Time out

Tomorrow, I’m off to follow my dream. Tomorrow, I will be getting in my car to start a four-month road trip in which I karaoke in the 48 contiguous states. Tomorrow, I will begin my MelOdyssey.

I’ll be taking time away from this blog for a few months so I can focus on my new one. I hope you will follow me on my journey — and pursue your own as well.


Follow your own path


Last day, First day

Last day in the office. Even though I stroll in a few minutes later than usual, no one is there to notice. It’s completely quiet. My boss is out of town, and others will slowly trickle in as the morning wears on. It rained today for the first time in ages — strange for Oregon this time of year — so my commute didn’t include the clear view of Mt. Hood I’d gotten used to over the past few weeks. Every day for the past 13 months, whether the sun was out or not, I would take a less conventional route to the office in order to express gratitude for the view. Today, clouds and drizzle dominate, so I didn’t see much, but it was still beautiful. I suppose summer doesn’t really start in Oregon until July 5th anyway.


My daily view when it was clear out.


At my desk for the last time; I wake my computer up. There’s one tea bag left on my office shelf, my stash coincidentally budgeted exactly right. While here, tea has been a part of my daily ritual. Today it is sipped out of a paper cup because I brought my mug home earlier this week. Over time I’ve saved some of the quotes attached to the bags; those are already home as well, along with a few pictures and a ball-shaped tie-dye monkey given to me by a friend who also writes. I tore open my teabag and read, “Sing with all your heart.” Perfect – eerily too perfect – for a week from that day I will be launching a road trip where I karaoke in the 48 contiguous states.


The perfect omen: The teabag reads “Sing with all your heart.”

I add it to my collection which consists of other sayings that felt right on the mornings they were given to me:

“Joy is the essence of success”

“A relaxed mind is a creative mind”

“If ‘Plan A’ didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters”

I felt that each of those teabags was needling me to leave my job. Eventually I listened.

Boredom and chaos punctuate this last day, which made it both typical and atypical. I turn in my computer and recording equipment, leaving the box of tissues behind, along with the pen I’m using to write this on scrap paper. The pen is nothing special – a ballpoint from a major hotel chain – but it’s the pen I’ve used since I got here. Somehow I managed to keep the same pen this entire time.

I close my office door one final time to attend a happy hour held partially in my honor of my departure. Another colleague is also leaving. I barely knew her. She’s off on a fellowship and I’m off to chase dreams. I wish us both success.

Singing Oregon (#5)

Note: It’s my goal to karaoke in all 50 states. I’ve done 20 so far, and although Oregon was the 5th state in which I ever sang, I am reflecting on a time that happened just last weekend. Because, you know, I karaoke all the time here.

The Facebook notification intrigued me: “Julie posted a video on your time line.” Since I was on my phone, I didn’t look right away, waiting until I got to a computer to see what it was. I saw the video was of me, singing “It’s Raining Men” at her birthday party. I clicked “play.” The first thing I heard was me singing off key, and I cringed. I actually couldn’t listen to the whole thing the first time around. I debated on taking it down; I didn’t need anyone else hearing that. Only three people “liked” it, so I placated myself to the idea that not many were seeing it and, if they were, not many were actually playing it all the way through.

I felt embarrassed. I thought I was a better singer than that. I had other data in the form of compliments from both friends and random strangers that leads me to believe I have a decent singing voice. The voice in my head sounds pretty darn good, too. But listening to this video made me think differently: reassess how I feel about singing. It didn’t feel right, but at the same time, how can one argue with evidence?


I sort of thought I sounded more like these lovely ladies. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After a while, I got up enough courage and played it again. I swore I would let it go the whole way through. Again I felt uncomfortable – why is it that we tend to sound so much better in our heads than in reality? – but powered through, fighting all desires to stop it.

And during that time, I took a deep breath and really listened.

I heard people having fun.

There’s dancing, singing, laughing, shouting, cheering.

Those are the important sounds – not my flat belting of the strong notes, or throat-dominant chorus. I still gritted my teeth and winced a little (OK, a lot) as I listened to the whole thing, but try to see through the imperfections and focus on what really mattered. That night, a bunch of people gathered together to celebrate a birthday. We crammed into a room and sang, and laughed, and had a great time. There were Jello shots and cupcakes. People had a good time when I sang, and they didn’t just sit back but they participated in the joy. And, while I was up there, I was having a great time too.

keep calm and karaoke


I am still not happy with what I hear, and I probably will never listen to the video again. But I am doing my best to look beyond it and refocus my energies on what karaoke is about. I am not at all critical when others sing – I enjoy lovely off-key renditions of so many songs sung from the heart. Yet, here I am, feeling embarrassed by what others heard from me. I recognize the hypocrisy here, and I will try to be more forgiving of myself. Karaoke is entertainment, not because of the quality of the vocals, but because it brings people together. One giant sing-a-long.

Someday, I’ll be able to apply the message I give to others to myself as well.

You can read very different posts about singing in WyomingPennsylvania and New Jersey too.

My three songs*

A friend from college posted this interesting piece about “Your life in three songs”  — basically, can you sum up your life in just three songs? I will continue to ponder this, and instead today I created “My current life in three songs.” Drum roll please…

  1. Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.  Song from my formative years, a sports rock anthem to reflect my fandom, a song that is epic to karaoke. I like the message as well. Though it’s a bit bleak, I like the idea of just getting on that train and going (on and on and on and on).


    Me singing a song I can’t relate to at all.

  2. Vienna by Billy Joel  In general, I identify with almost all of his songs in some shape or form and, growing up outside of NYC in the 70s and 80s, he was simply the Man. This is a song that current me could sing to my “younger self.” Begging someone to “slow down” and advising “Though you can see where you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right. You’re right.” It would have been nice, when I was younger, to have believed in myself a little bit more. I am turning out just fine.
  3. These are Days by 10,000 Maniacs.  The idea of living in the present, appreciating the mundane, the moment. Hearing this song instantly cheers me up when I hear it. I involuntarily smile whenever it comes on. And, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to sing as well:

These are days you’ll remember

Never before and never since, I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
and as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true
that you are blessed and lucky
it’s true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are days you’ll remember

When May is rushing over you with desire
to be part of the miracles you see in every hour
you’ll know it’s true, that you are blessed and lucky
it’s true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are the days
that you might fill with laughter
until you break

These days you might feel a shaft of light
make its way across your face
and when you do
you’ll know how it was meant to be
see the signs and know their meaning

You’ll know how it was meant to be
hear the signs and
know they’re speaking to you
to you

Thanks Jennifer and NPR for the inspiration! I was totally struggling to find something to write about. Another lesson about letting go and trusting that things will sort themselves out. And now to ponder how I can condense my entire life into only three songs. It will be interesting to see if any will actually overlap with the ones above. Stay tuned!

*Who remembers this game from KFOG in San Francisco?

Six month review

It’s been a little over six months since I’ve returned to American soil, yet it seems like forever ago. I find myself feeling as though I never left the US – as though all I learned from being away has simply vanished into a different reality. Was it only a year ago that I went out into the desert and rode a camel? Went snorkeling in an amazing sea? Seemed to have all the time in the world to contemplate both everything and nothing? That person who enjoyed those things doesn’t seem to exist anymore, yet here I am in (somewhat) the same body that I occupied there and then.

When I first got back, I wrote about what I had taken away from my travels in terms of shifting priorities and focus. Since I’m due for a six-month review in my job, I figured I would do one on these aspects of my life (original goal in italics):

  • More minimal living – I want less space and fewer possessions, especially when it comes to my wardrobe.
    I’ll give myself a passing grade here, but barely. I have enjoyed buying more than a few items since I’ve returned, but part of that is due to, ahem, a slightly “fluffier” body thanks to a bit of overindulgence of Mexican food and beer upon my return. I really missed a good ale and some tacos. I also find that I enjoy dresses and skirts more than slacks now, so I am letting my wardrobe shift in that direction. I’m late to the game, but am discovering the wonders of tights and leggings (this means they will be out of fashion in 3…2…1….).
  • Appreciation of food for its variety and simplicity.
    Yup. Doing this and happy about it. Cooking more vegetables at home and spending more time with friends in the kitchen. When I first got back there was too much dining out (see above), but I am enjoying a wide variety of foods and am still enjoying the not-too-fancy. And soon it will be roasted vegetable season! Hooray!
  • Friendship and the need to be present with those I love.
    I’ve seen most of my friends since I’ve been back with a few notable exceptions. I sense a couple of Happy Hours in my future, and I am hoping to revive a version of the Toddy Tour now that the weather is colder; this is where a group of women get together once a week at a different bar to sample the Hot Toddies across Portland. Yum! My brother and sister-in-law were just in town to help celebrate my birthday (of course there was karaoke). Many weekends are spent on my block, hanging out with neighbors who are also my dear friends. Going to their plays, cooking food, lazing about while enjoying Sunday morning bubbly. I’m also trying to see one of my closest friends as much as possible; she’s sick and every moment of being with her is precious. Texts about the mundane are enjoyable, wonderful moments. It would be nice if I thought of all my interactions that way.

    bday celebration

    Me and my amazing sister-in-law sipping tropical drinks at a karaoke bar. Magic!

  • The awareness that there is little I can control. Letting go is something I will continue to struggle with and I look forward to the challenge.
    Not sure how much I’ve been challenged here (knock on wood), but I think I’m getting better. My basement flooded this weekend and I didn’t have a complete meltdown. I consider that a victory!
  • Taking day trips/weekend getaways. Even one night somewhere else does so much to recharge my mind and soul.
    My knee-jerk reaction to this was that I haven’t been getting away much. Not sure what the ideal bar would be for me, but when I review what I’ve done since I’ve been back, I think I’ve been doing OK actually. I spent some very fun weekends with my father at the stock car races this summer, which then had me staying at my parents’ house overnight (they live about an hour away). While not exactly the stereotypical “getaway weekend,” going down there does recharge me. Also, I’ve been up to Seattle a couple of times to visit a friend and attend intellectual events (a talk, conference) – while Portland has tons of talks, for some reason I haven’t really gone to many. I don’t think about them here; I bet it’s a neat way to explore the city in a different light. I’ve gone to Sacramento to visit Dave and ride around in his Singer – ah, sun. Hmmm, why does it feel like I’m in Portland all the time?


    The most enjoyable deathtrap ever.

  • Meditation practice. Haven’t revisited this yet, but planning on it! Really. Someone hold me accountable! Or perhaps it will naturally happen when I am ready.
    Fail in this department. Who’s the ass-kicker who will help me with this? I find it funny that I want someone to kick my butt about meditating more. Seems wonderfully inappropriate and paradoxical.
  • Tea breaks. Wherever I went, people actually stopped for tea. “To go” was rare. I want to take the time to sit and enjoy.
    So-so here. I sip tea at my desk constantly, and enjoy using the mug that I co-opted from the college (Lipton, the sign of good taste). When I work from home, I have morning tea while I answer emails. There I use a mug with Snoopy on it that says “Canada.” I bought it at Incheon airport in South Korea. But I am not actually taking breaks while I have tea. Still, the tea itself makes my work more relaxing. While I think it’s doing what I need it to do, I still could benefit from the occasional break from my desk.


    Sipping tea from my liberated Omani mug.

  • Writing. Though no longer an expat, I hope to continue to write about things I did while overseas, and things I experience here as a result. If there’s anything you are interested in learning about, I welcome questions and inspiration.
    Thanks to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month), I am planning on stepping up my game. Writing makes me feel better. Sharing it even more so. As I said six months ago, please send me your questions/ideas for writing! I have a full month to go of daily writing. It will be interesting to see what I end up posting.

Huh. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. I’ve maintained a lot more of these shifts than I feel on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps this is something I can meditate on in the future.