Home Is Where the Heart Is

Last week, I got back from spending twelve days in my happiest of all places: Alaska. I stated before I left that Alaska has a way of getting into your soul, and it couldn’t be more true. I’ve visited three times since moving away, and I feel like every time I’ve left, I’ve also left a bit of me there. I think part of it (for me) is also that being born and adopted there means that there’s still some connection waiting for me there. When you spend your entire life feeling like there’s part of you missing because you know next to nothing about your biological history, there’s a tendency to cling to whatever connection you do know of. For me, that’s Alaska. That’s the hospital I was born in, the apartment my biological mother lived in, the lives that my other family members created for themselves up there. There are unknown places and faces left for me to uncover and just being in the same area code soothes that wondering a bit more.

I digress. These are the thoughts and emotions that are constantly milling around in my mind. Today was meant to be lighthearted- an overview of my time up there.

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I had a list of about ten things and people I wanted to see while I was up there for this visit. Due to some transportation issues, a few of those places I wanted to visit had to be put off until my next visit. I did get to catch up with several more old friends that I originally had anticipated, so that was a nice surprise. However, one of the most exciting days has to be the day that I got to see my old house. I had already gotten to wander around my elementary school where I spent far more time in than necessary thanks to being the daughter of a teacher, so the day had already been completely successful. I have this (not so secret anymore) dream of getting to live in the house I was raised in, so the friend I was with agreed to drive me by the house. We pulled up next to the front yard and sat idling on the side of the street while I pointed out several different parts visible from the outside. We must have looked a little suspicious, because the man who lived there came out to check who we were. I jumped out of the car, explained what we were doing, and soon we were getting invited into the house to look around! This surpassed anything I thought would happen, and I was overjoyed to see that everything was exactly as I remembered. I didn’t make it upstairs to see my old room and the addition that my mom designed because the stairs were torn up due to a remodel, but even seeing part of the house was a dream come true.

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While I was there, I also got to catch up with several friends from elementary school and a couple friends from the church I went to in Anchorage. The friend I was staying with took me out to the zoo, which had completely grown and expanded, and we did some outdoor exploration surrounded by views that no camera can truly capture. I caught myself thinking at least twice daily that if I had the opportunity, I would move back there in a heartbeat. There truly is nothing better than getting the chance to live in Alaska.

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listening to: The Civil Wars

Lessons

side note: this was written on 8/8, but I was in Alaska without internet for my birthday, and have been incredibly busy back in Frankfurt since.

The day is finally here..the day I turn twenty-five. This birthday has always seemed more of an obstacle to me than thirty for some reason. Perhaps it’s the fact that twenty-five makes me officially a quarter of a century old? That’s at least the only explanation I can think of.

At times, I don’t feel old enough to be this age. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished the things that I thought I would be now. But then I really stop to think about all that I have done and I realize that maybe I’m doing pretty well after all. Maybe not all of the moments in my life have been pleasant ones, but I’ve learned from every single one of them and I truly believe they’ve helped me to become a better person. Yes, some of the lessons are textbook thoughts that you tend to read in every self-help or coming-of-age article known to man, but they don’t seem like that big of a deal until you really live them.

  1. The painful moments show your strength more than the pleasant ones
    • This past year was a particularly difficult one for me. Years 22 and 23 were hard with moving, family members with cancer, and a miscarriage, but then 24 came and hit me like a ton of bricks after the end of a marriage. I remember thinking so many times through those years that this was just my life now- a collection of sob stories and hurt. However, now that I’ve made it through that period, I know just how strong I can be when I need to be.
  2. Asking for help is perfectly acceptable
    • For the longest time, I felt like in order to be strong, I had to take care of everything myself. Nobody that knew me really knew how much I was falling apart inside because I refused to let it show. I finally realized that I simple was unable to help myself and be emotionally healthy, so I started seeing a therapist, and it was the best thing I could have possibly done for myself.
  3. Your comfort zone is meant to be broken down
    • Moving to a different country is obviously the biggest comfort zone I’ve stepped out of, but there are little ones that go along with that: learning a new language, trying to make new friends, eating new foods. Sadly enough, I think the food issue was the biggest one for me. Any of my friends and family back home can tell you that I’m an extremely picky eater. Guess what? Not anymore!
  4. Not everything is meant to be
    • Sometimes, the things you hope and dream for don’t come true. You see certain things lining up and you think it’s going to blossom into a beautiful story, but more often than not, it’s a passing coincidence. I’ve had to tell myself time and time again to not get hung up on what “could be”.
  5. However, once in a great while, fate can take over
    • I realize this is contradictory to the last point, but there can come a time when everything just falls into place and you have no idea how or where, but appreciating the magic of that moment is all you can do. I think almost everyone gets to experience this to some degree in their lives, no matter how big or small, so if and when it does happen, embrace it.
  6. Treasure the time you have
    • I think I’ve always intellectually known that being thankful for the time you spend with loved ones is very important, but in the day-to-day, I tend to forget it. In the past few years, both of my grandmothers’ health has dramatically gone downhill, and I find myself wishing I had been able to spend more time with them to learn from them and to just hear stories about my family. When I’m in the states, I spend as much time with them as I can, but it’s impossible to get any of that lost time back.
  7. Spur of the moment decisions can sometimes lead to the greatest adventures
    • When I took the au pair job in Germany, I had a week to get my plane ticket and pack everything. I’m fairly certain that everyone I knew thought I had lost my mind because it was such a quick decision. I believe that sometimes following your gut is the best decision. When you’re young and have nothing to hold you back in your life, seeing what else is out there is a wonderful option
  8. Creating good habits can be a mind-saver
    • When I moved to Germany, I started journaling. I can’t count the amount of times I had previously started to keep a journal, but this time I kept at it. It supposedly takes around a month to make or break a habit, so I just wrote every day until I had what can only be described as a compulsion to write. At times, it’s the only way I’ve been able to stay sane and in control of everything going on around me.
  9. Some things should be experienced by yourself
    • People will always come and go. Even family won’t always be there, no matter how close you are. There will be some times in your life that you have to learn to be alone. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes when you successfully complete a task on your own. I thankfully learned this lesson young, but I know that if I hadn’t, I would be much more dependent on people around me. Independence is a good thing.
  10. Take time to reflect and improve
    • You can always be better in some aspect of your life. There is always always room for improvement. I think the times that I’ve grown the most is when I’ve just stopped to take a step back from my life and looked for the areas that are need for improvement the greatest.
  11. You cannot compare your life to anyone else’s life and expect to be content
    • For as long as I can remember, I’ve compared myself to the people around me. Other people always had better bodies, prettier clothes, nicer houses, etc. Instead of learning to appreciate all of the good things I had to offer, I was constantly trying to keep up or surpass what other people had. Trust me, it makes for a very unhappy life.
  12. Learn to stand up for yourself
    • There are bound to be people out there who will try to take advantage of you. It may be in a relationship and it may even be in a job. Knowing what your responsibilities are and what should be expected of you versus what actually is being expected of you is key. There can be a very fine line between trying to help someone and being taken advantage of. I’ve always been one to try and make people happy, even if it means not getting what I want or believe I deserve, but there are a few times where I’ve had to put my foot down and I’m glad I was able to stand up for myself when it was necessary.
  13. Not all friendships will last for all eternity
    • I had a friend in elementary school that I could have sworn I would have been best friends with for the rest of my life. Our friendship lasted through several different moves, but for some reason, the communication slowly faded to nothing. I tried and tried to reach out to her, but it was a one-sided attempt. I finally just had to tell myself that maybe she was just finished with the friendship and had moved on with her life. If I’m honest, it still makes me sad, but I also know there’s nothing else I can do to get that friendship back
  14. You don’t have to justify your decisions or actions to everyone
    • Sometimes, you are the only person who needs to know the reasoning behind the decision you make. Everyone and their mother is going to have an opinion on that piercing you got when you were 18, the dozens of different hair styles you’ve had, or the huge move you’re planning. Some of the big, life-changing decisions may warrant an outside opinion, but make sure it’s one that you trust. Just make sure you’re doing them for the right reason.
Alaska- August 2014
Alaska- August 2014

Headed Back to the Homeland (A Rambleblog)

It’s been a very eventful past couple of weeks. I’ve experienced Paris and Lugano (Switzerland), and I’ll be on a plane headed directly toward Alaska in the next seven hours. On top of all the traveling, I turn twenty-five on Friday. I’m still working through my feelings about this big birthday. Right now, I’m sitting at my computer just taking a break from the frantic unpacking and repacking that is going on in my room right now. No joke, my bed and floor are both littered with articles of clothing and bags and everything else a traveler might need. Have I mentioned it’s almost 4 in the morning? Apologies if this rambling is mostly incoherent.

This is the first all-nighter I’ve pulled in quite a long time. I’ve taken a couple of naps throughout the day and evening, but I feel like there’s no better way to prematurely combat the jet lag than to stay awake all night before a flight and then crash on the plane (this works especially well when your flight is a long one and the time difference means you’re actually gaining thirty minutes or so when you land).

This visit will mark my first time back in the states for six months, and my first time back to Alaska in ten years. My parents and I moved from Alaska to Texas twelve years ago, and I got to go back and visit the first two summers, but then the traveling pretty much got placed on the back burner. There is no way to fully explain how much I miss that gorgeous place. Alaska has a way of seeping into the deepest parts of your soul, and if you have the opportunity to spend any time there at all, you will thirst to be back there as soon as you leave. I know that not everyone feels as strongly about the state as I do, but I think there’s probably another reason I have such a tie to the place.

It seems every time I really sit back and reflect on my reasoning behind my thoughts, more often than not it somehow comes back to the adoption facet of my identity. I was born in Alaska, my biological family (on both sides) was located there when I was born, and there’s a high probability that my father’s side is still up there. It always gets back to wanting to know where I come from. That burning desire to know everything there is to possibly know.

It’s been almost exactly a year since the last time I heard from my biological mother. She emailed me last year to wish me a happy birthday, and although I tried to contact her to try and get some information about my father’s family so I could try and get some more questions answered while I was back in my home state, my efforts went unanswered. It might just be the way that I relate to things, or it might be pretty common in the minds of adoptees, but even being back in the same city that my biological family came from gives me a sense of connection, like we could have experienced the same thing if you ignore the time lapse.

To say I’m anxious to be back in Alaska is an understatement. I’m anxious, excited, joyful, anticipatory…I just have the sense that this trip could be a pivotal moment in my life journey. I’ll be there for twelve days. I’ll be turning another year older, reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen in twelve years or more (some of them who I’ve known for almost twenty years), and making sure I soak in every single moment of the wild beauty Alaska has to offer. I’m interested to see where this trip will take me

Paradiso, Lugano, Switzerland- August 2014
Paradiso, Lugano, Switzerland- August 2014

How to See Paris in Four Days (Or Less!)

Yes, I realize this is my third “Paris” post within week, but I don’t feel bad about it at all. I’m trying to make the most of my time in Europe while I can, and that includes writing and writing all of my thoughts down. You think this is bad? You should see my journals.

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Something I’ve mentioned time and time again is that as an au pair, I’ve had to learn to live on a tight budget. This means that when I want to travel somewhere, I have to save up for it ahead of time. I’ve been putting money aside for some sort of trip since I got here, but wasn’t sure where I would be going or when I would get to go. The family I work for didn’t need me for the entire time they were on vacation, so after some budget checking, I decided to go to Paris for a long weekend.

side note: any costs I mention are in Euro currency (€), not US dollar

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Love Bridge

I booked my trip as soon as I knew my dates. For any long train trips across Europe, I highly suggest Deutsche Bahn. Maybe it’s just that living in Germany for the past six months has made me a bit biased, but it is by far the nicest train line I’ve traveled on over here. I splurged a bit on my train ticket to get the most favorable departure time, but I could have easily saved €20 or more if I had booked earlier or chosen a different time.

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Parisian streets

I did some research on the public transportation in Paris ahead of time and found a deal on a five-day pass for all the public transportation. I was planning on spending €72 for the pass, but after arriving in the city and looking at the map, I realized that almost everything I wanted to do was in the first three sections of the city. A five-day pass for that was only €35, and I could pay for a one-day pass that goes to the fourth section to get out to Versailles.

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Palace at Versailles

Many of the things I was interested in seeing were landmarks in the city. You do have the option to go inside many of them, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but you have to spend more money. If you’re on a budget, I think even just standing next to these huge monuments are worth it without spending the money to see the inside. Other landmarks, such as Notre Dame, are free and you are able to enjoy all of it without spending a dime.

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Louvre

I went to the city with €300 total, allowing myself to use up to €200 of it and making sure I saved at least €100 for emergencies. I ended up spending just a little under €150, and I feel like I got a very full experience of the city, and was even able to enjoy some good food and got a souvenir* along the way.

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Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

Day 1:

I arrived in Paris around 5pm and eventually met my friend at the train station. She helped me get a train pass, then we were off to meet a friend of hers and get some dinner. This day just consisted of meeting some French people and enjoying a bit of the Parisian nightlife.

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Relaxing

Day 2:

Saturday was a day full of train rides, which just goes to show that when you live in a city, you can still get a bit confused on where you need to go. We spent time gazing at the Eiffel Tower and then decided that because it was such a beautiful day, we would catch a train out to Versailles. While we were there, we toured the palace and got some macaroons (at McDonald’s of all places). After we finally found our way back into the heart of Paris, we again met up with some Parisians for a picnic along the Seine River. Leaving the picnic, I was able to catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night.

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Macaroons from McDonald’s

Day 3: 

Sunday was probably the busiest day, but still didn’t feel overwhelming. We visited Notre Dame and just sat inside gazing up at the architectural beauty for a while. I feel like I’ve been in my fair share of cathedrals this past year, and this one was easily one of my favorites. We walked along the Seine for a while and ended up crossing the Love Bridge and walking through the courtyards of the Louvre. We ended up sitting on the side of the fountain for a while, bathing our feet and cooling off, before walking through the Tuileries and the stumbling upon the end of the Tour de France. We stood around for a good couple of hours waiting for the finish of the race, and then it was off to get dinner at a small crepe place and watch the Eiffel Tower light up from the amazing view my friend has at her apartment.

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Notre Dame

Day 4: 

Monday started off very lazily with sleeping in and a late breakfast. I went by the Arc de Triomphe, got some pictures, and then met up with my friend at the Louvre after her classes were done for the day. As soon as we got inside the Louvre, we got out some maps of the museum and plotted out where we wanted to go. There was no possible way to cover all of the museum in the few hours we had, so we chose our top few things to see and mapped out the quickest course. After the museum, we did a bit of shopping to try and find a souvenir, then sat down in the grass of the Tuileries and relaxed until it was time to go home.

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Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre

Day 5:

I feel like it’s only fair to include Tuesday to point out the fact that it was just a day of traveling for me. I made good use of my five-day pass since I still had to use it to get to the proper train station, but leaving at 7:30am means no sightseeing.

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Arc de Triomphe

Overall, I feel like it was a very successful trip and I was able to see all of the big things I really wanted to without spending too much money. Paris is, in general, a very expensive city. Even most of the food was twice the price of the exact same items in Frankfurt, so I had to be very aware of what I spent and where I spent it. The basic breakdown of where my money went (lodging and transportation to and from the city not included) is as follows:

  • Five-day Paris metro pass: €35
  • Versailles: €15
  • Louvre: €12
  • Food and extras: roughly €88
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Eiffel Tower sparkling at night

*a note on souvenirs: I try to find something that is useful for me in my everyday life instead of just a knick-knack that will sit around collecting dust. In Israel, I chose a small bowl made out of olive wood to hold my jewelry. In Berlin, my parents were kind enough to buy me a scarf. In Paris, I picked out a couple of travel makeup bags that are more practical than the big one I keep at home.

Tiny Ring Adventures: Paris, part 2

Lock Bridge of Love
Lock Bridge of Love

I’ve got to be honest: Paris was never on my “must see” list of destinations. It’s not that Paris isn’t a gorgeous place, I’ve just always been much more interested in visiting other places first. However, when you have some time off and a  friend living in the city for the summer, you make sure and find time to visit. I’m so glad I did.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

I arrived on a Friday evening and was staying through until Tuesday morning, so that was plenty of time to do a lot of the touristy things that you just can’t visit Paris without seeing, plus allowed for some not-so-touristy things. I really enjoy being able to see the parts of a city that aren’t all pretty and polished for the out of town spectators. It always makes a trip more real to me.

The final leg of the Tour de France
The final leg of the Tour de France

Without realizing it, I planned my trip for the weekend that the Tour de France went through Paris. When you stumble upon the finish line of something like this, you obviously have to stick around in the sun for the few hours necessary to see all the bicycles come through, even if that does mean suffering through a bit of a sunburn afterward.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

While I wouldn’t trade getting to see landmarks many people dream about seeing, strangely enough, I think one of my favorite parts of seeing a new city is learning to navigate through all the public transportation. There’s just something encouraging about looking at a map and knowing exactly which three lines you have to take to get from point A to point B and being able to follow all the signs in the stations to switch lines. When you can fit in with the locals and not take out a map every time you try to go to a new place, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment that rushes through you.

Louvre
Louvre

Another thing I really enjoy about a new city is people watching. Well, if I’m to be completely honest, that’s one of my favorite activities period, but especially so in large cities full of tourists. Part of the fun is just trying to pick out who are locals and which crowds of people are visiting temporarily. In a big city like Paris, it’s easy. So search out the people wearing matching clothes, holding brochures and maps, or are weighed down by cameras and backpacks….you’re sure to pick out a group of tourists easily.

Venus di Milo statue in the Louvre
Venus di Milo statue in the Louvre

One of my favorite stops during this trip was getting to see the Louvre, and more importantly, the Venus di Milo statue. I have long enjoyed art museums, but the Louvre is one that requires at least several days of your time in order to cover all the rooms. Seeing as I only had a few days total in Paris, my friend I was visiting and I mapped out what we wanted to see before even attempting to navigate the museum. Top of the list: Venus di Milo, the Mona Lisa, and the Egyptian sections. Being able to see some of these masterpieces you typically just learn about in art class was an experience that I won’t easily forget.

Mona Lisa in the Louvre
Mona Lisa in the Louvre

After visiting a city as big as Paris in only a few days, it takes me a while to soak in everything I was able to experience. I still have hundreds of photos to sort through and (although I realize it sounds corny) emotions to absorb. I like to think that every new place I have the opportunity to see changes me little by little and helps me grow in ways I would not have otherwise. There is so much history and culture in a city like this that I want to be able to do it justice.

Tuileries
Tuileries

What’s next? I’ll hopefully be getting a “Paris in 4 days or less” post worked out while I’m in Lugano, Switzerland with the family I work for, and then I’m off for my first real vacation of the year to spend 12 days in Anchorage, Alaska. As always, instagram will have all the real-time photographic updates.

If you want to see the full collection of my photos, plus full albums of my trips to Berlin and Israel, don’t forget to check out my Facebook page! I’ve also got a board on Pinterest that I’ve been cataloguing all the things I’ve been able to experience, so you might want to see what all is going on over there as well.