Sunday, July 29, 2012

"You Make Me Sick..."

"You make me sick!  You make single life look like its so much fun!  How do you do that?"

Who says something like that???    Unfortunately for me, the words came from a dear single girlfriend during a recent conversation. It all started as an inquiry into my recent four month solo travel epic through Central America, and some how evolved into..."You make me sick..." 

Now I am no expert on how to live an irresistibly insatiable life, but I am pretty darn happy and fulfilled.  I know myself, I know what I like, and I have an incredibly fun social life that just happens to be filled with a whole lot of terrific people.  In fact, I have the "BEST" girlfriends in the entire world to be more specific. And while they have a lot to do with what makes me happy in general, I also know how to celebrate my quiet time. 

But in my opinion, the woman who is miserably single will probably be pretty unhappy in other areas of her life. If I had to venture a guess, I would bet you anything there are other issues she's wrestling with and it's just easier to blame her singleness than it is to do the work she would need to address her true evils.

And while my friend's comment took me by surprise, I didn't believe for one moment her comment should be taken literally. Regardless of your marital status, I truly believe that one of our sole purposes on this Earth is to enjoy the life we have been given while collectively spreading love, joy and experience with those around us.  After all, the "Golden Rule... is to do onto others as you would have them do unto you."  If the situation were in reverse, and I was the one who was perceived as miserably single, I would hope that someone to take an interest to help me out of my melancholy and gloom.

With that purpose in mind, I tried my best to decipher the biggest influences that would have drawn her conclusion, and tried to make a few humble suggestions to aid her (and others for that matter) onto the road of the glorious single life...

Surround Yourself With FABULOUS People- I mentioned earlier that I have the "BEST" girlfriends in the world.  And while each of them serves a specific role, in general, I believe that we all do an excellent job of supporting and lifting up one another. We are more than friends... we are mentors,  teachers and sometimes family members. We are great listeners and we know just how to be there when we are needed. We also know how to make each other feel good about ourselves, and that's an important part of the friendship.  When we feel good about ourselves, it becomes infectious. We also understand that not everyone is going to like us... but we don't want everyone to like us. If they don't know what they are missing out on... then that's their problem and not ours.

Be a DOER... Not Just A THINKER- Thinkers sit around contemplating change, but DOERS actually put their thoughts to action.  What's the point of putting together a great plan, if its not executed. After all, "faith without works is dead"... right??? Doers are active people.  They have hobbies that they love and engage in them on a regular basis. Work is not the total focus of their being and achieving balance can take some time and practice, but makes for an incredibly well-rounded person.  They don't rely on other people to entertain them, they do a great job of doing that all by themselves. Doers are smart people with curious, educated opinions, and are not the least bit afraid of doing things alone if need be.  They enjoy their own company and do not wait for others to experience the things they themselves want to do.  You see them everywhere... the solo-ists who are enjoying the newest restaurant, taking that cooking class or traveling alone to explore a new city or country.

Truly Know THY Self- I truly believe that to be appealing to others, you must first be comfortable in your own skin. No games. No false pretenses. Just 100% you.  We are interesting people with terrific social lives. Take time out to figure out what makes you happy, because everyone loves a happy person.  Would you want to spend your time with someone who is a constant complainer?  You can't pretend to be a lover of wine if all the wine you know is White Zinfandel. (Sorry, if I offend anyone... but friends don't let friends drink white zinfandel!) Take the time to educate yourself on those things you enjoy.  Interested in something but don't know enough about it to really enjoy it?  Then take the time out to explore it. There is something about having a true interest in something to attract the right people to you.  From childhood, I had always wanted to explore scuba diving.  Recently,  I decided that I was finally going to do it.  During the process of enjoying my experience, I attracted the attention of a former scuba instructor who is now the director of one of the largest aquariums in the world. Guess who now has an exclusive invitation to take partake in one of the most unique diving experiences in the world?  Me! That's who!

It is my prayer, that these reflections will help anyone, regardless of your marital status, find the road to the glorious life you were meant to live!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That Dreaded "N" Word...

No, not that one silly!  As a single women who is strong and fiercely independent, I do my best to be as autonomous as a single woman can be.  I've always been this way. Even as a young girl, I held down an after school job at a dance studio, simply because I didn't want to have to ask my mother for money. As an auntie, I am constantly encouraging my young nieces to do the same.  If you want something, go after it.  Be smart. Be strong. Be responsible. Be self-sufficient.

Do we as a society, condition our girls and young women in the same manner? I'm not just referring to money here. The messages are everywhere. Stay in school.  Don't have sex. Don't get pregnant. Be smart. Be strong. Be responsible. Be self-sufficent.  And while its all well-meaning, is it possible that its all to our determent?  Is it possible that we are imparting to our young maidens not to "need?"

We've all seen the reports of mothers who freely give of themselves to their families and friends, putting their own needs last.  Clothes need to be washed, dinner needs to be cooked, dishes need to be cleaned, and the kids need help with their homework.  And after she's worked all day, and all the household tasks are complete her husband now wants to fulfill his sexual "needs."  She probably won't communicate that she "needs" a bit of quiet time to herself, and a bubble bath was more along the lines of what she had in mind.  Or if she does, then she'll feel guilty about taking time out for herself.  So I have to ask the question... are we, the independent women of the world, perpetuating a dangerous cycle to give of ourselves never expecting to have our needs met in return?

Now in my professional life, there is no problem expressing the "needs" of the client to the team that will help me accomplish the goal.  Or going to my Facebook page to ask a question because I "need" more information or a second opinion.  But let me "need" more time with the guy I am dating, or "need" for someone to have compassion for a situation I am dealing with, and I can almost guarantee that I not going to ask for what I "need." To appear "needy" in a relationship is perceived as a "cardinal sin" and I'm just not going to do it. In my mind, to be "needy" translates into being helpless or powerless.  I am way to strong and self-sufficient for that.

It's funny when you think about it... but men don't appear to have this problem. I hear them use the word quite frequently. And while they may not expect to get all of their "needs" fulfilled, the certainly don't hesitate to ask in spite of it. Whether it comes to work, play or romance, they ask for what they want, and don't think twice about the perception of appearing needy. Its almost as though they are conditioned to expect for their needs to be met. Who says men are not communicators?

Its ironic that men rely on women throughout their entire lives...first starting with their mothers and then moving on to their girlfriends and finally their wives. So where did the disconnect happen for many of us women? We were not conditioned to rely on our fathers in the same way?

So I guess I find the "need " to ask myself... at what point did I decide it was wrong to "need," rely on others or even ask for help? When did "need" translate into helplessness or powerless? And more importantly, is this the message that I want to relay to my nieces and all of the other young women who's paths I have crossed?

The older I get, the more I realize how complicated life can be.  I've always understood the power of my words, and the importance of clear communication, but there are time when actions speak louder than words. The damage may have already been done, but I hope it's not too late to right the wrong... to "NEED" can be a good thing... and it's not the curse word it used to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back To My Reality... As I Choose It For Now...

Sunset at San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

As much as I hate to admit it... travel adventures as I know it are now over. Gone is the freedom of solo travel and the allure of meeting new friends to explore new adventures. At least, for now.  Not because I choose it to be over, but because the reality of life has come to the forefront. As much as I would love to globetrot as if I were Lewis and Clark, my last name is neither, and the Johnson's of my family tree has not endowed me a trust fund in which to subsidize my hearts desires.  And yes, although I can pay bills by internet and keep in touch with family members via Skype, I do not possess the team of people that I trust to give full autonomy to my financial state of affairs to renew car registration, car tags and drivers license. My guess is that to assemble a team as such would probably take millions... millions I do not have. At least not yet anyway.  And so my reality is... to return to life as I knew it.

But the truth is, life will never really be as it was.  The reality is... experiences make us grow. Learning new lessons, and implementing them into our lives changes everything about who we once were. Mr. Albert Einstein I know would agree.  To take a page from his book...

 “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Albert was a smart man.  Every time I step foot in a new city, a new country, a new continent... I am in awe.  There is something hypnotic about experiencing the world that you've only been able to read about on paper, come to life before your very eyes. The world, if you've never seen it, is the mysterious.  And it is out there, sitting, waiting for all who are willing to take privilege in it.

Sadly, when I joined the ranks of Americans who actually held passports in 1998, I was devastated to learn that I was part of a small but elite group just over 6.5 million or 15% of the international traveling minority in this country.   It wasn't until 2007, that the travesty of 9/11 made it mandatory for Americans traveling to Canada and Mexico be required to acquire passports when traveling on land or sea.  But even then, the number only jumped to 18.3 million or 22% of the American public. Even as of this writing, only 30% of Americans possess a passport in 2012, according to a recent CNN travel article.

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” 
– Frank Herbert

But the truth is, travel can be a reality for all of us who deem it a priority.  I often hear people affirm ... "you sure travel a lot!", as if it were a privilege only afforded to the wealthy. Just yesterday, I heard those very words while chatting to an old high school acquaintance.  I suppose that is because, I do see it as my reality. And for things which we ourselves deem as important... these things then take precedence.

I suppose I obtained the spirit of exploration from my father.  A truck driver by trade, he was determined to see..."as much of GOD'S green Earth as HE would allow." Despite the fact he understood it required a bit more time to travel with me, because I "couldn't just pee in a cup" like my brother... he still deemed it significant for me to experience the long trek along the Canadian pipeline to the heights of Alaska... TWICE.  As a little girl, I often resented not being able to travel with my Dad as much as my brother, and so I in turn felt the urgency to direct my aim so that I could perfect the talent of being able to "pee in a cup." Little good that did me...

But back to the point at hand... there is never a good time for change, but it is important to understand is what the cost would be if we don't.  What do we stand to loose if we don't create travel opportunities for ourselves.  By not executing a curiosity for the unknown, what message does this send to our children, nieces, nephews and youth of tomorrow...  Americans are comfortable in their own environment, and do not find it important enough to venture out into unfamiliar territory. Why on Earth is that??? In many countries, but particularly Israeli, it is considered a rite of passage to travel abroad. They do this in the year following army service, as a way to unwind from the stress of serving two to three years.  I was able to experience this first hand during my travels throughout Central America. Young Israelis were everywhere, as were other nationalities. Sadly, few Americans were to be found.

Foremost on the reasons to travel is that you discover a lot about yourself. Now I'm not talking about taking a family trip to Disney World. When I speak of a special vacation, I envision someone backpacking across Europe or driving along the coast of Australia... that is, a trip with cultural significance. Not many things in the world can inspire you like seeing the Colosseum in Rome or the Pyramids in Egypt.  Whether you're a lover of history, architecture or nature, only travel will satisfy your passion. No words can describe the rush you feel when gazing upon the Mona Lisa or admiring the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Experiences can range from the legendary (watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain) to the relaxing (enjoying a hot spring while snow swirls around you in Iceland), but they share one common link: they are all memorable. In every corner of the world, there is excitement waiting for you. It is simply a matter of sticking your head out and going for it.

Time puts everything in perspective for us. Can you recall those stressful milestones that once invaded your life – your first exam, your first date, your first real job?  Many of these you barely remember because in the grand scheme they’re not the significant events they once were.  Leaving your current situation may seem daunting, but in the future it may only seem like a minor event in your life, and perhaps even an obvious choice.  If you don’t make the travel change now, will you regret it years later?

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what
 inspires me to travel it.” — Rosalia de Castro

Amen Ms. Rosalia! Amen to that!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Finally...I Made It!

Depicts CIA involvement in the Revolution 
After a full 48 hours of travel mishaps, although small but irritating nonetheless, I finally made it to Nicaragua. Dumped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, I am bombarded by some six taxi drivers  all vying for a chance to win my cordobas. And while I am honestly annoyed by the pushy sales pitches, I can respect the need to hustle for the traveler's dollar amongst the heavy competition. For the winner, it can sometimes mean the luxury of having meat with the typical rice, beans and plantains for his family. But I cannot complain for it was here that I met Melanie, a sassy young Australian, who also was dumped out in the middle of nowhere. We rode for many hours on the same bus together, and never spoke a word to one another, but were now teaming up against the riot of men to share a taxi into Leon.

As it turns out, Leon is a very charming college town steeped rich with revolutionary history. At every turn you'll find evidence of a proud people fostering their wounds with pride. Colorful murals cleverly located near the university remind its young people of a past they are too young to have experienced. As I studied each one to interpret its meaning, I stumbled across one "representing the "Sandinistas" armed struggle and the CIA's role (the serpent) to influence the Nicaraguan elections. The fact that I was not personally involved in this manipulation did nothing to deter my guilt or remorse for enjoying the interesting depiction. I was American and that was reason enough. Sadly, the rest of the city was not as well maintained as one could hope for. What remains of its colonial stature, colossal cathedrals and a vibrant art scene, made it a city full of substance, and that made for a stimulating stay. Melanie and I found great places to satisfy our hunger, one favorite of ours, Barbaro, was worthy of a second visit.  A great city to experience on foot,  and in hindsight, I regret not doing a guided tour.  My main purpose for my stay was to hike and volcano board down the infamous Cerro Negro, which I shamelessly accomplished while crashing out twice. Nonetheless, it was an experience of a lifetime, one that I will arrogantly boast to my nieces and nephews once I return home.

Next on the "Gringo Trail" was the Nicaragua's oldest city of Granada, which sits on the foot of the majestic Volcan Mombacho while simultaneously resting on the dark sandy shores of Lago de Nicaragua. It's beautifully maintained colonial architecture does well representing the Spanish empire of old, and it doesn't hurt that the cuisine was to die for.  From the grand central park, to the fabulous cathedrals and cobblestone streets, this was a luminous city to explore on foot. It also serves as a great base for other outdoor excursions like exploring the nearby islands of Las Isletas, the handicrafts center Masaya, and the towns of Pueblos Blancos. This part of my adventure holds a special place in my heart... as it marks the first time I ventured out of my "solo traveler mode" to travel with a group of complete strangers that made an already awesome experience, that much more incredible.  Melanie and I quickly grew to a group of eleven, consisting our four Australians, four Americans, one Spaniard and two Israelis who were quickly dumped early on.  The Israelis need mention, for if it had not been for meeting them on the street, and recommending their hostel to us, Melanie and I would never have met the others. Since we were all traveling in the same direction, it just made sense to combine our experiences.  It was also this group that would be responsible for breaking me out of my "private room-private bath" snobbishness to share a dorm room, which was another experience in itself. Not one that I was fond of at first, but they made a believer out of me, and I was able to save a few pennies in the process.  Who knew?

After exploring Las Isletas, sharing pizza and wine, and group breakfasts at the Garden Cafe', our group of now eight traveled onwards via "Chicken Bus" to the popular pacific coast destination of San Juan del Sur which used to be a sleepy little Pacific coast hamlet, until it was discovered by backpackers and surfers as the perfect spot for beach wandering, kite surfing, deep sea fishing sunbathing... and of course surfing.  There is a laid back vibe to this town, and what originally was planned as a two day venture quickly turned into four and our group of eight now split in half to stay at separate hostels. We happened into town during "Caravana del Caribe" an outdoor night festival of live beachfront music and dancing.  This made it easy for our now two groups to convene together at night, as drinking and dancing in the streets of San Juan were right up our alley.  One night while enjoying the local beer at a beachfront bar, we watched the ending to a spectacular baseball game. Nicaragua is playing Cuba in a five game series.  "How great would it be to catch a game while we are here?" someone from the group comments.  Just like that, with a bit of planning, we were off on the next "Chicken Bus" to Managua to see the next game in the series.  Not something I would have done solo, that's for sure, despite being an avid sports fan, but being part of this group made it so much more electric. Cuba killed it in this game against Nica, and I am ecstatic that I had the chance to experience it. Blessing to my new travel buddies, Melanie, Jemma, Makensie, Carlos, Jennifer, Alexander and Daniel. Keep on Travelin'!!!

So after globetrotting in Central America for the past eight weeks, it's back to the real world as I know it. Responsibility is calling and I have a dog who is in need of his mother. Do not think that for one second, that I didn't try to scheme a way to get my dog to Central America.  If he were small enough, it would have been as easy as paying a fee for him to fly in the cabin. Sadly, it's too hot for him to fly as cargo, or I'd be on the next flight to Panama.

Who says "... Men have all the fun?!?"  Not me... that's for sure!