2012 In Review

So, hi. Hey there. It’s been a while, huh? A year and a half. I know. In the blog world, that’s the equivalent of, oh I don’t know, the span from the Jurassic era to the present day? Essentially forever.

There are reasons and there are excuses, but for now, I’m just going to write. Not overthink it. Just write. Over time, I’ll have more on what you can expect from this blog going forward, but for now, I’m going to jump in with a year in review post. It seems like a good place to start on the last day of the year.

January 2012
After the usual craziness of the holidays, we spent January quietly, easing into the new year and working around the house. After two years in our house, we had a better idea of how we existed within our house and began to make changes to it and imagine bigger renovations. We found that we were craftier than we ever imagined ourselves to be–dying couches, reupholstering chairs, and sewing pillows–but don’t expect an Etsy shop from us anytime soon.

February 2012
We hopped down to Houston the first weekend in February for the Rice Alumni Baseball Game. Though the game itself was cancelled due to weather, Jeff had fun catching up with his former teammates, and I was able to spend quality time with my college roommates. We also got our biennial fill of Tex-Mex and kolaches. At the end of the month, we started in on our biggest home project to date—built-in bookshelves for the living room.

March 2012
We finished the bookshelves just in time to host a dinner for my 31st birthday with some of the great friends we’ve made here in Durham.  A few days later, we took the celebration abroad, traveling to Turkey with my brother Gregory. We ballooned over Cappadocia, stepped back in time at Ephesus, and ate our way through Istanbul. Then, after just enough time at home to do our laundry and re-pack, we went west to Colorado for a long weekend of skiing at Breckenridge with five friends from our DC days.

April 2012
March thoroughly exhausted us, so we stayed home for most of April, though we did make a late-in-the-month jaunt up to Chicago. Our plan was to help my brother Gregory paint his new house, but the closing was delayed, so instead we just had some Windy City fun, which included eating ourselves silly, admiring the architecture, and catching up with Jeff’s former teammate and roommate, Philip Humber, who had just a week before pitched the 21st perfect game in MLB history.

May 2012
For a Kentuckian, May means one thing: Derby time!  So Jeff and I made the pilgrimage home to join my three brothers, twenty something of their nearest and dearest twenty-something-year-old friends, and tens of thousands of other people in the infield. We saw a horse (I think) and a whole lot more and, of course, had a ridiculous amount of fun. We ended the month of a much quieter note, canoe camping on the Cashie River. It was beautiful and relaxing and a great way to welcome summer.

June 2012
In June, we kept our explorations local, bribing judges at the Beaver Queen Pageant, kicking back with picnics at music on the lawn, and  enjoying bikes and brews at the Tour de Fat. We also had lots of visitors, with my parents visiting in early June and Jeff’s sister Paulina visiting in late June, which translated to eating at lots of Durham’s excellent restaurants and our first visit of the summer to the NC shore.

July 2012
For the first time since we’ve moved here, we spent Fourth of July in town, celebrating at Festival for the Eno and with a cookout at our house. At the end of the month, we braved the traffic on I-95 and hit DC. Jeff attended the AIDS conference (his lab work at Duke focuses on HIV/AIDS), I visited old trails and hiked some new-to-me trails as I updated the Take a Hike DC book, and we were able to visit with many (but not nearly all!) of our DC-area friends. We said screw you to I-95 for the return trip and instead made our back back via Skyline Drive in Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Longer but so much lovelier!

August 2012
A wedding took us back to Louisville in August and allowed us to spend a great night out with friends. As we’ve gotten older (and as many of my friends have become parents), it’s become harder and harder for all of my hometown friends to get together (and stay out late), so weddings are welcome opportunities to pretend we’re younger and crazier than we are. We spent the rest of the month doing favorite summer activities—Bulls games, beach trips—and then spent the last weekend taking a river kayaking class.

September 2012
One thing led to another and in September, we expanded our kayaking repertoire with a whitewater kayaking class, learning to wet exit, roll, and read rapids. We also celebrated Jeff’s 31st birthday with a backyard cookout and then a trip to the Florida Keys. It was an uncharacteristic trip for us in that we spent a lot of it relaxing (so nice!) and the rest of it diving. The waters were warm, the fish were plentiful, and for a couple of days, the boat was all ours, so it was the perfect vacation.

October 2012
After almost three years in North Carolina, we finally made it to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a fantastic weekend of hiking and camping. It was early October, so the leaves hadn’t yet peaked, but the colors were still lovely and the weather was perfect. Mid-month, Jeff flew off to San Diego for an Infectious Diseases Society of America conference, and I went home to Louisville and hung out with (some of) the family and (a few) friends. We ended the month riding a metric century in the Habitat for Humanity Bike Ride. Though Hurricane Sandy passing by meant it was windier than I would have liked, the weather was far better than the freezing rain we biked through during last year’s 100-mile ride (the 63-mile distance was also much nicer).

November 2012
We were thankful to spend Thanksgiving in Seattle, per tradition, with Jeff’s parents, his sister and her husband, and family friends. We were also able to spend a great day with two of our favorite couples, one of whom welcomed their first baby just a few days later!  For most of our stay, Seattle was rainy and gray (per usual) but we acted like locals and ignored the weather and enjoyed dim sum in the International District, a walk through downtown, and a visit to the relatively new (and quite awesome) Chihuly Garden and Glass.


December 2012
December was a month of celebrations with a department Christmas party, dinners and drinks with friends, our annual holiday party, and then our yearly trip home to Louisville for holiday madness with my family, which included family gatherings, way too much food, games of every sort, bowling competitions, and my mom double-fisting it at the Buffalo Trace distillery tour (see photo for evidence). We did manage to sneak a quick trip to Charlotte into the mix, with the purpose of furniture shopping. We didn’t end up buying anything, but we found some cool shops, neat neighborhoods, and good eats and are looking forward to another trip to explore the city further.


So that’s it. That’s where the year went. That and work and writing and teaching ESL and hanging out with friends and an occasional lazy Sunday. Put it all together and another year is gone and a fresh one is waiting on the doorstep. We’re off tonight to raise a glass with friends in a toast to all the good of 2012 and to the hope and promise of more joy, more peace, and more adventure in 2013. Let us be thankful!

In Memoriam: U.S. Space Shuttle Program

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. You too? I guess at some point, most of us children of the Space Shuttle generation (the first shuttle lifted off on April 12, 1981, one month and two days after I was born) wanted to be astronauts. But it wasn’t a passing fad for me. I wasn’t one of those kids who had an ever changing list of things I wanted to be. I never wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a veterinarian, or a firefighter. I wanted to be two things and two things only: a writer, which I am on my way to being, and an astronaut, which I will never be.

I held on to that dream of being an astronaut long after most kids give up on childhood fantasies. As a Governor’s Scholar (yes, I was and still am a nerd), I studied astronomy. When Story Musgrave showed hours worth of slides of photos he’d taken on his shuttle trips, I sat starry-eyed while the kids around me dozed. When I interviewed at Rice University, I answered a question about what interested me about Rice with “its proximity to NASA.”

To me, there is nothing more fascinating than outer space. It is the last frontier, the ultimate travel destination. If I could go anywhere in the world, I’d go to space. Unfortunately, however, I’m not an astronaut. Turns out, if there’s one academic subject that doesn’t come easily to me, it’s physics. Turns out, I don’t have great eyesight. Turns out, I’m a good bit claustrophobic. Turns out that even though I went to college on an engineering scholarship, I came out with English and German degrees.

Despite all that, there’s always been a part of me that thought, maybe, perhaps, I could still do it. An ember of the dream still lived in me. “Next time,” I thought, thought I’m not Hindu and am not sure what I mean by “next time.” But turns out, even if I had been exceptional at physics, and had ace eyesight, and loved tiny spaces, and was one of those terribly lucky people chosen by NASA to train as an astronaut, I still might never had made it into space. Tomorrow, if all things go according to plan, the U.S. Space Shuttle program will hold its final launch. Tomorrow, at 11:26 a.m. EST, an era ends.

Sure, there will still be space flights (by the Russians or by private agencies and perhaps down the road again by NASA in other spacecraft), but there’s something terribly sad to me about the Space Shuttle Program ending. It’s as though we’re shutting down hope and magic and impossible dreams that maybe aren’t entirely impossible—at least the hopes and magic and dreams and “next times” of nerdy kids like me.

Tomorrow, though I am swimming in an ocean of work (see, lack of blog posting for months), I will stop and turn on the TV and watch the shuttle launch and pretend for a minute that I am there in person, that I am on that shuttle as it counts down for a final blastoff, for its final view of Earth from the magnificence of space.

Godspeed, Atlantis, Godspeed.

(Endeavor, the second to last shuttle to launch, lights up the night as it sits on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, as seen from across the water in Titusville. I’ll relay the story of how and why I was in photo-taking distance of the shuttle in the middle of the night in my next post [which, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise {and the edits don’t bury me}, won’t be months from now.])

So You Want to be a Freelance: Five Reasons to Make the Leap

Last week, I tried to talk you out of freelancing with a list of five reasons freelancing is not all sunshine and roses. Maybe I made some of you give a little prayer of thanks for your 9 to 5. If, however, you’re still thinking freelancing might be the life for you, here are five reasons to further convince you to take the plunge.

1. You can work when you want.

With an office job, flex hours usually mean that you can take every other Friday off if you work nine hours every other day or something like that. You’re still expected to be in the office during “regular business hours,” which typically begin somewhere between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and end somewhere between 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. As a freelancer, flex hours mean you can literally work whenever you want. Morning person? No problem. Get up before the sun and be done by lunch. Unable to cope with sunlight until noon? No one’s going to stop you from starting work post the midday meal. Got a little bit of vampire in you? Well, the night’s all yours. If you want, you can change your schedule every day. You can refuse to even have a schedule. You’re welcome to do your grocery shopping at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and hit the gym at 10 a.m. You can go for a walk or a bike ride or just cartwheel around the neighborhood if you like. There are no time limits on lunch breaks. As long as you complete any work you commit to on time, then no one actually cares at what hour of the day you get it done.

2. You can work wherever you want.

Say goodbye to the generic office or, even worse, the cubicle, and set up your work space wherever you want. I find it nice to have a dedicated work space (decorated to suit my taste, of course), but I certainly don’t work there all the time. When the temperature parks itself in the 70s and the sun is bright and the birds are chirping, I pick up the office (aka my computer) and relocate to the back porch. Sometimes I’ll throw the office in my backpack and take it to the Duke Library. I’ve worked from a hammock and on an airplane and in a hotel room and during a long car ride. If it gets as hot this summer as it did last summer, I’m setting up shop in a kiddie pool in the backyard. The options are endless. While I personally remain fairly rooted, an entire army of “digital nomads” are marching all over the planet, working from wherever they can find a wireless connection.

3. There’s no dress code.

Though a lot of offices have become more casual since the days of the dot com boom, most workplaces still maintain a certain standard when it comes to wardrobes. Bathing suits are generally frowned upon. Pajamas as well. Nudity is definitely a no-no. But when you’re working at home you can wear (or not wear) whatever the heck you want, which means you don’t have to spend any of your hard-earned money on a work wardrobe. Wear whatever you find most comfy or most inspirational and go with it. No one’s going to know.

4. You get to choose your assignments.

While working in an office, most of us don’t have the freedom of telling our boss that the project (s)he just presented to us really isn’t what we’re looking to do at the moment. Or that our plates already full, and there’s just no room for anything else. As a freelancer, however, you have the liberty to choose assignments that interest you (as well as work for people that you find pleasant to do business with). Sure, when first starting out as a freelance, you’ll probably take most anything that comes your way, but as your business and reputation grows you reserve the right to be picky. Maybe you want to stick with one specific niche. Maybe you want to try your hand at a whole range of opportunities. The choice is yours.

5. Your income potential is open-ended.

Now, I admit it, this one is a bit of a double-edged sword, since open-ended could mean $200 dollars (or less) or $100,000 (or more). However, there’s something I find fun about being able to pick up a new project and with it a couple thousand dollars. As a salaried employee, new projects don’t come with new pay (except perhaps an occasional bonus). You pretty much know up front what you’re going to be making for the year or until your next review. And while it can be a bit scary as a freelancer not to have that security, it’s also exciting when you find yourself making more than you predicted you would.

Fellow freelancers, what can you add to this list? What is it about the freelance life that makes it your preferred lifestyle?

*The observations in this post and all other posts about freelancing are based on my experience as a freelance editor and copy writer (who does a tiny bit of travel writing on the side). I do think that they apply pretty universally, however, to the freelance experience.

So You Want to be a Freelancer: Five Reasons to Reconsider

I’ve been working entirely as a freelancer since we returned from our trip in October 2009. Nice, right?

Well, actually, until recently, I wasn’t entirely sure freelancing was the life for me.  To be honest, the first 1.5 years of my freelancing career were a bit rocky. I was underemployed to put it optimistically, and I actually missed a fair few things about office life. However, in the past couple of months, I’ve decided that freelancing is indeed what I want to do. It didn’t hurt that my hard work finally began to pay off with contracts and freelance work, but it was a stint back in the office as a contract worker and a subsequent offer for a full time job that made me realize I am actually right where I want to be (or at least on the right path).

What I have learned since starting out as a freelancer, however, is that freelancing is not quite the peaches and cream that you imagine it will be when you sit in a cubicle daydreaming. It has plenty of positives, believe me, but it has its share of negatives as well. So, for those of you considering making a jump into the murky depths of freelancing, let me try to talk you out of it. Here are five reasons why you  might want to reconsider.

(If they don’t make you change your mind, tune back in next week for reasons why freelancing is indeed the bee’s knees and then a subsequent post with tips on how to make the leap to full time freelancer.)

1. It can be lonely.
As a freelancer, it’s generally you, your desk, and your computer (or whatever it is you work on). Sure, you can take your work anywhere you want—to the back porch hammock, the coffee shop down the street, or a beach on the Carolina coast. There might be other people around in those places, but let’s face it, the guy working on his novel at the coffee shop probably isn’t looking to be interrupted by some dude he doesn’t know. As a freelancer you don’t have a coworker who you can commiserate with about a project or convince to go on a coffee break with you. There’s no cubicle wall to peer over, no office to pop in on. And while you might be free to go for a beer at 2:30 in the afternoon, your office-dwelling friends probably aren’t, and really, afternoon drinking by yourself is cause for concern. As a freelancer, you need to be either really, really good at alone time or have a pool of freelance friends to drink with mid-afternoon.

2. The work can be inconsistent.
As a freelancer, the best type of work is that in which you’re guaranteed a certain number of hours of work per week. Unfortunately, those gigs are few and far between. Instead, what you tend to find is a lot of project-based work, which basically translates to a couple of days or a couple of weeks of intense work and then a good few weeks of no work from that particular client. Ideally, when one client’s work dries up, another client’s work kicks in, but in reality, what seems to most happen, is that all your clients need all your time all at once. And because each client is your boss and because you want to keep your boss happy, you can’t really call a meeting and say you’re overwhelmed and ask for a bit of help with the workload. (This is especially true as a newbie, when you’re taking all the work you can get and don’t yet have the luxury of being selective.) In the end, this means you’ll have some weeks where you’re working ten hours a day every day of the week, weekends included, and some weeks where you’re lucky to work one full day. Your only constant is irregularity, so if you thrive on a schedule and routine, you might want to reconsider. Every day is a brand new game in the freelance world.

3. And thus the pay can be inconsistent.

When I worked in an office, #2 was true for me there as well. Some weeks I had a ton to do; other weeks I spent most of my time reading blogs. The thing is—and this is a big thing so pay attention—with an office job they pay you even if you don’t do a damn thing all day. As a freelancer, that’s not the case. You only get paid for the hours you actually work. Which means some weeks you might be pulling in the big bucks, and some weeks you  might not get paid at all. If you live hand-to-mouth, this is a not a good thing. It’s also a hard thing for budget keepers, because you never really know how much you’re going to make. Also, as a freelancer, you’re going to have to chase money more often than you’d like. Not all clients are good at paying on time. There’s no direct deposit every two weeks. There’s a check here and a check there, here a check, there a check, definitely not everywhere a check. Give some good hard thought to your comfort level with this kind of financial uncertainty before telling your boss you’re no longer interested in receiving a check from him.

4. Your hourly wage is not nearly as big as it looks.

When you tell people what you charge as a freelancer, you often get looks of amazement, as in “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” And on first examination, it often is. However, if you live in America, you immediately need to knock 15% off that number. That’s how much you have to pay in self-employment taxes to cover the portion of things your employer usually pays for, such as Social Security. Now you have your base pay, from which you will still have to pay income tax (on a self-reported quarterly basis). The self-employment tax is entirely different. Then consider the fact that you’re not getting health insurance, life insurance, paid vacation or sick days, and no employer contributions to a retirement plan. Figure out how much those things are going to cost for you to cover yourself. Divide that out and subtract it from the rate. Then look at the number. It’s not so high now, is it? Now this isn’t to say that freelance pay is bad. It can, in fact, be very, very good, depending on what field you’re in and what clients you find. But when you’re setting your rate, be sure to factor in all the oft-overlooked costs that will be coming out of that money. It’s more than you think.

5. You must constantly look for work.

Job hunting sucks. It’s always a relief to get a job and be able to tuck that resume and reference list away in a drawer and forget about it. If you’re a freelancer, however, you don’t get to do that. Your resume and references should be getting a constant workout. The nature of freelance work is that it is fluid. You never know when work from a client is going to dry up or when a client  might decide it’s easier for them to hire someone in-house to do the work you’ve been doing as a freelancer. To avoid being left high and dry, freelancers must constantly be looking for work, following new leads, making connections, and maintaining relationships with current and previous clients. During both weeks when you have five hours of work and weeks when you have fifty hours of work, you’ve got to keep up the hunt. It’s hard work, and you don’t get paid for it, but you’ll end up not getting paid at all if you don’t do it.

You Can Go Home Again

As we sat in the transit lounge of the Seoul airport in October 2009, existing for a few hours in the in-between, in the interim between our round-the-world trip and the life that awaited us at home, my thoughts went only in one direction: home. I thought of catching up with my family and friends. I thought of the jeans that I hadn’t wiggled into in a year. I thought of homecooked meals and good Tex Mex and a refrigerator stocked with cheese. I thought of the adventure of moving to a new city, one that we had never even visited before. Perhaps it is because I am a person that tends to look forward rather than backward, or perhaps it was because the round-the-world trip was not yet far enough in the past to be worthy of reminiscence, but either way, my mind did not flit to memories of our adventures or pull up images of favorite moments. After one year on the road, I was ready to go home.

Fast-forward to February 2010. We are deep into winter, snowed-in in the south, which everyone knows is worse than being snowed-in in the north, where at least people are prepared. After a year of full-time summer, winter is worse than I remembered. It is cold, dreary, gray. It seems like it is always dark. Some days, I open my bookmarks page and pull up all the travel blogs I had so loved to read in the run-up to our trip and in the year we traveled. I try to make myself read, but I can’t get into it. Though there are certainly travelers, who like us, have taken a substantial trip and then returned home to other adventures, it seems to me, in my state, that everyone has become a “digital nomad.” What I take away from everything I read is that a RTW trip is not enough; what real travelers do is cut all ties and live their lives entirely on the road. We came home. We go to work. We spend Friday night running errands at Target. I feel like we failed. For months, I try to figure out where we went wrong and how we can join this crowd of digital nomads.

Jump ahead to Summer 2010. I get to go home to Louisville every month. I go shopping with my mom and laugh at my dad’s jokes. I road trip with my brothers. I share enormous pieces of chocolate cake with friends. We read haikus at Jeff’s sister’s wedding. We grill out and then sit with friends on our back porch and talk until even the cicadas have quit singing. We eat hamburgers and watch the Durham Bulls play under the ferocious North Carolina sun. We go to the farmer’s market and chat with the men and women selling us yellow lemon heirloom tomatoes and rounds of goat cheese. We try out new recipes in an effort to keep up with the okra and cucumbers taking over our garden. We ride our bikes down the Tobacco Trail. In short, we rediscover the pleasures of the ordinary, of growing roots, of having a place we call home. We renew friendships and make new ones and remember how it has always been the people, and not the places, that make our time on earth count.

It takes almost a year, but I return to the blogs. I read the words again and hear something different this time. This time I enjoy reading the blogs for what they are, accounts of travelers of all different types trying to figure out their place in the world, offering suggestions and ideas but not claiming that their way is the only way. I have accepted the fact that it is okay to like your job, even if it’s not the type you can take on the road; that there is no weakness in wanting to be close to family and friends; that adventure can be found anywhere so long as you keep your mind open and adapt the personality of a yes man. I have decided that you can love home and love to travel, that the two are not inherently contradictory. A year after our plane touched down on American soil, I realize that not only can you go home again, but also that’s it okay to do so.

2011: A Fresh Start

Good riddance, 2010. Sure, you had your moments. Colombia was fantastic. You can sign me up for another couple of weeks there.

Moments from the Yellowstone roadtrip will forever live as legend. And we proved once and for all, that neither tornadoes, nor torrential rains, nor wind-whipped snow can hold us down (or keep us from sleeping in a tent).

My baby brother graduated from college (what?!). Jeff and I celebrated five years of marriage. We rallied for sanity by going to an insane rally. We watched friends wed and celebrated new life with other friends.

We traveled, not nearly as much as the year before, but to places both familiar and new. I drove over 8,000 miles in Kentucky in the name of research for a new guide book. We began to get to know Durham and the state of North Carolina.

2010, overall, was good to us.

Yet, to be honest, 2010 was a challenging year for me. I felt unmoored. Certain questions hung over me all year. Who am I? Who do I want to be? When we left for our round-the-world trip, we threw off the bowlines. Goodbye job. Goodbye home. When we came back to the U.S.,  I found that I wasn’t certain where I was supposed to tie up.

Did I want to be a writer? And what did that mean anyways? Novels, short stories, travel articles, marketing copy? Did I want to be an editor? Did I want to be a teacher? Did I want to throw in my hat to the travel blogging ring? I had no idea. I hemmed and hawed. I flitted back and forth. I tried this and that. I did a lot of things but not very many of them well. I lacked focus. I’d decide that I didn’t want to do something and then I’d read about someone else succeeding at it, and pride would have me back at the thing I’d just decided against, because if they could do it, well, so could I. I often asked myself “What do you want?” or “Who do you want to be?”, but I didn’t really take the time to answer that, at least not honestly.

In some ways, this blog was that indecisiveness personified. I neglected it. I brought it back. I re-designed it. I ignored it. It crashed. This blog was begun as a round-the-world travel blog, and just as I couldn’t figure out how to redefine myself post-RTW-trip, I couldn’t figure out how to redefine Lives of Wander either.

But I think I’ve figured it out. Both what I want to be and what I want this blog to be. As for me, I want first to be a fiction writer. That’s priority number one. Then comes making a living, which I would like to do through editing (at least until I show up on the NYT Bestseller List or get one of those genius grants!). I love comma splices (or more accurately, I love correcting them). What can I say? And also on the priority list is travel writing. Though I’ve tried to talk myself out of it about 8,372 times this year, I just can’t escape from it. I love to talk travel, read travel, write travel, and just flat out travel. And that’s where this blog comes in. You see, as the title says, this blog is about my life of wander, a life that did not begin nor end with our round-the-world trip, and thus Lives of Wander lives on, though in a new, updated format. I hope you like it. I hope you take the time to explore. I hope you come back and join in the conversation, because even when I haven’t known anything else, I’ve always known that it’s the people that make the journey worthwhile.

[Thanks for your patience and encouragement through this topsy-turvy year. I’m still working through some of the glitches of re-launch, including re-sizing photos and correcting the text that got messed up during the transfer from one host to another. Fingers crossed that by Monday, January 22, I’m up to speed with new, exciting posts about travel and the places life takes me.]

Becoming a Yes Man

Sometimes as I climb the stairs with a basket of laundry, I stop and look at the photos hanging on the wall—photos of the remarkable dunes of Sossusvlei, of children walking through the rain in Sapa, of a frog clinging to a reed in the Okavango Delta, of the bright red sail of a dow in Mozambique—and I marvel that I was there, that I did that.

Life, at least mine, has a way of keeping you in the here and now. Sure, there are moments for reminiscing. There are smells and sounds that trigger memories. There are people, few now but still some, that ask to hear stories about the year we spent wandering in the world. But most of the time, the concern is for the present. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of life here, life now, it’s easy to think that that one year was an aberration, that we went off-radar for a year and then popped back on-radar a year later picking up right where we left off. Between runs to Target to purchase toothpaste and days spent raking leaves in the backyard, it’s quite possible to think that our adventure had no lasting impact on us.

But that would be false. Our trip changed us in many ways. It certainly made us view the world differently. It made us more appreciative of what we have. It made us more aware of what is possible. In ways both big and small—neuronal even—our trip affected us, no doubt. To me, the most noticeable effect of our trip is that it turned us into “Yes Men.”

No, not those type of Yes Men, not pushovers or followers or hanger-ons or stooges, but more like the Jim Carey version of a Yes Man, a person who says yes to every opportunity. Before we went on the trip, we (and especially I, if we’re being honest) always had a lot of excuses for not doing things. “I’m not going to know anyone there” or “If we don’t do laundry tonight, we’re not going to have a single pair of clean underwear” or “I wish I’d known ahead of time” or “That’s a lot of driving for just a few hours of being there” escaped my lips on multiple occasions.

But now, well now, I’m more likely to say “What the hell.” Now, when a neighbor I’ve never met shows up at our door with an invitation to a housewarming party, we say yes, even though we’re not going to know a person there. Now, when a neighbor throws some hamburgers on the grill and invites us over for an impromptu barbecue, we say yes, even if I have chicken thawing in the refrigerator. Now, when a graduate student we meet at a university function suggests we join them for trivia night at the local pub, we say yes, though we’ve only exchanged a few minutes worth of conversation with him. Now, when Jon Stewart throws a rally in D.C., we get in the car and go, even if we’re going to drive a total of 8 hours in order to be there for just 24 hours.

You see, what we learned on our trip is that life is the here and the now—regardless of whether that here and now is a January morning at the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu or a November night at Bull McCabe’s pub in downtown Durham, North Carolina—and the best way we can live that life, that here and now, is to say “yes” to it, even if sometimes that means we have to go commando the next day.

February Doldrums

The February doldrums have got me in a headlock, and they show no interest in letting go. Every so often they’re throwing in a noogie to add insult to injury. I’m defeated. Come evening I have no struggle left in me. There’s nothing I can do, but throw myself onto the couch, snuggle under a blanket, and test my knowledge against the contestants on Jeopardy. Yes, my life has been reduced to that.

But the good news is I’m apparently pretty smart. Or else know a lot of random facts. I’d consider going on Jeopardy myself, but then I always consider how embarrassing it would be if you were in the negatives when Final Jeopardy rolled out and you got the boot. Mortifying. All the senior citizens I know would see it.

Anyhow, I usually intend to get off the couch after Jeopardy, especially seeing as it comes on here at 7 p.m. (what the heck is that? does this happen anywhere else or just in NC?), but for the past week the Olympics with their tragedy, triumph, and tear-inducing biopics have sucked me into a bottomless pit of television watching. What is it about the Olympics that does that? Is it that they allow for overt patriotism, the kind that ends with chanting things like U-S-A, U-S-A? Is it witnessing first hand that we all really can get along (at least for the most part)? Is it seeing the enthusiasm and exuberance of the athletes as they march into the the stadium, photographing and videotaping the whole experience? It is a morbid fascination with crashes and last-minute meltdowns, proving that these athletes are human too? I think it’s probably a little bit of all of this (and honestly, from a marketing standpoint, they know what they’re doing holding the Olympics in the most boring month of the year), because any other time, if I turned on the TV to find a bunch of guys cross-country skiing around a course and then stopping every so often to shoot their guns, I’d find something else to do. This week, though, I’m all “Ohhh, biathlon. Got to watch this.” I can’t explain it. I’m just accepting it.

So yes, you’re now realizing this post has dippity-do to do with travel. Sorry. This rotten weather cancelled my planned trip to Kentucky, so I don’t have any interesting stories to tell about covered bridges or barn quilts or the other fascinating sights of Northern Kentucky. But I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten you. Thus this post.

And here, you can have a photo too.

It’s from the Galapagos. Look at the color of that water. Look at the sunshine.


I’d give you a few more, but they’re taking forever to upload, and I’ve got to run. It’s time to watch people sweep the ice (aka curl).

(Check back Monday for a real post… I promise.)

A Credo for the New Year

This year, instead of joining most of the world in making a bunch of half-hearted or even well-intentioned resolutions that we’ll all indubitably break before the first month of 2010 is over, I’ve decided to say adios to that guilt-inducing tradition. Having grown up Catholic, I have no trouble finding things to be guilty about every day thank you very much. Instead, for this fresh (and ridiculously cold, I might add) year, I’ve chosen to establish a credo, to write down just exactly what it is I believe, and then to try to live my life with it in mind.

And so a year from now, when 2010 chugs off into the night and 2011 slithers down the pole to say hello, I might not have a better butt, but I will hopefully be a better person.

I *think* that’s what matters most.

And so, without further ado, here it is.

I believe that people matter most.
That the relationships I have with my family and friends are my most precious assets.

I believe that we all have something to offer, and that it is our responsibility to share our talents with the world and to allow others to share theirs.
That, though we are not all equal in every way, we all deserve equal rights.
That human rights are non-negotiable.
That no matter how different we may seem, at heart we all have the same basic desires.

I believe in living sustainably.
In choosing to bike or walk whenever possible.
In reducing, reusing, and recycling.
In supporting local business, even if it costs a little bit more.
In living within, if not below, my means.

I believe that diversity enriches our lives.
That listening to different opinions opens my eyes to perspectives I hadn’t considered.
That changing my mind when I’m convinced of another view makes me a stronger, not weaker, person.
That it’s okay to agree to disagree.

I believe that at times hope is enough to sustain us and to take away hope is to destroy life.
That dreams are powerful but that they require action.
That love empowers and forgiveness frees.

I believe that the less I want, the more I’ll find I have.
That the more I give, the richer my life will be.
That a hand up helps more than a hand out.

I believe that I can’t control everything, but I can always control how I react.
That every day I get to choose how I will live that day.
That it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I believe in dancing even though I have two left feet and singing even though I’m tone deaf.
In not worrying about what others think but about what I believe.
In disappointing others if that’s the only way to stay true to myself.

I believe that there is something out there far greater than me.
That our world is an awesome place begging to be explored.
That life should be celebrated.
Every. Single. Day.

We’ve Got Answers

Thanks to all of those who left us questions when we opened up the floor. Here is our attempt at answering. If you’ve thought of something else you want to ask, go ahead and do so. We have received other questions via email, and we plan to answer those in a later installation.

Did you ever have to get medical treatment or even buy medicine?
Only two sicknesses stick out in my mind. On New Year’s Eve 2008, two days before we were to begin our hike to Machu Picchu, I came down with a stomach bug. I first got sick on the flight from Lima to Cuzco, and it didn’t let up the rest of the day. Making it worse, we were in a freezing cold room with a crappy bathroom. It was also pouring rain. And to top it off we had to go to the trekking office to make our final payment. I had to stop about every 20 feet, and at one point, I was so bad off my brother actually offered to carry me. The next day I felt better, but then it returned the next day, our first day on the Inca Trail, when I hurled the second I stood up from the lunch table. Unfortunately, I also passed it on to my brother, who got to learn just how tough he was when he was horribly sick on the hardest (and what turned out to be the coldest and wettest) day of the hike.

The second incident was when Jeff and I both simultaneously came down with what we strongly suspect to have been the swine flu. We were in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was experiencing a big outbreak of the epidemic at the time. We had all the symptoms—crazy delusion-causing fevers, respiratory issues, horrible aches and pains, and overall yuckiness. I also had the bonus of stomach issues. We were sick for about three days, but there was one night I thought we just might die. I may have actually wished to die because I felt so miserable. Luckily we were able to secure some Tamiflu, which really helped.

Other than that, we were pretty much healthy. Our stomachs also proved to be made of steel as we handled the local food and water with nothing more than a blip of discomfort here and there.

What is the one things that pissed you off the most?
We got annoyed at the fact that most people in the world have no idea what a line is. We got tired of being quoted prices many times higher than they should have been and having to haggle for a fair price. I thought the guy on our Inca Trail hike who didn’t think we needed to tip our guide or the porters was an ass. But I only remember getting really pissed a few times.

Once was when the bus left us, as well as the four other tourists onboard, at the Vietnam-Laos border, forcing us to hunt down and pay for a private mode of transport because it took us too long to get our visas. I actually took the getting left behind in stride; what were we to do? What got us pissed was the company’s refusal to take responsibility or give us any sort of fair compensation.

The second was when my purse was stolen on the train in India. I wished all sorts of evil on him, and if I had had a chance at him, it would not have been pretty.

The third was later on the same day in India, when we saw the reality of the caste system come into play and witnessed the level of inhumanity that so many people live with every day. We haven’t told this story here before, and it would take too long to explain in this post, so check back next week when I’ll tell my Varanasi cycle rickshaw story.

What made you smile the biggest?
I immediately thought of the kids in Africa when I read this question. It’s funny because I wouldn’t say that either of us are huge kid/baby people. Don’t get me wrong, we like them, and might even want our own one day, but we definitely don’t fawn over every one we see. But the kids in Africa were so spirited, so funny, so contagiously in love with life. And they were always so damn thrilled to see us (unless they were absolutely scared to death of us). I still remember turning this corner in Zanzibar and coming across a group of three small kids. As soon as they saw us, they started shrieking “Mzungu! Mzungu! Mzungu!” (what they call white people), jumping up and down, and going absolutely crazy. It was like they’d just won the lottery. Simply amazing. We don’t quite get the same reception around here.

World’s best airline? Worst?
Air Emirates has earned its reputation as a top-tier airline. The seats were comfy and came with individual entertainment systems with tons of options, and food and service was good. We also had a good experience on Air France, getting exit row seats and a choice of approximately 1 zillion movies on our own individual systems.

Air India Express was probably the worst. Our flight was delayed  for 6 hours, and we could get absolutely no information on why or when it might possibly leave. Also, the passengers on this airline were nuts. I think every single person went the bathroom during the flight (which was less than 2 hours), and they made a line all the way down the aisle of the plane. And more than one person actually got up to attempt to go the bathroom as we were landing. We were literally about to put wheels down when they stood up. I know this isn’t directly about the airline, but the flight crew didn’t seem to have much control or influence.

Where in South America should I go?
What a beautiful continent! I’m ready to go back. Go to Patagonia if you want to see natural beauty the likes of which you can’t imagine. Go to the Galapagos because you get to snorkel with seals and penguins and see things you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Go to Buenos Aires to eat steak, ice cream, and wine, be seduced by the tango, marvel at the beautiful people, photograph the architecture, and try to speak their crazy version of Spanish. Go to Machu Picchu because it’s mystical and magical and simply astounding.

You are supposed to go to the dentist every 6 months. Did you?
No. I don’t even like going to the dentist here (though yes, I do it). There was no way we were braving it in some foreign country.

Best thing you ate? Worst thing you ate? Strangest thing you ate?

Best according to Jeff:
Coconut Ice Cream with Dulce De Leche (Argentina), Steak (Argentina), Keow Teow Noodles (Laos), Malai Kofta (India), Naan (Amritsar, India)

Best according to Theresa: Steak (Argentina), Cau Lao Noodles (Hoi An, Vietnam), Fresh Fruit Shakes (Asia), Mangoes (Malaysia), Naan (Amritsar, India), Potato Momos (Dharamshala), Omelette with chips and roti (Mbeya, Tnazania). Strangely enough, what I find myself most craving though is gallo pinto, Nicaraguan style basic beans and rice.

Worst: Neither of us cared for the chincheros (fried pork skin) given to us by our host family in Granada. I also have to say we’re not big fans of cassava, or the million other names third-world countries around the globe have for the starchy white stuff that fills the world’s stomach without providing any real nutrition.

Strangest: We didn’t eat bugs or any of the other creepy-crawly-type things that really freak people out. In Africa, we did try ostrich, springbok, kudu, and some other types of wild game. In Asia, I had fish balls, which I actually liked.

What’s your favorite place in the world and why?
Africa, Africa, Africa. If I were to be given another year to travel, I’d immediately hop a plane to Africa, buy me an old 4WD, and spend the entire year exploring the continent. The landscapes were phenomenal, and the people even more so. I felt like our most “authentic” experiences were in Africa, that we experienced it on a more intimate level than most other places. I also have to say that I never, ever, ever got sick of looking out my window and seeing an elephant or zebra or lion or whatever. It’s just simply the most amazing place I’ve ever been.