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“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs

Follow your passions. Don’t accept the mundane. Life is what you make it. Live it, love it, make it yours.

Motivation to be….

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Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Have you ever had those extremely nostalgic moments where one little thing makes all of these feelings and memories come flooding back like 50 feet of water barreling over your head? Then you’re just drowning.

I didn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving this year. But I did still have a good Thanksgiving. An untraditional dinner with a new friend. It is a weird time, though, to be away from loved ones on a day so closely associated with them.

I brought a few books with me on my trip. One is Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. I had read it before, years ago, but decided I wanted to reread it like I often do with my favorites. It was last week, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I was about ten pages in when I got this strange feeling… déjà vu.

There I was four years ago, sitting in a recliner in my Aunt Charlene’s house on Thanksgiving. My family was in the room adjacent and my Grandma in her room on the other side of the house. The cancer once again reared its ugly head, and although she was a fighter, she was older now and after a few previous victories, the villain was making a vicious comeback.  

I always considered Thanksgiving to be one of my favorite holidays. It’s the holiday I’ve always tied to my paternal grandparents. I remember my mom baking fresh pumpkin pies and putting candles in them for my Pap and older brother’s birthdays that happened to fall within days of the holiday. I remember my Grandma busily cooking succulent turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and the darkest most delicious gravy in her kitchen. And I can’t forget the pickled cabbage that only she really liked, and everyone else heartily joked about because, well, it’s pickled cabbage… I remember Grandma’s homemade apple pies. That smell filled the whole house and nobody has been able to make a pie quite that good ever since.

I kept reading that book and with every word, I saw another flashback. Grandma slowly making her way through the room, past my recliner, into the living room with the rest of the family… We were all so used to her being the life of the party. After all this had always been her day. But this Thanksgiving it was different and we all knew it might be the last one we spent with her. And it was.

Nostalgia.

Déjà vu.

They are funny things.

But I’ll never forget the good times.

And this Thanksgiving I was thankful… for memories.

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Table for One, Please… Crashed by a High-Fiver

“Table for one, please.” At first I hated saying it. For some reason it carries a sense of embarrassment, probably because the waiter or waitress always responds back with, “Oh, just one?” as if it is unthinkable that a person would be dining alone, especially on a weekend. Not to mention all the other patrons coming in couples and groups of friends, looking over at you as if to feel sorry for the poor girl sitting there by herself.

After a short adjustment period where I must admit I felt awkward and slightly embarrassed, I began to rather enjoy my moments alone. I love the company of others and I’m a very social creature, but sometimes it’s refreshing to go out and not worry about forming topics of conversation. How many times in life’s daily grind do we get these precious moments to ourselves to reflect on the day?

There I was enjoying a cup of tea at my table for one, when I saw him approaching. He was tall with light brown eyes and his lips had a devious sort of curve about them. I wouldn’t describe him as handsome, but there was certainly something attractive about him. “Tea on a Saturday night?” he asked with a chuckle. “Yes,” I said, “I know it doesn’t seem very exciting.”

We started into conversation about where I was from and why I was here in Bothwell of all places. “Would you like a real drink?” he asked. I hesitated, “Sure, I guess. Amaretto on the rocks.” I watched him raise his right hand and I watched it come towards me. I quickly realized what was happening and raised my right hand to meet his in the air… in a high-five. “Good choice,” he said. I was taken back for a moment. Did he just high-five me? He turned from the table and walked to the bar to gather our drinks.

The conversation was going quite well. He seemed nice enough, interesting. He was an engineer of some kind and had done a fair amount of travelling across Europe. I said I had done my fair share as well. “What has been your favorite place so far?” he asked. “Berlin, Germany.” I answered. “I love Berlin! I spent a few weeks there with my mate,” he said excitedly. There it was again, his right hand rising into the air across the table for a high five. This is just becoming comical, I thought. I suddenly felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode with a real-life David Putty.

 The conversation continued to favorite types of music. He had played in a band with friends for four years at university. “What type of music did you play?” I asked. “Did you ever hear of the Shins?” he replied, “They were our inspiration. That indie-folky sound.” “I really like the Shins,” I said. Oh gees, here it comes again, that right hand rising up and across the table. I’m trying desperately to not buckle over in laughter.

This is unreal. A real-life high-fiver. “I’m sorry I have to meet someone somewhere. Pleasure meeting you,” I said. I grabbed my coat and without even stopping to put it on, I scampered toward the door. I started walking down the hill into the cold, laughing with every step. How do I get so lucky to attract such fine gentlemen? And so there it was, my table for one crashed by a high-fiver.

Dear normal men of the world, please start existing.

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10 Things I’ve Adapted to (and may have even begun to like) in Scotland

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

When I first found out I was coming to Scotland for eight weeks, I was ecstatic. I was so excited for a change, to get out and see a new part of the world. Along with excitement, I felt pangs of nervousness and apprehension. This isn’t my first long term trip abroad. A little less than three years ago I was boarding a plane bound for a five month stay in Cyprus. Being a seasoned traveller, I knew that with the new and exciting surroundings comes new and exciting (not to mention somewhat stressful) challenges and adjustments. There is no way to prepare for these challenges because you always end up finding them in the most unexpected places. The funny thing about humans, though, is that no matter what seems to be thrown our way, we always find a way to adapt to changes big and small.

Ten things I’ve adapted to (and may have even begun to like):

  1. Driving on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car: I’m sitting in the “passenger” seat, driving into what feels like oncoming traffic, my brain screaming, “You’re going the wrong way! Keep right!” It only took me three weeks of opening the door on the left hand side of the car and realizing the steering wheel wasn’t there to remember the driver’s seat is on the right. I also stopped hitting the curb so much as I grew accustomed to judging how much of my car is to my left.  My tires on the left side thank me.
  2.  ‘Round-a-bouts’ or traffic circles if you please: I’ll never fully adapt to these, but any little improvement is a milestone for me. Although I have gotten much better at guessing which lane I need to be in and knowing who goes first, I’ll never understand the traffic signs. A giant circle and little arms coming off in all directions that looks like an alien drawn by a five-year old child doesn’t help me. I can always see where I want to go, but very rarely do I get there on my first try. I’m always driving in circles, but not because I want to be.
  3. The Scottish accent combined with fast talking, shortening of words, and vocabulary I’ve never heard of: Slagging, snogging, chippies, crisps, the use of “wee” before every noun… at first it was like we weren’t even speaking the same language, but now I find myself using words and phrases I didn’t even know existed four weeks ago. My personal favorite is “Et’s tha dug’s bollocks!” If a word or sentence can be shortened, or even if you think it can’t, the Scots will find a way.
  4. Rain, darkness, rain and more rain: The first thing you do here when you get into the car is turn on your headlights because no matter what time of day, it’s dark or raining or both. I miss my friend the sun, and I started writing to him daily. I’m hoping to get a response back soon.
  5. Traffic on the way home from work: We don’t get much “rush hour” traffic in small-town Altoona, PA. The after work commute here has taught me two important things: always pee before leaving work, and dancing in your seat pretending your steering wheel is a percussion instrument truly helps the passage of time. An added bonus is the reaction of others around you.
  6. Always carrying a pen and teaching people how to swipe a credit card: Magnetic credit cards don’t exist here. They have “chip and pin” cards and have no idea what to do when you ask if they can swipe your card. Although I’ve tried in vain to become a good swipe instructor, I typically end up sliding my own card on their machines because for some reason, it is an extremely complicated task beyond their comprehension. Don’t forget to bring a pen to sign the receipt, because I promise they never have one, even though they’ve used a pen just less than an hour ago to take your food order.
  7. The food: Some of the food is delightful. Others I just don’t understand. A bacon sandwich with brown sauce? What is brown sauce? Nobody knows really. Chip sandwiches (French fries on bread), crisp sandwiches (potato chips on bread), haggis (Google it), and just about anything you can deep fry including Mar’s candy bars and pizza. I can’t say I hate it… but I can say, it’s sure to be life shortening.
  8. The five keys and five different locks to get into my flat: Yes, that’s right. Five keys and five locks to get into one building and one flat. Between the number of keys and the fact that three of them look like they’ve come from the princess chambers of a castle (huge brass things that practically look hand-cut), I don’t worry about my security. It is so secure in fact that up until a week ago when I mastered the “turn the key and wiggle it frantically” method of unlocking the door, it took me 10-15 minutes to get into my own place.
  9. Always looking right, left, right before crossing the street: It’s an easy one to forget when you’ve been conditioned from childhood to look left, right, then left again. It’s also an easy one to remember after the first two or three times you almost walk out in front of a moving vehicle.
  10. Learning to live with myself, by myself and moments of intense loneliness: The biggest adjustment thus far. At first you feel very alone in this foreign place where you know nobody and soon enough you find you rather like the time you spend alone getting to know yourself. It’s relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating. It’s not without its moments of intense loneliness, but if you can’t learn to love to live with yourself, who can?
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Dissecting a Bad Date: where did it all go wrong?

We had met the other night, briefly. It was late and I was walking past as he asked for directions. “I’m not sure,” I said, “I’m not from here.” He seemed nice enough, about my age, a seemingly sweet fellow. We chatted about twenty odd minutes. “Maybe we can go for drinks on Friday?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, “here is my number.” What do I have to lose, I thought. A Friday with the possibility of good conversation versus another night sitting at a bar by myself seemed like a no-brainer.

My friend joked that I would be like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday and I’d find my Jude Law. A charming thought… maybe it was pessimism or realism that made me doubt I’d live the dream of the female who goes abroad and falls madly, deeply in love with a complete stranger with a sexy accent. That is for the movies, although a charming sentiment.

I boarded the train and had a few moments of chick flick surrealism allowing myself to think maybe I could be a Cameron Diaz, real life version, meeting my Jude Law. I quickly laughed at the thought, realizing how stupid that really was.

I arrived at the meeting point about fifteen minutes early. He walked in promptly at 8 o’clock, the agreed upon time. I ordered a red wine and he, a beer. I typically go for taller gents as I’m slightly taller for a female. Height would never be a deal breaker for me, but when I stood up to the bar to order my drink, it became apparent how short he really was. I hadn’t noticed the other night because he had been sitting down. I was towering several inches above him. It didn’t help that I had chosen to wear heels. Whatever, I thought. Height is just a physical thing anyway.

I was slightly put-off by the fact he arrived in a t-shirt. I put forth the effort to get dressed up and I even wore heels, a very rare thing for me to do. And he, for a first date, a first impression, shows up in a t-shirt of all things. Laziness, I thought, sheer laziness and lack of effort. Whatever, so he is short and he chose to wear a t-shirt in a place where all the other men are dressed nicely in button-ups and sport coats. Maybe I’m being too critical, I thought.

The night began fine with casual conversation. He appeared to have a decent sense of humor, an important thing to me. By the time I had finished half a glass of wine, he had drank nearly four pints of beer. Okay… maybe he will slow down, maybe he was just nervous and the beer is a confidence booster. By the time I ordered my second glass, he must have been about ten pints deep and his personality drastically altered… drunk.

He tells me I am beautiful. “Thank you,” I said feeling slightly awkward. And then suddenly as if I have no real name, every sentence he begins with calling me beautiful. I have to be honest, that word is flattering at first in the right situation, but when it becomes the beginning of every sentence, it loses its appeal and quickly becomes annoying and insincere. I feel myself losing my patience and wanting to leave.

We leave the bar and begin walking toward the Christmas lights I’ve heard so much about in George Square. He tries to grab my hand and I promptly move it, avoiding the attempt at handholding. I am not a particularly large fan of public displays of affection as it is and although I’d have no problem holding hands with a boyfriend in public, I do have qualms about holding hands with a complete stranger. He makes another attempt and I so obviously once again avoid the handhold for a second time. Again, he tries and is denied. Are you not getting the hint here, I think.

Twenty minutes later I say I must catch the train back home. “Will I see you again?” he asks. I don’t respond at first and with hesitation I say, “We’ll see.” But we both know that is the last time we will be seeing one another. Another first and last date. I’m cold and annoyed and can’t walk away fast enough. Maybe I am a bad person, a shallow person, but as I walk to the train station I think to myself, “He was short anyway…”

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Things you see on a train… if you happen to be paying attention

There are some perks to being in a place on your own. You become more observant of the sights, sounds and smells around you. Today I walked to Uddingston train station, just a short two miles up the road. Sitting in the tiny station, I saw a girl dancing in her seat while listening to her iPod. She looked like the type who would be jamming to Justin Bieber, perhaps. Two teenage boys who were having a conversation about their 18th birthdays, which were just two weeks apart, blared heavy metal music. A frazzled mother corralled her four little boys about ages 5-11. “Stay close. Stop that! Get over here. Sit down!” she exclaimed.

“Train 14:19 to Dalmuir via Glasgow and Yoker is approaching the station,” the voice said. I stood up and walked outside to the platform. The 14:19 train screeched to a stop, blowing my hair across my face, and an old lady with a cane and navy blue tights cut me off in line to board. The car was nearly full, but I managed to find a seat next to a man wearing a ridiculously bright orange button-up. Two older gents sat in front of me, the one so tall we were knee to knee. After a loud screech and a jerk that whipped me back into my seat, the train pulled out of Uddingston station, Glasgow bound.

One of the two men sitting in front of me, knee to knee, was talking a mile a minute with his friend glancing over every now and then to acknowledge he was listening or at least pretending to. He had an annoyed look on his face, as if to say “I wish he would just shut up already,” but he never said a word. I began to question whether or not they were really friends.

We arrive at the next stop, Cambuslang, and an older woman stands up with a little boy of maybe five years of age, perhaps her grandson. He says loudly, “I hate walking!” and lets out a sigh. A man sitting nearby chuckles and says, “Why don’t you take your horse?” and the little boy inquisitively asks, “My horse?”  I laugh quietly to myself.

The man beside me in the ridiculously orange shirt smells delicious. The smell of his cologne fills the train car. I hear the song “Call Me Maybe” by Carley Rae Jepsen coming from his headphones and again chuckle to myself. Silly for a man of nearly forty years of age to be listening to some American teenage pop star, I think.

How many things do we miss by being distracted, by not paying attention to what is around us? The entertainment value of a place like the train is priceless, but how often do we notice? There are many things to be seen on a train, if you happen to be paying attention.

Strathclyde Park: a pooch’s paradise

“The neighbourhood park became a desolate spread of mud and water, lit up at night by rain-streaked street lamps.” – The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

I’ve been here in Scotland for about three weeks and thus far have been quite unmotivated to create my own adventures, which to be honest, is very unlike me. Because the sun was finally shining, albeit through overcast clouds, I decided to visit nearby Strathclyde Country Park. I had been told by several Scots that the park was beautiful if I “fancied a walk”.

After a frustrating battle navigating the “round-a-bouts”, I arrived second-guessing if I was in the proper place. The sign read “Strathclyde Country Park,” this must be the right spot, I thought. It’s not like it was ugly by any means, just not what I expected of beauty coming from one of the most beautiful parts of the US (although a possibly biased view) in Central PA with sprawling mountains, flowing streams, and crisp blue skies. Perhaps they meant it was beautiful in the summer… because at least in my opinion, the park was not so in the traditional sense of natural beauty.

Grayish overcast clouds clung to what little sun fought to shine upon the brown, dismal loch. Leafless branches trembled in the chilling wind that created currents, propelling ducks across the waterfront. The grass was the only thing of color…kind of. A thick layer of brown mud fought to drown it out. It was as if the tips of the blades were sinking into quick sand with just their heads above the surface, begging to be saved. It seemed as though even the white swans had a brown tint to them.

Despite the lack of traditional beauty, Strathclyde Park offered an untraditional, picturesque air about it. Dogs excitedly pranced about through mud and puddles, their fur covered in inches of wet muck. For a brief moment, it made me wish I had a dog to bring here, although I wouldn’t want to be tasked with bathing it when I got home… (or for that matter, let that muddy mess in my car to get home).

And for another moment, I wished I actually was a dog, blissfully leaping into the loch after a tennis ball, swimming happily to shore to return the ball to my owner’s hand to be thrown once more. What a pooches’ paradise, I thought. It was a place the equivalent to a beachside resort for a human: relaxation, leisure, sport and members of the opposite sex to mingle with.

By the time I left, I had been splashed by so many pooches prancing through their paradise that my boots and jeans were covered in mud.  So much so, you would have thought that I actually had been a dog flouncing around through the muddy gunk.

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A feeling of connectedness: We all live under the same sky

Tonight, for the first time in three weeks, I saw stars. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s the first time I’ve remembered to look up or if it’s the first time the clouds have had the politeness to part. It was a refreshing feeling having them above me. It reminded me of several years ago when I lived in Cyprus. When I was feeling homesick I would look up at the moon and think that my loved ones back home would be seeing the same moon in seven hours time, but from 5,000 miles away. I was just lucky enough to be seeing that beautiful moon first. Isn’t that miraculous to think that the Earth is about 25,000 miles in diameter and across all of those miles, we all see the same stars and the same moon, just at different times throughout a 24-hour period.

I’m not sure what it is about that sensation that makes you feel as though you’re connected to the rest of humanity. Like despite the language, the culture, the distance, the religion… the millions of differences that separate us, that same sky is the one thing we all have in common.

I recall a Turkish Cypriot boy from the tiny, religiously and ethnically divided island, who when asked how he felt about the Greek Cypriots on ‘the other side’ whom he had never met said, “we all live under the same sky.”

What a tremendously powerful statement to be made by a child only eight years of age. And what a powerful lesson to be learned by the rest of the world. We all live under the same sky.

Windows

In the evenings as I walk along the street I find myself looking into the illuminated, shadeless windows. I see cozy rooms full of leather couches with plush throws on the backs and candles burning on the window ledges that are dotted with picture frames. I see a woman standing in her kitchen who appears to be baking something. What is she baking, I wonder? And who is she baking it for? What is her name and what is she like? I continue onward and see a man sitting cozily on a lavish high back chair with what appears to be a cat on his lap. He is reading a book by lamplight and I wonder, what is he reading? Is he into philosophy? Novels? Poetry, perhaps? What is his cat’s name?

Is it creepiness, loneliness, or sheer curiosity that makes me wonder these things? I fiddle with my keys and manage to open the two dreaded locks to get into my building and climb the stairs to Flat 1. I turn on the lamp in my living room and plop down onto the couch. I glance over at the three, large bay windows to my right and wonder if anyone passing by is peering through my illuminated, shadeless windows wondering these things about me.

Finding warmth in a cold, dampened place.

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had heard the winter was full of darkness, of rain. “Worst time to visit,” they’d told me. Ah, it can’t be that bad I thought. No worse than a Pennsylvania winter where it’s dark at 5:00 PM and the wind chill is enough to freeze you in your tracks. But at least in PA there is sunlight… sometimes.

In the posh little Glaswegian suburb of Bothwell, I awaken nearly every morning to streaming beams of sunlight shooting through the cracks in my window blinds. I awake with anticipation of a marvelous, sunny day. I make my way to the kitchen for my morning cup of coffee and plop down on the flattened leather couch by the bay windows. Fifteen minutes has passed since my waking and with the passing of the minutes has come the passing of a thick, grey blanket of clouds that now shields the sun. Ah yes, like clock-work, minutes later the raindrops begin to pitter-patter on the window panes. This is Scotland, where the sun comes out long enough to wake you and the rain stays long enough to make you cool and dampened on the inside.

If it weren’t for the kindness and warmth of the locals and the brightness of the red wine in my glass, it might be a depressing place.  But luckily for me, I’ve felt welcome and accepted here. Despite the undesirable weather, I anticipate many desirable experiences to come.

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