Sunday, May 15, 2011

A sandwich for a homeless vet

I bought a homeless guy a sandwich on Friday night. He was standing in front of the QFC in my neighborhood, bearing a sign that read "Homeless Veteran. Anything Helps." I gave him one of those sheepish smiles -- the kind that says "well, I'd like to help you, but I'm a graduate student, and I have no money..."

"You have a beautiful smile," he said. That did it. So I asked him if he wanted a sandwich.

"Yes, please. Roast beef. That would be the first meal I've had all day."

I grabbed a four dollar roast beef sandwich and gave it to him on my way out the door.

"Where did you serve?" I asked.

"Iraq. Desert Storm. The worst part was when they lit the oil fields on fire, and it smelled like constant burning. All the time. I'm surprised my nose recovered. And man, was it ever dusty. I was glad when I got out and came home."

"Thank you for serving our country, sir," I said.

There were tears in his eyes as I walked away.

I never used to buy sandwiches for homeless vets. Occasionally I would buy food for the guy outside of the grocery store, particularly if it was around the holidays. But I find myself frequently adding a sandwich to my grocery store bill and giving it to the guy out front with a homeless vet sign. See, the man I'm dating served in Afghanistan and is in the Army Reserves. If he were ever in need of a sandwich, I'd want a kind stranger to buy one for him, too.

I've changed my mind about certain things since beginning to date a guy in the military. I think I'm more critical of the way our troops are being used. I mean, did we really have to go into Libya? Couldn't somebody else have taken up the mantle of "defender of human rights and enemy of abusive dictators?" C'mon, we weren't the only ones upset about Ghadaffi. What about bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq like you promised, Mr. President?

When they found Osama bin Laden and were discussing whether or not to release the photos, I found myself 100 percent against the idea. Before, I likely would have been all for it under the principle of freedom of information. Now, I see it as a national security threat. The appearance of gloating over the death of an enemy could lead to more problems for our troops down the road. And really, I'd rather not put our soldiers in any more danger than they're already in.

I told Noah that, if he had been over there when they found bin Laden, I would have been on the phone with my senators faster than you could say "jackrabbit," telling them on no uncertain terms that they would absolutely not agree to releasing those photos. Hell no.

I'm going to continue to buy sandwiches for homeless vets. They put themselves in harm's way for us, and a sandwich is the least I can do. And I'll probably continue to get upset by TV episodes (like Law and Order or Bones) that use fictionalized events involving dead soldiers.

I guess it hits a little too close to home for me these days.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Death of Osama bin Laden

(Note: I wrote this in response to something my pastor posted on our church blog, "The Comma.")

My first reaction was one of disbelief. They got him? They actually got him? The boogie man the government has been warning us about for 20 years? The one who caused so much heartache and grief on 9/11? Wow.

I never felt any joy at his death.

And then I suddenly felt empty. It was like the wind got knocked out of me. As the president came on television, I found myself starting to cry. Maybe there was a little bit of closure with this news, but I'd much rather they'd caught him, brought him back alive, and put him through the American justice system. Let him be judged by a jury of his peers before he is judged by God. Because I want to know why. Why did Osama bin Laden direct terrorists to fly planes into the Twin Towers? What have we done to deserve this? And how do we make it right?

And the ideal sentence? Not death, but life in prison in a cell with a television where the pictures and stories of the ones he's killed flash over and over again. The families of the 3000 killed on September 11th are awaiting their own reconciliation.

How do we even begin to talk about reconciliation with people who don't listen? How do we begin to reach out to those whose hearts are filled with such hate?

I remember quite vividly where I was on September 11th. That event was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. I had just begun my sophomore year of college. Never had I felt that the world was so off balance. We gathered together on a big field at Whitman, holding hands in a circle and singing "Amazing Grace." We sang and sang until it grew late, and the circle grew smaller, and one by one we trickled back to our dorms. We left the candles burning.

That event, more than anything, has defined the conditions in which I have lived my adult life. It led to restrictions at the airport, a heightened sense of fear, surveillance, the persecution of Muslims, the persecution of anyone who dared to question the Bush administration's actions, the Patriot Act, and war. In a way, the terrorists won. We altered how we live our lives. The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't change the last nine years. We can't go back to our normal lives. I wish that we could. I don't like living my life feeling like I'm supposed to look over my shoulder, in fear those around me. I don't like it that it's socially acceptable for an American woman at the Dublin airport to get my attention, point at a man in a turban, and whisper "I hope and pray he's not on our flight." My own stunned reaction was to tell her (in my normal speaking voice) that I didn't see anything wrong with a man wearing a turban.

I wish we, as a nation, could take time to reflect. I wanted to be with others last night -- not to rejoice, but to have a conversation. What do we do now? How do we move forward? How do we address the conditions that fuel terrorism in the first place? There is deep disparity in this world. And I believe that there will always be people who hate Americans for what we represent. How do we meet that hate with reconciling love? How do we change our country and our policies back to something we can be more proud of?

Because I'm tired of constant vigilance. I'm tired of surveillance. I'm tired of the culture of fear that has sprung up all around me. That was not the culture I thought I'd exit into after graduating from college.

Most of all, though, I'm tired of being told that I'm supposed to be afraid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Thousand Women

So, I know I haven't finished my travel blog yet, but I am hopping mad by this story out of France. And also really upset by peoples' intolerance.

France's ban on the burqa went into effect today. The Guardian has a summary of what happened:

Why did Sarkozy choose to do this? Because he sees these women as a threat. They could hide explosives under their burqas and become suicide bombers.

But couldn't kids with baggy pants do the same thing?

And how many people does this law effect? 2000 out of an estimated 5 million Muslims in France.

You read that right. Two thousand women.

Now, I don't like the burqa. I see it as a symbol of Islam's oppression of women. And yes, it's absolutely unsettling to talk to someone when you can't see their face. But a quote from this woman who chooses NOT to wear a burqa, and wore a niqab (similar full-body covering) to protest the ban sums up how I feel "This is the first time I've ever protested over anything. I'm not in favour of the niqab, I don't wear it myself. But it's wrong for the government to ban women from dressing how they want. Islamophobia is on the rise in France. First it's the niqab, then they'll ban the jilbab, then it will be plain headscarves outlawed."

Two thousand women. Why should the decision about what they wear be in the hands of the French government or the police? And, according to an editorial from the Toronto Star, these are private citizens, not those in public positions.

France's attack on Islam isn't going to do anything to promote favorable Western relations with Islam. If the West really wanted to do something about suicide bombers and extremists, it would attack the underlying conditions that give rise to extremism. It would mitigate the conditions of world poverty, stop invading places where we really have no business, and send food, not bombs, to the Third World. Do this, and I betcha extremism would die down.

Make two thousand women into scapegoats for a larger problem, and extremism rises.

I got in a Facebook debate with someone who didn't see it this way. She passionately argued that Muslims should follow the customs of the countries in which they lived. She said that France was doing this in order to combat terrorism. She thought that the US should force conservative Islam to change by banning the burqa.

Nowhere have I been more thankful for the First Amendment. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

We can't ban the burqa. Thankfully.

I've been thinking a lot about the kind of teacher I want to be -- and about my teaching philosophy. I want to be a teacher who is committed to social justice. And when my students see women wearing burqas, I don't want their first reaction to be "what if she's hiding explosives underneath?" I want my students to be ethical and passionate and recognize an injustice when they see one.

Two thousand women. Seriously, France?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

From Belgrade to London

NOTE: This was written on Sunday. Haven't had a chance to post until now!

I’m in the Atlanta airport, waiting for my next flight. The WiFi here doesn’t work, so I’m typing this up on my computer, hoping to be on a flight with free WiFi. Cross your fingers folks!

We had about a half day in Belgrade before making our way to the airport
and boarding a flight to London. We decided to go to the House of Flowers – the Museum of Yugoslavia and the complex where Josip Broz Tito is buried. When I’d visited before with my parents, we were basically the only people in there, save for a few Japanese tourists. This time, I was in for a surprise.

Our city bus pulled up right before a bus full of people on a tour of the complex. At least three buses full of pilgrims unloaded at the complex while we were there. While in the museum, I spotted one man wearing his Pioneer scarf and hat – basically declaring his allegiance to the former socialist regime. The Pioneers were kind of like socialist Boy Scouts. Many boys and girls joined the Pioneer associations all over the former Yugoslavia. I found it really interesting that he chose to wear his uniform to the House of Flowers. Old allegiances die hard, I guess.

The new museum, where previously they’d had an exhibit about Tito’s staterooms, was closed this time. The old museum and the House of Flowers were both open, although they were doing some renovation work on the latter. I still got a sense of how loved Tito was by Yugoslavs, but I think the effect was stronger when the new museum was open.

The way the complex is laid out, you walk past many statues of Tito or other statues in the style of “socialist realism.” Socialist realism is not the most imaginative of styles. It might be easiest to look it up on Wikipedia, rather than have me try to describe it. Think big, blocky people with large muscles in plain, simple clothes in poses venerating work and you’ve pretty much got the idea. Anyway, after walking past the statues, you go into this little house, and there’s the grave. It’s in a large, open room surrounded by smaller rooms full of stuff. Tito’s grave is marked by a large marble stone that reads “Josip Broz Tito” with his birth and death dates. It’s simple and tasteful.

In one of the rooms at the House of Flowers was a display of race batons. On Tito’s birthday, May 25th, a large relay race was run all over Yugoslavia. People made batons and gave them to Tito when they finished the race. Representatives of different social groups and nationalities all ran. The museum collected the batons and they are now on display. It was really interesting, seeing what people made to honor Tito.

After purchasing some swag for my now-famous Commie shelf, we made our way back into the city to catch our shuttle to the airport. I’d never flown through Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport before – and honestly, after this experience, I might never do so again. The security guards all had submachine guns out. Seriously. It was rather intimidating just to see serious-looking soldiers with large weapons casually walking around the airport.

We went through security not once, but twice – entering the airport and again at our gate. Smiley and I had made the decision to fly Wizz Air, lured by the promise of a $100 flight from Belgrade to London. Well, we learned that you get what you pay for. In a big way. They announced “priority boarding” while we were all crowded into one tiny gate. In order to separate those who paid for priority boarding from those who didn’t, they checked us in, sending some people to the left and others to the right to be held at the gate. We went to the left. This meant that we went downstairs and boarded a little bus. We thought that the bus would take us to our plane – like it did when we were in the Prague airport. Instead, we sat there. For a good fifteen minutes. When the driver got the signal, he drove us under the plane’s wing to the back of the plane. This was the same plane that was sitting at our gate.

We boarded from the back while other folks boarded from the front. Smiley and I found two seats together. I surmised that the flight wasn’t full, and asked him to move over and claim an aisle seat. Now, I’m about 5’11” with long legs. I usually fit in most planes, and have a bearable amount of legroom. My knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. That’s never happened before. They had crammed a ton of seats into the plane. I felt bad for the Serbs on the plane – Serbs are generally pretty tall, and I don’t know how guys who were 6’7” fit in that small space. It was worse than the SkyEurope flight my family and I took from Prague to Dubrovnik, where my hips touched the arm bars the entire time – and I should note here that my jean size is below that of the American average. I’m a tall person, but I wouldn’t call myself a large person. My hips shouldn’t touch the arm bars on a flight.

Making matters worse was the fact that the woman sitting directly in front of me didn’t have any deodorant on. And she slept with her arm raised during the whole flight. Honestly, every time she moved, I felt like I was going to throw up. Also, the seats didn’t recline.

I could go on and on. I’m never flying Wizz Air again! We did, eventually, make it to London. Three hours later, I was touching down at the Luton airport, getting ready to see a city I’d only flown through and never experienced for myself.
More on that later. We’re boarding in 15 minutes!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Belgrade, my old friend

Fair warning for blog fans -- this may be my last post for a bit. I brought a Netbook with me with which to blog, but do not have the right kind of cable, plug, or converter for Europe. If I have the opportunity, I will take it to the Samsung store in London to see if I can pick up a converter or adapter there. If it's prohibitively expensive, however, I won't buy a European adapter. We don't have free Internet at the hostel in London (although it is supposedly inexpensive).

We've been in Belgrade since Wednesday afternoon. Flew on the smallest plane I have ever been on between Prague and Belgrade. It was an ATR-42 -- a turbo-prop plane. And we sat right next to the engine. It felt fitting, flying between two formerly Communist countries on such a small plane.

There were another pair of Americans on the plane. I wanted to talk to them to ask them what they did, and I should have. As we got off the plane in Belgrade, we saw a man holding a sign for "Ambassador Stephen Rapp." Turns out the ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues was on our flight. It would have been really interesting for me to talk with him. Too bad. Next time.

Belgrade is as gritty as ever. It was amazing to me how familiar the city felt after three years. Our driver, Severim, picked us up at the airport. He explained that there has been a lot of renovation work over the past few years. They are doing much needed work on one of the bridges over the Sava. As a result, there was a lot of traffic coming into the city, with Serbian drivers making their own lanes on the shoulder. Some pretty crazy driving!

The big Partizan-Crvena Zvezda soccer match was on Wednesday night. We thought about getting tickets to the match, but then I remembered that anti-American violence can break out after these games. Smiley and I watched it on TV instead. When we were out walking, every cafe in Belgrade had it on. The whole city was watching.

Spent the first night wandering around a bit. I had decided I wanted to eat my way through Belgrade, so we found čevapi and burek. Yum! I had really missed real čevapi.

We spent most of our time in Belgrade just walking around. On the way to Trg Republike, I stopped at a trafika stand to purchase the mobile number I'd promised everyone I would get. While in line, a man asked me in English if I liked Tito and proceeded to explain that Tito was a fascist bastard who lost Kosovo for Serbia and that NATO is also full of fascists. Wow. I kept repeating "I'm sorry" in English, and eventually he gave up trying to get a rise out of me and moved on. The woman at the trafika stand and I exchanged a funny look, and I proceeded to get my mobile number.

Belgrade felt like a familiar old friend I had not seen for years. Some things have changed, but much of it is the same. There is definitely a lot of construction, particularly in the center and in the city parks. St. Mark's Church and the Federal Parliament building are both undergoing renovations. These are likely much-needed, as many of the buildings are covered in a layer of grime, likely from pollution. The facades of others are cracked and falling down. Restoration is needed.

After our encounter with the Tito-hater, we began walking around Belgrade in earnest. Our walk took us down Skadarska street. Somebody had put in a sign showing the distance between Belgrade and other destinations, including the moon. Ha!

Stopped at Trattoria Košava for lunch. The pizza was so tasty. But the waiter spoke Serbian so quickly that I had to keep asking him to repeat himself. I did okay when people spoke to me slowly, but had a tough time when people talked so fast. After the meal, I thanked him for speaking Serbian with me, as I am trying to learn the language. He told me he could tell that I speak some Serbian, and spoke it so I would learn. He said that many Japanese people can speak Serbian well after just 3 months here, but for Americans it is more difficult. Nice conversation.

We followed the walk listed in the guidebook to Kalmegdan. We walked out to the terrace and took pictures of the view. I ended up taking off my little cardigan because I was warm. Back inside the fortress, an older man asked me in Serbian where my jacket was because it was not super warm out. I showed him my sweater and asked him the word for it...and we got into a 30 minute conversation. He asked me how we were enjoying Belgrade, what we thought of Serbia, etc. We then started talking about the global economic crisis, the catastrophe in Japan, and how more American investment is needed in Serbia. He said that Serbia has so much opportunity for agriculture and I agreed. We kept switching between Serbian and English for Smiley's sake. He mentioned that he had had a conversation with Milošević about seeking help from the U.S. instead of from Israel. It sounded like he was in the know. He gave me his name and address and told me to write next time I come to Serbia. He said he'd show me some important cultural sites. I swear I'd read his name in one of my textbooks about Serbia. I think he may have been in the govt or something.

The chat with the guy in the park made Smiley's trip, I think. He got to experience some of that amazing Serbian friendliness I am always raving about. It was cool.

From there, we walked to the Tesla museum. They were about to close, but generously let us join the last tour to see the demonstrations. On the way, we mailed our postcards from the giant Pošta by the Parliament Building. The post office worker complimented my Serbian and was surprised when I said I was really enjoying Belgrade.

Ended our very full day with drinks at the Federal Association of World Travelers, a bar that kind of looks like a grandmother's basement. It's awesome. Between drinks there and eating my way through Belgrade (made sure to find palačinke and potato burek today), it's been a good, albeit short, trip. Looking forward to coming back sometime soon.

What has changed in Belgrade besides construction? Well, there are way more hostels now than there were in 2008. I knew of just a couple back then, and now they are everywhere. Also, many of the cafes have wifi now. That is new! And Tašmajdan Park is being restored with funds from the government of Azerbaijan. I never would have expected that!

Today, we figured out how to get from Luton airport to our hostel in London, and took the tram out to Tito's grave. There were some nice, new signs in English at the House of Flowers. The main museum was closed, but you could still see the room with all the batons and the grave itself. Neat stuff. I managed to pick up more buttons for my Commie shelf back home! Yay!

Ate more čevapi in town, and wandered back to our hostel. I would definitely stay here again. It's clean and reasonably quiet -- and small. I like small hostels better than large industrial ones. Unfortunately, I think we may be staying in a large hostel in London.

Hopefully I'll be back in Belgrade again within a couple of years. I miss this city when I'm not here!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Isn't there a rhyme about the rain in Spain?

Zdravo iz Beograda! Smiley and I made it here this afternoon and are chilling in the hostel tonight, trying to find the Chelsea champions league match against FC Copenhagen. We may have to stream this on my computer, so I'll likely only have enough time to write about our last day in Barcelona.

It poured yesterday morning. The rain was unlike anything I'd ever seen. We counted lightning every 5-10 seconds. Even Barca residents were taking shelter. We huddled under the big overhang of the Liceu to wait it out, along with about 50 other people. Residents were peering out from their balconies and taking pictures of the rain -- it was that wild. I thought for sure there was going to be a flash flood in the streets.

I'm from Seattle. I thought I knew rain. I'd never seen it rain that hard for so long. The streets were just covered in water. People kept walking by peddling black market umbrellas. We bought ours at a news stand for 6.50 euros. It was so worth it.

We stayed under the overhang for a good 45 minutes. The temp dropped at least 2-3 degrees while we were standing there. There was some crazy hail, too.

When it finally stopped raining, we got some amazing hot chocolate in the Barri Gothic and then walked around. The narrow, wet streets made for some neat pictures. We tried to go to La Seu, the big cathedral, but had just missed the free hours. So we wandered around a little more and tried to go to the Barca history museum. It was closing in an hour, so we decided to come back after the afternoon siesta. All the museums close between 2-5 during the winter months for siesta time.

The rain had stopped, so we went up to Parc Guell to see more Gaudi. It was really cool. The modernist architecture was just fantastic. We wandered inside a blue house that had beautiful lines of architecture. The houses were decorated with lovely ceramic tiles in imaginative colors and shapes. Thankfully the weather held long enough for us to wander around the park. I took a bunch of pictures of kids playing tag in the large entryway columns.

Back to the history museum once it reopened. The real draw here for us were the Roman ruins. They were incredibly well-preserved. There was a laundry room, wine pressing room, and fish sauce making room. There were sewage lines and drainage areas. Even some wheel ruts.

Afterwards, we walked through the Gothic cathedral at La Seu. It's got beautiful art inside. It's a pretty standard large Catholic cathedral, with many chapels and a rather large nave. Instead of candle votives, though, they had these little lights. I thought the lights were kinda lame.

Finished the day in a tea house, drinking choco chai, writing, and talking about where to get food. Our flight this morning was at 8 AM, so it was a rather early night for us. Woke up and wandered into a conversation that we thought sounded like a couple breaking up...whoops.

OK -- I gotta go stream the Chelsea game now. Low-key night tonight. More about coming "back home" to Belgrade later.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Las Ramblas, La Boqueria, Camp Nou, and other Barcelona Wanders

We began today's wanders with a walk down Las Ramblas. We stopped at La Boqueria market -- an awesome market that puts Pike Place to shame. Such color! Such variety! There were stalls everywhere just full of new and interesting fruit, sweets, and other wares. We picked up bread, cheese, and chorizo for lunch for about 5 euros. That's right -- 5 euros. One of my top travel tips for y'all is to find the local market and make use of it every time you travel. You can save yourself a load of money and sample great regional breads and cheeses, too. It was so cheap and tasty!

We then made our way out to Camp Nou, the home stadium of FC Barcelona. I covered that visit pretty well on my sports blog, Sportsology. You can find more information about our Camp Nou tour here ( Needless to say, it's hard for me not to root for Barca after that. Not only are they the best team in the world (winning 6 European cups in one season definitely qualifies this statement), but they also safeguard Catalan identity in a big way. I will wear my FC Barcelona scarf with pride, and scoff at all of you who call them the "Yankees" of soccer.

While at Camp Nou, it started raining pretty hard. The nice thing about Barcelona rain is that it's warm -- unlike rain in my Seattle hometown this time of year. Or any time of year. So we took the Metro over to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's unfinished church. Wow. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. Really. I'll post pictures once I get back to the states to show you. It's almost modernist in its style. The interior is just awe-inspiring -- large vaulted ceilings with built-in lights. There are stained glass windows everywhere.

Gaudi took over the project in 1884. He used the church to explore his own spirituality. After his death in 1926, there was a debate over how to best finish the church. Some wanted to leave it unfinished, while others decided to keep going and try to stay true to Gaudi's spirit. The original plans were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War -- a period of history I'd really like to find out more about. They've been working on the church for more than 100 years. Wow.

We spent the rest of the rainy day in the Maritime Museum. It was pretty cool. It had a neat exhibit about all the languages of the Mediterranean. A portion of it showcased the sounds of places such as markets and temples. The language geek in me found it awesome. There was also an exhibit about sharks and overfishing, and one about travel and seafaring. Cool stuff.

Dinner tonight consisted of tasty traditional Catalan food. Smiley and I split a tuna and potato pie. And I had chicken covered with emmentaler cheese. The chicken was perfectly grilled and wonderfully tasty. Yum!

A word about Barcelona residents -- they are some of the nicest people! I know that Spanish is not the main language here (as mentioned before, Catalan is a very different language), but most people speak a little Spanish. They are quite patient when I explain "hablo un pequito espanyol" (can't make a tilde with my keyboard...sorry Spanish speakers). I hit my head on a low-lying ceiling (Spaniards are also rather short), and the folks in the cafe were so nice about it. They asked me several times if I'm okay. I'm fine -- no concussion, just a rather large bump. Soy alta chica! What can I do?

Hopefully the weather will be nicer tomorrow for our planned wanders -- the Gothic quarter, Park Guell, and possibly a couple of museums! I may try to find a Spanish team World Cup scarf while I'm at it as well.

Adios for now!

Touchdown Barcelona!

First, it's really difficult to blog when Firefox automatically translates instructions on webpages into Catalan. I remember a little bit of my high school Spanish, but Catalan is completely different in some ways. I brought my little Netbook for blogging, and even though my language is set to English, Firefox still translates everything!

Anna and Smiley's Most Excellent European Adventure has officially begun! We are in Barcelona, Spain, after about 15 hours of traveling yesterday. My key to beating jet lag is to sleep as much as I can on the plane (thank you, Tylenol PM) and then to stay up as late as I can once I get to where I'm going. It worked pretty well, except I started fading around 5 PM local time.

We took a bus to our hostel, the Hostel Sant Jordi Arago. It's just a short walk from Las Ramblas, a major walking street in Barcelona. It's a nice place, and I would recommend it to others traveling here. The rooms are comfortable and quiet.

We grabbed a tapas lunch (yum), and started walking Las Ramblas. The buildings around here are pretty interesting -- they remind me quite a bit of Morocco. It's a neat mix between Spanish and Arabian architecture. On Las Ramblas, we saw a bunch of people dressed up as human statues -- butterflies, and even Gene Simmons from Kiss! Passing tourists give them coins to make them do things. I snapped a bunch of pictures.

After a nap, we went to a cafe down the street to watch the Barcelona-Sevilla match. Sports fans the world over make the same rooting noises. So I fit right in. One thing that I found really interesting happened when Barca scored a goal. Rather than preemptively celebrate, the fans in the cafe waited until the ref confirmed the goal before cheering. We all got really into it at the end of the game. Sevilla had some good looks, and at times Barca's defense really broke down. (Just like the Sounders!) Barca was pressing hard at the end, but the game ended in a 1-1 draw. It was fun.

Today, we plan on walking Las Ramblas, checking out La Boqueria market, and touring Camp Nou, the Barcelona soccer stadium. It's going to be an awesome day!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gardening as an Act of Gratitude

A much-welcomed warm day provided me with a chance to get my hands in the ground. It has been rather chilly and wet in Seattle as of late. Two weeks ago, I was dodging snow squalls while on my way to class in Bothell. At this time last year, my first batch of peas was starting to sprout, and I'd planted a second batch in containers. Mother Nature is fickle, and my planting date will likely change from year to year.

I turned over the cover crop in the containers, as well as in half of my raised bed. I'll be planting things in shifts this year, depending on the month (and on the date of the Seattle Tilth plant sale). Using a too-small bucket, I shuttled back and forth between the compost pile and my garden, humming to myself while I put a layer of compost over the upturned winter cover. Using my favorite tool, the one that looks like a bent fork, I worked the compost and the cover crop leavings into the soil. My soil looks good this year. The cover crop kept it light, loose, and airy. It didn't seem as compacted as last year.

After this work was done, I planted sugar snap peas, sugar daddy peas (hee hee), Champion radishes and rhubarb chard. My spring crops are officially in the ground!

It took me a couple of hours to do the work, and I gave thanks for the lazy Saturday. I'd managed to write two of my four papers during the week, and wrote the third for an independent study in just two days. I decided I deserved a break. This morning, I went to a yoga class. And this afternoon, I gardened.

Gardening can be an act of gratitude. I kept saying thanks for things today. Thank you for my brain. Thank you for a dry, sunny afternoon. Thank you for good dirt. Thank you for the food I will grow. Thank you for the difficult lessons I learned in the past year. Thank you for being forgiving.

I can't wait until my little sproutlings come up again! I wonder how big my peas will get this year?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

All the Love in the World

My Kindle keeps resetting itself, making it difficult to work on my papers. If it keeps it up, I may have to reset to factory defaults. C'mon little Kindle! Stay on! This is the second time this has happened. Third time's the charm, and then Amazon gets a phone call.

Some wonderful friends are taking me out tonight to celebrate the anniversary of my unexpected singlehood. After sitting for (hopefully) my last set of WEST-Es this morning, I was reflecting about things I wish I'd known a year ago -- lessons that maybe only a really awful breakup can teach. My early morning Facebook status read something like this "Today I am thankful for friends who held me when I cried and brought me food and for the parents who let me come home a year ago. What a difference a whole year makes!"

Lesson #1 -- All the Love in the World is within reach.
Most of my friends know how much I love them because I tell them I do. Wow -- I just teared up thinking about this next sentence. One of the lessons I learned is how loved I am by my friends and family. I have a pretty amazing cheering section filled with people who will bring me food when I'm sad and will share my joy. All the love in the world is within my grasp -- it surrounds me daily. Words cannot express how blessed I am and how grateful I feel for all of my people. Thank you for laughing and crying with me. I love you all.

Lesson #2 -- Sometimes God puts blessings in unexpected places.
I'm not sure if I've written about God here before. I have a quite strong belief in God. Some things happened to me when I was younger that I took as proof of God's existence. My faith has been shaken and tested at times, but I always return to it. I'm not shy about being a very liberal, progressive Christian, but I don't really bring this up in everyday conversation. Sometimes being Christian in Seattle feels very lonely.

Anyway, with my very unexpected singlehood came many blessings. The biggest one was that I discovered a confidence and a fierceness I didn't know I had. Another was lesson #1 -- realizing how much I too am loved.

Lesson #3 -- Grieving is healing.
My pastor Catherine listened to me while I sobbed. She told me "God teaches us that this will get better. But you can't go around your grief. Nor can you go over and under it. You just have to get through it." She reminded me that joy awaited me on the other side. Grief sucks, but it gets better. And the joy awaiting me on the other side of all that grief was so joyful that it was worth it. I'm a person who lives her life joyfully. I've learned recently that this is an aspect of my character that new people pick up on rather quickly. Grieving is hard for me because I usually live a joyful life. But I think that, through the grief, I learned how to have empathy for others going through similar situations.

Lesson #4 -- When you're knocked down, you come back stronger.
A year ago, I was broken. And now I climb mountains. If that's not coming back stronger, than I don't know what is!

Those are the big ones. As I pause to reflect, I am reminding myself that this will be my year of living joyfully. My "new year of happy," so to speak. It's easy to live joyfully when you're surrounded by all the love in the world.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Garden!

It's been a year since I started chronicling my gardening and life adventures. A whole year since I put my first little pea seeds in the ground. A year since my house looked like a grow house -- it glowed in the dark because of all the tomato grow lights, and I must have looked like the worst pot grower ever.

And yes, it's almost one year to the day of the worst breakup I have ever experienced. On a study break on this cold cold Seattle night, I am thinking about what a difference an entire year has made. I wrote in an earlier post that I have become the woman who climbs mountains in this past year. I think I've regained my groove. I'm not as afraid to try new things, and to live life with the joyful abandon I thought I'd lost. I feel more alive now than ever before -- back to being 100% truly me. 29 has been a good year, and it's only going to get better.

I am currently having a text message conversation with a cute, neat guy about Mardi Gras, which reminds me that it's almost Lent. I wrote him "it's almost Lent, and I have to think about what to give up!" Maybe I shouldn't think about what to give up. Maybe, instead, I should commit to something. I should commit to doing something for myself -- to set an intention for the period of Lent for how I want my life to be. I'm writing this a bit on the fly, but I think I want to commit to living joyfully. I want my Lent to be a time of laughter, joy, singing, and new experiences. I know Lent is supposed to be a thoughtful, pensive period -- and a period of self-denial. But I had a lot of pensiveness and a lot of sorrow last year around Lent. And this year, I think God would be okay with a little more joy in the world. I may write more on this later.

Back from rambling to the title of the post.

Happy Birthday, Garden! Thank you for teaching me that strawberries are resilient (and so am I). Thank you for your bounty. Thank you for being forgiving of your often wayward gardener. Thank you for teaching me the sheer joy of putting my hands in the good dirt. Thank you for allowing me to taste a tomato that I grew from a seed that I put in the ground. Thank you for attracting those great fat little bumblebees. Thanks, most of all, for being my therapy. For Garden, you kept me grounded (literally) during this tough year. And even though snow is currently falling from the sky as I write this, the calendar is reminding me that spring is on the way, that little green pea shoots will emerge from your depths (once it is actually warm enough to plant some seeds), and that my year of renewal has come full circle.

Thank you, my Garden, for everything. Even for Peazilla, my giant snow pea plant monster.

I can't wait to see what this new year of growing will bring.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Called Home

So, I had the most interesting experience in the tea house yesterday. I no longer have an office on campus this quarter, so I study at Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford. (They have a fabulous selection of teas, for those of you who also need remote offices.) Being Wallingford, Seattle's hippie neighborhood, I was privy to an interesting conversation at the table next to me. There were two women, both middle aged, who were at first talking about trying to get their kids into middle school. And then one woman said the following:

"Yeah. I put my occupation down as spirit healer. And if they don't like that, well, that's not a community my child should be in."

I was intrigued. The women kept talking about the journey, honoring your core, and all sorts of other new agey stuff. It seemed like one of them really was a spirit healer, and the other was a spirit healer in training. I'm trying to be better about listening both to my core and to my nomad's heart, and this was exactly what these women were discussing. I couldn't help eavesdropping some. And then I went back to my work.

On a study break, I happened to check my email. I have a trip to Europe coming up over spring break (which is why I've decided to grow from starts and not from seeds this year, but that will be discussed in a later blog post). My amazing mom, who does all sorts of genealogy work, had emailed distant Irish and English cousins to let them know I was coming. My cousin Eiblhin had written back the following: "I mentioned to your Mum that there is a flight to Donegal if you were interested in seeing the Cannon homestead. The flight from Dublin is operated by Aer Arann and takes approx 40mins to Donegal. My father would be more than happy to show you around the Cannon homeplace."

Now, Smiley and I had discussed doing this. But our time in London and Dublin is short, and Donegal would be rather out of the way. We'd decided that I'd better save visiting my ancestral home for a different trip. But for some reason -- maybe because the women next to me were talking about honoring the voice inside your heart -- Eiblhin's email got to me. Emotion spread upwards from my chest. And all of a sudden, I'm sitting in the Tea House, trying very hard not to cry. I knew that I needed to find a way to go see where my people came from while on this trip. I was being called home.

Even this morning, writing about it, I'm sitting here with my eyes watering. And I can't explain it any other way. That voice inside of me -- the one that made me fall in love with an impossible country (Yugoslavia) and the one that was practically screaming at me to teach middle school -- that same voice told me that I need to see where I came from. Why now? I have no idea. I just have to. Plain and simple.

My good friend Kevin happened to text me at the moment all of this was happening, and I wrote him a rather long text message with what happened. (One of these days, I will likely write a novel via text message. Mine tend to be long. And pretty much grammatically correct. U is a letter. You is a word.) I told Kevin "My heart is telling me that I need to go see where I came from in Ireland."

"Can't argue with your heart. It usually wins anyway," he wrote back. And he's right. In the daily battles I wage of head vs. heart, my head may be the practical one, but my heart dictates my actions. I'm becoming a middle school teacher because my heart told me that's what I need to be doing. I can't do things halfway. I either commit, or I don't. When Jason and I were dating, I remember telling him "my gut has decided that you're okay. So therefore, you are."

Same goes to all of you still reading this. My gut has decided that you're okay. So therefore, you are.

At this point in my own lifelong journey, I'm reaffirming how important it is for me to listen to my heart. It's going to win anyway. If I don't listen to it, I won't be happy.

I'm working out a Donegal visit with Eibhlin. Because my heart is telling me that I have to go see where I came from.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Freedom to Fail (Or, Marcus Aurelius was Hot)

So, I went out on a date on Saturday. Nice guy. We'll call him Kris -- even though I doubt I'll go out with him again. Friendly, interested in the outdoors, and talked a helluva lot. The bar we were at had the Packers game on, and he didn't seem to mind when I got distracted by the game to draw his attention to an interception or a touchdown. He kinda overshared a little bit though -- said he was trying to lose a few pounds and physically grabbed his gut to show me, and mentioned over and over again how he was broke and was trying to pay off some student loans. (Um, you do not need to draw attention to your perceived physical flaws on a first date.) But I was willing to forgive that. We had a nice conversation. I had to leave rather abruptly, though. I've been fighting off a cold/sinus thing for the past week and a half, and towards the end of dinner I started getting a nasty sinus headache. He still had beer left. I apologized and took myself home. I ended up on my couch watching House (this is bad when you're sick. It makes me think I have all sorts of weird diseases.) wrapped up in a blanket. I had turned on the fire (love gas fireplaces), was wearing a fleece hat and fleece pants, and even under my Mariners fleece blanket I just could not get warm.

Until yesterday, I had been planning on going out on a second date with him. The conversation was good, and he was kinda cute and geeky -- and I like geeks. My "type," according to my good friends John and Scott, is a "geeky mountain man." When John and I were in Paris in 2006, we visited The Louvre. I saw a bust of Marcus Aurelius, turned to John, and said "Dude, Marcus Aurelius was hot. If you find a guy that looks like him, let me know." John busted up laughing. This led to a discussion of my "type." Up to that point, I'd dated tall, slender guys who were pretty geeky. "What you need, Anna, is a geeky mountain man," John said. Who is a geeky mountain man? He's preferably tall, has an awesome beard, loves hiking, backpacking, and all of the outdoor things I love, and has something he geeks out over. Be it sports, science fiction, board games, or Star Trek -- just something to geek out over.

And this guy seemed to fit my type. There was maybe a little bit of chemistry. I chalked up the deficit to me not feeling all that well. Since I felt bad about leaving early, I sent him a text yesterday evening saying "So sorry I left early. I ended up running a slight fever and went to bed early. Hope your Sunday was good!" I figured I'd get a text back saying "let's get together sometime soon." Not a phone call asking me to get together the very next day (today). I was driving home from sushi when he called, so I didn't pick up. When I listened to the message asking me if I wanted to get together today, I went from interested to overwhelmed. From interested to "holy crap, this guy is a little desperate." My fight or flight response kicked in -- and when this happens, all I want to do is go barricade myself in a corner and tell everybody to go away. Seriously. Stop asking me out. Just. Go. Away.

I texted my pastor and called my friend Dylan, who laughed at my story and said that he feels similarly sometimes. He agreed that calling to go out so soon seemed a little on the desperate side, and understood why my fight or flight response kicked in.

When I called my pastor, the first thing I said was "I'm okay." She's helped me through some tough stuff this past year, and I felt like it was important to let her know that I'm okay, but just needed to chat. I explained what happened, and asked her if I should quit dating altogether. Her response lifted a big weight off my shoulders.

"Maybe you should approach online dating this way -- you're going to fail. And it's okay. You wouldn't be feeling overwhelmed and wanting to run away if it's the right person. That wouldn't be your reaction. Something doesn't feel right about this, and you're learning to listen to that."

She's right. I have the freedom to fail. I have the freedom to say no when something doesn't feel right. I have the freedom to tell myself "he's just not that into me" when I get disappointed. Failure doesn't have to be negative. It can be liberating. Failure can open me up to new possibilities and interesting new people. I don't have to start a relationship after every good date I have. That's not what it's about. It's about getting out there, meeting people, and eventually finding the right person. It's about being brave. It's about standing up and saying "this really doesn't feel right to me" when it doesn't -- and not about trying to change the situation or changing myself to make it fit. You can't force two people to fit. It doesn't work.


I'm not going to go out with Kris again. Something doesn't feel right. He may be perfect on paper, but my gut is telling me to go pursue other opportunities. And as difficult as that is to say to someone, I will say it. I'll be a little nicer about it, though.

And if you happen to know a geeky mountain man who looks like Marcus Aurelius...let me know. :)