Thursday, December 30, 2010

Real Travelers

Up here in Northern California, Brian's relatives are real travelers. Many of them have spent years living and working abroad in remote and foreign locations. I have so enjoyed hearing their amazing stories about Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, Japan, etc. Talking to these folks makes our trip seem very status quo. Of course we are dropping everything and traveling for a year, that's what one should do! It is a very different experience to talk about this trip with folks who have lived what we have done and more.

One comment I have been hearing from a number of these travelers is that once they returned from their long journey, hardly no one wanted to hear about their trip. I found this hard to believe? I can't get enough of the stories these folks have to tell. And how their travels changed them.. Like their difficulties in comprehending and viewing the choices we have in our supermarkets compared to the limited resources in most of the world... Their difficulty once back in the Western world readjusting to the first question asked of them always being "what do you do" instead of anything else.... The strangeness of the materialism we embody in our nation, when all one really needs to live a happy good life can be carried on one's back.... And that the worst culture shock of all was always returning to America, not leaving it....

One tradition in the family up here is to draw "angel cards" on New Years Eve to suggest to the individual a focus for the upcoming year. I drew "expansiveness"and Brian drew "depth". :) Sounds good to me...

I am realizing that I am struggling a bit with the documentation of this trip. My goal is to stay present as much as possible and I don't want this blog to get in the way of that goal. I catch myself thinking about how best to capture what I am experiencing, slight frustration if I can't blog for days at a time, and that will just not do. I think I need to let go of the idea of being able to share most of what I am seeing, experiencing and feeling with my friends and family with this thing. I need to come to it when it is time, and put it aside when it is not. I hope that is acceptable to all of you....

Already I feel like I have missed the window of opportunity to talk about the beauty and expansiveness of Golden Gate Park, the brilliant youth play of Siddhartha we saw last night, the amazing ethnic cuisine I have been consuming, and the nasty cold I have. The strange new rhythms of travel, the enormity and mystical nature of redwoods, the complex and sometimes overwhelming experience of family, the sensation and joy that comes from the presence and reciprocation of unconditional love, and the smiles and acceptance that seem to emanate from Californians.... There is so much here, there is always so much in every moment. A distillation of all I am thinking and feeling is necessary to keep these entries manageable :)

I wish to all of you a new year full of presence and awareness, joy, warmth, love and beauty. Happy 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010


In the last year or two I have been interested in the concept of astrocartography. Simply put, it is a merging of astrology and geography such that certain regions of the world are better suited to each individual's body/mind/soul depending on how planets were aligned at the exact time of someone's birth, etc.... That energetically some locales "jive" better with folks creatively, spiritually, etc.

I feel like I often sense this when I visit different places. That some spots really jive with me energetically and some I feel indifferent or averse to. As we arrived in Berkeley today I felt this surge of affinity and I really liked how I felt. Lighter, more energized, inspired..... I feel this way when I visit Los Angeles too. I really believe place does affect each of us individually in a powerful way. As Brian and I move forward in our life together, we will need to choose a location to settle and work in after our trip. I am hoping we can choose a city where we both feel this affinity.

In other news, we side-skirted an enormous snowstorm in New York this week. Is it ok I am thrilled that we did? I am so looking forward to the shorts and tank tops we'll don in New Zealand.... I'm sorry if I'm gloating East Coasters, I can't help it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Chanecka Family Christmas

Well this Christmas holiday with the Chanecka family was a whirlwind of cooking, family, music, presents, children and Slovak tradition. A memorable and very special few days with some warm wonderful people.

We went for many walks....

And made homemade kolache cookies and pirohi! So delicious! I was in shock and awe at the number of butter sticks we used, but all in the name of tradition :)

Two huge dinners in two nights, it was the Christmas of a thousand dishes...

And playing music together Christmas night with everyone joining in on percussion, singing and other instruments was the perfect way to end the holiday...

Brian and I have one more night in Davis and then it is off to Berkeley and San Francisco for some exploration. We will be seeing a play version of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (one of the 3 books I am carrying in my bag!), visiting friends, hiking through Muir woods, enjoying the New Orleans Rebirth Brass Band on New Years Eve, taking a trip up to Napa Valley wineries with some friends, and then heading out to New Zealand on the 5th. We are so lucky lucky lucky to be having all of these experiences. I will be feeling that over and over again in the next year I believe.

I hope everyone had a beautiful and warm holiday with your friends and family. Happy New Year to you all, I know 2011 is going to be a great year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Well the last week and a half was a whirlwind. We had an amazing party with all of our friends where we belted out song after song together and smiled and laughed so much. Thanks so much everyone for seeing Brian and I off in such a wonderful way :)

Brian and I had our last date night in Troy on Monday, martinis at
Daisy Bakers and dinner at the new Dinosaur Barbecue..

The next morning we rushed to clean and pack up everything left in the apartment. Brian got his last shots and my mom took us to the airport.

Everything was in a little bit of a rush and we said our goodbyes with hugs and smiles and it felt good and not too sad...

Our plane was on time and we landed in Chicago O'Hare. A strange landing, it was so foggy and snowy I didn't even see the ground until we were on it. I had never experienced that before. I thought there must be no way we would be leaving for Sacramento that night. The airport was jam packed with people and dozens of flights had been cancelled. When we looked at the board we discovered our flight was one of few still non-cancelled flights and amazingly it said "on time". What? We didn't know why we were so lucky but relished in the good fortune and got to California safely.

I have been enjoying so much spending time with Brian's family here, especially the children. The holidays are so magical with young ones around I think.

We were watching this special little Christmas film tonight based on this book. The music was beautiful in this haunting way and the scene with the child floating and flying with the snowman made me teary.... Please watch it...

I have been working on really experiencing and enjoying one thing at a time lately, and it has made me so appreciate the little moments of joy, beauty and wonder. The moments we experience every day that children seem so adept at recognizing as they are experiencing them. I am grateful for all of life, and for this chance at life - the opportunity to experience all that there is right now in this moment - every moment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let it go

We were getting rid of everything else so I thought, why not?.........

Friday, December 17, 2010

One Thing at a Time

On Wednesday I attended an Eckhart Tolle meditation and discussion group with my parents at this center. I loved it. There were 6 of us sitting by a fire meditating together, listening to some of Eckhart's teachings and discussing how they resonated with us. The first question the leader asked was how I got interested in his teachings. The answer was that I was reading an Oprah magazine on an airplane and read this one page article about Tolle in the back. In it he talked about how you are not your thoughts. That you are the awareness of your thoughts, and not the thoughts themselves. This simple mental shift astounded me. I am not my thoughts? These thoughts that have consumed me and defined me since I was born? I can step away from the thoughts that emerge in me and observe them as their own entity and not identify with them whatsoever? I can't explain how powerful that was for me. I went on to explain in the group that I have read many spiritual texts that talk about this concept, but it never rang true as clearly and as loudly as the language that Tolle used. There is a simplicity and directness in his teachings that really work for me and continue to help me as I revisit and reread his work over and over again.

One of the statements that resonated with me when we listened to him speak at this group was this : "Zen is doing only one thing at a time." Yes. I agree with this. In those moments that I am truly present, truly alive and aware, I am doing but one thing. One beautiful precious thing. But those moments are rare. Multi-tasking is an innate behavior in me that I am working to battle daily. It is celebrated and rewarded in our culture. But I don't like it. I want to just talk to someone on the phone, just drive my car, just eat my meal. But boiling our lives down to individual experiences seems impossible to me sometimes. Should I not listen to music while I am in the car, or talk to others while I eat my meal, etc...? But then I think about it and realize its something you work towards- not submit entirely to - like just slicing a beautiful tomato, or just looking someone in the eye and talking to them intently. The more you can create those moments of just doing absolutely one thing, I think the more aware, alive and conscious you are. And the more conscious we are, the more conscious the world is. I want to work on this on my trip. To not be thinking in the future about the next location, not thinking in the future about where we will eat, sleep etc. all of the time. Be present in the moment experiencing and enjoying where we are, what we are doing and how it feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. Cherishing each second with the understanding that that is all that we ever have. As Tolle said with a laugh, The future doesn't exist, you never get there. There is only always the now....

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


So it is 6 days and counting until we take our leave. Wow, time really does fly. Biscuit is at his new home and adjusting pretty well, though I miss him terribly. Our apartment is devoid of all furniture and strewn with boxes. I am saying many goodbyes and they are tough for me. A friend of mine informed me that we are leaving on the winter solstice with a full moon AND a lunar eclipse (12/21)! She said our departure is cosmic :) I like that.

I have been thinking lately about why I wanted to do this. What I am hoping to accomplish in the next year. If any of you know me, you understand this trip is not a "vacation". It has a purpose and there is much I desire to accomplish with this gift of free time (away from a full time job). These are the goals I am thinking about:

1) To learn more about sustainable living practices through wwoofing and education

2) To gain clarity about what type of “work” I should do to make the best contribution to the world I can

3) To open myself up musically and sing often

4) To write regularly in order to process the experience of our year abroad

5) To develop a regular meditation and yoga practice and continue my studies in philosophy and religion

6) To connect with all sorts of people around the world and learn from them

7) To understand how American policy affects other countries around the world first hand, and try to understand what America really means to everyone who is not American. To try and understand what it is like to not be American

8) To learn to live with very little. To eat less, consume less, want less, worry less, and do less. To “be” more

9) To be more physically active on a daily basis. Four years in a full time job in front of the computer has been harmful to my health

10) To see this amazing, big, wide, diverse, beautiful, and crazy world up close

11) To develop a richer and deeper connection to my husband by experiencing and striving for all of the above together

A tall order for one year? We'll see. Number 5 and 8 are really most important to me now and I hope they will help me feel ok about not being constantly productive.

This is really happening.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living in Public

Last night I saw this compelling documentary called We Live in Public and it touched on certain feelings I have about internet life that have been bothering me for the last few years. I have done research and explored extensively the phenomenon of internet addiction, and even did a presentation at my agency to try and encourage my superiors to take seriously this burgeoning problem. My research unveiled that internet addiction is indeed very real and very debilitating, and can destroy lives in the very same way drugs and alcohol do. Aboujaoude (2006) found that 3-13% of Americans are “internet addicted” and experience negative consequences. I won’t go into detail now, but the experience of learning about the destructive nature of the internet across the world was sobering.

Do you feel like the internet has become one big advertisement that you cannot escape? It bothers me that every email we send, every website we go to is tracked and logged and our preferences are churned and calculated so advertisements come to us that will be most alluring. M.T. Anderson wrote an incredible novel called FEED that predicts a future I believe is entirely possible and horrifying. Having a chip placed in our brains with a constant internet “feed” is not too far off from behaviors many are engaging in now. I feel that the internet can definitely fuel a drive to consume consume consume.

These issues spread too to cell phones… No one wants to leave their internet at home! How often do you walk down the street and see people with their eyes looking up at you with a smile to say hello? No, more often heads are down furiously texting or viewing content on smart phones. When I go to the movies at the mall, I see large clumps of teenagers slumped over couches gazing at their phones and completely ignoring each other. Or they are walking in groups talking on phones and texting, not communicating at all directly with one another. When I went to the Apple store recently a young kid that worked there came up to me and said “Wazzup” as his greeting to ask what I needed. I talked with him and tried to engage him but felt and saw this vacancy in his eyes. The ennui of youth? The desensitization of our youth from internet overstimulation? I know I am making sweeping generalizations here, but I feel like something powerful is happening that needs to be discussed. As I think about having children, our technological age concerns me. I want my children to beg to be outside gallivanting around in nature with other children, not begging to have their own cell phone or laptop. Not fighting with them to get off of the computer. I want them to be connected in person to others, to be connected to the natural world. I realize this will have to be balanced with technology, but I think about it.

As for me, I don’t have a Facebook page. I had one for a little while but I realized it was making me deeply uncomfortable and gave me an “icky” feeling so I cancelled it. I have a MySpace page for my music promotion alone, but even that makes me uncomfortable. And now that I have started this blog, I have a number of these “icky” moments, but I am trying to explore where they emanate from and why they occur. I think my body/soul is not comfortable with the over-documentation and over-exposure of our lives. I think that constantly documenting and proclamating what we think and do (increasingly every moment) takes us out of and not into the present moment. I believe it also may be becoming an unhealthy way to define our own self-worth. How many online friends do I have? How many comments are on my blog? How many people looked at my pictures? How many people follow my tweets? I feel like these behaviors/desires hearken back to high school and junior high when we all just wanted to be accepted and loved and noticed. The desire to be shown we are special and important I have always believed is very dangerous to the spirit and the soul. It is blinding. But it is so strong, that ego is so strong.

I am trying to define this blog in a way I am comfortable with. I want to communicate with others about my thoughts and feelings in an honest and open way framed around a specific theme so that this space does not become just an online journal. I want to keep many things about myself and my life private. But I do see the value in open communicative forums such as this to share ideas, challenge ideas, educate, inspire, and open each other up to new ways of thinking. I get that. But I need to be careful with this. Not worry about who is reading or why, what and how many comments appear, etc. I have to admit this blog is a sort of experiment for me. Can the internet and this global technology be used in a healthy, useful, maybe even spiritual way? Or is the eventual result for many too much time and energy wasted on activities that do not help us as humans to grow, evolve, find peace, or share love and compassion? I’m not sure yet. I do love reading the blogs of those I am close to, I feel like it helps me get to know them so much better. But I would so much prefer to talk to them in person about the issues they write about instead of read them in a removed way. As with everything else, I understand the use of technology and the internet is all about balance. Knowing when to step away, to turn it off, and when to use it etc…

And of course there are so many benefits to the internet that I am not addressing here. Community mobilization, education, support, etc. I truly recognize this. But I can’t ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach that internet bullying and obsessive compulsive internet gamblers/porn watchers/bloggers/gamers/shoppers/facebookers etc are going to be facing some tough life realities. As a student of public health, I think on a larger scale about health issues. What are the long term effects, and how can we head it off before it is too late? Are people going to forget how to relate to each other in person down the road, or prefer not to?

So despite all of this, Brian and I are bringing our laptop with us to travel. Skyping is a cheap effective way for us to communicate with others and I want to write while we are abroad. I was hoping to abandon all technology on this trip, but we are giving in. I want to be careful with that too. I want to spend days, even weeks away from the computer to help quiet my mind, and to be released from the intense stimulation.

My research showed that in China and Korea there are already well developed treatment programs for internet addiction. And that in Korea, children are learning netiquette in preschool and many internet gaming cafes were closed. I’m curious to see around the world the impact of the internet on various cultures…

Wow, lots to say about this. I feel like there is so much more to explore….Not trying to sound doomsday here either (though it may seem like it) and Im not trying to knock the internet in general. I think what I am referring to is overuse of it. I just think it is important to question our social reality and really ask ourselves questions about our use of technology and not assume there is no harm or danger there because high usage is the norm? Other questions beg to be explored too(i.e. cellphones not giving us cancer because we don't have conclusive evidence yet?) etc etc etc. but I will stop for now :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The art of improvisation

So I have been performing improvised theater with a talented and interesting group of individuals for over 3 years now in the Capital District. The Mop and Bucket Theater Company has been my creative, collaborative home and has been one of my biggest joys living in Troy. Together we make things up and delight in leaping into the unknown together, much like I will be doing with this trip.

At rehearsal last night, we moved all of our things into a new rehearsal space on the third floor of a beautiful historic bank in Schenectady. This new space is amazing: concrete floors, marble, shelves and pipes everywhere, a loft like feel, historic and brimming with possibility. The space is at least 2-3 times larger than our previous one and has this energy to it that just feels like “us”. We are going to hold classes there, performances there, build a real community in the space that is now just “ours”. I could see after all the painting was done, the floors put in, the mural wall contributed to by all parties, that this space was just going to be magical.

And then, my heart sank a little. Sometimes it feels like when I move away from somewhere, when I make an exit, it is always at a sort of peak period. Brian and I have developed these new and amazing friendships here very recently, the improv company really feels like it is taking off, etc. and now we are saying goodbye. But maybe that is really the way it should be. Leave on a high note, just like Seinfeld, right?

And maybe I am being too overdramatic about all of this. In the realm of possibilities we could return to where we are living and in not very much time. But in my heart, I think I know that we will be moving on to something new. At least for a while.

So I have two rehearsals and three performances left with these lovely people that make me laugh uncontrollably and inspire and delight me in many ways. We are doing a show now called Spontaneous Broadway where we improvise a full length musical together. Hello, what could be more fun and crazy? I love it. Shows are the next 3 Fridays at Proctor’s in Schenectady at 8PM if you are interested in an excellent evening of entertainment.

I want to be fully present and aware and grateful for these last shared moments with my friends and collaborators at MOPCO. I am a lucky lady to have known them, to have grown with them and for all of the damn fun we have had...

Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen