On Living Abroad (and 5 travel instagrammers worth following).

It took me a long time to fall in love with California.

When I was working in the city I used to wander aimlessly on my lunch breaks wishing I were home, or at least somewhere friendlier and more familiar. I craved a semblance of community. I missed the squishy babies and their open mouthed slobbery kisses. I longed to call over to my siblings for dinner, to drop by my friends houses unannounced. I missed the ease of life at home, of knowing who was where and what was what. This new city left me feeling ill at ease. Some days it felt like I was buckling from the constant stimulation of finding my way and always having to introduce, explain and arrange. I’m an introvert and making friends is hard. Putting myself out there was hard. It still is hard. But it is right—putting myself out there is the only way I will grow. I know that and at times I really don’t like it but I knowledge is power my friends. 

While I didn’t fall in love with foggy San Francisco, somewhere between the mountains and the sea I discovered a new normal, a bold wilderness that I have learned to love with all my heart. We made some friends. We bonded over idealistic obnoxious twenty-something ideals. We solved the worlds problems and shook our heads at the current state of affairs. We laughed as we hiked through forests, over mountains and down to the sea. As my muscles stretched and grew so did my appreciation for this place where we live. 

I still miss the squishy babies and I wish I could drop by my friends houses and have dinners with my siblings. I could never imagine life without them and yet that’s what the past nine months have been. We have created a life here. That fact gives me a real sense of pride. Pushing the boundaries on what I thought was possible and what I thought I could achieve has been one of the best parts of this past year. 

For the first six months living here I just wanted to go home. Every time we hit a stumbling block it would be my first retort, my final cry, my broken record. But little by little—deep in shady forests, on golden sandy beaches, and in a warm-hearted, nurturing work studio—I found that I was no longer simply surviving. In the abstract, I never thought I would ever move to another country (let alone the other side of the world!), that we could get the kind of jobs we have or do the kind things that we are doing. The reality that we are indeed doing all those things blows my mind every day. What does that mean for the next year? Or the year after? 

It's getting increasingly harder to imagine leaving. We will do it and there will be a period of adjustment and it will be hard but good. All things worth doing are so. 

One thing I have learned this year is that home is not a place but a state of being. We are more fluid than we think and much more adept for change than I ever thought possible. Who knows what’s going to come next. 

I would love to know about your adventures. What have you got planned for this summer or the coming months? If you could travel anywhere in the world where would it be? Have you ever thought about living abroad?

If you’re interested in getting the travel bug (or some serious insta-envy) here are some people worth a follow:

  • Our friends Ashling & Paul are spending the next three months travelling around South America. 
  • As is a sweet girl from my college Emily and her boyfriend (they travelled around the world a couple of years ago—her instagram is one of my favourites!). 
  • Another college friend, Fiona, is living in New York and her photos are truly stunning. 
  • My sister-not-in-law Nadia is constantly jetting off some place new—check her out. 
  • Courtney Adamo’s instagram is one of my very favourites (pretty much the definition of #lifegoals for me). She and her husband and their four children are spending the next year travelling around the world—I can’t wait to see what is in store for them. 

Embracing the Process.

As humans we strive to define ourselves. We make broad sweeping statements like ‘I hate mushrooms’ and ‘I’m so clumsy.’ Or, the oft hear and far more detrimental, ‘I’m so fat.’ Rarely do we take the time to question if these things are really true.

I don’t love mushrooms. But, cooked in the right way, even I will admit they can be pretty delicious. I can be clumsy sometimes, I can trip and I’m not the best tennis player on the planet but is clumsy something I should define myself as? Probably not.

It is a defence mechanism. It is easier to say ‘I’m terrible at sports, I have no hand eye coordination, I can’t run, I’m always falling over’ than it is to try. It is easier to accept these statements about myself than it is to try and prove them wrong. I’d rather not play that game of tennis for fear of all the balls I’ll miss and how stupid I might look huffing and puffing around the court getting nowhere fast. What I failed to realise in these kinds of scenarios is that the opportunity cost of forgoing the game of tennis, or run on the beach or mushroom risotto. What kinds of things have I missed out on because of who I thought I was or what I thought I liked? What kinds of things do you miss out on?

The things we tell ourselves over and over become our mantra. The words melt into belief, and over time become truths. I think too often we forget that we can redefine these truths whenever and however we want. 

Rich is teaching me to skateboard. We snatch thirty minutes here and there before the sun sets and when work schedules and dinner making allows. We go to a smooth, freshly tarmacadam-ed road near where we live and take turns. 

At first I thought ‘no way, this isn’t going to happen.’ Then I thought, why the hell not?

In the beginning I would hold Rich’s arm as he basically pulled me down the road, both feet on the board. As I gained more confidence, I started pushing with my right foot, learning how to move my body to stay in balance. Eventually he began to let go of me. I would go short distances, shouting for him to stay beside me. This feeling (and the shouting) brought with it intense flashbacks to learning how to ride a bike in the cul-de-sac near my house. I remember shouting at my mum not to let go, only to realise she wasn’t holding on at all. I can push off myself now, steer the board with my body and one day soon I’ll learn to actually stop and not just jump off mid-ride.

I’m not going to make pro any day soon (or, you know, ever) but it feels incredible to do something I never believed I could (that epic feeling of wind in my hair isn’t so bad either). The funny thing about skateboarding is that the more you let go, and relax your body, the easier and more natural it feels.

There is probably some life lesson in that. 

Since moving to California the rug has been firmly pulled out from beneath me. Whenever I feel like I am gathering myself and getting back up onto my feet it happens again. The ground shifts and I stumble. It is hard and it is hard and it is hard. The recovery gets easier with each fall though. Every new challenge that I face I do so with less worry and less hesitation. I am finding myself analysing less and letting go more easily. Maybe this is because I have no other choice than to continue onwards, or maybe it just means that I am growing. 

I am trying really hard to swallow criticism. I am saying ‘thank you’ a lot, feigning appreciation in order to foster the feeling. Criticism is one of my biggest stumbling blocks and in the past minor comments have left deep impressions that circled around my mind for days. This still happens occasionally but I am learning more and more to let the comments roll off my back. Focusing on negative remarks quashes my creativity and leaves me paralysed, unable to move on with a project or idea. Working in a creative field, criticism is a part of my daily life and something that, quite frankly, I wish I was used to by now. The older I get, and the further away from the world of education I grow, the bind between my self and my work is loosening. Not to say that I am distancing myself from my work, or extracting my personality from it, but that I am able to step back more easily now and not let the comments or criticisms of my work become comments and criticisms of my self.  It’s a work in progress, afterall.

I am learning to relax more, and feeling a somewhat smoother ride as a result. We haven’t transitioned to bumpy paths or up and down curbs yet, so who knows what’s to come. 

Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will. 
— Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

For Your Weekend.

We have been hiking and I have been reading. For the fifty or so per cent of my time not at work at least. It is a glorious fifty or so per cent. I wish it came in larger chunks but I’ll take my snippets here and there and where I can. A bart ride, a lunch break, a fly-by sunday outing. 

Sometimes I forget that my body is a biological, animal, feral thing and needs to be outside. I forget that I am my body and my body is me and there is no line or blur or disconnect. Or at least there shouldn’t be. Being indoors sucks life and being out of doors restores it. A simple equation so often forgotten. 

I also forget that I love to read. My ridiculous inner narrative says things like, it’s been so long since I read a good book. It’s been so long since I enjoyed a book, maybe I just don’t like reading any more. I would read a few pages and my eyelids would droop, too heavy for the words. Page by page, slowly creeping through a story muddied by sleep and time and missed days. I tried to read The Road. I stopped. I couldn’t. It never really started for me. 

But I don’t read to fall asleep. I read to wake up, to time travel, to understand, to be inspired. And so I got some better books. Because life is too short for bad books, cigarette smoke and wailing toddlers in supermarket aisles. Last Friday I stepped off the bart and into the second-hand bookshop in Berkeley and bought three books from this list and two more for good measure. So far I have read one short story, one memoir, one novel and half a book of short stories this week. Escapism is a real and beautiful thing. 

I have also been replenishing my wardrobe with ridiculous bright, cheap, vintage and thrift store dresses and expensive but much needed staples. Jeans, sandals and shoes, you know the drill. Next month I am dedicating a portion of my paycheque to t-shirts. It’s a thrilling life, but someone has to live it. 

Tomorrow I am going to work my little bum off on some fun, just-for-me work as well as some work for Moss Cottage before dragging Richard up a hill or down by the sea or to the park…and Sunday is wide open right now, just the way I like it.

Have you got plans? Tell me them all, I’d love to hear. xoxo

A Work in Progress.

I finished college almost eight months ago. Somedays that feels like a life time and somedays it does not. I still feel a strange sensation when my lips form the ‘no’ after being asked if I have a student card in shops. I feel like I should still have that right. By all intents and purposes some days I still feel like a card-carrying member of the student population.

I think interning perpetuates this feeling. As interns, we are constantly being reminded of our place in the world—ie the very bottom of a muddy pile—and how little we know, how much we have yet to grow. While knowing ‘out place’ is important it can also be a challenge after the high of graduation, where everyone sings your praises and sends cheery salutations. Internships can we wonderful, valuable, enriching periods of time and they can also be frustrating, degrading and menial. While we can hope to gain, wish for, and seek the former, a mix of both is more common in my experience. 

Moving to America less than a year after my cousin died and my niece was born and finishing college and having strangers move into my family home wasn’t a good idea. I know that now. It was too much, too fast, and too emotional. Now we are here and we can only go forward, we cannot go back.

We are making the most of it. Some days making the most of it is staying in and watching hours of Friends reruns on Netflix. Sometimes making the most of it is hopping in the car for a much needed day trip to the sun. Sometimes making the most of it is crying when you get in the door from work in the evening. It is all living and it is all progress. 

I am letting go of my expectations, hopes and plans for this year and really exploring what it is to simply be here. For example, when I first started feeling lonely, I immediately felt a desperate need to fix that feeling. I asked myself questions and worried and stressed about finding friends and ridding myself of this horrible emotion. Now I recognise that sometimes I will feel lonely. It makes sense to feel lonely because I don’t have friends here like I have at home. I recognise that loneliness and say to myself ‘so this is loneliness, it’s not so bad.’ And it is ok. For the most part the emotion moves on and I feel something else. I am no longer feeling tethered to the weight of passing feelings. I have gained perspective.  

Rich and I joke that we are on the accelerated learning path to adulthood. I can feel myself growing here. It hurts sometimes., growing pains do—they leave no mark and will most likely be forgotten, but in the moment they are a reminder that we are all a work in progress.

Things that Stay the Same.

Despite circumstances of place and time and position relative to the equator some things remain constant. What I mean to say is that even amid this period of total disruption and uprooting certain things feel unchanged. Richard still smells like Richard. Avocados still taste like avocados. The same milky moon hangs in the same expansive sky. 

The sea is still the sea. 

Sure, the waters are technically different and there is geography and science and rules that I know nothing of but the essence of it—the cold salty matter—is still the same. I’ve said it before and my affiliation for the sea hasn’t changed, I think it’s an island living thing.

We spent New Years Eve evening on Ocean Beach in the company of the most spectacular sunset. It was apt and right and fitting. Being beside the sea always feels just so. We said goodbye to a terrible year and walked towards a new one, full of hope but weary too. Make like the waves, breathe in and out.