New Economy, New Relationships

I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I booked an express train to Busan, a Korean beach town about four hours by express train and metro from my flat. I got myself a cheap bed in a hostel near the beach, packed a bag and left.

Besides a sunburn, this weekend offered me a reminder about the different types of relationships we have in our lives, and how the ones that are important may not be the ones you are thinking of.

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Big family near medium-sized Buddha, attachment near detachment in Busan, Korea

I’m a bohemian. I travel constantly and have for the last four years. I work online from the comfort of whatever couch or coffee shop I happen to choose. I’m part of the community of people in this new, remote and global economy, and I’ve read lately how this segment of folks calling themselves digital nomads are akin to the employees of the Industrial Revolution or even the techies active in the early 90s online boom. It’s not a stretch to hypothesize that we are creating a new turn on how the economy works for everyone.

Why? Well, for one, I work whenever I choose. When I talk to my mom, she always asks me, in a distressed and worried voice, “So, are you WORKING?” As if my money is drying up … as if, contrary to my reality, I’m not actually saving money while traveling the world. Yes, I’m working! On the 260-km/hr train to Busan, there’s high-speed internet access. I did three hours of work, then spent a few days touring the city and playing my ukulele on the beach. Heading back to Seoul, I finished up another assignment and, combined with my overall low cost of living, have made more in my five hours of work in the past four days than I did back when I worked in an office all week.

This provides me time for creativity and exploration. I choose to fill my free time with life experiences, cultural adventures and learning about the world around me. I was able to learn a new musical instrument. I also wrote a humor book that a friend recently told me made her laugh out loud – the absolute best compliment I could have received! I can

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With a group of new friends, exploring the Sticky Waterfall outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

exercise every day, cook plenty of meals and live a low-stress lifestyle. Not every digital nomad has this type of life, but I think this freedom to live as we choose is exactly what we all seek.

But, no. We seek more. We seek connection. We seek love. Besides chatting every week or so with my mother, but my interaction with my family is extremely limited. The last time I talked to my nephew, he had to catch himself calling me “Suzanne” instead of “Aunt Suzanne.” Even before middle school, I was a black sheep of my family. It used to make me sad. But I’ve changed my thinking completely. Now I am beyond grateful for this, as it has created the foundation I needed for the free lifestyle I live in continued travels around the world. If I had great attachments to my family, I could not live the life I do. If my family was constantly pressuring me to come “home” so they could see me, it would be more challenging to explore Asia, Oceania, South and Central Americas and the Caribbean. What I used to see as a lack of caring was actually the gift of freedom to be myself.

It’s not the length of the relationship that matters to me, but the quality. What type of people am I bringing into my life? This weekend, I was at the beach and when I awoke from my nap, I discovered a huge Korean family had set up literally all around me. So, I

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Sharing the best Moscow mules of our lives and making memories in a secret bar in Korea

watched them. There were many cousin/siblings around the same age, and they were teasing each other and getting each other wet in the freezing cold ocean. One girl was quite overweight, and I watched as the boys all gathered around her, starting to pick her up to throw her in the ocean. She freaked out and wriggled out of their grasps, and it was clear that it really wasn’t about the water – in minutes she was swimming – but the fact that she was self-conscious about being picked up. She started to sulk away sorely, and then a man – I’ll call him Dad – rushed over to her and put his arms around her. He encouraged her to turn back to the sea, and another older boy came up and walked with them as they clearly were talking her into only “getting in up to her knees.” These men wouldn’t let her stay upset. Before long, she was laughing with everyone else. These are the types of people I want in my life.

I’m so thankful that, even though it’s been a couple years since I’ve had someone whom I would call “boyfriend,” I’m blessed with the kindness and company of men (and women) who make me feel special. In fact, what may seem like ancillary friendships are actually quite meaningful to me. Just this morning, I woke up to a video call from a friend exactly halfway around the world. I’m still smiling at the thought of her face!

Good people are easy to find, and often it’s so much easier to connect with these people when we are alone. When you’re with your mate or your relative, you’re talking to that person and others are less likely to engage with you. But when you’re alone, the world opens up to the possibility of every kind of relationship. For example, after the beach, I decided to try a vegan restaurant I had heard about. I took the subway and figured out through Korean signs and Google maps where it was. I started to walk up the steps when

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A new friend, new ideas, new conversation, new connection, new experiences

a man came down.

“Are you looking for the vegan restaurant?” he asked me, as I nodded. “Well, it’s closed from 3 to 5 p.m. I’m hungry too! Hey, follow me!”

And with that, we both made off down the street and he led me to another vegan spot that was somehow tucked behind a corridor of pipe fittings and booths that were clearly for the working locals. We enjoyed lunch together, then returned to the first restaurant to share green tea. He and I talked Buddhism and Thailand, cultural and karmic implications of being a female and a male, and the impending typhoon that was about to hit Busan. And days earlier, I met a Chinese woman in my hostel who just happened to want to check out the exact spots in Busan that I was considering. Without having to do any research at

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We’re all exploring and understanding the world together. No, Allison doesn’t speak Korean either.

all, I joined her and had a fun-filled day of connecting and adventuring. Both of these two new friends were looking out for me, making sure I didn’t turn away sadly. They were kind people, so unlike me and yet so very much like me.

Another new friend I met in Busan, an American who recently graduated from university, told me she was working on a study about the importance of meaningful relationships in the health and longevity of senior citizens. My question to her was whether those relationships – the kind with people that you can confide in, call in times of crisis – were vital because those individuals had always needed it, or if my (I guess you could say) more superficial ones were just as important to me.

It’s worth exploring. Perhaps the bohemian lifestyle is not just changing the world economy but also changing the way we interact with other people. What happens when we find equal value in hearts of good people from all over the world, rather than just those “special” people who are in our lives due to geography or biological history? Do we have the same longitudinal health benefits? Can we have the same quality of connections? Can we be even more happy?

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My 14-Day Water Fast

Fourteen days! I hope you are exclaiming out loud. That’s a lot of time. (cue soundtrack, feel free to click and listen in the background). I’ve had lots of questions from the few people I’ve shared this experience with, so it’s a long post. Feel free to comment with more questions.

Faithful readers of this blog know that I’ve been experimenting with and following a variety of intermittent fasting regimes for a few years. I really enjoy fasting, and when I was on the sailboat I was even featured in a cookbook on 5:2-loving vegetarians, which way how I originated started. There are so many methods. Let me break down the most popular intermittent fasting styles in the debatable order of serious business:

  • 16:8, which limits the eating window to just eight hours of your day.
  • 5:2, which is eating up to 500 calories two days per week.
  • Alternative Day Fasting, which is what I did for a few months in the last year.
  • One Meal A Day, which limits that eating window to a single meal.
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The countdown was on!

And then there’s the extended fast, which is what I just completed. Why? There’s lots of reasons, but honestly the biggest motivator was that I really needed to drop some weight I gained while having a simply fantastic time, freewheelin’ around and adventuring in Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia and Thailand over the last six months. I was really in a nice, introspective space when I lived in Argentina, and I fasted regularly and was healthy there, while also drinking copious amounts of Malbec, which was produced 10 minutes from where I was living. But I could barely care about fasting and my weight once I sat down to my first meal of beans, rice, cheese, salsa, guacamole and margaritas in Mexico. New Zealand was filled with a massive amount of hiking, as well as dinner dates. And, if you don’t know, Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia is a foodie’s paradise with perhaps the best Indian and Chinese food found outside those respective countries. And Thailand? Forget about it! Without a doubt, these months were filled with a overwhelming lust for life.

Don’t get me wrong, I also run or do a HIIT workout almost every day, or, when I was in New Zealand, I was hiking an average of three hours every day. I still looked beautiful, so it wasn’t some intervention by friends or me having a case of low self-esteem. In fact, the decision to fast for two weeks was divinely guided, coming from meditation. Fasting is super-good for you. I can’t go into the whole thing, because it’s amazingly easy to go down a black hole with this. And trust me, over this fast I’ve watched so much on YouTube! Here’s a link to a science-y ripped dude you may enjoy.

My fast was also divinely timed. I started two weeks ago when I moved to Korea. That’s the ideal time because the first day was travel, and it’s pretty easy to say no to airplane food. Also, I didn’t know anyone in Korea! There would be no awkward social invitations or opportunities that I would “miss out” on by not eating. Finally, Korea is known for their BBQ. No thanks.

Plus, everyone who knows me knows that I love a good challenge. I was born ready.

My allowances over the fast were tons of water, of course, along with one shot a day of drinking vinegar (My supplies were limited by the Korean grocery store options), a tablespoon of salt in warm water if I got light-headed, a multi-vitamin, jasmine tea and black coffee, the latter of which, quite interestingly for a former barista, I lost the taste

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If you think my ego will let me share my “before” picture, you’re crazy.

for by Day 6.

Each day, I ranked my state of Mental Clarity, Physical Strength, Sleep, Energy Levels, Stress Level and Overall Feeling. I also took notes, so I’ll condense below:

Day 1: With the last delicious taste of vegan khao soi and hot ginger tea at my favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai, the fast began. I hopped on a red-eye to Korea, and just basically stayed in the blur the rest of the day. I politely declined an offer by the owners of the cat I’m caring for to go out to eat and crashed hard.

Day 2: I had hunger pangs a few times during the chilled morning (they left first thing), but it was nothing insurmountable. I took a bath, did some yoga and a little work. Felt overall pretty good.

Day 3: In the morning, I took a long walk around my new neighborhood of Songdo, Incheon, which is just outside Seoul, and it ended up being longer than originally planned. I arrived home, did a little more work, another bath (decided this was to be a daily thing) and watched a movie. I wasn’t hungry, but I started to feel a little rundown.

Day 4: I had the straight-up keto flu! This is infamous for people who follow a ketogenic diet, which is a whole other thing besides intermittent fasting. But it’s complementary because it mimics what fasting does to the body regarding the way it produces energy. I was down and out, but still mentally sharp. I worked a little from bed, watched a movie and had some time to think about my life. I dragged myself to my mat to do a gentle yin yoga class. In the midst of this deep rest, I had some good divine guidance regarding relationships in my life. I was cold with muscle soreness, but my mind was churning wonderfully.

Day 5: I started having crazy dreams, really vivid. I felt a little better and did a bunch of work. But I was still too tired to take a walk around the park, as I had planned. This was the only day that I didn’t do some movement; it really did feel like I had the flu, minus the sniffles or stomach ache.

Day 6: I was hanging in there! I went to a yoga class held at the park next to my flat, which was lovely but knocked me out. I headed home and took a three-hour nap. I was dizzy in the morning, but the salt drink solved it. I worked and really didn’t think too much about food.

Day 7: I woke up from more crazy dreams still feeling sluggish and weak. Slowly got up and discovered that coffee didn’t really taste that great. I noticed my sense of smell was keener when I washed my hands with lovely vervain hand soap. I did some more yoga, did some more work and watched another movie. I was in good spirits this entire time. I was getting things accomplished with my work, enjoying the light, airy flat.

Day 8: A week in, I finally felt like I had rounded the corner. I walked to the pharmacy and picked up an enema, hey, and even took an hour-long walk around the park. Had a great time playing the ukulele. I took another nap, was starting to feel better physically.

Day 9: This was when it all started to feel worth the challenge. Even though I had a dream about “missing out” on a vague cultural event involving food, later in the morning I actually had the thought, “I don’t even need food.” I wrote steadily all morning, then took another, brisker walk in the park. I didn’t even take a nap!

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GET IN MA BELLY!

Day 10: On this day, I felt amazing! At one point in the afternoon after a little more work (did you think I was retired?), I got a burst of energy. I had a great yoga practice, played the uke for a bit and walked to the grocery store. There I bought provisions to break fast and simply wasn’t tempted … I didn’t wander down the candy aisle or sniffed around the bakery. I was fine. I even lugged my groceries home. I ranked my Overall Feeling a 9 out of 10. I was making friends through other friends around the globe and online, but I pushed everyone off. Each night I chilled at home.

Day 11: Sleep was so amazing. It felt like a cool night in late October when I was growing up, when you left the windows open even though it was chilly enough to need to add an extra blanket to be all snug like a bug in a rug. I awoke early and refreshed and worked steadily until the afternoon, when Spotify somehow shuffled to Madonna’s “Lucky Star,” which resulted in a dance party for one in my living room. I was really feeling that great!

Day 12: The awesome routine continued, waking up feeling awesome, working a bunch, having a long walk in the park, followed by a bath and a nap. After the nap, I had a great brainstorming session regarding some of my personal projects, including marketing my new book. I was thinking so clearly and with forethought, seemingly crisper than ever. This, by the way, is also a famous effect of going into ketosis, proof that my body was now switching over its fuel-burning system, becoming more efficient.

Day 13: Grateful that I felt so wonderful, I had the opportunity to teach a yoga class in the same pavilion in the park to a nice class. It was a blissful, long class; afterward, I had to politely decline the offer to go to Indian food with some students. For the last week, my skin had broken out, but today it had basically healed. I did a lot of work on personal projects and stayed busy. But I also remembered how much I enjoyed cooking and preparing food. I missed that hobby.

Day 14: Today! As I write, I’m an hour away from breakfast. Not that I’m counting or anything …

I spent the morning working a little on my projects and took a long walk in the park, then made myself a wonderful salad with the produce that the homeowners had left. They left a bunch, and frankly I just pushed it off, dealing with it. I was really surprised that a lot of was still perfectly fine! I also cut up a quarter of a watermelon, which is what I will eat first. Then I plan to wait an hour, let that insulin spike settle down. Then I’m enjoying a huge green salad with homemade Italian salad dressing, macadamia nuts and some kimchi. Now I know I will be exploding then, but I also discovered that the homeowners had left some bananas, which I froze weeks ago. You can puree frozen bananas and turn them alone into creamy vegan ice cream! Dessert!

Tomorrow, after some kefir and blueberries, I’m heading to the jjimjilbang, where I will be getting a body scrub by an old Korean woman who also will be naked, before returning to the baths and later putting on my issued pajamas and enjoying a sikhye and a nap in the oxygen room. In the evening, I am meeting up with a friend and trying steamed veggie dumplings and a Cass beer. Honestly, I could have continued fasting … but I’m keen to explore!

So, does that mean nothing happened, that I’m back to my normal ways? No. This has been a time of deep rest and introspection, and it’s been a gift I’ve given myself. Physically, I dropped the 12 pounds – or about 5.5 kg – or two pounds shy of a stone. I’m almost exactly the weight I was a year ago. All the extra energy I stored has been burnt, which makes me think about the impermanence of things. Experiences do not require any sort of holding on to be in your heart, no souvenir, no picture, no ounce. So, while of course I’ve been a minimalist for a while, I’m different mentally, too. This, my first long fast, has been a wonderful learning experience about myself. I know fasting isn’t for everyone, but trust me, when I bite into that first sweet taste of watermelon, I will be so happy. In fact, I still have an hour to go … and I’m already happy.

 

 

When Patience Pays

Almost three years ago – July 22, 2015 – I wrote a blog post called “Escaping the Maze.” I was in the first year of my nomadic life, and in the post I gave tips on how to push out of the well-carved ruts that tend to suck us into the same old patterns of life. At the time, I was still working to reduce the number of clothes I owned, and I used the idea of the Ten Item Wardrobe as a way to consider pushing yourself out of a comfort zone.

Oh, to have known how far out of my comfort zone I was actually about to push myself! I had indeed escaped the maze, but it was more like entering “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” than a simple TED Talk reference on minimalism. I had

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I learned how to drive a scooter this month! I also played in waterfalls, fed elephants, allowed fish to nibble my feet and got so many Thai massages.

crossed into another realm, one where so many things were unfamiliar and it was actually OK.

From seeing the Grand Canyon as a rut where rushing water cut a path after years and years of wear, now, tomorrow, I am visiting the “Grand Canyon” outside Chiang Mai in Thailand and jumping from the highest cliffs into the waters below. Just like I jumped into the freshwater ceyotes in Mexico. Just like I jumped off the starboard side of a sailboat into the Caribbean Sea. Just as I jumped out of an airplane over a glacier in New Zealand. Ruts aren’t things to escape now. They are things to play in and around.

How did this change occur? How do you turn from someone who is nervous and analytical, wondering if the plans are going to work out into someone who is confident that, when you strap everything you own to your back and walk out of an airport, you can find your way in a country you’ve never been?

I still have more than 10 items of clothing in my wardrobe, but not many more. How did I go from having checklists upon checklist in Operation Tighten Up to actually being tight? Faithful blog readers know you have to Do The Work, but there’s another component to change.

Enter the magical element of time. Patience.

Do you know the story of how I discovered patience? I love this story, so forgive me

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Buddha has patience, and patience is required when you visit Buddhist temples along with throngs of others.

if I already told you. It was about a year and a half ago, when I was living on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was teaching a wonderful yoga class in this tiny, breezy studio about 20 minutes from my little studio apartment, which I rented for a few months. I had locked up the studio doors after another heartwarming class and walked a few minutes down the busy road. On the island, you can wait at designated stops for public transportation called the “Safari.” These open-air trucks – I mention these in Looking for Same – don’t really operate on a time frame. They are independently operated vehicles that just come around when they come around, and you flag one down and pay either $1 or $2, depending on how far you go (and that is sometimes a matter of debate), and it gets you close enough to walk yourself home. In fact, there was a guy (another shout-out to Curtis!) who sold beers and bush rum shots from the back of his pickup truck, which was usually parked exactly at my Safari stop. It was a good system – most of the time.

This one day, I was waiting and waiting on the side of the road for the Safari to come. My friend texted me and said she got a table at the restaurant where we had planned to meet. I hadn’t even caught the bus yet! I was started to do some calculus in my head: Maybe I could hitch? Maybe I could call a taxi? I didn’t know many people with a car on the island at this point … just as I was really thinking I might as well start walking, the Safari came.

Now, it is custom in the Virgin Islands to greet everyone in the room or public vehicle with a “good morning,” “good afternoon” or “good night.” It was amazing how these people were able to identify when it was 12:01 p.m. to switch from “good morning” to “good afternoon.” Anyway, so when I hailed the Safari that day, I climbed in and looked around and everyone and said, “Good morning.”

The passengers, as is custom, returned the greeting to me. This included the Rastarian man who I happened to sit next to. He looked at me and continued the friendly conversation, again, as is custom:

“How are you today?” he asked.

“Well,” I started, trying to shake my frustration from my head as I was finally on the way to meet my friend. “I wasn’t sure the Safari was going to come! I was waiting for a really long time!”

The man turned slowly, looked at me and smiled. He uttered one word with that Jamaican, “I’m probably stoned” accent that I’ll never forget:

Paaaaaaaatience,” he said, so slowly that it actually took patience to hear him say the word.

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Noodle: The Cutest Pup in all of Chiang Mai

And that was it. Now, every time there’s a point where I can feel myself battling against Divine Timing, I take a breath and hear that man saying the word “patience” to me. And now I wait for the right time.

So, what does waiting for the right time have to do with the comfort zone? Because, the time has come to move out of mine! I’ve been living in Thailand for the last month, housesitting and caring for the cutest pup in all of Chiang Mai, and it’s an incredibly easy city to live in. There is a reason some of these places in the world are hotspots for digital nomads: It’s amazingly inexpensive. The weather is wonderful. The people are kind. I rented a motorbike for a month and scoot from free meditation session to vegan brunch to a quiet café to work, then back home to jog or swim in the pool, maybe head out to a $5 massage or $2 fish pedicure, grab dinner – maybe freshly made veggie pad Thai for $1 – and then connect with friends or chill. People smile at me. I smile at people. It’s a very comfortable place.

So why would I ever leave? For one, there’s the issue of visas, which involve the most minimal amount of hassle to extend. But my current visa only lasted 30 days. And because I heard the famous quote recently by IBM’s old CEO Ginni Rometty: “Growth and comfort don’t co-exist.” I’ve done a lot of growing since I wrote that blog three years ago. I’ve still got more room to grow!

Drop it Like It’s BIG FUN

And just like that – after a year of slowly plugging away on a personal project, something I had to sneak into between working gigs because it wasn’t about making money but sharing a story – I am now a published author with a book title on Amazon. With a click, I went from being someone who says airily, “Oh, yeah, I’m working on a book,” to someone who did it. My book dropped.

In today’s modern self-publishing world, I guess it may not seem like that big of a deal. I’m not like my amazing friends who have agents and publishing deals and New York Times #1 best sellers (damn Amie sets that bar high) … but I’m closer than I’ve ever been. And tomorrow, I’ll be even closer. What does it take to reach a goal? Persistence, effort and believing in yourself. Let’s break it down.

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Woo! I published a book!

Persistence

My book is called Operation Big Fun: The Fest Life Guide, and the idea came to me as I was riding in the back of Jeffrey’s RV with Jody, Joni and Ema after seeing the Allman Bros. perform their last festival show at Lock’n in Virginia. I was a good few states away from my rental home, and the folks I caught a ride with up to the festival decided to “leave early to beat the traffic,” which was perhaps the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard in my life. Somehow, I was able to find friends with a willingness and room for me to join them on their travels home. Somehow, I figured out a way to transport my overpacked belongings across the festival grounds to their VIP RV. Somehow, I ended up having just the very best time. As I was singing along with Joni’s beautiful guitar, lounging on a pile of Mexican blankets with my feet up on the cushy seat, I realized that my somehow wasn’t just chance. I had used my experience, wisdom, connections and skills to make my festival experience the best imaginable. I didn’t quite realized it at the time, but I was divinely guided to share what I knew.

So, with my pen scribbling a draft table of contents as the RV bumped and bobbed along the country roads home, I started my first book. It was just a dream at that time. Four years later, it’s a finished product. A whole lot has happened in my life in those four years. I went to a bunch more festivals and learned a lot more. I also quit my office jobs, sold all my belongings, transitioned my writing career to being completely remote, learned how to sail and lived in 10 different countries (with plane tickets to two more in my pocket!). And yet, this whole time, I knew that if I plugged away at this idea, I could make it a reality. I could be a published author of a book.

Effort

About a year ago, I was living in the U.S. Virgin Islands in a studio apartment with a sleepy kitty. I had ended a long-term relationship and writing all kinds of public relations work that was paying the bills but not fulfilling me creatively. I was teaching yoga four times a week, dating handsome men and drinking a little more than I should. It was time. I pulled out that scribbled piece of paper I crafted in the back of my friend’s RV and opened up my computer. And it began.

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My desk in the Caribbean where I wrote most of the book, evidently with messy author hair. RIP T-shirt.

They say that the hardest part is the start. Once you start something, Newton’s Third Law of equal and opposite reaction takes over. When you pull, it pulls back. The wheel begins to turn. For the less scientifically inclined, it’s as simple as The Secret. You put effort when you wish it to go, and suddenly it’s all you can do.

Well, that’s not exactly true, now is it. There were weeks when I did absolutely no writing on my book. I would be swamped with paid gigs. I would be sailing to the British Virgin Islands. I would be too busy having fun. And then, an angel would appear and say something as easy as, “So, how is your book coming?” or “What kind of writer are you? Do you write books?” It was the stark look in the mirror that reminded me that I needed to return my efforts to what I found important, what I wanted to persist. And so, I sat down in the chair and opened up that computer file again.

And while people may turn their nose up at the concept of self-publishing, the end result is a lot harder on the author. Not only did I have to write the best piece I could, I had to find the pictures that I wanted to include. I had to find a designer who could execute my cover concept. I needed to learn how to format a book for a Kindle and then format a book as a paperback. I needed to learn every aspect of the process, something that authors who have publishing companies just pay someone else to do. Since I have a background in marketing, some elements were easier than others. But I had to put effort into it all to make it happen.

Believing in Yourself

The most helpful thing – besides YouTube, of course – was my friends, both new and old, who asked me about my book. My mother often asked me about the book, and who knows how she’ll actually feel about it … I had to send her a note to warn her about the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in it. She might not like the book, but I know she likes me. And, so do I. I knew I could do it.

As I travel and live outside my comfort zone on an almost daily basis, I have to constantly come back to the concept of being my own best friend. I knew I could write a book. I knew I could live in a country where I didn’t know the language. I knew I could get on a scooter today and drive it further than I ever have driven a scooter to get myself to the coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I’m writing this blog post.

Of course, I’ve had my setbacks with everything. A few weeks ago in Malaysia, I was working out and fell down, scraping my knee badly and crying about how alone I was. But I ended up slapping a bandage on it, calling a Grab and teaching a great yoga class less than an hour later. Same with writing: Some days, man, you gotta slap on that bandage and keep on going.

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I have always been a writer with ridiculous hair.

Why? Because there’s a trick to being the kind of person who says they’re going to do something and then doing it. And the trick is persistence and effort. The trick is in the doing, not the dreaming. I see this a lot with people who want to work remotely. They dream of it, but then don’t put in the effort, persistence and belief in themselves to make it happen. For me, I knew I could “try” to write a book, or I could just do it.

And what now? I have a plan to share my story with as many people as possible, but again, this isn’t about money. This isn’t about fame. This is about me being 7 years old, sitting at my little desk in my Pennsylvanian bedroom, digging my little toes into my green shag carpet and sticking my tongue out in concentration. That was when I realized that I am a writer. I am a poet. I am journalist. I am a copywriter. And now, I am a book author.

 

Doing The Work

OK, so let’s start with the punchline, which is simply that I am actively avoiding work while writing this blog post. But I digress …

I’m a member of many groups in Facebook of digital nomads – of which I could have

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“I’m working!” said with the same voice as a 6-year-old would say, “I’m helping!)

been labeled four years ago if such a label even existed – as well as solo traveling females, which, well, hi. These groups are a big mix of men and women, young and old, seasoned and green. The latter often ask questions like, “I’m still in school and I want to be a digital nomad. How do I do that?” Or the slightly less open-ended, “I want to be a professional writer. How do I do that?”

 

Well, as a professional writer for the last 20 years, I can tell you the answer. If you want to be a professional writer, the first thing you have to do is write. You have to actually sit your ass on a chair and do the work. You can’t be a writer if you do not, in fact, write. Getting paid is the second level of work. In order to get paid to write, you have to hustle. You have to reach out to editors, post your own content (hi again) and get an education that provides you the skills for better writing. You have to read a lot and think about ideas and the way to describe how life unfolds in front of you. You have to actively do everything you can to be a professional writer if, in fact, you would like to be a professional writer.

Usually, that’s not the answer most of those greenies want to hear. Like everyone, they want to take a magic pill and transform magically into whatever you wish to be. But it

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I don’t remember Jack and the Beanstalk being so bad ass, but here you have it. Remember, “magic seeds” are part of a fairy tale.

doesn’t work like that, now does it.

 

I just started jogging again. I’ve done it pretty regularly for the last two weeks, and I even bought a pair of trainers and running shorts, which I wear for the 30 sweatiest minutes of my day. I’ve done this good habit long enough now that I can write it down. See, I’m a jogger. I can’t just buy a pair of running sneakers and say that I want to be a jogger. Gosh, how can I become a jogger, one of those people who don’t look like they are dying while shuffling their feet down my block? Because no one wants to be these red-faced losers – no, we want to be fit joggers! How ever could you possibly become one of those people? Here’s a hint: Jog.

So, faithful The Lovelight Project readers know that I’m a big believer in the fact that “The Universe Provides.” This, by the way, is different from The Dude Abides. It really does. Here’s an example. This morning, I was making my daily scroll through Facebook as probably everyone (except my Dad and Stephan, who gets his first, requested shout-out in my blog!) who is reading this. My friend Savannah posts a random video about how great jackfruit was. It reminded me that there was a jackfruit tree in the backyard, and it had been raining a lot. In fact, I need to add after my last “I’m so f-ing awesome” post, I ended up trudging 20 very wet minutes in a downpouring rain from the bus so there. Well, anyway, I look outside, and there’s a huge jackfruit on a low-hanging branch.

But – here’s the point. I still had yet to enjoy the Universe’s gift of a jackfruit. I first had to

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Me and a jackfruit, which is really heavy, I might add. 

get a stool that I could stand on to reach that branch. I had to walk outside my gate around the corner where the tree was overhanging and position the stool cautiously on the uneven ground (Ha! No Obamacare for me! I’m a functional ex-pat!), climb up and use clippers to cut the thick stem of the jackfruit. I had to make sure it wouldn’t fall to the ground and split, and then I had to brush a gazillion ants off me (jackfruit are SUPER sticky, by the way). I had to go back to the house, retrieve a bucket and fill it to the brim with water. I had to lug the bucket back to the ant-covered fruit and dunk it in the water. I carried it back to the house, washed the ants off, washed my shoes and then the bucket (did I mention jackfruit are really sticky?) and soon, I have to take a knife to the fruit to expose the amazing meat-replacing goodness found inside.

In other words, I had to do the work. I wanted to eat jackfruit. That’s one way to do it. Sure, I could have biked to the market and bought some pre-cut pieces of jackfruit laid out quite nicely on a little plastic tray – but I’d have to pay for it. I bet you can see where I’m going with this.

Look, sometimes a bird will drop a magical holy breadcrumb into your praying hands, you eat it and then suddenly your dreams of having a baby come true when you give birth to Hanuman, the warrior monkey god. But Hanuman’s mom, Anjani, was doing the work. She was praying. She was actively looking deep in herself and living in such a way that the gods would bless her. She wasn’t sitting on a couch eating a bag of potato crisps/chips wishing she could be fit enough to job around her mildly hilly Malaysian neighborhood without dying. She made it happen.

That’s right! It’s not the Universe making it happen. It’s actually you. Maybe it’s God working inside of you, maybe not – you get to figure that part out. In fact, you get to figure everything out. So, what magical thing are you going to make happen next?

FLOWING

This morning just flowed! I slept in – completely ignoring my alarm, which I set only because if I want to work out before the wickedly hot sun crests over the mountains behind my tropical home, I better get up. But it was overcast, so it was no big deal to exercise an hour and a half later.

And boy that work out was awesome! I have this high intensity interval training routine, which I do along with just simply jogging around my minorly hilly neighborhood, and

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Me post-work out. I try to sweat every day … not hard in Malaysia.

there are rounds of jumping jacks, crunches, squats, leg lifts, dips, push-ups and burpees. The goal is to accomplish as many rounds as possible in 30 minutes. I’m around 2.25 rounds, and I’m getting better each time I complete it.

After that, I took a quick shower and called a Grab, which delivered me for $3 on time and with pleasant conversation to my yoga class, which I now get to take for free because I am subbing for a few classes there and teaching a workshop. It was a great class, taught by my new friend Gwen, who is a pro at opening up the side body and got deep in my hips that were screaming at me for doing those squats.

From there, I strolled to the pharmacy – I walked a few blocks with the other woman in class, and I happened to save her not once, but twice from being hit by a car. At the pharmacy: No problem, here’s my prescription for $4. Onward to the copy place to make flyers for my yoga workshop, and I needed an ATM. No problem. One was on the way, and the people at the copy place were really nice and even gave me a discount.

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Come to my workshop! Click here for the Facebook event! 

Back to the yoga studio, I gave them a color copy of my flyer (cost me 39 cents) and then strolled over to the bus stop, where the minute I approached a bus immediately appeared. I had correct change ready as I told the bus driver “Tanjung Bungah” with such a normal tone, it was like I lived there for more than two months. I got a seat and pulled out some candied tamarind, which I had bought en route along with a jasmine tea for a snack. I got off the bus at the correct stop, walked home and as I was unlocking the door, it started raining.

And just like that, I was flowing through my life … without stress, worry, anxiety or anything but a smile on my face.

My friend Mary taught me a specific usage of this term, but in a bit of a sarcastic way. She told me that when she’d misplace her keys or couldn’t feel like she was getting it together, would say, “FLOWING!” This would remind her of divine timing and guidance, and it would relax her. Kinda like, “Serenity NOW!”

Flow is a big part of my life, well before I hooked up with my former bandmates of Intercoastal Swell. The whole vibe of that band was to simply flow with art and the music, that the journey was the destination, that life was better when you simply relaxed into it. Well, here I am, years later, flowing.

I’m currently housesitting in a very peaceful spot in Penang, Malaysia. I’ve been here about two months, and I’ve traveled enough to realize it take about a month to six weeks

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My chill spot with a big yard with interesting and constant birdsongs

to really understand an area. There’s always that phase where I’m pulling out my maps.me app and wondering if I’ve headed in the right direction. My sense of direction is not amazing, but my ability to read a map is fierce.

Since that time adds up when you move every few months (or less), I’ve come to enjoy the time when the flow isn’t quite as pronounced as it was this morning. Today, I was whisked away on a white cloud, floating from Point A to Point B without a worry in mind. Everyone I saw (except Gwen!) was a stranger (Oh, I did see the guy who was sweeping the streets from the Grab car window. Yesterday, I let him use my bathroom). And yet I was completely comfortable.

So, what make comfort? I have a particularly low level of anxiety. You may wonder how.

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The KOMTAR government building: The best landmark in Georgetown with the best name

That in itself is something I think about, because the woman whose house and cats I’m caring for has a substantial collection of books about winning at the art of negotiation, getting your way, reducing anxiety and worry and basically winning at life. I had previously read Eckhardt Tolle during a difficult phase after a tough break up, but I’m really good – I’m flowing!

This doesn’t happen by accident! You have to practice flowing. You have to learn to be comfortable rooting in the ever-moving water. You have to set yourself up for success. Maybe that means CBD oil, maybe yoga or breathwork. In the short term, you have to study the maps, look for the landmarks and see the signs to point you in the right direction. You have to find your own divine timing and divine guidance without fear and with love. Your flow is your own.

So … are you ready to flow with me?

Life Unfamiliar

I was standing a queue with my new friend, a fellow writer from the U.S. who is traveling throughout Southeast Asia and had just bought a one-way ticket to Chiang Mai.  We were on the mainland of Penang, Malaysia, awaiting the opportunity to pay 1.20RM, which comes out to about 30 cents, to board the ferry back to Georgetown on the island.

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My first time on the ferry. Unfamiliar to me, a twice-daily commute for everyone else.

I had never been here, and neither had Krista; we were returning from a dinner party. And yet we basically followed the crowd down a walkway and found ourselves standing in line. Without discussion, we paid the man in a glass booth and received a small receipt with a UR code on it. We walked a few steps and discovered the code provided access through a turnstile that led to a waiting area for the ferry. We sat down and had to acknowledge something:

That completely foreign situation did not stress us out in the slightest.

In fact, when ordering from the restaurant where we really could not understand the menu the day prior, we were fine. Figuring out where the bus picked us up? We can do it.

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THIS is the bus map! Note how the bus just magically arrives at a destination without using the roads. Need to change routes? Good luck!

Finding a good place to stay and a quiet place to work (she has a cool blog: Reroute Lifestyle) – we did that too. We’re making friends, seeing interesting places and loving the confronting reality of life unfamiliar. 

How familiar is your life? Do you know everyone around you, know where to buy what food you like? Do you know where everything is at the store, and what places to avoid at night? What is a mystery to you?

For me, I have created a life where I am sometimes shocked to see things that are familiar at all. I am always finding beautiful people to befriend, people with big smiles and kind hearts – so it’s not all odd. But the way I move through my everyday life presents surprises at every turn. Even ordering a cup of coffee: In New Zealand, I had never heard of a flat white (it’s delicious), and here in Malaysia, I had to Google “kopi-o” (you drink it from a tied plastic bag and straw, and it, too, is delicious).

Such is the way of the traveler, I know, which is why so many people enjoy it and so many people hate it. Life unfamiliar is not for everybody. There is comfort in having roots, and life is easy when you have most things sorted. You’ve already figured things out. You don’t have to wonder which key opens the lock. You know to take the umbrella with you because you know what happens when the sky looks like that.

Why ever would you want anything else?

It’s a good question, and one I often ask myself as I am embarking upon more and more  unfamiliar paths. I call it living the “one-way ticket lifestyle,” where I fly to one destination and greatly enjoy everyone I meet and everything I experience to the point of thinking how lovely life would be if I simply stayed. Then I buy a ticket and fly onward.

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
– Robert Frost

I put energy into my root chakra, known as the muladhara. While I constant pull up roots by changing my home every few months, in reality I am growing roots that stretch throughout the world. I am laying a foundation for the expansion of my greatest self. As I am constantly confronted by not knowing and comforted by the knowledge that it all works out, I actually become more safe and secure in my world. A handsome man called me a “poor confused girl” the other day. I had to laugh. Technically, yes – I’m not rich, I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot and I am a female. But in reality? My cup overflows, I was indeed in the exact right spot and I am a strong, powerful woman.

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Catrina and I hiking up the Bridle Path to Lyttleton in New Zealand … We took the bus home.

So how does one turn from being a poor, confused girl to feeling completely secure in a world where you have never gotten on the ferry before and somehow you have to figure out how exactly you’re going to get back home after a dinner party where we all had a number of vodka cocktails?

The trick, I believe, is to have your taproot firmly grounded beneath you. See, I was confident in my ability to figure out the ferry. I was confident that I will have enough to eat and find ways to make money if my current opportunities dry up. I am, at the heart, confident in myself.

I went to the local market here in the peaceful neighborhood of Tanjung Bungah in Penang yesterday, because I wanted to buy some chocolate to add to the cookies I was making for the dinner part. Once there, I saw a man chopping a foreign fruit. Anytime there is a fruit I haven’t eaten, I buy it. Last trip to the market, I purchased a durian. Those spiky fruit have an interesting, pulpy seed that people go crazy for. (Smartest thing

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A durian. My friend Alex likened the consistency to “dinosaur poo.” Nice.

I did all week? Ask him to crack it for me.) This time, I saw my first sea coconut.

“Here, take the flesh and put it on your face. It will get rid of all your freckles,” a man said.

“But I like my freckles,” I replied.

In fact, I like most everything about me. I was talking to this same handsome man other day about needing alone time, and how his last relationship lacked it. He found it hard to believe that me, a woman, loved alone time. When else can I write, play my ukulele, practice yoga, meditate, shuffle about the kitchen and make totally amazing oatmeal-banana-walnut-chocolate chip cookies? The reason I am so comfortable by myself – and at a dinner party and on a crowded dance floor and across the table from a date in a romantic restaurant – is because my taproot is strong. I am grounded even when I have no idea what is going on around me. I may not know how to get to where I want to be, or whether I actually even want to be there, but I have faith in myself that I will figure it out.  THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR.

This isn’t a characteristic that happens overnight. It takes making executive decisions to create a practice of embracing life unfamiliar. When I was considering where I wanted to go to university, my mother took me to visit a college in Ohio. Everyone looked exactly like me and probably thought like me, too. What was I going to learn about life there? Then we visited a college in New York City, where no one looked like me and I had no idea what was going on. Four years later, I knew all kinds of nooks and hidden gems in that city – and in my heart.

Feeling comfortable and rooted comes from feeling good about yourself on a base level. Acknowledge and verbalize the accomplishments you have made when you were unsure, when you step through the fear without letting its flames lick you. Those are powerful moments that help us grow and open. I wish more of those unfamiliar, wonderfully confusing, ego-busting moments in my life – and maybe yours too!

Sorry Not Sorry

I’ve been having vivid dreams, and last night was no exception. In my dream, I was in trouble. I came out of the bathroom, and there was a security guard waiting for me. He actually took me by the ear and starting leading me to wherever I was supposed to go. I

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When did people start pulling others by the ear? Why was a security guard doing this to me in my dream last night?

said to him, “Really, that is simply not necessary.” He released my ear and deposited me in a spot where I was to wait for whatever talking to I was in for. Then I woke up.

Um, I’m sorry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies lately, because for the last month or so I’ve been flittering around New Zealand and living communally with strangers in hostels. Often, there is an unchoreographed dance that take place in the large kitchens during meal times. In bathrooms, there’s plenty of being in the way, and the dorm-style bunks involve piles of luggage and sometimes-smelly hiking shoes lining the doorways. There is plenty of apologizing, constantly.

This is making me think about the difference between “I’m sorry” and “Excuse me.” I am meeting people from all over the globe, and there are cultural difference as well. “Lo siento” means, literally, “I feel that,” while “Me disculpa” means, basically, “It is the fault of me.” In French, “Je m’excuse” is different than “Je suis désolé.”  Subtle stuff, but I’m a writer so words are important.

Often, I find that when living in close proximity with others, one is quick to simply apologize for existing. As in: “I am totally standing in your way, and I’m sorry I am existing in your path. But I need to stir my noodles as well.” Then there’s the apology that comes from bumping into someone. Then there’s the apology for being bumped into. That’s what got me thinking.

What is the boundary between apologizing for existing and honoring yourself for existing? I tend not to apologize for being bumped into, but I hear people do it constantly. Instead, I would smile and say, “Oh, no worries.” And yet – it is simply another cultural difference. I had a conversation with a Kiwi friend and a French friend, and they both agreed that the person who was the “victim” in the situation ought to own up to their role in the conflict and apologize as well. My French friend even went as far as to say that if a boyfriend were to cheat on her, she would apologize to him for whatever she might have done to cause that poor behavior.

This is very different from the American way, and better, I think. I used to think that there was a global epidemic with people who were unable to apologize for things they really ought to. This opinion came straight from my own experience: Ex-boyfriends, who by all accounts were wrong, but would dig in their heels and demand, “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” instead of simply being sorry for even upsetting me. And yet, to what degree was I at fault? What a burn to the ego to apologize for being hurt: It’s pretty awesome.

On the other hand, I have been bumped and nearly sat on by Asian tourists here who fail

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Um, excuse me! Excuse me again. Just enjoying the water here. Yep, excuse me.

to even acknowledge my existence. At first, I thought they were being rude, and then I quickly recognized that personal space simply does not exist where billions of people live basically on top of one another. Why apologize for invading something that doesn’t even exist? I’m grateful to have this lesson months before I head to Asia for the first time. I really am the one who should apologize at the silly notion to think they were rude in the first place. How ethnocentric of me!

Recognizing personal upset as a deserved, justifiable lesson that requires an apology is a big evolutionary process. It seems too easy for some people to cross their arms over their chest, jut back their shoulders and stick out their chins and “stand their ground.” As in: “This is MY place in the kitchen! This is MY pot of noodles! How DARE you try to get a cutting board while I am stirring my noodles!” It’s ridiculous. If saying “I’m sorry” feels like a blow to your being, a simple “excuse me” honors your existence while also acknowledging that your bodily demands conflict with another’s.

My favorite apology is “lo siento.” It’s energetic in nature. I feel that conflict, and I want to verbalize it. I feel you. I feel you, bro. (Insert fist bump here) Another Spanish apology is “con permiso,” which means, “With your permission, I would like to pass.” And then there’s the simple “Pèrdon.” Why are there so many options in some cultures and so few in others?

Even with my own self-work and my interest in helping others, I’ve still certainly done

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When an apology becomes a helping hand to another in the world … it’s a beautiful thing!

enough in my life that warrants apology. The old “hurt people hurt people” saying holds true; when I’ve lashed out at someone, it’s because I was hurt as well. Yet, doubling the hurt will not make the initial hurt go away; quite the opposite. The apology and the deflation of the ego is what will make that hurt go away. The only thing that really hurts is the ego. When that’s removed, you’re just learning a lesson.

And yet, in my dream last night, I really didn’t feel like I did anything wrong. I didn’t have any guilt, and I had no reason why I was being dragged by the ear by a security guard. I didn’t know who I was waiting for, or what to expect. I woke up curious. Maybe I was wrong. If I was – or even if I wasn’t – I’m sorry.

Angels All Around

I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, having touched down in four countries since the last blog post. (The customs officer in the US said, “Are you traveling for business, pleasure or to just find yourself?”) Currently in New Zealand, I spent yesterday in a kayak roaming around the Milford Sound in the majestic Fiordland National Park. Waterfalls splashed down from

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The World Heritage Site of Fiordland National Park in New Zealand

the heights into the cool waters below, where seals frolicked and showed their teeth around my vessel. Gulls, shags and paradise ducks rode the winds above, as snow-capped mountaintops gleamed from beyond in the sky. The massive rocks dwarfed everything around them and played tricks with the mind’s concept of distance.

While most of these epic mountains were covered with lush, green trees, there were some sections that were stripped away clean due to recent rock slides. My kayak guide explained that once an avalanche occurs, moss will begin to grow on the rock. Once the moss is thick enough, beech saplings will take hold within the spongey material and start to grow. Once the trees get big enough, they begin to grow roots long enough to intertwine with the trees around them. Together, the trees help each other grow while the moss creates a foundation on the otherwise treacherous ledge. It is a literal network of support.

While traveling, I have found that beech trees on mountain sides are not the only ones benefiting from a support system. Time and time again, I have met people who can

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Looking for – and finding – angels everywhere

only be described as angels. These are people who appear exactly when I need them to, eliciting comments from me such as: “I really don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Just recently, two friends and I were hiking – walking, as the Kiwis say – through the bush on the mountains behind Akaroa. This sweet French town in the outskirts of Christchurch was the perfect place for a steep hike, and our plans were to end exactly in time for a happy hour glass of wine accompanied by a live pianist. We stopped by the information center, took a picture of their simple map and set out for the Purple Peak. We passed waterfalls and hiked high enough to unveil beautiful vistas overlooking the harbor. Wildflowers lined our path, and my friends humored me by slowing whenever I felt my heart beating out of my chest. We were about five hours into the hike when we came upon the Visitor’s Center. As we had followed signs to arrive at the Visitor’s Center, we presumed it would be near where we parked the car. As it turned out, it was about 8 kilometers away.

My legs already starting to burn, we hiked out to the main road and began the long, hot walk back to town. About 10 minutes later, a man in a campervan drove our way along the otherwise desolate highway. He stopped and offered us a ride, which ended up being even longer than we could have imagined. He saved us at least three hours of walking along a paved road. He was, quite simply, an angel.

There are so many examples of this. The man who shepherded me to the bus station in Buenos Aires during the airline strike. The neighbor who accompanied me to my hostel in Cancun after I found myself walking in circles with an increasingly heavy pack, searching in vain when my map proved erroneous. My friend in the Virgin Islands who let me borrow her car and sleep on her couch when I found myself homeless due to, in

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This is me “NOT FREAKING OUT” with a huge pack, thousands of people and no flights out of Buenos Aires. It’s easier to relax through life when you know angels are here to help.

retrospect, the most fortuitous chain of events. The couple here at the hostel in New Zealand who left me with $20 worth of delicious food before they left. The man who gave us a lift two days ago to the petrol station when our car broke down. A friend who reminded me that there are good, good men out there with open hearts. I need these people in my life. I need to hear what they tell me. They appear with divine timing, with divine guidance.

All these people are fellow beech trees, intertwining their roots into mine, helping me stand tall on a soft bed of moss. We lock elbows together, shine our hearts forward and march forth into this wild world. The more I look for angels, the more I find them.

I read Angel Cards. These are oracle cards by Doreen Virtue, a new age-y intuitive type who has many different kinds of these tarot-style decks. As I was packing up to begin adventures around New Zealand, I couldn’t find my deck. I must have left it in some country or another. While searching for a replacement pack in the small, generally un-noteworthy town of Timaru, I met a man who owned a crystal shop with a 7-foot-high amethyst7-foot-high amethyst with a sign encouraging visitors to touch and feel its energy. When he didn’t have the deck, he recommended I try a shop in Queenstown – where I was able to purchase the last deck of the cards I liked.

Later at the hostel, I read the cards for a woman in the bunk next to mine. As I was doing so, I realized that I was serving as her angel. My roots were helping to hold her up, as well. I am traveling with a young Australian woman, whose schedule matched mine and was willing to chip in on the costs of petrol and the rental car. Just as I was her angel,

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Angels have a lot to teach us, if we are willing to listen and ask. Never doubt that angels are all around you!

allowing her to see areas of the South Island of New Zealand that she might otherwise miss, she was also mine. She shared new music and made me laugh. Our roots intertwined.

Last night I was playing my ukulele on the grass outside yet another hostel. A group of men who had just completed a three-day trail walk in Te Anau asked if they could join me. As they shared their wine, they requested songs for me to play. I was happy to oblige. As I finished a song, one of them said, “That was, actually, brilliant.” His kind words will continue to bring energy to my singing for quite a while.

Angels are everywhere. If you have been one to me, all I can say is, simply, thank you.