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Saturday, September 17, 2011


I am inspired to write. Something about travel from place to place, just sets my creative fire alight. I am filled with images; people typing on laptops on the floor in the airport, teenagers with their backs turned to their families – enduring vacation with parents they can’t stand, babies sleeping in their mothers arms until they get on the flight; everyone just waiting to get to where they are going. I love the energy of the airport.

I can’t wait for my next adventure. Seattle for two days… the Pacific Northwest welcoming me back for the second time in less than a year. What a thrill! My travel inspiration colors the words I write – my fingers are barely able to contain the energy pulsing through me with anticipation of an upcoming trip. From start to finish, traveling somewhere (yes, even my trip to North Dakota this past spring), provides me with an adrenaline incomparable to anything else in my current existence. I want to go – be on the move, brush shoulders with the world in my fervor to get somewhere different or unfamiliar.

How excited am I to just go…

Wellness, for me is about these things. Travel and writing and embracing my desire for motion and change; my balance is restored with the dream of flying somewhere. I prioritize my daily life better when I have a goal. I enjoy my conversations with the people in my life. I smile more and treasure the moments for what they are. My mind stops whirring and I focus on the details. How I pack my suitcase is more reflective of my heart than how I organize my dresser drawers ;) Something that irritates Heather, I am sure. I don’t just want to go though. I want to go and come back. Ahhh, heaven…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Moving on...

Well, after seven years, I am leaving the school. I have loved my time teaching massage therapy and learning about health and healing. But for the last few years, I have found a longing to be more out in the world. Obviously a trip to Thailand helped to scratch that itch for me - yet I found myself left wanting upon my return. So, Heather and I decided to move to the Pacific Northwest - Oregon to be specific. We both want to keep growing, and have educational and career opportunities to pursue out there.

So - decisions were made, friends and family were told, and we have been working on the house to put it on the market again in the spring. She graduates in May, and the plan was to take off as soon as she secured a job as a nurse. However, sometimes the universe intervenes...

In addition to massage therapy, I have been teaching aromatherapy and herbalism classes. These are two out of three "passions" I have in the arena of health. I could talk about these subjects at length without tiring of the topic. Before I went to massage therapy school, I took classes and workshops and read books about aromatherapy - it led me to massage, in a way. So, finding a job (and one that pays well) teaching aromatherapy was never something I thought I would have.

But I stumbled across a job opening with a natural product company based here in Iowa. Basically, I get to travel all over the U.S., teaching consumers and store managers and any interested parties about aromatherapy. I have used and loved this company's products and essential oils for years and I have loved the company from afar (a very reputable company that is known to be good to and for the planet and to and for their employees), and now I get to work there. Traveling, teaching, smelling essential oils... could a dream become reality? I think so. I am heading to Seattle at the beginning of October, and then Florida at the end of October. To say I am excited is the understatement of the year.

I am sad to leave the school. It has become my home and my coworkers have become my family. But, I must grow and move and keep changing in order to truly be me. I feel blessed for the time I have had there, but I leave knowing that growth is happening for the school too, and it's a great feeling. Life is truly good.

So for now, the move to the Northwest is postponed. I am just keeping my heart and mind and eyes open for all of the potential and possibilities out there for me. And I am moving on...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heather and the Jump Squats

Today was health and wellness day for me.  Trying to recover from massive jet-lag is no easy feat... exercise, water and good nutrition have been the things I have been doing in the absence of consistent sleep.   I have been getting some workouts in this week - Heather invested in a Supreme 90 day workout while I was in Thailand - and we have been getting up early to work out like mad.  Sweating in the living room at 5 a.m. is not my idea of fun, but I was inspired by Heather's progress in a short period of time.  Needless to say, she looks good.  No - she looks amazing.

So this morning I woke up around 7 and got my butt moving.  I was flying solo, because Heather was in clinic.  She warned me that today's workout was going to be hard, and she was not messing around.  The Tabata Inferno - ugh.  5 minutes in and I was ready to throw up and/or quit.  Mountain climbers, bicycle crunches, squats, jump lunges, and on and on.  10 minutes in and I was ready to shoot Tom - the trainer.  I was watching people with 0% body fat do what I was attempting to do, but they were smiling and I was crying.  Their bodies remained in place during the torrent of activity, while mine was shaking like a bowl of jelly.

After the workout (I finished it in a fit of exhaustion and with sweat raining down - I did skip the last interval with an "F*** you Tom - I am skipping to the cool down"), I decided to take care of my skin.  Dry skin brushing and then a hot bath for my screaming muscles; homemade facial with scrub and mask; and then my homemade body wrap.  I wrapped myself in clay and cellophane and snuggled into a sheet and sleeping bag with my Thermophore on top for heat. By the end of all that, I was ready for a nap.  I was the consistency of a limp noodle.  My muscles were beyond pain - they were just worked completely out.

Heather got home after clinic and said (rather smugly), "Are you ready to throw-up?"  Ha.  I just laughed, because I finished my workout earlier.  "No way," I replied, "I already did it."  So off to the living room she went to get sweaty, and off I went to watch and gloat.  I sat and heckled her while she was working out - I wanted her to laugh, because she was so tired from her day.  I found a renewed energy while she was doing the moves, and I joined her for a few.  She is much better at them than I am (she is a natural athlete, and alas, I am nothing close to an athlete), and she looks much closer to the people on the screen than I do.  It is inspiring, and gives me something to shoot for.  She can jump-squat like a champion - and someday I will too.  :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Everyday adventures at home...

Food is important.  At least that's what the slogan was at the Lincoln Cafe - where we ate dinner last night.  Those three words provided the inspiration for this blog.  I was worried that all of my creative energy was left behind in Thailand - but, alas, here I am writing again.  I had an adventure right here in good ole' Iowa.  Not that I wasn't expecting to  - like I mentioned before, I am seeing the world with new eyes - I see so much beauty now in the life that exists around me.  Despite my lingering jet-lag, I was ready to spend time with friends and loved ones.

Dinner was a small reception for a small wedding.  Amanda and Robert - my sister in law and brother in law, got re-married on their original anniversary.  I was the officiant (yes, I perform wedding ceremonies).  It was a special evening despite the drizzle and the tears of their youngest - Simon, who had a nasty fall while running around.  The setting was the same as their first time around - Palisades State Park (a local hiking favorite for Heather and me).  Love was in the air and we all celebrated with a toast in the parking lot.  It was an amazing thing to be part of.  Although I wasn't at their first wedding (and neither were their children), we could feel the reminiscent vibes from that first day they were joined together.

And off we went to feast at the Lincoln Cafe.  It is a local restaurant that has gained national recognition due to the wonderful flavor combinations, organic/local food, and eclectic atmosphere.  Every time I eat there, I rejoice in the number of flip flops my mouth can do in a short period of time.  It is outstanding cuisine each and every time, and last night was no exception.

I stuck with the Veggie Sandwich and homemade fries (even though I haven't been eating fried foods, sugar or white flour since Thailand).  Heather had the Avocado BLT.  Mmmmm... My mouth is watering right now.  The rest of the group went for more substance  - prawns (with their heads on - yuck) steak, salmon.  Each dish smelled better than the last.  I can't believe I am going to admit this, but I even tried the smallest of bites of steak.  I haven't tasted meat in over 4 years, but I wanted a bite.  And I didn't really like it.  I am a vegetarian for sure.  Heather laughed at my face and the fact that I can't hang with the steak anymore.

Dessert was like an herbal-y, fruity experience.  Lavender ice cream with almond-cherry bread pudding.  Chocolate waffle with basil ice cream and bananas.  Grilled lemon pound cake with local strawberries and creme fraise. Whoa.  Sugar ban - right out the door.  Oh well.  It was well worth it - as was the laughter, love and friendship.  It made me realize that fun stuff happens every day if you look for it and embrace it.  We headed home, full and happy and I slept easier than  I had in days.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Heading Home - The Post Script

I have a mere 30 minutes left now until I board. I decided to take the last of my travel money and spend it in the airport spa - certainly time and money well spent, and much better than sitting and crying in an airport. Just like before, I went through the Finnish Sauna, Herbal Sauna, Steam Room and Mineral Pool. I got to shower, wash my face, wash my hair - I even threw away my pants (they were too big and were just gross anyway). I then got a body scrub from Nadia - my favorite Finn so far. She gave me my massage here - nearly a month ago - and I was glad to see her again. The scrub worked wonders on my adventure scars ;), and then she rubbed mint oil into my skin that is so powerful, I can still taste the mint on my tongue. It was just what I needed.

I drank lots of water and grapefruit juice to rehydrate after the rum and flight. I feel clear headed and just like my new self.

I am not sad anymore. I realized that I was alone for the first time (really alone) in a month. I am somewhere completely foreign, where (other than Nadia) no one knows me. I am fine with that. I am actually enjoying it right now. I think I was feeling like there were things un-done or un-decided in Thailand. I realized during all of the soaking and sweating, that the answers I have been seeking are here with me right now. They only exist inside of myself - not in some far away place. I don't need to go anywhere to find them, I just need to be silent and listen. It took me traveling thousands of miles to end up here - alone - and I have exactly what I am looking for :) And that makes me very happy.

In the fogginess that was my sadness this morning, I forgot to say the following:

I am very blessed to have had this experience. Some people live their entire lives and never get to do something like what I just did. I couldn't have done that without support, faith and love from home. Thank you - loved ones - for keeping it all going while I am gone. Especially you, Heather. I have gratitude for all that I have done and seen - even the painful stuff. I cannot wait to begin my next adventure - but in saying that I know that my adventure is living my life with new realizations and a new perspective.

I started this blog back in January on a quest for balance and health. I feel like I have found it in so many ways on this journey. I can't live a life without laughter, treating myself kindly (aka spa treatments, good food, and exercise), being around people I like and love, taking breaks, dancing, exploring, being creative, and sometimes just sitting in silence in a place where no one knows me. I have lived without these things for far too long, and now it is time to take what I know and apply it to my everyday life. I am ready - really ready to come home.

P.S. That doesn't mean I don't want to travel off somewhere soon. Who wants to come with me? ;)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Heading Home

Just waiting to go....

And so I sit here - alone in Helsinki.  The group has all split and gone their separate ways - Ellen days before us should be home now,  Malinda and Tara   are flying to London to connect to their flight home to Chicago (and nearly missed their flight due to a major delay taking off from Bangkok and fog on the ground here in Finland), and Cory and Ally are off to Manchester to connect to their flight home.  I am the last one here and it is so quiet (not just because I was sitting next to Cory on the flight from Bangkok - ha ha).  The airport is quiet - still.  I didn't know quite what to expect for a Sunday morning in Finland.

I am thinking over the last 30ish hours.  We left Cha Am (thank you Jesus - I don't think I will ever go there again), and had a very bumpy bus ride to Bangkok.  So bumpy that I hit my head on the roof of the van several times and nearly peed my pants because I had to go so badly and the ride was so bumpy.  Just as I was at the point of pulling out a plastic bag to go in, we stopped to get gas (it took nearly an hour - what's up with that?)  and I had a much needed break.  I think that may have been the point that I started to get really sad.  I didn't want to leave Thailand.  I have not done everything I wanted to do, and am just starting to get it all figured out.  As much as I love everyone back home, I want more time.

Getting to the airport was surprisingly easy - we caught the rail and made one change, which took us right to the airport.  So - we had some five hours to kill before we could even check in with the airline.  I wandered the airport - listening to music and watching people.  Such a diverse place - full of travelers from absolutely everywhere.  Ally and Malinda got the attention of Iranian travelers with their card games while we waited.  Cory got laughter from a Thai woman because his name means something dirty (that's what he told me - and his sources may have been sketchy on that one).  Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, yet time was just ticking away.

I cried in line getting my ticket.  I cried after we passed through security.  Cory suggested that we have some drinks - so we got some cheap Thai rum (duty free) and cokes and sat and drank.  And drank some more - two bottles - not the big ones, but two nonetheless.  We drank until my tears were tears of laughter, and had one of those conversations that will stay with me for a long time. We were a bit obnoxious on the plane - laughing while people were trying to sleep.  Cory pissed off the woman in front of us - the same woman who refused to switch seats so we could sit together - and was rewarded with the nastiest look ever.  Never one to stand down, he retaliated throughout the flight by getting up frequently and making sure to grab the back of her seat each time he did so (I would have been pissed off too, if I were her).  But, it was sheer entertainment for me.   I was trying to hang on to the laughter for as long as I could before it all came to an end.

We all barely had time to say our goodbyes before we split off.  I said a prayer for all of them and for myself that we arrive home safely and changed for the better.

And here it is right now - four and a half hours to go until I board.  Not a long time, but enough for some reflection.  Still tearful as I write this, I am in dire need of a nap and a shower.  I have been in the same clothes since leaving Cha Am (it seems like a lifetime ago).  I am sure I am a little jet lagged and hungover as well, but that is ok.  Yesterday - or some day that isn't right now - I heard that Brad Pitt said once that he likes to embrace the messiness of life.  That is what I am doing and have been doing this past month.  I have been through the ringer of emotions, been scared, lonely, stuck, withdrawn, sick, loud, and very messy.  But I have known such joy.  Such laughter.  Such life.  

That is what I hoped to get from all this, and I am not the least bit disappointed.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cha-Am AKA Jellyfish beach

If you were picturing me on a tropical beach paradise, you might need to re-set your mental camera.  This is not the lush, tropical Thailand of the Hangover II.  We are in Cha-Am, which was touted as the largest stretch of white sand in Thailand.  It was also described as a family vacation spot - great for tourists. So far, it is neither of those things.

The beach is more brown than white - the water more brown than blue or green.  All along the beach are jellyfish remains - apparently it is jellyfish season here and none of the locals are swimming.  My bathing suit and sarong aren't getting the workout I thought they would. :(  

As far as family fun - I would say not.  Unless your family likes to spend a lot of time with prostitutes, and then I would say, "This is the place for you!"  They sit along the road in these small bars and call out to all of the passersby to get some attention.  It is annoying at this point - I crave seeing normal (relatively) people or the travelers I met in Chiang Mai.  It is much more expensive here - you pay for staying on the beach - as you do everywhere, but it doesn't seem to quite be worth it.

But, I don't want to complain.  As I write this, I am sitting here on the beach - just watching the tide roll in and out.  It makes me wax poetic a bit.  I am rethinking everything that has happened on this journey - 85% of which I haven't really written about.  I can talk about how I have changed and what I have learned, but I can't really convey the feelings and emotions of all of this. I can talk about how I need to make a change in my life back home - but I think if you have been closely paying attention to what I am writing, you can see that.

Much will be changing when I return.  It is time.  For too long I have made concessions and stifled parts of myself for fear of hurting others.  In the process I have hurt myself the most.  In every arena, I am preparing for growth.  I feel like back when I was just in Chiang Mai and my soul was getting too big for my body.  I have stretched just enough that what fit me before this trip at home no longer fits.  Time, space and distance have all shown me that my value is much greater than I even believed it to be.

We operate out of fear much of the time.  At least I do - fear of the thoughts and opinions of others if I am my true self.  Fear of my actual true self.  I have let go of some of that fear here.   As an assignment for one of my classes while I was here, I had to write my bucket list and eulogy.  What a powerful way to reinforce that I can't be afraid anymore in order to have the life I deserve.

For all that I have learned here I need to send out some thanks - I thank my travel companions - Ally, Cory, Ellen, Malinda and Tara for teaching me many things about life and travel.  I thank especially Cory for helping me find a part of myself that was lost for a bit.

I leave this place in two days, and I am ready to come home.  I want to re-group before heading back out into the world.  And I will do that for sure.

"Next time I ll be braver - I'll be my own savior when the thunder calls for me.
Next time, I'll be braver - I'll be my own savior standing on my own two feet." - Adele

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bus Ride to Bangkok

You haven't really traveled until you have ridden in the top of a 1980's turquoise green, smelling like old people and farts, bus.   The very back seat in the very back row - even better. To say the very least the ride was quite bumpy.  Imagine riding down the road in a giant tin can being tossed around constantly like clothes during the spin cycle.  Loud groans and grinding noises from the belly of the bus didn't put anyone at ease.

I can't even really begin to describe the smell on this ride.  Urine, sweat, sweaty urine - you name it.  It was so unfresh - air, stale from years of stressed out travelers hanging on for dear life in this monstrosity.  It reminded me of the movie the Darjeeling Limited.  Cory, Tara and I sat in the very back and laughed (what the bus didn't jiggle the rest out of) our asses off.

We were lumbering down the highway at a snail's pace, when Cory pointed out to me all the busses traveling by that were nicer than ours.  He was pissed!  He mentioned that this was part of God's plan - some divine comedy to use to amuse himself whilst ignoring the plite of his people.  "But", he rationales, "We are good people - something good is going to come out of this ride."  And then he went on and on about the rain and no wipers.  And how hot it was.  And how absolutely five-star it was.  He actually shouted out at one point, "Does thing have hydraulics on it?"  I don't think the other passengers were amused.  I am sure no one quite got the trip they were expecting.

For whatever reason, people seemed to fall right asleep.  Of course, I didn't have a fancy reclining seat (next time, I will ask for the upgrade).  But I DID have a broken and disgusting cup holder that didn't even work at my seat.  Jealous?  Tara quickly adapted to the stench of the ride by putting her jacket over her nose and mouth - Cory pulled his shirt up, and I sat here typing away, just getting used to the smell.  I mean, I probably had about 15 hours ahead of me on this thing.  Down the road this behemoth jerked and lurched from side to side.  It was nerve shattering.

We all fell into some greatly disturbed slumber.  No one position even remotely comfortable for five minutes.  None of our seats reclined (not just mine), and we were missing parts of the "reclining" portion - it was painful at times.  At around 1:30 in the morning, we made a stop and the grumbling really began.  Cory - nonstop in his relentless complaints about the bus could not stop talking about the horrors of the ride.  He had to keep listing off what was wrong with everything.  It was hilarious, both because it was true and because there was nothing we could do about it - we were captive for the duration.  Even sharing some beer didn't really help.

Somewhere between complaining and arriving in Bangkok - we found some sleep.  Early morning in Bangkok is quite fascinating.  The city seems less hectic, but still busy.  Traffic is amazing - traveling at what seems like break neck pace - cars and scooters alike.  Could be though that I was rolling around in the air at the same level as a semi driver, looking down at all the cars buzzing by much faster than we were.  We arrived at out destination around 6:00 a.m. (thank goodness it didn't take 15 hours).  And were quickly herded into Taxi's to get to our next stop - the minivan to Cha Am (the beach).  It was a fast process that still causes my head to reel, but we are here in Cha Am now, just recovering from the ride.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chiang Mai - The bitter and sweet


I was lost.  I thought I knew where I was going - I was headed towards an aromatherapy shop that I found off of one of the canal streets of the old city.  I wandered for over an hour, before realizing that I was heading in the wrong direction.  I pride myself on my sense of direction, so you can imagine what was going on in my head.

I tried to catch a red taxi (the best) - out of the several I tried to flag down, one stopped and then drove away shaking his head because he didn't know the place I was looking for.  I was frustrated and sweaty, and starting to get really peeved.  I stopped for a while on one of the bridges, and took a picture of the brown river below (it was still beautiful).  The sun was bright and there was a light breeze that lifted some of the sweat off of my face.  So, I just kept walking.

Finally, I found a driver that stopped and took me close to what I was looking for.  When I got to the shop, I found it closed and that pushed me over the edge.  I started to think about everything I didn't like about this place.  The previously mentioned air pollution, the old white men with young Thai women (everywhere), the puddle of fish guts I accidentally stepped in, the stink of feces mixed in with food, no car seats or seat belt usage, kids/toddlers/babies on scooters (no helmets)... and on and on.  I was hating this place at that time.  I was stomping around on blistered feet feeling bitter and angry.  It didn't help that I was sweating for the millionth time.

I put my headphones on as a distraction, and flagged down another cab.  I think the driver could tell how irritated I was, and didn't argue with me when I asked for a ride for 60 baht.  He just nodded his head and took me to where I was going.  I noticed he kept watching me in the mirror - I was just listening to David Gray and tried to get cool.  After a bit, he asked me where I was from and we struck up a conversation.  He was easily the nicest driver I have yet had.  He asked me if I missed home (and I do now a bit), and told me it would get better.  That was all I needed to turn my day back to where it should be.

When I got back to the guesthouse, I gave him 100 baht and told him to keep the change.  I was just happy to be back, where Cory was waiting to take me to the monastery on the hill (of which I will blog about later).  The day was turning right around for me.

I was able to get back to thinking about the good stuff that I like and will miss about Chiang Mai.  The ride to school - first stop at McDonald's for breakfast (English muffin for me and juice with B-Vitamins and some sort of sausage thingy for Cory), then drive down the back alley to Ratchamasomething road.  Cross by the women's market and over the bridge.  Turn left when you see the sign with the Thai Justin Bieber look alikes - down the narrow road past the British pub and turn right onto the road that takes us to school.  I have the sequence down in my memory.  I will (and already do) miss my teacher, Mint and going to class.  I will miss the daily stretching and bending and even the sweating.  I will miss the countless fresh fruit stands by the side of the roads, the lovely Thai women in their super high heels, the vans that drive around and promote who knows what on loud speakers.  I will miss the bike - driving and riding.  Mostly riding though, because of my expert chauffer.  I wll miss my beloved Japanese Sauna, where they know me by name now too.

This city has much love for me and from me.  I can't beleive that today is my last day here before I head off to the South for some beach time.  After all this hard work I have been doing, I know it is time for some rest in the sun.  And more fun...

Sent from my iPad

Queen of the Jungle - Part II

After not quite a bit of a rest, the next part of our adventure was white water rafting. Since I had never done that before, I was super excited. Despite my throbbing legs, I knew it would be the time of my life. We were given instructions by our captain - I can't remember his name, but he was hilarious. Five women in a raft and he kept calling us guys. "More power, guys! Go forward, guys! More to the left, guys!" He sounded like some strange combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Principal Figgins from Glee.

We were heading down the gentle rapids quite easily, navigating the waters with relative expertise - only two of us hadn't done it before, and we quickly caught on. The rhythm of the strokes in the water, the shifting of body weight, the stop and grab on to the rope - all done well. Until we hit the bigger rapids. We got to an area that was full of large rocks and white water (finally). It was a rush. We hit some big water and got quite soaked several times. And then our companion from Germany - Silke - was tossed aside like a leaf to the wind. She just floated up and out of the raft and into the water. The guide and the other rafters were screaming at her - "Feet first! Feet first!" She kept her head above water and stayed right with the raft until we were able to pull her in. Scary stuff! And I hate to admit, I was glad it wasn't me for once.

So, down the river we went until we got to more rocks. A little gun shy this time, we were more cautious in the navigation. We ended up veering far to the right and getting stuck on the rocks. We sat there jumping up and down in the raft at the commands of the captain. It seemed like we were doing that forever. At the point that other rafters were sailing by (laughing), we finally dislodged our raft, and continued on down the river.

Awaiting us in much calmer waters, were bamboo rafts. We had to carefully get out of the raft and step on to wet and slimy bamboo. You guessed it, I fell again, and bruised my shin (I lost count of the number at this point). Since it was a minor fall and all that was left for us was floating in the water, I was able to just cruise. Such a peaceful experience... we were weightless on the raft and it looked like we were actually on the water. It was a nice way to end the adventure stuff for the day.

After reaching our destination, we were able to get out and clean up (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha) in another muddy shack. We got back into the truck and headed up toward one of the Hill Tribe villages (one of the many villages with indigenous people). We bought bracelets and smiled at the children, and thanked our lucky stars that we were able to go on adventures and spend money and see the world for what it is - a beautiful and dangerous place full of all different people. At least I did...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Queen of the Jungle

As I was squatting over a floor toilet in a muddy shack in the middle of the jungle, I pondered to myself - hot and sweaty, covered in mud and dirt and bruised from the knee down on both legs - how in the world did I get here?  What a random moment.  Here I was in a jungle in Thailand, in this state.  I had to laugh at my own expense.  I am not known for being graceful, so I know that this story will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me well.

The day started as an eco-adventure.  Heading north out of Chiang Mai on a truck with a group of people from Canada and Germany, and Tara and myself from the U.S.  We had signed up for a one day trek that included many adventure-type activities.  We made our first stop at an Orchid farm with a butterfly sanctuary.  It was incredibly peaceful and serene.  The butterflies weren't really out though... but the orchids were stunning.  Rows and rows of hanging orchids in nearly every color of the rainbow, and lots of other lush, tropical plants.  And the smells were divine.  It was a short stop - but definitely worthwhile.

Next, we headed toward an elephant park.  We got to ride on elephants for about an hour up and down hills around the base of the mountains.  They were such gentle creatures - I named mine Gertrude ;)  Gertrude took Tara and I on a ride that was so much smoother than the truck that was jostling us around the hills in the park.  She loved the bananas that we bought and kept bringing her trunk up to us to meet the bananas that she knew would be waiting for her.  She stopped whenever her guide stopped, and delivered us safely to our destination.  I took her picture and will post that when I can...

After we dismounted (is that the proper term for getting off an elephant?), we hiked along a steep embankment by the river, where we had a large iron cage waiting to pulley us over the river.  I think it was designed to make us feel like monkeys at the zoo (ha).  It was a trip!  Soaring over the river in an iron cage - not something I do every day.  On the other side, our tour guide Tik Tok, was waiting with water and a ride to the edge of the jungle.

We were fed a lunch of Pad Thai wrapped in banana leaves, fresh watermelon, and fresh pineapple.  Tik Tok kept saying it was "five star meal".  I had to agree.  I didn't even know I was that hungry, but I ate with relish.  Maybe it was the fresh air (finally) and being out in nature.  It was perfect timing though, because we had a hike awaiting us.

I use the word hike very loosely here.  I described it more as adventure hiking - not for the faint hearted.  We hiked up sharp rocks, steep inclines, edging our way on narrow paths with drop offs right next to us.  We navigated over pipes (picture me walking slowly, one foot in front of the other, arms out in the air to maintain my balance).  We inched over bamboo poles and makeshift ladders with either rushing water, large rocks or gorges open like mouths waiting to swallow us below.  45ish minutes hiking up to a waterfall (after minute 35, I didn't care anymore - I thought we were never going to get there).  I was so focused on watching my footing and marveling at my newfound agility (thank you two weeks of Thai massage), that I didn't even realize we arrived until I looked up.  It took the breath that I had remaining in my body completely away.

It was a quiet yet powerful waterfall.  Just right there in the midst of all of the raw beauty of nature.  It was an oasis just waiting to cool down our bodies (drenched in sweat and jungle grime).  It took me a quick couple of moments to change, and then I was in the water.  So cold and so refreshing at the same time.  I had to be careful with the sharp rocks in the water, because I couldn't see what was below me.  I did slip a bit (bruise #17 at this point on my right shin - which is now a lump), but I could have cared less.  I stood right underneath the waterfall and felt all the force of the water rush over me.  There was no other way to be at that point in time but in the moment.  It will stay with me forever.

After swimming around a bit - we got out and dried off as best we could, and then it was the hike back down the same treacherous paths.  Some of the group groaned - they thought we would have some sort of ride back down or something.  I didn't really care.  I was enjoying the screaming of my legs and glutes.  I was a bit cocky too - I had literally danced over some of the bamboo poles and pipes in my elation, and was deep in thought on the trail when my foot gave away quickly, and I found myself dropping down the side of the cliff.  (Yes this really happened).  It was one of those slow motion things - I remember falling, and I remember reaching out to grab onto something (It was a bamboo pole next to the side of the path), and I just stopped - suspended in the air, knocking against the side of the rocks like a loose door knocker in the wind.  I tasted dirt, and could feel it in my eyes.  I knew something was below me, but didn't know how far.  So I just went for it.  I dropped and my feet hit the path below.  I was lucky I didn't roll... 

The group was rather shaken - as was I, but I wanted to reassure them that I was ok.  I really was ok, so I laughed it off and began the hike down again.  I tore my pants, scraped and twisted my knee (the same one with the torn MCL two years ago, ugh), bruised my shins (bruises 18 - 39), bruised my arms, and pulled something in my shoulder.  But, I live to tell about it :)  All in all, I am doing ok.  And I was able to continue on the rest of the adventure - which I will continue in my next post.  Good thing I have had much practice falling in my life.  And truly, good thing I did have the agility that I have and the reflexes and instincts to grab on to that pole.

So, that's what I was thinking about as I sat in this tiny bamboo hut in the middle of nowhere, Thailand - hovering over a toilet, covered in dirt and bacteria and all that good stuff :)  Keep reading to find out part 2 of my adventure ;)  Oh, and if you like my blog, please click "follow" - it helps me get more exposure, and I know who you are.  

:)  Charlynn

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Observations about Chiang Mai

After class Thursday, the girls and I went for manicure/pedicure combos.  I spent about $13 U.S. dollars for French nails.  Ooh la la.  They are lovely - my nails have been growing like crazy in this heat, and Thai massage isn't something I really need short nails for, so I went for it.  I am loving the treatments here.  Sitting in a nail salon with a group of ladies getting pretty is just the kind of thing that makes a person appreciate being a girl.

The culture of this place is a strange dichotomy of appearance focused young Thai people and hippie westerners wandering around, burned to a crisp, sweating and makeup free.  You can get anything and everything done here - Botox, Microdermabrasion, Skin Whitening, Cosmetic Dentistry, etc.  can be found in every mall.  Plastic surgery (very cheap here to westerners), is all over the place.  Spas, med-spas, slimming shops, waxing, nails, hair extensions, you name it... are in shops that line the canal streets of the Old City.  It is insane.  It is sad.  I will stick to my detox treatments and massage. Health - yes.  Nose job?  Heck no.  At some point, we all have to let go of the  superficial nonsense that is taking over this world. (Says the woman who just wrote above that she got a manicure/pedicure - ha ha).

How crazy is it to be in a city this old and with this much history and see non-stop billboards advertising an insurmountable physical ideal?  It makes my heart cry. As does the air pollution. I have two words for you Thailand - emissions testing... seriously! My eyes, nose and throat hurt if I am in traffic for too long. I am not in any way hating on this place that I have grown to love so much - I am merely finding interesting revelations in the day to day.

That being said, I wanted to try some authentic Thai cuisine to re-set my need for authenticity.  My digestion is back on track, so I had a craving for some good stuff.  Pad Thai is everywhere here, but I had yet to try it because I was making sure I didn't get sick again.  So, the girls took me to their favorite restaurant for Pad Thai, and I must say, I was not disappointed in any way. The flavors were at the same time simple and complex. It was the perfect vegetarian dish (they even made it without eggs as I requested) - flavorful and nutritious. My mouth was so happy and my tummy was even happier. It exceeded all of my expectations and made me want to order another dish. I will defintely be eating at that restaurant again soon...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Locusts and such

Every day in class, we learn with the large windows wide open.  We can hear the birds and insects and the incessant barking dogs (it sounds like wrestle mania for dogs on a daily basis).  And inevitably, the locusts fly into the room.  They fly all around and then settle on the ledge at the bottom of the window - flipped upside down with their legs flailing in the air - wings buzzing erratically.  I can imagine that they lie there looking out at the world, just wanting to flip over and go.  Much like the locusts, for too long I have been on my back looking at the world just wanting to go.  I have finally flipped over.

I managed to just introduce myself to a stranger completely on my own.  Her name is Nicole and she is in the room next to ours.  She is a yoga teacher from Australia, and is here studying Thai massage.  She has been here for three months already and is about to head home to her little island resort where she teaches.  I was hungry for some new companionship, so I just decided to knock on her door and introduce myself.  I guess I was lonely for home and wanted to chat with someone completely on their own - to find out how to deal with the solitude.  She and I walked down to one of the many local (tiny) restaurants where the Pad Thai is outstanding.  We had a couple of beers and chatted about her life in Australia and mine in the U.S.  We are the same age, and have sisters the same age and had so much in common.  I loved listening to her lilting accent and the way she phrased her words.  She was excellent company and spoke wonderful Thai.  She gave me lots of tips about Chiang Mai and encouraged me to travel solo (her favorite way to go).  At the end of the evening, we hugged goodbye and I thanked her for sharing some time with me.  I will probably never see her again, but I relished her company and her experience out in the world.

There is much that I have learned about myself here. There is much that I am still learning.  I have had my patience and sense of independence tested.  I have lost parts of myself and found parts of myself.  I have let go of a lot - but the more I let go, the further I go back into the past.  It's like peeling away layers of an onion.  I have discovered hidden parts of me, that have been deep inside for a long, long time.

This process of being out in the world is difficult.  It tests the very limits of my self.  I tear myself down and build myself back up again and again, each time becoming stronger and more self aware.  Like my body changing with the massage, my soul has changed - become more flexible and less rigid.  It is becoming comfortable with the unfamiliar, at home with the unknown..

Lunch today was at a vegetarian Thai restaurant.  The whole class went, and enjoyed the buffet.  I tasted flavors I have never tasted before (butterfly tea made from a flower that changes color when you add syrup to it - blue to purple - so beautiful).  We opened up to each other and Mint (our teacher) joked with us and teased us.  We are her most fun and laziest class so far - in the afternoons it is so hot, it is impossible to concentrate and work.  It was a wonderful break from the day's work.  The area we ate in was uber trendy.  It reminded me of Portland in some of the areas where the hipsters hang out.  Lots of wine bars, Tapas restaurants, Bistros, and a restaurant devoted just to Salad.  I asked Mint how much it cost to live in the area - "A loft condo in this area is very expensive.  10,000 - 12,000 Baht a month", she said.  That's roughly $330 - $390 U.S. dollars.  Are you kidding?  I guess it's all relative.  I was impressed and will revisit the area tomorrow for an iced coffee and a manicure/pedicure combo that will cost me about $8.00.  Not too shabby.

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Back on the bike :)

I found my groove in class today. Maybe it was the Japanese Sauna from yesterday... I felt like it drained away the last of my sickness. I don't mean sickness just from the travel and food and electrolyte imbalance. In a way, those were (in my mind) the remnants of the stress and anger and exhaustion and lack of time for myself that have built up over time. Every part of me is in healing mode right now and I am so letting go of all the b.s. Getting sick was the first stage of my detoxification process.

Anyway - back in class, I found a flow with the work that was previously just steps. I feel like it is becoming my own again - which is reassuring and more to my liking. We have learned everything we are going to learn, and over the next few days will be putting it all together over and over again. I like that - I like getting out of my head and into my body and just flowing with the work. That is the part of massage therapy that I am used to and feel at home with.

After class I again went back to the sauna. This time I tried a slimming detox treatment. I was stripped down, wrapped in cellophane by two young, friendly Thai women and then compressed and squeezed by this contraption that in my wildest dreams, I never would have come up with. I thought that by the time I was done I would certainly look like a svelte size 2, but alas, I have softer skin and (slightly) less visible cellulite - but nothing more. I did sweat more than I ever thought I could, so who knows what tomorrow will bring. It was certainly fun...

I have really lost the hangups I used to have about my body. I have this freedom from the treatments I have been getting - the Thai women in the spas don't seem to have any qualms about my naked flesh, so why should I? They handle me with efficiency and no modesty whatsoever (not to mention small but strong hands). And since I don't understand what they are saying, I can only assume they are complimenting me, right? It's funny. I don't have the slightest care about it anymore. I am just here to feel good.

When I got back to the guesthouse, Cory was waiting to give me my next bike lesson. The street was clear and quiet, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to take off and just try. I picked it up quite quickly - all remaining fears from the other night completely gone. I went up and down the street, navigating passing cars and bikes and just got it. Freedom!!! I then hit the open road for a bit, and holy crap - I had it. Now I want a Vespa to tool around on at home. Practical? No. Fun? You bet your a**. :) I am unstoppable, now. It's just too bad the bike has to be returned in three days. Not enough time for me to get my Easy Rider on, but I will do the best that I can :)

Monday, June 6, 2011

And then came the rain...

And then came the rain....

I walk in silence. Just trying to see if this place fits. I let it surround me like a blanket - enveloping myself in the smells, sights and sounds around me. The woman at the juice stand recognizes me now. With a smile she hands me the passionfruit juice that has become part of my lunch ritual. She already has my order down in just a week. I don't think this has ever happened to me before. Of course, I don't usually have a routine.

I follow a nun walking down the street. She gives me the same glance she gives to the locals. Have I assimilated that quickly? Yesterday at the spa, the therapist working on me did not believe I was a westerner, until I said "Hawaii" upon which she smiled. It is a strange feeling to not stick out anymore. I get to blend better here than I ever have.

I feel like running, but don't want to push it. My health has normalized and I feel good. I am getting it figured out what my body can and cannot have. Maybe tomorrow I can run. Put on the headphones and just breeze down the sidewalk in my slightly-lighter-than-last-week frame. I feel very good.

Last week was all heat and fire. And the came the rain. Saturday evening it began - gray clouds rolling in over the city - making the mountains loom like guardians waiting to protect us from the torrents of mother nature. It came on so suddenly and fiercely, that I had to just stand in the doorway of the room and admire the fury in blissful awe. I say blissful because it brought a break from the oppressive heat. For once in the time since we arrived, I wasn't sweating. I tried to capture the moment in picture, but I am realizing that my best pictures are the ones I can write about. I have few camera skills - I will leave that to the pros in my life.

I had planned on meeting the girls at a movie, but the onslaught of rain forced me in. So I wrote. And wrote. And wrote until my head and hands were about to explode. I am inspired like I never have been before. I don't know if it is the city, the time away from the norm or what... I can't get enough.

Today was back to class where my flexibility has improved greatly and my skills are being honed daily. I look forward to putting it all together at the end of the week to see how it all goes. I can't help but laugh at my swagger before coming here. I was so cocky about this work - I thought I would come here to refine and learn some new things (maybe) - instead, I am re-learning how to do the work correctly and in a different sequence than what I learned before. It can be frustrating - especially when I think I have it down and realize that I don't. So, I had to jet after class today - I had to find my own space away from the group to clear my head and do the things that I need to do.

Herve' (previously mentioned as Harvey - my bad), took me to a Japanese Infrared Sauna. I sat for 50 minutes in a progressively high temperature and sweat out my frustration. He swore by the detoxifying effects (I wasn't disappointed), and we booked appointments for tomorrow after class. It gave me the same rush as my spa day, but cost much less :)

After the sauna, we walked in a park right in the middle of the city. Families were having picnics, there was some very dirty looking Thai massage going on (literally dirty - not naughty for those of you who need clarification), badminton games were in progress and joggers and walkers were navigating around the trail. There was a lovely pagoda-esque area in the center where apparently you can find Tai Chi every morning. We talked about his travels, his time in India at the ashram, his many friends all over the world. We talked about Fairfield, Iowa and his great desire to go there to spend time in the Vedic City. It was a peaceful interlude in a frustrating day.

After the walk and cooling off, we hoped on his bike and he took me to where the best vegetarian restaurant, tapas bar and salad restaurant all exist in close proximity. I was enthralled. I am in love with this city.

As he dropped me off at the guest house, I realized that once again I was inspired to write. And so here I go again :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Out With the Girls

I am losing weight. Not just because I was sick, but also because I have been moving constantly and sweating incessantly. I can see in my face that I lost the extra ring of padding around my jaw line that crept up on me over the past six months. I can also see that I am relaxed - no stress hanging on to my face. My eyes are brighter, my skin looks phenomenal. I feel good - my clothes are starting to get loose. I am doing what I came here to do :) Take care of me.

Last night was Girls Night Out. The ladies asked me to join them in a little shopping trip to the big mall. And I do mean big - four levels of the best of the west and east combined. Quite the change from the famous Night Market of Chiang Mai where we have been doing our shopping. No bartering here at the mall ;) Anyway - we were looking for dresses to wear in a night out on the town, and I (fortunately) found one right away. It looks very me - loose and flowing and rich in color. It looked perfect with my headband and funky hippie bracelet.

After a couple of hours of shopping and makeovers for Ally and Ellen at the MAC counter (I opted out, because I felt just grimy after class and riding all over town on a scooter), we headed back to the hotel to get ready. I was excited. We weren't going to go out until AT LEAST 9:00 (my usual bedtime, ha). We all looked fabulous and ready to hit the town.

We were looking for a Reggae bar that we had no name for and a place that I thought was called Zoe's and Yellow (it is actually called Zoe in Yellow). No cab driver even had a clue where this place was. So, after walking several blocks from where we were dropped off and asking locals and foreigners alike, we finally found it - thanks to Ellen for asking every person she saw where this place was.

It is an open area with lots of small bars and open spaces for dancing. There were food stands, foot massage stands and a plethora of bottles of alcohol scattered across several areas. The dj's were just getting started when we arrived - shortly before 10:00 (we were told to not even show up until 11, but I think the group was anxious and we were meeting up with our teacher from class - Mint and our classmate Mieke.

First stop was the Reggae bar. They weren't messing around with the rum - it hit me quickly and I found myself ready to just jump up and groove to the island sounds that were strangely at home in Thailand. But, no one was quite ready - so we moved on to another bar and sat and chatted and drank and sweated in the heavy night air.

Finally - enough was enough (actually it started to rain, and everyone was forced onto the dance floor). It was on. I started dancing and didn't stop unless we were switching locations or for a brief food break. My body was drenched in sweat and my feet and hips were burning, but I didn't care. I was a woman on a mission - I had to shake everything I had until I felt like there was nothing left to shake.

On the dance floor, I was everyone's partner :) I moved around and danced with Mikie and his girlfriend (from Denver) and the stinky guy from Canada and all my girls. It was truly a blast. I would have done it all night - but all good things must come to an end. We laughed so much and on the hilarious and somewhat funky cab ride back. It did my heart good.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Biker Chick on the mend

Yesterday I woke up feeling a little shaky, but so much better.  I still had the sunken in look to my eyes, but I actually recognized myself.  I made it to school for abdominal massage day (at first I was hesitant, but quickly realized that it was helping me settle my tummy).  As the day progressed, I held closely to the diet of rice, bananas, electrolytes, bread and water.  By the end of class I was raring to go.

I have to give props to my roomie for getting a scooter.  He told me he would give me a ride after we got back yesterday evening from class to check out the city.   For 200 baht a day, he has freedom to come and go as he chooses.  I am jealous :)  I asked him to teach me how to drive it...

So we hopped on the bike around 5:30 and set out to see Chiang Mai.  He (Cory) was able to assimilate quickly, maneuvering in and out of traffic and following the break neck pace with surprising ease.  Even more surprising was how much I was at peace on the back of that scooter...  I wasn't nervous - I was exhilarated.  I wanted him to go as fast as possible (again, the heat?) - so we headed out of town onto the open road and cruised.  My stomach was iron clad in it's resolve to hang on to the meager lunch I had hours before.

Choking on fumes (the air pollution is horrendous here), we decided to stop and get some water and look for sunglasses.  It is tough to ride around without some protection on your face.  For whatever reason, finding sunglasses in this town is a major challenge.  The locals just don't seem to wear them.  No luck for us on that count.  So we decided to look for the mall to grab some dinner.

At an intersection, we found another westerner friendly enough to offer directions to the mall.  Turns out, his sister is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa - go figure.  It is SUCH a small world.  He was a friendly, hippie, ex-pat who gave us his take on life in a couple of minutes at the intersection.  Find a woman with money, get lots of massage, and don't trust a massage therapist who doesn't like to receive massage - that is the sure sign of a control freak.  His words - not mine :)  We laughed with him and shouted our thanks over the roar of the traffic as the light changed.

We headed toward the mall (ironically, we were just up the road from it) and stopped at an outdoor Mexican cafe for some truly authentic Mexican food.  I was ravenous and a bit over zealous in my enjoyment of real food (yes, I did pay for it later).  However, in the moment - dirty and covered with road dust and pollution, free of abdominal pain, and starving from days without much to eat, I just didn't care.  I had the best burrito of my life and a very strong Mojito.

After dinner, we walked the mall for a bit (still no sunglasses) and then on to my first scooter lesson.  It was an experience I still can't stop laughing about.  Cory assumed that because I was older or whatever that I knew what I was doing.  Clearly I didn't - I almost ran us into traffic, and then couldn't back up properly.  So, Cory got off the bike and backed me up and then let me practice on my own - (he was too scared to jump on with me).  I circled around the parking lot of the gas station for a while, nearly running into the back of a truck in my confusion about braking and accelerating - almost took out a tent, and then caught the attentions of a local vendor who was there to set up shop for the next day.  Between the vendor and the gas station attendants, I was a great source of amusement.  :)  After a few minutes, I had the balance down and the braking and acceleration were coming along, however, Cory didn't trust my new skills in the hectic Chiang Mai traffic.  Seriously, people don't stop in this country!

So, we hopped on the bike with Cory driving, laughing about my attempts as we headed off into the muggy, frenzied night.  Behind my shoulder, I could see the mountain in the dark - watching over us as we sped away... Cory weaving in and out of traffic like a scooter master.  Maybe it was the combination of the laughter and the near death experience for the third time on this journey, but I almost felt like I was 20 something again.  Having the burrito re-visit me in the middle of the night didn't even phase me later ;)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Finding healing in the inevitable illness....

I am sick. Too much heat and sweat and too little potassium and sodium have depleted my reserves. Add that to the remains of jet lag, and lack of consistent sleep, and I found myself delirious yesterday afternoon. I was manic - couldn't stop laughing, and then lethargy set in on the ride back to the hotel. I immediately jumped into the shower and laid on the bed in the cool fan air. I didn't recognize my own face in th mirror. Scary stuff.

I woke up at 3 a.m. In a cold sweat and wracked with diarrhea. My insides were churning, I was shaking, and I thought I was going to die for the second time in less than a week. I took my traveler's diarrhea medicine and struggled to fall back asleep. At 7 a.m. I couldn't even stand properly, but my cramping was gone. Afraid of what would happen, I sent my group off to school without me... With great apology and regret. Truly I am enjoying learning and don't want to miss a second.

I fell back asleep after drinking some electrolytes and woke two hours later to Skype with my favorite nursing student about what to do next. I haven't been eating enough- the result of the heat and figuring out my clock in a time zone 12 hours different from my own. So, I ate my last nutrition bar, drank a good couple of liters of water, and slept some more.

Feeling better around noon, I sent a message to the group to pick me up some rice and banana and Gatorade on the way back, and settled in to watch some Thai MTV.

Tonight I am sending them out to GNC (yes, it exists here too) to pick up some protein and supplements. All of my nutrition education is serving me well in this moment. I am re-establishing my nutrition base here. Turns out students do get sick here, so I am good with school. I can make up what I missed by coming early in the mornings if I want to.

As I watched the videos, I found some new music to fall in love with. It stoked my fire once more (although sick, it sill burns). I wanted to get up and dance - not today, but soon. How wonderful to have the opportunity to just be. Maybe I am still delirious, but I feel like even this was meant to happen. It made me take notice of my body - the vessel that contains my growing spirit. Something necessary, obviously. Even in sickness I am loving this and can't wait for more...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Having all sorts of epiphanies

Something has come alive in me here that I think may have been either dead or sleeping for a long, long time. I have this fire that started in my belly (could it be the heat here in the far east?) that is growing stronger every day. Some connection happened after I recovered from my jet lag that was like a piece of a missing puzzle. I am home here. Not just here in Thailand, but home in myself. It is a feeling so large that I can't really keep it contained in my body. It is an amazing thing. Just thought I would throw that out there.

Chiang Mai is a wonderful place. It is a city that is full of people from everywhere. We have made friends with Yu Mi from Japan, Harvey from France, Nacho from Spain and Mieke from Germany. And it is only the beginning of the first week. They - like us - are here to study Thai Massage. It is a wonderful camaraderie that we are experiencing... travelers from afar brought together by a desire to learn about healing. I loved finding a vegetarian Thai restaurant today that (finally) presented me with the opportunity to eat something I could really enjoy. Harvey found it weeks ago, and as he walked me there, explained all about his experiences following his Amma around the world. He lives at an ashram in India - a life he has been living for two years now, after becoming disenchanted by life in Paris. I am jealous. :) I find myself wanting to follow him and his Amma and live a life in prayer and peaceful existence. Meditation and yoga and Thai massage. And travel. MMMMMM.....

Learning Thai massage here in Thailand has so much more depth than I could have possibly imagined. It is everything I wanted and hoped for and much more. I smile at the smallest movements, I relish in the breath behind the work, I find passion for putting my hands on another person in the quest for healing that I sometimes lose in the daily grind. I was meant to be here. The work is both easier and harder than it was when I first learned it six years ago in Chicago. It is different, more meaningful and full of spirit. I love the pain that I am going through as I grow and stretch and become who I am supposed to be in this moment.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Arriving in Thailand

I must say, I am totally impressed with Finn Air. They know what they are doing when it comes to flight. All the components of the second leg of the trek to Thailand worked together well to make smooth travel. Good food, excellent service, fairly spacious coach seats, individual TV touch screens with a choice of music, movies, games, TV shows in a multitude of languages - impressive. I was even able to move to another seat, so that the only person next to me in the row was a Buddhist monk who alternated between sleep and prayer. Thank goodness! I got a little sleep and watched a couple of movies.

Getting to Bangkok was easy. The city was bustling - equal parts ancient and modern and brought to mind Hawaii, Mexico and Jamaica with extremes in housing from shacks to mansions. It smelled like my favorite Thai restaurant back home, and I couldn't keep looking all around at the people, the vegetation (even in Bangkok) and the crazy pink taxis. Navigating the city was even easy. There were signs in English and Thai and plenty of people around to help answer questions and direct bleary-eyed tourists to the right stops. We hit the ground running as soon as we arrived, and followed a combination of Rail train, subway, and our good ole' feet, to get to the main train station with our overnight train to Chiang Mai. When we arrived to the station (filled with hundreds of travelers sprawled all over the waiting area), we got our first class overnight sleeper tickets. Yippee! Finally traveling in style.

On a mission for the bathroom at the station, I found a sign for pay showers. So, I went back to the group to let the others know that we could freshen up before the journey. Three of us decided to go for it - at 20 Baht, it seemed like a deal. Now, considering the last shower I took was at a Finnish spa, I knew I should keep my expectations low, but this exceeded even those low expectations. I had visions of my Girl Scout camp shower (I always felt dirtier leaving than I did getting there) - cold water, dirty floor, old stinky smell. It did the trick of getting the travel grime off of me, but I cannot wait to get to Chiang Mai to take a real shower.

On the street outside of the station, I had my first Thai meal - fresh pineapple on a stick. To watch the woman expertly cut a pineapple in less than two minutes, put my best pineapple cutting skills (and I have eaten fresh pineapple my whole life) to test. it was delicious - sweet and juicy and the right thing for my off kilter sense of time and out of sync stomach. I then went into the craziest 7-11 (bologna and peanut butter sandwiches on the shelf for sale - yuck), and purchased two of the biggest bottles of water I could find for the train ride. And then I just sat with the group and waited for our train. Sitting in the station, we met travelers from Canada, the U.S. and Australia. They all gave us great information about what they were experiencing and we all bonded over adventure. The overall feedback was that Chiang Mai is lovely and diverse - I can't wait to get there.

The train ride was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. An actual bed to sleep in! Since we were traveling first class, we were able to get individual sleepers with AC. I was glad to see that there were sinks and we each had doors that connected to another compartment, so none of us were truly isolated. Giddy with the excitement of the long (yet last) part of our trip, we ordered dinner and beer. Pictures were taken, toasts were made and then we settled in to eat, ride and rest.

I kept telling my group that they should follow my lead and eat vegetarian - what can possibly go wrong with veggies and rice, right? Wrong! I fell asleep around 10:00 p.m and woke at 11 with a burning feeling in my chest and throat. I experienced the worst heart burn I have ever had to deal with. It felt like fire in my throat - I thought I was going to choke. The rocking of the train only made it worse. With visions of death on a train in the middle of nowhere, Thailand, I woke my neighbor (Tara) who sat up with me and helped me try to figure out what was going on. Could I breathe? Yes. Could I swallow? Yes. Did my stomach ache? No. Did I feel any pain. No? We deduced that it was probably severe heartburn, so I gave some Alka Seltzer a try. No luck... I then tried Pepto tablets. Within 5 minutes, I was in the train bathroom (and I use that term both recklessly and loosely - bathrooms have taken on a whole new meaning here :) ) throwing up my veggies, rice and pineapple. And beer. It was the worst vomiting ever! I don't want to thrill you with all the details, so suffice it to say I am on an elimination diet (don't eat anything unless it is bland) for the rest of this train ride.

Back in my cabin, Tara gave me some motion sickness aromatherapy and peppermint gum. The burning slowly faded and I fell asleep to a combination of relaxation hypnotherapy and the un-gentle swaying of this 1960's train (if you are picturing the Orient Express or some other luxury, just get that right out of your head). This is Thai first class :) Old train, bad food, lots of rocking and noise and never on time.

At 6:30, Tara woke me up to look out the window - the train was flooded with sunlight as we rode through mountains and lush greenery. A few times, we could look down the steep mountainside and see brown rivers and steep drops. I was trying not to think about how much rocking we were experiencing at this point, I was just soaking in the visual splendor of the countryside. Thankful that I had the foresight to bring ginger on the trip (it is excellent for nausea), I ate a few pieces and brushed my teeth with bottled water and tucked into my breakfast of fresh pineapple (I ordered the vegetarian breakfast - chocolate cookies, pineapple, juice and tea - but pineapple was all I could stomach) as I sat and enjoyed the view. What an experience!

Arriving in Chiang Mai (five hours later than expected), we quickly navigated through the taxi drivers at the station to get to the red taxi we were told to find. Our driver (a nice man who didn't overcharge us - 200 baht for 6 people is a steal!), took us right to our guest house. It is small but clean, and the desk clerk/owner (Ann) is very kind and helpful. Now we get to settle in, shower off, and explore Chiang Mai.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Day in Helsinki... sort of

Hey there world! Well, here I am in Helsinki-Vantaa airport. If you have to be stuck in an airport, this is a great one. As it turns out - this trip has already turned out to be an adventure. One very naughty little boy on this trek from Chicago to Thailand - and boy do I mean NAUGHTY. He climbs walls, jumps on airport furniture, runs in women's restrooms and opens exit doors at gates. I feel bad for his mother who is traveling solo with him, but seriously. He needs a spank!

Anyway - we started off in Chicago and no sooner were at cruising altitude when the captain announces that we are going to make a landing in New York. City. WOO HOO!!! I don't want to land, but I have never seen the big apple, so I am stoked. I was sitting in elation - looking at the view of Central Park from above during our descent, when the captain announces that there will be police cars, emergency vehicles and firetrucks on the ground waiting for us. WHAT??? Just a mere formality he says. Yeah. Right. So, after getting checked out for about an hour (and I had to pee so badly that I contemplated squatting in my water bottle right there), we finally get the ok to get to a gate. Wait... gate? Are we getting off the plane? Yes, we did. So with $10 in the form of a voucher from American Airlines, we headed to the food court. In the process we made a friend - Dennis from Sweden - a college student heading home for summer break. He was very cool and funny and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours in JFK airport. Back on the plane, we sat for another hour before take off. As we sat, my vision of a day in Helsinki was starting to fade. I had made an appointment for a deluxe massage and spa treatment at Hotel Kamp in Helsinki - an old world, luxurious hotel. The appointment was for noon, and we were now going to get in Helsinki at around 1:30. So a quick phone call home, and an email to cancel my appointment, and we were back in the air.

I have never been on a flight that long. Sleep - not usually my friend in travel - eluded me on this flight. So, I sat with my headphones on and listened to some meditation type stuff. About the time I started to drift off, the sun was already up (long daylight up here in Scandanavia), so me and Angry birds finished out the flight. Other than my seat mate vomiting at landing, it was a smooth ride into the city.

At the airport, we decided to just hang out due to entering and exiting and customs and baggage, etc. I was happy to find a spa right here in the airport. Massage on!!! So, I had a traditional Finnish spa experience, sauna, steam room, Finnish sauna, mineral pool and shower with ice to cool off the heat. Then, I had a back, leg and shoulder massage with a slimming treatment on my legs... heavenly. It was much needed after such a long trek so far, and with an even longer trek ahead of me. Not a bad way to kill two hours during the layover.

On I continue - flight to Bangkon and then train to Chiang Mai. :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Preparing for the next adventure... Thailand!

Well, I must say it has been an interesting spring.  Too much work and school and some travel mixed in there have all taken it's toll on me.  Yesterday, someone asked me if a picture of me taken two years ago was a picture of my daughter.  I could be offended (do I look old enough to have a daughter my age?), but I know that stress and weight gain and a too busy life and lack of sleep all make us age.  I have become my ideal client - ha ha.  So, it's time to get back to what I wanted to do at the beginning of the year.  Heal myself first.  I say yes when I should say no.  I over-commit my time and energy to the needs of others way too often, and so I find myself here... 15 pounds heavier than I want to be (at least), feeling a bit uncomfortable in my own skin, making poor nutritional decisions in the rush between this or that... and not sleeping well.  Enough is enough.  What is the point of all of this if I can't take care of myself first.

And so off I go again - this time to Thailand :)  It has been a dream of mine to visit Thailand and spend some time there to complete the Thai massage training I started years ago.  I will be in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) for close to a month!  Whoa!  Good stuff, right?  I will be taking yoga classes, walking a lot, hopefully eating some really great fresh foods and living my life at a slower pace.  I have the luxury of being just a student - both with my online program and at my Thai school.  To say I can't wait is the understatement of the century, but I am trying to just breathe in each moment of anticipation of the adventure.

In preparation, I have been spending the weekend in a Thai massage class.  Since I already have some experience, I have been receiving a lot of bodywork - just what I needed.  My sore, stressed out body is getting lots of stretching and working out.  I have been eating LOTS of fruits and veggies and drinking lots of water.  I feel like I am embarking on my biggest wellness adventure to date.  The best part is just around the corner, but I get to have what I crave right here - right now.

The biggest gift we can give to the people in our lives is taking care of ourselves.  We are kinder, less stressed out, happier and more peaceful.  I plan on continuing to say yes - but more so to myself first.  If I am taking care of me, the rest is more of a joy than a series of tasks.

If you want to follow along with me to Thailand, I will be blogging throughout the trip.  I am certain I will come back a new woman ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nutrition?? What nutrition...

Vacation is tough when it comes to nutrition.  This country makes it difficult to eat in a healthy way while traveling – with nonstop fast food and processed food in vending machines all over the place, finding a piece of fruit can sometimes prove too laborious.   Day 3 of the vacation and my stomach is unhappy.  I have relied too heavily on cheese and bread - cheese pizza, veggie pizza, mac and cheese at the world famous Beecher’s at Pike Market in downtown Seattle…(unbelievably delicious, but ugh).  My tummy aches just thinking about it. L  Thank goodness I had the foresight to pack some ginger to soothe what ails me.  Other than a salad add-on at the airport and a spinach salad with the veggie pizza, vegetables have not been my mainstay either.  I guess I thought that the uber-healthy Pacific Northwest would be just rife with fresh produce options.  Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of fresh produce stands at Pike Place Market – but how was I to know that that would be the ONLY place I could see fresh food for days.  The downtown Seattle area seems to cater to the typical American tourist – very pricey restaurants with fancy names and high sodium contents.  Oh my.  Not good for yours truly who doesn’t like meat, fish or the like.

So, I am hoping that the next leg of the trip to Portland will prove to be more nutritionally sound.   So much for vacation vegetarianism…

As I wait in King Street Station in Seattle to catch the train to Portland, I am dismayed to hear that all trains are cancelled.  We are going to have to take a bus to Portland.  Not the experience I was hoping for – the romance of riding on a train gently swaying to and fro down the tracks is a totally different picture than the crammed on a bus with stinky people vision that I am about to embrace.  My day isn’t going as well as the past couple of days.  Certainly no peals of laughter other than from H who can’t help but laugh at my sour puss face.  Maybe I need to spill some more water on her  :P

Why can’t there be fresh fruit and vegetable carts all over the place?  Why can’t King Street Station have a Jamba Juice or Starbuck’s (which there are some 84 of in downtown Seattle) like Union Station in Chicago?  (My all time favorite train station).  Obviously, by now you are making the correlation between my usually optimistic nature to my usually fiber filled day.  If you can’t poop, you can’t smile, in my book.  LOL.
Well, off to board the bus…  I will hopefully write more after a good healthy meal.

ADDENDUM:  After writing this in a very grumpy-mood-morning at the station, I have found several healthy meals - lot's of veggie and vegan friendly options, good micro-brews in Portland, excellent coffee and teas and plenty of oatmeal.  Had I known better, I would have made some better choices in Seattle and now know what to look for (Seattle, you still have my love).  My mood and digestion have greatly improved due to lots of walking, lots of good food and even one world famous Voodoo doughnut in Portland.  Now, it's on to Eugene...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Back To the Blog - Vacation Edition

Hello All!

Nothing says living a healthy life like taking a well deserved break, right?  Well, I am on vacation right now, so this is the vacation edition of my blog.  Finally some time that is a break from school, work, work, house, dogs, family, etc.  Vacation always brings thoughts of relaxation, freedom and a lack of structure that is absolutely tantalizing.  There is just nothing better than sleeping in and not having to cook dinner. 
So the vacation starts out with H and me heading down to St. Louis (where we were flying out from).  We had an easy trip – found the downtown hotel with relative simplicity, no traffic or parking issues and a breeze checking in.  We even got a free bottle of wine while in the lobby of the hotel!  Yay us.  We were patting ourselves on our back due to the luck of the beginning of the trip.  We slept well in our luxury king bed (Hotwire Hilton - $67 a night) after a long drive and a hot bath.  Then we woke up to a glorious Missouri morning – the sun was shining on Busch Stadium and hundreds of runners in green preparing to embark on the St. Patrick’s Day run before the parade.  What a morning!  60ish degrees and a light breeze – I couldn’t ask for a better start to the vacation.
But apparently St. Patrick’s Day is kind of a big deal in St. Louis.  Runners aside, there were literally hundreds and hundreds of people out on the street decked out in their finest – green wigs, green tights, green t-shirts and socks.  It was as if all the leprechauns in Ireland exploded in downtown St. Louis.  J
I was enjoying the sunshine and typing away on some last minute homework when I heard the noise.  A loud, annoying, (think world cup horns, folks) horn blowing down the hall.  I had heard them on the street, so I knew they were being sold from a cart down below… but the hall of the Hilton? Really?  At 9:00 a.m.?  Ugh.  I flippantly mentioned to H that I was annoyed.  I think the exact words were, “well, that doesn’t suck or anything.”  Ha.  So, with a look of fierce determination, my bold spouse (who never really minces words because there is no need in her world to do that) stepped into the hallway and said, “That is NOT ok.  Knock it off” to the 11 year old boy trying to irritate his friend in the room across the hall.  She sounded like the nurse she is trying to become – bossy, firm and not to be messed with.  I could not stop laughing.  What a time!  I have been laughing about it all day long.  We even laughed about it as we were all over the Gateway Arch – acting the part of the American tourist.
Which brings me back to the break… oh, how I have missed laughter.  In the frenzy of this semester, it seems to have eluded us.  We stomp around the house in between where we need to get to next and gripe at each other.  We forget how important and necessary laughter and time off are in the grind to accomplish the next big thing.  One little incident with a naughty 11 year old boy has quickly reminded me that I have been taking life way to seriously lately.  And I plan on being less serious over the course of the next 8 days.  Hopefully it will stick and will continue into the next part of the grind.  Laughter really is the best medicine.