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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Sofia to Thessaloniki

My son joined me in Sofia, Bulgaria in early March and we were at the apartment for about a week before we left the snow behind us and went on to sunny Greece. Here are a few pics taken in Sofia.

A building on our street next to our apartment building
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.

I was so very happy to finally be on the train and headed to Thessaloniki, Greece. We had a train compartment all to ourselves and we were very comfortable for our trip through what looked to be Siberia out our windows. Arrived after dark in Thessaloniki to an empty taxi stand and deserted street but eventually a taxi pulled up to drop people off and we flagged him down. Our hotel was in a great area with plenty of places to walk to and no taxi needed to just wander around and reach the cafes and waterfront.

Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece
Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece

We immediately set out for a restaurant since we hadn’t eaten in awhile. We were directed by the desk clerk to a local buffet style cafe that looked to be just closing and had no customers but the man greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us to come in which we have come to learn is the Greek way. Instead of menu he told us our options and we both chose the soup. Nothing like a great big hot bowl of soup after a long trip. The waiter brought out a plate of big thick slices of homemade bread to soak up the soup. Of course we had wine with dinner and at this point we hadn’t yet learned that it is pretty much served automatically like water in Greece. We were pretty happy. And it is in those few moments that come here and there and often without warning that you learn to cherish the adventures of traveling. Alas I have no photos from the place as we were too busy enjoying the experience. In the above photo you can see the outside seating for the restaurant where we had a great first meal and incredible hospitality.

Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.                               

After a good nights sleep we ventured out to an outdoor cafe stand a couple blocks from our hotel. My daughter and I ate at these throughout our backpacking trip in 2005. They are a chain in Greece and sell pizza, sandwiches, drinks and cappucinos. We had a cappucino and pizza for breakfast, which is perfect if you ask me. The sun was already shining and it was glorious to be in the Mediterranean. We set out for the waterfront and along the way passed many churches and ruins of some awe inspiring gazing.

Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .

My son was a little uncomfortable at the open stares his way but I tried to explain that he looked pretty different and was wearing many labels on his clothing. Meaning that the looks were probably just looks of interest and wonder. I personally think his style is eclectic and stands out even in the U.S.! Open staring in many other countries like Greece and Italy, the two that I know of, where staring does not carry the same meaning and is not rude or mean hostility, like it often does in the U.S. We generally experienced a great deal of interest and hospitality while in Thessaloniki. This is just one of the many reasons I love traveling in Greece.

Here are some more photos of Thessaloniki, they have quite the cafe culture there and we enjoyed hopping from one cafe to another for a bit while there.

A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
Interesting things to read everywhere.
Interesting things to read everywhere.

We took a taxi out to an indoor skate park on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for my son to meet the owners and skate the park for a bit. My son is a pro-am skate boarder and so is always promoting his team, Lib Tech while he is out traveling. He was over run by roller bladers at this particular park though and we didn’t stay long.

As soon as I get my photos organized I will upload more. After returning a little over three months ago I am just now beginning to feel like I am rested. This trip took a lot out of me in so many ways. It was so worth it though! I fell in love with Greece all over again. I will return to my beloved Greece.

Internship in Bulgaria


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.

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


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.

Forehead to Floor

We are in the throes of packing up the apartment for storage. The sound of our voices echo off the bare walls. My son, Chad says it isn’t a home anymore. While we put on our smiles everyday before greeting each other, this self imposed limbo is taking it’s toll on each of us. Neither of us want to say to anyone or each other how much this feels like loss with the associated heartache. The true friends don’t say, “how ridiculous, you are going to Italy, be happy!” The ones who keep it real understand that there are requisite good by’s to say and much to let go before embracing the new. These real ones are my mirrors at moments when it becomes too much and my forehead touches the floor. 


Those floor touching moments are so grounding. The moment of release, when our ego/will succumbs to the emotional moment and for a split second all is completely lost and found. The yogi’s seek it out on the mat. The Buddhist monks put forehead to floor daily in prayer. For me it is a battle of gravity. I will hold my head up, I will not bow down to my fears and insecurities. Until I am taken out at the knees. The more courageous, willful, driven and motivated, the more forehead to floor moments needed to remind me that this is where it lives. Here on the ground, in the earth, the center of life, the base, the root of all life. Not up there in the clouds where the wind blows but down here where my toes dig in and the creepy crawlies make tunnels. 

I am a dreamer of the worst kind. I actually believe that my dreams will come true. What happens when dreams don’t stay dreams? Whether a dream begins to be real or you release it, the emotions are the same, fear, loss, mixed with hope, and elation. You feel the sun on your face and your forehead touches the floor often. And you let everything go over and over again. You say goodbyes. You cry. You reassess priorities. You adjust figures.  You reach for something that is only a partial outline in your mind’s eye. You shape, mold and fabricate that vapor dream into something you can touch, smell, taste and see. You create new right out of thin air. This is what it is about, what you are about. What I am about,  What moves us. Creation. Creating a new life, a new dream, a new reality, a new forehead to floor moment. We have come full circle, let’s begin again. 

4 days until storage move. 22 days until we fly to Italy. 

P.S. Sun salutation has taken on a new meaning for me. It is all about this forehead to floor…look it up. 

I Believe in Me!


Face Time  Charolette Stoehr  One of my first and not complete

I have a campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds for living/travel expenses for studying abroad in Italy. Just to give a little break down of what it costs to do this…

Airfare/travel 2600

housing 2500

classes/program fees 11,000

food/misc. 3000

It is quite the undertaking! I applied and received a Gilman Scholarship and a Kawase Scholarship that covers 5000 of this cost. The rest is all covered by loans, donations and hard work.

You may be asking at this point…why do it? Why not take the less expensive route and stay here to take the same classes? It wouldn’t be the same classes. To sit in the Uffizzi Gallery and study Bacchus by Caravaggio just isn’t the same as looking at it on  the projection screen. The classes and study are the main focus for me but there is so much more that will take place. Call it throwing open a door and stepping through it if you like. The changes have already begun to take place. I have experienced an incredible feeling of weight being lifted from me as I have taken each step in this journey. Packing up my things has been really liberating. I feel unattached and lighter for it. This encourages my mind to soar with the possibilities that are available in life and I can see with new eyes that limitations are illusions. I have begun to give stuff away, stuff I have held onto for way too long. Who needs a glittery heart shaped doohickey that goes in a vase of flowers?

It feels right for me to attach myself to myself and say “wherever I am is where my home is.” For now anyway. I make no promises about the future and that is liberating as well. The shifting of thought patterns and the stepping outside of my comfort zone is uncomfortable but I do it. I just do it uncomfortable. Because the feeling of enormous happiness and pleasure I get from the knowledge that I am growing, moving and changing my small part of the universe is enough.  These effects may change whoever I come in contact with and that will only increase the pleasure from this journey.

It would be so much less expensive and easier, I might add, to stay where I am and go to school but that isn’t where growth happens; staying where you are.

I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity and instead of turning it down in favor of the easy way or the less expensive, I dare to entertain the idea that I can do this and that I can see myself in Italy sitting in the museum drawing, painting and learning how to speak a foreign language. I can see myself sharing my experiences with a classroom in NYC. I can see myself sharing this journey with everyone. I believe in myself.

I am asking you to believe in me as well. The new perks I have added to my indiegogo campaign (link posted in right side bar) are drawings that I will do in class in Italy. There will be many sketches, drawings and paintings. I offer them up to you for your support.

Thanks so much!

Italy: Traveling, Housing, Customs


Perseus, Piazza della Signoria  Florence, Italy  Charolette Stoehr@2005

I just had toast and cheese in honor of my upcoming trip to Italy on September 23rd! In Italy a typical breakfast consists of bread, jam and cappuccino or some kind of pastry and cappuccino. My son will love this, he has never been much of a breakfast person. I will adjust as I can make polenta cereal in our apartment and grab a cappuccino on my way to class. When you order a cappuccino in Italy you will want to order at the bar and drink it standing at the bar unless you want to pay a surcharge to sit at a table and linger. Lunch or the midday meal is typically the largest, with dinner being smaller and lighter. The Italians do not drink milk or latte’s containing milk after say 11am! An espresso is okay or anything not containing milk. A staple for my daughter, Stacy and I when we traveled in Italy in 2005 was bread, cheese and tomatoes. We are vegetarians and found that Italy was pretty easy on our diet, as was Greece. The one food we could find no matter what country we were in was pizza! 

Our travel to Italy will be somewhat long and involved because I would like to save money. There are direct flights from Portland to Italy but they are expensive. We will be flying into Dublin, Ireland which is one of the least expensive airports to fly into in Europe. We will then stay at a hotel near the airport and fly from Dublin to Rome the next morning on a smaller European carrier. The flight is only a few hours and very inexpensive. From Rome we will take a bus to Siena that will take about 3 hours. Italy has an extensive rail and bus system. Stacy and I traveled the rail system all over Europe with a Eurail pass during our trip in 2005. Now I see that is not the less expensive way to go or necessarily the best route. The Siena train station is far outside the city, where as the bus takes you directly to the city center. 

We will arrive in Siena a day before I need to check in with my program to get settled into our rural apartment. It will be a 7 minute walk to the bus at the end of our road each morning followed by a 15 minute bus ride to city center. My school is in the city center of Siena. Our apartment is a cute, cozy one bedroom with a sofa bed pull out. The walls are stone and there is two stone fireplaces in the apartment. One in the kitchen and one in the study nook. The kitchen is more of a kitchenette but is fully equipped to make what we need. Some observations while researching housing: Italian law prohibits the use of heat before November 1st, (ahhh this is where the fireplace will come in handy!) bath tubs are a luxury but bidets are a necessity, (I had to actually look up how to use a bidet), no dryers at all, (all clothing is hung out to dry), the rural buses stop running in the evening and beware of postings that say the rental is close to the city without giving the distance, (close to Italians is not close to Americans). It took some trial and error to find us a place to live but I am happy with the choice even without a bathtub to soak in. We will take advantage of the hot springs an hour away!

I have received my class schedule and it looks like this:

Mondays- Italian 3:00-5:30p.

Tuesdays/Thursdays- cross cultural, Journal, painting concepts, art history and Italian 9am-5:30p.

Wednesdays-art history 9-10:50a and Italian 3-5:30pm. 

Friday reserved for class trips to Venice, Rome and other places. Not every Friday will be class trips so Chad and I will be taking 3 day weekend trips to Germany, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain and other countries close to Italy. A ferry ride to Spain or Greece only takes a few hours and can be done rather easy. I showed my son Chad the size of Europe on our globe compared to the size of the United States and on the globe it looks like you can fit three of Europe inside the United States. This is a good perspective on how easy and close travel is in Europe.