on doing the damn thing

Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually’, just do it and correct the course along the way.

– Tim Ferriss

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One of my favorite things about traveling and especially about actually living abroad, is that I get to meet a lot of like-minded people. People that want to see the world and don’t allow a laundry list of reasons to stop them. People that are adventurous or curious or, in some people’s opinions, crazy enough to leave everything they know and love to see what else is out there- to embrace foreign lands, languages, and lifestyles. It’s not for everyone, I get that. I’ve lost count of the number of people that have told me, “I would looooove to do what you’re doing but insert other priorities here.” Family, relationships, jobs, money, fear, etc. All completely understandable, relatable, and valid. All things that will never ever ever get easier to walk away from, even temporarily. Every moment, we spin our life’s web into a more intricate design. The conditions will never be perfect, and in fact, will only grow more complex.

Yesterday, I went to my first Girls Gone International brunch meet-up in Amsterdam, and it was incredible to meet so many women in simultaneously similar and completely different positions as me. We’re all living in Amsterdam, we’re all foreigners here, but we all have such different reasons for it. Hearing the stories of how everyone ended up here and what they’re doing now and what they want to do is so freaking inspiring and eye-opening and exciting. (Like the 29-year-old woman from Croatia I talked to who also spent several years working on Wall Street or the Portland, Oregon native 20-something who decided she wanted to live in Europe, so she started her own business.) Creating a (long-term) life abroad feels so much more attainable and enticing to me all the time…… but I’m not really focusing on all that right now, not yet.

Right now I’m just focused on doing the damn thing, and correcting my course along the way.

wonder & wander: 10/13

So much happens in the span of 7 days. We have so much information zooming towards us from all angles, at all hours, it can be difficult to find the time or head space to reflect on what we’ve just done, or even what we’re currently doing. But in this crazy age of Instagram, I find myself taking tons of photos every week that can document how I spend my days; what I do, what I notice, where I wander. I’m hoping, while also giving a little window into my life abroad, Wonder & Wander will help me appreciate the past week in lieu of just hurdling into the next one. Because as we know, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”  


 

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Autumn is upon us here in Holland, meaning it is often rainy and windy and cool. But this past weekend was really nice, so I went running a few times on this pretty trail near my house. I don’t run all that often because I seem to have perpetual shin splints (so annoying, so painful) but when I do, I always feel refreshed and clear-headed… especially when the route is this lush! Don’t these shades of green look like mid-summer?

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I got my first care packages in Amsterdam! The first was from my dear friend Michelle and had the cutest little stuff in it from her recent trip to Georgia. She even made hand-sewn tea bags for the loose tea because she wasn’t sure if I had a tea strainer. Such a gem of a person. <333

The second was from my mom and had a bunch of cool souvenirs from Portland, a few books, 4 bottles of glucose tablets, and a whole lot of movie-theater butter popcorn (!!!!!!!!!!!) The essentials. Thanks, mom.

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I’ve only been here for a month (I can’t believe it’s already been a month, though, eeeek) and I’ve already met a lot of great people. And to be honest, I haven’t really even tried to meet people much yet. This month has been a lot of just ‘figuring stuff out’ and trying to navigate and taking a Dutch course and adjusting to everything. Most of my friends here are also au pairs from all over the world, which is cool because we’re all kind of in the same boat. I’d like to go to some Meet Ups, like language exchanges and book clubs, so I think I’ll dive into more of that once my language course is over!

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This past Sunday was a gorgeous day, so instead of the 20/30 minute bike ride or the 1o/15 minute tram, I decided to take an hour-long walk to the center of the city to meet a friend. Walking is still, and probably always will be, my favorite mode of transportation. It was really nice just listening to music and sporadically stopping to take pictures, and I noticed so many things I don’t see when I’m quickly pedaling by. I was 20 minutes late meeting my friend (Sorry, Kate!) but…. it was pretty cool ;) Then Kate and I continued to stroll around for the rest of the afternoon, popping into random shops, getting coffees and pancakes, and ended the day by people-watching with a pint of beer at an outdoor café. Pretty ideal.

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Sometimes I just stumble across a quote that really stays with me, or seems really relevant at the moment. This one has been spinning in my mind all week:

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.  - John Steinbeck

(Ok, technically I didn’t take this last picture this week. I took it a month ago in Iceland. But look how moon-like Iceland is! I love it.)

say thank you

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Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t ‘mean anything’ because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.

– Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things 

diabetes as thief

It’s Friday, it’s beautiful outside, and I live in one of the (in my opinion) best cities in the world. And I don’t have any responsibilities today! I decide to bike to a park about 20 minutes away for some reading, writing, and vitamin D.

My blood sugar has been hovering around 265 all day. Despite my best insulin injections, it won’t budge. I decide the bike ride will do some good.

About 20 minutes in, I get distracted by the sprawling lawns of Museumplein, leading up to this lovely building:

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I spread out a sheet and bask in the sun, thinking of my life for the past 3 weeks: I’m so happy, I’m where I’m supposed to be.

I’m so happy.

I take out a pen, my notebook, and scrawl “Be blooming” at the top, because I’d passed a sign earlier that said it, and I liked it. It seemed fitting.

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But I don’t get much farther than a loopy flower beside my title when that haunting, familiar feeling starts to set it. Words blur, my mind scatters. The anchor, my blood sugar, has finally dropped… and now I’m rapidly sinking.

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I gulp down the 2 juice boxes I have in my tote bag, but an uneasy 20 minutes smears by before I start to feel like myself again. 20 minutes that I planned to spend writing about how exciting everything is, how new it is. 20 minutes I could have spent people-watching or listening to music, or feeling the sun on my face. Time I could have really enjoyed.

Instead I didn’t feel anything but the tides of my body; the shaking, sweeping emptiness of the low, then the sugar washing through me.

I didn’t do anything but watch warily as the CGM spat out low numbers, then lower, and even lower still (this is when it gets really scary- I feel so helpless and desperate every time; this is what I constantly try to avoid) then finally finally a hopeful higher number, an upward arrow. A digital “you’re gonna make it, kid.”

Another 10 minutes rolls by and I pick up my pen to keep writing. But that sunny excitement I’d felt before… I’ve been emptied of it. The emotional toll of low blood sugar- the frustration, the fear- lingers on long after the fact.

Under the flowery title that had such high hopes, in weak scribble, I note: diabetes is a thief.

about a life in Amsterdam

I’ve been in Amsterdam for 18 days already. I can’t even believe it. Time is such a strange thing… in some ways, I feel like I’ve been here forever, biking around and picking the kids up from school and drinking all the cappuccinos. And in other ways, I feel like I just landed here today. I still get lost everywhere I go, I don’t understand 97% of the Dutch language, and my list of ‘places to explore’ is 5 miles long.

But I really like it here, and every day is a new adventure.

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The question I’ve been getting asked the most is the most basic one, but what do you DO all day?  To be honest, I haven’t really worked out a routine yet. I like routines, and I’m sure I’ll fall into one, but I haven’t yet. But just to give you an idea… right now, on weekdays, I wake up around 8am, get ready, make a cappuccino, eat breakfast (usually granola + yogurt with fruit or jam), and bike 10 minutes to my Dutch course, which is from 9:15-11:45. After, I’ll either get another coffee at a café, do errands, or meet up with a friend and explore the city. (After I get my museum card this week, I’ll be going to lots of museums, too!) At 3, I bike to the kids’ school to pick them up, and we come back here, or they go play with their friends, or I take them to their sports. When the parents get off work, we eat dinner together, the kids go to bed, and then I either go out and meet friends, or I stay in and read and write and watch Netflix and drink tea (some things never change).

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I don’t watch the kids Friday-Sunday, so the weekend before last, I flew to Copenhagen to meet a friend (more on that soon), and this past weekend I biked and walked all over the place, getting lost and navigating my way through the city. On Saturday I went English bookstore-hopping and found some really cool places along the way, and yesterday I found an amazing café called SLA (Dutch for ‘lettuce’) and they had the most delicious, colorful, organic salads and so many succulents everywhere that it looked more like a greenhouse than a salad bar. I can definitely see myself going there often.

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It’s still surreal to me that I’m even here. I still don’t actually believe it, that I’m living in one of the most beautiful cities in the whole world, with the nicest family and that my actual job is to play games with (and, I mean, also look after) two adorable little kids. I can’t believe I’m living in Europe again. Again! I can’t believe I am lucky enough to even be able to say that I lived in Europe a first time, and here I am doing it again.Screen shot 2014-09-30 at 2.45.36 PM 

I can’t believe how quickly we can change our whole lives, how the things I’m channeling energy into now (perfecting the art of cappuccino, learning a third language, navigating the canals on my bike, not getting into bike accidents, learning how to cook and play piano, deciding which book club to join, making friends from all the lands with all the languages) didn’t hold space in my mind until 18 days ago. Everyone I see on a daily basis, or almost-daily basis, I didn’t know until 18 days ago. Just an overnight flight to a whole new way of life.

We can build worlds so quickly.

borrowed words — 9/22/14

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I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

– Joan Didion

Photo taken by me in Amsterdam, Netherlands (special shout out to Krijn, Meinke and Frederike for being brilliant and full of life and for letting me capture their moment) 


There’s a little Monday inspiration in my favorite form: a good quote. Since I have so many quotes always buzzing around in my brain (raise your hand if you’re my friend and you’re tired of hearing me say ‘That reminds me of this quote by insert-name-here that says….’ hahaha ) but anyways, I’ll do it every Sunday or Monday. It’s just one of the steps I’m taking to get a bit of consistency around here in blog-world. Later this week I’m going to take some time to do one of the overdue updates I’ve meaning to post, so if you’re curious about what I’ve been up to in Amsterdam (and beyond) check back soon!

a new place on a last day

Last Tuesday, my last full day in America (for a while) I spent time with a bunch of my favorite people, and even explored a part of my old home that I’d never seen before. Richmond has so many hidden little gems, and one last trip to the river was the perfect send-off. Thanks to Mary for showing us this cool little spot:

 

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Best last day/night ever.

On my next post I’ll talk about the best spot to have a 10 hour layover (like I did) in the entire world (Iceland) and why! And then maybe finally after that I’ll get to actually talking about my new life in Amsterdam. Cheers!

the importance of living

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
- Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living 
This past week was swallowed by a seemingly endless to-do list. Doctors appointments, government documents, prescription refills, packing, moving, working. Trying to tie all the loose ends of my tangled American life. There are so many day-by-day details that we can’t just walk away from, as enticing as that sounds, but I’ve slowly crossed nearly everything off the list. There are still a bunch of last-minute things I’ll do this week, but I feel calm about everything. It’s all steadily unfolding.  And this quote is such a relevant reminder to focus on what is most important, especially during these last few days in America. There will always be so many things on the to-do list, but for the next few days I’ll be putting all of my energy into soaking up all the laughter and light of my favorite people, my best friends, my family. The essentials.
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The Light + The Dark // 9 Years

Today, I’ve had type one diabetes for 9 years.

When I first realized today was my diaversary, I was sitting in a little nook of the beach house, sipping coffee and reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I read through a section, in which she, while speaking of her affinity for hiking the trail alone, writes,

When I reached the trail on the other side, I felt stupid and weak and sorry for myself, vulnerable in a way I hadn’t felt on the trail before, envious of the couples who had each other [...], but I’d be forever alone. And why? What did being alone do? I’m not afraid, I said, calling up my old mantra to calm my mind. But it didn’t feel the same as it usually did to say it. Perhaps because that wasn’t entirely true anymore. Perhaps by now I’d come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid.

I’m thinking back to August 21, 2005 when I was diagnosed at 14 years old. I didn’t cry once during the 4 days I was in the hospital. Not while I practiced giving myself shots in fleshy orange peels before sinking the needle into my own tender arms and stomach and thighs. Not while I felt the heaving gravity of a low blood sugar for the first time- waking up in the middle of the night in my hospital room, numb-limbed with no idea what was happening until the nurse fed me graham crackers and milk. Not while I sat silent as my mom sat next to me, sobbing to the doctor, the doctor point to me, asking, “Is she always this stoic?” Not once. I’m not afraid, I thought.

I’m thinking back to nine years of butterfly test strips and Humalog air bubbles and insulin to carb ratios and all the other things I wish I never had to learn.

I’m thinking of all the years I skimmed the surface of diabetes-knowledge, an impulse of self-protection that I didn’t even realize. I knew a few facts: it’s an autoimmune disease, my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, carbs = shots, it happened to me, it’s forever. I held vague interest in knowing more. I read Needles by Andie Dominick and interned for a summer for JDRF, but beyond that, I didn’t question anything or talk about it or even really think about it. Especially the scary stuff- the threats of complications, the dangerous lows. The first time I ever wrote honestly and openly about it was around this time last year, when I wrote My Open Letter to Type One Diabetes.

This past year, that shifted. I wanted progress and support and understanding and relief. I went, alone, to a conference in DC for women with diabetes. One of the sessions I went to was called ‘Diabetes Head to Toe,’ and it was all about how diabetes affects our bodies. We started with the top of the head, scanned down to the eyes, the ears, nose, throat, thyroid, down to our lungs and heart and bones, down to our feet, and we listed everything that diabetes could do to us. All the ways it could damage us. (Spoiler alert: there are many.) The session was an hour and half long and we only made it to the heart before we ran out of time.

This is fucking depressing, I thought about 5 minutes into the session. I want to get the hell out of here. But I stayed. I sat and I listened and I acknowledged these very real complications that I’d spent most of my diabetic life trying to force out of my mind in an effort to not be depressed or paralyzed by fear. An effort to “focus on the positive,” which I’m usually pretty good at. But that day, I confronted the darkest, coldest facts. The things I fear the most. And I didn’t walk out of that room with a new sense of empowerment to prevent those things from happening to me or strength from any new knowledge I’d learned. Living is easy with eyes closed. I left that room feeling older, aged by realities I don’t care for.

It’s my 9th anniversary with type one diabetes, and I’m more afraid than ever.

And yet, I also feel that I’m in a better place with my diabetes than ever before. Not  because I constantly fill my head with bright-side thoughts or have better control over my health than ever before (because I don’t and I don’t), but because I’m acknowledging both the dark and the light. I’m taking it all in now, even the scariest parts, and still standing. I’m looking it square in the eye, and I’m still going.

I’ve had diabetes for 9 years today. I’m equal parts excited and scared for the next 9. And I think that’s okay.

Perhaps by now I’d come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid.

 

Postcard from Prague

As my future inches closer and closer to colliding with Europe again, I find myself reflecting more and more on my past travels and the enthralling prospects of new ones. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming of the 6 days my friend Owens and I spent in the living fairytale land that is Prague, Czech Republic.

Prague was the second leg of our 2-week, 3-stop backpacking trip last April. We went to Berlin before, and Amsterdam after.

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Right after we hopped off the train and set our stuff down at the hostel, we stumbled across some paddle-boats and decided it was an enchanting way to begin our Prague explorations.

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Afterwards, we did what we always did when we first arrived in a new city: grabbed a map, a beer, and started planning what we wanted to do and see.

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And we also got our first taste of Czech cuisine with beef goulash and incredible bread dumplings.

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I got my lit-nerd on with this statue honoring Franz Kafka during a donation-based walking tour (these walking tours by Sandemans New Europe are so informative, fun, and free! We took them in Prague, Amsterdam, and Berlin)

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Czech food is definitely not light on the carbs…. but it is delicious and inexpensive. Pictured here is a cinnamon-sugar-bread-twist of heaven called Trdelnik.

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Several times a day, this magical clock in the middle of the city square would chime and perform a little show like a giant cuckoo clock, and tourists like me would huddle around to watch. Admittedly, it’s not a grand show, but it is pretty cool, and makes you feel like you’re in a live European Disneyland for a little while.

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We stumbled upon these little treats at a small café near our hostel. A year and a half ago when I visited Prague, I could have told you what they were called, but it’s slipped my mind by now. I do remember them costing 1 euro each, there were a million different varieties and toppings, and they were delicious. It’s just cheese, mayo, baguette, and whatever those little things on top are. The perfect snack! (If not the healthiest….)

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We visited the Alfons Mucha Museum, and it was one of the most memorable and beautiful galleries I’ve ever visited. I highly recommend stopping by!

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The infamous John Lennon Wall of Prague. We accidentally stumbled across this, though it was on our list of things to see, and we ended up visiting it several times after. It’s changing all the time, and it’s really beautiful.

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On our last morning in Prague, we stumbled upon a little open air market with pastries galore and lots of other cool handcrafted items.

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Prague is a uniquely gorgeous fairytale land. There is nowhere else quite like it.

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