A cup of coffee one year later…

So it’s a Sunday morning and I’m savoring my iced coffee and banana protein pancakes, listening to EastLake music. Seems like a pretty normal Sunday morning in the book of Anne. Except it’s not. Because I’m in a stranger’s home [I rented it, for the record, not just squatting]. In the middle of Oakland, California [say, WHAT?!]. Because I’m about to go have family SuperBowl party with my Aussies. But most of all, because it’s my trip-a-versary.

One year ago today, I got off an airplane in Nadi, Fiji. A little bit nervous, anxious and excited. A lotta bit exhausted. I was hopeful. That this trip would do it for me. That the time away would heal my fractured heart and give life back to my weary limbs. One year ago today, I needed to be invigorated like nobody’s business.

And while I can’t claim even HALF of this was my doing [for there are a million people to this puzzle], I can confidently look back on this year of growth n grace and know that I invigorated…

I’ve spent time in 21 countries and been on 36 major flights this year and covered 90 major cities and towns…not including multi leg trips or the hundreds of additional sweet baby neighborhoods I explored along the way.

I felt spiritually connected to myself and my experiences and my God in the most surprising of places–in a mosque in Casa Blanca, Morocco and on a vineyard in Northern Italy and during my morning runs on a golf course in Ireland and on top of a mountain in Norway and watching fire-dancers in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, and wine pairing in Tuscany and watching sunsets from every nook and cranny of the world.

I spent the funnest, sweetest, most hilarious, terrifying, sickening, challenging, life-cementing moments with a crazy gal from California, with Fijian backpacker hosts, with each of my dear 4 HelpX hosts, with Mairi from Scotland, with my favorite Australian cousins, with my favorite American cousins, with a London taxi driver and with a Tuscany limo driver, with mom and sister and dad, with a bearded Arkansan, with 2 Seattle gals, with a Vietnamese boat captain, with my old boss from DC, with Rabat tour-guides-turned-friends, with a motorbike driver in Bali, with my favorite elephant-loving college bestie, with the boy I had a crush on in 7th grade, with my Kara.

This year, I para-glided in Spain and bathed an elephant in Thailand. I tasted wine in Australia and Italy. I motorbiked with no helmet on in every South East Asian country I could find. I lost my money, phone and sanity on the Cambodian border. I snorkeled with a shark in the Great Barrier Reef and shopped Saville Row in style. I saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat and watched the sunset over Mykonos, Greece. I watched a bull fight in Portugal and took selfies with kangaroos in Brisbane. I hiked in New Zealand and Norway and slept in hammocks in Vietnam and Fiji. I traveled in style with the Kulls and on a Greek cruise. And I rode on disgusting Vietnamese sleeper-trains and peed through the hole in the floor right onto the tracks. I had the drunkest night of my entire life with my dad [and then without my dad, cause I lost him] on opening night of Oktoberfest in Munich. I closed a club down in Stavangar and I took cooking classes with people from around the world. I got sick. Very sick. And I grew stronger. Way stronger.

I’ve been home for a few months now and I often think back on this year as if it was a dream. Frankly, I’ve been ‘on-the-go’ more at the tail end of 2015 than I was one year ago today when  ‘slow, steady, be present’ in Fiji was my greatest focus. I’m definitely back home. Ratrace and 9-5 included. And definitely hoping to find my balance in 2016.

The whirlwind of home brings lots of folks to ask me ‘did it work?’ Did your trip do what you wanted it to do for you?

The answer is yes. And no.

The time and space gave me a couple of very concrete things, that I prayed for. For one, it gave me peace with the fact that I will NEVER understand. Never tie a rational bow around the bullshit uninvited presents life’s thrown my way. And I now feel so comforted by the fact that I no.longer.need.to. It doesn’t have to make sense. And that’s ok. It’s way easier to just trust that God has the plan.

But it also proved that going on a trip isn’t the answer to anything. I knew it wasn’t when I set out. I was doing this trip for tangential hopes and goals. Not running away to find myself. But what I DIDN’T anticipate was how ‘letting go’ of all fears and Type-A and ‘normality’ would shift my heart in a big way. It gave me confidence. To plan when I want to and let the rest unfold like a beautifully nuanced storybook. It gave me confidence to go after what I want and not put my eggs in baskets that don’t deserve my eggs. I think it gave me some patience and understanding. And I definitely learned how to be present. Presence…a gift for sure.

One year later, from a stranger’s kitchen, I raise my perfectly clean coffee cup to myself who raised a not-so-clean coffee cup to the Fijian sea. And I cheers to the success of that ‘growth n grace’ prayer one year ago this morning.

And I take it one step further…Here’s to keeping memories and life lessons alive and well. Here’s to folding in that ‘me’ with ‘normal life.’ Here’s to balance. And a ceaseless quench for adventure and the good life.

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True Life: I Live on an Italian Vineyard

This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.

There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.

In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.

But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.

Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:vineyard

For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.

From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.coffee perch

It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.

And here, I find my balance.

I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].

I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.food

Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.IMG_0273-0

What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.

Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.IMG_0292-0