June 2011


This morning at the gym, I turned on the news to see live footage of the riots taking place in front of the Greek Parliament building in Athens.  Dark-haired Greek men and women faced off with tough-looking policemen bearing shields and tear gas, in an awkward dance where both parties tried to guess when or if the opposing crowd would make a move.

I recognized that square in front of the Parliament building in Athens–I had gone there with friends back in 2006 on a tour of Greece.  My friend Sy and I had crashed a Greek wedding nearby, on accident (we walked into a church where a wedding happened to be taking place, and we couldn’t very well just leave–it was a Greek wedding!)  Sy, my other friend Ileana, and I had also explored the market in the square and really enjoyed the laidback feel to the Greek capital.

It seems like the laidback feel also came with some risks.  I remember a guide telling me in Greece that life there was great–you could retire super early and enjoy a generous government-funded pension, when you did work you received tons of government-subsidized perks, and you received a ton of paid vacation days.  I definitely could not say the same for the U.S., and the Greeks definitely could not understand the concept that Americans barely get one or two weeks of paid vacation a year, if they’re lucky.

In the end, sadly, Greece faced major deficits and saw their economy spiraling out of control.  Today, June 29, the government had to vote on whether or not to make serious economic reforms.  People were out protesting because, naturally, it was difficult to even fathom the reality of all the benefits they were used to being taken away.

While trying to stay focused on my workout and burn off the ice cream from last night (red velvet ice cream if anyone’s curious–heaven in a pint), I thought about how much I had enjoyed Greece.  Sy, Ileana, and I had taken our graduate exams at King’s College London and had gone straight to Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Athens.  We spent several days exploring the ruins of Athens, then took a cruise around several islands such as Mykonos, Crete, Santorini, and others.

My favorite memories from Greece were visiting Patmos (where the apostle John, according to historical analysis, wrote the Biblical book of Revelation); strolling through the amazing Plaka shopping district in Athens and buying way too much; having a Greek boatman say, “Parakalo” with a toothless grin when I tried to use my pocket dictionary Greek and told him, “Efharisto” when he helped me off of the boat; riding a donkey down the caldera of Santorini; and the food.

Oh, the food.  I fell in love just with the Greek cuisine alone.  Every morning I eagerly headed to breakfast so that I could enjoy a big bowl of Greek yogurt with fresh honey and pistachio, at lunchtime I couldn’t wait to dig into a heaping plate of moussaka, and about twice a day I had a craving for yogurt and honey ice cream.  I remember making numerous trips to the market for fresh olives, stuffing my backpack with jars of Greek honey, and hauling away bags of fresh Santorini pistachio nuts to take back and enjoy in London.

When I snapped out of my reverie, the news reported that they had received word on the outcome of the vote.  The government did indeed go through with passing austerity measures, and it looks like Greece will face tax hikes and spending cuts in order to secure bailout funds from the IMF.  Things are about to change in major ways for the Greeks.

I hope that Greece is able to get its economic situation under control soon.  It’s such an amazing, unforgettable place, and once you’ve been there, you understand why.  Athens alone is unlike any other city in the world–once you’ve stood in front of the imposing Parthenon, all of those pictures in history books from your childhood come to life.  And the islands…I could go on forever about the islands.

In the meantime, as a country with such an incredible history, hopefully Greece will write a new chapter.  One with brighter days ahead.

 

 

Human trafficking is a horrendous reality, as we all can imagine.  Many travelers who have ventured outside of the U.S. (although trafficking happens in our own country as well, sadly) have been to places where, outside of the safety of tourist havens or nice hotels, there are dark underworlds where countless people are trapped in labor and/or sex trafficking situations.  It’s truly heart wrenching.

The U.S. State Department released its TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report today, and it was interesting to read through.  The Department surveyed 180 countries, apparently the largest number ever studied for the report, and ranked countries by Tiers 1, 2, and 3.  If a country is labeled as a Tier 1 country, that means that they’re in compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards.  Tier 2 means that the country’s government doesn’t fully comply with the Act’s standards but is making “significant efforts” to enact compliance and is seeing improvement in human trafficking.  Countries who are blacklisted on the Tier 3 list are not complying with minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

This year, the following countries made the Tier 3 black list:

1.  Algeria

2.  Burma

3.  Central African Republic

4.  Congo (DRC)

5.  Cuba

6.  Equatorial Guinea

7.  Eritrea

8.  Guinea-Bissau

9.  Iran

10.  North Korea

11.  Kuwait

12.  Lebanon

13.  Libya

14.  Madagascar

15.  Mauritania

16.  Micronesia

17.  Papua New Guinea

18.  Saudi Arabia

19.  Sudan

20.  Turkmenistan

21.  Venezuela

22.  Yemen

23.  Zimbabwe

Last year, 13 countries made it on the Tier 3 black list, meaning that there are 10 more countries that have worsened in terms of human trafficking.  The Dominican Republic was the only country to get its name removed from the Tier 3 list.

There are many ways to get involved in the fight against human trafficking.  I am a big fan of the organization IJM (International Justice Mission), which does great work in combating human trafficking.  They work with locals in countries like those on the Tier 3 list to identify trafficking rings, rescue victims from slavery, prosecute the criminals who enslave them, and rehabilitate the victims.  For more information check out http://www.ijm.org.

 

Last week, the UK-based aid group Oxfam released its findings from a survey of 16,000 people to determine the world’s favorite foods.

I read the list curious to see what made the top ten–after all, there are so many different cultures and food preferences in the world, and it would be fascinating to see what trends emerged from the study.  (Plus I was hungry and looking for inspiration as to what to eat for lunch).

The top ten foods, according to the survey, were as follows:

1. Pasta

2. Meat

3. Rice

4. Pizza

5. Chicken

6. Fish/Seafood

7. Vegetables

8. Chinese food

9. Italian food

10. Mexican food

After reading the list, it kind of made sense to me.  Have you ever met anyone, for instance, who hates pasta?  The first dish that I ever learned to make was spaghetti with meat sauce, a recipe that to this day I rely on if I need to make a quick and easy dinner.  There are so many different types of pasta too, from ravioli to linguini to bowtie, and on and on and on (apparently there are over 600 shapes of pasta in this world).  Not to mention, for those of you who have been to Italy, a heaping plate of al dente (loosely translated, ‘firm to the teeth’) pasta with a savory sauce that only the Italians can pull off makes you feel one step closer to heaven.

I also found it interesting that, according to the study, Australians were the only ones to name chocolate as a favorite food.  (I agree that chocolate is a food group on its own, one with magical powers).  Also, according to the International Pasta Organization, Venezuelans hold their own against the Italians–Venezuelans reportedly consume 12 kg of pasta per capita a year (Italians consume about 26 kg a year, and can you blame them?)

Looking at the food stats and rankings also made me think about gastrodiplomacy, a fancy term that simply means that countries share and bond over their respective cuisines.  As a student of international relations, I must say that gastrodiplomacy is my favorite form of diplomacy.  The best way to get to know people, especially from a different culture, is to sit down over a meal and enjoy the food.

So, lesson of the day–if you need to make a quick meal for friends, are hosting a dinner party for international visitors, or want to pay homage to the world’s top food, grab a bag of pasta and go for it.  And buon appetito.

After church on Sunday, my fiance Leon and I were craving Mexican food for lunch (okay, I was craving Mexican food and convinced him to crave it too).  We went on a mission to find a good restaurant nearby.

In the old days, I would have–I confess–driven around tirelessly to find a Mexican restaurant.  Or I would have sprinted to the nearest Taco Bell.  But , thanks to the gloriousness of modern technology, I was able to plug a Mexican restaurant search into my iPhone, find a listing of restaurants close by with brutally honest reviews of the food, and get GPS directions to the restaurant.

We ended up going to El Tio restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia, by the way–it was pretty good, and the chips and queso definitely satiated the pain of Mexican food cravings.  As other Texans will understand (or those growing up in states with good Mexican food), Mexican food is like an energy source.  You might be able to function okay without it for awhile, but eventually your energy supply will get low and demand replenishment.

The experience of using Google maps and GPS directions to guide Leon and me to a good place for lunch reminded me of a favorite hobby of mine that I hadn’t done for awhile:  mapsurf.

Mapsurfing is fun, educational, and entertaining.  Just go to the Google main page and pull up a Google world map.  You can scroll around the map, click on countries to get a closer look, and have a visual of the exciting world in which we live.  It’s fun, interactive, and keeps a traveler–or aspiring traveler–geographically aware (we must fight the temptation to be geographically ignorant, my fellow Americans).

Whenever I get the itch to travel and can’t, or shouldn’t, whether it be the timing/finances/realities of being an adult, I find my solace in mapsurfing.  I learn something new every time.  As well, mapsurfing makes the things you hear about in the news come to life.

Case in point:  Yesterday, June 20, 2011, was World Refugee Day.  These days we’re constantly hearing stories on the news about Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey, the Italian island of Lampedusa being bombarded by immigrants seeking refuge in Europe from the unrest in Libya and Tunisia, and so forth.  When you actually know where the country is located, it makes the news stories much more real.  It just takes a little mapsurfing to understand why people in northern Africa would be trying to get to a little Italian island.

So, whether you’re having a case of wanderlust that won’t be cured for awhile, or if you want the international news segments to make more sense, try mapsurfing.  You’ll learn something new, and you might just find a unique travel destination along the way.

When I was a kid growing up in Texas, I saw Texas as being its own gigantic, dynamic country within our bigger country.  In school we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag, but it was also noted that Texas had been its own republic for almost a decade.

But, more of Texas history later.  My parents made it a point for our family to explore other parts of our country, which I later appreciated.  I did most of my traveling around the U.S. as a child, and then later when I moved back and took a job in Washington, D.C.  With the economy not being so great now, many friends I’ve talked to, and myself, find themselves vacationing closer to home.

The good thing about the U.S. is that, even when you vacation within its borders, it still usually feels like a vacation.  The United States is vast, and it has its own mini cultures nestled into one big territory.  I love continuing to explore my native country, and I appreciate the fact that, within the flexibility of federalism, each state has its own personality.  Couple this with the wide range of terrain, weather, and local agriculture, and traveling around the U.S. alone makes you want to carry your passport.

I have focused most of my time over the years on traveling abroad, but it’s important to understand your homeland as well.  I haven’t been to all 50 states, but the ones I have visited have taught me to appreciate the land I live in, with so many resources, beautiful sights, and generous people.

In conjunction with my international travel list, I added up how many states I’ve been to.  The total comes to 29, so just a little over half.  I feel fortunate to have seen different regions of the U.S., from the great beaches of the West coast to the wide open spaces of the South to the cosmopolitan cities of the East coast.

My U.S.A. travel list is below, with hopefully more to come:

1)   Alabama

2)   Arizona

3)   Arkansas

4)   California

5)   Colorado

6)   Delaware

7)   Florida

8)   Hawaii

9)    Idaho

10)  Illinois

11)  Louisiana

12)  Maryland

13)  Massachusetts

14)  Mississippi

15)  Missouri

16)  Nevada

17)  New Jersey

18)  New Mexico

19)  New York

20) North Carolina

21)  Ohio

22)  Oklahoma

23)  Pennsylvania

24)  Rhode Island

25)  South Dakota

26)  Texas

27)  Utah

28) Virginia

29)  Wyoming

Each state has something different to offer, and my goal over time is to spotlight some of my favorite places.  It’s tough to narrow it down, for sure–whenever friends from other countries have visited me in the U.S., they fell in love with it.  What’s not to love, after all?  Free refills (not a basic right in most parts of the world), friendly people (for the most part), a sense of freedom and liberty, and gorgeous sights.  God bless the U.S.A.

This week, my company had a work retreat in D.C. to discuss the direction of the firm and the need to utilize social media more often.  I was taking notes when all of a sudden the subject of Twitter came up.

My boss talked about expanding our Twitter usage, and he commented that he assumed that everyone had a Twitter account.  I stopped writing, and apparently I had a giant “guilty” sign on my face, because our tech expert looked at me and said, “You do have Twitter, right Lindsey?”  Silence filled the room, and I could feel myself turning a little red.  I answered that no, I did not have a Twitter account yet, and wondered if I would be flogged.

No flogging proceeded after that encounter, but I was asked by my boss to set up a Twitter account that afternoon.  My brain was spinning–between Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, and now Twitter, I felt like I was on social media overload.  I was reminded of the Conan O’Brien joke that if you put all of the latest social media names together, you’d get “You.Twit.Face.”

My fantastic friend and co-worker Lisa gave me a “Twitter 101” lesson, and soon I was connected to the world of tweets, tweeps, and hashtags (oh my).  It was kind of fun to realize that you could “follow” tons of different people, and I signed up to follow everyone from Khloe Kardashian (I like reality TV, okay?) to the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs to People Magazine.  I also signed up to follow foreign news outlets in Mexico, Brazil, Paris, and Rome, which was kind of cool.

When you think about it, social media has made the world even smaller.  I can Skype with friends in London and feel like they’re sitting next to me (except when their faces freeze on the computer screen).  I can write messages to my friends in Seoul and know that it will be in their inbox right after I send it.  I can get professional advice from friends around the world through LinkedIn, post a Facebook wall post for friends overseas to ask for travel advice, and so on.  You can look at pictures of destinations, read other travelers’ opinions about locations, and prepare for trips using firsthand accounts of what to expect.

So, in a sense, social media can make you feel like you’re mentally traveling to far off places, which is great when you can’t physically travel.  Nothing beats the real deal, to be sure, but there are realities that prevent most of us from taking off 365 days a year–jobs, paychecks, bills, and all of the other fun aspects of being an adult.

I’m still getting used to Twitter, and part of me is still on social media overload, but I do like the fact that even if I’m not physically in Rome, Paris, Rio, or wherever, I can still get real time updates of what’s happening there.  I might be in Washington, D.C., but Twitter can at least help me mentally travel to other parts of the world.

In the end, I think that I like Twitter.  I just have to make sure that I don’t mentally travel to Rio and forget where I actually am…

 

 

 

When I graduated from McKinney High School in 2001, I was dying to get out of McKinney.  Although I was only headed two hours down the road to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, it felt like I was escaping to a bigger world.  I wanted to get out of my hometown and see the world (I know, starting with Waco was a small step, but a step nonetheless).

Likewise, when it was time to walk the stage in 2005 at Baylor, I was aching to get out and see more of the world.  I had done study abroad programs or international internships during summer breaks, but I was ready to live full-time in a different country.  After I received my Bachelors degree, I headed to D.C. for a summer internship and then moved to London to begin the MA International Relations course at King’s College.

As the years went by, and I lived overseas longer and traveled more, Texas seemed very, very far away.  I found myself, however, missing my homeland and thinking of the teachers who had encouraged me to “get out” and explore my interests.

Things got busy, though, and before I knew it I was at my ten year high school reunion.  It was great to see familiar faces, many of whom I had not seen for a decade, but I also began to think more and more about my high school (and college) teachers who had made such great impressions on my life over the years.

So, I decided to take some time to hunt them down and tell them “thank you,” something that I should have done long ago.  Talk about a trip down memory lane.

I started with my favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Chandler, who once put in a video to entertain our Humanities class and took me to the teacher’s lounge to get a Coke and listen to me vent about my confusion over whether I should go to Baylor or Wake Forest. Thanks to Facebook and Google, it’s easier than ever to find people that you’re looking for.  Soon Mrs. Chandler and I were Facebook friends and started to catch up on the last ten years.

I sat down and made a list of other teachers to touch base with and thank for their influence.  There was Mrs. Presley, my high school student council and government/economics teacher who, as student body president, I spent more time with than my own mother senior year (Homecoming, dances, leadership conferences–our student council was awesome).  There was Senor Place, my high school Spanish teacher who had encouraged me to continue studying Spanish.  I thanked him for his encouragement and told him that I had indeed studied Spanish, in Spain, Argentina, Chile, and other places, and that he was in part to thank for that.

There was also Dr. Hinojosa at Baylor, whose classes I loved–Latin American Politics and International Relations.  I found his university email and wrote him a note giving him an update on my life and thanking him for encouraging me to see the world.

As I thought back through the years, and those teachers who shaped my life without me even realizing it, I wished that I had looked them up earlier and given them the thanks they so rightfully deserved.  But, better late than never I suppose.

In the U.S., it’s a common weekend practice to head to the movies, grab a bucket of popcorn, and enjoy the newest release.  After all, the American movie industry is known as the gold standard in cinema (even though Bollywood does produce more films per year, but that’s another matter), and we Americans love our movies.

So, it was only natural that even when I was overseas, I would crave a good movie outing.  Thus began adventures in botched subtitles, creepy art films, and 3-D Polish eyewear.

My first international adventures with movie theaters began in Europe.  Now, most Europeans can’t get enough of the latest American blockbusters, so I assumed that going to the movies over there would be similar or pretty much the same as heading to my local theater in Texas or D.C.

Nope, not so much.

In Madrid, some of my classmates and I decided to test our language skills and go see a movie that our Spanish teacher told us we absolutely had to see while we were in Spain.  So, we headed to a movie theater and were really excited to see what a Spanish summer movie would be like–would it be an action film with an Antonio Banderas lookalike, only he would actually be speaking Spanish?

Not even close.  The film was pretty much about a little boy growing up in Madrid when the Franco regime came into power and he was ripped apart from his friends.  As an adult he returned to Madrid and had flashbacks of the past.  Now, it was great to get a local perspective on the difficult times that Spain went through under the dictatorship, but it wasn’t what we were thinking for a lazy Saturday afternoon.  We left pretty depressed, actually.  But, the next weekend we saw “El Fantasma de la Opera” (The Phantom of the Opera) and enjoyed that, minus the fact that the phantom almost fell while doing the scene where he swings in on a chandelier.

My next movie experience overseas was in Rome, where I lived for a summer while interning with the State Department.  They showed movies at the American embassy each week, but I wanted to stick to the local movie theaters to get the real Roman experience (as a result I missed meeting Matt Damon, who apparently showed up at an embassy event when they were showing one of his films).

And experiences they were.  The three movie theaters that I tried out in Rome only showed a couple of American movies at a time, and way after they premiered in the U.S. I tried to watch Italian movies, but the thing about European movies, whether Italian, Spanish, or French, is that they are pretty depressing for the most part.  We Americans know how to do r0mantic comedies with happy endings–in European films, they often start out as a typical rom-com and then end up with someone getting hit by a car or something.

I convinced two of my friends to check out an Irish/American movie that was showing, that looked like an indie film but was being shown in English (usually in Rome they dubbed over everything, and there were times I just wanted to hear English-speaking actors in their normal voices and not in breathy dubbed ones).  My friend Sophie hesitated and said that it looked a little weird, but I insisted that it should be fine.

We walked out of the theater in states of shock and quietly headed to dinner without saying a word.  Lesson learned that day:  don’t see an artsy, weird looking movie unless you do some research.  Let’s just say that the movie was about a teacher who, well, took a liking to his young pupils in 1940’s Ireland.  I can’t say anything more without throwing up.  After that, to be safe, I saw “Harry Potter.”  Twice.

Going to the movies in South Korea was also interesting.  In Korea, they usually left the English sound and did Korean subtitles, which was a relief since I was learning Korean at the time but didn’t have great listening proficiency.  They loved American movies and showed more recent films than I had encountered in Europe, interestingly enough.

One day, while out with one of my dear Korean friends, we decided to see “Shrek 3,” which had just opened and was received enthusiastically by Korean moviegoers.  I was the only non-Korean person in the movie theater, and that became obvious during one scene in particular.  In one part of the movie, the three little pigs yell out, “Pigs in a blanket!” before slinging one of them out of a blanket.  I laughed my head off, and quickly realized that everyone else in the theater was silent (and looking over at me with curious looks on their faces).  My friend Chi-hye whispered to me that the subtitle in Korean had read, literally, “Sausage in a blanket,” and that the Koreans were all confused because it didn’t make sense to put sausage meat in a blanket–you put it on a plate.

Another memorable movie outing was in Warsaw, Poland, while I was visiting my friend Kora.  We planned to head to Berlin for the weekend when she finished work, so I hung out and killed some time at the train station before she left her office.  The train station in Warsaw is attached to a really nice shopping center with a movie theater inside, and since it was a hot day, I decided to see a movie.  I said “jin daubbre” (“good afternoon” to the teenager working at the box office and asked for a ticket to “Step Up 3.”

I didn’t realize that the movie was in 3-D, so when I walked into the theater, the other Polish moviegoers were decked out in giant 3-D glasses.  Okay, random, I thought–but just go with it.

It ended up being one of the most fun I’d ever had at the movies.  Watching a dance movie in 3-D was by itself randomly hilarious–add in several Polish audience members dancing in their chairs with their big glasses on, and you have movie magic.

In conclusion, when heading to a movie theater overseas:

–Proceed with caution when a film looks artsy or you’re not sure what it’s about.

–Don’t expect foreign films to be uplifting.

–Don’t expect the popcorn to be fresh.  In some countries, I gleefully ordered popcorn but then spit it out in disappointment (sometimes they’ll have it, but since the locals don’t go for it like we Americans do, it sits there until an American comes along and orders it).  Unless you’re in South Korea, where they have the most addicting caramel popcorn ever.

So, while traveling, consider heading to the movies for a taste of home and/or a bit of local culture–just make sure to take your sense of humor with you.

As a traveler, as I’ve discussed before, packing light is key to one’s sanity.  This translates to every form of travel, from leisure travel to studying abroad to working overseas.

Since I was on the go so much, and never felt sure of if or when I’d have a more stable life, I took the concept of packing light and applied it to everything. I found myself living the nomadic bachelorette dream.  I preferred language books to cook books, plastic utensils to real plates, takeout instead of home-cooked meals, and so forth.

I was the epitome of a bachelorette, in every sense of the word.  I ate whatever I was craving that particular day, set my schedule the way I wanted, and let whatever quirky tendencies I had to have full reign in my lifestyle.  Some would call these quirks “secret single behavior,” those little things you do but that you know full well you won’t really want to do when you’re married.

My “secret single behaviors” were wide ranging, and I never had them challenged by anyone.  I hated having an overflowing trash can, so I’d often keep a trash bag by the door and take it out when it was full.  Sometimes if I wasn’t really hungry I’d have popcorn for dinner.  I didn’t like to decorate, so unless my living space overseas was already furnished, I’d usually hang up a world map or something just to look like I was putting forth effort.  The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

While most of my friends were marrying and having children, I was planning my next adventure.  I told myself that, eventually, I’d meet someone and transition from a bachelorette traveler to a domestic goddess.  Would it be easy? No, probably not, but it would be necessary.  I wanted to be a wife and mother, after all, and I didn’t want my husband and children to get food poisoning every time I cooked.  Or see my own kids throw a bag of Orville Redenbacher in the microwave and announce that dinner was served.

The initial step of my transition from bachelorette traveler to domestic goddess (ha) arrived when my fiance moved to the D.C. area and we went from a long-distance relationship to a close proximity one.  I hadn’t realized how ingrained my bachelorette behavior was until “the kitchen incident.”

Leon had a couple of days in D.C. to kill time before his larger household items arrived to his new apartment, so he was itching for something to do.  He graciously offered to do some stuff around my apartment that I hadn’t taken the time to do (another bachelorette tendency–you ignore a clogged sink as long as you can):  plumbing DIY projects, restocking the fridge, and so forth.  I was happy to have the help and appreciated his gesture.

After work that day, I headed home trying to ignore my craving for macaroni and cheese.  As a bachelorette, I ate whatever I felt like for dinner, guided only by my cravings.  Things were changing though–Leon was more of the mindset that you plan out your meals each week, shop accordingly, and cook healthy meals at home. The plan was for us to eat out less during the week and enjoy going to restaurants more on the weekends.  I loved the idea, in theory.  In practice, it was tougher.

Take that evening, for instance.  Leon and I had planned to cook shrimp stir fry together, and we had all of the ingredients ready.  I wasn’t really craving shrimp stir fry though.  I wanted mac and cheese.  But, I told myself, I needed to eventually break my habit of eating whatever I wanted and get into a healthier routine.  Shrimp stir fry it was.

I got home to find Leon starting the stir fry and gave him a big “thank you” hug for being my maintenance man that day.  The apartment looked so much better, and my sink was actually draining at a normal speed.  I tilted my head to the side, though, and noticed that the kitchen was totally different.  I had to investigate.

By totally different I mean, well, totally different.  My kitchen was tiny, as I lived in a tiny studio in Arlington, Virginia.  There wasn’t much space, so I had organized everything on top of each other–spices, paper towels, cereal boxes, and so forth.  It was cluttered, yes, and a little stressful to try to cook in that space, but it was my clutter.

Now there was no clutter.  Leon had reorganized everything, putting items in different shelves that I hadn’t thought to use as storage, put spices in a basket on top of the fridge, and cleared enough shelf space so that we could actually chop vegetables on a flat surface.  It was completely different.

I stood there with my head still tilted to the side, and took a deep breath.  He looked at me like he knew he had tested me a little, and I was going to have a bachelorette moment.

Oh, and I did have a bachelorette moment.  I’m not talented at hiding my emotions, and I had a mini meltdown.  I think that the gist of the meltdown, to which Leon patiently listened, was that everything was changing and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it.  My life had been structured according to my wishes, and those wishes had not included planning out meals, cooking at home, or having someone else organize all of my stuff.  It was tough, I ranted, and he had to understand that I was used to being independent and on my own, and I wouldn’t transition overnight to being more domestic, and what if I never did, and on and on and on.

Once I calmed down, Leon smiled, gave me a big hug, and said, “Oh Linds, you need a man’s touch in your life.”  Then he looked at me, and we both busted out laughing.

So, lesson of the day–transitioning from being a 100% secret single behavior indulgent bachelorette traveler to a domestic goddess won’t happen overnight.  It’s a process.  I know it won’t be easy, but I also know that it’s time.  I’ll never lose that traveler side of me, but it’s also time to grow up a little and allow myself to share my life with someone.  And use real plates.

One of my wonderful friends (love ya Vicky) asked me to list how many countries I’ve been to, and it was fun to sit down and write it all out.

I had calculated that the number was close to 40 countries, or less than 20% of the world, but I hadn’t saved a full list for my own reference. After all, the beauty of making a travel list is watching it grow and looking forward to the day when you can say, “See? Grandma was pretty cool!” to your not-so-easily impressed teenage grandchildren.

I started making a travel list when I was 17 years old and was getting ready to go on my first international trip, a tour of Europe with Baylor University.  As I grew older, and traveled more, the list grew longer and longer.  When I lived in London and later in Seoul, I carved out time to cross off most of the places on my list.  I did, however, save a few, with the hopes of sharing new travel experiences with a husband and/or kids one day.

Which places did I leave on my list, you ask?  I plan on revealing those at a later time.  For now, I present my travel list as of June 2011, at the age of 28 and 11 years after my first trip.  The grand total comes to 36 (40 if you count Caribbean territories and Gibraltar),with hopefully more to be added in time.  I’ve counted a couple of countries from when I was actually heading somewhere else, but had a long layover to do a little shopping. The list also includes countries of the UK listed out separately–yes, I know that the UK is technically considered one country, but anyone who has been to the different areas will, I think, agree with me that they should be counted as separate experiences.  (If you have a death wish, for instance, ask a Scot if he tells everyone that he’s British).

My travel list, ladies and gentlemen:

  1. The United States (obviously)
  2. Canada
  3. Mexico
  4. Chile
  5. Argentina
  6. Brazil
  7. Italy
  8. Vatican City (Holy See)
  9. France
  10. Spain
  11. Portugal
  12. Monaco
  13. Ireland
  14. England
  15. Northern Ireland
  16. Scotland
  17. Wales
  18. Germany
  19. Poland
  20. Norway
  21. Greece
  22. Austria
  23. Turkey
  24. Russia
  25. Morocco
  26. Egypt
  27. South Korea
  28. North Korea (South Korean guards allowed me to stand in North Korean territory at the DMZ—Demilitarized Zone, a.k.a. the tensest place I’ve ever been to)
  29. Taiwan (flight layover)
  30. Vietnam (two flight layovers)
  31. Japan
  32. China
  33. Thailand
  34. Cambodia
  35. Indonesia
  36. India
Places that aren’t technically countries, but sure were fun to explore:
  1. Grand Cayman Islands
  2. St. Croix
  3. St. Thomas
  4. Gibraltar
Let me stress, however, that whether you’ve been to one country other than your own, or all of them, the important thing is that you learned something from each place you’ve been to.  The purpose of traveling should never be to cross something off of a “To Do” list–it should be to get out of your comfort zone, explore something new, and possibly discover something about yourself along the way.

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