The Daily Commute

I commuted almost 60 miles to my very first teaching job.  The opportunity to have my own classroom outweighed the travel time.  It was three counties north from where I was currently living.  For over four weeks I made that journey; in a single month I confirmed that I wanted to move into this new community.  There was no way I was driving 120 miles daily for an entire school year.

A few afternoons I rushed around to three different apartments that I had been told were in safe areas.  All of them were slightly south of my new high school’s address.  One apartment that I toured was up one of the steepest hills in the area; I knew that this place was out of the running because during a winter storm it would have been a death trap trying to go up or down this road.  A second apartment I tried to tour just wouldn’t answer the phone after 4pm.  Essentially we played phone tag and never had a conversation.  I toured the place through their on-line photographs, and I remember the faux-gold chandelier in the dining room looked tacky.  So, this place was off the list.

I was running out of time.  It was already October, and I wanted to be moved into the area before the snow fell.  Finally, after leaving two messages, the third apartment’s landlord called me back.  After I told her where I worked, she informed me she was the sister-in-law of one the school administrators.  The next day I looked at the apartment.  Then I drove home through three counties.

There isn’t much to contemplate when you find the place that suits you.  The community had quiet hours.  As a teacher, I needed my sleep, so that was a plus.  The building that was available was a non-smoking building.  This suited me; I hate the smell of smoke because I am a non-smoker.  To seal the deal, each apartment had a patio.  The apartment I would move into had a view of the lake and its wildlife.  I am a nature lover.

The apartment I chose has been my home for almost 8 years.  Now, I find myself on the road again.  I have been job searching and interviewing.  All the while I am exploring new corners of the area that I grew up in.  Apartment searching is always the final step, and I am so pleased that I am once again at this step.  It’s time to leave the voice mails and emails and get the property managers of these possible apartments to let me inside.  It’s time to find my sanctuary.

Each day we commute to our worksite.  Even if I was able to make a living as a freelance writer, there is no way I would be a housebound hermit.  True, maybe the “daily commute” for some is simply a few steps from the bed to the computer or the “home office.”  Sometimes it is easier to stay in, make meals for yourself, and wear pajamas.  Easier yes, but you aren’t a part of the world.  A writer needs to write about the world, write about others’ stories and go on adventures so that her own story is a journey of discovery in two important ways.  She needs to share her external journey around the world and the internal journey inside her mind.  You have to be brave enough to trek into the world.  It’s time to find my next home and go on my next journey.

Write, Edit, Repeat.

Travel Tips: The Four Truths about Travel

1.  Eat the local cuisine.

Greek food will always be best when you are in Greece.  It is the same for any style of food; you are at the origin of the recipes themselves, and you are often closer than ever to the location of the ingredients used in each dish.  Farm to table takes on a new meaning when you get to see where the components of the local food come from:  the farm, the forest, and the sea.  For some, this is the main reason that they travel.

You traveled all this distance; you owe it to yourself to try the local foods.  The local specialties will never be prepared the same if you try to re-create them by eating at an ethnic restaurant or trying your own hand at making them.   Sometimes the cooking process is so unusual that it adds an extra flavor; in Greece meals are traditionally baked in a woodfired oven.  Other regions might use a cooking pit or a spit to slowly roast the food.

2.  Be a respectful visitor.

Any effort to speak the language will go a long way.  Make an effort to learn basic conversational phrases.  It will come in especially helpful to know the words for hello, goodbye, please, and thank you.  Also learn the questions you will need to repeatedly ask, such as “where is the bathroom” and “how do you say…” to learn additional words when you have trouble translating your thoughts.

Treat others as you would want to be treated.  Treat others with kindness.  You know this as the Golden Rule.  Just remember, when you are traveling, what matters the most is that you realize you are a citizen of the globe, and we all deserve to live in harmony.  Express your gratitude to those who assist you.

3.  Don’t pass up an opportunity.

When you are a part of a group, go on all the planned excursions.  You will learn a lot.  If you have free time, go into local museums and into local places of worship.  Ask questions, take pictures, and leave only footprints.  If you are able to, you might get a chance to take a short train ride, or rent a car and go on your own mini-trip to a different area of the town or even visit another county.  The Nike slogan is appropriate:  Just do it.

It might be the only time in your life that you will visit the location.  Make every moment count.  Be open to unplanned travel.  Pack a small bag and go exploring.  Sometimes the best adventures are unexpected.

4.  Travel is difficult.

Prior to your travel, you should start exercising more, especially walking.  You will be doing a great deal of stair-climbing and walking on your trip.  Give yourself a day to adjust to your jet-lag.  Try to plan low-key activities for the first day and allow room to fit in a small nap.  Don’t drink alcohol on your flights; drink water instead.

Traveling is exhausting and time-consuming.   The arrival and departure, especially when you travel to a more remote area, will take even more time than expected.  Allow enough time to make your flight connections.  Stand up and walk around when you get the opportunity.  Walk around the airport.  If you can afford to, upgrade to business class.

Rest when you are tired.  If near a beach, you could take a catnap at the beach.  Listen to your body and choose activities that you have the endurance to enjoy.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Awareness will keep you safe and you will vividly remember what you experienced.

Have an amazing journey!  Make it your own!

Allegheny College Changed My Life

Traveling across the state line of Pennsylvania, I fell in love with the landscape and I knew that this would be the journey to my future college town.  What pushed me to visit Allegheny College was an impressive brochure that arrived in my mailbox showing the trees in their autumn glory.  The vivid colors convinced me to give Meadville a chance.  My parents were swayed by the interior text containing the necessary demographics and several students’ comments on their choice of college.

As a student, I would love the constant slope of the land.  Never flat for long, movement at Allegheny College was as challenging as the academics.  It was often an uphill struggle to be rewarded later by a brief amble downhill.  I would even love it when it rained and it was muddy.  There was a new challenge every day.  Each day as a student was worth it, pushing me to excel, preparing me for my future full of possibilities.

I walked along paths bordered by old growth trees to reach the academic halls and I trekked through a thick forest to attend tennis practices.  The campus was formed around the existing landscape, not bulldozed into one flat tract of concrete real estate.

I needed inspiration to study English.  I needed to hear the leaves rustling in the breeze when the semester began, gently falling in the autumn, crunching under my feet as I made my way to class, and the wind whistling through the barren trees when the snow started.  I needed to see the full evolution of the Meadville trees; it was my personal metaphor for re-birth.  Allegheny’s mature trees stood tall and gave me shade.

Allegheny’s nature had me hooked.

Allegheny Class of 2001 10-year  Reunion 007

Returning to Allegheny College for my 10-year reunion

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Allegheny’s tennis courts hidden in the forest

I made the choice because of the lack of proximity to my hometown.  Yes, you heard me right.  I wanted to go far away, but not too far away.  I didn’t want my parents popping by my dorm room on a moment’s notice like I knew they would if I attended school in Columbus, Ohio.  Why would I go away to college in the same county I grew up in?  That would have been too familiar and too easy.  I needed a change of scenery.  A four hour drive ensured that I would have not only my privacy, but also my freedom.  College is about our freedom to choose what we study and who we will become as adults.  Allegheny College was the college that changed my life.

Images of Thasos

Thasos is sleeping without air-conditioning, and awakening to fresh air coming in through the window screens.  Stepping outside and being able to breathe in deeply.  Clean air! Thasos is trading sugar and butter for the local honey and olive oil.  Honey is drizzled in our morning tea, yogurt, and mealtime desserts.  Olive oil lends satisfaction to every dish. Thasos is eating meals under a canopy of grapevines and olive trees in an open-air restaurant.  No roof above allows us a view of the stars and the moon at night, and sunshine filters through and warms our skin.  Herbs and vegetables are adjacent to the tables, picked just before their use is needed. Thasos is conscious eating, noticing the ingredients in each course.  Slowly tasting each dish and filing the flavors in our memory.  We eat meals marinated in a wood-fired oven for hours.  A three hour feast is followed by fresh fruit and honey desserts.  We share our meals with the table and sample every option laid before us. Thasos is eating seafood that was swimming only hours ago.    The daily catch of fish leaps onto our plate:  gavros, sardines, barbounia, sea wolf, mackerel, lavraki (sea bass), calamari, and mussels.  Octopus will never taste as good anywhere else in the world. 005009 Thasos is being welcomed into the family at Archodissa.  A fisherman reads his own original Greek poetry, then sings along to the music, and slips off his sandals to dance barefoot.  His son, the next generation restaurateur joins the band, holding the microphone like a professional singer, and serenades his wife in front of everyone. Thasos is drinking in the hospitality:  tsipouro from the island, white wine, red wine, beer and ouzo.  Nero (water) cleanses the palate.  We drink plenty of water to fight the summer heat. Thasos is live music.  A bouzouki band pierces the silence and everyone sways to the music.  Everyone rises to dance.  Greek dancing links our arms, and we watch the best leap and dance their own improvisation inside the circle.  Some people dance on tables, some people dance on chairs, those who are bilingual sing along to the words of the Greek music. The Thasian to-do list is beyond simple:  walk to explore the island, eat, drink, swim, and sunbathe.  My fellow writers on this journey also spend our time enjoying a daily communion with the written word. Thasos is living life with joy. 010