29 September 2008

Between New Zealand, Oklahoma and London....

I am not a backpacker anymore. I work. I pay bills. I have responsibilities. And I don't like this life change one bit! I have been fighting this realization for the past 14 months. But I can no longer shy away from the fact that I am no longer a young, twenty something who can flitter the days away, reading at the park, journaling at the local Starbucks and saving money for the sole purpose of going on another international adventure. When did this happen? When I did become....an adult?!

One might think it would be fairly obvious. If finishing grad school wasn’t enough, then at least getting married should have propelled me directly into the mindset of responsible adulthood. Perhaps it is because I have never had a ‘real’ job before, or maybe it's because I met my beloved husband travelling and well, lets be honest, that was the only context I knew him in until the day we said ‘I do’ Or it could be the fact that I still have no idea what I actually want to do with myself and hate getting up early in the morning. Probably, it is a combination of all these factors that have kept my eyes, mind and heart hidden from the reality that I am no longer a relaxed, free spirited girl, trudging around the globe with a rugged backpack and a pair of Chaco’s.

Somewhere between New Zealand, Oklahoma and London I grew up. Only problem is, I forgot to tell my heart. Somewhere in me is an understanding that I have to make the hideous journey every morning to a job I loathe because if I didn’t, I couldn’t pay the rent, make the car payment, or buy groceries. Yet despite the fact that I know I have to do all of those things, at least 5 times a day I fight the urge to randomly book a plane ticket to Australia. Since I finished undergrad in 2004, I need at least two hands to count the number of times I have been bored at work or in class and simply gone to the internet, google searched for cheap tickets and within minutes had booked a flight to some far away destination. Even though I know, that I know, that I know that is NOT a feasible option, I can’t help but think… ‘if only’. Some would think that a foolish, impulsive decision; a waste of money. But to me, it is the life giving juice of my soul.

I never realised before my need to be impulsive. Mark my words; my desire to act solely on impulse has gotten me into my fair share of problems. Yet it’s the one part of me that I knew I could always rely on. When things we going a bit too ‘according to schedule’ I would always just go off and do something crazy and out of the ordinary. I never thought about the consequences, had worry for tomorrow or fear about my circumstances. Not everything went according to the plan in my head. I had long hours of boring, stressful thesis work. Too many weeks of over time at the bank. 15 hour days of the preschool and Starbucks. I guess it was ok, because in a bizarre way it all seemed worth while. I was saving for a trip, looking forward to travelling to see Rhys, laughing and joking with work colleagues. Never really serious in anything.

They say life happens in baby steps. Everything is a gradual progression to the next natural step. Going from High School to College seems normal because not only is it what everyone does, but because it is a natural movement. The right amount of knowledge required, thirsting for more, ready for the additional independence-it’s a natural step. But this transition from backpacker to career woman was a giant, instantaneous leap over the Grand Canyon, Swiss Alps and Atlantic Ocean all combined into one! No gradual progression, no natural step into the responsibility, instead a huge, green giant step into a harsh reality of bills, council tax and long hours in front of a computer.

I would be lying if I said that I have now embraced this new stage of life. I am pushing against it with everything that I have instead me, kicking and screaming as I am slowly being dragged into the world of blackberries, laptops, day planners and office hours. The cheap hostel fare has now been replaced by a monthly car payment. By backpack has been replaced by a trendy, stylish black leather hand bag. My frayed jeans and tank top are now grey dress slacks and a crisply, ironed collared shirt. My savings account is no longer only for the next trip I want to take, but for a house payment and future children. My worn and well loved Chaco’s have been replaced by well…ok, those have only been replaced by flip flops. I still can’t bring myself to wear heels. In the same way that I cant accept I have real responsibilities and actual life changing decisions to make.

I buy a lottery ticket every Friday in the hope that I will win millions of pounds and will no longer be tied to the mundane of everyday office life. Its not that I am lazy and don’t want to work, I just want the flexibility to be able to do something I love. Perhaps my problem is that in part I let my travels and adventures help define who I was. Now, since my job is the absolute bane of my existence yet the single thing that takes up most of my time, I am having trouble finding a decent, defining element in my life. Or perhaps I really was just made to own a hostel and talk to people all day. Until the day comes when I win the lottery, or a publisher decides to publish my book and I can live off the rewards, I will have to find someway to accept the fact that I am no longer a backpacker. I am an adult. I work. I have bills. And it sucks!!

26 September 2008

lighting a candle...

Over the years I have grown to appreciate tradition and symbolism so much more than ever before. When I first started at Monte Cassino Catholic School at age 9, it all seemed so foreign to me. The crossing, kneeling, various passages to recite, response readings and all the saints. It was all so different from my protestant church. I am not Catholic (although when I was 11 I considered converting to be like my friends) but I have come to embrace some of the rituals and outward, physical signs that are so evident in the Catholic faith.

On my recent European tour with the family, one stop was Cologne, Germany. There was a enormous cathedral in the centre of the city that was originally built in the 1200's! It was mostly finished by the 1500's, but due to two major world wars some parts are more modern than others. In all my travels, to all 34 countries, I have not seen another Cathedral that compares to the majesty and splendour of this place. There are no words that can describe the beauty of the building. So much detail, so much time and effort. I couldn’t help but think that people hundreds and hundreds of years ago were so dedicated and committed that this was their shine to the Lord. I know that is a sweeping statement to make, as Cathedrals were often built larger and more elaborate as a city status symbol. But the fact remains that all the work went into building a place of worship. Not a town hall, or castle, or parliament building-although those are magnificent too- but a cathedral. A building dedicated to prayer, worship, ministry.

No picture or words could truly do the cathedral justice. It is something that needs to be seen. The stain glass windows, the carvings, the pillars, the gold and gem stones everywhere. But one of the things that stood out the most to me was the candles. Candles everywhere. Little alters set up to various saints with row after row of lit and unlit candle, symbolising the prayers of the dedicated. While I am a firm believer in a direct line of communication between God and us, I am always drawn to the candles. In every cathedral or Catholic church I enter into, I always light a candle and say a prayer. I treasure everything that lighting the prayer candle involves. The giving of money to the church, the praying for something specific and lighting the candle in a outward sign of your petition to the Lord. Then it glows for hours, illuminating the physical sign of your hearts cry.

While there is a fine line between true commitment of the heart and only going through the outward motions, I do think there is something to the ritual of Catholicism. Praying through the rosary keeps dedication and focus. If you are doing something, moving your hands through the beads, concentration on what you are saying...it can keep you motivated in those times when you really want to be doing something else. I don’t say the specifics things I am suppose to, I don’t pray Hail Mary and so forth, but the concept remains and it is that idea of staying focused and dedicated that I enjoy. The sign of the cross and having to genuflect when going into a pew as a sign of reverence, those acts seems to prepare the mind and body for worship. It is an outward action that reminds one they are in a place of worship and should therefore act accordingly. And the lighting of candles, it reminds us that there is a big God out there who hears us, who loves us and who appreciates our acts of devotion and dedication, no matter how small.

dj husband

So I have loads of stories and pictures and adventures to tell of about my recent road trip to Europe. I have so many thoughts about the election, politics, the changing of tax in London for the 2012 Olympics...so many 'important' things of value to discuss. But instead of all that, I have decided to write about something far more crucial and significant to everyone-Rhys. yes, I know, he is cool. And if just knowing that wasnt enough, here is a picture of my super cool husband being a DJ. He is even cooler now. :)

9 September 2008

a solider's welcome home

Mary Allen is a moron. I don’t actually know her woman, I have never met her nor ever want to. Yet in spite of that, I can safely say that she is an idiot. Why? On Monday Mary Allen wrote into the newspaper in response to a story that is making headlines over here. Briefly, the story is about a solider who went to check into a hotel in Surrey and was denied entry because he was wearing a military uniform. The hotel staff said they did not accept members of the armed forces. In some half-assed, mock attempt at a protest, they refused a room to a solider that was back from Afghanistan on injury leave. After 2 tours in Iraq and 2 in Afghanistan, he was in Woking, Surrey to help with funeral arrangements for a friend who had recently died in battle. Instead of a bed, he was forced to sleep in his car.

That is utterly horrendous! But if that wasn’t bad enough, Mary Allen wrote in saying good job to the hotel. Her view was that people should essentially be discriminated against based on what particular uniform they wear. She wrote that he brother was a fireman, a person who was actually fighting for the good of the people, defending the country. Since Mary Allen was not in favour of the war, her stance was that all soldiers are wrong fro fighting. She agreed with the hotel, essentially saying fireman should get better treatment while soldiers should get worse. Preposterous!

Since then, here have been countless comparisons to America with people saying that returning soldiers are treated like heroes. While I do not think that is always the case, it should be. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the war is beside the point. At the core of the issue lies hundreds upon hundreds of brave young men and women, willing to fight and die for the honour of their country. You may not agree with Iraq, you may hate Bush and Blair who put the US and UK in war in the first place. But those men and women who choose to go and fight are a courageous and honourable group; they deserve the utmost respect and admiration. For a hotel to treat a serviceman in such a manner is despicable.

I will join the long list of those boycotting the hotel. I never have the need to stay in Surrey, but I can guarantee that I will never stay at The Metro Hotel, Woking, Surrey. Shame that it is not a chain because I feel then the boycott would be even more effective.

It reminds me of a story I heard about a solider returning to America after a tour in Vietnam. He was so excited to be back in his own country, looking forward to seeing his family; he polished his boots, wore his best uniform and even had a fresh haircut. The minute he stepped off the bus instead of being met with cheers and voices of 'Welcome Home', he was berated with jeers and profanity. He was hit repeatedly by the crowd who were throwing raw eggs. They were protesting America's involvement in the Vietnam War; how humiliating and hurting the battle weary soldiers was going to help is beyond me. This particular young soldier was returning due to injury. He had lost left foot and was walking with crutches. One protester kicked his crutches out from under him and laughed, throwing more eggs at close range as the soldier fell to the ground. Broken, humiliated and alone this poor serviceman struggled to get to his feet when a stout, brave taxi driver pushed through the crowd, scooped the solider up, grab his kit bag and put him in his cab. The driver took the young man to his home, where his wife was waiting with a clean shower and a hot meal. She laundered his uniform and polished his boots. He was astounded that these complete strangers were being so kind, especially after the 'welcome' he had just received. When asked why, the couple responded by showing him a picture of a boy in uniform just about his age. The man explained that his boy had joined, ready to fight for his country. But sadly, he would never be coming back to it. He went on to say that while his son may never come back, when he saw this young soldier being humiliated on the ground it occurred to him that he was someone’s son, and he deserved to be welcomed home in the same way a father would welcome his own son home. The solider went to home to his family the following morning, and he received a wonderful welcome home by his parents. But he never forgot the kindness of the taxi driver, nor the cruelty of the waiting mob.

Even as I write my eyes are filled with tears. Some in part for the Vietnam Vet who told me that story, some in part for the British solider refused entry to the hotel. Both stories make me sick. It is disgusting that people have so little respect for the military. I hope that there is never another world conflict like the First and Second World Wars. But is that what it would take for people today to realise the sacrifice that serviceman make? Shame that somewhere between the heroes welcome in the 1940's and the Iraq War of today we have lost sight of the value, significance and sacrifice of Soldiers.

5 September 2008

Islam, Train Friends and Forensics

I ride the train with the same handful of people every morning at 7:18 and every evening at 5:03. Over the past few months we have all progressed from a smile to a wave to, finally, conversation. We never exchange names, as that would be breaking one of the sacred commuter rules. So, I have come up with my own names for them; Train Buddy Old Man, train buddy dark haired girl, train buddy school teacher, train buddy young dude...you get the picture.

Yesterday train buddy dark haired girl, old man and I all sat together on the way home. Part of me wants to add a disclaimer to what I am about to write. I want to say "I am not judgemental, I am accepting and open minded..." and part of me thinks "No! I can say what I want because there is truth in it..." I am torn. I will not disclaimer, I will just write. So hear my heart in this.....yesterday as we were chatting away Old Man offered us all some candy. 'Oh coconut chocolate bar, yes please!' Dark haired girl said "oh no, I am fasting" For those of you that are not in a country with a large population of Muslims, Ramadan has started. Briefly, this is the period where Muslims fast from sun up until sun down; spending extra time in prayer etc. dark haired girl is a Muslim. She was quick to let us all know that she was fasting and what a struggle it was. The first thing that came to mind were the verses in Matthew where it talks about putting on your best clothes so no one knows you are fasting; about the nature of the heart not the outward signs. It made me think so much how Islam is a religion of rules, procedure and show. Those who have dark bruising on their forehead are considered to be the most holy because it means they are active in their prayers (again, for those not familiar with Islam, the bruising is because of the constant kneeling and head to floor motion for daily prayers) It is all about what words you say and how you look on the outside...I am in no place to judge, as often I neither look nor act holy. But I do think that there is something to be said about the heart as opposed to outward signs. Everyone can do something externally, but what does the internal commitment really look like?

That aside, train buddy dark haired girl and I got to chatting. Turns out she has been in the UK about the same amount of time that I have. She asked what brought me over, so I told her my husband was British. She wanted to know if it was "love or arranged" marriage. At first I thought she was kidding...but no, dead serious. I told her we meet while travelling and started dating. We chose to get married. She was in shock. Turns out, she is in the UK through marriage as well, but hers was arranged. She said, and I quote, "my father, oh no! He would have killed me if I had gone off and met a boy by myself. He killed my sister" Then she made a motion, finger going around her neck, pretending to slice. Her English is broken, so I am not sure if she meant her father actually killed her sister...but that is what she said! She said her aunt met this boy in England and he seemed like a match, their families knew each other, the parents agreed and 4 months later they were married. Having never met at all! I asked her what that was like and she said "he is a good, nice man. It is good" Oh ok, as long as she is happy. She asked me if I liked the UK. I gave my typical answer. 'Oh, it’s not too bad. Different to America, more expensive, smaller etc... and the weather is crap. But it’s not too bad' A pretty superficial, materialistic answer. When I returned the question she answered without hesitation "Oh I love it, over here I am free" Since we had already discussed fasting and arranged marriages, I figured it was fair game to ask exactly what she meant by free. She explained that while she missed her mother and brother back home, in the UK she could leave the house by herself, work at a business that is not run by family members, wear her hair down, make friends and talk to people without her father's permission! Now it was my turn to be shocked! Here I was complaining about the weather and food portions and this woman was happy to be allowed out of the house and able to speak! Again, rules and regulations. I am of the opinion 'the truth will set you free' and I feel in her case the 'truth' that she and her family so deeply believe in has trapped and enslaved her. We had a bit more of a chat and agreed to catch up on the train ride the next morning. That was Thursday. I haven’t seen her since. I am sure there is a logical reason, but it makes me wonder....did she talk to the wrong person? did she say the wrong thing? I am praying desperately for train buddy dark haired girl. Being around the Islamic faith so often over here has allowed me to realise that even the smallest and most innocent of mistakes can cost someone their life.

Train buddy dark haired girl gets off one stop before me and train buddy old man. So once she left old man and I started having a chat. He knows I hate my job and he suggested I have a career change. 'Whatever do you mean?' I asked. He said he works consultancy for the Met (Metropolitan Police) He said they are actively recruiting for a forensic scientist. I am not a scientist by any means, but they have quite an advanced training scheme. He said if I was interested, he would pull some strings and set up an interview perhaps....hmmm, this could be interesting. So I have decided to go for it. I am applying for a job with The Met to study and a become a forensic fingerprint expert! Yeah, how cool is that? Good thing for train buddy old man.

So even though I complain often about the train, there are benefits. It was nice to have a suggestion about a potential job; but it was even better to be reminded that there are hundreds out there who are lost, confused and hurting. Train buddy dark haired girl has a name, a family, a life. I have decided to make it a goal to find out more about her, get personal and hopefully start to show her a little bit more of the love of Jesus. I hope someday she can taste what TRUE freedom is like.

1 September 2008

sunshine...or lack thereof

I have been looking over statistics for August in London. The entire month of August we have had 96 hours of sunshine! ONLY 96 HOURS!! That is 4 days! I cannot believe it; how horrid is that?! I just needed to share my outrage over the lack of sun with everyone.

taking a survey....

So I am taking a survey. I want a new tattoo. To be exact, I want LOTS of new tattoos. However in this particular instance, I want one on my wrist. really small, nothing major and easily hidden by a watch or bracelet if need be. Plus the design I have in mind really means something to me and is a good reminder of 'things' I know that is vague, but I am intentionally not giving away details. Kind of the same reasoning as people who don’t tell their child names because inevitably someone will have a bad memory associated with the name; a class bully, a dog....you know. So I am not giving away any details. I will get my tattoo and then people will have to pretend that they like it. All of that aside, my survey question is this. Do i want a tattoo on my wrist? I say yes. Rhys thinks I may regret it later, but would be fully behind it if i decided to do it. I really do want it badly.... So I need some logical, objective opinions. What do you all think?

i am obsessed!

I am obsessed with eBay! I cant help it, I am addicted!! I don’t know how all this started, but suddenly I am selling all kinds of things! Its great though. Last week I made over £40. This week I have already made £17.50! I have 19 other things for sale...I am just waiting for the money to start rolling in :)

I have started going through my closet and taking all kinds of stuff to sell. If i am not careful, I may end up with nothing left!! I have worked it all out and I only need to increase my profit to around £700 every 2 weeks and then I won’t need to work anymore! Seems like a realistic goal eh?