How I Got Here – The Europe trip

In October of 1999, I got an e-mail about an airfare sale.  It was from a company specializing in travel for folks under 26 years of age and at the time I was 23.  My desire to study abroad in college was shot down long ago, but here I saw an opportunity.  I wanted to get back to Europe and here was a message from above telling me the time was right.  My seasonal Park Ranger job was up at the end of  December.  So I booked a flight for $318 flying into Paris in January of the year 2000  and out of Rome four weeks later.

I had decided to fly into Paris because I knew how to speak French.  Most of you are saying, “Um…isn’t English your first language?  Why not go with that?”  Well, because I’m me.  English speaking countries?  I wanted something a little more adventurous.  So France it was.  I had spent six weeks in Switzerland one summer during high school and knew I wanted to visit my host family, so I added that to my list.  And I’d always wanted to see Italy.  I figured four weeks was long enough for a trip by myself, and wanted enough time to see each place on my list thoroughly so I ended in Italy, picking Rome as my point of return.

When researching my trip, I got completely overwhelmed by all the internet information, so I just stopped doing research for a while.  Then, I went to the bookstore, got Michelin Guides for each country (long, thin, compact – therefore easy for traveling) and went with those.  I had a hostel booked in Paris and one in Rome, but in between those two places my plans were open.  I had hostel information with me, but didn’t want to commit to any specific days.  (Those of you that know me are not at all surprised by this lack of commitment thing!)

I arrived in Paris and promptly got lost.  I was hauling around my entirely-too-heavy backpack feeling jet-lagged and could not find my hostel.  Whether you’re speaking English or French doesn’t matter – people around the globe unanimously give you bad directions.  Finally, I arrived at the hostel only to find that though I could leave my bags there I wasn’t allowed in my room til 4pm.  It was maybe 10AM.  So I got something to eat and headed to the Musee D’Orsay.  I bought an audio guide, fell in love with sculpture, and when I nearly fell asleep sitting on a bench in the museum decided to head back to the hostel.  Thankfully, by the time I got there I could get into my room and go to bed.  I awoke a few hours later and met my roommates who tried to convince me that I should just stay up to get over the jet lag.  I wasn’t sure about this, but upon their invitation to see the Champs D’Elysees all lit up at night, I dragged myself out of bed.

Turns out my two roommates were on the “Paris-in-a-Day” plan.  The next morning, when they explained that they were going to try to do the Louvre and two other sites by dinner, I opted not to join them.  I was on the “I’m here to relax and enjoy the city” plan.

The nice thing about staying in a hostel is that you can find people to do something with every morning at breakfast.  You go down to the community room, start chatting with folks at your table, see who’s doing what, and decide who you want to join – if anyone.  I went to Versailles with a couple Australians, my two roommates (who decided to give Versailles a whole day),  and an American teaching English in Asia who was on his break.  He explained that it’s so cheap to live in Asia and he gets paid so well that it’s easy to come to Europe every year for a few weeks.  Oh the possibilities life holds! I thought. But still, it was a little lonely to be in a country where you knew no one.  So the next day I decided three weeks was going to be enough and went to a travel office to change my flights.

After Paris, I headed to a little town called Troyes where a religious order that has brought some fabulous women into my life was started.  I spent a couple hours in the museum for the order with a sweet nun who spoke not a word of English.  I wandered the streets and then headed off to Switzerland.

My host sister decided we should ski the Alps.  I can count on one hand how many times I’d been on skis prior to that day.  We got to the top of mountain and when I looked out, it looked like you skied a few hundred feet and then went off a cliff.  I tried it, but at one point told her I was just going to take off my skis and walk down the mountain.  I snowplowed instead.  And that was the last time I went skiing.

In Italy I loved Venice and so stayed a few extra days.  At the Doge’s Palace, I was on a self-guided tour behind an American father-son pair.  Their repartee back and forth was hilarious and at the end of the tour I said something about how much I enjoyed their commentary.  They looked at me like I had three heads and said, “You speak English?!”  “Um…yeah,” I responded.  They said I was dressed like a European and they thought for sure I was Italian.  I explained how I’d read that all Americans in Europe are easily identifiable by their backpacks, jeans, and baseball caps so I tried not to use any of those in my day-to-day travels.  I was in black stretch pants, black boots, and carrying a shoulder bag.  We laughed over it all and they invited me to lunch.  Then, the son and I walked up to the top of St. Mark’s Cathedral together.  They were off then to visit friends in northern Italy.  I was jealous – I wanted locals to visit!  I would get my chance – six years later on a return trip, but that’s another story.

By the time I got to Florence, I was done with churches and museums for a bit.  I found an English book shop, bought a book, and sat in a piazza for hours reading.  It was splendid.  At the end of the day, I turned around and took a picture of my spot.  I still have that picture.

I didn’t much care for Florence.  The hostel there was run by some mean folks, so I saw the David and took off.  On the other hand, my hostel in Rome was the best ever.  The Beehive was owned by an American couple from California.  She was pregnant and talked about some of the nervousness of having a baby in a foreign country.  She also set me up on a phenomenal walking tour.  But what made Italy my all time favorite country?  Gelato.  Every day.  Sometimes twice a day.  Because honestly – what’s the way you really know you’re an adult?  You can eat ice cream whenever you want.  You think that’s cool?  Try replacing the ice cream with gelato.  Heaven on earth.

Upon my return, I was in quite a state of culture shock.  I just came back from my most amazing trip to date, and here I sat: living with my parents, no job, college life over and no gelato.  I felt quite depressed.  But something I did prior to leaving for Europe – something I did just as an aside, never thinking it’d be needed – would lead me to my next adventure.

Post-college life

A while back (November actually), I started a series of posts on how I got here.  By “here” I mean how I got to the point where I’m generally accepting of the fact that not everyone is meant to have just one job that they go to 9-5 for twenty years.  How I got to the point where I actually accept and usually embrace that who I am is someone who will never have just one full-time job, but will have many different income streams that will come and go with the tides.

So last we left off, I was one of just three people in my class o f thirty-six to have a physical therapist job upon graduation.  And every single one of my thirty-five classmates knew the last thing I wanted to do in life was work as a physical therapist.  Why?  Well, that’s a bit of a complicated question.  At the time, I genuinely thought I didn’t want to actually be a physical therapist.  In hindsight, I now know that it wasn’t that I didn’t like PT, it’s that I liked so many other things too and didn’t want to pick just one.  But no one had told me yet that it was possible to live a fabulous life without having a 9-5 job.

So I did as was expected and started my part-time physical therapy job.  I came home every day and cried.  Well, sometimes I didn’t make it home.  I went to the county park at lunch and cried on a park bench.  Secretly hoping to see my ex-boyfriend who worked there, which I did.  But that’s another story.

It wasn’t that the job was so bad.  It wasn’t at all by most accounts.  My co-workers were happy people willing to help me at any time.  My patients liked me and got better.  The setting had all the latest equipment.  The problem?  It was my first post-college job and I felt lost.  Up until that point I’d worked in PT settings with a supervisor to talk to.  Here, the place was so busy I barely had time to think.  I took to talking into a tape recorder between patients so I could remember at the end of the day who I did what with when it came time to write notes – if there was time to write notes.  And though everyone said they’ d be happy to help me, I felt that they were entirely too busy to help.  In hindsight, I should have asked to sit down with a senior PT once a week to review my caseload and make sure I was on track with my treatment plans.  But it was my first job out of college and I thought I was supposed to know it all.  Oh what a relief to have since learned you never know it all and it’s okay to ask questions.

Funny, even, that ten years later I have done more things that I had zero experience in without a problem!  No degree, no background, just a desire – I’ve lost track of the number of times that’s been my work situation by choice.

But I was young and inexperienced with the working world.  To her credit, my mom told me to do just what I mentioned above – ask to meet with someone once a week.  I never did.  Instead, two months after starting the job, I resigned.  It was the first of many jobs from which I’d resign over the next ten years.  I can’t recall what I said or any of the feelings I felt.  You know how you do something so much you don’t remember anymore what it felt like the first time?  That’s me and resignations.

My boss took it all in stride.  To this day, whenever he sees me about town, he will always introduce me as “the girl with the shortest PT career ever.”  I can laugh now, but it was nothing but tears back then.

What prompted me to leave?  Well, I had worked as a Park Ranger a few summers before and was still in touch with my old boss there.  He always wanted me back, but PT internships took up my summers.  I was at the park chatting with him one day and he told me how one of his seasonals was leaving and, once again, asked if I wanted a job.  I don’t think he thought I’d take him up on it – now that I had a degree and license to practice something completely different.  But he was wrong.  I did the math.  Because if I was going to quit my first PT job, I’d need to make it okay with dad, and dad’s language is money.  I figured out that working full-time at the park would earn me the same as working part-time as a PT.  So I resigned and went back to work as a Park Ranger.

No, dad wasn’t happy.  In situations like this, we tell mom first.  She then preps dad for the news, sometimes delivering it herself.  Having had more experience with him, she handles his incredulous looks and angry stammering so that by the time we get to him he’s not necessarily adjusted, but has calmed just a tiny little bit.

I dug out my old gray and green uniform, found  my signature Park Ranger hat, and went back to work at a job I loved.  But most park jobs are seasonal.  My season ended in December, 1999.  But by that time, I had my next adventure all planned out….

The Open Mike

So I’ve been trying my best to do an “Artist Date” once per week.  I’ve written about them in earlier posts – basically it’s a date with yourself.  Yes, by yourself.  I know it’s a scary concept for plenty of people, but oh how I enjoy it when I get up the nerve and do it.

Tonight I went to an Open Mike at the library a couple towns over.  How did I hear about this?  Well, on another artist date actually.  A couple months ago I went to here the Trapps at the Rhinecliff Hotel. On a Friday night.  By myself.  That took a little more push than other artist dates.  I’ve been to gallery openings,museums,  arts and crafts classes, antique stores – things people go to alone.  A band at a bar by yourself, well, I had to work up to that one.  Anyway, I find one way to get yourself out of the house is to get all dolled up, then you feel like you can’t waste a great outfit and a good hair day.  So I made it to the Rhinecliff, took a seat at the bar, and ordered a glass of wine.  Thankfully, most everyone was actually watching and listening to the band, so there was none of that, “I’m here with no one to talk to,” feeling.  The bartender was cute; the music was wonderful.  Not bad for a night out by yourself.

After a glass of wine, I started chatting up some of my fellow bar sitters:   a couple of “older” gentlemen who were former neighbors catching up with each other.  They had no problem talking to a single thirty-something instead of each other.  A little later others started dribbling in, and there I was, the band gone, and me still there!  A kindly gentleman asked if I was local and when I let him know I live just a few miles away he informed me that the crowd that just walked in was coming from an Open Mike that happens every third Friday at the local library.  He explained that the musicians are always amazing, and that they come by invitation.  He introduced me to the founder of the event, and I made a mental note.  Later, I pulled out my Palm Treo and marked “Open Mike at Morton Library” for every third Friday.

Well, tonight I made it over to the library.  Which actually looks like an old mansion.  Well, because it is old.  And was built by a wealthy couple as a gift to the community.  And what a gift!  It’s the first library I’ve seen that has a front porch with rocking chairs.  On one side is the library and on the other is the community room: hardwood floors, vaulted ceiling, a stage and a donated baby grand.  There were nearly fifty people in attendance by night’s end.  And the music?  Each song had a message for me.  Like I was destined to be there because these five groups had something to tell me.  It was a little of everything – we had some blues, folk, doo-wop, barbershop quartet, covers, originals.  The Rhinecliff donates sandwiches, there’s wine for sale in the back.  Everyone volunteers their time and donations for the library are accepted.  I read in the local “About Town” that the librarian knows everyone by name.  And now she knows mine:)  I joined the mailing list, and look forward to the next event.


When talking to a parent of one of my tutoring students last week, he asked what I do for work other than tutoring.  People assume I must be a high school math teacher since I’m tutoring their high school child in that very subject.  I told him I teach Anatomy & Physiology at a local college.  He paused and a confused look came over his face.  He made a comment that that seemed so different from this.  I said I liked the variety and already had a sense that this man would think my lifestyle completely absurd if I went on to tell him about the other things I do.

But I hope to one day live in a world where, when people hear the multitude of things I do, they unanimously think it’s fabulous.  Don’t get me wrong – many people do think this.  But I felt sorry for this student who had a father who had done the same thing all his life and probably expected the same of her.  Yet I’m sure she has a multitude of gifts, like all of us, and if she wants to pursue them all I hope she has the courage to go against the grain and do just that.

So next time you hear of someone that does something completely different from what you’d expect (the insurance agent who just got certified in flower arranging, for example), let them know how wonderful that is.  It’s simple, really.  Instead of a confused look across your face, smile and say, “That’s fascinating – how did you get into that?”  It will make our day:)

Ten Other Lives

On Saturday, there was an exercise in my Simple Abundance book that asked me to list 10 other lives I’d like to lead.  As you can imagine, I didn’t have much trouble with this.  I come up with new lives to lead just about every week.  Sometimes more often than that.

But the nice thing about this exercise was that it wasn’t done with the intention to pursue any of these lives.  No, this exercise did not require a commitment like that.  What we had to do next was just list what we liked/admired from those lives.  And then the object is to bring some of those things into your life.  Nice thought, no?  Here’s what I wrote:

  1. World Traveler – simple living! few “things” are necessary – meet people, find space for self
  2. Writer – all days are open, not so much in the way of “must be here at this time”
  3. Dancer – expressive, freedom in your art and expressing it, feel the music and go with what your body tells you to do.
  4. Organizer – scale down, simple living, work with others to help them declutter lives and then heads as well:)
  5. Companion to an elderly woman – helping, laughing, gleaning wisdom, traveling
  6. Snowbird – living in warm places Jan-March (April?)
  7. Community Service Trip Leader – organize trips for people (teens) to come together and help others – possibly in another country
  8. Dream Fulfiller – people come to me with their dream and I help brainstorm with them how they could fulfill them.
  9. Jewelry designer – make things people like, turn nothing into something
  10. Donation Distributor – take things people no longer need that are still good and find people/places that need them.

So here’s the thing…a few of these things I already do or have done…and do you see the theme?

Seriously – try this.  It’s fun.  Would love to hear what your ten are:)

On Inspiring Words

I opened the mailbox the other day to find just three things in it – and all were for me.  This is unusual as I share my mailbox with my neighbors across the hall.  Not only were all three things for me, but they were all things I was happy to have received.  Two were checks, and the third was a package from my most recent writing teacher at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to hear that I opened the package first.

I was unsure what my writing teacher would be sending, and only after I sliced a pair of scissors through the top of the padded envelope and peered in did I remember that she promised to send a copy of her newly published book, Back to Abnormal.  I read the enclosed note and then turned over the book in my hands.  Since taking my first writing class, it has been a surreal experience to come to know authors not as some far off group of people of which I could never imagine being part, but encountering them first as teachers, people like me, people who love to share their knowledge with others and do so by putting pen to paper and then teach their students to do the same – but in their own style.

It wasn’t until this morning that I pulled Dana’s book out of the pile of “current reads” on my nightstand and started to read.  We had heard the first chapter in class, but I read it again with great interest.  After the second chapter, I paused.  Hadn’t she said she’d send an autographed copy?  In my leafing through the opening pages, I had somehow missed it.  So I flipped back and there on the title page was an inscription that made my heart sing: For Rebecca, with admiration for your adventurous spirit.  There’s something about someone having known you for just a short time, and in that time is able to glean so much about who you are.  But then to be able to put in into words that you will treasure for some time to come – that is a true gift.

So thank you Dana:)