stuck in a moment: a morning walk at little difficult run stream valley park

Saturday, October 22:  This Saturday morning in late October, a walk in the woods.  It’s been Indian summer and the leaves have been slow to change. Things feel muted, quiet, not jubilant, not exciting.  Dull, quiet, intractable.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

Last October, I was excited to be back home in Virginia after my year in China. I looked forward to spending more time with my family. Now, a year later, I’ve lost my enthusiasm. I came home hoping to spend time with my kids, but alas, they are growing up, slowly, and growing away.  I came home to spend time with Mike, but alas, he is working long hours and on weekends doesn’t have the level of energy or wanderlust I have.

Last year, Mike and I went to Chincoteague for my birthday, October 25, and to Antietam for our anniversary on November 13, but this year he’s been inundated with work and we are combining my birthday and our anniversary by going the first weekend in November to Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the supposedly beautiful Babcock State Park and the New River Gorge. We had a wonderful time in Iceland and we renovated our house this year.  All of these things I should be happy about. I am pleased about these things, but it’s not enough. Something is missing — a sense of purpose, a sense of moving forward, a sense that I’m not bogged down in stagnation.  A sense of love, belonging, acceptance.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I look around me at an America that is teetering on the edge.  I fear that instead of progressing in our values, we’re going backwards.  I’m afraid that the upcoming election could be the start of regressing to 1950 or before.  I look around me and see nearly half of all my fellow countrymen full of hatred and fear and anger.  I am uneasy and anxious.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I am carefully considering whether go abroad again.  When I go abroad, I meet people of all nationalities who are generally more open-minded than many Americans.  I learn that most people are not that much different than I am.  I learn that though cultures may vary, people are the same.  They want justice, fairness, love and success. They want opportunity and acceptance for who they are.  They want to participate in the wealth the world has to offer.  They don’t want to be struggling to put food on the table.  They want to be happy.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

No matter how much I try to escape it, the old reverse culture shock is kicking in.  I’ve talked about this phenomenon before, upon returning home from abroad, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  Though at first I was happy to be back, that old feeling is creeping in. I try to shake it off, to ignore it.  I’ve tried to assimilate, to melt back into America.  But I can’t quite do it.  I feel acutely the need to escape.  Wanderlust is like a genie dancing before me, enticing me back out into the world at large.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I need a purpose.  I need adventure.  I need to have like-minded, progressive people around me.  I have been waiting until our disgraceful election is over, then I’ll be making my decision.  Leave or stay?

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

This October has been the worst one I’ve ever had, as far as my outlook, my mood.  Usually, I love the fall.  I love the freedom, the change that is promised with cool crisp air and the bright burst of color in the leaves.  But this year, I just feel trapped, bogged down, frustrated.

I don’t have a complaint about the people in my family except that their lives go on without much understanding of how I feel.  Maybe it’s because I try to put a smile on my face and pretend I’m fitting in. But inside, I don’t really feel that.

I think whatever feelings you have in life, they’re bound to rear their heads and make themselves known.  No matter how much you try to put a lid on them, to deny them, they sit percolating beneath the surface.  I just love it (not!) when well-intentioned people say, Get a job!  Get a hobby!  I have tried to find a job to no avail, and I occupy myself with writing (my blog, a memoir), daily walks, and cooking.  These are solitary pursuits.  I need to get out and interact with people and have a purpose and an adventure.  I don’t want to volunteer my time at this point in my life, as I have experience to offer that I should get paid for!  My hobbies — travel, writing, photography — all call out to me. They’re intertwined, my three loves, and they’re beckoning me, as a package.  I find it dull doing one without the others.

I’m lucky to have a good husband who will support my dreams.  He will support them, but of course he really doesn’t want me to go.  This means I’ll feel guilty, as if I’m abandoning him.  I feel bad that he might be lonely while I’m away.  But he has his hobbies too, and he can do them perfectly well without me: biking, watching sports, and of course, work; though it’s not a hobby, it’s a time-consuming activity nonetheless.

Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Mike at Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m reading a cute Swedish book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. In the book, 59-year-old Ove is informed at work that they are “retiring the older generation.” Suddenly, he’s not a person, but a “generation!” Ove is a curmudgeon, that’s for sure.  But he speaks some truth when he thinks, later in the book, “This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up.”

I’ve talked to many people of my generation who are not seen, not heard.  I want to be seen as a person who can contribute, not a burden, not a has-been!  I often think back to the disheartening time when I faithfully applied for 250 jobs, every day for a year, only to never hear anything back.  At that time I had just completed my Master’s degree at age 52.  Now, though I haphazardly apply for jobs, my heart isn’t into going through all that hassle for no return!  Especially now that I’m 61.  I have the best chance of finding something abroad, although I know I’ve aged out in many places.  But at least I know I have a better chance of finding a job in some far-flung place than in the “land of opportunity!”

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

I’m waiting.  After November 9, I’ll decide whether to begin a search in earnest either here or abroad.  I’m not ready to call it quits yet.

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park
Little Difficult Run Stream Valley Park

You can find my previous post from 2013 about this trail at: a weekend of indian summer & work, & a little walk in nature.

15 ideas for treasure-seeking in the home territory {the land of the decidedly unexotic}

Tuesday, April 26:  Often while home in Virginia, I wander in daydreams through exotic parts of the world. I run tedious errands in my car or take my daily 3-mile walks, mesmerized by a playlist of music that takes me back to places I’ve loved. I peruse Instagram pictures of foreign places and make lists of where I want to go next. I flip dreamily through travel magazines and watch foreign movies.  I eat out at ethnic restaurants to savor foreign flavors. I read my favorite bloggers who live abroad, and keep in touch with my friends abroad.  I live in a parallel world that is currently out of my reach; therefore, I’m not fully alive in my life HERE & NOW.

I will always yearn to be abroad again, not only to travel, but to live and work in a place, to immerse myself in a culture.  Doing such is a deeper, more satisfying, and often challenging, experience than travel, which feels to me like skimming the surface. It is part of my make-up, I think, to be a nomad, a wanderer, and I don’t doubt that if there are such things as previous lives, I was once a semi-nomadic Bedouin, or a peripatetic nomad, offering my skills to the settled populations among whom I traveled. The only skills I have to offer to foreigners in this life are my English language skills, though it’s far-fetched to call them skills.  After all, I grew up naturally speaking English. I’m thankful for that: my native language enables me to wander. (Of course, I have a Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy, but no employer has ever been able to recognize the skills I offer in that area!)

I agree wholeheartedly with a quote by my heroine, Freya Stark: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” I love mornings in new locales, where a whole day of experiences lies in wait for me, full of delightful surprises.

In Northern Virginia, and in Virginia at large, I often walk around with blinders on, not noticing, or even caring, what my homeland has to offer in the way of natural beauty, history, and culinary and cultural experiences.  Being abroad is the high that we adventure junkies crave, and when we’re home, we often find life excruciatingly boring.  This is, of course, a fallacy of my mind, a lazy way of thinking.  Life is only as boring as I allow it to be. I’m finding that if I open my eyes and continue to throw myself out into the world, even my constricted world on the east coast of the United States, I can indeed find mini-adventures.  I just need to be open to possibilities.  I need to get up and go.

On this day in April, after a long spell of dry weather, and going quietly crazy in a house full of contractors and deconstruction, pounding and loud music, I venture out to Burnside Farms, a cutting garden where one can pick flowers.  I’ve heard the tulips and daffodils are in bloom.  I’ve never been to this place before, so I drive out west about a half-hour to Haymarket, Virginia.  Here I find some pretty scenes, even though the fields are quite dry and the tulips are past their prime.  My first inclination is to write it off as disappointing.  But with my camera, I’m able to find bits of loveliness, bits of the exotic.  What lends beauty to the scene are dramatic clouds moving across an azure sky, colorful flags, close-up details of the tulips that are still blooming, and the garden’s Dutch theme, with its windmill and wooden shoes.  Even the baskets for picking flowers and the colorful jars and vases sold for making flower arrangements are inviting and fascinating, if one pays attention.

Burnside Farms
Burnside Farms

As a person who seeks stimulation in life, who is always eager to discover new places and experiences, I’ve been giving thought to how I can go treasure-seeking at home.  How can I open my eyes to find the exotic in my backyard?  Here are fifteen ideas:

  1.   Look for inspiration everywhere.  I find inspiration in Virginia is For Lovers: Virginia’s Travel Blog, local Welcome Centers and tourist information centers, photos people post on Instagram and Facebook, Moon Handbooks from Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and the other surrounding states.  I pick up brochures everywhere I go.  I talk with friends about places they’ve been and loved. Virginia is a state of lush greenery, mountains, beaches, rivers and forests, not to mention history.  Also, as northern Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C. there are plenty of cultural activities and ethnic restaurants and I can find multitudes of ideas in the Washington Post Going Out Guide.  I also belong to Meetup.com photography and wine-tasting groups, and though I don’t go out often with the groups, I do borrow from their ideas for outings.  There is also the fabulous Virginia Wine, which lists all Virginia wineries, Cideries and Meaderies.
Dutch wooden shoes
Dutch wooden shoes

2.  Seek out something that is unique about a place.  Rejoice in defining features.  In today’s outing, I find a display of jumbled wooden Dutch shoes, suggestive of the Netherlands.  In my foreign travels, I always manage to find something unique about a place that distinguishes it from any other.  In Oman, frankincense and silver jewelry, camels and souqs, and abandoned ruins.  In Kathmandu, Buddhist chants wafting out of every shop.  In Vietnam, abundant offerings of fruits and flowers to the Buddha.  In Cambodia, cheap but enjoyable massages on every corner and ruins overtaken by nature.

3.  Seek out the wonders of nature. Observe them up close and at different angles. Here, I find tulips and daffodils.  I go often to local gardens, national and state parks and arboretums.  In California’s Joshua Tree National Park, I found the jagged leaves and wild-armed silhouettes of the trees for which the park is named. In Oman, the rocks and date palms and wadis.  In Korea, tea plantations.  In Lake Langano, Ethiopia, the acacia trees, big skies and pumice stone shores.  In China, pinnacles of rocks and rice terraces.

tulip
tulip
tulips
tulips
tulip
tulip
fringed tulip
fringed tulip

4.  Marvel in grand landscapes.  There are plenty of grand landscapes to be found in Virginia, from mountains to beaches to rivers, forests, and meadows.  Here, at Burnside Farms, is a landscape found commonly throughout the western part of the state: rolling farmland bordered by stands of trees. Whenever I drive west from the suburbs, I marvel in Virginia’s green undulating fields often bordered by white fences or dotted with cows.  In Oman, I found stark moon-like mountain landscapes, endless sand deserts, the ocean along the rocky east coast of the country.  In China, it was the karst formations along the Li River.  In Korea, it was the wetlands of Suncheon Bay.  In Jordan, magnificent Petra, which seems to go on for an eternity.

field of tulips
field of tulips
cartwheel tulip
cartwheel tulip

5.  Observe the clothing people wear.  In America, I love fashion because anything goes.  I of course favor Anthropologie but there are many choices everywhere.  Wherever I go, I look at what women wear, because I’m a textile lover and I adore a kind of loose, bohemian fashion.  I’ve never been a fan of high fashion; it bores me.  In China, I loved looking at the fashionable Chinese girls, though the clothes were always too tiny for me.  In Oman, I loved the scarves and abayas of the Omani girls. In Myanmar, I loved the fabric skirts worn by local women, the longyi.  I couldn’t stop looking at the boldly colorful saris in India.

pink tulips
pink tulips
lavender tulips
lavender tulips

5.  Look for man-made monuments and memorials, ruins and museums, and historical buildings and battlefields. Today, I find a windmill on the grounds of Burnside Farms.  In Philadelphia recently, we found the buildings marking the birth of our nation, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  We recently spent two days wandering around the battlefields of Antietam, where I learned much about that fateful day of battle during the Civil War.  There are plenty of these places everywhere, and I’m surprised by how well-done most of them are.  In Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre.  The Mezquita in Cordoba, the Alhambra in Granada.  The ruins, abandoned and beckoning, in Oman.  In Greece, Delphi and the Meteora monasteries. 

windmill mania
windmill mania
daffodil field
daffodil field

6.  Take note of forms of shelter: houses, tents, huts, treehouses.  Here at Burnside Gardens, the only shelter is a tent.  As the garden closes when things aren’t in bloom, it doesn’t make sense to have permanent shelter.  In Ethiopia, I found tukul huts and enjoyed drinks in a treehouse bar.  In Oman, buildings were made of concrete to keep cool air in and hot air out, often behind a large concrete gate for privacy.  In Rethymno, Crete, the pretty little apartments lining alleys, each with potted plants and window boxes outside. In Dallas, many homes are built with beautiful local stone, or simply faced with it.  In the western part of Virginia, I can find log homes and old country wooden houses with big front porches.  I love how houses vary with the materials that nature provides.

daffodils
daffodils

7.  Take note of the myriad creative ways people display foods, flowers and other items.  Here, tulips are charmingly displayed in a wheelbarrow.  I love to visit markets to see how fruits and vegetables are displayed, or how dry goods are displayed in shop windows. I love wandering the streets of small town America, looking into shops.  There’s Eastern Market in D.C., and then there are the Chinese and Japanese markets, the Turkish Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona.  I love the displays of textiles and souvenirs by locals at Bagan’s temples in Myanmar.  Even when you think you’ve seen it all, you can find someone’s uniquely creative display that makes you smile.

a wheelbarrow of tulips
a wheelbarrow of tulips

8.  Notice how people carry things.  What kinds of bags, baskets, suitcases, purses are the norm?  Here, there are baskets provided for picking flowers.  In Ethiopia, people carried baskets on their heads.  In China, people devised all kinds of imaginable ways to carry huge loads, either with slings on their backs or on rickshaws or overloaded bicycles.  In India, every animal imaginable was put into service to carry commercial goods.  Colorful cloth bags are carried by women from Mexico to Vietnam.  Women in Myanmar and Ethiopia carry long bundles of sticks on their backs.

baskets for picking
baskets for picking
flower-picking baskets
flower-picking baskets
tulips
tulips

9.  Seek out the ways people try to make beauty of their surroundings. Here at Burnside Gardens, I find colorful jars and pots and a pretty display of flowers.  Enjoy gardens, trees, window boxes, potted plants, furnishings, paint colors. Look for bonsai or topiary or water gardens. Do people paint their homes colorfully, as in Nepal or India or San Juan, Puerto Rico, or do they put Azulejos, ceramic tiles, on their buildings as in Portugal? Do they put fancy wrought iron gates at the entrance to their properties?  Do they display paintings or photographs on their walls?  Check out street art, or urban murals, displayed on walls to bring beauty to otherwise blighted areas.

10. Try out every mode of transportation. Here in America, I mostly drive my car as our public transportation is not great; however, I’ve often taken metro or taxis. One of the best things to do in the USA is take a road trip (Road Trip America).  I’ve taken horse-drawn carriages in Savannah, Georgia, tuk-tuks in India, motorbikes in China, rickety buses in Egypt and Cambodia. I’ve ridden bicycles all over China.  I’ve been pulled by an ox in Myanmar and ridden a donkey in Jordan, as well as strolled atop camels in Egypt.  It’s always fun to take some kind of boat when possible, sailboats or motorboats in Annapolis, Maryland; ferries in Greece or China; long-tail boats on Inle Lake in Myanmar.

11. Check out sidewalk vignettes.  I often like to check out window displays on sidewalks, as well as people gathering in small groups.  In China, I found groups of old people on sidewalks, either playing games such as mahjong, or doing exercises to music on the street.  In Pokhara, Nepal, I found people lounging in chairs reading newspapers or children studying on the street near their parents’ shops.  While driving through small Indian villages, we saw men asleep on platforms covered in red spittle from betel leaf or women asleep on the concrete floors outside of a train station while rats scrounged around them.  Street performers are in abundance on sidewalks in European towns, as well as in American cities.  I love to look at newspaper and book kiosks in any city.

12.  Try local cuisines, bakeries, wineries and craft breweries.  Though there isn’t much to eat at Burnside Farms today, I do help myself to a Coke Zero and a Reese’s Cup.  We have so many ethnic restaurants in northern Virginia, being a suburb of cosmopolitan Washington, D.C.  I love to try Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, and Lebanese food, as well as farm-to-table restaurants that offer fresh foods right off of local farms. I love eating at small locally owned restaurants in all my travels, and I’ve enjoyed wonderful meals in Nepal, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, and especially Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.  Besides ethnic and locally grown food, there are plenty of wineries and craft beer places where we can take tasting tours, seeing the countryside and enjoying a bit of a high while we’re at it.  Sometimes it’s fun to eat a light dinner in and go out just for dessert.

13.  Seek out cultural events.  We’ve gone to see numerous plays at D.C. theaters.  We also like to attend music by local bands at Friday Night Live! in Herndon.  I’ve been to Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art.  There are cultural events every weekend around Washington, but we don’t often venture out to them.  Maybe we’ll try to do that more. In Portugal, I loved seeing Fado; in Spain, Spanish guitar and flamenco, as well as local dancers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Kathmandu, Nepal.

14.  Anything looks good at sunrise and sunset.  Go anywhere during this time, and enjoy the view!

15.  Walk.  Get out of any vehicle and use your two feet to take you through a place in an up close and personal way. Hike in nature, in forests, wetlands, or in the mountains.  Do an urban hike, just starting at some point in a city and seeing where you end up.  I’ve done this in Washington, D.C. and in Toledo and Barcelona, Spain; Evora and Lisbon, Portugal.  This is where you really notice the unique and interesting things a place has to offer, always on your feet. 🙂

I don’t know how long I’ll stay at the home-front before deciding to venture off again into unknown territories.  But for the time being, I’ll try to make the best of being at home, by seeking out the treasures that are here in abundance, if only I open my eyes. 🙂

On the side, of course, I’ll still be planning my next adventure abroad.   Coming up soon: Iceland. 🙂

return from china to los angeles & a day at anacapa island

Wednesday, July 15:  This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside.  I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again.  Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport.  I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.

Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive.  Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time.  When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight.  There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.

Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures.  The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving.  I stand in that line for well over an hour!  By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing!  After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.

When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long.  We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.

I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat.  They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked.  Misery!  I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese.  He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China.  He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics.  He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed.  When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese.  He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!”  After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.

When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A.  We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line.  First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags.  I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased.  The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well.  When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up.  I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it.  It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!”  The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight.   Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him.  He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials.  She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.”  He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him.  We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight.  Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.

When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live.  I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection.  He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady.  I will take as long as I need to take.”  I say, “Fine!”  Then he asks a few more questions and releases me.  I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.

At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.”  I panic: “That’s us!  We need to run!”  The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.

I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m.  My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place.  We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life.  It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂

During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next.  I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador.  She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco.  I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.”  I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂

Thursday, July 16:  We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series.  Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes.  After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂

I really needed a day of rest!

Friday, July 17:  This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park.  Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂

At the Oxnard marina
At the Oxnard marina
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island
me in Oxnard, California, preparing to go to Anacapa Island

We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure.  When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool.  I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat.  I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.

boats in Oxnard
boats in Oxnard

We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.

boats in the harbor
boats in the harbor
colorful sailboat
colorful sailboat
boat-friendly marina
boat-friendly marina

Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick.  I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.

We pass a big oil rig.

Oil rig off the California coast
Oil rig off the California coast

According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park.  The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).

Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.

Stephanie and strangers on the boat
Stephanie and strangers on the boat

We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.

underwater dolphins
underwater dolphins

Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

First view of Anacapa Island
First view of Anacapa Island

As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.

Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island
Dive boat off Anacapa Island

Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.

Island Outfitters
Island Packers

We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.

seagulls of Anacapa
seagulls of Anacapa

According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings.  It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas.  I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world.  Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.

seagulls and fledglings
seagulls and fledglings

The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station.  They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).

the pathway to the museum
the pathway to the museum

We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter.  Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.

gulls of Anacapa
gulls of Anacapa
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Ranger buildings on Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Anacapa Island and the Pacific Ocean
Stately seagulls
Stately seagulls

Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.

path to a view
path to a view

Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.

view from a lookout
view of Cathedral Cove
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island
the Pacific Ocean from Anacapa Island

We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.

Path along the island cliffs
Path along the island cliffs
sea gull city
sea gull city

The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets.  You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.

giant coreopsis
giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis
seagulls on giant coreopsis

Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries.  There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.

seagull in bed
seagull in bed

At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly.  We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.

Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
Stephanie and me at Inspiration Point
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
View from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island
view from Inspiration Point
view from Inspiration Point
kelp forests
kelp forests
seagulls as vanguards
seagulls as vanguards

We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse.  The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so.  The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.

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When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end.  I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂

We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.

Sailboat at sea
Sailboat at sea
Anacapa's lighthouse
Anacapa’s lighthouse
sea gull and kelp forest
seagull and kelp forest

We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.

Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.

the arch
the arch
arch at Anacapa
arch at Anacapa

The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.

the glittering sea
the glittering sea
archway to the California coast
archway to the California coast
sailboat on the horizon
sailboat on the horizon

Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.

back at the Oxnard marina
back at the Oxnard marina

We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina.  Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa.  I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂

Cheers!  My sister, Stephanie :-)
Cheers! My sister, Stephanie 🙂
Mahi Mahi Tacos
Mahi Mahi Tacos

We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.

Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China.  This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂

Cheese platter a la Stephanie
Cheese platter a la Stephanie

I’m so happy to be back in the USA!! 🙂

a civil war encampment at sully plantation & a general malaise

Sunday, June 1:  Today I go to Historic Sully Plantation to see a Civil War encampment.  I’m feeling the doldrums today, so I force myself just to get out, as it’s a beautiful day.

Civil War Re-enactors at Sully Historic Plantation
Civil War Re-enactors at Sully Historic Plantation
the encampment
the encampment
Relaxing on a Sunday morning
Relaxing on a Sunday morning
Skeleton soldier
Skeleton soldier

Completed in 1799 by Richard Bland Lee, the main house at Sully Historic Site reflects the history of Fairfax County and combines aspects of Georgian and Federal architecture. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia’s first Representative to Congress, as well as General Robert E. Lee’s uncle.

encampment
encampment
Even little girls are Civil War Re-enactors
Even little girls are Civil War Re-enactors
An ironsmith
An iron smith
Camp setup
Camp setup

On the National Register for Historic Places, and accredited by the American Association of Museums, Sully also includes original outbuildings, representative slave quarter and gardens. Guided tours highlight the early 19th century life of the Richard Bland Lee family, tenant farmers and enslaved African-Americans. Programs reflect the history of Fairfax County through the 20th century.

Civil War tent
Civil War tent
Cavalry horses
Cavalry horses
horse at the encampment
horse at the encampment
tents all in a row
tents all in a row
a peek inside a tent
a peek inside a tent

You can tell how bored I am by life in Virginia that I actually went to this event.  I’m not keen on staged events like these, and though I find it interesting that other people are really into these re-enactments, I’m not that interested in them myself.

Re-enactors
Re-enactors
brightly-attired soldiers, I think they're from an Italian brigade
brightly attired soldiers, I think they’re from an Italian brigade
the encampment
the encampment
colorful soldiers
colorful soldiers
a peek into a tent
a peek into a tent
Card game in progress
Card game in progress

Here it is, nearing a year since returning to the USA after living abroad for two years, and I’m still suffering from reverse culture shock.  I have a hard time finding activities I’m interested in, and as my followers can probably tell from my infrequent posting on my blog, I’ve lost interest in blogging.  I’m beset by wanderlust and am anxious to travel abroad again. Besides that, my job search in America has been unsuccessful, and I decided at the end of May that I will just accept the fact that I will be a teacher until I retire.  I guess I will never be able to put my Master’s degree to good use. I find this very discouraging and frustrating, but I don’t have the energy to keep applying for jobs from which I get no reply or acknowledgement.

shadows on tents
shadows on tents
extended encampment
extended encampment

As a fallback, I decided I’d teach an intensive Speaking & Listening course at the community college this summer.  However, it was not to be.  Two weeks before classes were to start, the course was cancelled due to low enrollment.  Because of the adjunct system at the college, few teachers have full-time positions; this allows the administration to adjust needs for teachers based on enrollment. I was really planning on teaching this class and counted on the income.  Luckily, at the last-minute, I got offered a part-time class, with half the hours and half the money.  I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s frustrating not to have a dependable job and income.

horses and tents
horses and tents

Because of my fruitless job search and this setback with the college, I decided that if I’m going to continue teaching, the best way to leverage that to my advantage is to go abroad again.  At least I get a salary I can depend on, the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, and the chance to travel.  So. I decided that I would try to go to China for a year.  As there seems to be a mandatory retirement age of 60 for many Chinese schools, and since I’m in my late 50s, I figured if I wanted to go to China, I should do it now.  Mike and the boys are supportive of my quest.  The last week in May, I started applying to every university I could find in China with available jobs.

lounging horse
lounging horse

Stay tuned for further developments. 🙂

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

reverse culture shock: the elusive “american dream”

Sunday, December 15:  I’ve been home now for almost five months, after having lived abroad for two years in the Sultanate of Oman (a nomad in the land of nizwa) and a year in South Korea (catbird in korea), with a six month return to America in between.  During this resettlement time, I’ve been contending, once again, with reverse culture shock, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  I wrote about this when I returned home from Korea in 2011 (six months of reverse culture shock), and then again briefly in August, a month after returning home (feeling reverse culture shock: escaping to blackwater national wildlife refuge on maryland’s eastern shore).

Reverse culture shock is a real and well-documented phenomenon.  People who have never lived abroad, who have remained firmly grounded at home, have a hard time understanding it. I would relate it to the feeling you might have if you died and were able to come back to life after being gone for an extended period.  You would find, I think, that everyone you knew and loved had somehow moved on without you.  The void that you imagined existed in their lives by your absence would have been filled with other people, other activities, other stuff.  All of you that existed would have disappeared into a big black hole, never to surface again.  Maybe, just maybe, given enough time and enough effort, you can pull yourself back out of that black hole and wiggle your way back into people’s lives.  It is said that it takes over a year to do such a thing, and it doesn’t happen easily.

it can be bleak being back home
it can be bleak being back home

I have experienced all of the documented symptoms of reverse culture shock, and then some:

1) You feel disconnected from the people you love because their lives have gone on in the same predictable ways, while meanwhile you have been flitting around the world.  Your family members don’t understand your restlessness and you find yourself becoming frustrated with their firm grounding.  A huge gap exists between you and them.  

The first thing that hit me a month after I returned home was the news that a fellow blogger, Anita Mac, committed suicide after struggling with a broken heart.  Her post, What do you do with a broken heart?, was the last thing she wrote on her blog before she killed herself.  I don’t know the details of her death, and I never knew her personally, but her last post really broke my heart.  The sad thing is, I could identify with everything she wrote in her post.

She wrote: After all, while I am an adventurous wanderer with a thirst to explore, I also have some homebody tendencies.  I love having that home base to come home to with my people, my things and memories.  I love having that partner – you know, the one you can’t wait to share your stories with!  Your victories and your defeats…the shoulder to cry on and the person to share the Sunday paper with (guess who always reads the travel section!!!)

I can understand Anita’s words.  I am adventurous and have undeniable wanderlust, yet I also have some homebody tendencies. My husband Mike, from whom I’ve been separated for almost 7 years now and with whom I’m hoping to reconcile, doesn’t share this wanderlust.  Whether we reconcile or not, we will likely remain friends forever.  But there is no doubt that we are opposites in our personalities.  In our relationship, he is the anchor, and I’m the boomerang that wants to fly off into the world, returning home at my whim.  I have a hard time understanding his tendencies to be settled, and he has a hard time understanding my restlessness.  My relationship with Mike sounds much like Anita’s relationship with her partner, the partner who eventually broke her heart.

At the time Anita wrote her final post, her father was dying of cancer and her partner of six years broke off their relationship.  She wrote: Can a travel writer find the balance between life on the road and a life at home? I am tormented by the situation.  I would not have been able to live with myself if I had denied who I was and my passion for travel.  Life is too short to fake it.  You have to be true to yourself.  But what do you do when you are the one who wants to have a home life and a life on the road….such a conflict.

Anita’s Travel Destination Bucket List was an inspiration to those of us filled with wanderlust.  It breaks my heart that she took her own life.  Yet.  I can understand her feelings perfectly.

I should add that I’m not the kind of person who could or would take my own life, but I DO relate to Anita’s struggles as she shared them in her final post.

gray days
gray days

2) You’re only vaguely interested in catching up with your old friends, and if you do, you feel like you don’t have so much in common with them any more.

I admit I’m guilty of this.  I don’t even know who I feel like hanging out with anymore.  I’m too busy at my job to find time to spend with friends, and frankly, I don’t even know who my friends are anymore.  People I thought were my friends ever since high school have judged me for choosing to live abroad rather than staying home with my family; others have chosen to cut me out of their life and death struggles, despite my efforts to reach out; others have not bothered to contact me at all to welcome me home after two years away.  In return, I haven’t felt like bothering either.  I wonder, What is the point?  If they don’t care enough about me to welcome me back and include me in their lives, why should I bother?  I feel like I need to start anew with people who can understand me, or with people who WANT TO MAKE AN EFFORT to connect with me.

finding the path back home
finding the path back home

3) Nobody cares about your travels, but you’d really love to tell them.

I find many times I’ll say, “When I was in Korea….” or “In Oman…” and people glaze over, totally disinterested.  I find sharing travel stories with like-minded people much more intriguing and fascinating than talking about boring and mundane life in America.  When I mentioned to one long-time friend that I was already bored with my same old routines in America, she said, “That’s life.”  As if I shouldn’t expect anything different.  As if I were foolish to want more.  I couldn’t help but say, “That wasn’t my life for the last 3 years.” Though many parts of my life abroad were also mundane and repetitive, at least I always knew adventure could be found around any corner.

confused and frustrated
confused and frustrated

4) You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time. 

I find myself irritated by America’s consumer culture.  What used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday (after Thanksgiving), is now encroaching on the Thanksgiving holiday itself.  Stores open at 8 pm on Thanksgiving or at midnight on Thanksgiving night, and I have seen newscasts of people actually fighting over products on the floors of Walmart (a place I have never been tempted to shop!).

I get off work at 5:30 pm every weeknight, and what is a 25 minute commute in the morning is an hour-long commute coming home.  Traffic in northern Virginia at rush hour is incredibly frustrating.  I find myself wishing for my half-hour, traffic free commute in Oman.

I used to spend a lot of time running errands, driving on automatic pilot from one end of Fairfax County to the other.  Now I minimize my errands.  I would rather do without more stuff if possible, and simplify my life.

lost
lost

5) You find your home landscape to be dramatically altered.

When I returned home, I found a whole new shopping center, the Mosaic District in Merrifield.  It’s full of healthy eateries such as Mom’s Organic Market, Four Sisters Vietnamese restaurant, and others. It also has an amazing multi-story movie theater that shows both blockbusters and independent and foreign films.  It’s a fantastic addition to the landscape of Fairfax County.

When I got on the highways, I was confused by the new “hot lanes” that have been added.  If you have an E-Z pass transponder, which deducts money from your credit card automatically when you drive through sensors, you can speed past the traffic jams for a fee.

When I went to Reston, I found new shops have been added to Reston Town Center.  Yet the only bookstore in Reston, a Barnes & Noble, has been replaced by a Container Store.  So now, instead of a place to buy books, a place where we can expand our minds, we have a place to buy containers in which to store “stuff,” the stuff Americans buy, buy, buy in this mass consumer culture.  This was one of the most disappointing alterations to my home landscape.

6) You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience, or looking over your pictures from your travels, or reading your old blogs.  Or simply daydreaming about the parts of the life abroad that brought you immense pleasure. 

I don’t spend a lot of time keeping in touch with people I met during my time abroad, mainly because I don’t have time.  However, I do spend a lot of time daydreaming about parts of my life abroad that brought me great pleasure, especially during my horrendous one hour commute home every night in Virginia.  I most often find myself listening to Tibetan chants in my car, remembering the laid-back vibe, the stunning views of the Himalayas and my peaceful strolls along the lakeside in Pokhara, Nepal.  I listen to Fado and dream about the Moorish and fairy tale castles of Sintra, Portugal.  I think about lovely walks with my embassy friend in Lake Langano, Ethiopia, in the blue light, with pelicans and acacia trees against a backdrop of dramatic skies.  I think about sitting in cafes in Rethymno, Crete, Greece and drinking wine and eating Greek food and feeling infinitely happy.  I dream often of Korea, a place I was happy to leave, and find myself walking through the Boseong tea plantations and Suncheon Bay Ecological Park.  I often think of returning to Korea, as unbelievable as that would have seemed to me in 2011. And in my waking dreams, I’m most often hanging out in Oman with my friend Mario, who I miss beyond anything I can describe.  I miss our wine and cheese, our contagious laughter, and our companionable walks through the ruins and wadis of Oman, snapping photos as if our lives depended on it.

searching for belonging
searching for belonging

7) You encounter people who are possibly intimidated that you have experienced something they haven’t, or maybe they’re just plain irritated that you have done so. Possibly there is jealousy or just plain disinterest by other people.  Whichever the reason, you find people just don’t know how to engage with you anymore. And neither do you know how to engage with them.  Or maybe, just maybe, nobody feels like making the effort because you seem to have become a non-entity to them and them to you. 

Actually, this doesn’t happen at all to me.  That’s because I don’t encounter any of my old friends.  Period.  Oh, except one, my dear friend Jayne in California, who I can only talk to by phone, frequently.  My old “friends” have disappeared into their own lives, as if I never had a part in them.  As if they were never really my friends after all.  As if their friendship was all one big delusion.

8) You find there is no job for you in your home country, or if you are returning to a job you had before, everything has changed.

I found when I returned to Northern Virginia Community College, the entire makeup of the school’s population had changed.  Instead of the mostly Asian students I taught before, now we are overrun by Saudi Arabians and Emiratis.  I don’t know what is happening, but as I left Oman partly to escape the Gulf culture and the immature, unmotivated and entitled students, I am incredibly frustrated.  I spend much of my class time in classroom management, trying to discipline adult students who act like middle schoolers.  If I wanted to teach middle school, I would go work for Fairfax County Schools, where I could make a lot more money and have benefits and paid vacation time.  However, I DON’T want to teach middle school, under any circumstances.  Sadly, that is exactly what I’m doing.

The next bad thing was that the college, due to lack of space, moved all the ESL language courses to a building off campus.  This building has very little office space for teachers.  It is not a college atmosphere at all.  It’s a very depressing place to work.

In addition, I had forgotten how low the pay is.  I make one-third less than what I made in Oman.  Considering that my housing was provided and I didn’t have to pay taxes, the real income was much more in Oman.  Also, this lower pay at the college is for MORE contact hours: where I had 20 contact hours a week in Oman, I have 25 contact hours here.  Because the administration in Oman made up tests and planned the entire semester for us, I NEVER had to take work home with me.  Although my work in Virginia is more challenging, because I plan every lesson myself, and make up every test, it is also extremely time-consuming.  I spend many hours, hours that should be my free time, working.

frustration in the usa
frustration in the u.s.a

9) You find it hard to survive financially in your home country.

I’m constantly amazed at how expensive everything in the USA has become in my absence.  On the measly income I make from my job, I could NOT survive.  I would be living beneath the poverty line.  It’s ridiculous that educators are not valued, that we are taken advantage of so blatantly.  Believe me, this, above all, makes me consider moving abroad again.

10) You often feel depressed and anxious. 

Oh yes.  I feel depressed and anxious almost constantly.  I go to sleep easily every night after reading for about 15 minutes, but at midnight, or at 1:00 or 3:00 a.m., I wake up wondering where I am, and what I’m doing here.  My mind starts racing, bouncing into every dark corner of every conceivable subject.  I toss and turn for hours, thinking surely I will fall asleep again at any moment. I give up on sleep and read Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and eventually I start to drift off.  I turn off the light and it hits me that I’ll never be the confident writer that Ann Patchett is. Then I start berating myself for my lack of talent, my lack of confidence, my fear of failure.  I’m exhausted in the morning from all the useless activity that’s going on in my mind.

During these dark hours, I think about how unfair it is that I can’t get a job in international development with the obviously useless Master’s degree that I worked so hard to earn.  With all the talk and laws against discrimination by American companies, I believe companies regularly discriminate if you are over a “certain” age.  One of my colleagues said to me, after she and her husband returned home from abroad and searched unsuccessfully for jobs, “At least you have a 5 in front of your age.  Try finding a job when you’re over 60!” I don’t think it makes any difference whether you have a 5 or a 6 in front of your age.  You’re screwed either way.

I think how, if Mike and I divorce, I want to move to Richmond, or even move abroad again. Then, I think, if I do the latter, I’ll lose my connection with my children.  I think: I wish I could get up the nerve to devote everything to writing, and to truly believe in myself, but then I go into self-attack mode, and tell myself I’ll never make any money; I’ll never make a go of it.  I remind myself of positive feedback I got from writing professors and classmates about my writing, even as far back as 2000, before I ever started blogging, and then I tell myself I really have nothing to say.  I want to cry but I can’t.  Sometimes I think I will just get on a plane and drop myself in Nepal or back in Asia.  But how would I live?  Sometimes I think I will drive west in America and land wherever I will land, and just disappear.

What is wrong with me?  Reverse culture shock?  Is that all it is?

Part of my anxiety and confusion has to do with the unresolved issue of my marriage, but it also is related to frustration with my job and all the unknowns about my future.  I’m constantly feeling torn between a pull to a life abroad and life at home.  Oh Anita Mac, how I relate to all the struggles you went through before you took your own life.

how do i find my way back?
how do i find my way back?

____________________________

Silver lining?

I’m trying hard to find the silver lining to being home in the USA. Of course, I have total freedom of speech.  In Oman, I heard of bloggers who were arrested, so I was afraid to totally speak my mind.  I’m happy to be home in the house that I decorated and made cozy.  I’m happy to be with my family, even with the unsettled account of my marriage.  I’m thrilled to experience four seasons and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  I’m happy to have a huge choice of movies to watch within 5 minutes of my house, instead of having to drive 1 1/2 hours to Muscat from Nizwa.  I’m happy to be in the midst of my huge book collection, and I’m happy for every minute I can find to read.  I’m happy to find a great variety of wonderful ethnic restaurants on every corner.  I’m happy to explore the beauties of Virginia and the east coast in the few hours of free time that I can carve out.  And I’m happy to know I do have a home to come back to in my country. Many expats living abroad no longer have a place to call home; they are adrift in the huge wild world, with no anchors, no ties.  Though I’m envious of their freedom, I’m also grateful to have this place I can call home.

I found this quote recently which just might help me make it through:

“If I feel depressed I will sing. If I feel sad I will laugh. If I feel ill I will double my labor. If I feel fear I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent I will think of past success. If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.”  – Og Mandino

feeling reverse culture shock: escaping to blackwater national wildlife refuge on maryland’s eastern shore

Wednesday, August 21:  In September of 2011, I wrote a post about Reverse Culture Shock: six months of reverse culture shock.  I wrote this after returning from Korea for a six month period before heading out to Oman for two years.  It is definitely a phenomenon that expats feel when they return home after living abroad for an extended time.

Bird House at the Dorchester County Visitor's Center
Bird House at the Dorchester County Visitor’s Center

Many of the issues I talked about in that post are really hitting hard now that I’ve returned home to the USA.  The two that issues that are a challenge for me now are these:

1) You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time.

sculpture at the Dorchester County Visitor's Center
sculpture at the Dorchester County Visitor’s Center

Right now, I’m having a hard time accepting the choices that my sons are making in their lives.  I’m unhappy with the way their father has allowed this to happen.  Even though he’s a good-hearted person and has good intentions, his acceptance of our sons’ every whim has turned out to be detrimental to their growth and development as young men.  A firm hand is called for.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Yet, because I have been absent for three years, I don’t feel I have much say in the unraveling that has occurred and continues to happen.  I have to take responsibility and accept that this situation is partly a result of my own lack of involvement with our sons’ upbringing.  It’s a difficult situation, because of course I’m partly to blame and cannot be too critical of their father’s parenting.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

It’s heartbreaking to see both of my sons going backwards in their lives instead of moving forward to becoming mature and responsible young men.  I am therefore questioning my whole relationship with their father and with them.  Right now, I am in uncertain territory and am struggling to find my way.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Because of this very uncomfortable situation, I escape, as I often have, into dreaming about my time abroad.  Though I don’t miss Oman at all, I do miss living alone and not having to deal with these miserable family dynamics.  So the other Reverse Culture Shock issue in the forefront of my life at this moment is the second:

2) You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience, or looking over your pictures from your travels, or reading your old blogs.  Or simply daydreaming about the parts of the life abroad that brought you immense pleasure.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

I have decided to stay at home in the USA indefinitely, although I could easily get a job working abroad again.  I’m committed.  But I still feel that urge to escape because of the above situation.  Therefore, I’m committed to getting out to explore the world around me with a camera in hand.  I’m also trying to reconnect with my extended family however possible.  So I escape this week, one last time, before my job begins next week.  I head to visit my sister in Salisbury, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.  Sadly, while traveling in Spain and Portugal, I missed her daughter’s (my niece’s) wedding on July 13.  I have a lot of making up to do to my family.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Yes, I know I’ve been living a selfish life, but it was the life of my dreams.  These three years were probably the only years I’ve had in over 50 years that I can truly call my own.

So, committed though I am to staying home and working out these issues, I still must carve out something for myself, for my sanity.  Travel within the USA, and dreams of travel, will still be my escape.  That I hope will never change.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

On my way to visit my sister, I make a stop in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland.  Many years ago, when Mike and I were first dating, we visited here together on a cool, crisp November day.  I remember walking on boardwalks through the marshland and thinking it was stunningly beautiful.  Now there are no longer boardwalks and it’s mainly a drive-through.  It’s a little disappointing this time around.  I miss the boardwalks and don’t like having to keep stopping the car, pulling over and getting out.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

On top of my disappointment with the place itself, when I first arrive at Blackwater’s Visitor’s Center, I get a call from one of my closest high school friends telling me that our other friend’s husband has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  This same friend just lost her niece earlier this year to stomach cancer.  I feel incredibly sad for my friend and her husband and this colors my experience here.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sits about 12 miles south of the town of Cambridge, in Dorchester County. The Refuge includes over 27,000 acres, composed mainly of rich tidal marsh characterized by fluctuating water levels and varying salinity. Other habitat types include freshwater ponds, mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, and small amounts of cropland and managed impoundments that are seasonally flooded for waterfowl use.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater Refuge was originally established in 1933 as a haven for ducks and geese migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The Refuge is a popular place during the November migration when upwards of 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks visit Blackwater.

Blackwater is also a haven for several troubled species including the American bald eagle, the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, and the migrant peregrine falcon. The Refuge is unique in that it hosts the largest remaining natural population of Delmarva fox squirrels and is also host to the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida (Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge).

a field bordered by cattails outside of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
a field bordered by cattails outside of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Though I’m struggling with a lot now, and though this place isn’t what I remember it to be, I still do find some peace of mind here on this warm summer afternoon.

a lone barn in Dorchester County
a lone barn in Dorchester County

I leave here and meet my sister at her house in Salisbury, about a half hour further south.  It’s nice that no one else is home at her house, so we have an evening just to catch up with each other, without any distractions.  It’s truly lovely to spend time with her, sharing our struggles and experiences over the last year over a bottle of wine.  I also get to hear all about Kelsey’s wedding, and though it will never be the same as my having been there, at least I can imagine… and pretend I was there. 🙂