting Tyler a job back at J Crew, and perhaps taking all of our things and cat home if we can sort out alternative housing before then.  Its funny relocating: to get a job you need  a local address; to get an apartment you need a job…hopefully we can sort it all out soon.

being silly at a Timber's game in Portland

This is not to mention all the oddities and strains of re-adjusting to American life.  A lot has changed since we left: new music, friends with new jobs in new apartments, our niece can walk and talk and is pretty rad to hang out with now, its supposedly summer, its light past 6 p.m.  Not to mention I keep wanting to throw my toilet paper into the trash bin and find it odd to buckle my seat-belt and use a cell phone. Tyler has fully immersed himself in WoW with the recent re-acquisition of his beloved laptop and high speed internet.  We can call people now instead of emailing or Facebooking them.  I still find an odd desire to photograph and document everything we do, then write about it, like we’re still traveling. There’s a lot of changes we want to make since being on our trip, and a lot we’ve learned we’ve yet to discover how to express and share.

I’ll probably keep the blog going…so feel free to unsubscribe if you’re not interested in hearing about our day-to-day life, or what recipe’s we’ve cooked lately, or our thoughts on the latest sermon at church. I’ll probably go through and change the format as well.  Before that there will probably be a few more posts about processing being back in the States, as well as updates on our progress about relocating to Portland.

Until then, I hope this finds you all happy and healthy!

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Hello Everyone,

Just a quick update, as we are literally packing our bags and trying to get all those little last-minute things done before we leave Buenos Aires!

I think I can safely say that we both have a mixed bag of emotions: excitement, sadness, fear…stress and fatigue.  But, either way, in a few short hours we’re boarding a bus for Bariloche (see map!).  We’ll be taking a 21 hour or so bus ride down South, to start our exploration of Patagonia.  It should be a fantastic few weeks. We’ll spend some time first around the top of Patagonia in Bariloche, then work our way down to El Chatlen (not on the map, but it’s halfway between Bariloche and the tip of Argentina) , then to the very bottom – Ushuaia, in Tierro del Fuego.  We’re really looking forward to seeing some amazing natural beauty in this part of our trip, and we’ll try to post pictures and update when we can.  Internet is going to be uncertain from this point on, but we’ll do our best.

We love you all!

Sharon and Tyler

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We can hardly believe it – in less than two weeks it will be time to move on!

When we came back from our trip to Mendoza, somehow it was already January, and that surreal feeling that the world is moving out of your control was just starting to happen.  Now it is in full motion – time swirling by faster than expected, the list of things to do and time to do it wrestling with each other.  Boxes to mail home, music and movies to download (no laws on that here), pictures to back up, iPod to update, laundry, saying goodbye to our favorite places and people.  The fears and doubts of this trip – what next?  Uh, like, where should we go?  Home? Continue on?  And the hardest questions – how and why.

Buenos Aires and the little side-trips we’ve made have been fun, some of it, even great.  We both wish we had done a few things differently…spent only 3 months here in the city being the major one.  Convincing our friend from Portland to take back a bag of fall clothes and souvenirs for us another.  Having the newest edition of the Lonely Planet so our budget wasn’t blown to pieces.  And the usual suspects are all around us: I wish I’d studied more Spanish, taken more classes, gone to the climbing gyms sooner, made a bigger effort to find a church community.  But, it’s time to just remember the best, try to put into words and cohesive thoughts the lessons we’ve learned, and move on.

And speaking of the lessons we’re learning, why don’t I share a few, before I get into the thick of things?

Being fully present in the moment. I like my friends at home; I don’t like making new friends much and I don’t care for acquaintances.  I’d rather save my energy for those deep relationships that sustain me.  This has some validity, I think, but it’s also quite wrong.  Here, the only friends we can hope for aren’t going to be forever, and we can choose to run from that, or embrace it.  Eventually, I gave in, and I remember one moment, in the most unlikely of places (a bar) someone I had just met, shared a vulnerable history of a twisted past. I was shocked that he would share something so personal to near-strangers (and no, it wasn’t the alcohol talking) and was inspired by it.  This is a lesson I’m always being taught, re-taught, and reminded of, but it was refreshing to revisit it here.

Interruptions and Slow Walking. Life here is always being interrupted.  Strange, sudden government holidays, people coming and going, power outages, traffic jams, subte strikes, you name it.  The Type A part of me doesn’t like when my plans “get messed with” and I don’t like when things aren’t efficient. But, it happens here, and people have the great flexibility to just make the most of it, and I too, am slowly learning. Related to this is the fact that people here walk like tourists at the Space Needle.  They walk painfully slow, randomly stop with no warning, and are generally irritating.  But they’re never in a hurry; they’re enjoying the walk, and they’re smarter for it.  Not only because they’re not allowing stress to enter their realm, but because when you walk slow you don’t get as hot or sweaty.  I enjoy my slow saunters to and from work, and enjoy taking the bus even if it takes longer than the subte (it has better views).  I’m slowly learning not to think about tomorrow, or later today (though I still think planning has a place), but just enjoy the now.

Listening and the art of communication. Having to learn another language has many benefits, but I’ve recently been reminded of one I’d never paid much attention to before.  Listening.  I can understand a lot more Spanish than I can say, in the moment.  I can read books, I can watch movies, but I can’t always respond before the subject changes.  I was painfully reminded of this the other night at a bouldering gym with new friends; I could follow their conversation, but by the time I thought of the correct way to say something, the topic had changed. Now this can also be a lesson in letting go of perfectionism, too.  But, listening.  I’ve always admired people that can get shy people to talk – who just listen and ask questions, rarely talking about themselves, expect to sympathize or relate. I try to do this, and fail miserably, when I’m speaking English.  In Spanish, I find myself listening for long stretches of conversation, being forced to ask questions to clarify or get more information, and rarely talking at all, much less about myself.  And its quite refreshing, and something I hope I can apply to my daily life and interactions back home.

Related to this is communication in general, something I absolutely hate learning (I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to communicate in their natural manner, and that anything else is cheapened), but I do it for my marriage and for my work, and, well, as a general life/social skill I guess.  I am not a good communicator, by any means.  Learning other languages helps with this on a social level, but being, what sometimes feels like trapped, in a so-so city with your spouse in one room, forces one to learn communication in a different light.  Its been difficult, but its also something we never dedicated enough time to in the States because we were “too busy.” Well, now we have worlds of time, and its been interesting to see just how different we are, and also to see just how easy (and hard) some of the fixes can be.  These are lessons we’re just beginning to learn, but I hope they continue, and that God grants us the grace to do so in a loving manner.

Future “Plans”: the how

We’re not sure what the plan is yet (can you believe that?! Me not having a plan, less than two weeks out?! This trip must really be getting to me!).  I bought tickets to spend a day in Colonia, Uruguay Friday to get another stamp to brag about in our passport (it happens, even if you try not to), and consequently renew (hopefully) our tourist visa for another 90 days so we don’t have to rush out of here.  After that our general, sort of plan is “go to Patagonia” but we’re not quite sure how to go about that.  We have some ideas, and we’ll probably end up buying bus tickets to Bariloche next week and hoping it all works out.  We’ve heard rumors its can get expensive down there, which I find strange, as I mostly just want to hike around and look at stuff, maybe even camp if we come across equipment, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.

The idea after that is to make it all the way down to the tip of the continent, Ushuaia, and then? “Up through Chile” however that works out.  There’s been talk of volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing) along the way, talk of staying at YYAM bases to save money, of hitchhiking and couchsurfing.  Dreams of making it to Bolivia and Peru, to Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba. That is to say, we really don’t have many answers on the “how”s of the trip, but we have this, perhaps naive, faith that it will all work out, for better or for worse.  Should be interesting.

As for when we’re coming home, well, a recent chat with a friend, among other things, reminded me to keep that on our radar.  We’re still not sure.  There’s been talk of packing up and calling it quits directly from Buenos Aires, or directly after Patagonia, depending on the budget.  There’s been more talk on trying to hold out until at least May or June, and there’s been some talk about coming back in August or September, “if all goes well.”  There’s also been whispers in the back of my head of staying…for as long as…?; of course I have no idea or plan yet, but if some opportunity came along, well…if I can get my cat down there it’d be hard to pass up.  But, no such opportunities exist for us as of yet.

Doubts and the Why’s

As for the “why,” this is more difficult, and I’ve actually written an entire separate blog about it, which I still haven’t finished. I keep asking myself, is this worth it? Why are we here?  Why did we do this again? We could be at home, with my cat, having a normal life where I can eat all the cheap, spicy Mexican food I please and hang out with people I love everyday.  So, why are we here, spending all this money?  Is it just to learn a language? Just to experience a culture?  Haven’t I done that already? Are we actually doing what God wants for us, or are we doing some mumbled, half-assed version of what God wants? Why can’t I be given clarity, or peace? We have an idea, a romanticizing idea, of this great exploratory travel, where we spend hardly any money and meet great people and have revelatory experiences along the way. Not only has this been done before, it’s very hard to do in today’s world.  So then, what’s left?  We’re not with a church…we’re not missionaries…we’re not with any kind of program…we’re not in any kind of commitment.  I like these things because they lend me structure and security (but are those false?), but here without those things on this trip, I am haunted and full of doubt.  I try to have peace that it will make sense someday, that some opportunity will come along and it will be great, that when it’s all said and done I’ll say, this was the trip of a lifetime, totally worth it!  But most of the time, I just feel overly privileged and lost.

Tyler and I have been talking a lot about this tension I have, and many others have as well. We grew up in what some would call a sort of legalistic, hyper-emotional Christianity.  If we didn’t do our devotionals every day, if we didn’t cry at worship and retreats, we were bad Christians, riddled with guilt, our relationship with God nearly salvageable. Sounds silly now, but that’s what it felt like, in many ways.  So, later in life, as the classic cycle goes, we rebelled.  We’re all about the emergent church, we don’t need structure, we don’t need rules, it’s all about the heart-relationship, and that’s personal.  While this has many benefits, it’s not quite right either.  Because of this, I see many friends who live in hip “communities” with a lax mission, many of them eventually “realizing” they don’t need the Christian faith anyway.  A slippery slope, either way.  And thus, the circle comes ’round again, and I find myself saying, spiritually (and let’s be honest, physically) I’m a spoiled brat. I barely have an ounce of spiritual discipline (and I always eat exactly what I want). I need to take some things from that legalism (the discipline side) and add it into that flexible emergent stuff, and see what happens!  Well that’s all great, but, how do we add in the discipline to this, very lax, emergent-style trip? We get the obvious (read our Bible and pray, duh! and yet, that seems so hard), but..what else can we do? And how do we keep the balance of freedom/grace/discipline without it turning into that old enemy legalism?  An interesting journey indeed…

After all is said and done, I’m still excited about some of the lessons I/we am/are learning. And I comfort myself with the fact that God can use any experience to His good, and that even if we’re doing things the wrong way (have I made a grave mistake?!) we’re still learning important lessons, and they’re still going to be used in some awesome way in the future, and someday we’ll realize all that.

Thoughts?  Comments?  We always appreciate hearing from everyone (we also got quite a few Christmas cards – thanks!).

Love,

Sharon

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From Seattle to…?

Not surprisingly, I haven’t had the time to blog lately!  But, I’ve “written” several posts in my head, as well as “edited” existing posts (also, in my head) and I thought before we step on a plane tomorrow morning, I should at least try to get some of what’s been going on put into words.

"packing"

The first post we meant to write was about was moving. Moving is hard.  This move was excruciating.  To celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary, we decided to go backpacking…and get back 2 days before we had to be out of the apartment.  Maybe not the best planning, but at the time I thought we were well-enough prepared.  (For pictures of the trip, see here). However, the backpacking was spectacular: fantastic weather, lots of great fishing, crystal clear water, almost no other people around, a full moon so bright it seemed like a spotlight, and breathtaking views (both the views and the getting there).  It was a fantastic way to say goodbye to what I think is my favorite thing about Washington and to simply relax together in God’s glorious creation.

However, upon our return, instead of packing…I decided I also wanted to say goodbye to a few friends at Vertical World.  So, after a quick change I was off for a few final climbs in an attempt to finish off that punch-card.  It was a fantastic night of seeing friends…but an absolutely terrible night of climbing for me. (Note to self: don’t rock climb after an 18-mile backpacking hike).  But, at least I tried to push my endurance and got to see some great friends.

And then…after all our excuses had run out, we found ourselves alone with our demons: a half-packed, half-cleaned (if even half…) apartment, an adorable kitten I would soon have to give to a kitten au pair, and no one to help us. I tried to stay positive, repeatedly saying, as if to convince myself, “We have a lot done.  There’s not that much more to do…”.  Tyler became overwhelmed and dizzied by the task before us, and at points curled up in the fetal position on the floor.  There were numerous tears, sobs, and snappy arguments.  Two nights of less than five hours of sleep, with every minute of time and energy spent on packing, loading u-hauls, and cleaning, and still, no help (or even offers) from a soul.

Then, the dreaded moment came: when, even after all our talk of getting rid of so many possessions (apparently we  had more than we thought):  it wasn’t all going to fit.  Not in the u-haul, not in the car, not in the passenger’s seat.  And not only would it not all fit, there was no time to dig out the things we’d much rather give away. Some of the lesser-quality furniture we demolished in the alley; kicking apart shelves of faux wood, gathering nails and compacted, flat pieces discreetly in the building’s dumpsters.  I lined the alley with things we didn’t have the time or means to drop off at Goodwill: furniture, stilts, laundry organizers, bookshelves, chairs, and…the bike my Mom had given me, that I made my Dad drive all the way from California so I could use it.  I had almost got hit by a bus in that bike.  The epic Lake Washington ride with Haley to Red Mango…so many hopes and dreams…left on the curbside.  In a move to not anger our landlord by leaving the alley and dumpster full of our belongings, I typed up an ad on Craigslist hoping our goods would be picked up and loved by future owners, and continued on our moving rampage.  To my immense surprise, every single item was gone within an hour.  Not only that, the bike was taken by a very excited owner who I know will get plenty of use out of it, so I can have some peace about it all.

And then, the cleaning.  Oh, the cleaning!  Three years in an apartment 100 years old…we gathered enough dusty bunnies to make at least two spare kittens.  Cleaning brought more breakdowns, more hunger (and fume) headaches, and more tasks to do than time would allow.  Needing to be at the storage place in Portland by a certain time, I had to leave Tyler to finish cleaning while I raced the u-haul southward.  I left him with gifts of sodas and snacks, and off I went, alone again, with no CD player, no iPod…nothing but the good-old radio. Luckily, traffic was nearly non-existent, I discovered I have a hidden talent for driving u-hauls both in big cities and on the freeway, and, my uncontrollable tears didn’t cause an accident.  I had made it, just in time, and friends and in-laws were on the way!

This is where things started going well in the moving story.  Our dear friends showed up with impeccable timing, and the energy and attitude we weren’t capable of having.  Our storage unit looked bigger than expected, and was certainly in a nicer, more secure building than expected.  These friends are master-packers and Tetris champions, and helped me squirrel away all our goods with room to spare.  My mother-in-law drove up so we could load her mini-van with food to give away, toiletries, wedding dresses, suits, and all the other random things we thought we might use in the next few weeks.  Tyler even made it, saying he had successfully finished cleaning the entire apartment.  After an epic drive to a u-haul address that didn’t exist, we were finally, finally, done with the worst of it.  A few days later we were at our new “home,” settled in, things sorted and organized, laundry finished, sleep caught-up-on, well fed and hydrated, and utterly free.

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Over the weekend, we did something I’ve been longing to do: we finally took the pile of clothes, old sleeping bags, shoes, books, wedding presents we never used in the past three years, movies we never watch, and furniture that holds things we don’t need, and donated it all to Goodwill.

Don’t get me wrong, we live in small apartment that’s maybe…800 square feet (?), and has exactly two tiny closets, one kitchen counter only two feet wide, one small kitchen sink, and strangely gigantic bathroom.  We didn’t have a lot of stuff by American means.  But by global means, we had (and still have) much more than we need.  We held onto things because, well, we had the space.  We didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings; we kept thinking that maybe we might need something someday.  Now, we have an excuse to purge.

Over the last three years, I’ve wanted to move several times, always to a place that’s not necessarily bigger in terms of square footage, but that had more storage, a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, and a balcony or deck; better flow.  But storage was always the key; just the other day I visited a friend who just moved, and marveled at how they had not one, not two, but four huge closets. I was truly jealous. That was also due to the fact that they had a dishwasher, and a back-porch, and a parking space, but wow, the storage!  So, I’ve looked at a lot of apartments, and I’ve found some great ones.  One was in Uwajimaya Village, which, if you don’t have a car, you should definitely live there because they have cheap options (income-qualified units), they are awesome, and it’s a great location.  But, parking made it expensive, and there was a lack of storage, so we moved on.  Next we went to Welch Plaza, which also has income-qualified units, a fitness center, parking, dishwashers, and washer and dryers in unit.  We toured a few different options, but in the end, we decided it was a no, because we couldn’t fit our furniture in; not enough storage.  Now, I think back on that, and wonder that I was thinking.  Our furniture doesn’t fit, so no to cheaper rent, a free gym, and no more arguing over washing dishes!  I guess at the time I just wasn’t in the right mindset; I was too comfortable, too attached. Oops.  At least I generally learn from my mistakes.

On this past gloomy Saturday, I spent eight hours sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning. Somehow in all that time, I only ended up with one sealed box (Christmas ornaments) and several almost full, unsealed boxes, thinking we might add or discard things later.  I spent a lot of time packing our “sentimental crap and mementos” boxes, reminiscing, being nostalgic, and generally a bit mopey, lonely and depressed.  But, that is part of the packing/moving experience, so I actually enjoyed it (I had my good friend, music, to keep me company, and a floppy, confused kitten). On Sunday, I packed most of our books, our movies, and some clothes.  Still some open boxes, because, hey, we might want to watch a movie or wear some old clothes in the next three weeks.  But, what really made an impact was curtains and carpet.  Yes, curtains.

When we first moved into the apartment, I had a great job that unfortunately only paid exactly $848 a month; Tyler worked at Starbucks.  You can imagine the arithmetic. Thus, we didn’t have money to make a lot of investments in making our apartment comfortable.  We didn’t have money to come up with great “storage solutions” or to create coordinating décor. As our apartment did have painted blue hardwood floors in the living room, we did manage to find a great deal on a gigantic area rug at Home Depo before we moved in, that covered most the space.  It made it a little quieter; a littler warmer; a little bit cozier.

After that job ended and I was home alone, unemployed, getting rejected daily in my job search, I had had enough.  I would use our savings to make a little investment.  My mother always said curtains make a place feel more home-like. So, despite the fact that I was unemployed and the “Great Recession” had just begun, I was going to make myself feel better with curtains.  I would comfort myself with shopping; a typical consumerist American dream.  I am ashamed to admit it.  So, I walked the mile or so to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and looked at curtains.  Why – why?! Are curtains so expensive?!  Who knew, I mean really, who knew.  But, I was committed; this would help me feel better now that I had to spend all this time at home.  So, I got some curtains.  I put them up in our living room.  I found an old sari Tyler had bought in India, and made a drape with it (it was quite creative and matched perfectly; you should be impressed).  Now, I was on my way, to a status of having color palettes and accents.  I think I even bought a decorative pillow that day.

Now, curtains are an awkward thing to carry home over a mile, with the rods sticking out of the bags and whatnot.  As I walked home with my gigantic bags, struggling to keep circulation in my hands as they were being cutoff by plastic, someone on the street pointed and called out to me: “this woman is single-handedly saving our economy!  Someone’s got to do it!”  I thought it was funny (remember the ridiculous Bush speech about how we needed to shop to save our county?), but I was also embarrassed.  A necessary pain for the joy of curtains.  When Tyler came home from work that day, I announced: “Look husband, I’ve built you this palace!” It was a little harem-like, with silk curtains and sari drapes; in burnt orange and deep red nonetheless.  It also made the room darker.  But, my Mom was right; it was pleasant; we felt snug.  It was the beginning to our road to comfortableness.  Later we would buy a futon and get rid of the old loveseat; we would get Tyler a computer desk and re-arrange the furniture; get a new dressers, a coat-rack, and some odd little tables.  Most of this was new in the sense that it was new to us; most of it we found in the alley behind our apartment, or got from friends.  But, it made our little apartment homely. Sure, we went through stuff every few months and donated a few bags and boxes to Goodwill, but we slowly acquired things.  We got used to it.  We became complacent.  I started watched TV when I hadn’t done that much since my senior year of high school; I kept watching it even after we lost our free cable.  I just wanted to zone out, to have a “mind-numbing activity.”  It started taking me longer to finish books, and I started gaining more weight.  Sure, we were happy, we had friends over for anime night, we cooked, we went wine tasting, we watched movies.  It was fun to stay in; we were comfortable.

Comfortable makes it hard to leave; hard to move; hard to pack. People, Tyler included, thought it was a bit odd that I wanted to start to pack now, three weeks before we move.  I had my reasons: 1. I really want to do a mid-week backpacking trip before we leave 2. I really want to enjoy our last three weeks in Seattle and not be stressed by the move; so why not take advantage of a rainy weekend? and 3. the great unknown feeling in my soul.  Now that the boxes are filling up, that our stuff has been given away (TV included), the curtains have been taken down, and the carpet rolled up and thrown out, I understand the great unknown.  Somewhere, deep inside me, I remembered that I should be uncomfortable with being comfortable, all the time at least.  Comfort is something to be enjoyed every once in a while; a treat like gelato or the “El Diablo” dessert at Tango.  I remembered I used to be more active; more motivated, when I lived with less.  When I went to bed last night; I felt like one of those characters in the commercials to quit smoking; when they have to re-learn how to do all their daily activities they would do with cigarettes; driving, eating breakfast.  I think I actually asked, out loud, “what did I used to do before bed?” when I didn’t watch TV?  Then it came to me: I would talk to Tyler on the phone, and I would read.  I would also listen to music.  So, I read, a book a friend gave me months ago, that’s just been sitting, lost in the masses of books in our bookshelves.  Now that they’re empty, with only a few books we haven’t read pulled out, I can focus on the ones I’ve been wanting to read. I am free to do that (and also forced, a little bit, but by choice).  And it’s a fantastic!  Now, maybe the things that have been on my to-do list for months (filing taxes, anyone?) will finally get done because I can’t make excuses anymore.  I have nothing else to do; I have a new clarity of mind.  Our change in circumstances, my little reality check, has generated more energy. I can see things in a new light (literally, not only is it brighter in our apartment without curtains, I get to use my favorite lamp, finally!), and I like it. Sure, there will still be temptations (Hulu) and it will still be a struggle in self-discipline, but I am happy to take on the challenge.  I think these next few weeks will teach us real lessons of preparation for Buenos Aires, where we’ll live in one room with a home-stay, and for our travels thereafter.  And when God answers my prayers to give me open eyes and ears for his lessons, I get excited.

Sure, it might not be all that pleasant to walk barefoot in our house anymore, as we discovered what basically amounted to a beach underneath our cozy carpet/rug, and enough dust bunnies to make at least one spare kitten.  Sure, I may have to tip-toe around piles of stuff, my clothes are in big Tupperware bins; our bed is now in the center of our room, the frame dismantled in the living room, and I may have made a nightstand out of my tabla (an Egyptian drum) and my old hula-dancer lamp, but it feels strangely liberating; it feels good.  I can find contentment knowing that our home is anywhere we’re together, anywhere with Christ, even if where we live doesn’t feel “homey” anymore. Our place might be kind of a disaster and not the most inviting for friends, but, if our friends judge us by the space (or lack thereof) we live in, maybe we should question the basis of our friendship.  If we can’t find enjoyable entertainment in any space with our friends, when, what are doing?

As for my love of great storage, I’ve realized: I don’t need it.*  I never needed it; what I needed to do was let go; give it up. We realized that at least three pieces of furniture that we had planned so much around when looking at potential apartments, weren’t even worth donating.  And they were demolished so easily; we literally kicked them to pieces in minutes, and just like that, they were flattened and in our dumpster.  Amazing how quickly something dismantles and disappears; all those years, all those memories and it’s gone, just like that. And what caught my attention was how easy it was, and how relieved I felt afterwards.

With the recession still dragging on, there’s been a lot of talk about cutting back; there’s even a great article in it in the New York Times. There’s been a lot of talk at our church, and in the books I’ve been reading, about living simply.  It’s something Tyler and I have talked about a lot, and generally try to practice; only now we intend to bring it to a different level.  Live simply, so we can work less, and have time to do more.  Plan our lives strategically so this can be a reality. People can argue with me, but I truly believe in the core of my being, that we weren’t meant to work 40+ hours a week and to commute daily in cars. I’ve done it, and I’m relieved to be leaving it behind me.  I would rather work less, and be able to afford less, than to live in a stressed and frenzied world. This may require more creativity, a more radical living situation (intentional community, anyone?), an acceptance that less is more, and discernment in purchasing decisions. I think it is a major piece in the puzzle of happiness and contentment, and I am happy that we’re pushing ourselves in the right direction.

We’ll see what I think after three weeks of living in this mess. 😉

Thank You’s

But for now, I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to Haley, who graciously gave up her Sunday afternoon to make a Goodwill caravan run with me; and to her friend Hayden, who amazingly gave up an entire day to do boring things like clean mold, sweep, and watch the Genki Sushi commercial, when he’s visiting here for only a month from Australia.  And, praise the Lord for the amazing mold and mildew cleaner Becka lent me; the word “destroy” on the label truly does not lie.

Also, I apologize for the lack of pictures – I know it’s hard to read without the words being broken up by a fun image. I’ll be working on that soon, now that I’ve been liberated to be productive.  🙂

Question

On a related note, I would like to pose a question.  I obviously like this idea of living simply and having less.  However, there is an issue that sits uneasily with me.  As someone who has wandered and moved a lot, a lot of things don’t have a lot of value.  Our alley furniture and hand-me-downs aren’t worth holding onto for the storage fee. But, does this notion of “expendable” equate to a lifestyle of glorified consumerism?  Where we get rid of old clothes just to justify making room for new clothes (as my husband accused me of doing last night…and I must admit, is often a motivation)?  A lifestyle were we just cycle through furniture, clothes, and goods as we move from one place to another, or exchange one piece of alley furniture for the next? Sure, we might not be buying new clothes or new furniture each time, we might be recycling and donating things, but doesn’t it still perpetuate the same destructive mindset?  I wonder about that. On another hand, as we were donating my nightstand I’ve had for 16 years, I had a thought that next time we’d just save up until we could get something nice; something we really wanted, something that we wouldn’t want to donate.  Is this the right response? Or is this too, perpetuating the myth of nice things = happiness?  Thoughts, anyone?

*Disclaimer

Well, ok, before you go on calling me a hypocrite, yes, we are still planning on renting a storage unit while we’re traveling, because we realized its cheaper to store a few things than try to replace certain ones (i.e. our bed, Tyler’s computer, those damned expensive curtains) that we’re pretty sure we’ll need when (if?) we come back.  Maybe we are supposed to give up all our possessions and follow; maybe when we think closely about our needs versus wants, we’ll see that we don’t really need any of the stuff we plan to store; that it’ll just make things easier when we come back – but maybe we think it’s worth it, for now at least? I’ve been toying with the idea of just getting rid of it all anyway, but I can’t discern if that’s rash or wise just yet, so I’ll continue with the current path of action.  Maybe we’re just supposed to be willing to give it all up, like a test, but if we pass we get to keep it?  (Yes, sometimes I still think like a child).  Basically, all I know is that I don’t have all the answers; that I know we’ve made a big step in the right direction, and that I’ll just have to have faith that God shows me what we’re supposed to do next, and that it will be awesome.

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We had to watch the Motorcycle Diaries for Spanish class this week, one of my favorite films.  The first time I watched it was with my dear “EMP – Experience Mexico Project” friends in Mexico City, 2007.  It was to start a thoughtful discussion on how travelling and experiencing the world changes you.  I remember Tyler, who has a severe phobia of needles, grabbed my arm with so much force it left finger-bruises when they gave Ernesto Guevara a shot for his asthma in the movie.  To be honest, I don’t remember much of our discussions, because the sum of our experience was greater than the individual parts.  It endeared this movie to me, so much so that I later used it in Bible studies for high school youth groups.  And now, here I was again, watching this time without subtitles, trying to prepare my mind for that dreaded Argentinean accent. I could speak volumes on how this movie relates to our aspirations for this trip (no, we are not going to start a violent revolution), but what was most impactful this time, was not in the film itself.

In the bonus features there is an interview with the real-life Alberto Granado; a content old man with liver spots and white hair. Speaking about his journey across Latin America with Ernesto Guevara, he says that, in order to travel so that the world changes you, you have to be a bad son, a bad brother, bad uncle, and a bad boyfriend. You have to leave all your attachments behind to truly travel and experience the world.  Are we ready for this?

Maybe I’m just getting older; maybe I just love my kitten too much, I just want to finally be with our dear friends, maybe I am lazy and comfortable in my life and don’t want to face the challenges that lie ahead. Maybe it’s past my time to keep moving.  Maybe the thought of going without a plan, of leaving the option open to not come back…ever…is too much for me. I have long been a planner, someone who constantly looks beyond the horizon. How long will we stay?  Our reply has generally been a shrug and a “not sure, at least four months…”  Lately, I’ve been inclined to say: “as long as it takes.”  “As long as it takes for what?” is the usual response.  I’m not sure what the answer is: long enough to speak Spanish at the level I want to, long enough to be transformed again by our learning and experiences, long enough to let go, long enough to be satisfied in any place, long enough to strengthen our marriage?  I’m not sure that either one of us knows, but I know God does.  Maybe it will just be the four months, maybe six, maybe eight, maybe more, or maybe less?  We will just have to see what happens.

I’m fully aware of the challenges of being a foreigner; a traveler. And of course, with God’s perfect timing and sense of humor, this is just the time that we are leaving, after we finally want to stay.  He tells me to stay when I want to run; He tells me to go when I long to stay. And it is with equally unique logic that because of these feelings I have: hesitation, fear, a longing to remain, that I know without a doubt we are going where God wants us to be. We are letting it all go, trusting in this community of love we’ve built, having faith that God will be with us wherever we go.  Knowing that new, unimaginable joys await us in lands of new faces, new customs, new landscape, language, and food; new lessons that we’ll be grateful for.

Meanwhile, my head is swarming with things that need to get done before we move.  Mail to forward, addresses to change, utilities to stop, memberships to cancel, things to throw out and donate, things to pack, things to buy so that we can pack, food to consume, people to see, walls to spackle and paint, things to clean, things to organize, mold to remove…bank accounts to open and close. And yet we still want our last three weeks in Seattle to be fun and enjoyable; we still want to go outdoors, rock climb, eat at our favorite places, see friends, and relax.  For now I’m choosing to focus on this challenge, and let my mind continue to ruminate on our upcoming trip. Change is exciting and thrilling, but also terrifying.  I think part of the lesson God is teaching me is to take it one-day at a time, and let Him worry about the rest.

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I have long been someone who was not proud to be American.  I still don’t think I am; I still feel like singing the national anthem at baseball games is a bit brain-washy, and I don’t care much for patriotic pins or clothing.  I have long focused on all the negativities of our culture and nation-state: our double-downs, our super-sized everything, our big cars, total and complete reliance on oil, our frenzied pace of life, our fast-food and obesity, our laziness, our disregard for the environment, our often complete lack of knowledge and understanding of other cultures and religions, our ignorance, our exceptionalism, our loudness, our penchant to overwork ourselves with long hours, commutes, and short vacations, how we turned human well-being into a profit scheme, our undying belief that capitalism and free markets will solve all our problems, our two-timing protectionist tariffs, our multiple flatscreen TVs per home, our need to constantly spend expendable income on entertainment, clothes without thinking twice of the child sweatshop labor that made our cheap Wal-Mart prices possible, our tendency to vote based on wild emotions and accusations rather than learning facts, our grave foreign policy blunders. If I was abroad I would sneer at these typical Americans, and turn to my French-Canadian roots if asked.  I would try to be different; to blend in.  I much prefer the Spanish Estadounidense to our assuming use of “American” as if North America, and the United States, is the only or greatest America.

And yet, like my constant wandering, this too, began to change. Just as we’re leaving, I begin to understand what I’ll be missing, in ways I never realized before.  Before when I traveled; I didn’t miss my family all that much, and I would certainly never have considered not going or staying nearby to be closer to them.  Not that I don’t dearly love and cherish my family; I just don’t often get homesick. Now, I wonder about that.  I wonder how much longer my parents will be around; I wonder if my nieces and nephew will know their aunt. I wonder when I’ll see my brother again.  I have a longing to just be able to bring everyone together in one place.  One part of me feels “tied down” by this responsibility; another takes joy in the task to love freely.  This makes going more difficult.  It’s not just family that makes me think twice either.  I have no illusions about how friendships fair over long distances and time. The so-called “cream of the crop” will remain, but many will slowly fade into the distance, only seen intermittently on Facebook updates; soon it will be so long that making plans to reunite will be awkward and futile.  Since being content with staying, we’ve made countless new friendships, and I wonder how they’ll fare.

Friends and family aren’t all, either.  I’ve learned to appreciate, many, many things about our American culture.  It’s ironic that I’ve made these discoveries while staying put for a few years, and not while abroad, but it’s happened nonetheless. I appreciate that I know my way around, and that if I need to ask for directions; I can, and I will understand the answer.  I am proud to one who can offer directions (at least sometimes…). I appreciate our 24-hour grocery store, using my debit card sans fees, having internet in our house and using a cell phone to make calls and send texts. Once I organized a study abroad program for a group of Parisian students visiting Seattle, and their leader remarked “Americans are so friendly, not like other places.  And they have the cutest accent in French.”  I was shocked, us…butchering their beautiful language…cute?  Friendly?  I love our rhythm of interactions and having the freedom to drive my car to the mountains or take a weekend get-away. Being able to find out almost anything on the internet, buy books in a bookstore, and have conversations with people I meet.  I love S’mores and BBQs, bagels, peanut-butter and jelly, chocolate chip cookies, multigrain Cheerios, hot dogs, sandwiches, iced americanos, baseball games, and the vibe of our parties and gatherings. I love the pulse of Seattle; of the northwest. I love jeans and fleece, being able to go to the doctor.

Its little things I notice these days; the comfort of familiarity with our daily interactions and customs, our favorite summer dishes.  I finally feel like I belong somewhere; like I fit in. And yet, even when (if?) we do come back from this adventure, we’ll be living in Portland, Oregon, and we’ll have to start over once again, though this time we’ll have great family and friends nearby. Theoretically I’ll be enrolling in an amazing graduate program at Portland State, and once again looking for a job. I once would never think twice about these things; I’d be so excited for the adventure to come I wouldn’t notice, and yet now, now that I’ve finally learned to be content with staying, I am fully aware of what I’ll be leaving behind.  I feel like Abram when he’s called to leave Ur: why leave here, it’s great?!  We have to remember God’s promises, have faith that the places He leads us will be better than we can imagine; that home is in Christ and each other, that life is about the journey, not the destination.

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