Space: Less is More

I wrote this post almost a month ago, but have been running around getting ready to head to Oman in a couple of days. Now that I have left my house, reduced my possessions to a large suitcase and a carry-on, I feel more relaxed than I have since I came back to the US. Less stuff, less concerns. Just a simplified life which feels wonderful.

First night in the house alone in a really long time. First night alone in a long time, really. It feels fine and all, but it doesn’t feel like home, even though I pay the mortgage. I’m in the downstairs bedroom and what remains of my furniture is arranged haphazardly in the living room, ready to be carted off to the basement. More likely a storage unit where it will remain for a year – or more – while I continue my travels.

My house March 2014

My super fancy storage unit. I moved here in 2001.

This is by far the most space I have experienced in a long time. Dave and I shared two different places, each about 250 square feet for two months at a time. Before that I lived in a one-room cottage at my cousin’s house in Auckland (I guess that was sort of being alone, but not really: an in between state of independence and cohabitation. Before that I shared a 1000 square foot condo with my aunt and uncle. Reviewing this timeline, I believe the last time I slept alone was in Taos; I even shared a hotel room when I went to a conference last October in Dallas.


The cottage in Auckland.

The issue of space has been the most difficult for me to adjust to since coming back to the US. It took me a good four times before I was able to marginally cope going to a grocery store. They are so big and there are so many choices. The first time I went in, I felt my heart race, my brain grow confused. Yet I managed to grab a bar of soap, some shampoo and conditioner, along with a loaf of bread and hummus to sustain me – all within 10 minutes. It would have been sooner if I wasn’t paralyzed by the number of hair products.

The second time I went shopping was the exact opposite. I believe it took me almost an hour and a half just to buy some basic things for a 4th of July BBQ. I felt lost going up and down the aisles. I stared at the different kinds of sausages and pretty much froze when it came time to come up with salad fixings.  I don’t even remember the third time. Then I went to Trader Joes and somehow it was semi-OK again.  I know people complain about the tight corners and narrow aisles there so maybe that’s why I fared better.

So now I exist in half of my house and it’s still too big. The upstairs is empty, waiting for the carpet installers to turn this place into a bonafide rental. The bottom half is not even totally useable, with the living-room-as-storage-unit pretty much just a pass through. That leaves me with the tiny bathroom, the bedroom, and the huge kitchen. I used to love it – still do to some extent – but now I see it more as wasteful. I hope the people who live here will appreciate the space and have many hands creating feasts. Me? While I don’t quite long for the kitchen I had in Korea (that was a bit extreme), I am looking forward to my next home being substantially smaller than this one. And, once again, it will be shared. The way homes are meant to be.


Community and Connection

This post is based on an email I wrote to a friend/colleague back in the US. We belonged to a group called the American Leadership Forum (ALF); this program is designed to create leaders in the community. Our particular faction of ALF was also charged with promoting positive change within Oregon’s juvenile justice system. I’m not sure how well we succeeded in doing that, but I left that program (early, to begin my travels) with a better sense of who I am, what I can be, and what it means to be a part of something.

Thanks for reaching out. It feels odd to be so removed from the ALF community without a sense of closure. My last meeting was when we were at Mark’s church. When it ended, I sort of thought to myself, “well, this is it; I won’t really see this group of people again.” I started to cry and I left quietly. I don’t think people really realized it was my last time. I had mentioned it but didn’t dwell. No one said goodbye. I tried to get back into the church assembly area — the place where Mark would presumably hold his sermons every Sunday (how horrible I don’t even know the right term for that room – but the place were people have service and pray), but it was locked from the outside. So I walked home. I don’t know what I would have done once inside anyway since I don’t think I have prayed since I was a child, and even that was just reciting some rote speech and bedtime.

passion flower

Portland is beautiful in the summer!

Since that day, I have had a couple of email exchanges with another ALFer about the meaning of life (seriously) and had brief communication with a couple of others. Just some email hellos and nice to hear from you. I follow two members on Facebook. I miss you, too.

So far, I have been in Sacramento, Denver & Taos (for just a few, but meaningful days), Toronto (I LOVE that city!) back to Oregon to spend holidays with family and friends, New Zealand, Australia, and now South Korea. Next month Dave and I go off to Vietnam for May and June. This time away has been a truly amazing experience and I am grateful for it. To be honest, I don’t want to go back.

The time away in different settings has allowed me to do so much thinking — the luxurious kind where big thoughts are allowed in and all answers are acceptable. I think about what my career means to me, what makes me happy, and who I am when I am not surrounded by obligation and responsibility (not sure if that is the real me, but it’s certainly a different one!). One topic that keeps coming up for me is community. Living in different places for only a couple of months at a time, I don’t really form friendships, but I do meet people and develop routines that allow me to get to know some people better than others. In Toronto, I played trivia once a week with a group of people who were sincerely fun to be around; we also would karaoke every other week. Conversations never ran deep, but I looked forward to their company; not company in general, but their specific presence.

Cunning Stunts

The trivia/karaoke gang, The Cunning Stunts, celebrating yet another victory!


Here in Cheonan, I “know” the lady who owns the coffee shop, a kindergarten teacher who frequents the park I do, a woman who I seem to run into on the street all the time (she goes to the coffee shop, too), the people who work at the corner 7-11, the pub owner, and a woman named Annie; she’s Chinese Korean but lives in South Carolina and is visiting her father. I see these people around and, with the exception of Annie, the language barrier prevents me from doing more than smiling, nodding, and saying hello. But they are still familiar faces and a part of my life now. They won’t be when I leave next month.

Even though I don’t know many, more certainly know me. Dave and I live in a more remote area of Cheonan (pop. 500,000). The downtown is pretty bustling, but out here it is pretty remote. We stand out quite a bit, needless to say, and people know us a lot more than we know them. The bus driver for Dave’s school told Dave that he saw me waiting for the bus the other day. I have no idea who this person is. Once when we went out to dinner, people came up to us and knew which school Dave worked for. I go to a nearby park to exercise daily and a couple of people brave enough to try their English (I know about 30 Korean words) say they know where I live and where Dave works. It’s sort of weird, but understandable. People are curious and it’s not hard to figure out who we are if one were to ask around. Their community is different with us Wegukin (foreigners) in it.

Cheonan at night

Cheonan at night can be happening — if you are downtown


I have also spent a lot more time with family (mother’s side in Toronto, father’s side in Auckland) — family that I don’t see that often because of distance and demands. It has been amazing (re)connecting with these people who really were only related to me by blood until I got to spend quality time with them. Thanks to those visits, I have experienced more of where I come from and how that has formed the sort of person I am. I am related to these people as my family now. And, my family members are pretty awesome people so that’s a huge plus :-).

I then closed my letter by saying that I hoped to be at the ALF reunion in July and to stay in touch. I am still pondering what communities I belong to now – especially when one considers the online world – and which ones I will be connected to in the future. Travel before the internet was completely different. Without email and social networking, one was completely separated from friends and family with the exception of letters; and those were only possible if one stayed in a place long enough to receive correspondence. Now, I chat with friends daily, see what others are up to online, and still maintain employment with my university (albeit part time). I have grown closer to some people. I don’t really talk to some others, but I believe that when I am back in the US the bonds will be just as strong. If not, that’s OK; some connections are meant to be more temporary and/or situational. Being away from any sort of true home base has allowed me to consider the meaning of community, friendship, and connection – related but very different concepts. And all beautiful.


My last week in Auckland. Four monarch butterflies dancing together in the garden. They land separately, but not for long until they are flying together again. Symbols of transformation and possibility keep me company today, along with the cat – my faithful companion who loves to catch and eat them and succeeds more often than I want (I wish for never). But Coco now sleeps on my bed so the monarchs (and I) are free to enjoy the sun and flowers.

I stand with my camera, hoping to sneak in a picture or two. I somewhat succeed. No way can I capture them flying together (the better image in my mind), but I am settling for what I can get. I would need a better camera and a lot more patience to get an image of them all together, and I have neither. Still working on the latter quality, though I have already come a long way. There is no real need for the former.  The monarchs fly inches from me – are they mocking or inviting me? Probably a bit of both. I put the camera away and just watch them. Wonder-full.

Butterfly spirit animal has gone from a caterpillar that is only capable of crawling ever so slowly long a twig to a Butterfly that is capable of taking flight across seas and continents. This is a message of what is possible in our own lives, of going beyond what we believe is possible.” — Presley Love

I think I may have found part of my next tattoo to commemorate this year.

One of the four that kept me company that day.

One of the four that kept me company that day.

So much easier to photograph them staying still (which wasn't often)

So much easier to photograph them staying still (which wasn’t often)

Coco often waits for butterflies.

Coco often waits for butterflies.