01 October 2016

My First Home Away From Home

When I was 16, my wonderful parents agreed to let me go overseas as a foreign exchange student.  I was originally slated to go to Italy but then there was a problem with the Italian program (meaning the American side and Italian side were having some sort of disagreement) so I was reassigned to the Netherlands.  And now things are coming full-circle again.

The first family I lived with in the Netherlands (in my program you lived with three different families so that you got a diverse experience since no one family is representative of how everyone lives) lived 3 houses from the dyke on what was a huge orchard.  I've been back to visit them several times while living in and visiting the Netherlands. 

This last visit, I walked around the grounds and seriously have no memory of it being such a beautiful place. How did I miss that? It's on a canal (they used to have a boat there) and the mother still has a wonderful garden and works to bring back heirloom varieties of some of the original orchard trees.

It wasn't exactly easy living there all those years ago.  The kids were a lot younger than me and no one in that village went to my school (my other two families were close to the school) so it was rather lonely.  I had very few friends and they all lived much closer to the school.  I had no confidence in my ability to learn the language and so I struggled with it (one day, after months and months and months of living in the Netherlands it was as if a switch flipped and I realized I could speak Dutch). Plus, you know, I was a moody teenager.

I have a much better relationship with that set of parents now that I'm an adult.  They are really very lovely people and I enjoy visiting them.

You can see the dyke here; keeping out the Ijsselmeer. It really isn't very high. 

She really does wear these when working in the garden!
To think of how many homes away from home I've had at this point... I'm glad I get to keep visiting this one. I'm also glad I get to see it now as a beautiful place with lovely people.

What is your first home away from home?  Have your feelings about it changed over time?

21 September 2016

Can Dogs Learn Italian?

Two years ago on this day I was getting ready to leave for Italy with my Mom and Gran. 

Now I'm preparing to move to Italy with 2 dogs. 

I've done an overseas move with 2 dogs before but this time there's a new dog and the old dog is...well, much older.  Not to mention the new dog has a blocky head which some people think makes him look like a pit bull.  It shouldn't come as any surprise that that makes getting him on a plane a potential nightmare...even to go as cargo...your luggage must be kept safe from such a dangerous monster (or, as my tiny 82-year old Gran says, a big love bug).  So throw in an anxiety attack and probable nervous breakdown with the rest of the usual stress over a big move.  I would never leave a dog behind so I will find a way. It's a good thing I have done the whole flying dogs overseas thing before because I already know how far in advance you need to start getting everything in order (in case you're wondering, it takes approximately 2 weeks longer than you have :p) and although I don't have my departure date yet I've already started with all their paperwork.  Because dogs can't fly if the ground temperature is below 45F I am shooting for an earlier departure date than I would like because I don't want to take my chances with mother nature.  So I'll have less time to get everything ready.

These past almost-3 years have been the closest (distance) to my family I've ever lived since I stopped living with them.  That has been great. I've never been able to go there and back in a day and it's awesome to be able to see them so often.

The work I've done and the people I've me through Adopt a Homeless Animal Rescue has been amazing.  They are such wonderful people and I love every one of those dogs.  You can read all about my rescue work here.

At an adoption event -Showing people how wonderfully easy-going this dog is.

I will miss all of that. The rest of this location, however, has been less than happy. The cost of living here is ridiculous and the work hasn't been my favorite. 

Aside from the distance from family I love living overseas.  I won't say I was born into the wrong family because those are definitely my people but I really feel like I should have been born Dutch.  That (the Netherlands) is the place (again, aside from the town where I grew up) that truly fits me...even if all the people are WAY taller. I have no doubt that I will love living in Italy and am super excited to explore more of Europe with those wonderful cheap air fares!  I'm hoping family and friends will visit me just like they did during my last stint overseas. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go sit in a corner and rock like Rain Man for a while.

Have you done an overseas move? Have you flown dogs overseas?  Do you have any advice for me?

21 August 2016

The Best Part of Iceland - Sundays in My City

I've taken trips with my mom. I've taken trips with both of my parents together.  I've taken trips with just my brother and sister. I've never taken a trip with just my dad.  When I asked him, he said he wanted to go to Iceland. So we went. This was the best part of the trip.

There's lots more to say and show from Iceland but I'll save that for another time.

Do you travel with your family? What's your favorite family trip picture?

Take a trip over to Unknown Mami and check out some other great posts.

27 May 2016

Packing for a Long Trip

I pack last-minute.  Always.  And I almost always under pack.  So how do I pack for a long (in this case, 3 weeks) trip?  It goes something like this:

Step 1: Throw everything including your smallest suitcase on the very messy bed (you're going to take the sheets off and wash before you leave anyway).

Step 2: Sort through and get rid of stuff from the last trip that you know you don't need.

Step 3: Consult your randomly-scribbled list and throw some more things on the bed...go in search of the things you have no idea what you did with after the last long trip...freak out because you can't find that one thing you absolutely need, add some more stuff just in case.

Step 4: Check the weather for your destination(s)..DUH! Rethink everything you've packed.

Step 5: Fret that you have too much. Fret that you don't have enough.  Rinse. Repeat. 

Step 6: See if it all fits. Adjust if necessary.

Step 7: Check the weight (if you're flying with a weight restriction)

Step 8: Open it all up and leave it there in hopes inspiration will strike and allow you to make it all perfect.

Step 9: Add, subtract, add, subtract...spend far too much time thinking about whether or not you need rain pants and/or a mini-tripod.

Step 10: Decide it's fine if you only have one pair of socks and 14 t-shirts (or vice versa). Who cares...you're on vacation!!

How do you pack?  Do you take too much...to little?  Do you have any super packing secrets? What's your one MUST HAVE item?

19 May 2016

Why India? - A Guest Post by Angie

While I'm off soaking in thermal hot springs and figuring out how to take up permanent residence with the Icelandic Elves, I bring you a post from Angie who blogs about travel, veganism, yoga and much more. 

Hello Far From Kansas readers! I am Angie from Angie Eats Peace and am honored to guest post today about my own upcoming travels.


My husband and I are fortunate enough to work for the public school system and have most of the summer off from work. We try to make the most of our time off and are generally hopping on a plane as soon as the last school bell for the year has rung. We have exploring some beautiful parts of Europe (Spain, Portugal, France and Italy) and last summer we visited China and Japan. This year we are headed to Northern India and Nepal.

Most of our family, friends and co-workers know that we travel every chance we get and have both been asked multiple times where we are going this summer. We have both been surprised to find we are getting similar responses when we share that we are going to India. We are getting confused looks and being asked, "Why India"? Usually followed by, "aren't you scared"?

My response has been, "Why Not India"? But, if someone is truly interested, I share the following with them:

I am truly looking forward to India. It's going to be life-changing. I just know it. I am going in with high expectations, but also the realization that I am incredibly ignorant about what I am about to experience. I open to what the many temples, holy sites, the Ganges river, the market place, the ashrams, the food and most of all, the people, have to teach me.

I travel to learn, to connect, to experience and to EAT. I do not travel to relax, to be comfortable or to have an experience that I could easily have in my own country. Most of my trips are spent walking, exploring, searching, talking and connecting. I rarely lay on a beach and relax. This extremely flattering photo below was taken by my wonderful husband in a park in Paris. I completely crashed after two weeks of travel and endless walking. I needed a quick nap before going off again to explore the city.


The one time I did NOT love a travel experience was when I stayed at a resort in Cancun. Although I loved some of the excursion activities, I did not care for the all-inclusive resort filled with other Americans and non-traditional food. I like to feel out of my comfort zone and be pushed to understand a different way of life. I love realizing that there is SO much more to the world than my own narrow viewpoint.

I know India will have so much to teach me about my own comfort zone and force me to confront parts of myself that I am currently unaware of. I look forward to what I will learn and what I can share when I return.

I will be posting some pictures here and there, so if you care to follow along, you can do so on Instagram or visit my blog around August, when I am back from my travels.

Thanks Angie!  I know I'm looking forward to hearing about this trip and I'm jealous that I'm not going!!

08 May 2016

Skagit Tulip Festival - Sundays in My City

Feels like I just got back from vacation (it was a one-week vacation but still great to get away). Now I'm leaving again in less than a week. Where am I going?


In the mean time, a little glimpse of the trip I just took.  When you've been to the Keukenhof and ridden a bike through the Dutch tulip fields it's hard to imagine anything can ever compare. 

I won't say the last remaining garden at the Skagit Tulip Festival (when we got there everything was already topped (meaning they'd plucked the blooms off the stems) except this last garden and they were working on it) was a rival to the Keukenhof but it was a nice stop on the way from Vancouver back to Seattle. There was plenty to be seen and it was deceptive in size...looking quite small at first but ending up much bigger than it looks.

Of course, I took hundreds of pictures...one just can't help trying to capture all the colors and different shapes and sizes.

Is there a tulip festival near you?  Have you been to one?  Do you have a favorite color tulip?

Linking up with Unknown Mami for her always-eventful Sundays in My City.  Check it out!

Unknown Mami

30 April 2016

This Kid

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, teaching high school math at a poor village day school, I didn't have a lot of exceptional students (exceptional in the academic sense...of course they were all exceptional people!).  One day one of the teachers (my next door neighbor and the social studies teacher) asked me if I knew a certain student. Of course I knew him; he was the smartest kid in class.  He was also about to be kicked out of school because he hadn't paid his fees.  Seems his father was a drunk and his mother had abandoned them years before.  My neighbor asked if I knew of any donors (they had this belief that we were all somehow in touch with an endless supply of rich people wanting to donate money) who could offer him a scholarship.  I said I'd see what I could do.

I did try to find scholarships but actual scholarships (as opposed to fake scholarships I made up to disguise donations sent to me by friends and family) were very difficult to come by.  So I talked to the student and told him that I was looking for a scholarship but in the mean time I would pay his fees so long as he didn't tell anyone lest I have everyone in town knocking on my door asking for money. He agreed and he held true to his promise. I never did manage to get him a scholarship but I did make sure his fees were paid even after my time there was over.

The school where I taught was not a school that prepared students for higher learning.  Every student in the country takes what is known as the WAEC (West African Exam Council) at the end of secondary school (equivalent to grade 12).  They take tests in subjects whether their school had a teacher for those subjects or not.  How any student from the school where I taught (which did not have teachers for all subjects) passes that exam I will never understand (but clearly they are smarter than I am!).  So this student managed to pass the WAEC and gain acceptance into one of the best universities in the country. He wrote to me (on paper through the mail!) asking if I could help with the tuition.  How could I say no?  Tuition there isn't free but it's insanely cheap compared to American universities.  A small sacrifice on my part for a huge return on his.

After graduating with a degree in sustainable agriculture he began his 2 years of national service.  Then he went to work for an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) working on reforestation projects.  When I went back to Ghana in 2013 he told me he was applying to graduate school programs. I asked him why he had waited so long and he said he felt that he needed to stand on his own feet (his words), work and save money in order to be able to pay for the exams and application fees himself since he had been so fortunate to have had someone help him get as far as he did.  Not sure where he got that attitude since he certainly didn't learn it at home.  But needless to say, I was proud.

He emailed me (how times have changed!) last year to say he was in Wales on a one-year masters scholarship (he's also doing a lot of volunteer work with a beach clean-up project there so clearly he got something from me :D).  I wish I could have been there when he got on the plane...got off the plane...saw a supermarket for the first time...tasted cheese...so many new experiences!  I'm going to see him next month and I'm so excited. He's an amazing kid (I suppose I should call him an adult now but he'll always be my kid) and I can't wait to help him have more new experiences (including taking him to my old stomping grounds in the Netherlands)!

Here he is when I saw him in 2008 (in yellow, he was an undergraduate student then) and in 2013 (we didn't have digital cameras when I lived there so I know I have pictures of him from way back then but I don't have them digitally).

My boy is definitely now a very mature, passionate, determined man and I can't wait to see what he makes of himself and how he betters his country. When you do something like the Peace Corps it isn't always easy to see if what you're doing is making any difference and sometimes it seems as if beating your head against a wall would be more productive.  My kid tells people that if I hadn't helped him he'd be the hardest working farmer in the village. I like to think that he would have found a way to make it to better things on his own but I'm definitely very proud of what he has done and so happy to have played a small part in his success.  And I'm so looking forward to seeing him soon!

29 April 2016

Were Am I Going?

In 2 weeks I'm leaving on a three-week trip!!! WHAOO!!!


Here are some hints as to where I'm going...

First stop: Unpronounceable volcano names and these


Second stop: Cymru,  Llanfairpwllgwyngyll and


Third stop: Mijn 2de land! 

More to come!!

Do you know where I'm going?  Have you been there?  Any recommendations?

23 March 2016

Why I Would Go to Paris (Beirut, Brussels, Mali...) Right Now

I started this post when the Paris terror attacks happened.  Beirut had just happened.  Then Mali happened. Ankara happened.  And I kept putting this off...I guess waiting for it to end.  I've been to Brussels many times.  I've posted about the city several times.  I've been to Paris and Mali.  I love these places. 

If the Brussels airport is open tomorrow and someone offered me a ticket, I would go.  When I arrived, I would get on the train (which runs all the way into the airport) and take it to central Brussels.  Then I would get on the metro to wherever in the city I needed to go.  I would have done the same after Paris or Beirut (and still would).  I will go if London or Bangkok or San Diego or Toronto or Canberra are attacked.  I will not stay home out of fear of what might happen.  There will be attacks whether I travel or not. 

Gran at the European Union Headquarters (can't remember if this is before or after we got kicked out). The metro beneath this area is where one attack happened.

Dad, Mom and Brother on the Brussels metro after I picked them up at the Brussels airport.

Seeing my sister and brother off at the Brussels airport...in the departures lounge where the bombing occurred today (with a cameo by the purple jacket). [I often take pictures of my feet...not sure why.]

When I moved overseas the dogs and I flew into Brussels airport.  I flew in and out of that airport many times over the next 3 years.  I had family and friends visit me by way of that airport.  I've dropped people off and picked people up. I've parked my car in the parking garage there.  I bruised my shoulder on a column outside the arrivals lounge when I went to pick up Gran.  I had food poisoning and went outside to throw up.  I was so weak that I leaned against the column to keep from falling over.  The throwing up caused me to repeatedly slam my shoulder into the column.  Better than falling over!  I laid on the floor of the train station in the airport while Gran stood in line for tickets.  I didn't have the strength to stand up.  It's difficult to imagine anything so horrific as today's attack happening there. 
I've traveled to places that are supposedly less safe than western Europe.  I've traveled all over western Europe.  I have no plans to stop.  I've been called crazy for traveling to 3rd world countries.  Now people say I'm crazy for traveling to western Europe. Could something happen?  Of course it could.  But honestly, I think I'm less safe driving to work. 
So if anyone wants to give me a ticket to Brussels or Paris or London or Beirut or Mali or pretty much anywhere (there are a few places I wouldn't go but I'll save that for another post) I'll gladly take it! And I'm looking for train tickets from London to Brussels.  Cross your fingers for me because I'd like to find them cheap!
How do you feel about the safety of travel right now?  Would you go to Brussels or Paris or any of the other recent scenes of attacks?

06 March 2016

The Traveling Purple Jacket - Sundays in My City

When I moved to the Netherlands and became a bicycle commuter I quickly found that I needed a rain jacket and rain pants.  I found cheap ones for 5 euro in a bin at Lidl (a store that had an ever-changing very odd assortment of groceries and random other things like truck tires or snow boots or garden equipment).  The pants in my size were black which was fine.  The jackets in my size were not available in black so I ended up with purple...not a color I would normally buy. But I didn't want to spend a lot of time shopping or a lot of money.  Little did I know how much traveling that purple jacked would end up doing.

I don't take a lot of pictures of myself (I generally hate pictures of myself) but here are a few of the places the purple jacket visited. 

Waiting in line at the Louvre in Paris while Gran ran around taking pictures in the rain.

In Amsterdam (see it hanging from my backpack?).
In Queensferry, Scotland.  It was VERY windy!

At Plitvce Lakes National Park in Croatia

In Milan, Italy (see it hanging from my chair under the table?).

At a family reunion in PA
I still wear that purple jacket.  It's had quite the life for a 5 euro jacket from a Lidl bin!

Unknown Mami