The Story Behind the Name: Delightfully Lost

This is the story of the name behind the blog.  It also highlights the fact that I do, in fact, have the coolest grandmother in the world.  

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother (whom we call Nanny) was living in Florence, Italy while writing a book.  I don’t know whose idea it was, or how we got so lucky, but during Thanksgiving break of my 9th grade year, my sister and I found ourselves on a plane to Italy to visit her.  It was the first time we traveled without an adult, and the first time we went out of the country. It was the most eye opening and spectacular trip. Nanny has always told us that if we learned a language she would take us to the country where the language is spoken. During my Junior year of high school, I was in my third year of French. So, Nanny had the idea to take us to Paris.  She also took our cousins, Thomas and Danielle, on this trip. After that, Nanny took us all to a different country every year. Believe me, these amazing opportunities we were given were not wasted on us. Each trip, we grew closer as a family and our minds expanded exponentially. I will never not be grateful for these experiences. It should be noted that these trips were taken during our formative years.  We all experienced the world in different ways, and it happened 10 years ago. This is the story of getting delightfully lost how I remember it.  

Often times on our trips, Nanny would give us recommendations of things to do and see that day and send us on our way.  We were ecstatic at the freedom. We could eat what we wanted, do what we wanted, see what we wanted. Recently, I was reminiscing with my sister about our first trip (the one to Florence).  We noted that we made it a point to eat gelato every. single. day.  Nothing could stop us!  On these Nanny trips, the world was ours.  We would spend the day exploring museums or wandering around whatever new city we were in, and then we would meet up with Nanny to go out to dinner. The story of delightfully lost took place in Athens, Greece.  After a long day of sightseeing in the searing sun with my cousins and sister, we met up with Nanny at the hotel to go to dinner.  Nanny was leading the way, and we were off.

Plans with Nanny usually yielded unexpected results.  For example, on an earlier trip in Paris, she surprised my cousin Danielle and I with tickets to see Swan Lake.  We were excited to see the graceful classic. When the show started, however, all of the dancers were men. I didn’t fully understand it until intermission when I leaned over to Nanny and asked “aren’t there usually female ballet dancers in Swan Lake too?”  She laughed. Danielle and I laughed. We stayed until the end of the ballet and loved it. The surprise led to a myriad of conversations about the piece which might or might not have been a gay version on Swan Lake. It was better than I could have ever imagined.  

We didn’t know where we were going for dinner this particular night in Athens, but Nanny was walking confidently, so we just followed her lead.  We kept walking and walking. We kept making seemingly random turns, winding in and out of alleyways. We started to pass some shady characters. Nanny was still walking confidently, so we still followed.  After what seemed like an hour (also like we should have already arrived at our destination) Nanny suddenly stopped and turned around to face us. “Anyone know where we are?” We didn’t. We were hungry, and quickly made a plan to duck into the next restaurant we found.  We ordered our new favorite appetizer- tzatziki, and Nanny leaned in. “Sometimes,” she said slowly and simply “you find the best places when you’re delightfully lost.”

Dinner was actually not the best, if I remember correctly.  (However, the best dinner I have ever had in my life was on a Nanny trip, at a place she probably found while delightfully lost.)  But the message still stands, and has stuck with me for all these years.  Nanny seems to truly live by these words, seeing the beauty in what is around her every second.  She doesn’t fear being lost, she revels in the adventure of it. With Nanny, we have probably been lost more times than we can count.  It has led us to delicious roasted chestnuts, beautiful scenery, magnificent art, and people we never would have met otherwise. The lesson of becoming delightfully lost applies to both the short term and the long term.  The simplicity and truth of this concept make me so grateful that it brings tears to my eyes.  It takes away the fear of being lost, geographically, physically, even emotionally throughout life.  It takes away the fear of the future when you are unsure of what that may be.

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Persisting

I tried my hand at poetry.  In honor of International Women’s Day and every woman I know- here is Persisting.

 

Persisting

 

It’s being told to smile

It’s having your leg touched when you think you’re having a platonic conversation

It’s watching your female students shy away from math and science in order not to appear intimidating

It’s being submissive to give a man the feeling of control

It’s being shamed for having kids, for not having kids, for having a career, for wearing too much makeup, for not wearing enough makeup, for being too fat, for being too skinny

It’s making 77 cents to every one dollar a man makes

It’s only ⅕ of our congress being women

It’s Donald Trump being president

It’s having hard conversations with loved ones

It is marching in the streets

It’s leading by example, and teaching your students to value education

It’s telling people to fuck off, and wearing however much makeup you want

It’s accomplishing your goals

It’s canvassing and voting

 

It’s persisting

Things I Love About St. Paul Island

St. Paul Island, Alaska is by far the most remote place I’ve ever lived, or maybe even been to.  Located in the Bering Sea, it is one of the two inhabited Pribilof Islands.  It is about 40 square miles, and has a population of about 450 people.  On the island, there is one post office, one very expensive grocery store, and one bar.  

Many of my friends and family would cringe at the idea of living so far away from home, and sometimes I do too.  I miss Jesse and our house and friends in Anchorage, and our cats.  With only 3 flights a week, I worry about my ability to get home if I needed to quickly.  Cell phone service can be sketchy so I can’t always talk to people easily.  The second week I was here, Jesse told me our cat, Susan, had run away and I couldn’t do anything about it because I was nearly 1,000 miles away (she came back the next day, btw. But it was still scary.)  And nights like last night, after a bad day, when the wind was loudly howling at 50 miles per hour and shaking my house, the vastness and loneliness can creep in.  

I knew when I moved out here alone that this feeling would come and go.  It has happened to me every time I have moved to a new place.  I have a few strategies for this.  Sometimes I call my family and cry, that always helps.  It is ridiculously dramatic, but they always cheer me up.  Sometimes I remind myself of an important motto I have:  just because an experience isn’t great, or even if just parts of it are not good, it does not mean it’s not worth having.  I remind myself that I won’t feel that way forever, it was just a bad day!  Those happen everywhere.  Lastly, and try to remind myself about the wonderful things about the place I live.  

For this post, I want to highlight just that- the things I have come to love about this place. 

1. The Lunch Break– When I worked at YWCA Alaska, I would slug away at my desk all day and skip my lunch break to keep my work day at 8 hours.  Though I would take short breaks throughout the day, and I would eat lunch at my desk, I always left the office feeling spent.  Here, a lunchless day is not an option.  The entire town closes down from 12:00-1:00 for lunch.  Even the school closes.  I sometimes enjoy lunch with my co-workers, or I go on a walk, or I work on my graduate school work.  Either way, it is a break from teaching, and a sweet hour in the middle of my day where I can do whatever I want.

2.  The Routine–  Every day, I work with the same kids at the same time.  I eat lunch at the same time.  I walk home at the same time, have my herbal tea at the same time, go to bed around the same time.  On Friday nights, I drink beer at the bar with my friends.  On Saturdays and Sundays I lounge and do lesson plans and graduate school work.  While this might seem monotonous, it hasn’t gotten old yet!  I like almost all of the things I do, so it’s always fun.  There isn’t much else to do, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  By the time I’m tired of working, the weekend is just around the corner.  When I’m tired of doing grad school work or being alone, the kids are there to greet me on Monday.  It makes the weeks go by really fast.  

3. The Simplicity– I am busier here than I have ever been.  I’m holding a full time teaching job for which I’m responsible for preparing 5 classes a day while also taking 2 graduate level classes.  However, my stress level is generally low.  It may come with the routine, or it may come with the fact that I live alone.  Maybe it’s that I actually really enjoy what I’m doing with my time.  However, I think that the simplicity of life here definitely helps.  I never feel like I’m missing anything.  There are fewer choices to make.  There are simple pleasures all around that I actually appreciate because there is less going on around me.

4. The Scenery– Speaking of simple pleasures, the scenery here is breath-taking.  I often find myself sitting on my couch with a book in my hand or a computer in my lap just staring out of my window.  With no trees or tall buildings on the island, dramatic views are abundant.   Huge waves crashing into cliffs, fishing boats coming into the harbor, birds landing in the salt lagoon, the small town with rows of little colorful houses in the setting sun.  At almost every point on the island there is an ocean view, often times you can see the ocean in more than one direction.  The stretches of sea are so vast it almost makes my eyes hurt.  Every view is more beautiful than the last.  And it’s winter! The fur seals and killer whales aren’t even here yet!

  5. The Culture– along with a new place comes a new culture to learn about!  The island is populated by the Aleut tribe.  They are Alaskan Natives who have lived here for generations.  The island was first colonized by Russians, so their religion and many of their traditions were learned from them.  Russian Orthodox is the religion practiced.  While they speak English, and our life styles have a lot in common, there are many cultural difference which I’m still learning about.  Just like how I grew up, they gather for potluck meals for birthdays and there are cake walks at carnivals.  On weekends, they spend quality time with their friends just talking and playing board games.  If it’s nice outside, they have bonfires.  There is always drama and juicy gossip to be shared.  Unlike how I grew up, they hunt seals and sea lions.  Children are raised not just by their parents, but by the entire town.  Every single parent comes to parent teacher conferences.  They have their houses blessed by the priest every year, and lent lasts for 8 weeks instead of 6.  They cut their cakes into bigger pieces.  They say “play out” instead of “play outside.”  When it’s really really windy outside, I have heard that the boys will go jump off of cliffs or buildings and get pushed back up by the wind- their own form of adrenaline pumping skydiving.  When I think of these similarities and differences, I just feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to learn about them and experience their lifestyle and culture.

6. Nice, Respectful People– This is a town where when you pass someone, even if you don’t know them, you’ll get a smile and a wave.  I heard “Welcome to St. Paul!” more times than I could count when I arrived.  I have been invited into peoples homes and introduced to their families.  I walk to school every day, and on at least one leg of the trip, someone stops to offer me a ride.  People are so nice, and my students are very respectful.  

7. Wildlife– During the summer months, St. Paul Island is inhabited by hundreds of thousands of fur seals and millions of sea birds, like puffins.  Along with the seals come killer whales, a top contender for my favorite animal in the world.  The island is also home to many mischievous arctic foxes.  I have caught a glimpse of a fox, and I am really looking forward to seeing more wildlife as it warms up.  Not to mention the wildlife like king crab that lives at the bottom of the sea, which I don’t as much care to see as I do to eat.  

There you have it!  This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the great things about St. Paul, but it certainly is enough to lift my spirits when I am down.  I feel really lucky to get to call this place home for the time being.  

Getting Swallowed by the Sea

When I found out about this job on St. Paul Island, I had a familiar feeling that I haven’t felt in a long time.  It’s excitement, mixed with fear, mixed with “I definitely can’t do that. Who in the world does that??? I HAVE TO DO IT!” I have felt it before almost every move I’ve made.  I have to admit, I’m a little bit addicted to that feeling.  

I’ve lived in Anchorage, AK for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else besides my home state of Alabama.  Jesse and I have gotten married, we are renting a house we love, we have nice neighbors and a great group of friends, and two cats.  We have “put down roots,” as they say.  Or at least as much as either of us is willing to put down roots.  We love the fact that every time we go to a brewery or a concert, we run into people we know, even if we didn’t plan on meeting them there.  We know our way around Anchorage, the best places to go hiking or ice skating, and the best place to get pizza.  We are comfortable and happy.  While all of these things are great, they made me worried that I’ve lost my wanderlust and that I wouldn’t be able to go off on my own and have another adventure, or that I would miss home so much that it would be a bad experience.  

When I told my sister that I might go live on a small island in the middle of the Bering Sea, she was super supportive in the way that sisters are.  Until I told her that all I could think about was the feeling that I might just get swallowed up by the sea.  Then, she said “Oh my gosh that thought went through by brain right when you told me where you were going.”  We immediately speculated that Hawaii is a group of islands in the middle of the sea, and we weren’t afraid of being swallowed up there.  In fact, we’ve been to lots of islands and we’re just fine.  And people have been living on St. Paul for a long time, and they are fine too.  Still though, I couldn’t shake the thought.  I mean, have you seen where St. Paul is?  It’s such a small island in such a big, cold sea.  

Imagine my surprise when I get a knock on my door(more accurately, many loud bangs on my bedroom window) a mere two and a half weeks after I moved here by my neighbor and the school maintenance director at 1:00AM telling me that there has been a big earthquake, we are under a tsunami warning, and I needed to pack a bag as quickly as possible because we needed to evacuate.   

“Ok. um.  What should I pack?” I stammered.  Of course I knew what to pack- we plan for earthquake emergencies in Anchorage, and keep our car stocked with supplies just in case we get stuck somewhere cold.  I just couldn’t wrap my mind around my biggest fear about living on this island coming true.  The sea was going to swallow our little island.  

“Warm clothes, food, water bottles.  Come over to our place when you’re ready and we’ll wait this out.  We’re going to be fine.”  My very nice friend and neighbor, Mylisa, told me. 

I called Jesse and don’t even remember what I said.  I know that he felt the earthquake in Anchorage, he said it was really big and went on for a long time.  I was terrified.  Being from the south, I have dealt with tornadoes and hurricanes, but never tsunamis.  I had no idea even what that really meant for us.  

I packed some calorie dense food, two liters of water, some extra pants, gloves, hats and a sweater, and threw on my coat and boots and walked over to my neighbors house.  We watched out the window as trucks drove by in the darkness, and they received texts from friends and family members about where everyone was going to meet up.  We saw the principal of the school stop by my house and called to let him know that I was with Mylisa and Jesse (which is coincidentally the name of her fiance.)  I texted my family to let them know what was going on, and that I was safe at the moment.

St. Paul Jesse (that’s just what we’ll call Mylisa’s fiance to avoid confusion) was looking up prediction times about when the tsunami would arrive, if it did, and we figured out that we had a few hours to spare.  At the very least, we would get about a 30 minute warning because other islands would get hit before we would, and we are more than 200 miles away from the nearest land. That was plenty of time to drive inland to some higher elevation.  That information, along with Mylisa’s calm demeanor, made me feel a lot better.  I calmed down enough to enjoy the excitement for what it was.  We were listening to the radio, and had every website pulled up that we could think of in order to stay on top of things.  Other than that there wasn’t much we could do, so we popped some popcorn and watched Game of Thrones.

A few hours later, there was still no tsunami that had hit any of the surrounding islands.  None were registered, and the radio gave us the all clear.  I went back home hoping school would be postponed the following day (which it was) at around 4:00AM.   It was the talk of the town for the following week, and I’m happy to have experienced it.  Thankfully it was not TOO exciting.  

 

P.S. when I later unpacked my backpack, I discovered that the “calorie dense food” I packed in such a hurry was a few small bags of peanuts and about a gallon of chocolate chips.  Priorities.  

A Blog Post About Blogs

Every Monday morning, when I open my email to read The Times daily news briefing, I get an extra treat in my inbox.  It’s a blog that I subscribe to from my friend and former co-worker, Debbie LaFleiche.  It always brightens my day, and I find myself looking forward to it.  I love seeing where she is in the world, how she got there, and how she feels about it.  It’s a life different from my own that is full of adventure.  One of my favorite things about it is that it is so her.  I love getting little insights from her life told in her own words- it’s almost like she’s writing me a story to read every week.  

Debbie’s is just the blog I follow most consistently (because she is the one who posts most consistently.)  I follow a few other friends’ blogs whom I met through other walks of life, and they always bring me joy.  In addition to reading friends’ blogs, I also use blogs to help determine the next steps I’ll take in my life.  Before I went to Guinea, I scoured the internet and read every blog I could find from Peace Corps volunteers in West Africa.  Those blogs proved to be an invaluable resource in terms of deciding what to pack and learning about some cultural norms.  Same story when I moved to South Korea.  When I was considering a career in the Foreign Service, I spent hours reading blogs from Diplomats and their spouses.  Before I came to St. Paul to teach, I searched for blogs to no avail.  I came here with less information than when I have moved anywhere , and that gave me a lot of anxiety.

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about starting my own blog.  In fact, I actually did start one when I lived in Guinea.  It petered out within a few months, which I will chalk up to the fact that I had very limited access to internet and electricity.  Since then, a lot has changed.  I met my husband, moved to South Korea, had back surgery, drove to Alaska, lived in Anchorage for 3 years, started graduate school, and most recently, moved to the small island of St. Paul, Alaska to complete my student teaching.  For now, I have the time, the access to internet, and I have some stories to tell.  I want to put something out there for anyone who might enjoy this as much as I enjoy reading the stories of my friends, and to see if I enjoy writing them as much as I enjoy reading them.  

Instead of telling my own story today (I will do more of that in the posts to come, I promise), I will start this blog by citing my inspiration- just in case any of you want to read about some other awesome ladies.   

Supersize Life–  This is the blog I mentioned above by my friend Debbie LaFleiche.  She sold her belongings and house and quit her job in search of a supersize life.  She includes all the steps she took to get where she is (and they are very detailed!), and also includes information about the places she travels throughout the US.  If you have ever thought about living the RV life, this might be a good place to start!

Whitney Wanders– Whitney and I met in Guinea while serving in the Peace Corps.  She served in Senegal, but traveled to Guinea for Christmas vacation.  We spent two weeks together and the rest was history.  I later traveled to Senegal for a softball tournament and spent time with her, and Jesse and I even stayed with her and her family in Nebraska on the way up to Alaska.  Though Whitney and I haven’t spent a ton of time together, we ALWAYS have fun when we’re around each other, and she would definitely be on my short list of favorite travel companions.  She is a writer by trade, and has been on some crazy adventures, which makes for some amazing written thoughts and stories.

Female Finds a Hobby– Sophie and I met while studying abroad in Switzerland during our junior years of college.  We spent many Saturdays traveling around the country together, and many mornings eating the free chocolate cereal with whole milk in our dorm cafeteria.  And she once made me a top hat out of poster board for my birthday.  She’s a fellow crafter, amature home improver, and a hilarious writer.  I love reading about her life and her ambitious projects through her blog.  

So there it is!  I’m starting a blog.  Feel free to comment, share, subscribe, or whatever else people are into these days.