Why I’m a Vegetarian

I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life and I’m often asked why. There’s a cute little story about how it all began, and I’ll follow it up with why I still am, after more than 20 years.

I grew up on a small farm in Maine. We had horses, rabbits, chickens, and a garden. I grew up eating meat but I never liked it very much, except for my grandmother’s delicious turkey soup. I didn’t like steaks or burgers at all. Once we got a flock of chickens I spent my afternoons playing in the yard with them. One chick in particular was my favorite – a beautiful Bantam hen I named Peeps because she was always making little peeping sounds. I’d come home from school, pick her up, climb the willow tree, and lounge in the branches, reading a book, with Peeps in the crook of my elbow. I would often give the chickens scraps of whatever I was eating. One day I made the connection between the fact chicken nuggets are made out of chickens – the very kind of chickens I was playing with each day. Chicken nuggets look nothing like living chickens – very few meat products resemble their roots – so although I’m somewhat embarrassed it took me so long to make the connection, I’m not surprised.

It took me about two months to completely give up meat and ensure my family respected my decision. I received cookbooks from my grandparents but my mother would continue to feed me chicken-and-rice baked dishes, telling me to “eat around the chicken,” although the entire thing was simmering in chicken broth. I remember during that time we visited a bison farm, and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed a burger. Bison was the most delicious red meat I had ever tasted, but a few minutes later when a bison approached the fence and let me pet his nose, I knew no matter how delicious it was, I wasn’t going to eat it again.

This was the mid-90s when vegetarianism among teenagers was quite popular, and I would be lying if I didn’t say the choice was also partly social. I had friends I respected and admired who were already staunch vegetarians and as we talked about their choices it made sense to me. So, the last meat I ate was bacon at my grandmother’s house – because it smelled so good the morning she cooked it during a visit that summer – and I gave it up after that.

These days my body can’t process meat. If I eat a soup made with chicken broth, or have a bite of a party dip with chopped chicken, or even eat veggies cooked on the same griddle as meat, I find myself in the throes of gastric distress within a few hours. People often don’t believe that when I first explain, but science proves that when one foregoes meat for long enough, the body stops creating the enzymes necessary with which to digest meat. It’s been more than 20 years – those enzymes are long gone. Should I ever choose to eat meat again I’d need to introduce it slowly and carefully.

I don’t think that’s going to happen. I fought with myself a couple years ago when I began traveling, especially to countries in which meat is extremely popular (especially South America). I wanted to be able to enjoy eating whatever the locals are eating without worrying about tummy troubles due to confusion over ingredients or shared cooking surfaces. I read recipes for meat dishes and considered ordering a chicken dish when I was in a restaurant.

And then I went to the grocery store and saw the meat products sitting in the coolers and I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take raw flesh and turn it into something edible. Today, I’m not only a vegetarian because I care about animals, but also because I care about my health, and – probably most importantly – because I don’t believe it is my place to take the life of another living being. Of course, the response to that is often, “plants are alive! Plants have feelings too!” Well, yes, that’s true. But I personally have no moral issue pulling a carrot from the ground and eating it.

I could not take the life of an animal – cow, chicken, turkey, goat, sheep, deer, mouse, caribou – with my own hands. I have absolutely no problem with people who choose to do so, and I actually believe strongly in the ability to hunt. I think hunting is a fantastic way to enjoy healthy, fresh meat with which to feed your family, and I much prefer hunting to the industrialized “agriculture” system on which this country currently runs. But I couldn’t do it myself – I don’t even kill spiders or bugs in the house. I put them in my hands and set them free outside. Who am I to decide who lives and dies?

I’m a vegetarian because I believe in treating life with respect – all life. I do my absolute best to never waste food: we freeze our vegetable scraps to create stock and have begun composting on a small scale in our condo. Unless food is clearly and truly spoiled I can find a way to use it or preserve it (soups are awesome for cleaning out the veggie drawer and even giving stale bread a new life). I’m respecting my body by feeding it what feels good. I’m respecting animals by not eating them. I’m respecting the planet as a whole by not supporting industrialized “farming” and not throwing food away.

My life as a vegetarian hasn’t always been healthy and wasn’t nearly always so easy, even for me, to understand. That’ll come in another post. It’s important to make an educated choice to become vegetarian. It’s not difficult but it does involve some effort in terms of nutrition – and that’s why I often offer recipes here too.

Check Your Labels

Over the weekend we had the good fortune to visit with many of our local friends. Catching up is always fun, especially when you can trade ideas and information. One couple has been working to eat healthier – including eating less red meat – so I was stoked to be able to serve them mushroom bourguignon. The recipe will follow – I wouldn’t just tease you with that – but during the conversation, they mentioned how my advice to read the ingredients on their veggie burgers had really paid off.

Although I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, I didn’t always eat the most nutritious foods. It took me a long time to focus on eating for health. That said, when anyone mentions they’d like to give up meat and try veggie substitutes, it gives me pause. For me, personally, I would rather see someone eat local, grass-fed or free-range, antibiotic-free meat than a boxed concoction with a list of ingredients nobody can pronounce, much less identify. Yep, the staunch vegetarian would rather you eat a local burger than a veggie burger.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor a registered dietician, nor a nutritionist. But from my own humble life experiences – and the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the past two decades – we’d all be better off eating foods with ingredients we can pronounce. We’d be even better off eating food that doesn’t need to come with a nutrition label (eg, fresh produce). If what you want is a burger, find yourself a quality burger, not a chemical substitute. I’ll definitely be talking about this more going forward because helping others to make healthy lifestyle choices has become pretty important to me.

Wander Lost

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU  need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.

So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?

These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.

And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.

What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?

Lots more on this topic to come.

Why do you travel?

Independence Day in Vermont

I’ve been meaning to write this post since we returned but I wanted to make sure I had the time and photos to do it justice! Without further excuse, here’s what we did on Independence Day 2016.

My best friend of 30 years lives with her husband on the side of a mountain in Vermont where they keep chickens and grow a massive garden. Her husband builds and maintains trails in the mountain forest, they tap the trees for sap, and they’re both highly-educated, athletic college professors. She and I grew up together, although we haven’t always been in the same time zone for the past 12 years (they also lived in Colorado and Alaska…I’m not jealous at all….yes I am). Now that we’re a mere 4-5 hours apart – depending on traffic and who’s driving – we’ve done our best to visit as often as our busy schedules allow. I had been in Vermont a bunch last year for skiing and a Tough Mudder race but our schedules hadn’t linked up…but this year, for 4th of July, they weren’t going anywhere. Travis and I needed a backpacking trip – so off we went!

We found a 12-mile loop hike on the Long Trail passing through Stratton Pond, Stratton Mountain, and Bourn Pond. We weren’t looking to get too crazy, so this sounded like a good trek. At Hillary’s place we reviewed our route over homemade pizza (eaten way too late thanks to NY traffic) and they told us they’d done that same hike last 4th of July – as a training run. Again, they are accomplished athletes, but they clued us in to the fact the trails weren’t going to be nearly as burly as we’d been expecting. We took another look at the map and found a way to add a loop to bring us to about 30 miles over three days of hiking. Done. The following morning they made us stuffed french toast, complete with syrup from their trees, and sent us on our way, bellies full and ready for adventure. We drove to Manchester and parked at the Prospect Rock lot – thank you Subaru for your all-wheel drive getting through the final bit of eroded road to the actual lot and trailhead. We knew we had about 8 miles of hiking ahead of us and set off up the mountain.

The first part of the hike was all uphill on an old, gravelly road. We moved slowly but the weather wasn’t nearly as oppressively hot and humid as it often is in Harriman. Coming upon the Prospect Rock lookout, we turned off to eat sandwiches and take in the views.

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Continuing on, once we linked up to the LT/AT, the trail was much more rolling hills than straight incline. Translation: a much faster, easier hike. There was plenty of water – the trail followed and crossed a river – and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a walk in the woods. Approaching Stratton Pond we looked up at Stratton Mountain, where we’d be hiking the next morning. At the pond we met a young man who asked where we were headed. “Here,” we offered.

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“Welcome home.” We hiked up to the shelter to check out our options. Compared to the AT shelters we’ve seen, the Green Mountain Club’s LT shelters were Hiltons. Bunk beds, picnic tables, privies, directions to springs…we were astonished to see this much in the middle of the woods. That said, we’d brought hammocks – nothing to sleep on bunk beds with – so it was back out to the main trail we went. We passed some couples who told us the tent sites were all full, so we were at a loss. Sleep in the shelter that was quickly filling up, or stealth-hammock in as quiet an area as possible? We went with option two, finding strong, smooth trees off the trail near the pond. I will state here that if you’re going to stealth camp, be considerate of nature. Don’t hang your hammock from a tree with shaggy bark. Don’t pitch your tent on top of tons of small saplings. Don’t move lots of things around just to put your things down. Be very careful about where you set up your stove, and you do NOT need to build a fire.

As the sun set over the mountain we made our dinner on the knockoff pocket rocket stove I’ve been using for three years. Then it was into the hammocks we went. A lone loon began to cry in the middle of the night. I generally don’t sleep well my first night out, and I found it soothing to hear such a familiar sound. There were two distinct calls and it brought me peace while I gazed at the bowl of stars that had fallen over the lake. Without tree cover it felt like we were in a planetarium – we hadn’t seen stars like this since the White Mountains last summer.

Travis woke before me, having gotten more sleep than I did. His hammock was neatly packed away before I was out of mine, and he’d already cooked and eaten his protein-powder-spiked oatmeal. I slowly began the task of cooking and packing, and shortly after 7am we were on the trail again, heading up to the mountain we’d gazed upon yesterday, and I’d skied down more than a few times. Just like yesterday it was pretty much a steady climb to the top once we got back on the trail. The weather was sunny and warm but humidity wasn’t crazy. We had filtered water before we left so our packs were heavy since we wouldn’t cross any major water sources until the descent. Still, it was an enjoyable, peaceful climb since we got such an early start. At the summit we met a young man coming down from the fire tower as we went up. The top floor was glassed in, but it was great to be able to get to the top. Many of the towers we’d come across in other areas were boarded up past a certain landing.

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From the fire tower we could just barely make out Stratton Pond below us, and beyond it, Bourn Pond, where we initially hoped to spend the night. We descended the fire tower and took some time to eat and check out the educational materials the Green Mountain Club had left neatly in a basket at the summit. We also read about the history of the LT/AT and how historic this area had been in the development of both.IMG_6409

Heading toward the LT South we passed the caretaker and chatted with her for a few minutes. She expected thousands of people to summit during the holiday weekend – we were early that morning, but the weekend was young. She said she’d been up on that mountain for years and we silently wished that could be our job too.

Down we went, back into the tree cover and winding down the mountain. The path was clear and well-cut – no direct descents and no serious rocky areas, so our knees were spared. Once off the mountain itself the path became – as we’d been told – rolling hills.

Something we learned in the Whites was never to trust trail marker signs. They tell you it’s 0.2 miles until the next intersection, next hut, next water source. I’ll be damned if those 0.2 miles don’t feel like the longest 7 miles you’ve ever hiked in your life when you’re waiting for something on the other side. Although the hiking wasn’t technically challenging, our bodies – from days sitting in cars and behind computers – were feeling the effort we were putting in. We were not going to set any speed records. By the time we reached the road we’d hike for 2 miles, we were moving just barely above one mile per hour – our pace in the Whites. The road was gravel and a long, sunny, slow, 2 mile ascent back to close the loop on the trail. The sun was taking its toll on us, as were our shoes. Travis had needed new shoes for months but hadn’t taken the time to get them. My boots always wore hot spots on my first long trip out of the season, so I wasn’t surprised, but I also usually didn’t tackle 30 miles at the start of the season.

When we finally approached Bourn Pond, we were a sweaty, achy, hungry mess. We found the tent sites, as the map had indicated, and they were AMAZING!! Enormous lakeside tent sites with fire rings, space for tents and hammocks, beautiful views…they were absolutely gorgeous, and plenty of privacy from site to site. We stripped down and splashed in the pond to cool off our feet and clean up our bodies before…we got back on the trail. That’s right, we decided during our trudge to keep pressing on, to cover more miles on this day so we wouldn’t have to do them tomorrow. With sadness, we dressed, ate, and hoisted our packs once more, turning to make sure we hadn’t just imagined these campsites with the eyes of weary hikers. We couldn’t even make out the fire tower atop Stratton from here, which made us feel pretty proud of our weekend-warrior ways.

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Back on the trail, we had a lot of work to do to get to Douglas Shelter by nightfall. Although the trail was mainly flat, the bottoms of our feet were sore and our muscles were tired. Our pace slowed to a crawl and, occasionally, Travis or I would stumble over something small. I don’t know what I looked like but I know he looked pretty rough. I was actually concerned whether he would make it to the shelter at one point. We had plenty of water, but he had stepped in a puddle and his mesh shoes had gotten wet – so now he was dealing with wet shoes, wet socks, and shoes without any type of cushioning left. No amount of filtered drinking water can help when your feet are unhappy.

We pulled into Douglas Shelter as the radiant light was fading from view. A lone thru-hiker was set up on one side of a large clearing and we asked if we could set our hammocks up on the other side. He agreed, and we gratefully slung up our straps. I took off my boots and hung my socks, and my feet were wrinkled with sweat. I had hot spots on the inside balls of both feet, one fourth toe, and one Achilles tendon. I cooked our dinner barefoot and we sat in my hammock, passing the bag between us in near-silence. We brushed our teeth almost immediately afterward and were in our hammocks to sleep before the last of the light gave way to darkness.

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I slept like a log, and although I wasn’t too keen on it the day before, I was thankful we only had a few miles to hike out before we sat in a car for five hours. We awoke, cooked our breakfast, and hiked out along the ridgeline until we linked back up with Prospect Rock and the gravel descent to the car. It was another very quiet day. We had somehow managed to hike in an extremely popular area at just the right times to not be on crowded trails. This is why we go hiking.

We took the descent slowly to minimize the impact on our joints, and finally made it back to the Subaru. Changing into shorts, we packed the gear back in and headed into Manchester for some food. Up For Breakfast was open and we put our name on the list, going back downstairs to wait out of the sunshine. A trio of hikers who had also been at Douglas Shelter arrived shortly before we did and were also waiting. They’d left the shelter before we did and headed the opposite direction – if they’d gone back up the mountain, they were superhuman. We didn’t ask.

Second breakfast was delicious, and we hesitated to leave, but knew we had a long drive ahead. Back in the car we talked about the hike, about how impressive the trails were, about the weather and terrain being so much better than our usual stomping grounds, about my friend’s garden and relaxed lifestyle that allowed her to focus on what’s important in life, about what we wanted out of life. We don’t want to have to drive 5 hours to take a walk in a beautiful, peaceful area. We want to be part of it. We want to grow our own food and rely less on others for everything. We want to opt-out of the rat race and opt-in to a rewarding and fulfilling life focused on what’s truly important to us: reading, writing, seeking knowledge, being outside, being active, nourishing our minds and bodies, and slowing down.

Does anybody have a home in Vermont – preferably with some land we could use to garden – for rent?

 

Mini mobile posting

I have a spare 20 minutes before I need to head to my piano student but I’ve already left the office for the day. Not enough time to go home, I can’t go get a snack with my Invisalign in, the weather is threatening another thunderstorm, so what’s a woman to do? I’m reclined in my car, typing this post on my phone to try to make good use of my time.

My good friend Ashley made a solid point in a comment last week and it got me thinking. We’ve both spent years alone, having adventures, and breaking ourselves out of our comfort zones. We’ve tried new things and gone to new places by ourselves. I started to think about the evolution of travel, my aversion to the idea of “authentic travel”, and the allure of excitement our generation seems to seek.

Travel has changed so much in the last century. Airplanes? A man on the moon? A car in nearly every household? The technological advances in the world of travel have happened at an astounding pace. There are few completely remote destinations left to explore. I may be alone in this thought, but I believe that also leaves us with fewer completely genuine travel experiences. The Internet both connects the world – which is amazing – but also homogenizes us. I can hop on a plane to a third-world country and meet someone who may live in conditions you’d never see in the US who also owns an iPhone. Yes, on one hand, that’s the genuine reality of the world today, but on the other hand…how many new experiences are we truly getting by jet-setting to a new time zone only to see what we left at home?

As the world grows smaller, finding unique and extraordinary experiences becomes more challenging. We can find guidebooks on how to navigate nearly any remote area or hire professionals to take us to the top of Everest (if we can afford it). The people we meet often speak at least one language we can speak and they’re just as familiar with technology and pop culture. The food we find can often be found in the States.

Is our desire to travel really based in the hope of exploring the unknown or experiencing something unique? Or is it driven more by how much we hope to see now that we have the means? Traveling is way more attractive than a desk job, for sure, but WHY? Our grandparents would have been thrilled to find high-paying work with a pension and would never have considered quitting to find themselves on an adventure. Most people around my age can’t imagine working behind a desk for 30 years and not setting foot on another continent. Have the attitudes toward what makes a life successful changed so much? Does traveling make us more successful?

I don’t yet have the answers. I wish I did. I wish I knew why “somewhere, anywhere” pulls so strongly to my core. I wish I knew what I hoped to find out there. But, as Paul Coelho eloquently told us in “the Alchemist,” the treasure was waiting right at home throughout the entire journey.

The People Who I Was Once

That title isn’t a proofreading error; it’s a reference to a song by a dear friend I lost a few years ago to suicide. As usual, I had a different topic I wanted to write about today, but we’ll see how well that goes. Griff’s song has been stuck in my head for a few days. Each year, around the first of March, his songs seem to float back to me in the breeze and stick in my soul for the entire month that marks the anniversary of his passing. This particular song is the one that stood out to my ears this spring as I’ve undergone so very many changes this year. In some ways I find myself clinging to the people who I was once, and in other ways, trying to be strong and move forward.

How do I connect the two stories I want to tell today?

Yesterday would have been the 33rd birthday of my ex-husband, and today would have marked our 8th wedding anniversary. But the world lost him, too, to suicide last fall. In the months since I’ve often wondered how my life could have been different. Did I contribute to this somehow, because I left to strike out on my own? Did I ever know somewhere deep inside that he was struggling with something I couldn’t reach? Is there a reason I’m not the widow here? Am I making the best choices for my life now and living life to the fullest?

I suppose part of the answer lies in the story I planned to write today. Last week was my birthday and I made my third annual birthday trip, this year to Washington, D.C., with Travis. The previous two years I’ve traveled alone to more adventurous destinations. Traveling with a partner changes more than the itinerary. In the years since I chose to go my own way I’ve been the one in charge: I choose my destination, how I’m going to get there, when I’m going to go, and what I’m going to do. Sometimes I’ve purchased tickets or made reservations after an extra glass of wine, but it’s always worked out and made for great stories in the end. Now, I have a partner to consider – and not the type of partner I ever expected to find. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone who wanted to have the same adventures I do – which is a large reason I chose to leave my marriage. Travis wants to explore the world with me, and that’s exactly what I wanted to find. So why is it, in some ways, more challenging to travel with a partner?

I’m reminded of this article that arrived in my inbox some months ago. You do have to give up your single self in a partnership, and to let yourself grieve that loss. (Side note: I’ve done too much grieving over the last few years. I really wasn’t expecting to grieve more when I found what I wanted most). On the other hand, it’s important to see the past – the people who you were once – the way it truly was and not through “graduation goggles.”

Did I enjoy exploring the world on my own and meeting strangers in strange places? Definitely. Was it scary – but worth the reward – sometimes to push myself way out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Was it so much more easy to follow the beat of my own drum when I was traveling solo? Yup. Was it freeing to not take anybody else into consideration when planning a location, activities, what to eat, or even when to go to bed? YES.

Would I trade Travis in to have all of that back?

No.

Those experiences – and all the experiences I’ve had – shaped who I am. My idiosyncrasies are unique to me and I know I can plan too much and make one mistake that could throw off the entire day (e.g., locating the wrong restaurant with a similar name which only served a prix-fixe brunch, when the restaurant I really wanted to find turned out – upon hours-later Googling – to have been less than a block away). Someone gets to see those blunders now, instead of me going about my adventure lost in my own head. But on the other hand, someone is there to share my joy. We saw a little girl in a bright-pink shirt and tie-dye backpack skipping and twirling alongside the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall and I asked Travis if I could be her.

“Why not?” he countered.

“I’m not four years old and I don’t have a tie-dye backpack.”

“It’s not the backpack that’s making her happy. She’s happy. Be happy.” So I, too, skipped along the National Mall, holding his hand, the weekend I turned 32.

Without him, I would have stayed quietly on the sidelines, trying to blend in. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a bottle of champagne waiting in the hotel for me…because I wouldn’t have told anybody it was my birthday. Without him, I wouldn’t have taken the Amtrak train down and enjoyed the freedom of not driving a car. He’s added so much to my adventures – much more than I’ve had to give up. Sure, I can’t just spin the wheel and choose a destination and dates now. We need to consult our work schedules and our household budget and our adventure priorities. But that’s not a bad thing.

The people who I was once are in the past. They no longer exist on their own, but weaved their way into the fabric of the person I am now. The people who I loved once who no longer exist on their own have also woven their way in. Their impacts on my life shaped me in many ways and continue to surprise me. It’s possible to grieve my losses and still feel joy. And it’s okay to  let down my guard, make compromises, and become part of a true partnership. I don’t have to navigate this wild world alone anymore, and that is, perhaps, the greatest way my experiences shaped me. Every moment in my life has lead up to this.

Friends in Far-Flung Places

“Didn’t you travel with a group once?” a long-time friend asked me recently. “I’m trying to plan a trip but I don’t know where to go and I don’t want to go alone.”

“No…I did a volunteer trip but I traveled alone and met up with friends upon arrival. I do that a lot – it helps to meet up with friends who live locally at the start of a trip. They can act as a tour guide as well as a familiar face in a new place. Surely you have some friends living abroad,” I suggested.

“No, they all live here.”

Later that day I got to thinking about all the different lives I’ve lived. There have been so very many. Sadly, the more time that passes, the more those lives feel like a dream – like they didn’t happen or I made them up. However, I know these various periods of my life were real: I have the friends to prove it. Social media makes us all feel like we have hundreds of friends, but I’m talking about real friends. People I could call anytime. I sung at their weddings. I’ve met their kids (or their parents). I’ve crashed on their couches or floors or futons more than once. I’ve had beers with them in multiple time zones in a two-week time span. I thought about it some more and realized that’s not normal (although it’s been really handy when planning adventures).

It’s totally normal to meet people while traveling, pass through, cherish the moment, and never touch base again. It’s not normal to have friends all over the world, in various stages of life and career, whom you met at various stages during your life/career, and remain close with them.

My life has taken some absurd twists and turns over the past ten years: army wife, rock star, small-town music teacher, single in the city, traveling to remote global destinations, landing a dream job, and now working at an engineering firm. I’ve met so many people during each of these stages: fellow army wives, fellow rock stars, fellow small-town musicians, plenty of single people in the city, fellow travelers, and fellow dreamers.

Of my army-wife-life friends, I was the first to leave. Then Ashley, then Jessica. Our three lives intersected at various times as we discovered our independence. I was the first to travel internationally. Then Jessica, then Ashley (who is currently on her trip around the WHOLE FREAKIN’ GLOBE, which is her first foray out of the US. Can you tell I’m actually really jealous?). Ashley spent Christmas with me one year and Jessica moved less than an hour away after four years. That said, I still have a bunch of army-wife-life friends who are still – you guessed it – army wives! And it’s awesome. We’ve stayed in touch through lots of moves, career changes, and in some cases, kids. Anytime our schedules and area codes have aligned, we’ve been able to make plans. Even if we can’t get together in person, we still support each other. That sisterhood never really goes away.

Seattle.

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My rock star band-buddies are still some of my closest friends. You can’t spend hours in a van with the same bunch of weirdos without getting to like each other at least a tiny bit. I consider my former drummer a brother, and I either talk about or talk with my lead guitarist at least once every couple weeks. A woman I met at a radio event I now consider a sister, and we were lucky enough to grab beers together in Seattle last year – after having met in GA and not having seen each other in 4 years. It amuses me how many people met me during that stage of my life and how disappointed they would be that I wear dress pants and work in an office now.

Some of my early music students have grown up before my eyes. Photos at the holidays and emails from them or their parents keep me in the loop. Some of my older students have already graduated college, gotten jobs, or gotten engaged. I was able to visit my very first student in November and I nearly cried seeing her all grown up. It was like coming home to spend an afternoon with her mom – one of the kindest, most genuine friends I’ve made. And technology now allows me to continue teaching students – no matter where the world takes us!

2008

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2016 (she’s on the right here – so much taller than me!)

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Traveling – and chance meetings – probably brought me the most random group of friends I have. They range from a German pop band who visited my workplace one day to a Brazilian drummer who got my friends backstage passes to a Neon Trees concert to a 20yr old Israeli world traveler to a South American woman studying in Canada and now working to help women on a global scale to, perhaps most importantly, Travis. By getting out in the world and doing the things I love, I’ve met the most intriguing, friendly people. Perhaps I should revise “things I love” to “things I love and/or things I did whilst trying to break out of my comfort zone.” Taking chances on talking to strangers gave me companionship on a long bus ride in Israel. It made my friend’s bachelorette party a success. It offered me a couch in VA when I attended Jessica’s ex-husband’s funeral (more on that another day).

It’s not normal to have friends in all these places, but I can’t imagine a different life. I just moved to a new area in January and I’m still having a really hard time making friends here. I call, text, or email my far-flung friends regularly to make sure I’m getting social interaction. I haven’t made any plans to visit any particular friends lately, but I’m excited at the possibility of connecting with a former guitar student during a trip I’m taking later this week. I haven’t seen her in over 4 years, and her daughters are growing up so fast. Although I don’t currently have many close local friends, I’m really glad for the close friends I do have – no matter how geographically far they may be – and the experiences that brought us together.