Category Archives: Travel

Dressed in Green

Adventure never ceases.

Last summer, before moving to Chennai, I watched this video:

Today marks one week until school is out for the summer. Wanting just one more adventure before I leave, I set out with a friend to find this place. When looking it up, we discovered that Birdman of Chennai is an actual “place” on Google Maps. We drove straight there, more or less. We were looking for a camera shop, and there wasn’t one, but we recognized the neighbourhood from the video. And then we saw a big sign with birds all over it, on the second story of a mattress shop and upholstery shop. We got out, and the merchants told us, in broken English, that the birds would come soon. We had about 20 minutes to wait for the magic to begin.

In our research, Google told us that it “opened” at 4:00pm. Once we arrived, we learned that the birds gather to eat two times per day, 5-6am and 4-6pm. There are different flocks that gather on different “shifts” to eat. A colleague and professional photographer, Shannon Zirkle-Prabhaker, photographed the Birdman and the birds for an article in Silkwinds Magazine. Her photos are shown here and the Silkwinds article explains it all.

I didn’t realize that I chose green clothes, matching the birds, until one of the thousands of Rose-Ringed Parakeets pooped on my head while crossing the very busy street of Bharathi Salai. I grabbed my scarf to wipe myself clean and realized how my fashion accessory matched the surroundings!

The Birdman, and his friends, explained that the camera shop no longer exists, but he still has many vintage cameras and he would like to sell them. He lives in the building across the street, and continues to feed the birds two times a day. We didn’t fully understand all that they were trying to tell us but there was something about the BBC coming and shooting film for 4 days, and something else about the building being tied up in a court case. It was an amazing experience. I’m thankful, as always.

What adventure can you go on today?

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Continued Transitions

Every week I think about writing a new blog post and every week I get so overwhelmed with all my new experiences, I can’t decide which one to write about, so I don’t write at all. I’m reasonably relaxed now, a week into my Winter Holiday break from school, and decided to put words onto digital paper.

I’m excited with my choice to live and work in India, but the transition stages of culture shock seem to be taking longer to process through, as compared to when I moved to Istanbul in 2013. In Turkey, I remember feeling invigorated to be living in a new-to-me Muslim country and experiencing life in a historically rich, city with new tastes, languages, sights and sounds. As I reflect, there were many things that were familiar to me already.

Turkey is a European country and I’ve traveled to Europe many times. Istanbul has four seasons, just like in Texas. I had been a tourist in Istanbul two years prior to moving there. Western fashion brands are common. Surprisingly, there were Victoria’s Secret billboards up on the main roads. There was a clean and modern metro to get you around from place to place. The city of Istanbul has city services in place, such as trash removal and recycling. Metro and bus cards were easily topped up. I could always find a relatively clean public toilet if I needed one. Although Turkish foods were new to me, fruits and vegetables were the sizes and shapes that I knew and had used in the USA. There were so many dogs and cats on the streets and these animals were common to me. I knew at least something about several of the great civilizations in historical Turkey: Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Islam is different from Christianity but because Islam, Judaism and Christianity all recognize Abraham as their first prophet, they have a lot in common.

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In contrast, there is very little here in Chennai that seems familiar to my western understanding of the world. It is both bewildering and exciting. My local, Indian friends have said there are 3 seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. It is tropical here and I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a tropical environment before. The trees, plants and flowers are so different. There are some fruits and vegetables that I know, but there are many more that I don’t know and have never even seen pictures of. And the foods here are prepared with an understanding of the medicinal effects of each food and spice. I had never traveled to India before moving here to live. Chennai, with a population of approximately 10 million, has limited city planning. There are very few city services available in the way that I’m used to. There is public transportation that the locals use but I don’t (yet) feel comfortable using the buses and trains by myself. There are many new forms of transportation to me including tuktuks, or autoricks, and so many, many motorbikes. The rules of the road are completely different to me and I can’t begin to imagine driving here. There are dogs and cats that live on the street, but also cows, donkeys and goats, monkeys, tropical birds, bats, lizards and strange insects. In north India there are also camels and elephants roaming on the street. Tigers, half-horse-half-cow sort of animal called a blue bull nilgai and so many more exotic-to-me animals live in this country. The beautiful clothes that most women wear are certainly not western. Cotton and silk are the preferred fabrics. In most cases, the recipes for cooking are completely new to me, including the spices. For many years in Dallas there were only a few Indian restaurants. The food here in Chennai is not like anything I’ve ever had or tasted in the USA. Thankfully, many Indian people have immigrated to Dallas and new, authentic Indian restaurants are now opening. Although Christians, Muslims and Buddhists live here, the Hindu religion is the most noticeable, and certainly the most different, to me. There are temples and alters on every block. Flower, fruit and oil lamp offerings are made daily and small businesses exist on the street to provide the commodities needed for these daily rituals. The smells and sounds coming from these holy places do not connect to any memory in my life experiences. There are 30 MILLION gods. Hard, manual labor exists and you see it everyday. An American friend said, “Although I’ve worked all my life, as an American, I’ve never really worked a day in my life.” And, for good or for bad, the ugly is not hidden away.

After living here for two months, I consciously passed through a new phase of transition when I received my bank debit card, figured out how to order groceries online and figured out how to take a tuktuk to/from school everyday. These three things caused my transition to blossom into positive possibilities.

After living here for four months, I recognized the amazing difference it made to befriend Indian people as they held the secrets to understanding this new way of life. Within these friendships, I could ask questions without offending. They see that I am truly curious and am eager to learn. I am so grateful for these people that have shown up in my life as they are making all the difference in my transition.

Are you aware of the transitions of your own life?

 

 

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I’ve arrived

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First thoughts.

There’s no way to prepare for India. Friends who have traveled or lived here, attempted to paint a picture of what I might experience. People tried to describe it with words, but there’s no way to do that with words.  Words help us describe our emotions and our thoughts, but words are inadequate to describe India. You have to experience it. I don’t have a vocabulary that easily explains a hundred different things going on at the same time, matched with how I’m feeling about those exact things all at the same time. There’s so much visual and audible stimulation in every single little city block that after two weeks of traveling along the exact same roads, back and forth, every single day, I still cannot be fully sure of ever where I am. I’m very excited by it and so glad I made the decision to come. I’m very happy. But with that said, it is so chaotic, fast – and yet also, so very slow, and in every possible way my five senses are stimulated to the point I think my head is going to explode some days.

The globalization/modernization/commercialization that has happened in Chennai in the last 4 years is unbelievable according to those who have been here longer. There are modern, technology-driven, high-rise buildings going up everywhere, yet right next door people are sleeping on the dirt and cows are freely rummaging through the trash on the street. People that are disfigured, without limbs or with strange, curious skin afflictions, are left to beg. The highways, sidewalks and train tracks that are being constructed are primarily being built by hand with very little machinery. I’m trying to digest it all. God’s nature is dramatically beautiful through the tropical plants and flowers and the powerful, mighty ocean, yet I watch fishermen, from my 4th floor balcony, come into the grassy area that meets the sandy beach and poop. Right there. How do you prepare for this? I am observing life in the raw: human beings living and making their way. Surviving. It is absolutely incredible.

What does your part of the world look like?

 

 

 

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The invitation

1 in 101.

These last few weeks have been difficult. Many Americans who reside in this land we call the United States of America, don’t feel very united. My own heart and mind have been sad and confused. The USA feels unnatural to me; almost foreign. Some things are recognizable but many other things aren’t. Just when I thought I couldn’t bear to listen to one more disturbing news report, or read one more Facebook post about this nation and our government, I got a wonderful invitation that ended up being a perfect gift as I leave this country to live in another.

We met at work in 2016. Although he was originally from Mexico, he’d been living in Texas for more than a decade with a green card. He’d made his life here. His sons were born here, his career was here and his dreams of the future were here. As we grew to know each other better, I questioned this soft-spoken man about why he’d never gained his citizenship. I explained that his vote was needed. All the votes are needed to accurately represent the people of this country.

Over the next two years, with the help of our company and others, he hired an attorney and began this long process. There were meetings to attend, paperwork that had to be completed and so much WAITING. Every now and then I’d ask where he was in the process, and he’d respond that more time was needed. As time went by, and more changes were made with regard to immigrants, I was nervous that it might not materialize. I quit asking about it months ago.

I resigned from work in early June to spend time with family and friends on the west coast. I returned to Texas with only two weeks to sell my car, spend time with friends and finalize my international move. With a To-Do list a mile long, I received a text: “I have my ceremony for my naturalization of citizenship this July 19!!!!” and the text message included big, smiling emojis and a USA flag. I immediately responded to his text and quickly, within a few comments, I replied, “I would love to come.”

And so I did.

I’ve never been to a naturalization ceremony and was thrilled to be spending it with my friend and his sister. The room was filled, standing room only. Everyone was dressed so nice, many wearing the Stars and Stripes on their selected attire. Many others chose the simple colors of Red, White or Blue. Excitement was in the air. It was thrilling! Cameras were clicking non-stop.

After clearing security, he was separated from us, and was escorted into a large room with the other 100 qualified applicants. After waiting 45 minutes, the family and friends of each of the applicants, were released to take our seats in the same large room. Lucky us! We were seated across the aisle from him and were able to take photos from this vantage point.

The décor of the room, the videos, the songs and the speeches squeezed our hearts. After spending a month in beautiful California, my heart swelled at the physical beauty of this nation. Surrounded by a hundred eager faces, the visual images of our National Parks and the encouraging quotes of historical figures began to thaw my icy feelings about this country. One by one, each of the 35 country names were called out, and those from that country stood up.

Australia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Brazil

China

Burma (Myanmar)

Colombia

Cuba

Dominican Republic

Ecuador

El Salvador

Ghana

Honduras

India

Iraq

Ireland

Kenya

Liberia

Malaysia

Mexico

Nepal

Nicaragua

Nigeria

Philippines

Republic of South Korea

Russia

South Africa

Sweden

Syria

Taiwan

Thailand

Togo

Trinidad and Tobago

Uganda

United Kingdom

Vietnam

The joy of these 101 was contagious and it spread throughout the room as their names were called. There was clapping, yelling, tears and awe. The presenter mentioned that some of the 101 had been through much to get to this point, and as we all stood together, we were honored for them to join us as American citizens.

It was an amazing ceremony that left me changed. I am thankful to be an American. I did nothing to deserve it, but was simply born here and given rights and privileges that so many do not have. I feel a responsibility to teach and encourage others to dream of what is possible inside a broken world. When I arrive in my new “home” country, I will strive to be an ambassador of the United States of America, and set an example of love and truth. It will be my goal to develop empathy in my new students.

How many immigrants do you have as friends?

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Hello. It’s Been Awhile.

Hello.

It’s Me.

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet,
To go over everything.
They say that time’s supposed to heal ya
But I ain’t done much healing . . .
(Song lyrics by Adele)

This month is my two year anniversary of being back in Dallas, my home. I’ve spent these last two years in deep reflection, trying to mend my broken, homesick-for-Istanbul, repatriating heart. Some days have been full of love and laughter, but many others were filled with deep sadness and longing. I’ve turned over every rock hoping to re-discover my identity and to make peace with who I became in Turkey.

Looking back at photos over the last two years, I made a list of all the good things that I’ve experienced. I don’t want to forget my time here because 2018 will be a year of extraordinary change for me.

  • Just after moving back, I participated in a 4-hour long historic tour of Dallas. It started at Lee Harvey’s and ended at Clyde Barrow’s grave.
  • I’ve wandered through historic Fair Park and marveled at the beautiful Art Deco monuments and architecture. I’ve also explored the Butterfly Gardens.
  • I’ve had two different apartment leases in two very different historic neighborhoods of Dallas: Oak Cliff, near the Bishop Arts District and Uptown, near Downtown’s Arts District.
  • I’ve been able to visit my daughter and her husband in San Diego, CA numerous times and they’ve visited me in Dallas. I’ve enjoyed spending the weekend with friends in Austin, Texas, and was able to see young friends tie the knot in Palm Springs, CA. I’ve travelled internationally to London, Switzerland and Mexico.
  • I’ve been able to spend holidays and birthdays with family and I’ve enjoyed watching my niece and nephew grow up. I’ve been able to care for my elderly mom and help her with many things.
  • I’ve experienced rapid population growth and expansion of Dallas in the last two years. I’ve personally observed skyscrapers, apartments and corporate offices being built all over the metroplex as more and more companies move to Texas.
  • I’ve been proud to help my brother and my sis-in-law expand their family business and learn new skills. I’ve been able to learn about an entire new industry.
  • Out of personal loneliness I created two new communities in Dallas. I started a Mah Jong group in Oak Cliff and I started a Global Education Group within InterNations Dallas. Both groups provided me much needed friendships and both groups continue to thrive.
  • As a member of InterNations Dallas, I’ve been able to participate in international experiences through a variety of cultural activities. Highlights include a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, a Thailand and an Armenian festival, a Middle Eastern Iftar dinner during Ramadan, a Polish book club meeting and a group trip to San Miguel Allende for Dia de las Muertas.
  • I’ve been able to help others through HRI (Human Rights Initiative of North Texas), deliver food on Thanksgiving with Operation Turkey Dallas and help with the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.
  • After a terror attack on my city, I experienced shock and mourning when five police officers were shot and killed in 2016 less than 3 miles from my home. In 2017 I participated in a prayer vigil at Dallas’ Thanksgiving Square for the Las Vegas victims following another domestic terror attack and I’ve just marched with thousands of my neighbors in the 2018 Dallas Women’s March.
  • I’ve played tennis regularly and have explored my city on foot in my Uptown neighborhood. I have loved having access to Klyde Warren Park, Griggs Park and the Katy Trail.
  • I’ve been fortunate to see many wonderful art exhibitions at my favorite place, The Nasher Sculpture Center, where I still participate as a member on the Nasher Teacher Advisory Board.

Most of all, I’ve made so many new friends, many from other nations. Dallas has indeed become an international city seemingly overnight. I frequently pass people speaking other languages on my daily walks. After two years, I’m beginning to feel at home again.

And yet, my heart continues to be unsettled; yearning.

I want to go.

So I looked to see what else there might be and there it was. Again I have been given a great opportunity to live inside a new culture and teach children from many nations.

And so, I go. I am so grateful. Thank you everyone. Thank you, Dallas.

Will 2018 be a year of change for you too?

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Things I Learned

nov2016imageRemembering.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been writing schools and checking out websites of potential employers. As of this morning, there are 58 Art Teacher openings posted on the Search Associates website. As I contemplate the possibility of moving to a new country, I am reminded of all the learning that one goes through upon immersion into a new culture. I am both excited by it and unnerved by it. The adrenalin rush that an expat feels upon arrival in a new country is not easily forgotten. Cleaning out some old documents, I came across this list I made of a few of the things I learned in Turkey:

 

  1. How to pee in a hole. I will never forget a sweet, female Turkish friend bending over in laughter when I asked her how to do this. Through gulps of laughter, she shut my art room door and acted out some important strategies that all Turkish girls are taught. This knowledge forever changed my life in Turkey.
  1. How to say, “Kas lira?” (How many lira does this cost?). Then learning how to count to 30, and finally how to negotiate/haggle. I became a confident buyer before too many months.
  1. How to tolerate the smokers. Smokers are everywhere. Smoking is what people do. Both young and old people smoke. I remember thinking, “Well maybe smoking won’t actually give you cancer like we’re taught to believe in USA. There are tons of old people here and they all smoke!” I still wonder about this…
  1. How to be a calm passenger in the backseat of a taxi, with a crazy driver, and not wear a seat belt. Seat belts exist in taxis, but they are all “adjusted” so that they don’t work. Now imagine this, staying calm, with loud Turkish music playing on the radio, and slipping and sliding down very steep hills covered with snow. It was during these rides that the carefree taxi drivers would ask me, in broken English, “Where from?” When I said, “Dallas, Texas”, they would often say, “Ah, Dallas!! JR!!” I learned that people in Turkey love the show, “Dallas”.
  1. I learned who Ataturk was and why he is important to the nation of Turkey. I now know more about Ataturk than I do George Washington, and I love him too! Ataturk’s picture hangs in every classroom and in many homes. His picture hangs on street-side banners and permanent signage all over the city.
  1. How planning ahead is of no use in many countries outside the USA. The ability to organize my time, that I’ve become so good at, didn’t work in Turkey. Things change. Their cultural understanding of every thought, every decision is, “Inshallah”: If Allah wills it. I learned better how to roll with the punches and live in the moment. I’m not an expert at it, but I’m better at it now than I used to be.

As I venture onward into this recruiting season, I am faced with another season of transition. I know the excitement of moving and the hardships of immersion. Finding the right “fit” of a country, and a school, is of upmost importance. Decisions should be made carefully and wisely, and for me, with a lot of prayer.

What questions do you ask yourself to know if a big change in your future is a step in the right direction?

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My New State (of mind), Part 2

LifeIsUncertain

Photo credit: Briget Moore Murphy

Changes.

Eleven months ago I began the journey of repatriation and I’m here to tell you that I’ve taken a beating. When I started this blog in 2012, I tried to uncover everything I could about how to get an overseas teaching job. What I never researched, and never even thought about, were the effects of reverse culture shock – if and when I’d ever return to the USA.

During my first months in Istanbul, Turkey, when culture shock was overwhelming at times, I reached out to administrators, colleagues and friends who were experiencing the same thing. Most of us had moved there from different countries and were not native to Turkey. We supported each other and worked through all the emotional changes we were experiencing. What I never prepared myself for was the hardship of coming back to your home country, alone, with no one who understood or could give emotional support.

After returning to the USA and living out of WalMart gray containers in the homes of friends and family for nine months, I felt like a tumbling tumbleweed. Even so, I don’t know how to ever repay the generosity of these people who lovingly opened their homes to me while I tried to sort out my life and make new decisions. After the wedding of my only daughter in early January, I drove back to my home state of Texas, crying all the way across California, Arizona and New Mexico. I felt like I’d lost all my identities: being a mother, being a teacher, being an artist and being a traveler.

I’ve now been in Texas for eight months. My brother and his wife graciously offered me a job in their company and I rented a small apartment. I count my blessings every day as I get to be alone with my thoughts and my things. My thoughts have been tangled this year, but two weeks ago I finished a 6-week course by Dr. Cate Brubaker called The Re-Entry Relaunch Roadmap. I would highly recommend this course to anyone struggling with repatriation. It helped me process all the changes I’ve been through and it gave me a community of people who understand me. One key exercise was to reframe my re-entry experience in a few words. The statement I came up with explains where I’m at in my new state of mind: Rest and Re-Invent.

One reader of my blog recently wrote me and asked if I were going to write again; she hoped so. With her in mind, I’m looking forward to sharing some new ideas in the weeks ahead.

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My new State. . . (of mind)

SantaFephotoDry as the desert.

I wouldn’t have believed it could happen to me. I’d read articles about how difficult repatriation is, but I always imagined it happening to those who’d lived abroad for many, many years. I’d only lived overseas for two, short years when I decided to come back to the States to more fully participate in my only child’s upcoming wedding.

After the long journey home with my belongings, I rested and adapted to jetlag in Dallas, Texas for four weeks. During that time, I saw friends and family and house-sat for two different friends in their beautiful homes. As lovely as this was, living out of a suitcase becomes old. I then flew to California, where my daughter lives, and had a very loose plan to stay with her until her wedding in January. I brought enough clothes to last through the changing seasons. I walked everywhere, just as I was used to doing in Istanbul, but found after about a week, I was getting restless. I attended a few meet-ups and art outings. I began looking for possible employment. For the first time ever, I began to feel that my age was a factor in both job-seeking and social outings.

Then I signed up for Obamacare health insurance. Wow! Expensive! The reality of living in the USA began to infiltrate all my thoughts. I could see that my savings would quickly disappear if I did not find a job. I initially thought of working for Starbucks or Trader Joe’s for a few months, until after the wedding. I’d always heard these companies had good benefit packages, but what I didn’t consider was the fact of no vacation and horrible hours. For example, after researching Trader Joe’s, I learned that an employee shift can last until midnight and begin the next day as early as 4:00 am. Three hours of sleep? No, thank you.

Within a few days, I began to reconsider living in California without a job. Several of my good friends live in Santa Fe and were working hard to convince me to move there for a few months.  I’d visited Santa Fe a couple of times and found it interesting with its many cultural offerings and I thought it might be a good place to be through the fall; halfway between my daughter in San Diego and my mother in Dallas. I decided to try it, so I bought a car and drove to New Mexico!

I have only just started to explore what this small city has to offer in terms of cultural explorations, and I think, actually, there are many. I love having a car and the fact that I can arrive anywhere in this city in less than 15 minutes. There’s a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods here and I’ve discovered red and green chilies. There’s an art movie cinema, and farmer’s market. I’m curious to learn about the history of the Native Americans and the Spanish explorers. My long-term friends who live here have been so generous, kind and encouraging. They’ve allowed me to vent frustrations and sadness of repatriation.

I’m continuing to help plan my daughter’s wedding. Everything is coming together. It will be joyous and I’ll be able to easily meet her in Dallas for a planned bridal shower.

I continue to be grateful to live in a city with friends. The skies are amazing with the enormous swirling, painted brushstroke clouds. The yellow color of the sunflowers has grabbed my attention and the rainbows here are vertical. It’s weird. A good friend just told me of a place called Tent Rocks, less than an hour away. Suppossedly, it looks like Cappadocia, Turkey.

 

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Two short years

may2015blogGrateful.

Weeks away from moving across the world, I’m trying to savor each moment I have left in Istanbul. Each time I go to a favorite neighborhood I realize it may be the last time I’ll be there. This place is now one of my homes, and although it is not possible to fully discover this city of almost twenty million people, I do know how to find my favorite markets, cultural and historical sights. I’ve learned how to maneuver the busy, crooked streets by foot or using public transportation and find any destination I’m searching for. I’ve learned just enough Turkish to make the locals comfortable with me and I treasure the friendships I’ve made. As I look out over the cityscape with a heart of gratitude, I hope it won’t be long until I visit again.

I’ve spent the weekend packing up my belongings. I was surprised to realize that I’ll likely need to purchase another piece of luggage to get my things back to the States. When I arrived here two years ago, I brought the fewest of necessity items, but since then I’ve discovered Turkish towels, Afghanistan pottery and Uzbekistan textiles. Who can resist this city that spans 700-square miles? There are so many Turkish delights! And since I was home last summer, I’ve visited seven more countries, buying small tokens of remembrance in each.

What an adventure I’ve been on! My mind has expanded in all directions through the conversations I’ve had and the books I’ve read. But, I’m weary. I’m longing for calm. I miss my family and friends. I’m eager to be home, on the other side. I am looking forward to being taken care of by people who know and love me well.

Istanbul, I love you. You’ve changed me and you’ve educated me beyond what I thought was possible. Be well, my friend.

 

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Time flies

OctBlogPhotoWhen you’re having fun.

It’s been just over six months since I’ve paid any attention to my blog. Lately a few people have asked about it and I felt a tug on my heart to write a short post. I never know what to say; there’s always so much to tell. How do I choose?

Over the summer I went home to Texas and also traveled to California to see my daughter. I was eager to gauge my feelings and emotions – both of being back in the States and also returning to Istanbul. All that’s worth noting is that I loved seeing my family and friends but I was super excited to come back. This is an amazing, energy-filled city and it continues to have my full attention. I am grateful for how much I’ve changed and how much I’ve learned about the world through my students, my travels and my new international friends.

November is around the corner. I am now involved in decisions that will guide my future. Should I stay or should I go? It is already time to decide if I will extend my contract or move on. I love Istanbul. I love living overseas but also wonder what it would be like to live in other distant lands. I miss my family too. It is a constant tug of war. Words that my mother always told me come to mind, “It’s always good to have options. Many people do not have any. Even when the decisions are hard to make, it is still better to have options.”

I challenge you to carefully observe your life and your options.

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