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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Love American Style

loveamericanstyle

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.

Journeying Through the Underworld

I have been in bed sick for the last week. Welcome to Sofia! It was bound to happen at some point and glad it is now out of the way. When I am sick, I am out and down for the count. No walking around, or passing myself off as well. I envy those that can…and think they have super powers. Sickness overcomes my body, mind and spirit. I travel in and out of consciousness and feel on the verge between the two worlds. Often I succumb and dive down deep to the underworld where things are dark, shadows take shape and speak secrets. I have done this as far back as I have memory. As a child, I remember one Easter being so sick that I hallucinated several Peter Rabbit’s jumping out of my closet and hopping around my room. This time around in Sofia, as I lay on my couch/bed staring at my map wall..I noticed that the land mass of Europe, from where France meets Spain and all the way East past Romania, it looks like the shape of a wolf. Take a look.

wolfSee the nose pressed up against Spain, the ears standing up, Italy is the front leg and Greece is another leg. Okay, my map is clearer or maybe it is like seeing shapes in clouds and just helps us organize and order our world. Which is what I am in the midst of doing here in Sofia. I am trying to order my new world. For instance I studied a few words in Bulgarian; Da-yes, Ne-no, Blagodaria-thank you, Molya-please. The important ones, or so I thought! I should have studied how to call a taxi and give addresses in Bulgarian. In response to my Blagodaria…Merci! I was told it is easier to say and so it has been adopted. I finally stopped pointing at streets for the taxi’s and use my full hand to indicate direction. Pointing with one finger is rude here. I still have not mastered the head shaking side to side to indicate yes or Da. It is opposite what it is in the States. I say Da and shake my head up and down to which the taxi driver looks at me perplexed. And when I give a driver the address and he nods side to side, I repeat the address until I finally realize that he is saying yes or Da. Strange how one simple gesture carries so much weight in meaning and I didn’t even realize it. Well, this is what traveling to foreign cultures is all about. I try to remember that as I wait outside the grocery store for a taxi that isn’t coming because I gave the wrong address. I compare my journey to the recent stay in Italy and know that it gets better and easier to communicate and get around …just about the time it is time to leave. I find myself trying to rush the process, so I can be comfortable and not feel I am missing anything. The truth is, I am not missing anything, I am experiencing it all, each moment I am here. I just experienced being sick in Sofia, the sunrise this morning, the making of the coffee, the sounds of the twin 4 yr olds next door going off to school. I don’t look back on Italy and feel I missed anything, even though at the end I didn’t want to leave. I know it will be the same here. Until that time, Sofia will be my belly of the wolf.

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

Alexander-Nevsky-Cathedral-in-Sofia-Bulgaria[1]

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

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.

Roma, Pompeii and Finals

The last half of the term has flown by and now with a little over a week until we go home it seems that time is flying by. We went to Rome with my art history class. We visited the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica and the Roman Forum-ColiseumImageImageImage. It was a fabulous trip and We learned so much about all of the art, history and civilizationsImage that were there before us. Then my friend Denise, Chad and I went on down to Naples and stayed in a cute little hostel that was so much fun! We went and spent the day at Pompeii walking the ruins and soaking up the atmosphere. Pompeii has forever changed me. I am completing my final art project on Pompeii with photos and poems by me to match. Here is a sample of the photos and the rest will need to wait until I reach home unfortunately! The garden is much too cold to sit and upload photos in right now.

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