Your mileage may vary

This is a great message for all…young, old or in-between! Go for the dream! Always go for the dream, everything else will work itself out.

Piaggia Del Giuggiolo

Libba Bray

Recently, I received a post that really got under my skin. It’s from Fiona (Hi, Fiona). I started to dash off a reply and then I thought that it required a much longer, more considered answer. With her permission, I’m reprinting her original comment below followed by my response. My response is lengthy; I apologize. But it is from the heart.

“I’m in a bit of a dilemma and I made a deal with my father that I would get advice from three people: my high school counselor, my voice coach, and an author. I want to go into the fine arts: writing, singing, composing. My father wants me to go to Columbia, Yale, or Harvard. I’d be fine with these but I want to go to a smaller school and then study abroad for at least two years. “It’s my life and this is a decision that will alter…

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“Pretty Good but not Great”

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That is my favorite line from the movie Julie and Julia. Julia is standing before a full length mirror with her sister checking their appearance before joining a party in her living room and she says this line. I just thought it perfect and endearing. They were both satisfied and happy with pretty good. That seems to be an elusive place we all strive to find. Content, full enough, satisfied, happy with where we are, happy with who we are…all immeasurable except by our own yardsticks.

It is a concept I grapple with often. Especially coming up on my 50th birthday in a few months. I always thought by 50 I would be settled in that place but instead I see my life more in flux and transient than ever. I do feel more satisfied with who I am and there is contentment in that. I suppose contributing to the unease of turning half a century is the fact that I feel I haven’t made any significant contribution to the world, aside from my beautiful offspring. They will always be my greatest gift to you all. Or I suppose specifically it is that I haven’t found my niche. Rather I have found several and they shift and change often. I always equated success to finding a niche and staying put for many, many years. Well, I haven’t done that. But I have enjoyed what I have done and where I may go in the future. I feel a bit torn between settling down in one place and not ever settling down but instead  taking off. When I told my son I would like to start building my own cob house and grounds, he said, “Really, you’re done, going to settle down now?” I just kind of blinked at him speechless. I hadn’t until that moment known he thought me unsettled. I digress.

I began this entry about being satisfied with yourself. What you look like, who you are, where you are in life. I am pretty happy with all of those. Sure there are things I want to improve upon  but that will never completely go away.  I changed up my diet lately and am eating healthier which has made a huge improvement in my allergies, asthma and overall energy level. I eliminated gluten and sugar, cut way back on dairy and grains. I have been researching recipes and cooking a lot. Every meal takes longer to prepare and cook. I cook staples like vegetable soup and black bean loaf ahead of time to have on hand for fast food. I just baked up a batch of brown rice muffins with apple butter in them. They are yummy. You can find the recipe here.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but I continually am, it wasn’t until I went to the source, our water and eliminated toxins that are added in to our water supply that I began to see so much improvement in my health. My skin cleared up, my asthma wasn’t triggered during each shower, my hair stopped falling out. All due to the massive amounts of chlorine added to our water that I eliminated with good filters.

These two areas are the most significant: water and diet. It really changes the way you think about your health. Turning 50 and still being able to climb hills in Greece, steps in Italy, castles in Germany and next up, streets in the U.K., is really important to me and I plan to continue doing it for another 50 years.

Love American Style

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I spent my first Valentine’s Day out of the United States and I survived to tell about it…or actually revel in it. This post is in no way slamming American holidays or the need for them to break up the monotony of life, serve as reminders-of or give us pause to celebrate life. I rather have a new perspective this Valentine’s Day. I have spent over 15 Valentine’s Days alone or perhaps without a romantic partner is a better way to say it, as I have never been alone. This year was the first time I was truly alone on Valentine’s Day, without my friends or family around me. I had this light-bulb moment. What if love is not contingent on someone being there to fill the space beside you? What if love is just a feeling all on your own and always present…that you share with other people? What if love is not doing anything…what if it isn’t a verb but a noun? What if we are just big blobs of love walking around sharing it with whoever wants some?

I do think that being away from the media crazed madness that is consumer heaven wrapped in red cellophane heart shaped boxes has contributed to this epiphany. Instead of pushing against the imposing mountain of commercialism this year, I had infinite space to contemplate the deeper meaning of love, being in love, being love, giving love, and loving. The focus shifted.

In Bulgaria the day is a holiday as well and is called Zadushnitza (All Soul’s Day). It is a day that Bulgarians go to church, light candles and prepare their deceased loved ones meals that were favorites. The apartment manager where I am renting brought me a plate of bread, cheeses, olives and dips and told me about this day. What a contrast that our day of love is their day to honor the dead. Which had me thinking about loss, which brought me full circle to love and those I love, knowing I love them. Me, knowing I love me, so I can just be… love.  I spent the day loving myself more than I could ever imagine, sending love to my friends and family and holding them in loving thoughts. I consciously chose to love. I loved everything that I saw, felt, imagined, touched, looked at…just was love..all day. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of disco music from the disco near here, shouts of partying and fireworks going off.

The first sip of coffee this morning…was love all over again. Who knew it could be so easy but yet so hard…to find love.

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white
Sofia, Bulgaria draped in white

A big title for a small post. I have been in Sofia now for 12 days, 10 of those days were spent in a jet lag fog and briefings at the embassy were probably lost on me. Let’s hope not the important ones! I am an introvert by nature and whenever I need to adjust to new places or ideas or comfort levels, I draw inwards. So, my number one priority when I know I will be adjusting is to find a rental space that is private, secure, and comfortable. My apartment in Bulgaria is all that and more. I hit the motherload here and it has seen me through my adjustment period very well. It has a wonderful shower complete with rain showerhead, heated towel rack and heated floor. A balcony, microwave, TV with cable and many shows in English, lots of light, comfortable mattresses and pillows, chocolate, good cookware, an espresso maker and more…

I sit here now on a Sunday morning feeling a bit guilty that it is my second weekend here and I haven’t ventured out further than to the grocery store and the embassy and back. I am sure the owners of the apartment, who live downstairs and have invited me out more than once are wondering what is wrong with me. I have to do this on my schedule and I have plenty of time to see Sofia and the rest of Bulgaria. So yeah, I just got over jet lag and now I am taking a beat to gather my thoughts and organize a plan. Sofia is covered in a mass of white snow and it is beautiful to see from my windows. Not sure I want to be out in it however. Except for maybe a walk in the park across the street later.

While I am nesting I am reading about Bulgaria’s history and trying to get facts and names to stick in my mind. Some of the plans I had about my research are changing as new information comes into play here in Bulgaria. A new layer of understanding trumps the old distant one gathered in bits and pieces online. Even the online material content available is different when viewing from Bulgaria and the embassy than back home in the states. All previous assumptions or knowledge are in suspended disbelief…pending further research. This process is exciting to me. Diving in deeper water and getting to know information that cannot be found anywhere but by being here in Bulgaria. This is why I came. Now to do the information justice by recording it and accurately disseminating it to the interested parties. I can only hope to brush the surface and give my slanted opinion mixed with some historical facts, sprinkled with interesting photos.

The Medieval Manuscript class that I am taking, half in class before I came and now online is curating an exhibition for an intact manuscript at the Millar library on PSU campus. This new (to me) view on the curatorial comes at an advantageous time for me. The focus is helping shape my direction on the research and photos I will be taking in Bulgaria. My work at the embassy will be focused on the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and the work it has done in the past and present. We will be returning to the sites and photographing them. An exhibition could be forthcoming and perhaps parlayed into my independent research on the monasteries here in Bulgaria as some of the AFCP sites are monasteries.  So working out puzzle pieces and seeing where and how they fit together is what is happening. Along with this is my own personal take on Bulgaria and what it means to me.  Right now Bulgaria is just starting to show her self to me beyond the facts and so we shall see…with new eyes, we shall see.

Internship in Bulgaria

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia, Bulgaria

My next journey will be to Sofia, Bulgaria in late January. I have accepted one of four offered internships at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was offered internships in Milan, The Holy See and Romania. It was a tough decision to make but I chose Sofia for a few reasons, including the rich history of the area and my fascination with how they have maintained a cultural identity given the many invasions and rulers that have occupied Bulgaria.  I intend to research and photograph some lesser known story. I will also be spending forty hour weeks at the embassy learning all about public affairs and cultural affairs in addition to working on a research project on Byzantine sources supervised by one of my professors and a PSU class online on Gothic art. I will be busy!

The internship lasts three months and then my son will be joining me in Bulgaria and we will travel to Greece and possibly Turkey for a couple weeks. Then make our way up to Germany to see my brother and sister in law who live in Stuttgart.  Another reason I chose Sofia is to take part in a fresco photo documenting expedition with the Balkan Heritage Field School. I support their efforts to document and archive the frescoes that are being destroyed and lost to history.

I have so much to learn in the next few months before I leave, I hope my brain will expand and contain it all!  I am still learning Italian, because I am tentatively planning on applying to graduate school in Lucca. I am learning some Bulgarian, which is really hard because it uses the Cyrillic alphabet. I am brushing up on my microsoft skills (ha) and learning to use excel (I use google docs for everything).  In addition I am putting together a cookbook for my son who will be living the bachelor life and does not know how to cook, some of his favorite dishes in easy to read format.

My life is really full but it is full of the things I dearly love and as my vision of how I always wanted to live becomes a reality, I can only look around in awe and say, Thank you, I am so blessed.

Need vs. Want

I began writing today with the thought “I need to post to my blog.”  The recent over haul of my blog into a joint photography portfolio and blog has left my blog entries in archives. This archiving of blogs really is representative of a larger shift of focus in my life. While travel remains at the very top of my list of priorities, photography which has been on the sidelines lately but still present has crept up to the top of the list.

Photography has always been life enhancing for me. It has been a running dialogue in my life since I was nine years old. I remember sitting behind gram’s easy chair next to the bookshelf that was stuck in the corner, studying Margaret Bourke-White’s photo book. I didn’t know it then but a photographer was born. At age twelve I was given my first camera, a vivitar that my gram no longer needed. I took it to outdoor school and had the best photo shoot I may ever have.

Taking photos is a deeply personal way for me to reflect on a transient world. It is a narrative of my life and what I want to remember. When I was young I took photos to capture happy times and things that I did not want to forget. Now I take photos to tell my story and relate to how stories connect us all. The connections are where we live. I want to narrate connections in my photos.

As my life has shifted from needing to record events to wanting to create a story…the same shift has happened in my life at several levels. I need less than I ever thought I would and I want more than I ever thought I would. It is all good. *happy sigh*

Fearless

I entered a contest that is based on being FEARLESS.  After studying in Italy for three months and taking my autistic son with me, coupled with my age and all the challenges that come with getting older and trying to accomplish great things…I think I am FEARLESS. Please consider following the link and casting your vote by “liking” my photo.

http://fearlesspsu.com/gallery?sort=recent&i=105

The name is Charolette S. and in the photo am standing in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy. It seemed a fitting image for FEARLESS.

Thanks! Image

A Photo Book on Pompeii

I visited Pompeii in November. I took a lot of photos but I didn’t feel that any of them ever captured the feelings of the place or what happened there. It was an overcast day when we went and it matched the surrounding ruins perfectly. I haven’t been able to shake the feelings that it generated in me even now. I just made a photo book of photos I took in Pompeii along with poems about the people and devastation of losing an entire city. It was and still is a tragedy for all time. It has changed me. If you are interested in the book…click on the link at the top.

Addendum: 100% of the profits generated from the book sales will be donated to The Great Pompeii Project. A preservation project developed by the Italian government to save the ruins, art and history of Pompeii. Much of it is crumbling away and lost forever to us. Please consider purchasing the book as a donation to this project. 

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New Year, New Beginnings, New Body, New Sight…New Life

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As we move into 2014 I am thinking back over the last year and what a year it has been. So many changes at a fundamental level for me. Friendships have been redefined, my body has become a healthy dwelling place, my mind has relaxed into a state of grace and really life has become closer to being what feeds my soul and gives meaning to the words, ” live with intention.”  Italy was one of the defining periods of my life over the last year, Italy opened me up and breathed it’s sweet wine into my spirit. My thankfulness is overflowing for that experience and as I have only left Italy 2 weeks ago…I am still processing what took place and how the levels that living as an Italian were transformed within me. I know that seeing my mom standing in the airport waiting for us was one of the best sights ever and being a part of all of the love and support from family and friends has been the highlight of this journey. True friends, the ones that support you even if they don’t agree with you or think your ideas are crazy and family that understands you and supports your dreams and even encourages you to follow them are what it is all about. These people are why I went to Italy and they are why I came home to live near them. As I think more about connections, support, community and where my energy flows I wish all of those that I call friend a wonderful new year and I look forward to being your friend in 2014 and supporting each other in all we endeavor.

Preparing to leave Italy

We are in the last week of the term here in Italy. In fact this time next week I will be in Portland. I am preparing myself for reverse culture shock…having become adjusted to life and balance here in Italy. I feel the healthiest physically that I have ever felt. The non gmo, additive free, pesticide free food here is enviable. I will miss it the most. The way here is about healthy living and sustaining a lifestyle that nurtures the environment and resources. I will miss it so much. So I am already devising ways to maintain this lifestyle in the U.S. I know it can be done!!

My walks through the city now have a hint of melancholy as I realize they will be staying while I leave. I will return though to my Siena, already planning a return trip. We took Denise, my friend who is visiting, to the cathedral and it was like visiting an old friend. Wine tasting later this week, a good bye dinner and then Chad and I are off to Dublin to catch our flight back to the States.

I am changed forever. Thank you Siena, Italy.