One New Thing (abandoned)…

Well, when you only get to #1 of a 365-item list, things aren’t good.

Shamelessly abandoning this idea of writing about One New Thing, but I’m definitely getting out and about more.

I’m thinking I’ll just use this blog as a place to catalog positive stuff. Stuff I’m grateful for, kindnesses people show me…

Casket Quarry Hike (New Free Thing #1)

Usually, I’d say that hiking and other outdoor activities are the super easy Free Things to do in Duluth. They’re everywhere, and I’m sure some weeks I’ll count new trails among the New Free Things I’ll take in. But I knew this event wouldn’t be easy because of the social aspect and because of my insecurities about doing physical stuff with other people.

I pulled into the parking area by Quarry Park on time, as ready as I was going to be. Hike Duluth and Duluth Parks and Recreation partnered to do this series of Women Hike Duluth hikes. They meet monthly on trails around the city, but January had been cancelled on one of those days that everything was cancelled because it was the time of the Polar Vortex (read: windchills of -40F and below). All the parking lot spots were full, and cars were lining the street for a couple of blocks. The bigger the group, the easier to not talk to anyone – ha!

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We’ve had a bit of snow lately.

A woman came confidently striding up to me with a smile on her face and said, “Are you here alone, too?” After answering affirmatively and talking about the fact that neither of us have been to one of these Women Hike Duluth events, we fell into a somewhat awkward smiling silence. The people around us were also having conversations about similar topics, but clearly almost all of them had shown up with at least one known entity.

Parking Lot
Photo credit: Sandi Larson (group leader)

After a couple more minutes of standing around, the group leader told us about the route (up to the top of the ridge, then past the ice climbers below, along the ridge, back down and into the woods before looping back to the parking lot), urging the snowshoers to go first to pack down the snow a bit.

As we started hiking, I was right behind this same woman, continuing a somewhat halting conversation. As we continued to talk a bit, we realized that we knew someone in common, a woman I haven’t been in much contact with since she left Duluth years ago. Funny small town where you are seven degrees of separation from just about everyone…

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The hike itself was interesting enough. All 67 of us filed along, seeing ice climbers and artwork, and just being out in nature on a warm enough day. Here’s a video the hike leader took of us up near the top of the ridge.

20190223_13423120190223_134333After thanking the group leader and saying goodbye to the hikers who had already made it back to the parking lot area, I quickly scurried back to my car and drove down to Winter in the West where I saw a group of three women I’d been asked to take a picture of while out hiking. They assured me I had earned the free donut I was eating (do I seriously have to earn donuts??? especially free donuts????? hmmm…).

I figured I needed a rating scale for these events… I’m sure I’ll change it as I go along. Let’s go 1-10, shall we?

1: incredibly painful, either physically or emotionally,

3: it wasn’t great and I sure wouldn’t seek doing it again,

5: it was fine; had good and not-so-good aspects,

7: it was good for a variety of reasons and I’d likely try again if given the opportunity, and

10: one of my favorite events in Duluth, resulting in intense joy or satisfaction.

This would be about a 4. While I didn’t feel connected to the social aspect of it, I did like the hike and being outside on a relatively warm day (20 above!). And even though it was really a separate New Free Thing, I like donuts. So while I absolutely applaud the Women Hike Duluth idea, I think I’ll stick to primarily hiking alone or with very good friends.

One New Thing (Revisited)…

Maybe five years ago or so, I had that seven-year itch with this cute little city that I call home. I started a blog and did then wrote about One New Thing Each Week (and even wrote about it again last year).

Well, I’m finding myself in that same itchy place. I’m feeling a little stagnant here, even though I know it’s an absolutely lovely place for so many reasons. Maybe it’s having been through the Polar Vortex or through the almost snowiest February on record (it’s not over yet…). Really, there are likely a bunch of reasons about this year so far that are making it feel a little claustrophobic.

And all of last year likely isn’t helping either. While living in Cambodia, I’m certain I rewired (read: effed) my brain by having change and novelty flooding my neurons nonstop. New people, new experiences, new languages, new foods, new cultures… … …

And now I’m back where I’d been before.

It’s like I’ve strip-mined Duluth for all the things I like to do, and now I find myself in a place where I’ve got to invest much more to dig deeper to find something that is interesting and novel. I’ve tried the beginner’s mindset and, while I’ll continue to try to cultivate this level of curiosity, it’s just not doing it for me at this point.

I once had a friend tell me that “reheating the soup” is rarely a good idea, but I’m going back to New Things. It’s really an old concept, but it’s about doing new things (or at least that’s how I’m spinning it). I’ll aim for one a week, which shouldn’t be that hard, but I now have another issue. I’ve made some decisions lately in my life that mean that funds are a little low (still recuperating from last year’s unexpected year-long unemployment, took a reduction at work to create a more manageable workload, planning more travel this coming summer, etc.). So just to make things a bit more challenging, I’m going to do One New Free Thing each week. Or as close to that as I can (rules are bendy, right???).

Alright, I’m heading out the door to do my first New Free Thing, and it incorporates two elements of things that make me incredibly uncomfortable:

  1. Actually having to socialize directly with strangers in an unstructured way, and
  2. Being asked to perform a physical task in front of people or to “keep up” with others.

You (lucky, lucky you) will get to read about it next week.

(P.S. Please feel free to put suggestions in the comments!)

Khmer Goodbye

I’ve drafted eighty-four blog posts about this transition back to the U.S., but none of them really work. They don’t capture it.
I wrote about the “Miss and Won’t Miss” list I’ve made, and how so many of the things are just different sides of the same coin (except my landlady. that gal’s such a goddang treat, she gave me hugs and kisses on the cheek when she gave me my security deposit back yesterday. she’s only in the “miss” category).
I’ve written, reflected and meditated on this transition so much in the last week or so, both with people and solo, that I think I’m just ready. Don’t get me wrong – there are tears that will undoubtedly be shed (and have already been shed) over this transition.
But right now I’m incredibly grateful for having had this year and for what it’s brought me. Mostly for durian, but for lots of other things, too. (okay, maybe durian’s not the *top* of the list, but seriously, people, there’s a reason they call it the king of fruits.)
The other prominent feeling? Curiosity. So incredibly curious about what this next chapter will bring, what everything will feel like, and how I’ll perceive everything. I’m curious about this current balcony time with the sky pinking up. About handing over the keys to my apartment. About the upcoming trip to the airport. About the flights back. About seeing family again. About moving back to Duluth. Each step, right now, feels like a new adventure I’m about to undertake, even though it’s going “back.”

View from the balcony

So, sitting here filled with gratitude and curiosity, waiting for my regular corner place to open up to go get some noodles, I’m realizing that the noodles are really just a perfect metaphor. They’re the things that are right on our block that bring us joy, that are so simple they’re beautiful, that cost barely anything but seem invaluable, and that can best be enjoyed surrounded by smiling faces.
Go get your noodles. Because I’m gonna go get mine.

A Picture is Worth…

… well, hopefully enough to make up for the fact that I haven’t posted in ages.

The last six weeks have been travel. A little bit of solo travel, and a lot of travel with my ex-husband, an opportunity for which I am so very (SO. VERY.) grateful. I know that this is different; not ordinary.  I also know that my ex is not ordinary. So much gratitude!  (did i say that yet?) We were able to travel around SEAsia, both to places I’ve already been and to a bunch I haven’t. Here’s a picture tour of the last six weeks…

In Cambodia, we went to Kratie to see the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins (seriously, you guys, they look like the love children of belugas and reg’lar dolphins)…

…and to Siem Reap.

Then we met up in Singapore with a gal with whom I’ve been friends longer than just about anyone I know.

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Rooftop bar view

In Laos, we went to Vientiane…

…Vang Vieng,…

…and Luang Prabang.

In Vietnam, we went to Hanoi…

…Halong Bay…

…Cat Ba…

…and through Ninh Binh to Hue, before heading to Saigon.

And, since I had 10 days left in PP before leaving, and couldn’t seem to just stay here, I hopped a bus up to Ratanakiri. 

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Hotel view

Rainy season made it less than perfect (and a bit crazy – ask me about the trip out to the hotel outside of town!), but it was still good to see yet another place in this country that’s come to feel like home over the past year. But more on those feelings soon…

Because It Ain’t Always Pretty…

Since I last posted, I’ve spent 20 of 30 days in silent Vipassana meditation courses and have traveled to Yangon, Myanmar, but this is not about those things. This is one of those posts that involves neither jaunting nor jauntiness. Be warned.

I have approximately 2.4 million words to write about this, but you’re getting under 800. Be grateful.

Over the past few years, I’ve been looking at things I include (or don’t include) in my life and have been really examining whether they are things I truly still do want (or don’t want) any more, rather than simply continuing to follow a decision made years ago with a different knowledge base and different life experiences (basically, a different brain) driving my decisions.

And I have recently been thinking quite a bit about image. This has come up in light of some recent events (not the least of which has been people’s … ummm… interesting? responses to my khmer-style photos in full hair and make-up…and photoshop; see below for evidence), and I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on why I have made some of the choices I’ve made in the past regarding my physical appearance and how those choices play out in my life today.

And, while it doesn’t make any sense for me to buy any new cute dresses in the next month or two before I move back, to replace my clothes here that really have seen better days, I thought it may be kind of fun to go buy some mascara and see how it felt to wear some on a “normal day” after having only worn it a handful of times in the last 15+ years (literally, only to the weddings I’ve attended, and to have those photos taken that I mentioned above). I mean, maybe I’d feel like a million bucks! Maybe I’d have a new spring in my step. Or maybe I’d feel like a five year old playing dress up with mom’s makeup. Maybe I’d feel like a cheap hooker. The thing is, I didn’t even know what it would really feel like in my life. And I kinda wanted to know.

But then tonight, full stop on all self development, specifically regarding physical appearance. I looked at pictures of a woman I don’t even know and thought, “Well, your playing around with some $2.50 mascara sure isn’t going to get you that, Julie. You’d never even look like that with all the goddamn makeup in the world. And all the goddamn makeup artists in the world.” And I felt horrible about the choices I’d felt confident about just moments earlier. Oh, puke. I mean, I get it, this (especially) women comparing themselves to others negatively is a thing, and while this isn’t something that has affected me negatively lately, it hit me like a charging elephant tonight. The texture of the whole feeling changed pretty quickly as I watched what my brain was doing, but it happened. And it made me not want to buy the mascara because I wouldn’t be able to achieve what I thought others think I should be striving to achieve. Double puke.

So, as I move through these decisions about inclusion or exclusion of things in my life, I’m going to have to continue to take extreme caution to make sure that these are my decisions, that they are things that bring me joy. And I would love to say that that will be easy, that I can simply and always say, “Yes, of course, this is what I want, not something based on what I think others want of me, not based on those not-truly-me voices I’ve cultivated so strongly in my mind over the past 4+ decades!” But I know it won’t be easy. I also know I will give it my damndest.

And this applies to so many aspects of my life, not just physical appearance. So, just know that, when you see me in the next few months, I may or may not be wearing makeup. And I may or may not be drinking a beer. And I may or may not be wearing a cute dress. Or pants with a hole in the ass. And I may or may not be dating. And I may or may not be running. And each of those things may be the opposite the next time you see me. Because regardless of what I am specifically including or excluding, I am aware that I lead such a privileged life that I have the opportunity to both choose and to refuse in virtually every area of said privileged life.

And I absolutely choose to absolutely refuse to let that privilege go to waste.

Persistence Pays

If you’re reading this, you probably know me quite well (hi, mom!). And if you know me quite well, you probably know that I can… shall we say ‘struggle’ with decision-making? Many times, it’s not that I don’t know what I want. It’s that I want it all. Cake to be eaten. Promptly. I want to have the comfort of home, but I also want to venture out. I want to make a meaningful contribution to society, but I also want to sit around and read books. I want to train to run another half marathon, but I also want to have leisurely coffee on my balcony as the temperature rises ten degrees above what anyone would consider good running weather.

This inability to make and stick with decisions has sometimes made me the bane of people’s existence. I get it. Some things never change…

A couple of months ago, I met a guy looking for trekking partners (that’s what they call hiking over here, i guess, as i can’t seem to get anyone to tell me how hiking and trekking might be different, a question i once asked a gal hiking hadrian’s wall, only to be looked at with disdain and to receive the “it’s just… trekking” condescending answer). I was finding myself in my typical decision-making pattern, going back and forth as to why I would or wouldn’t go trekking with him from Chambok.

Pros:

  1. I love hiking, and I miss it tremendously.
  2. I also miss being out in nature, seeing green.
  3. I have been feeling a need to challenge my body, other than just running in heat.

Cons:

  1. It’s hot as hell here in April. I mean, have I mentioned yet how I sweat nearly a liter every time I just sweep the floor? (yes, yes, i know i’ve mentioned this before)
  2. The expense was not something I had in my budget. While it really wasn’t that expensive for the services, it’s just that I’m not trying to completely and totally run out of cash while hanging out in Cambodia. I like my landlady A LOT (she gave me more beers the other day!!!) and would like to continue being able to give her rent money each month.
  3. I don’t really know this guy and he could be
    1. a serial killer, or
    2. just annoying as hell.

There was also more than a twinge of fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up on the trek (this is founded in the reality of past hikes, like when trekking gorillas at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda – you’d have to buy me a beer to tell you this whole story), but I was able to give fear a big F-U. Still, indecision.

I eventually messaged The Dane, my to-be hiking partner, saying I wasn’t going, citing monetary issues. While he expressed disappointment, I agreed to still meet up with him later in his trip, trading the use of my washing machine for a bottle of his homebrew. And I know I’m good at drinking beer, so no fear there.

But as it turns out The Dane is a hella persistent guy, and each time I met up with him here in PP before the planned trekking trip, he kept trying to convince me to go with him (all the while succeeding at convincing me he was neither a serial killer nor annoying as hell). But it was actually a TED talk by Ruth Chang about “How to Make Hard Choices” that made me fully change my mind. She talks about hard choices being those with no truly “better” answer, which is what this decision was – definite pros, definite cons. Here’s what Chang had to say:

“So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.

Now, people who don’t exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. I drifted into being a lawyer. I didn’t put my agency behind lawyering. I wasn’t for lawyering. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment — pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option –to determine what they do. So the lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.

Did I want to put my agency behind being a fiscally-responsible safety-seeker? Or did I want to be a slightly less financially viable, albeit sweaty as hell, experience-seeker?

Exactly.

I eventually caved, bought bus tickets, and joined him on an early Sunday-morning bus ride out of the city. Of course, everything was a great experience. We laughed (tons!), ate great food (also tons!), and got to see some of the culture of rural life in Cambodia (making rice wine, dancing and drinking beers for Khmer New Year, staying in a homestay, learning about medicines and foods from the forest, hearing the stories of the locals (ranging from stories of toasts made while drinking to stories of refugee camps), riding around on a tractor and bicycles…).

Okay, this is already TLDR, and I didn’t even talk about the trekking yet! Here, look at some pics of the whole trip (photo credit for half of these to the dane)…

Biking around the area:

 

 

Just some of the delicious foods we had:

 

 

Some of the sights and activities around town:

 

 

Our homestay:

 

 

Short day trek to Second and Third Waterfalls (where, as we were hiking down what our guide called an “adventure” path (read: most people don’t go this way), The Dane said, “If they want to expand their ecotourism, they’ll have to look at safety,” right before I completely bit it — my only fall this trip that left bruises):

 

 

… And the big day trek from Chambok to Kirirom National Park:

 

 

Feeling gratitude for persistent Danes.

Next undertaking? Another vipassana course (like this one I did a few months ago, but in Kampong Cham). Glutton for punishment, but putting my agency behind, trying to be for meditation and self-improvement. Here’s hoping!