Posted in Backyard Tourism, People, Vagabonding, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Get Amongst It

This afternoon, I had lunch with my mother’s banker’s husband’s parents. Yesterday I had coffee with my pen pal’s pen pal. Last week I explored with a gal I lived near my freshman year of college and in different countries ever since. Last month I parked in my former coworker’s cousin’s friend’s partner’s driveway.

Travel gets complicated quickly, but once again, solo travel you are only alone if you want to be. Anymore, I shrug at the six degrees of separation: each of these strange connections is now my own first degree again and the world spins tighter and connections weave more intimately.

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Nina, who after we crisscrossed 21 countries, finally met me outside of the same coffee shop in Des Moines we always went to when we were back home.

Winter is creeping up the islands, and I’ve migrated into the latest phase of my working holiday. Get amongst it, the Kiwi’s call. But the mountains are a bit foreboding in the back of a van, so instead, I’ve gotten amongst them. I signed up for a housesitting website and have started flitting across the north island, staying snug next to the fire with dogs and cats and chickens, sipping on local wine and trying to sort out what I’ll be doing when the other half (!?!) of this year is finished. Every few weeks, I find myself sitting at a new table, talking with families who are leaving their homes in my care. In Auckland, I worked almost exclusively with Kiwis instead of backpackers and explored how they lived their lives and what their concerns were about their own country and their place in the world. I had to make an intentional effort to be okay to be still: my time in New Zealand is so short and there’s so many places to see that I struggled with not going out an exploring much. After all, it’s a bit like Neverland here:

Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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Cathedral Cove at sunrise. It was worth waiting for a clear day in order to make the quick hike in the cold early morning. There was definitely a yoga-grammer who had camped overnight at the beach and was getting perfect shots on this perfect morning.

Months ago, I met a hitchhiker with a tattoo that ingrained itself into my memory. We talked about it for several hours as we traversed in the same direction and discussed the philosophy behind it. It read simply, “I can’t wait for right now.” To be so close to so many adventures and not be able to go on them while I saved up cash, I had to reframe my thought process. Right now is just as beautiful and good and surprising as Tomorrow in That Other Place. Surrounded by real people living real lives and having to crawl into the nooks and crannies where the locals find their culture instead of where Lonely Planet tells tourists to go was a challenge and a gift. That mantra allows for the excitement of adventure to bubble up in the mundane. It allows all the hopes of the future and warmth of the past to be held in this moment, a gem in time to be cherished and loved and to overflow. It allows the good and the bad to hold its place, the past and the future to hold their time. It allows for this moment to be wonderful and terrible and all piled up into itself.

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Oh, and one of my housesits was on a dairy farm. These calves are 6-10 weeks old. 

In this space, I feel strange. Housesitting is one of the rare occurrences that is incredibly mutually beneficial: the perfect barter where no money changes hands. Nobody loses, both parties win. I am given shelter, wifi, laundry, and hot showers. They, in turn, have someone keeping an eye on their home and don’t have to put up the cost of boarding their pets. It sounds so simple, but I can’t get over how much the homeowners thank me. In a country where weekly rent is easily monthly rent in Denver, it is they who give me a free roof over my head, but they thank me profusely for cuddling their dogs while they’re away?! I mean, I adore Goldie, but she is just a thin shell against the winter rains and near-freezing temperatures and I’m not a fan of cooking in the wind. So it is I who feel like the winner, being trusted with a near-stranger’s home as my base in each region. Each time I fall asleep in a new house, I’m grateful and the excitement wells up in me. I can’t wait for right now.

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You’d never realize this picture of serenity had cars drag racing on the other side of the gully and a busy park just behind me.

I’m loving traveling in the offseason, to boot. I’ve become acutely aware of the Instagrammer, and know that I’m guilty of it myself. In so many places I’ve wandered, I’ve been surrounded by dozens of people, each scrambling to the tiny plot of space where their friend can snap a picture that makes it look like she alone is on top of the mountain, and he just happened to be doing yoga on the beach at sunrise, and their contemplation wasn’t interrupted by the shutter click in that ‘candid’ shot or the jostling busload of tourists who just arrived. We all pretend we’re here alone when the reality is much busier and much louder than we care to admit. So these few, precious months when the weather is lousy and school is in session and normal people are at work, I am able to slip away and feel like I can breathe. Instead of seventy people surrounding me, there’s fewer than a dozen braving the wind and rain. We shiver together in solidarity as we admire the rocks that carry a stark beauty even though they aren’t bathed in golden light.

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Piha Beach. I’ve seen breathtaking photos from my friends at sunset, but the day I went was like many Auckland days: rain.

It is strange, it is beautiful. New Zealand holds me tighter as together we spin around on this crazy globe, picking up the pieces of stories that tie them together. This year is already half gone, yet it’s only just begun.

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Huka Falls, where the water flows fast enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. The air was as chilly as the water looks.

 

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Posted in The Barista, Vagabonding, Work, Working Holiday

Unhurried

As humans, we seem to go to more effort to avoid trouble and pain than we do to make things better.

-“The Yes Man” by Danny Wallace

I’m accustomed to living by the clock and to living by the rules.

5:45 alarms, 10 o’clock meetings, drinks at 7. A calendar perpetually reminding me where I ought to be and when, a text message exchange cementing plans. GPS leads me where my mental map isn’t fleshed out, google is at my fingertips to answer any question, if there’s a problem the answer is only a phone call away. Always putting out fires, a life of control where the lack thereof is cause for panic and anxiety.

It doesn’t work that way for a working holidayer.

I’m not convinced it works that way for all of New Zealand.

When I walked into my first shift for my first international position, my preconceptions of what the head of housekeeping ought to be like were shattered. A tiny woman was beaming, welcoming all the temp staff and seemed entirely unconcerned that half of us didn’t have the foggiest idea what we were doing. I was shuffled off with an equally blasé leader to start cleaning rooms. She was more interested in telling me about her new year’s celebrations with her grandchildren and peppering me with questions about Goldie than she was with making sure I knew how to properly fold the bedsheets and which materials to use for dusting.

Instead of treading on eggshells wondering which way is up I feel as though there are no wrong turns here, no rules even exist for me to break.

For the first time in my life, absolutely nothing matters. I wake and sleep and wander as a whim strikes me. The sun greets me as it rises, or fills Goldie with a greenhouse effect to remind me to continue exploring. I examine paper maps and trace routes with my finger, still unsure how to gauge the time it would take: is this a twenty-minute drive, or two hours? I pay it no mind: no one is counting on me on the other end to arrive at a certain moment. Goldie is my turtle shell as I carry my home with me everywhere, and leave her at the fringes of the city while my feet carry me everywhere else.

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It wasn’t all that long ago that my daily goal was 8000 steps per day. I don’t even feel as though I’m walking much, but there is too much to see to stay still.

For the second time in my life, I’m not entirely sure where to put my body. When Dad died and I found myself living on the farm, I was confused how to live without a plan. What do I do with my feet? I think I ought to put me here for the moment. My mind was racing through mud, but my body was just kind of in the way. Where do I tether my flesh while my spirit absorbs the beauty around me?

 

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A tree. I can tether myself to the first tree I’ve climbed in… a decade? More?

These days, I still don’t entirely know where I ought to drag my body to catch up with my mind, but I’m in no rush. This entire world is unhurried.

I pick up hitchhikers and ferry them onward, often never learning their name as we glide back into the rhythm of the two-lane road and wind through the mountains. Instead we share where we’ve come from, where we’re going next. They tell me how they’ve only had to wait a few minutes to be picked up every time they’ve stuck out their thumb unless they’re in a pair. I tell them my hitchhiker notebook is beneath their feet and I ask them to sign it. And just like that, they’re gone again.

My heavy bills for the year are already paid, small enough to be done in advance and leave me free to wander. I just need to work enough to pay for the daily missives: a night in the campground, a gym membership (and shower!), petrol for Goldie, a bit of food. I’m not tied to any one place, any one job out of fear of not being able to pay for my survival. I can fill in temporary help wanted positions, work part-time, and spend the time so free wandering among the trees and rivers and stones and oceans. There is so much space, so much time, and so many more people seem ready to accept life as it comes rather than trying to force it to bend to their whims.

I’m in New Zealand, and the world is my oyster. Where shall the wind blow me next?

 

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The Earnslaw making her way back to Queenstown
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I’m not convinced all of these are pure New Zealand, but who am I to argue with wall art?

 

Posted in Something New, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Apparently buying a car doesn’t have to be difficult

July 2016, my friends and I started dreaming about starting our own business.

Well, no, actually.

We started dreaming about buying a bus and traveling around the United States in it, and we figured we should probably have a way to support ourselves while doing that.

After a quick discussion with my insurance agent, we bought a 1976 Class C RV instead.

We didn’t start the business.

The RV now sits somewhere in Michigan, and I’m sitting in Hokitika, New Zealand instead.

Tonight I splurged on a budget hotel and have thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower and a flush toilet on a gloomy New Year’s Eve. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping the rain stops and I can head down to the beach for a bonfire to ring in 2018. But even if it doesn’t clear up, in the morning I’ll climb back into my brand new old Toyota Estima named Goldie.

 

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Goldie was the name she came with. I meant to change it, but it suits her.

 

I’m not living in a bus, or in a Breaking Bad motorhome. I’m living in a backpacker minivan. The couple before me pulled out her seats and installed a bedframe and foam mats with storage room underneath for my clothes. Because it’s New Zealand, and there’s an entire culture built up around buying and selling fully-furnished campers for a year of travel, she also came stocked with a table (who knew how useful that would be?!?), cutlery and a tea kettle, a gas stove, and the most darling blue curtains to give me privacy at night. Also, can we talk about how easy it is to purchase a vehicle here? A piece of paper to the post office to put the registration in my name, a quick use of my AAA membership to buy discounted car insurance in a country that doesn’t require it, and BAM. She’s all mine!

I’m quite enjoying the magic of being a proper backpacker. I’ve picked up half a dozen hitchhikers in the last two weeks while traversing Southland and the West Coast (and today decided I really need to get a notebook for them to sign and write which country they’re from). This morning, I accidentally bought a latte that had no espresso in it, so when I pulled into Pancake Rocks I set about making myself a French Press (by the way, thanks for the camper press, Glenna! I’ve gotten so much use out of that old birthday present!). Sadly, I couldn’t find my lighter for the stove to boil the water. No worries, just pop over to the car next to me and ask the gal rolling a cigarette to borrow her lighter in exchange for some coffee. A few minutes later, we looked a bit like the start of a joke: an American girl, German girl, Kiwi guy, and French guy huddled under the back door of a van in the pouring rain while making coffee…

 

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Hardly even the first time that has happened! See here travelers in their natural habitat: huddled over maps with complete strangers, swapping stories of their discoveries. 

 

We all started laughing about the impracticality of being a 21st-century traveler in this country: there is hardly any signal! Sure, we have apps galore for finding places to freedom camp or communicating with our friends and family. But it’s completely useless when you can’t get a text message out to another New Zealand number, let alone access data beyond “H”. I think I’ve seen 3G a total of three times in two weeks, and 4G only once: mountains and tiny towns scattered throughout the countryside make physical maps and a willingness to pull off the side of the road for an attraction instead of forcing a plan the way to go.

And it’s not as though I have much choice at the moment. While I do have a perfectly valid visa, the Christmas holiday means that my tax number is a smidgen slower than usual. I could technically work if some employer were willing to either withhold pay or take out double the amount of taxes. But why? Everyone and their neighbor is hiring as soon as I’m legally able. For now, this island is mine to explore. I drink in her beauty with every breath and listen to the stories of Maui building Aotearoa.

 

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Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) on the, er, Wet Coast. The sun tries so hard, but the greenery does come at a price just off the Tasman Sea.

 

Besides, Goldie and I are just getting to know each other. She has side doors that occasionally refuse to unlock, and I have to keep reminding myself that around every mountain curve there could be another one-lane bridge where I need to give way. She’s a kind old soul, teaching me to drive on the left side of the road and giving me shelter at night. We find places to freedom camp, or as needed pay $20 for a place to park with a shower and proper kitchen. Much cheaper than a hostel, and in the long run cheaper than renting a room by the week. She chugs along merrily as we zip along the only road on the west coast (seriously: not even the scenic route. The MAIN road winds through mountains and along the Tasman Sea). The speed limit is 100km, but we rarely are on a stretch of road straight enough or long enough to even get to 80km. So we wander, taking in the scenery that belongs more in a fantasy novel than real life.

Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.

 

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Morning comes bright and early with Goldie’s curtains

 

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Fox Glacier… the black to the left of center is ice. More of the glacier is hidden behind the cloud cover.

 

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Hunt’s Beach – sometimes the sun does shine! Tasman Sea to the left and probably Aoraki National Park mountains on the right.

 

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If only they would stay behind the gate at Gunn’s camp… Sandflies: mosquito’s evil twin.

 

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A Backpacker Birthday: My 27th year came into being with champagne in my finest plasticware and advanced ramen noodles.

 

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Kiwi bird prints? Maybe maybe maybe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, 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, 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.

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Growing Up, Languages, People, Snapshot, Stories, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Soul Wide Awake

I know you don’t mean to insult me when you call it a vacation. But I don’t think you realize how wrong that word is.

A vacation is an escape from reality – relaxation, scheduled time to recharge. A vacation has hotels booked, tours planned, beaches chosen.

This is not a vacation.

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I am not escaping from reality – I’m finding it. My soul, at rest in the world of money and responsibilities, stretches and swells here. It fits my body perfectly instead of wearing my skin like a hand-me-down coat: not uncomfortable, but ill-fitting and not my style.

My plans are but a vague outline, often changing on a whim as a passerby says, “We’re going here, want to come?” I stay in a 12-bunk dorm, forgoing privacy and pray the locks hold on the cabinet where I’ve stashed my passport. I dine on street food and cook pasta leftover from a long departed traveler – that is, if the whirlwind of the day reminds me to eat at all.

I wear blisters on my feet with pride as my legs ache from getting lost all day in an unfamiliar city. I sneak into quiet streets to consult my map and compass as to not draw attention to my foreigner status, and curse my body’s need for sleep.

I listen to the cadence of a new language swirl around me and stare at signs, struggling to decipher their meaning. I cringe in shame when a hostel worker or airline employee glances at my American passport and immediately switches to English for my benefit.

You think this is a vacation?

No.

 

 

This is travel.

For now, I become she who has been hidden since my last journey into the unknown.

I become she who feels more intensely, sees in brighter colors, and smells the universe each morning. I live with abandon and belong exactly where I am.

I am she who is confident, beautiful, fearless, strong, and fierce. I am she who is curious, radiant, defiant, wild, laughing, and free. I am she who holds her arms open to the world and says, “Here I am! Give me the best you have!”

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My soul is wide awake, and every moment is a precious gift.

And then I return.

Back to the world of routine. Of bills and schedules and putting gas in my car. Of small talk and appointments and wearing a path in the sidewalk I tread each day.

In the traditional world, a groove becomes a rut, and I soon look up from the bottom with fear and trepidation building.

“I can’t leave this,” I tell myself. “I’m too afraid. This isn’t fun, but it’s comfortable. This isn’t right, but at least I know where I’m sleeping and how to get around. I’m afraid to go again. I should stay where it’s safe.”

But that tiny spark that can’t be put out whispers to me, “You must go.”

You think I’m going on vacation?

No.

This is breathing.

This is living the best version of me.

This is seeing my soul wide awake.

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Published on Thought Catalog on October 26, 2017

Posted in Changes, Lessons, People, Stories, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work

the worst of both worlds

Yesterday, I met the person I want to be when I grow up.

Travelers and nine-to-fivers both, you make me feel guilty.

To the travelers, I am too stable. I own a car, have Netflix, don’t work a miserable job that pays through the roof. I have a lease and insurance and own a few pieces of furniture. It is difficult for me to drop everything in a heartbeat and leave for months at a time.

To the the more traditional, I am too reckless. I have no desire to own my own business or own a house. I’d rather spend money on plane tickets than a bigger apartment, on weekend getaways to another state than an all-inclusive resort.

But yesterday, I met the one that falls halfway between the two worlds. She works a high-paying job that she really likes. She travels all over the globe 2-3 weeks out of the year and takes weekend getaways. And she’s planning her life so that she can retire young and spend her fifties and beyond exploring.

I want to be like her. I want to see the world on my terms, and not because it’s a methodology someone else decided was the “right” way to do things.

And in the meantime, my soul is getting awfully tired of meeting travelers.

I love them. When we meet, my heart leaps with the instant bond of the road. We become friends within minutes, kindred spirits within hours. You’re the ones I call and say, “I’m leaving in an hour, do you want to come?” You’re the ones who draw people to yourselves, and when we all meet in some strange room we dance and sing and love. You’re a part of something bigger, and I feel as though my world expands every time we speak.

And just like that, you’re gone.

You’re a spark. A flame. You burn brightly and beautifully and you make life so much more colorful. And then you’re gone.

“It’s just a new couch to stay on!” you reassure me.

I have many couches.

“It’s an excuse to go to another city/state/country!” you remind me.

I need no excuse.

“I can’t stay here,” you sigh.

I know.

I know you can’t. I know I can’t keep you. I know the same feeling of being trapped, drowning in the sea of tradition and regulation and normalcy. I know the itch of needing to find something new, go somewhere different, do something strange. I know the agony of when a groove becomes a rut. I know the joy of the new, the delight of the change, the thrill of the chase.

I know.

But the constant fluctuation is wearing. When I stay still and you all spin around me, a kaleidoscope of conversations and adventures and traditions. And then I lose you. And my world loses just a little bit of color.

I wonder if it’s worth it.

Is it worth it to fight to find you, to enjoy the hours and days? Is it worth it to enrich each others lives, only to break apart again? Is the pain worth it?

And once again, I’m trapped in the middle. As a traveler, the answer is always yes. For a normal, functioning member of society, the answer is not so simple. I’m constantly seeking out new connections and new friends, and constantly having my heart broken as they leave to continue out in the great wide world.

Worth is a deep, personal question.

Is it worth it?

 

 

Posted in Changes, Travel, Work

Tales of a Flatlander

West is the affinity of the journeyer.

“Go west, young man.”

“If you care to find me, look to the western sky.”

And now, staring westward at the Rocky Mountain front range every day as I leave work, watching them grow and shift and define themselves as I race towards home.

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Yeah, I live here 🙂

I’ve started my new job, playing on a new machine, mind racing as I try to think of how to rearrange everything to be efficient. It’s not so much a barista job as a canteen that happens to have an espresso bar, so there’s a mental shift I’m having to work through. I’m going to be working alone, at least to start with. Tomorrow is my first solo day, so wish me luck balancing rushes and dead times!

My roommates are pretty awesome. Husband, wife, and 21-month-old redheaded munchkin do for very interesting evenings make! Lauren and I painted together last night, so I’ll let you make your own assumptions on what else we have in common… It’s been so much fun to come home and have easy conversation in a new city.

I’m stepping up to this new season, ready to begin again.

Iowa City was hard.

The last few months in the town I loved were painful, filled with anger and resentment that my sanctuary was being ripped from me for no better reason than, “Because I said so.” Filled with grief as I watched my friends, my baristas, my bossman, my regulars, all losing their home away from home. Filled with anxiety as l stepped into the unknown with no plans of returning to the familiar.

I left Silicon Prairie and fled to the shelter of the mountains.

I left the safety of the home I had carved out with blood, sweat, and many tears.

I fled to a city I’d barely glimpsed at once before, I found myself in a home where I already belong.

It’s a surprising world, but it’s mine.

It’s like when I arrived in Poland the first time.

It’s like when I watched Europe pass through the train windows.

Goldilocks and Baby Bear: it’s just right.

Posted in Changes, Musing, People, Stories, Time, Work

136 South Dubuque Street

You may have heard by now the sad news: As of November 1, May’s Cafe and the Wedge Downtown will be naught but a beautiful memory. Just as I accepted that I was going to be here for two years, reality burst my glorious bubble. I knew I would leave some day, but I expected it to be on my terms. May’s was always just supposed to be there, with or without me.

I transferred to the University of Iowa as a junior. I was lonely, lost, and doubting that I would ever make a home in this city of 100,000 citizens and students.

This is my fourth August in this city, and I would consider myself as local as one can be without actually being born here.

I’ve watched Greta grow from a freshman to a senior. Watched the benches in the ped mall be painted and repainted. Listened to the debate about the validity of tree scarves when there are so many homeless people without. I’ve taken pictures with Herky, applauded local theater troupes, attended folk concerts, volunteered at the ReStore. The faces of Iowa City started to change: a mass of strangers became a blend of friends. I thesised, I graduated, and I became one of the rare ones to stay in this transient town.

Through the last four years, classes have changed, friends have moved, priorities have shifted, my address changed. The only constant: 136 South Dubuque Street. A little coffee shop in the middle of the ped mall: patron, barista, manager.

136 South Dubuque Street.

Capanna taught me to make coffee.
May’s Cafe taught me to appreciate it.

Capanna taught me to hide my clumsiness.
May’s Cafe taught me to (mostly) overcome it.

Capanna taught me to build relationships with people I saw for 45 seconds every day.
May’s Cafe taught me to keep a smile on my face when people were treating me like subhuman for the third day in a row.
(By the way, the regular patronage of 136 South Dubuque is unreal. People are so genuine, so kind. 98% of our customers are either neutral or fantastic. We are human beings at my shop.)

Capanna taught me to problem solve for myself.
May’s Cafe taught me to troubleshoot for other people.

Capanna taught me to listen to people smarter than myself.
May’s Cafe taught me how to search out the answers when all the smarter people had left.

136 South Dubuque Street.
Two cafes.
My story.

I’ve poured my soul into this shop. As a full time student, I would work here 20-30 hours a week, then study or hang out with friends another 10-15 hours. I was proud to be part of the transition team from Capanna to May’s, loving the people of Iowa City and glad that I could stay with my regulars. It gave me such joy to return after my internship and continue the craftsmanship I had quickly grown to love.

The fours supervisors started running the cafe last November when our manager moved to Minneapolis. By March, Claire and I were co-managing, and in July I was holding the position alone. It startled me to watch myself grow – do I really have it down to an exact time how long it takes to do first day training? Did we really just develop and implement a new menu? Did we really just participate in (and host!) latte art competitions? Is this really my team? Did this new girl really just analyze her shot and tell me what was wrong with it and how she thought she could fix it? These beautiful baristas, excited and passionate about their job? Is this still the culture, where the staff comes to hang out for hours on their day off just because they enjoy it so much?

And then there was Steve. Boss Man, as I call him. Muffin Man, as Hiba did. “Good”, as all called him. I have worked for many people. Bad bosses, good bosses, and Steve. The man who believed in me. The man who introduced himself to everyone working for him, and made sure he knew their name and personally asked them questions so he would know their story, too. The man who believed in investing in his employees. The man who spentevery. single. day. at his store on the floor. If something broke beyond my expertise, I would just walk up to him and say, “Steve, help.” If I was running low on something, or needed new equipment, I would just shoot him an email and a week later it would magically appear on my shelves. The man who told a coworker who needed extra cash, “Yeah, I wasn’t planning on being open the day after Christmas, but if you want to, go ahead and open the cafe for a while. We might sell a couple of coffees.” The man who would buy a slice of cake for you on your birthday if you wandered into the shop, and if you were going through a family crisis would make sure that you got a hug and definitely didn’t pay for that breakfast sandwich – it was on him. The man who knew the name of just about every regular customer in the shop – who was surprised that he hadn’t heard about our latest “Snickerdoodle Lady” before she gave us a thank you note. The man who poured blood, sweat, and tears into his shop, trying his best to make it a good business and a good place to work.

I once was chatting with a stranger and mentioned I worked at May’s Cafe. “Oh no,” he interceded. “another Disciple of Steve. I hear people come back for his parties that worked for him in the ’90s! Steve, the great and wonderful.”

Not long ago, a worker from the Wedge was getting a different job. When I jokingly protested, he laughed it off. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll see me again. No one ever actually leaves the Orbit of Steve.”

I am so, so blessed to have worked for that man. I do hope everyone someday gets a chance to work for a Steve.

I’ve spent a lot of time weeping since we got the news. I weep, not because I’m afraid, but because I’m grieving. I know people will be okay. My staff could easily jump to another of the half a dozen coffee shops around downtown, and Steve (!) is personally asking if people have another job they can go to or if they need help. I know Steve will be okay. I know I will be okay. But still I grieve. May’s is me and I am May’s. May’s is every one of my baristas. May’s is every one of my regulars. May’s is Linda-large-latte-no-foam. May’s is Danny-70-30-house. May’s is Abbie-iced-cafe-miel-and-a-warmed-up-muffin. May’s is Jake-triple-americano. May’s is soaking children trotting before their mother to the restroom. May’s is the weekly cappuccino and scrabble meeting. May’s is a daily game of speed chess. May’s is finding the small table or the one with the coffee mug painting. May’s is dissertations and bible studies. May’s is conference attendees and permanent business folk. May’s is different students every semester. May’s is a bottomless cup of incredible coffee. May’s is you, Iowa City. May’s is me.

I stayed in this town after I graduated.
I stayed for Steve. I stayed for May’s. I stayed for home.

I literally have no idea where I’m going now. I doubt I will stay in Iowa City. I doubt I will stay in the midwest. The future is wide open. Usually that would be a beautiful thought, but today I just look at it. I turn it over in my mind and I put it back on the shelf. Because today, I’m still grieving the loss of my 136 South Dubuque Street.

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