a gloomy saturday in budapest

Our first gloomy Saturday in Budapest. You can find my blog posts about our trip to Hungary, Austria and Czech Republic on my blog, in search of a thousand cafes. 🙂

in search of a thousand cafés

Friday to Saturday, September 22-23:  Four days in Budapest and this is our first, but only after Lufthansa carries us, miserably uncomfortable in economy class aisle seats, for 7:55 hours through a six-hour time zone change and across the north Atlantic to Frankfurt.

While airborne, I squirm and wriggle and try to sleep, but manage to snooze less than a half hour, instead captivated by a series of shows on the small screen inset into the seatback: first, a German-language movie Die Reste Mienes Lebens, in which Schimon lives his life following his pregnant wife’s death by clinging to a sentence his grandfather once told him, “Everything in life happens the way it should.” Second, Mama Mia and its exuberant ABBA songs delight me once again (how many times have I watched that movie?), although our destination will be nothing like the Greek island where that magical love…

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preparing for a japanese adventure

I’m leaving for Japan on Monday morning, March 27, and I’ll arrive in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon, March 28. I’ll be writing about my expat experience on https://catbirdinkyoto.wordpress.com/. I hope you’ll follow me there!

catbird in japan

Thursday, March 23:  In late February, I was offered a job teaching EFL to Japanese university students in Japan beginning on March 28 (the term actually begins April 7 and ends August 1).  I’ve opted to extend my stay for one week, until August 8, so I can travel around Japan for a week.

I’ll be living in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture.  This is part of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.  The capital of Kanagawa is Yokohama.  Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan by population (3.7 million), lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu, and is today one of Japan’s major ports.

I leave on Monday morning, March 27, and will arrive at Narita Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday, March 28 at 3:55 p.m.

I found this long video (24 minutes) about an apartment for Westgate…

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exploring reykjavík: hallgrímskirkja & old reykjavík

Here is a post about part of our day in Reykjavik. I won’t be reblogging any more to this blog, but if you’d like to read more, feel free to follow at https://catbirdineurope.wordpress.com/ Thanks! 🙂

in search of a thousand cafés

Monday, August 15:  We wake up to a rather gloomy day in Reykjavík, but at least it doesn’t seem to be raining. We’ve slept rather late, as we’re existing now in parallel universe with a four-hour time difference from home.  My friend Beatrice had earlier recommended potassium and magnesium to help us sleep, and, after taking it last night, I slept like a dormant volcano (snoring away of course, as Mike complains).  The fog I’m in and my resistance to get up could be from  jet leg, exhaustion from walking nearly 7 miles yesterday, or just being in a comfortable bed under a cozy comforter. 🙂

We find, to our surprise, that there is food in the common breakfast room.  We didn’t know that breakfast came with our Airbnb reservation. Quite a spread is laid out: ham, cheese, bread, butter, jelly, yogurt.  There is a carton of eggs, an…

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iceland’s golden circle: gullfoss & geysir

The rest of our first day in Iceland. Finishing up the Golden Circle. 🙂

in search of a thousand cafés

Sunday, August 14:  We drive next to the stop furthest afield along the Golden Circle: Gullfoss. It is proclaimed as Iceland’s most famous waterfall.  Brown sediment from the Lángjökull glacier, about 40km north of Gullfoss, flows into the glacier lake Hvítávatn (“white river” lake) and then into the river Hvítá (“white river”), where it falls in two magnificent cascades into a 32m deep narrow ravine.  Apparently on sunny days, the mist creates rainbows, but as today isn’t sunny, we don’t experience any color at all!  At least, thank goodness, it’s stopped raining.

The waterfall is quite a sight when we first get a glimpse of it.

First view of Gullfoss First view of Gullfoss

We walk down a long path to a ledge overlooking the first drop. Lots of people are walking around taking pictures on the slippery rocks and I can’t help wonder if anyone has ever fallen in.

Gullfoss Gullfoss

Mike at Gullfoss Mike at…

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late night arrival in iceland, check-in to reykjavik, & a trip around the golden circle. first stop: Þingvellir national park

Come along on my trip to Iceland!

in search of a thousand cafés

Saturday, August 13:  Many people these days take advantage of the Iceland Air Stopover , which allows a 7-night stopover for travelers en route from the USA to Europe.  We don’t do the stopover, but instead opt to focus our entire vacation on Iceland.  Our plan is to spend eleven full days driving around the famous Ring Road in a rented car. In retrospect, we should have planned our trip for a minimum of 14 days.  I’m always a firm believer in spending at least two weeks in a country, if not more, because I like to be immersed, to take on the culture of a place, to feel like I belong.  To drive the Ring Road in a leisurely fashion (some of it is not paved, though it’s in decent shape), to do some longer hikes and other activities, like glacier walking and horseback-riding, we could certainly have…

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off to a new adventure!

Saturday, August 30:  The big day has arrived!  I’m off to the People’s Republic this evening at 5:00 on Air China.  I’ll arrive in Beijing after what I imagine will be a grueling 13 hour and 40 minute non-stop flight.  When I land at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, August 31, I’ll spend the night in a hotel at the airline’s expense.  In the morning, I’ll catch a flight to Nanning City, Guangxi Province, People’s Republic of China, arriving at 10:40 a.m. on Monday, September 1.  I’m told that one or two of the students from Guangxi University will meet me at the airport and help me to get settled in.   I’ll be living in an apartment on the campus, and everything is supposed to be supplied for the teachers.  Supposedly we’ll be given bicycles to use, and a swimming pool is on the campus.

Though this is the third time I’ve done this, I’m still nervous.  At the same time, I’m equally excited.  I’ve read scores of books and seen numerous movies about China over the years.  I visited Beijing in the fall of 2010 for 5 days.  I lived next door in South Korea from 2010-2011.  I’ll be happy to be back in Asia again.  It’s such a different world than what I’m used to, I imagine each day I’ll be immersed in exotic and interesting experiences.

I don’t yet know the situation in China, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to blog.  If I am able to, you’ll find me at catbird in china.  It’s my understanding that Facebook and YouTube are blocked.  I guess I’ll figure it all out when I get there. 🙂

Goodbye, for now, to America!!

 

I abandoned a book last night

I’m taking Andrea’s advice and quitting on The Winter’s Tale. One of the most frustrating books ever. I really hated it.

Butterfly Mind

Line Graph depicting Age vs Unfinished Books on andreabadgley.com

I officially quit on a book last night. Shelved it under DNF (did not finish) on Goodreads, removed it from the homepage of my nook, and resumed the recurrent task of trying to find something gripping to read.

When I was younger, I refused to quit on a book. Even if it bored me to tears, or I hated the characters, or it took me places in the human psyche that I really didn’t want to go, I’d rally, and rally, and rally until I turned the last page. Some books were worth it. Like A Prayer for Owen Meany. John Irving drags the beginning of that book out forever, not just setting a stage, but shopping for lumber, forging steel for scaffolding, and then bolting the infrastructure of it together before finally showing you what its going to look like. Likewise, he develops his characters slowly (and…

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RESOLVED 2014!!! FOCUS

Wednesday, January 1:  Happy New Year!!  It’s that time of year again, time to get on track with life!  I’m always enthusiastic about turning the calendar to an untarnished new year, and getting a fresh start on what I hope will be the life of my dreams.  However, I know it’s a challenge to keep myself disciplined.  Accomplishing my New Year’s Resolutions in past years has always been a mixed bag.  I achieve some of what I set out to do, and other things I don’t even touch.

“If you have the capacity to be more than one thing, do everything that’s inside of you.” ~ Bishop T. D. Jakes

This is the problem.  I want to do everything that’s inside of me.  And because of that, I actually never get anything done!

I am like the Cathy in the cartoon of the same name.  I’m the Cathy of a million brilliant possibilities.

I am pretty good at many things, but not great at any one thing.  I can write fairly well and I can do statistical or financial analysis.  I can figure out Excel spreadsheets or Word documents.  I can live abroad or at home.  I am filled with wanderlust and, alternately, with homebody tendencies.  I love solitude and intimate social gatherings.  I can help organize U.N. delegations to Middle East Peace Conferences (Annapolis 2007) or help organize events for the Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice 2008) or organize debates among students. I can teach adults or children; I can teach Koreans, Omanis, Saudis, Vietnamese, Americans or Mongolians.   I can do diligent research and draw overarching conclusions, or I can wander around dreamily through foreign lands.  I can exercise religiously or I can lazily sit around reading a good book for hours.  I can take pretty good pictures, but I’m too impatient to actually learn how to improve.  I can be incredibly organized, or I can be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants operator.  I can study a foreign language until I’m blue in the face, scoring well on written tests, but I can never gain any facility with the language.  I am an excellent student, always.  I have been a reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, an intern (State Department), an intern again (MSI), an English teacher and an ESL teacher.  And of course a mom.  Let’s not forget that.

I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in International Commerce & Policy.  I have ESL and Virginia teaching certificates.  I have written a novel from start to finish.  I have written short stories and poems and research papers and blogs.  I have worked as a cash control “banker” at Busch Gardens and as a bank teller, a loan officer and a credit analyst. I am pretty good with numbers and pretty good with words, but not great at either.  What does one do with such a broad sweep of mediocre abilities, and such a variety of interests?

Staying close to home this year.  There's plenty to explore in the Americas.
Staying close to home this year. There’s plenty to explore in the Americas.

The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.  It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean.  ~ Toni Morrison

I admit now to stealing a great idea.  I read about this idea on someone else’s blog.  This person, I can’t even remember who (sorry!), advised people to choose a word for the year.  After a great deal of thought, here’s what I’ve come up with:

FOCUS

“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

When I met Annette of Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia this fall, she inspired me to give some serious thought about what I really want to do. Annette and I brainstormed many ideas and when I left her, a lot of possibilities were floating through my head.  At the time we met, I was feeling frustrated with my teaching job, and felt horribly depressed at the thought of continuing to teach.  The college-level students I was teaching were immature, disrespectful and entitled, and I frankly hated teaching them.  I believe I shouldn’t have to deal with classroom management issues in college-level classes; the classes I taught felt like teaching middle school, and if I wanted to teach middle school, I could go to work for Fairfax County Public Schools and make a lot more money.  Not that I want to do that, believe me.  Not only was the pay extremely low after being paid well working abroad, but the hours were longer and the job was more demanding, thus leaving little time to devote to what I really love.

If you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.  ~ Howard Thurman

What I love is writing.

Now of course I know that trying to become a published writer is a difficult road.  Most people have to have a day job to support their writing habit.  But I was inspired by Ann Patchett in her fabulous book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  She always knew she wanted to be a writer.  She built her whole life around that purpose, and looked for a job which would pay the bills but not impinge on her free time.  She knew teaching would drain her of her own creativity, so she became a waitress, and then a freelance writer for Seventeen.  That was how she paid her bills, until she made it big with her novel Bel Canto.

She has some words of wisdom for aspiring writers:  “Even if I don’t believe in writer’s block, I certainly believe in procrastination.  Writing can be frustrating and demoralizing, and so it’s only natural that we try to put if off.  But don’t give “putting it off” a magic label.  Writer’s block is out of our control, like a blocked kidney.  We are not responsible.  We are however, entirely responsible for procrastination and, in the best of all possible worlds, should also be responsible for being honest with ourselves about what’s really going on.”

I have to stop procrastinating (though I’ve never called it “writer’s block,” because I don’t believe in it either).

Besides my desire to write, I also have the desire to travel. The one good thing about teaching ESL, the only good thing, was that I was able to live abroad, and to travel extensively.  But am I willing to put up with one to have the other?  Maybe I have no choice, but I’d like to create another option.  Carol of The Eternal Traveller inspired me to try a Travel Writing Course from the Australian Writers’ Centre in November.  I completed it and now am armed with some knowledge about the process.  I know, I know, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I loved living and working abroad, but now, I can’t do that because of family matters.  So, I would like to use my hard-earned Master’s degree to find a job in international development.  At least I could feel like I was contributing to something I care about.  So if I need to work to pay the bills because I can’t make any money in writing, then I need to find a job I love, a job that has meaning to me, and a job that I don’t have to take home with me.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.  I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart’s longing. ~ Oriah

With all that in mind, I’ve decided to take off from teaching next semester.  Yes, I’m quitting my job, at least for spring 2014.  That gives me 6 months to be FOCUSED.  Because if I don’t get something else going here, then I’m doomed to continue teaching.  That is NOT the option I want for myself.

Ultimately, I know I don’t have control over whether I get anything published or not, but I do know that I will certainly never get anything published if my work is sitting on my computer unseen by anyone else.  I also know that I will not get a new job unless I am applying for jobs.  I just can’t see strangers knocking at my door begging me to come to work for them.  I have to actively sell myself, sell my writing, sell my ideas: a very unpleasant business all around, and a terrifying one.

I went through this business of applying for jobs in 2008-2009, for nine grueling and demoralizing months.  I had just finished my Master’s and I thought I would easily get a job. After all, before I became a full-time mom for 15 years, I had never had trouble getting any job I wanted. However, after 250 job applications, I had 5 interviews and 1 internship, which lasted for 9 months at Management Systems International, until I got hired to teach English in Korea.  Believe me, I don’t relish the idea of doing this again.  But my alternative is to stay stuck in a job that pays nothing and goes nowhere and drains me of all my energy.  I have to do it again.  I have no choice.

In order to stay focused, I need to cut back on my blogging because, although I love blogging, it can be addictive and time-consuming.  I’m addicted to it because it gives me immediate gratification; I can see the stats and encouraging comments that push me to write more.  Blogging serves one purpose in that it gets me writing, taking photos, pushing the boundaries of my world by trying to see it in a different light.  It also gives me encouragement and helps me gain confidence, something I find hard to come by.  But. It isn’t contributing to my goal of getting articles, or my book, published.  And it certainly is not going to get me a job.

So, to keep things simple, here are my seven FOCUSED resolutions for 2014.

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

Multitudes of travel publications.  Surely there's one that will take my work. :-)
Multitudes of travel publications. Surely there’s one that will take my work. 🙂

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica... :-)
Staying close to home, with a possible (?) trip to Costa Rica… 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

walks near home
walks near home

At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable. ~ Christopher Reeve

“If you want to write, practice writing.  Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.” ~ Ann Patchett

“Forgiveness…it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life.  Every time I set out to translate the book…that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper, … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.  Every.  Single.  Time. … I do believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.  Forgiveness, therefore, is key.  I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.”  ~ Ann Patchett in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

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Ultimately, my dream is to combine writing and travel somehow, either by planning and offering writing retreats in far-flung parts of the globe, or by going abroad for several months at a time and writing like my life depended on it.  Writing retreats would combine my natural teaching ability, my wanderlust, and my writing dreams.  However, I feel the first step is to get published, so I can establish some credentials, and some credibility.  One step at time…..

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adam’s two-month cross-country soul-searching trip

Saturday, September 28:  Today, my youngest son Adam, 20, takes off alone on a two-month trip across the United States.  His destination is California, with a stop in Boulder, Colorado.  His plan is to get to San Francisco by Friday, October 4, where he will attend a 3 day C.H.E.K. Holistic Lifestyle Coach Program: C.H.E.K. Institute: Advanced Training Programs.  According to the website: This three-level program is based upon the techniques that have helped thousands of people increase vitality, decrease stress and sculpt the body of their dreams. Each level looks in increasing detail at the underlying causes of disease and stress, considering the body as a “system of systems.” Using a coaching model, you will learn how disease and stress are preventable through healthy eating habits, lifestyle management and appropriate types of exercise.

Adam takes off at the crack of dawn in his VW Jetta
Adam takes off at the crack of dawn in his VW Golf

On November 13, he arrives at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm for a 10-day Permaculture Design Certification Course. According to the website, Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm: Permaculture Design Certification Course:

Permaculturists can grow food just about anywhere, repair environmentally damaged lands, design lovely and long-lasting green-buildings, produce power, run successful people-oriented businesses, and build authentic community. All by using fundamental permaculture principles and applying the three Permaculture Ethics:

  1. Care of People
  2. Care of Earth
  3. Share the Surplus

Permaculture is a creative and artful way of designing our lives, where waste become resources, productivity and yields increase, work is minimized, people and nature are preserved. All by thoughtful planning and a respectful approach to life.  Thus embraced, we create an environment where all may thrive for future generations. 

His car loaded up with bananas for breakfast
His car loaded up with bananas & apples for breakfast

In between these two courses, he plans to camp, hike, visit my friend Jayne and her son Nicholas near San Francisco, visit my sister near Los Angeles, and attend a yoga meditation retreat from October 30-November 10 at Dhamma Mahavana California Vipassana Center in North Fork: Dhamma Mahavana California Vipassana Center.

He is determined to chart out a course for his life that embodies the values he finds in these kinds of environments, and we finally decided that there was no point in continuing to insist that he follow the traditional path of going to university.  Even though he is a brilliant boy, one who has always been in gifted & talented programs throughout his school years, he insists that he doesn’t want a traditional education; neither does he want any part of the rat race life we live here in America.  I have to admit I know the truth in his beliefs.  After all, how many of us are truly happy in this life we lead in America, scrambling to get ahead, gain more possessions, and neglect our health and peace of mind?  As his parents, we can only hope that this trip will enlighten him in one way or the other; we hope he can find his passion and evolve into the successful and happy young man that we want him to be.

He’s due to arrive back home by Thanksgiving, at which time we hope to give thanks that he has developed a clearer vision of his life and direction. 🙂

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Postscript: While on his trip, Adam decided he wanted to do a two-week internship at Earthship in Taos, Mexico, so he added that on to his journey.  That was due to end on December 13, so the plan changed for him to arrive back home before Christmas instead of Thanksgiving.