Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Looking back, looking forward

About a year ago, I was on furlough. My solution to free time? Leave town.

And go to North Dakota and Pennsylvania. In late February/early March. I'm pretty sure my lungs froze when I walked out of the airport and, you know, breathed.

I took the week to visit a dear friend from high school who is currently stationed at Minot Air Force Base and a college friend who was working in Altoona, Pa.

Only I would go to the great white tundra in winter.

But, why not Minot. Again. And Abbie had visited me in 'bama, that's friendship!

While Abbie and I were exploring Pittsburg and she showed me around Altoona, we decided to make a quick trip down to DC. Her family lives here and it's one of my favorite places on Earth.

At the time, I was unhappy with work, my town and well, a lot of things. Maybe it was all the winter weather. But, as we were walking around DC, (for hours!) I kept saying how much I wanted to be back in DC. Abbie said, Jenn! Enough! Move here already!

I hesitated and said I needed to finish things before I felt ready to move again. To counter that, Abbie had the most genius idea. Make a list of those things I wanted to accomplish, do them, don't add to the list and then move.

On the drive back to Altoona, we made my list. As soon as I got back to 'bama, I got to work.

I checked off nearly everything on that list.

And now a year later, I'm sitting in a Starbucks in the DC area.

I accomplished that list and moved to DC.

There were ups and downs, big ones. There was a phenomenal amount of uncertainty, questions, fear and so on. But, I stuck to that list and I also made a list of things in 'bama I wanted to see/do so I'd be able to walk away and not feel like I'd left things unfinished.

Things remain on that list, but a significant chunk was checked off before I left last fall.

Now, I train for half-marathons on the National Mall. I start at Lincoln, run to the Capitol and back, passing the WWII Memorial, Jefferson, Washington and the Smithsonian. Every time I make the route, dodging tourists, slipping in ice, cursing that I'm still running, I remember that it wasn't long ago that I was walking that same route and wishing to be exactly where I am now.

That thought always puts a smile on my face. I'm sure strangers think I'm some crazy person laughing at her own inside joke, but I don't care. I know I set a goal and I accomplished it.

Oddly enough, I always have the same feeling when I set my mind to travel to a country and when I find myself there, I stop, take a breath and just look around. Taking a moment to just take it in is one of my favorite parts of any trip.

Knowing that just about every time I set my mind to something I end up having one of these moments is a pretty great feeling. And makes me ready to keep making those lists, of things to accomplish and places to go. Because I know, eventually, I'll have a check mark beside each and every one of them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My other home.

I recently posted about my walk down memory lane, Kiwi style.

Rambling on and on, I wrote about how much I loved my time in Christchurch, New Zealand and how it was probably the experience that kicked off my intense and always growing love of travel and exploration.

Needless to say, I've been shocked and saddened to read and see the images from Christchurch since the earthquake last week.

That city was my home away from home. That city is where, at 21 and 22, I spent six months learning, exploring, growing and experiencing. I have a strong love of that city, the country and the people there and it's heartbreaking to see the destruction and the lives cut short.

But it's also incredible to see how the local newspaper has pressed forward, as a source of information, remembrance, celebration and communication for the city, country and the world. Their office was impacted and several people were trapped inside. Still, they published.

It's also uplifting to see how residents have helped each other, complete strangers as well as family and friends through what will be the most difficult experience in recent memory for most Kiwis.

As a student in a NZ history class in 2005, we learned at great length about how the Kiwis were a people who could make do. Seriously, I'm pretty sure that was the title of a chapter in my book. They had suffered many setbacks, many wrongs, many hurts, but they always carried on. They always survived. They always made do.

It's a few years later and that seems to still be very much the case.

The people we met in Christchurch treated us as fellow residents, students, friends. I and most of my fellow study abroad students loved every minute of our time there and most of us talk about going back if we haven't already. We click through each other's photo albums and reminisce. I also credit my time in New Zealand with changing me for the better. I was always sort of high strung and easily stressed in college. My time there, on several occasions in particular, proved to me that so many things didn't matter and things could not go according to plan and yet life would carry on and it would be alright. I truly mellowed from my time there and began to appreciate simple things so much more and also developed an incredible ability to wing it. Maybe it was my natural disposition, but I'm pretty sure New Zealand and her people played a big part in bringing that out in me. I'll be forever grateful to that and the people there who always seemed to help me out, or simply say, "It'll all work out." It always did.

It's a land of promise. A land of strength. And for a time, it was my home.