Posted in Changes, Languages, Working Holiday

Oh. I guess I’m an expat.

It’s the same as going to Iowa City or Fort Collins or Asheville or Berkley and finding out you’re talking to a college student: well of course you are, how could you not? That’s nothing surprising and nothing new.

This world I’m entering? It’s just as obvious as that. To those back home, it looks exotic and interesting.

It’s easy to be impressive when you’re the only one doing something: owning a successful business, building your house from scratch, running a marathon or five, performing for a paying audience.

But when you’re surrounded by people all doing the same thing, it’s a little less sparkly.

Most certainly, there’s a camaraderie: an instinctual knowledge of depth and breadth and love and fear. It’s easy to dive in deep about nuance and common ground.

But you’re not the special and different one when you’re surrounded by people just like you. You become boring.

Today I become boring.

Today I become just like everyone else I talk to.

Oh, you’re just another Working Holidayer.

No big deal, been there, done that.

Just another American abroad.

Just another twentysomething deciding if I’m running towards or running away from something.

Today I become boring.

Today I become that predictable.

Everyone has been elsewhere.

Everyone is on the adventure of a lifetime.

Everyone lives in a van on purpose.

Everyone is chasing passport stamps.

Everyone is choosing this life instead of a house and kids and financial stability.

Today I become boring.

Today I’m just another expat zorbing.

Today I’m just another Midwesterner realizing the difference between artificial sweetness and genuine kindness.

Today I’m just another kid walking the balance between panic and elation, homesickness and sick of being home.

On the road, in the hostel, on the mountain, in the campground, I see my soul reflected on every face.

There’s nothing interesting about me here. Today, there is nothing unique, nothing that catches your attention and makes me different.

Today, my words become my own again. Among those who speak my language and feel my heartbeat, I am my own person. I am not “the traveler” – we all are. So who I am must be richer and more fulfilling, not resting on the easy reputation of being a globetrotter.

So much time to finally discover who I am meant to be when my default is stripped away.

Today I become boring.

Today, I become an expat.

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Posted in Changes, Lessons, Travel, Work, Working Holiday

A Checklist for a Working Holiday Visa

I’ve been on a mission to drag as many people along with me to beautiful New Zealand next year as possible. I’ve gotten plenty of the “Oh, I wish!” comments, but a surprising amount of my friends are eyeing me seriously and pondering joining me on this crazy ride.

It’s all fun and games until they start asking me what they need to do. Honestly? I don’t know. I’m making this all up as I go along. So in part because of that, and in part because I’ve been handing out so many business cards as people ask how I’m going to keep in touch, I thought I’d write a list of what I’ve been up to for the last six months in case you want to come as well.

 

Step 1: Passport

Do you have a passport? When does it expire?

Part of the reason why I’m going this year is my passport expires in April 2019. By starting my visa in December of 2017, that gives me the entirety of the up-to-fifteen-months without having to worry about renewing my favorite document. I’ll have to leave a smidge early of the full timeframe, but as the US has consular representation in New Zealand, I only have to have one month left on my passport rather than the full 3-6 usually required.

If you don’t have a passport, you’re looking at gathering proof of citizenship and ID, passport pictures, filling out a form, sending in some money… It can take a few weeks or a few months, and this is vital to do before beginning the visa application process.

 

Step 2: Visa

https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-states-of-america-working-holiday-visa

Are you under 30? Do you have no dependents? Okay, sweet, that’s about it. I was kind of surprised when filling out the visa application at some of their questions. For example, apparently being in prison for four years is fine, just not five. Thus far, no one has asked me to prove that I have the $4000 (~$2700USD) nor the health insurance mandated by the visa. For the record, I do have both (and I’ll let you know if they stop me at the border to demand this information!)

The process took maybe 20 minutes to complete, and I got my acceptance three days later. From the date of acceptance, I have a year to show up in the country. My 12-month visa begins then, and I can enter and leave the country as many times as I want for the next year. If I’m working on farms, I can have a three-month extension.

 

Step 3: Plane ticket

I got lucky. I had trackers going from Denver and LA to Queenstown and Auckland (both GoogleFlights and SkyScanner). When Glenna and I went to NZ in 2014, our flight took us via Denver and I wanted to get back to visit my old haunts anyway. All combinations of these flights have hovered around $800-900 for a one-way ticket for the timeframe I wanted. In July, a mere two weeks after getting my visa, prices dropped to $600 for mid-December. February has tickets in the $600-700 range again, but forget getting down south for less than $1000 one way over Christmas and right in the heart of their summer if you’re buying more than six weeks out.

 

Step 4: Forcing the bank to work for you

I knew I was going to be spending a lot of money relatively quickly. I also have a good credit score and knew I could afford to take a couple of hits. I first applied for Bank of America’s Travel Rewards card, and with their signup bonus I was able to knock another $200 off my plane ticket. That’s right: my one-way ticket to New Zealand now only cost $400. I’ve also gotten the CapitalOne Venture card and now have enough points saved up from their signup bonus that if all goes wrong, I can fly home on points alone. My only regret is these both are Visa cards rather than have one as a MasterCard, but I doubt I’ll run into issues with that. I attempted to signup for a Barclaycard Arrival Plus, but they refuse to do business in Iowa: if you’re from literally any other state, you’ll be just fine and this looks like a fantastic card.

My priority in getting cards was to have no international transaction fees, a signup bonus, and no fees the first year.

The second thing I did was apply for Aspiration banking and close down my Wells Fargo checking. I have mostly worked for small businesses who don’t do direct deposit, and you have to keep a $1500 daily minimum balance (which I don’t like having that attached to a debit card) in order to avoid a $10/mo service fee. So signing up for an online bank that doesn’t have the fees served my purpose. I will be getting a New Zealand bank account per the conditions of my visa, but that way I’m not hemorrhaging money in the meantime.

 

Step 5: Starter Pack

https://www.workingholidaystarter.com/

Oh, man, this is something I wrestled with like mad! Is it WORTH spending money to have someone help me do something I can easily do myself? At the end of the day, I decided that especially after coming out of a super vulnerable year of settling my dad’s estate, I did want to have at the very least an emergency contact in New Zealand. Plus, three nights in a hostel, someone else organizing my meeting with the bank and helping me fill out paperwork for getting a tax ID number and making sure my resume is organized in a way that their job board will like? Oh! And they give me a SIM card for my unlocked phone. Sometimes it’s nice to start a new life on “easy” mode.

 

Step 6: Phone Problems

I met two travelers this summer who both extolled the virtues of having an unlocked phone. Show up in a new country, pop in a SIM, and you’re good to go. The first one was telling me how she used an iPhone, and with the iPhone X due to drop in October, I figured I could get an SE for relatively cheap…. NOPE. Fortunately, the second had been using a Moto while literally globetrotting and Amazon had a deal running the week after that conversation on that exact phone.

I needed to cancel my US phone plan and decide what to do with my phone number: after all, it’s attached to everything these days. Grocery stores, two-factor authentication, e-receipts from Square… I think at this point the phone number I’ve had for a decade is almost as tied to my identity as my social security card. There’s a few options out there that let you port your number to park it for a while – take a look around and see which one is best for your situation.

 

Step 7: Health Insurance, at home and abroad

https://orbitprotect.com/

As a US citizen, your visa is too short to allow you to be on the national healthcare system, so you need to buy your own insurance for your stint in New Zealand. I kept things simple and bought mine through the company the Starter Pack recommended – their prices seemed on par with the research I was doing for other travel/medical insurance in the country.

Meanwhile, in the US, I called my insurance provider and let them know I was leaving the country for over a year. They took care of canceling my policy effective January 1, 2018.

 

Step 8: What to do with my car?!?

Do I sell it? Trade it with my sister? If it is in storage do I take the wheels off and disconnect the battery? Do I leave insurance on it? Fortunately, my insurance agent has always rolled with my insane ideas pretty well and we spent a good amount of time talking over options. The car has more value to me as a transportation mode for when I return than it does monetarily. So, as my legal address is my mom’s home as well, I added her to my title and when I leave my insurance will drop to comp only. It will sit in the garage for the next year or so, and she has kindly agreed to once a month run the engine and get the fluids moving, then pull it out from the stall and put it back in so the tires aren’t resting in the same spot.

 

Step 9: Embassy

Now, I feel like at this point there’s enough electronic pathways that it should be obvious to the US government that I’m hanging out in a different country for a while. But more for my piece of mind than anything else, I signed up with “STEP” (Smart Travelers Enrollment Program). This was a five-minute form that lets the embassy in Wellington know that I’ll be spending the year there. If there’s a disaster (think, an earthquake in Christchurch or an accident that leaves me unconscious), they have my contact info in the country and my emergency contact in the US.

I have the embassy saved as a contact in my phone (which is attached to Google so I can access it anywhere), which means should something happen, I have their numbers for standard and emergency contact and their address.

 

Step 10: International Driver’s License

Some people choose to get a driver’s license in country. I may do that, honestly haven’t decided yet. But in the meantime, I went to my local AAA office for an international driver’s license. New Zealand doesn’t actually require this as my native license is in English, but if I should be wandering to different countries, I’d rather have it than not for the interim. It’s kind of a bulky document, and you need to have your US license with it for it to be valid.

 

Step 11: Copies, copies, copies!

I’ve had my passport stolen overseas before. That is not a fun experience, but fortunately the embassy is extremely efficient at taking care of citizens abroad. To make it EASIER for everyone involved, I have so many copies of everything. Copies of my visa, passport, driver’s license, health insurance – all scattered throughout my bags so that if one thing gets stolen I still have the information in other bags.

 

Step 12: Absentee voting

Hey, hey, hey! Your civic duty doesn’t end just because you’re spending one year abroad. As a “civilian voter abroad”, different states have different requirements. Iowa currently has a postcard system for federal absentee ballots – I’ll let you know how the whole process works once I have it officially sorted. Since Iowa just passed a voter ID law effective January 1, 2018, there’s a possibility that things will get complicated.

 

Step 13: The Ugly Stuff

We like to pretend we’re invincible at this young age. But since the reason I’m home to begin with was the unexpected death of my dad, I’ve spent a LOT of time with the attorney this year. He was the one who actually suggested appointing a Power of Attorney. Since I have a simple life, getting a boilerplate fiduciary and medical POA (and in my case, also a will) allowed me to give authority to my mom that if something should happen to me, she can take care of my estate and make the call on my medical decisions if I’m incapacitated. This was cheap and easy – literally, just a notary for the documents.

I also have all of my banking information and online presence in a sealed envelope left with my mom – again, should anything happen, she at least knows where to start. I have a very good working relationship with my family and trust her with this information: if that’s not the case for you, I’ve heard of programmers writing a dead man switch to send important information and instructions to a trusted source should they not log in for a certain stretch of time.

 

Step 14: Packing

I’m not quite “one-bagging” it, but pretty close. During the REI Garage Sale this year, I picked up a Traverse 65 pack. It’s one with supports that you can carry over a distance but also opens from both the top and front of the pack for ease of access. I’m using a few packing cubes to sort my clothes and have a small mess kit and a microfiber towel in the bottom of the bag. All said and done, the backpack weighs 29 pounds fully packed and I still think I’m bringing too much stuff. I also have a bag that counts as a personal item where I can carry my computer and clothes for the five days I’ll be hanging out in Denver. (Shoutout to my friend for letting me store my backpack in his downtown office rather than me dragging it around the city!) Since I’m going to attempt to follow the summer in New Zealand, I’m just bringing a fleece lined jacked – definitely cutting down on the bulk!

 

 

 

That’s about it, folks. There will eventually be a part two of this list describing adventures in transportation, living quarters, job hunting, and getting my ID number to allow me to work in the country. But since I don’t think anyone will be following me to the other side of the planet until at least April, we’ve all got time to let me tread through the waters first 😊

 

 

Posted in Changes, grief, Lessons, People, The Barista

living canvas

Bleary-eyed in the predawn darkness as I got ready for work, I caught sight of my new tattoo and shuddered into wakefulness. This piece, long anticipated, was now stuck on my body forever. The vivid ink taunted me, the black strokes glistening from my formerly unblemished skin. I was exposed, permanently opening myself up to lines of questioning I might not be willing to answer. I had tattooed my soul onto a living canvas and given permission to the world to ask probing questions.

 

Less than a year later, I got my second one.

 

Very few people have ever commented on my marked skin. Some look at the cyclic structure of the caffeine molecule on my arm and think I’m a scientist. Some wonder what the funny numbers on my leg are supposed to be. Most nod approvingly after hearing the elevator pitch and the conversation shifts, my small markings a mere aside in the greater world.

 

I sought after the ink, but watched it sit on my skin as though resting there. Absorbing it into part of me was a much longer, much more detached process. I know they are a part of me and I instantly rub sunscreen on them when I’m exposed, but nowadays I mostly let them be. I don’t stroke them absentmindedly during a movie, I don’t admire them in a mirror when I catch my reflection in a store. They simply are.

 

On rare occasions, someone will dig deeper. Probe just a bit further.

 

“Those coordinates – is that Denver?”

Surprised, I described how a little village in Europe which started my travels a decade prior was the actual location mapped on my calf.

“Ah, I was thinking west, not east…”

And then it moves on again, but this conversation is just a fraction more beautiful. Do you truly speak my language? Does this mean something to you, too?

 

I’m starting to realize grief is an awful lot like a tattoo.

MzQ1ODY2

Oh, yes, you know intellectually that you will lose someone important at some point in your life. But when it does happen, you wear it with anxiety and see your grief with every glance in the wrong direction. You feel as though it is the only thing others notice when they look your way: how can they not see this message written permanently in your eyes? Your shoulders must reflect the colors of loss, it must be impossible to ignore it!

 

But like the tattoo, it becomes a part of you. It never truly goes away. It just becomes a part of your reflection, as noticeable as the freckle by your eye or the bumps of your collar bone.

 

Oh, with time it will fade a bit. But you’ll still catch sight of it when you’re making dinner and the lump will gather in your throat. Some mornings it will seem so bright against your coffee that you can’t imagine how you didn’t notice it the day before. Sometimes weeks will pass before it pricks in your eyes and reminds you that it is still alive and well.

 

I wear my grief like my tattoos: easy to hide, but also easy to display. Not on purpose, like I did with the ink, but because that is where it chooses to lie. It chooses to wait for me to turn my wrist and remember how little sense it all makes. I am a living canvas, and I can’t hide from myself forever.

 

And oh, the conversations it generates. As with your tattoo, your grief will be reduced to pat answers. “Yes, he died. Thank you for your condolences, let’s move on, shall we?” 

 

Because you don’t know the stories. You’ve never heard of a riverbend in Poland, nor do you care. You don’t understand the marriage of art and science, nor do you care. You never knew the sparkle in his eyes of my renaissance man, nor do you care. You comment to fill the silence, and then it is over. There’s nothing wrong with that: they are my stories, after all.

 

But there are those rare moments where the conversation doesn’t stutter over my scars. Where instead you hear the message I’m trying to convey, and your eyes reflect the grief in my own. Your understanding helps me absorb it a little more into me: to accept it as something real rather than a nightmare someone else is living. 

 

You see my tattoos, both of ink and spirit. You understand me just a little bit more, in this permanent state of flux. You speak my language and understand me. And then we move on together.

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, People, Stories

back in a small town

I was crossing the street to go into the office and a car beeped its horn at me. Instead of cringing from a catcall, I waved back at my childhood neighbor.

I never thought I’d be back in a small town.

I thrive on adventure. I want to eat sushi, try Ethiopian again, satisfy my curry craving. I want to leave work and be on an airplane two hours later, the wind carrying me halfway across the country to spend a weekend with a friend. I want a half hour drive to bring me to a cultural center for a festival or a theatrical performance. I want to disappear into a national park for days at a time or wake up at a trailhead hours before dawn in hopes of summitting a peak for the sunrise.

Instead, a half hour drive gets me to the closest McDonalds. I need to drive yet another 15 minutes to get to a town where there’s a Walmart. It’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport that will get me out of the midwest, at least three to get to one that has a breath’s chance of a direct flight abroad. I now live in a town where checks are accepted and often Visa is not. The library doesn’t allow you to renew or reserve books online. I may not have been catcalled, but there’s already been a marriage proposal.

And on Sunday morning? I walk down main street and hear my footsteps ricochet back at me. Not a store is open, even the coffee shop. A pizza joint will open for lunch, a gas station has a few tables out for the farmers to sip their dark roast. But surrounding the main square, there’s silence.

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It’s the same world I left when I was 17. It’s the same world I was born into. And while so much has allowed time to pass it by, time has a way of catching up.

Mom used to read to my sister and me. I’d strain to listen in the car as she turned to the back seat to transport our minds into the world of Little Women or the Castle In The Attic.

Now it’s my turn.

As the day winds down and we tuck away check books and tax forms, it’s my time to pull my mother’s mind away from the mounds of estate paperwork. It’s my turn to read The Princess Bride and Jacob, Have I Loved. Sometimes she falls asleep, and I later recap what she missed. Sometimes I only finish a few pages, as we interrupt the world in the chapter to discuss the world in which we live. We talk about Dad. We talk about our relationships with our sisters. We talk about the Cramer clan, and how much I take after that side of the family.

Mom used to take care of me when I got sick. She’d tuck me in and bring me sprite and toast.

Now it’s my turn.

I bring her bowls and water, I rummage through the cupboards to find the appropriate medicine. I worry over her and beg her to rearrange her doctor’s appointment so I can accompany her.

Mom homeschooled me for a few years, teaching me that early foundation of reading ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. She and my dad explained the way the world works.

Now it’s my turn.

I sit with her in estate meetings and phone calls with businesses, taking notes, interrupting when needed and afterward explain to her any concepts she didn’t understand.

My world of adventure came grinding to a halt on November 19. My fast-paced city life of stories and people and passport stamps intertwined with high end coffee has been put on a backshelf while I try to help my family rebuild. In this time, I fiercely defend my mother, my sister, living life in a small town and tracking the sun around our big red barn.

Here is where I grew up, here is where I fled in search of my tribe, the people who spoke my language. My heart wants to vagabond, to explore the world with fervor. But I have a deeper purpose these days.

My first tribe was here. My parents always took care of me, my community always cheered me on.

Now it’s my turn.

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Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Love, Time, Wishes

simply

My blog is named “Simply Eliska”.

These days, it feels like nothing is quite so simple.

Several months ago, I told a friend Eliska represented my new identity after a very intense growing period, but that I felt like anything painful that I’d felt since I’d pushed beneath the surface to Allison. I then confided that it felt like Allison was becoming unburied, and I was going to have to deal with all that dolor at once.

Then my dad died.

Two weeks ago, I was moving away from Colorado. I called my dad to tell him I was at his sister’s place for the night. It was so brief, maybe 15 seconds. “Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

Two hours later, he was gone.

My dad lived for 22,725 days. I was alive for 9458 of them.

People keep telling me that we’re handling his death well.

I don’t really know why.

Sometimes I’m sitting still and realize that tears are slipping beneath my chin, unbidden. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes I feel nothing but absence. Sometimes I swear I hear Dad walking up the stairs.

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My Dad slipped from this earth without warning.

I’m at the first place I called home. And suddenly, I’m not “simply Eliska” anymore. There’s no one in this county who calls me by that name.

I’m not even “simply Allison” these days.

I’m a grieving daughter. I’m a sister. I’m part of 130 years of history on this farmstead. I’m pulling my family into the world I had crafted independently for myself – here, Mom, let me add you to my AAA. Here, everyone, let me put you on my cellphone plan instead. I’m the answer to “Where are you these days?” and one of the rare times where people are 100% genuine in asking “How are you doing?”

I am not a barista. I am not a nomad.

Not these days.

These days I’m the scribbler.

I scribble thank you notes. I scribble the dates and notes from meetings as we take note of how to settle the estate. I scribble text messages to friends who have gone through similar situations, asking, “Did you feel… Did you do… Why?” I scribbled my Dad’s eulogy. And now I scribble here. I scribble because right now, it feels like the only thing I actually know how to do. It feels like the only place that still makes sense. I scribble because in my words I can begin to process this new version of normal that I wasn’t prepared to enter.

There’s very little simple in my life right now.

I got into the tractor a few days ago, and when I turned it on, I heard music playing softly in the background. I turned it up.

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

I wept, as I listened to a song that felt like my Dad was reaching across eternity to talk to me one more time. I wept for all the conversations I wanted to have while I was home. I wept for all the things my Dad will never be a part of as my life continues forward, and all the things I wanted him to be there for. I wept for my Mom, that her other half who looked at her with such adoration and cared for her so gently, was gone. I wept. I weep.

I was so lucky.

I had a father for almost 26 years who loved his family, and whose kindness and intelligence spread throughout the community.

Yes.

I’m selfish.

I want my Dad back.

I want my parents to continue to live the American Dream.

I want to be a whole, complete family.

So today I scribble.

Today I write, and remember those 9000 days with my dad, and the stories of the years before I was born.

Life isn’t simple right now.

But I’m going to be simply Allison, the farmer’s daughter.

“Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

 

 

Posted in Changes, Current Events, feminism, Growing Up, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, People, Time, Work

Activism: A Response

My original point in writing these blog posts was to stretch myself. I’ve learned a few things this week. The first and last three hundred words are the easiest, it’s the four hundred in between that have me dawdling and struggling. I don’t know how to not write from experience, even if that experience is second hand. And, to no surprise at all, writing is therapy for me.

I’ve always been an external processor. Whether it was talking to my mom at night before I went to bed, texting my best friend when something happened, writing in a diary, or ingesting far too much caffeine pondering the wonders of the universe during college, I need to say things out loud (or write them) to finally to put order to my thoughts.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing over the last thirty hours.

I sat in a coffee shop last night and found myself ugly crying in public as I wrote an email. The extent of the emotion was probably due to the fact I was running on three hours of sleep, but even this morning, well-rested, I welled up as I read the comments rampant across my social media.

It would probably be much healthier for me if I stepped away from the internet for a few days. But I can’t, because I feel like I have a job to do.

I feel like the next four years are going to be so much more on myself and my compatriots. Perhaps would should have realized the gravity of our individual influence long before this, but now we can take up our mantle.

I think about my Niblet. I think about my cousins. I think about the children starting elementary school.

I want you to grow up in a better world.

I want to teach you to not be afraid.

I want to teach you to be curious and full of wonder.

I want you to see someone who has a different skin color and to reach out and say, “Play with me?”

I want you to see two men or two women holding hands, and not think that it is shameful.

I want you to see a hijab or turban and want to ask questions, not alert security.

I want you to eat well and exercise, I want you to be healthy. But when you see someone who is skinnier than you or fatter than you, I want you to see their soul, not their body.

l want you to make eye contact with the homeless, and extend humanity to them.

I want you to listen to the words of the older generations and learn from them.

I want you to befriend the person who doesn’t speak your language, and use your actions to communicate. (Oh, dear Zuzka, even eight years later, I’m still grateful for your kindness when I arrived in a foreign country, lonely and afraid.)

I want you to not be afraid of different opinions, but to realize you can ask questions without changing your position.

I want you to open your eyes to the needs around you, to defend the defenseless. I want you to have your arms be a safe haven against abuse, against grief, against ignorance.

I want you to turn off your lights, to reuse your bags, to recycle your trash, to bike instead of drive.

I want you to donate your books, and to not shame those who cannot read.

As an adult, I want to do the same. I want to reach out to you in love. I want to donate my limited dollars to organizations in need. I want to 
be an advocate, a safe haven, a source of justice. I want to buy products from ethical, sustainable companies. I want to use my voice to reach out through the darkness, and my words to encourage and strengthen.

Do you remember that the Statue of Liberty is inscribed with a part of a poem?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Dear America, let us remember this. Let us remember that it is our responsibility to teach our children. It is our community. It is our planet.

Study constitutional law. Study business law. Study economics. Ask questions.

This world can be an ugly place. This world can also be a beautiful one. 

It’s time to be an activist. It’s time to use your voice… and your dollars.

Peace. Love. Coffee.

Posted in Changes, Current Events, Dating, Lessons from the Church, NaNoWriMo, People, Stories, Time

play the game (for “Rochelle”)

How am I supposed to live without you
How am I supposed to carry on
When all that I’ve been livin’ for is gone

Rochelle angrily pounded the space bar, forcing the YouTube clip to stop Michael Bolton’s crooning. Finding the music popular from when she was born was supposed to be a distraction, not something to force her back into melancholy.

She let her head fall back on the lovesac and watched the fan blades spin lazily. One glow in the dark star that had held on defiantly to a wobbly blade for over a year traced a white streak in her vision. She wondered what had brought her to this moment.

You need everyone’s eyes just to feel seen behind your make up. Nobody knows who you even are. Who do you think that you are?

She pursed her lips ironically and bounced her head in time to Mike Posner’s slightly more modern tune. She thought back to her early college years, dancing with her roommate around their apartment with cats darting between their feet and candles glowing all around the kitchen. “It’s probably because you think you’re COOLER THAN ME!” They’d sing at the top of their lungs.

I’m gonna drop some cash, only got twenty dollas in my pocket

Macklemore’s boom resonated through her chest. Was that the time when things started to change? Was that when she started to get angry at everyone she had called friend for the last four years?

Hellooooooo, it’s me…

She couldn’t do it. She slammed her laptop closed on Adele’s sepia gas stovetop.

The boy. So brief, so wild, so beautiful. He was the one that got too close when she was about to shatter. He was the one that found her right as all the years of hiding who she was, what she really believed, came bubbling to the surface. He was the one who stepped into her world right at the wrong moment.

She hated him.

She loved him.

He wasn’t enough for her, she was too much for him. These opposites pulled each other into a circle of gravity, whirling around each other, the attraction becoming too much until they collided with cosmic power.

And now all she had left was a black hole.

She was cold.

The new men who filled her bed were placeholders. She pushed them out her door at three a.m. and collapsed in a drunken stupor. When morning came, she would brew herself a full pot of Folgers and debate pouring Bailey’s in each cup. She would sit at her table, slouching over the steam and inhale the scent of coffee while she waited for it to cool. She would delete the texts from the night before, praying that by deleting the electronic record she could delete the memories.

She’d drag herself to class, hair clipped back, make up on point, a tasteful scarf wrapped to cover the hickey her latest lover had left. She’d make small talk with coworkers, and beg forgiveness for not joining them after shift for a drink. Rochelle would return home, pulling her cat into her lap.

“Love me,” she’d tell it, stroking it’s soft fur. The cat would glower and struggle away from her grasp, finding a ball of paper on the floor to bat around. She’d pull out her phone and find the app, the orange flame tempting her. Left, left, left, right, left, left, left, right, MATCH. Keep swiping. Left, left, right, left, James has sent you a message. James it was.

Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
‘Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

Taylor, Taylor, Rochelle sighed to herself. I’m dying to see how this one ends, too.

She wondered where it had all gone wrong – or had it always been wrong? She thought of her sister. The one who had always come into her room, stolen her things, touched her… Rochelle shuddered at the memory of her sister. Their mother had never believed Rochelle, and even now couldn’t understand why she refused to be in the same room, why she refused to forgive her sister.

She thought of the church she’d found herself a part of. She thought of how she’d changed for them, dying her hair back to it’s natural color after the black started to grow out instead of keeping it rebellious. She thought of how she moved in with them, reading her bible and striving to learn the lingo, to say all the right things and volunteer with them and be at the church every time the doors were open. She thought about how when she tried to open up, to share what was really going on, how Emily would shift uncomfortably and offer to pray for Rochelle, or how Miranda would go off on some Christianese rant. One day she called her out on that. “What does that even MEAN, Miranda? Do you even know what that MEANS?”

She’d run away, moving into an apartment in another city with Emily’s sister. Rochelle learned very quickly that Amy was even worse, and when they tried to have conversations about current events, it would quickly devolve into nonsense, and Rochelle would storm away trying desperately not to scream about how stupid she found her roommate.

All her friends were getting married. The three-three-nine method, Rochelle thought wryly. Single for 23 years, then “court” for three months, engaged for three months, and nine months later… hello family. Was there no such thing as a healthy friendship one-on-one with boys? Apparently not, she muttered. It’s marriage or running away and doing exactly what I’m doing. That’s it.

She lived alone now. After an entire lease of fighting and anger, and oh that stupid election, how could Amy actually believe that godawful candidate was genuinely a good human being? She’d finally escaped. She was alone. Was it better? Was she going to be free?

They say I’ll never be the poster type, but they don’t make posters of my kind of life.

She picked back up her phone, Elle King demanding freedom in the background, and kept swiping, pushing the thoughts of That Boy further and further into the abyss.


“Write a story for me?” My friend texted me. “I don’t care if it’s real or fictional.”

This is for you, love.

Posted in Changes, Family, Home, Travel

there’s no place like home

“Are you sure you don’t need another cup of coffee?” Nick asked as we hugged goodbye.

I shook my head with embarrassment. “I’m actually gonna grab something at Casey’s. I really want to get some breakfast pizza.”

My friend stared at me in astonishment. “Wait,” he asked me from his Omaha front stoop, “You don’t have Casey’s in Colorado?”

I laughed at my friend, and crossed the border into culture shock.

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I’m from Iowa. I’ve spent 22 of my almost 26 years in this state. Yet for the first time, I felt like a stranger.

I haven’t used a GPS in Des Moines in years, but I found my heart skipping a beat as 235 weaved. Is this how I get to my sister’s place? I thought the road split here… maybe not?

Feeling disoriented, I called my mom to ask her if she needed me to pick anything up before heading back to our farm. List in hand, I stepped into Hy-Vee and gasped at how high the ceilings soared and far the grocery aisles sprawled. I next went into Walmart – good, old, familiar Walmart, just like in Colorado – and nearly toppled over a beer display. It took me several seconds to remember that alcohol can be sold outside of liquor stores in this state.

The longest that I’d been away from home prior to this stretch was the 10 months I lived in Slovakia. This time, it’s been 17 months. Much can change, much can stay the same.

I’m now curled up in the farmhouse where I grew up – the farmhouse that I haven’t lived in for a decade. My parents are out in the fields, and I’ll join my dad in the combine soon. Right now, I’m just enjoying the silence.

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When I left Iowa almost two years ago, I was heartbroken. My dream job had been ripped from my fingers by city politics, and I was fleeing to the mountains. Perhaps my unrequited love affair with Denver was my rebound – I fell head over heels for the city in the blink of an eye. So now it’s time to leave Colorado, to seek my fortune in the great, wide world.

While my deepest self is a nomad, a city-dweller, a wanderer, I can never shake those deep roots: I am a farmer’s daughter.

It’s funny now. Wherever I travel, this is home. Brands that I grew up with that I can’t find anywhere else in the world. Endless, uninterrupted horizons for incredible sunrises and sunsets. The refreshing scent of corn husks being harvested, sometimes interspersed with the not-nearly-as-pleasant scent of manure from the chicken and hog confinements. The furniture has changed, but my mom still lines the walls with cards and pictures from the friends she writes on every birthday. It’s several generations of kittens later, but they still mew on the front stoop, begging for attention – and I can guarantee our family’s four-note whistle will still bring them running for food.

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It’s a much slower pace than I’m used to. Driving through Des Moines felt like going through a one-stoplight town – I became the Texas driver that we grumble about in Denver. But it’s refreshing, clean, and beautiful.

I know it’s not forever, being back.

But right now, as confusing, as wild, as different as it is? There’s no place like home.

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Bonnie and Clyde, Changes, Stories, Time, Vagabonding

independence day

The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4. As of this year, I have my own Independence Day: July 3.

That was the day Ben told me he was moving back to Michigan. My favorite colleague, my trainer, my friend. I told him he wasn’t allowed to drop off the face of the earth, and we started sharing our plans for the future. Me, leaving Denver in a year to start buying one-way tickets and doing seasonal work. Him, live in Michigan for a year and start a business.

We should take a road trip, we decided. A week of wandering.

Erick, our mutual friend, joined the conversation.

No, we decided. It’ll be longer than that. Let’s make it the “Great American Road Trip”!

It was all still humor. All still a half formed dream that would never come to fruition.

I don’t remember who said it first, but someone suggested, “Let’s buy a bus!”

We started looking it up.

The joking stopped.

“Wait, are we really doing this?”

We awkwardly shook hands as a trio. Yes, yes I think we are.

The last two months have flown by. We incorporated Ben’s business, got a joint phone plan, talked to insurance agents, bought an RV, and drank a lot of tea.

Today, I hugged Ben tightly as he climbed into our Breaking Bad-eque RV and began his nomadic trek to Michigan.

I’m not sharing this article with my ten followers on Facebook. I’m allowing it to be open, published. The world can see it if they look hard enough. But my soul is quiet right now as preparations begin in earnest for me to begin vagabonding.

The story will be here. Someday in the future, I want to be able to look back and see what I was thinking. See the journey. But keep it quiet from my audience, while the trepidation still lingers in the shadows.

I will go. I will nomad. I will vagabond.

But while those plans form, while states separate us, I will remember it here in the silence.

Because I know it’s real: I have my independence day.

Posted in Changes, Lessons, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Life out of season

I loved Denver – she was just my type.

In appearances, the mountains glistened, the city sprawled, the old became new. In personality, there were a thousand places to go, craft scenes to explore, people to meet. In soul, she was vibrant and alive and six hours from everywhere.

No wonder it was so easy to fall in love – Denver was just my type.

But something was never quite right. Long timers warned me. She’s changed, they said. I didn’t care.

But Denver didn’t love me back. Oh, we were friends, certainly. She took me along for the ride. But the lust was never reciprocated. I was one of many to court her, but in the end she chose another.

She was the heartbeat of Europe with the familiar shoes of Iowa and an exotic note all her own.

She fought me. Threw housing problems, ill-fitting jobs, broken relationships, car theft and exorbitant prices my way. I ignored these signs. I had friends! I had adventures! Surely, we were meant to be, Denver and me.

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

But then, one day, as dreams began to form again, I looked at the dart I’d thrown on a map. I looked at Denver. And I realized with sadness that she didn’t love me back. She’d never given herself to me as I had to her.

The suffocation of the unrequited love affair began. I felt our connection crumbling. I was a barnacle clinging to her rather than a lobster paired for life with this beloved city. Trapped, I felt the urge to flee. What now? Where do I go from here?

I loved Denver. She was just my type.