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I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!

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The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.

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The Mayan Ruins.

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Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.

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The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.

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Met a new friend at the hot springs!

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Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.

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The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.

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Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.

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Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.

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Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.

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Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.

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From the top of the mountain.

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Walking through cornfields to return to the city.

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At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.

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Horseback ride in the night.

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My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.

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My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.

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I had a lovely visit in Oregon spending quality time with friends, enjoying Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and relaxing at Gleneden beach with family. I was so inspired by all the people who supported Casita Copán, the non-profit day care and women’s support center I have been volunteering at here in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. So far Casita Copán’s In Her Shoes Challenge has raised $1,841 thanks largely to people in Salem and Portland, Oregon who came to Honduran culture and art fundraising events.

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The In Her Shoes Challenge is more than just a fundraiser and takes donating to the next step of participation and interaction. People who have more fortunate financial circumstances are challenged to feed themselves on the $21 average salary/week of mothers at Casita for one week starting October 6th, 2013 to build solidarity and to receive pledges leading up to the event to help reach the $10,000 goal. This money will help continue the work of Casita Copán and develop new health and education programs for the mothers, children, and other women within the community. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the people donors are giving money to. These women and children may have financial struggles and can use help but those participating in the Challenge can learn something from these people whose culture is rich and beautiful as well. We all have something to share, and I have found that the good and bad aspects of the USA are the opposite here in Honduras. Every day in Honduras, I am reminded what is good about my home country and I appreciate it more while at the same time realizing what I was missing in the USA. It feels good to call a second country home where children are playing in the streets and people still have a connection to the earth that sustains them. Want to join the In Her Shoes Challenge and learn more about Casita Copán? Go to: http://www.crowdrise.com/inhershoespovertychallenge/fundraiser/casitacopaninc

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It has been some time since I have written on here. Free moments were swallowed up quickly during the month of May. This week is the first in a while where I have chosen to relish solitude. I have had little time to absorb it all and process the direction my life is going. Sometimes, everything seems so clear and full of purpose. Other times, I feel like I am exerting a whole lot of energy for nothing and want to throw my hands up in the air. In Honduras, I am free to do many things I could not in the states, but sometimes feel trapped by the endless possibility and find myself hoping someone will tell me what the next step is. Often, I feel oppressed as a female. In the USA, I feel limited by the complex systems and bureaucracy, but am free to express myself and act as I please without constant judgement. I find that what is good in one place can be bad in another and vice versa. There really isn’t a perfect home, and so, I am split between two. What I dislike about the USA, I find here, and what I like about the USA, is not to be found in Honduras. The irony of it all only validates for me that life is one big cosmic joke.

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I have had my share of creepy crawlies the past month in Honduras with a house full of ticks that required fumigation and a spider bigger than my hand that chased me around the house until I brought her life to an end with a garbage can.

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Sometimes my little neighbors drive me nuts, these children who are always yelling, “Betty! Betty! Betty!” at the gate all hours of the day. But when I choose to let them in, I find I also enjoy their company. They remind me to relax and not be so serious as we play hangman, make cookies, or knock mangoes out of the trees to enjoy while rocking in the hammocks. When these Honduran children are in my home screaming and running with Diego barking after them, all is chaos, and it reminds me of family get-togethers at home, and I have to smile.

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I enjoy my work with Casita Copan more than anything I do here, the children have so much love to give, and I feel like I am overflowing when I leave. The women that work there are so wise and strong, calm and collected. I find I learn much from them.

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Working in the clinic is a way to stretch myself in different ways. Here, a nurse is many things. One day I will be doing injections, basic intake of blood pressures, weights, and heights, and making arts projects and another day organizing paperwork, handing out prescriptions, going door to door vaccinating, and making laboratory slides. Some days are spent drinking coffee, enjoying each others company and a good laugh over things like me attempting to translate English songs into Spanish and then sing them.

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My Spanish is daily improving thanks to my wonderful instructor and friend. She teaches me more than just the language but about the culture as well, guiding me through the confusing or upsetting differences that I have trouble understanding and accepting. Whether I am sick, my house is infested by blood-suckers, I am having problems with men, or I am overwhelmed, her and her family find a way to remind me I am not alone and have people who care about me here. She is often a source of stability amongst all the uncertainty while being in a foreign country. Her generosity is a comfort, and her list of sassy responses demanding respect from men harassing me in the streets is invaluable.

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I have a friend here who has been showing me some of the most beautiful parts of Copan. The natural landscapes and rivers that speak to your heart and the quiet restaurants and cafes where one can feel relaxed and at home. These have been my best moments, exploring Copan’s hidden treasures with someone whose company and conversation I enjoy so much. Our time together has inspired me to write beautiful poetry and self-reflect on my journey and character.

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Going “home” felt foreign. I found comfort when I encountered people who spoke Spanish. Blues dancing, which I have missed so much, had a sense of melancholy, as most of the people I enjoyed dancing with were not there. I had more fun dancing with my mirror companion to the blues than with others. I went salsa dancing but found my salsa skills weren’t so hot anymore as I have stopped dancing in Copan due to the unwanted male attention. Dancing was once my addiction, but when it lead to me being perceived as a sexual object in Copan, the joy I once found in it began to fade. My best dance moments while in Oregon were dancing to funk and electronic music because there was no expectation to dance with others, only to feel the beat of the music and move my body in response. In the end, I found more joy in catching up with friends and family.

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I am not sure how many times I have moved these last couple of years, but now, I only possess enough to take in one truck load wherever I choose to go next. Going home and clearing out the rest of my stuff from my friend’s home was a daunting task. I found in the end it was easier to let my stuff go instead of trying to find a new home for it. I kept the pieces of wall art from my travels and my books, but most everything else got sent to Goodwill. I thought I would be sad, but instead, I feel that a huge weight is now off my shoulders. Finding a home for my cat was the most difficult part. I adopted him when no one else would and nursed him back to health. They told me he would probably only live one year, and he has been alive for four. How could I desert him or take him to a shelter again when he has come this far. I felt like an irresponsible, selfish mother. My sister was kind enough to adopt him into her home, and I am happy to hear he is adapting well but wish he could be here with me cuddling on my bed.

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I had a lovely time at the beach while in Oregon, enjoying the weekend wedding event of an old friend and his love. It was honestly the best part of my trip, being with one of my closest friends from college, seeing faces from high school days, dancing, drinking, and conversing with interesting and inspiring people. I miss the ocean and the calming certainty it gives. I love the Oregon coast and all the memories I have there. This non-traditional wedding was so sincere and honest, full of laughter and joy, just as a wedding should be.

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The biggest blessing I have in this life are my friends and family. You stretch across the globe and embrace me from afar. And the truth is I always have a friendly face somewhere thinking of me. Going to Portland and returning to Copan, I realize that neither is better than the other, only different, and I am happy to know I have many places I can call home.

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Today, a friend sent out an article that I received earlier this year by someone dear to me at a critical time in my life. It is titled “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Susie Steiner of The Guardian. I remember looking at it then, going down the list, and seeing my own regrets of past years. I was working with cancer patients at the time as a nurse and gradually developing an awareness of what it is to finally know how to live when one was dying. These men and women had a deeper appreciation for life and death because they could see them more clearly. Their diagnosis, so often associated with death, had given them the freedom to reclaim their lives earlier than most, to reformulate an identity, because death was no longer a mystery, it was their reality. The conversations I had with these people helped me remember daily how precious both life and death are in this world. All the regrets in this article were my own, and when I read it, I decided this year was the year to live with no regrets, to see my past as a stepping stone, a lesson, a part of my present and future not to be hated or despised but loved and accepted as my own. To see suffering as beauty and inspiration.

Tomorrow is the end of the world. This is an irrational thought I have kept in my mind for quite a few years and partially why I felt such a desperation to change my path so drastically this past year. I felt I hadn’t been living life, and my time was running out. This idea only became more vivid to me when I was hit by a car this summer and broke my arm. If there was even the smallest possibility tomorrow would be my last, I wanted to feel in the moment it turned 12/21/2012 that I was okay with the life I had lived, that I could welcome death with open arms instead of fear. So I began to live for the first time, a full life, and what a beautiful year it has been. I have spent it meeting new, life-changing friends, valuing the friends and family I have more completely, loving the world with all my heart and learning from it, dancing with all my soul, allowing myself to be vulnerable by sharing my writing for the first time, seeking spiritual growth within myself and from wise mentors, learning to forgive myself so I can be free, experiencing peace in stillness, letting go to move forward and appreciate, and discovering how to give without resentment.

As I sit with my mother tonight, a TV Christmas special in the background, I see tears in her eyes as she tells me of her regrets and reasons why she chose the path she did. Regrets are often sacrifices so that loved ones can enjoy life more fully. Perhaps these are some of the most beautiful sufferings of all. Because in the end, they become blessings and no longer are regrets. They are the choices that hurt but people can find comfort in when reflecting on their past. Love is investing. It is when regrets become joyous pains, and the in-between of the two is a sharing of life and death that is beautiful and unmatched.

I spent my last day on earth buying a ticket to Honduras to learn Spanish and volunteer as a nurse in a clinic, making cookies with my mother while listening to Christmas songs, discussing “the right to bear arms” with respectful and intelligent individuals through a Facebook post, having good conversations with my father, giving both my parents long, tight hugs hoping they knew just how much I loved them despite all our differences, and sitting in a coffee shop with my first love and still dear friend reflecting on our lives and the many great lessons we have learned. As I drove home, I listened to the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger for the first time. As I sat in the garage of my parent’s house waiting for the song to finish, I felt a happy sadness. Yes, life is perfect right now…but then again it always was.

“Let Her Go” by Passenger

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go

Staring at the bottom of your glass
Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last
But dreams come slow and they go so fast
You see her when you close your eyes
Maybe one day you’ll understand why
Everything you touch, oh it dies

But you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go

Staring at the ceiling in the dark
Same old empty feeling in your heart
‘Cause love comes slow and it goes so fast
Well you see her when you fall asleep
But never to touch and never to keep
‘Cause you loved her too much and you dive too deep

Well you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go
Oh oh oh no
And you let her go
Oh oh oh no
Well you let her go

‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go

‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missing home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go

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It’s like with a rifle, if you just hold it in your hand, you know it’s the right one, you don’t have to shoot.”~Serbian idiom

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Novi Sad sounds like Christmas. I thought this when I first heard the city’s name. With snow all around me, this image of Novi Sad is confirmed. My experience here reminds me of everything I love about the time leading up to Christmas, from the beginning of December on. Snow, comfort, late mornings, good company, hearty food and indulgent desserts, reflections, dancing, joy, laughter, generous kindness, books you can’t but down, rakija liquor to warm the hands and the heart, so many lovely things. I met some wonderful women in this city. Strong, inspiring, beautiful, independent, and so wise. They felt like my friends back home, and I only spent a weekend with them. They are my sisters, even if not by blood, and I hope we will see each other again very soon. I’ll be working on my Serbian cursing for next time as I found a Serbian swear dictionary online. 😉

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In the Netherlands, my original plan was to visit Amsterdam only, but due to the generosity of many lovely people, I ended up getting to know this tiny little country quite well. Amsterdam is where my journey started with its intricate spiral of canals, inviting lights, and unshaded windows. The warm glow from within homes and businesses invites people to peer in and observe as though those within are not ashamed to show the way they live. I spent most of my time wrapped in a warm blanket drinking tea and having late breakfasts outside of Greenwoods, an English tea room and shop. The spot was right by the canal and perfect for observing the goings-on of this quaint city. Bicyclists rule the road, and the ding ding of their bells as they whir past adds a little dance to the step of those walking ahead. Streets are lined with lovely cafes, restaurants, historical buildings, “coffee shops” (places where marijuana is sold), art and music venues, and unique hole-in-the-wall places. The red light district is full of sex shops and lit rooms with scantily clad women inside. Boats occasionally drift by with families or tourists along the canals. There was an Andy Warhol exhibit of The Last Supper (Pink) in the De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam, a church turned art gallery. As I stared at Leonardo da Vinci’s copied work shaded in pink and duplicated, it seemed to me there was no deeper meaning, that really all Warhol did was copy a famous painting that took three years to complete and shade it in pink. I can’t help but think Warhol’s art is really just making fun of how humans are so easily swayed by advertisements and public opinion without thinking for themselves. With that said, he is one of my favorite artists for this reason. He could look at himself and all the rest of us silly human beings and find humor. The highlight of my time in Amsterdam was enjoying some good Chinese food, a scenic walk, and heart-centered conversation with a past wanderer, now laying down some roots here. It is an interesting exchange to see one in the other person’s shoes less than a year later from our first meeting. Ideas discussed then are our current realities which gives us both a certain amount of comfort and satisfaction in our opposite states of being.

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Thanks to the suggestion of a man I met at the Irish Buddhist retreat center, Dzogchen Beara, I next went to Olst where I learned a lot about pounding tires and found a new respect for dirt. Here, I helped build earthships, which are environmentally friendly homes made out of wood, dirt-filled tires, hay, and various other materials, mostly locally sourced and/or reused. Eventually, there will be 23 homes filled with families from around the area who want to build a strong community centered in an awareness of the environment. They aim to be stewards of the land by living in energy efficient homes and growing gardens and trees that will help provide food for those living there and green areas for children to play. The people in this community were inspiring and humorous, and I found I learned a lot from each individual I met. It was great to see kids running and playing in the dirt, waving at trains, and spending time with friends using their imaginations in nature. I look forward to seeing the finished product and encourage travelers, especially those who are interested in eco-friendly building, to stop in Olst and help these wonderful people build their community. You will learn a lot more than just how to build a house. Check out their project at http://www.aardehuis.nl/en.html.

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While at Olst, two people asked me to come to Den Haag to visit them. Here I got to see the sea by bicycle and learn more about permaculture and other ways to built eco-friendly homes. I also discovered hagel slag, which are chocolate sprinkles, and speculaas, which are cinnamon-ginger cookies, all of which you eat in the morning on buttered bread. My first reaction was dismay then delight at having an excuse to eat chocolate in the morning. I think you can put anything on buttered bread here and call it good.

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Next was Breda, where I met up with a woman I had met at Dzogchen Beara. We biked about the city and walked through the forest there discussing many interesting and healing topics. One night we went to a Vipassana meditation where I found myself remembering the beauty in sitting still, which I don’t do enough of during my travels. My friend was a lovely host, and I felt quite cozy sleeping in and savouring coffee in the mornings with her. She suggested I stop in Eindhoven on my way to Germany for the Glow festival, and this led to me staying with some hilarious guys, two from Lithuania and one from the Netherlands, who had me in stitches pretty much the whole time I was there.

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On my train ride to Eindhoven, I sent out some last minute couch surfing requests, not expecting replies, and was rather stoked when I immediately got a reply that I had a place to stay. My couch surfer met me at the station and proceeded to bike me and my massive backpack on one bicycle back to his student house. My mouth hurt from smiling by the time we got to his place; I was quite impressed that we arrived each in one piece. That night I was taken to an international student night where I got to eat homemade food from around the world. After the feast, we sipped Prosecco from a bottle while admiring light displays about the city. Next day, we all slept in quite late to have chocolate sprinkle creations in the morning and an authentic Dutch meal before I left for Germany by carpool. I spent the afternoon getting a few dreadlocks in my hair, swapping idioms, and debunking American myths created by television. As my host rode me back to the train station by bike, my backpack precariously teetering on the front and me on the back,  I felt this was the way to leave the Netherlands in style.

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In France, I indulged in orgasmic, gastronomical delights. Food here is taken to an entirely different level of enjoyment. I frequented Helmut Newcake where I gained experience ordering desserts in French. Here I could stay cozy and warm reading and people watching from behind glass as I savoured gluten-free pastries and café créme. The éclair vanille was flaky and moist with a light, delightful cream center.

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My Parisian friend, aware of my love for reading, took me to a wine bar decorated by books where we were treated to fine wine, flirtatious conversation, and a kiss or two by some charming men. Greetings and good-byes are full of kisses and smiles in France. Two kisses on either cheek are customary and made me blush every time.

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It is common to see dogs with their noses peeking out of handbags and from under tables, or if small enough, from their companions’ laps saying, “Hello!” Men and women are beautiful in a simple natural way like the style of my favorite Hollywood actress, Audrey Hepburn, who very much defined the French look for Americans during her time. At the Hôtel de Ville there was an exhibit titled Paris Seen by Hollywood, which shed light on Parisian stereotypes. With most stereotypes, there are essences of truth, but none can fully describe a country and its people.

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I found that saying “Bonjour!,” “Parlez-vous anglais?,” and “Merci beaucoup.” helped me make friends quite easily, even if I had no idea what the person said in response. Together we laughed at our poor language skills and mimed most of what we were trying to say to the entertainment of those around us. According to researchers, over half of communication is body language anyways.

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I found the French people incredibly welcoming and the setting awe-inspiring. Buildings here are magnificently built, and one becomes very aware how small we are in comparison to the whole universe.

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Shakespeare and Company was my favorite spot, a book store filled with the comforting smell of written works, old and new. People from all over come to this gem to soak knowledge in whilst curling up in little nooks where walls are covered by notes from fellow lover’s of books. You can leave your own words on the walls by using the little type writer at the top of the stairs located in a small hole in the wall that reminded me of childhood days when “I would set-up office” under my dad’s desk and imagine I was working too.

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I found myself drawn to the churches in Paris, my Catholic roots still tugging at my soul. The Catholic church says baptism and confirmation leave indelible marks, perhaps they are right. I sat through a mass at St. Ambroise Church and felt an ache in my chest. Deep inside resides a longing for the community I once felt being Catholic, but beside that lies an even deeper disgust and anger at how religions can be used to rage wars and control people. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and with it most often comes corruption and lies. Religions contribute to society in many ways, especially in their charity to homeless, but their power scares me. I find the most peace in trying to formulate my own opinions from a variety of sources and to always be open to change. I fear stagnant black and white answers because life, in my experience, is more about the uncomfortable gray. Life undefined means we are all responsible to seek our own truth, and that can be a lonely, uncertain path at times, but I find comfort in knowing it is my path.

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While at the Paris Seen by Hollywood exhibit, there was a magazine opened to a page that was an advert for a movie filmed in Paris. What caught my eye, however, was unrelated to the exhibit. On the other page of the 1921 magazine, was an advert for Palmolive titled, “Would Your Husband Marry You Again?” I began reading out of curiosity and was mortified by the very obvious misogynistic undertones, “Fortunate is the woman who can answer ‘Yes.’ But many a woman, if she is honest with herself, is forced to be in doubt- after that she pays stricter attention to her personal attractions.” It blatantly is saying that to hold on to a man, a woman must have this product, instilling in her an idea she is not worth keeping around unless she stays beautiful by his standards. How nauseating, but even more so when I realized that post-feminist movement women are still allowing these types of media to drive how they interact with men. The anti-female sentiments are still there, just less obvious. I feel lucky to have the opportunities I do as an educated American woman, to be traveling around the world by myself as I am. In 1921, I probably would not have had this opportunity. That being said, we have a long way to go before we reach any kind of equal state. Patriarchy is still happening and keeping women from reaching their full potential, the difference is women in America can do something about it in the twenty-first century by speaking out against the misogyny that still is rampant in society, by working towards a world that respects, not men, women, or race, but human beings.

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Voting was an adventure. My missing ballot was the cause of great panic amongst, not only myself, but several French people I conversed with, but it led to a nice visit to the American Embassy in Paris where they were kind enough to fax my vote for me. It was nice to be greeted the morning after the election with “Hooray Obama!” emails from several of my European friends as I left for the Netherlands. I was a bit ashamed though to realize just how much more up-to-date Europeans are on world politics than most people I know in the USA.

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In my teen years, I found myself walking my dog through the local cemetery and reading under its trees. I enjoyed wandering the pathways and looking at the gravestones, imagining the stories of those buried below. I wondered how they died and if they were still loved, missed or forgotten. I would pick flowers and place them on lonely sites. I remember one in particular because below the stone was a baby whose birthday was the same as mine. I stopped at this one frequently. She reminded me of my own mortality, that it was just luck that I was above the ground and she was below. At Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I saw lovers holding each other tight on benches, admiring the fall colors of the trees shading dead bodies; a lonely widow hobbling up and down steps with flowers and a bucket of water; families clearing away broken glass; others gathering with tears and laughter in courtyards to wave goodbye to loved ones, a procession of black; and confused tourists holding maps and cameras up in front of their faces while stumbling about seeing everything and nothing at the same time: “Honey, according to this map Van Morrison should be right here.” “Do you know where Oscar Wilde is? I can’t seem to find him.” “Hey everyone, it’s the Adams Family! You be Cousin It; I’ll be….” I found the contrast between the living and dying rather lovely to observe.

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Versailles was incredibly large. The grand halls of the palace, surrounding gardens, pools, farm houses, and estates would take a week to properly wander through. I focused on the retreat of Marie-Antoinette with its quaint little living spaces and cream/lavender tower overlooking a pond of Koi fish. I found the trellises guiding visitors along pathways to be enticing and was one of the last to leave as the sun went down.

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Mont-St. Michel Abbey was my introduction to the French coast. A mirage in the distance, a great spire reaching towards the heavens, it barely looked real, and one doesn’t truly believe it is until you are walking amongst its spiralling walls lined with cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This paradise, an island surrounded by water at high tide and a death trap of quick sand at low tide, has been a great fortress, prison, and sanctuary over the years. A village with an abbey at the center. If I were god, I would want to reside in this heaven of fairy tale dreams.

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Catching up with a fellow couch-surfer and now very dear friend in her own city was the best gift of my travels to France. At the beginning of the year, we met and found ourselves on similar paths and have grown together as travel companions, adventurers, and seekers. The conversations were inspiring and paired with lovely settings, delectable delights, the occasional cigarette with wine, dance workouts, watching movies, meeting her lovely friends, trying not to chop off fingers while making squash soup, giggle fits and other silly antics, and most certainly chocolate!

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