My Cup with Blessings Overflows

Attitude of gratitude is a very annoying and trite hinkety-pinkety and even so, I have started this post with it. Because it matters, though saying it aloud makes me want to cringe into nothingness.

My last couple posts haven’t been particularly uplifting. And that’s okay, it’s not my job to be uplifting. But it is tiresome to be always serious and sad. This post will be neither serious nor sad. To prove it, I will share this with you:

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Such cuties.

Anyway. Winter is well under way here in chilly Michigan. We received around six inches of snow early Sunday morning which would have had me prancing with glee had I not had to drive to Traverse City–the first one off campus, little Pádraig doing his best to get us through and over and around. He performed admirably, no major mishaps  though the roads, even where I wasn’t the first driver on them, were having a tough time.

Putting the couple touchy moments aside, the snow has been lovely. No falls for me thus far, no spills, no outtakes of any kind. I’ve got my equipment and I’m ready to take it all on.

And I’ve got to tell you that, while Michigan nature isn’t my usual, it can still really do it for me.

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Cozy inside, snowy outside, contented all around. Or at least doing alright.

Tonight is The Feast, which I expect will be nice. Everyone at school wears their fancy dress, we have a meal together, and then there’s an cooperative arts performance. Should be good fun, hopefully.

And then, get this: I have a week off! I just had a week off in October! And I’ll have more in December and January! So much vacation! I don’t want to rub it in anyone’s face but after Korea, it feels so nice to have actual, for real time off!

I think I might take a day trip to Cheboygan because a) it’s very fun to say b) it’s on Lake Huron which I haven’t seen yet and c) variety is the spice of life. If you are a Michigan person, feel free to advise me on other places to visit. At some point, I’ll go up the the Upper Peninsula again so I can see Lake Superior. Not sure where else in Michigan I’ll end up seeing.

All this to say, as appropriate for this time of year: things are nice and I’m feeling very blessed just in my general existence. Not sure exactly what Thanksgiving plans will be but there have been rumors of a few other house parents sticking around and we might do something all together. I’d be all about that. Making friends and stuff, I guess.

Also. I’ve found a super-simple recipe for pumpkin pie (yes, even more simple than usual) and I’m excited to give it a go. Frozen pie crusts because let’s not get carried away (and also I don’t have a counter to roll out dough) but the filling will be all me. There’s maple syrup in it, so that’s fun. Yay baking!

Whether or not it’s Thanksgiving time for you, whether or not you’re feeling happy and blessed, I’m wishing you all sorts of good things because things just seem to be pretty alright for me.

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The Difference between Chicago and a Space Colony

Most important update first, of course. This Airbnb has a cat, goes by California. Is super cute. We snuggled a great deal over the past couple days

I drove into Chicago on the early evening on October 8th and it was 87°F which, I’ll be honest with you, wasn’t great. Too hot in general, definitely too hot for the middle of October. Anyway.

I got an early start on Tuesday morning and, without much forethought, walked from where I was staying in Uptown to the Art Institute. Which is a long walk, FYI, especially when it’s hot. I worried about sunburns since I followed the shore directly south for approximately three hours. Luckily, I think I mostly escaped unscathed. Just felt kinda sticky and salty–not from the ocean breeze (would that it were so) but from sweat.

The Art Institute presented, of course, a large selection of Very Beautiful Things. I am no art critic but I do enjoy a good walk-through of art museums. Romantic landscapes, that’s the thing for me. Got to see several famous works in person, always cool. After the Institute, I walked along most of the Magnificent Mile because it seemed like the thing to do. There is some truly wonderful architecture in this city. Later, as I was staying in a very Vietnamese neighborhood, I had to go for Vietnamese for dinner.

On Wednesday, I got a much needed later start (though it wasn’t really that much later). Pastries for breakfast from the patisserie down the street, then onward to Navy Pier. Had a personal deep dish at Giordano’s, it was fine. Poked around Museum Campus and actually went through the planetarium because it was starting to rain. I went to Cheesie’s for dinner. They serve only different kinds of grilled cheese. Please go, it will be good.

I’m headed back to Michigan this morning. Back to fall, too. Trying to think of a big idea to take back from the trip and to share with you.

Overall, mostly positive Chicago experience. The fountain was drained and empty, my car was towed but only to a nearby park, the Art Institute store had a teensy postcard selection. But overall, plenty good. One little story for you as an applicable takeaway.

In the planetarium–which is more of a space science center, really, I didn’t even go into the original planetarium part. Very rainy outside. Extending my stay to avoid the rain. That’s the scene.

I found myself ushered into an open talk with one of the institution’s astronomers. A professional astronomer, how neat is that. She talked about some stuff, answered loads of questions. One question was along the lines of: should we colonize the moon or Mars? Her answer was terrific. I’ll summarize her main points because I liked them and they tie into things, you’ll see.

First, there’s feasibility. She suggested some starter stuff on the moon to prepare for a long-term and large-scale settlement on Mars. But her primary caution was not about the science, it was the ethics. Looking at the example of indigenous peoples and pristine environments here on Earth–and our abuses thereof– she insisted that any space colonization must first avoid the huge problems that we’ve created for ourselves here. She also said that systems of power, where the powerful get more powerful and the have-nots get even less needs to be righted in any theoretical space colony.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest what you’re doing with your life, justice is the cause of everyone. Even astronomers can forward the cause of justice. In my mind, I’m returning to that Mandela quote; let us live free and enhance the freedom of others.

Chicago has a history deeply marred by injustice and inequality. Space colonies don’t have to. You’ve heard it before but that’s just because it’s true: be the change.

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Smoke

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So I woke up this morning in Banff, Alberta because why not. My route on the way to Michigan is this: Gig Harbor, Kamloops, Banff, Regina, Grand Forks, Milwaukee, Traverse City. So far, the drive has been plagued with lots of smoke from wildfires (I’m very thankful I’ve never been threatened by a fire). Even so, it’s been beautiful.

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The thing is, it’s hard to (try to) look at all this beauty and reconcile the gross things people do. Obviously, forest fires happen naturally and are sometimes necessary for the ecosystem. But also humans have clearly changed the calculus. And when I see people smoking while looking out over an incredible landscape, truly just the tip of the melting iceberg, I really can’t stand it.

I know that people can be so good, so loving, so caring, so compassionate and considerate and conscientious. But, especially coming on the heels of my Alaska trip, I also know that people are trash. With everything going on in the world at large of late, it’s easy to feel like the trash part is the only part (this also comes from self-awareness, it’s not like I’m immune).

I’ve been thinking of late about how to balance these two ways of looking at the world and I’ve come up with, I think, an apt and succinct summarization. Three things that I believe to be true. I don’t think it’s quite a syllogism but it’s a something.

Assertion 1: humans are trash.
Assertion 2: I am worthy of love and I have good inside me.
Assertion 3: humans are trash but are worthy of love and have good inside them.

In practice, this means two things. First, I expect people to be the worst and am not surprised by how horrible we can be. Second, I go through this world seeking the good in others and loving freely, even when I don’t find it. Or, at least, that’s the goal and you’ll pardon me if I’m not always excellent at achieving it.

So, driving through this fabulous land and preparing to be an Adult Someone to a bunch of high schoolers, that’s what I’m trying. Humans can be just as beautiful as the Coquihalla Canyon and Mt Rundle. Even if it’s all obscured by smoke, the beauty’s there. Very metaphor, I know, but whatever it takes right?

I don’t really know what I’m driving toward. I have a job, I know the basic description of suture, I’ve looked up the area approximately one zillion times. But mostly, it still feels unknown (I guess this is a trend with me, moving far away without knowing what I’m doing). I’ve been battling a relentless negative attitude but it all comes down to the fact that I’m going, I’m willing, and–to paraphrase Bill Widener–I’m going to do my best with what I have where I am. In other words, bloom where you’re planted.

Bloom, it might be said, not only for yourself, but for others. Maybe even others first. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love first, there isn’t really a second.

The Last Frontier

 

So on Monday afternoon, I got on a plane to Anchorage, Alaska because I was blessed with means and opportunity. I’ll be here until Saturday evening, just seeing some things worth seeing and trying out the whole Alaska thing. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what I’ve done so far and then leave you with a few thoughts.

Before we get to the Alaska stuff, though, the plane ride itself. Because I’d never had occasion to fly over the Olympic Mountains before and they were positively breathtaking. Turn, coming down over Alaska, more breath was taken as we descended over glaciers and water and sub-arctic forests.

On Tuesday morning, my friend (we planned this to together not quite spontaneously but still only a but ago) and I got caught in the rain walking to breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast but were inexplicably confident it wouldn’t start until after we returned. Alas. Breakfast was wet. Then we rented a car and set out.

Driving along the Seward Highway, the rain continued pretty heavily and most of the landscape was fairly deeply obscured. Our first destination was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and as we approached, the weather started to clear up a bit.

The Center itself involved walking a little long among the various enclosures. Unlike a zoo, which is totally uncomfortable, the animals mostly are there for two reasons: they were wounded and unable to survive in the wild (like the bald eagle who had one entire wing amputated when they found him) or they are part of a conservation/reintroduction program. The major highlight was, of course, seeing my beloved mush oxen which remain and forever will remain my favorite animal.

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After stopping for lunch and a bit of shopping, we decided to continue on to Whittier. I really want to tell you the whole story of Whittier, Alaska, but I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice in this space. Suffice to say that the majority of the population of about 200 lives in a single building built for the army during the Cold War. The other building from that era is in ruins and is very creepy. Also, to get to Whittier, you must pass through a very long, one-lane tunnel which changes directions every half hour. It is quite an interesting place. That is all I can say about it.

Yesterday, we spent the morning exploring Anchorage a bit, the downtown if I may call it that. Some nice little shops, tasty food, lovely views. Then we headed up into the mountains (still within the city limits) for a hike that turned out to be much more of a hike than we anticipated. Tabletop Mountain starts fairly steeply but reasonably, but the last portion of the trail is truly just rock climbing and we weren’t about that life. The best part of the trail was that there was never not an excellent view.

 

Overlooking the city, the expanse of tidal flats, snowy mountains in the distance. No picture does it justice, alas.

Today holds a trip to Denali, the highest peak on the continent.

I’m not sure how I feel about Alaska, the so-called last frontier (we all know space is the final frontier so…). Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, beyond description or photography. But it’s also in perpetual danger because humans are trash, even when they live in such a place. In some ways, the state is politically progressive and in others very regressive. It’s plagued by social ills to a degree beyond most other states but it also fosters its people in unique ways. I honestly don’t know that much about it but it’s a weird place.

As always, I’ve contemplated if I would live here and it’s hard to say. For one thing, snow. For another, it’s been sixty and rainy pretty much this whole week, which doesn’t bode well for summers generally. And the politics. All that balanced with the Beauty of Nature and a kind of isolation, even in Anchorage, that I find appealing.

 

Either way, it calls for further study and I would very much like to come back and explore more. I require more data points. Come to Alaska (just don’t be trash about it).

Water

When last I visited my friends in California, it was mid-August and mid-drought. Things were, for lack of a more descriptive word, dry. This time around, things have exhibited quite a bit more life. Driving down to the Sacramento area, I passed over actual, visible rivers and lakes. Then, driving toward the East Bay (a term I wasn’t familiar with until I went there), I drove along the Delta (another recently-learned placename) to see an abundance of green things and water.

I think I’ve said this about myself before, but I am most assuredly a salt water person. It hardly counts as swimming if you don’t dry with that half-delectable, half-awful feeling of saltiness in your everywhere. As one of the books I taught this past year puts it, “There are saltwater people, and freshwater people. Then there are some who don’t even know enough to fall in love with the water.” I suppose you’re entitled to enjoying your own form of water whether it be lakes, rivers, pools, or the sea. As long as you love it.

The drive was absolutely wonderful. I took the scenic route through Oregon, driving down along the Cascades and seeing all the peaks. I entered California and drive like all the way around Mt Shasta before rejoining I-5.

Anyway. It was an absolute pleasure to catch up with friends. Long talks that were as much about catching up as just existing in proximity for a sec. Some conversations that were weighty. But all good things.

The weather, of course, was still much too hot. Because it doesn’t take much for hot to become too hot in my book. Even so, it’s hard not to enjoy sun. And there was some downtime that involved reading in the sun which is possibly one of the most important ways yet invented in which to pass the time.

This morning, early, I’m off home again. One advantage to having nothing but time is being able to jet off to visit old friends. It’s something I’m trying to appreciate in the midst of the general stress of being aimless and income-less. As a friend said, you don’t often have times in your life when you have nothing to do, so enjoy it while it lasts. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back down here again before too long.

I’m very grateful for the generosity of my friends in letting me come down. And I’m very grateful for having friends like these. It is a boon that, even if we’re not the best communicators, they know me. They have seen me in vulnerable times. And they still like me.

Without any ado whatsoever, this week’s musical offerings, from my ears to yours.

  1. Victor – Prinze George
  2. Solo Dance – Martin Jensen
  3. Break a Little – Kirstin
  4. Gorgeous – Taylor Swift
  5. Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine – Matthew Mole
  6. Stars Across the Sky – Bien
  7. Океанами стали – Alekseev
  8. Beautiful Mess – Kristian Kostov
  9. Can’t Fight It – Rayvon Owen
  10. Eyes Shut – Years and Years

The Best Sauce

I don’t know if it’s an actual adage, or if it’s just something my *favorite fictional character of all time* says, but I’ve heard it said that, ‘hunger is the best sauce.’ I don’t know if I’d say that I’ve been hungry for home, exactly, but being here feels a little bit like being sated.

All the same, this time coming home has been interesting. Little (and big) changes still annoy me, and there’s a bit of reverse culture shock (though I went back to driving with no problems, for good or ill but not having tax included is driving me nuts). But I think I’m finally starting to just let go. There wasn’t any food that I really, really wanted to get when I arrived–not even Kinza (though I will never refuse Kinza). There weren’t any places I really had to visit. People to see, of course. And of course I’m so happy to see my family again. But overall, I basically felt ready to go to the next place almost immediately. So someone get me a job.

Anyway. I am, of course, very much looking forward to some catching up with people because it’s been a long time. And it’s nice that it’s spring because flowers. We’ll just have to see how things progress, I guess.

The last couple days in New Zealand were lovely. During the course of our trip, we truly saw the length of the country. It was impossible to soak up everything in only two and a half weeks, but we went from Auckland near the top of the North Island to Invercargill right at the bottom of the South Island (Invercargill is such a nonentity that it’s saying I’ve spelled it wrong, trust me, there’s really no reason to visit except the Tuatarium which we stumbled into right at feeding time).

I could go on forever about that trip but, as I’ve said, descriptions will never quite do it justice. Suffice to say that it was an incredible time and a much needed respite after Korea.

Now, I find myself with too much time on my hands, facing once more the unenviable and generally unrewarding task of applying to jobs with not enough experience and too much qualification. Hopefully the year in Korea will mean something to someone. We’ll see.

Definitely will keep you up-to-date with all the thrilling developments. I am hoping to do some Washington-y hikes or something because I do really love it here, as much as I want out. It would be positively ideal to find a job that starts like in June or August to give me peace of mind and security in just running around. Maybe a road trip to California. I have a dream of road tripping to Yellowknife and Juneau but wouldn’t attempt it without ample time and financial security.

That’s all for now. With all this time zone hullabaloo, it’s hard to know exactly when to post these anymore so I’m just kind of going with it. I haven’t looked, but I have a sinking feeling that my perfect line of Thursdays was interrupted during New Zealand because this site’s clock is set to Pacific time. I dread checking because I was really proud of that line of Thursdays.

Hope you all have an excellent week. I’m busy doing very little and enjoying the rain of home.

South Island Roads are Different

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A waterfall captured by the wind, Milford Sound

I know I spent years pining after Croatia only to relinquish that dream without much fanfare. But weaving through the islands and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds felt like home. Across this country, I’ve just felt a little more settled in my skin. It’s not perfect, of course. There are plenty of things that annoy, disappoint, and frustrate me. All the same, I would live here in a heartbeat. This feeling has only intensified over the past week.

I’m only going to share a few short bullet points from this week. It’s a summary, but describing each thing in detail would still fail to convey my experiences. It’ll be brief but hopefully you’ll still get the gist of everything.

Wellington is quirky and weird but in, like, a classy way. Would live there. I’d prefer the countryside, but it would be just fine.

Arrived on the South Island at night and the next morning, early, headed out and the sunrise over the mountains and water was delicate and opaline and exquisite.

Went kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, a wonderland of turquoise water, bird sanctuary, and sunny beaches.

Driving to Greymouth, watched the clouds stretch their soft fingers over the mountains from the sea.

Driving through the Southern Alps across Arthur’s Pass was magnificent.

Arrived in Christchurch, where the 2011 earthquake is still very much in evidence– notably in the still mostly-collapsed cathedral. Would probably not live there, earthquake notwithstanding.

A trip across plains and foothills giving way to peaks. Visited New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki (Mount Cook), and the glacial lake at its base. And by glacial, I mean there were icebergs in it. One end of the lake was a beach, the other end was a glacier.

Arrived in Queenstown after a long journey, having seen the bluest water probably on Earth. In lakes, in rivers, just a lot of very blue water. Probably a cute town but very touristy, at least at the moment. Also, there are deer farms in New Zealand?!? I ate deer for a couple meals.

Long journey to Milford Sound (which, incidentally, is not a sound but a fjord). Beauty that absolutely defies description, appropriately obscured by rain and clouds. Profoundly incredible.

I’ve had a feeling that has been building this whole sojourn and it was cemented by our trip to Milford Sound today. You know that I’m not overfond of absolutes or favorites. And I still could not say what my favorite travel destination is (or my favorite part of this trip). But while beauty is subjective and comes in many different forms, and while I haven’t fully explored any single county, I can say without hesitation that this is the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.

This trip has been altogether incredible. Starting in Sydney and basically every moment since. We have a few more days before heading back to the US and the great unknown which that entails. I’m planning on making the most of that time.

This is the longest I’ve been out of the US–thirteen months pretty much exactly. I rather wish I weren’t going back but whatever. If you know anyone hiring, let me know. Mostly if they’re hiring in New Zealand, but I’ll take what I can get.