Thursday, January 31, 2008

Now I'll Tell You Why I Asked a Christian Missionary if He Had a Tattoo

I wanted to take a journey this year. A spiritual journey to discover what spirituality means to me and the rest of the world. I dreamed of accomplishing this by attending local houses of worship, or maybe finding a Bible study to crash. But guess what? I haven’t done anything. On my way to Sarasota earlier this month I envisioned myself stopping at the Hare Krishna temple in Gainesville. I MapQuested the directions, got off the exit, drove to the gates and CHICKENED OUT!

This is my problem. Fear. This is why I’m not a journalist or photojournalist by trade. I’m afraid to approach people in what I sometimes feel is a journalist way. This fear sometimes prevents me from seizing opportunity when it presents itself. Which is kind of what happened earlier this week.

The kind man sitting next to me on my 36-minute flight between Atlanta and Tallahassee noticed I was reading The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possibleby A.J. Jacobs (I haven’t finished it but I highly recommend you go read it!).

“Are you going to follow the Old Testament and write about it from a woman’s perspective?” The gentleman sitting next to me asked. He was a smaller man with silver hair and lovely blue, sparkling eyes. During the whole time I spoke to him, I swear his eyes twinkled like the stars in the sky. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that and perhaps I shouldn’t swear, considering the circumstances.

I smiled and paused. Something in me wanted to burst and confess I was on some spiritual journey myself but unsure how to go about it. Instead, I chickened out and replied, “I don’t think I could. Don’t think I’d be able to do much.”

We began chatting and I found out he lived in Portland, Ore. I told him about my trip last summer and he told me something I didn’t want to hear. He told me about four cool things I missed out on (No one likes to hear about things they missed out on during a vacation).
  • Peninsula Park Rose Garden (my new friend lives across the street and said when I come and visit again he’ll give me a Portland tour)
  • A Sculpture of Paul Bunyan
  • A Sculpture of William Clark (yes, of Lewis & Clark fame), his Slave and Dog
  • St. Johns Bridge
I then asked (jokingly), “Do you have any tattoos? It seemed like just about everyone in Portland has a tattoo.”

He laughed. I laughed. There was a lot of laughing during our conversation.

“No, I don’t even have a piercing,” he said while pointing to a corner of his nose. His eyes twinkled, again, and the action reminded me of Santa Claus.

Not sure where the conversation turned but he told me he spent 20 years as a Christian (Presbyterian) missionary in Ethiopia, beginning “well before I was born” until the early 1970s.

From there, I realized it was fate which seated us together. Maybe the forces of the Universe wanted us to talk (I usually don’t talk to people on flights and if I shared with you the conversations with the last two men I spoke with during long-haul trips, you'd definitely blush. Makes me wonder if I have a “freak” magnet in me).

I learned how he needed to ride a donkey to reach civilization (while in Ethiopia) and how he and his wife raised their six children there. I cried at one point because his stories were so touching (yup, sappy stories make me cry). These days he travels the globe still educating and will return to Ethiopia in March. As he put it, like in most countries, having silver hair makes you wise.

I shared with him my trip to Afghanistan. Having spoken to a group the day prior about my trip, I was energized about the experience. I shared with him my thoughts how our perceptions change about people when we know more about them but when we meet one on one as individuals, we (as humans) can communicate. Throw in a label (like when I met members of the Taliban), perception changes.

I felt a connection with this man, felt I had something in common.

Although I only spent 36 minutes talking to him, he made me appreciate my experiences more and has motivated me to do more. More of what, I’m still unsure.

If you’d like to see his photo, here it is. His name is Harold Kurtz, Doctor Harold Kurtz, to be exact (speaking during his visit to the area). His daughter Jean Kurtz (whom he is very proud of, along with his other five children) is a writer and continues work in Ethiopia.

I can’t believe I asked him if he had a tattoo. Where are my manners?

Going Green: Do You Use Styrofoam or a Dishwasher?

Green Launch Week happened in the office this week and as we said goodbye to Styrofoam cups, there were questions asking if it's better to use disposable products or a dishwasher. (31,000 Styrofoam cups were consumed in the office last year, that's a lot of Styrofoam!)

Hmmm. Good question. I remember debating this issue more than a decade ago when I was in college. Which is better, polluting the environment with disposable plastics or polluting the water with soap phosphates and sucking up energy from a dishwasher? Suppose it comes down to the lesser of two evils, which has less of an impact on the environment?

Things have changed since the 1990s (I feel so old) and in an office environment, I definitely say using a dishwasher is much better than using disposable plates, cups and flatware. Dishwashers are more energy efficient and there are earth-friendly soaps just as effective as those with phosphates. Plus, serving guests beverages in real mugs or served on real plates is classy. I've traveled the world and when attending meetings in offices have always been served tea in a proper tea cup and given a China plate for cookies.

Living single, I sometimes wonder how I can dirty so many dishes in a short period of time. It's times like those when I'm thankful for my dishwasher.

Thanks to my friends over at Wize for initiating this green discussion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why Did I Ask a Christian Missionary if He Had a Tattoo?

Well, you'll have to find out tomorrow. Sorry, I'm tired! Back from my business trip to Texas and head out again on Saturday for Virginia Beach via Norfolk, VA. So hang tight.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Live from Dallas: Tomorrow Will Be Better

First, I have to say, Obama really kicked some butt in South Carolina today. Interesting, very interesting.

Second, I'm in Dallas and things are going OK. Today was the first day of the travel expo. It was off to a slow start but turned out OK. Oh, I mean, from the professional perspective, that's how the day was.

From a personal one, these are things which went wrong:

A guy from California decides to pick a fight with me in the elevator. He sees my Florida shirt and tells me, "Don't let a Texan see that, they hate Florida."

"Really," I replied, trying to ignore him. His female companion was half-giggling.

"Yup. What are you doing here?"

"Here to convince Texans to vacation in Florida."

"Texans hate Florida, they'll never come."

WTF? Who IS this person that the first thing he chooses this morning is to pick a stupid fight.

"Interesting," I replied. "I wouldn't be here if they didn't visit the state. Have a nice day."

Luckily, the elevator door opened and I headed to the front desk because:

Realized last night I didn't pack my toothpaste (I had an inkling I forgot something). I have two tubes sitting at home which I paid about $2 total. I brushed my teeth without the paste and went to the hotel front desk for a tube. "Sorry, we're out, check with the bell stand."

"Sorry, we're out," was the bellman's reply.

Grrr, after spending $3.25 for a 20 ounce Coke yesterday, I knew it wouldn't be pretty - $3.50 for a small tube of Aquafresh. Ugh!

While in my quest to find toothpaste, I noticed my tights were feeling damp, especially the area behind my knees. With every step, the more wet I felt. Maybe my tights were damp when I packed them and that's all. Or, maybe there was a leak in my hotel room.

It wasn't until the waitress was giving me a tour of the breakfast buffet (yes, things are bigger in Texas and I needed to have a guided tour of the breakfast buffet. Oh, and after taxes and tip, breakfast for two came to $44. I sure hope my Accounting office believes how painfully expensive this place is. Tomorrow it's a $6 bagel at the cafe or maybe a $8 fruit smoothie.) and I realized what had happened. I touched the back of my cardigan sweater and it was SOAKED. I felt the back of my skirt, SOAKED.

"Oh no," I thought. The $3.25 Coke purchased yesterday was at the bottom of my backpack and had LEAKED all over my backside.

Nice. Luckily I was wearing black and stuck to water for the rest of the day.

I composed myself and completed the day, including a visit with a couple of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (see above photo; nicer photo is on my camera). Very sweet gals but I feel like an old giant! The girls are so tiny and young.

The day turned out well, until dinner. I found a deal and a local restaurant picked us up and bought the first round of cocktails. Nice.

It wasn't until I visited the bathroom after dinner to see I had most of my seafood Diablo SPLATTERED over my shirt (tomato base if you don't know). Ugh! What am I, four-years-old and need a bib to eat? It was embarrassing and luckily, no one could see it because it was dark and I could hide my sloppiness with my sweater.

And so here I am, saying good night to my day. Can't wait to see what tomorrow has in store. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter. (Although, I've been having difficulty texting in tweats.)

G'night.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Giddy Up, Texas. Here I Come!

Tomorrow it's off to Grapevine, Texas for a show followed by a little R&R with my Yellowstone pal Madge. I'm not looking forward to getting up at 3:30 tomorrow morning and dreading putting the booth together tomorrow but at least I won't have to worry about skipping my weight training day at the gym. I have 1,300 pounds of brochures to unload tomorrow. Can't wait!

Monday will be fun, the drive to San Antonio. Will drive through the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail on my way to Madge's. Will be meeting some of her friends and will give them an overview of my Afghanistan trip.

Will be flying into Dallas/Ft. Worth and understand the weather is suppose to be rain and ice - ain't that nice! Hopefully all will go well and me and my luggage will arrive safely. When I return next week it's back to the ecotourism/Wakulla Green Guide classes - yeah! - then off to Virginia Beach.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Romantic Escape to New Zealand, Why Not?

I’m bummed the "Amazing Race" is over for the season but glad the hippie couple won. What I love about the show is how it takes viewers around the globe and inspires the passion of travel. One of my favorite episodes (not this season but many seasons ago) was when the teams rolled down a New Zealand hill in a Zorb. (Zorb photo included).

New Zealand is on my life-list of places to visit and my friends over at Cheaper than Hotels have reminded me how easy it is for a budget traveler to plan a visit and indulge in the romance of the country while staying in affordable New Zealand hotels. The country seems to be one of those places where you can just escape to discover (or rediscover) inner peace or connect with a loved one all the while indulging in the fabulous outdoors.

New Zealand’s diverse topography with mountain vistas, lush forests and hypnotizing coastlines seem to appeal to all travelers. There’s also the funky, off-beat side of New Zealand, which is probably why Lord of the Rings was filmed there.

Auckland, is perhaps the best known romantic destination in New Zealand. It’s an area with cosmopolitan-Polynesian flair set in a melting pot of European and Asian cultures. The scenery includes dormant volcano cones, enchanted rainforests and island getaways along with coastal regions. Auckland hotels are as diverse as the scenery, with hotel rates fitting everyone’s budget. There’s more to New Zealand than Auckland, there’s Wellington and Christchurch:

The capital city of Wellington is a must for any New Zealand visitor and makes a romantic escape. Wellington is located on the southern end on the North Island. Urban-coastal chic may be the best way to describe this city with funky cafes, boutiques and a night scene which doesn’t stop with theater and live music. Luckily, there’s a wide range of Wellington hotels to choose from when planning a stay.

The city of Christchurch, The Garden City, is a coastal town on the country’s east coast of the South Island, perfect for couples seeking a romantic seaside retreat. The lovely Botanic Garden is the city’s signature attraction along with Arts Centre Te Pokap Toi o tautahi, the arts community. Travelers who embrace the unique will enjoy this community. Christchurch hotels are as diverse as the city’s personality, including a former jailhouse now a hotel!

Romance seeps from New Zealand so why not visit and take it in? It’s easy to sort through the New Zealand hotels, the difficult part is deciding what not to see.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Belly Laugh Day is January 24

You have two days to get your bellies and faces in laughter mode, January 24 is Belly Laugh Day. Yes, you read correctly. It's a day to celebrate life, laughter and all good things. I interviewed Belly Laugh Day founder err, "Bellman," last year about this quirky holiday and how it came to be.

It really is a fun holiday and hope you'll partake by throwing up your arms and...well, read the interview to find out what exactly you're suppose to do on Belly Laugh Day :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Marmalade Marathon!

Last weekend when I traveled to Sarasota, I stopped at Hancock Groves in Dade City (along I-75) for some Florida citrus.

Since I'm not a native Floridian, it's not odd for me to purchase it. If I were a native Floridian, it would be odd. I was speaking to someone from Florida's Department of Citrus last year and she said Floridians purchase the least amount of Florida citrus. Perhaps it's like living near Niagara Falls, it's always going to be there so why visit it? Anyway...

I ended up with a quarter bushel of pink grapefruit, navel oranges and tangelos. The bag was full, so I thought, until the clerk helped me stuff three or four more oranges in there.

Have I told you how much I love Florida citrus???

After getting what I call, "the Florida Sunshine," home, I thought, "there's no way I can eat all this before it spoils." Thank goodness for the Internet!

I searched for EASY marmalade recipes. I emphasize easy because there are some pretty complicated ones out there, ones that take TWO days to make. Also, most of the recipes I found contain lemon. Why lemon? Had to make a special run to the grocery store for that.

First I made grapefruit marmalade and even included the rind (to make it authentic). I used this "Blushing Grapefruit Marmalade Recipe" over at YumYum.com because it was quick and relatively easy. I imagine boiling the rind with baking soda helps break down the rind rather than letting it set over night (as most recipes suggested).

Next was my injury (read here if you haven't already) and finally was orange marmalade. I found the recipe over at PickYourOwn.org. I love this site. It helps me locate u-pick places in the Tallahassee area, has canning recipes and offers tips about canning.

Let me tell ya, making marmalade is hard! Suppose hard isn't the word, just time consuming. I probably spent 8 hours making both batches. With the grapefruit, I had to slice out the white pith from the rind then slice into narrow strips.

And, the orange came out a little runny but the recipe said it won't set for another two weeks. I hope so! Otherwise I just made a nice topping for ice cream. Didn't include the orange rinds in this one, didn't have the patience.

What am I going to do with it all? Not sure. I have about twenty jars of the stuff, suppose I'll have them as hostess gifts (I'm heading to Texas next week and seeing a friend from Yellowstone, she'll appreciate it). They should be okay for 12 to 18 months.

Hungry for more foods from the Sunshine State? Read my article, "Savoring the Flavor of Your Florida Vacation."

A Trojan in the Kitchen

Living single has its upsides and downsides. The upside is when goofy things happen in the privacy of my own home, I don't have to share them and reveal what a geek I am. The downside is when goofy things happen, I don't have anyone to immediately share them and show what a geek I am.

Hemming and hawing over this incident, I've decided to share...

Yesterday was my marmalade maelstrom - see the proceeding post. In between grapefruit and orange, I somehow chipped one of my nails (not in the fruit) and went hunting for my nail clippers. The first place I looked was my travel toiletry bag.

I stuck my hand in, reached around and felt a funny sensation on the ring finger of my right hand. It wasn't quite pain but almost a tickle.

I looked in the bag and saw a Pink Bic Lady Disposable Razor.

"Oh, no," I thought, then looked at my finger.

I sliced a thin layer of skin, the area about the size of a dime. The skin held on for dear life. Blood started to seep out yet, I couldn't feel any pain until I rinsed it under the sink.

"OUCH!" I was in pain. [Note: Well, "ouch" isn't the exact word, just trying to keep things clean] Blood kept oozing out and splattered into the sink (I didn't realize how much blood's in a fingertip). Worst of all, I had marmalade to make and getting injured was not in the plan!

I took my bandaged finger into the kitchen and proceeded to wash the dishes for the next round of marmalade. Not good. I was in pain.

Acidic citrus and dish soap made the pain unbearable. I needed a way to get the dishes clean and move to the next project!

I know what you're thinking. Use rubber gloves. That would be nice if I had rubber gloves. But that wasn't my first thought...

My first thought was a flashback to when I worked in Yellowstone. I thought, "latex." We used finger rubbers to roll on our digits to protect our wounds from the food (and vice versa) we worked with.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. I first tried to remember if I had any balloons around and decided if I did, would have no idea where to find them.

My last resort was, well, a condom. I mean, it's obvious I won't be needing it for its intended purpose anytime soon and I'm sure it was well beyond its expiration date. I grabbed a Trojan and popped it on my finger (well, in order for it to stay on, I put three fingers in there) and washed away. I'm sure this isn't what their new tag line of "Use a condom every time," was intended for.

"This is working out pretty good," I thought as the wound stayed dry and there wasn't any pain. I thought I was clever.

But things soon changed.

Pain shot through my arm as I scrubbed the marmalade pot. It was the kind of pain that pushes you on the brink of passing out.

I looked at my finger rubber to see...

...the Trojan had broke!

I had the same reaction as anyone else who has had one break, "Oh, $#!7."

Bucking up the pain and wondering if I was exposing my finger to any kind of infection due to the breakage, I finished the dishes. Next was cutting the citrus - oranges and lemons - without any type of protection. Can you feel my pain?

So, I have to ask. Have you used a Trojan for anything other than its intended purpose?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Siesta Key Scallop Watching

Spent the weekend in Sarasota to help my grandma celebrate her 85th birthday. I spent Saturday morning walking Siesta Key Beach and for the first time, noticed live scallops on the beach. This one squirted water every so often and just HAD to capture and share the moment on video. I probably spent 20 or 30 minutes watching this and other scallops open and close. Listen to the waves lapsing on the beach. Ahhh...

Bill Richardson Bows Out of Presidential Race: What a Shame

Democrat Bill Richardson dropped out of the run to become the next President of the United States and that's a shame. Of the Democratic presidential candidates, he seemed to be the most qualified with his diverse experience but unfortunately, most of America didn't see this and supported other candidates. I have my philosophy on this and am ashamed I'll be saying this but, he doesn't have the "look" to be a United States President.

I know I could be ruffling some feathers but let's think back to the first televised Presidential debate in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Kennedy won the American public over because of his handsome "look."

Nearly 50 years later here we are in the 21st century and we Americans, self included, are more superficial than ever. We're obsessed with celebrities. Everyone's looking for their 15 minutes of fame (look at the continued interest in reality shows) and we seem to care more about the mundane antics of Britney, Lindsey and Paris than what's happening in our world or even in our neighborhoods. I was disgusted to find Britney Spears the breaking story on news programs last week. I feel sorry for the poor girl but let’s get real!

Or, look at the media coverage around Anna Nicole Smith’s death. A year later, the media’s still talking about Anna Nicole’s daughter. To top it off, we're constantly bombarded with media messages telling us what's attractive and Richardson doesn't fit that mold, thankfully so.

If you listened to Richardson during the debates, you'd know he has the most experience and qualities to become President. He seemed no-nonsense, straight to the point and smart. While competence, confidence and experience are ideal traits to have in a President, these are non-tangibles, voters couldn't see these.

Instead, voters are supporting Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards because they have more glitz, shine and celebrity-like qualities about them. Even Rush Limbaugh knows Edwards has something, he's dubbed him "The Breck Girl."

I admit to not paying attention to Richardson and my bad.

To my knowledge, Richardson hasn't endorsed a candidate. This gal's thinking maybe he'll show up on the Democratic Party ticket as VP. Let's hope.

And who am I casting my vote for in the Florida Primary? You'd be surprised. While I admit to being a card-carrying member of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Fan Club (acquired while she was the First Lady), I'm supporting the white male..."The Breck Girl"... John Edwards. Yup, The Breck Girl has my support, but there’s more to him than his sleek, shiny hair.

Of course, I could write-in my fav candidate, President Jimmy Carter.

Don't You Love It!? I Do!

I just LOVE my new blog design. It was by chance when trolling the Web I found Blue Yonder Design. I've been thinking about overhauling this blog along with my Tallahassee blog and finding Jen at Blue Yonder made my wish a reality.

I highly recommend Blue Yonder Design. Jen rocks! She was very easy to work with, extremely quick, thorough and it's almost as though she was reading my mind when she came up with the design.

Hope you enjoy the new look as much as I do.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's a Lovely Time of Year for a Vacation in Charleston, S.C.

While I've lived in Florida for about 10 years, I haven’t really spent much time exploring the surrounding southeastern states. In my limited travels through this part of the U.S., I've fallen in love with Amelia Island, Savannah and Charleston.

Each of these cities has their own unique stories to tell and characters to tell 'em. I recently received an email from the Charming Inns of Charleston with lodging specials valid through January 31, 2008. The weather’s been mild and the rates are great, there’s no excuse NOT to travel to Charleston now.

Fulton Lane Inn
202 King Street
1-800-720-2688
Weekdays Sunday thru Thursday
Starting at $129

Weekends
Starting at $149 Friday & Saturday
2 night stay may be required on Saturday
www.fultonlaneinn.com

John Rutledge House Inn
116 Broad Street
1-800-476-974
Weekdays Sunday thru Thursday
Starting at $179

Weekends
Starting at $199 Friday & Saturday
2 night stay may be required on Saturday
www.johnrutledgehouseinn.com

Wentworth Mansion
149 Wentworth Street
1-888-466-1886
Weekdays Sunday thru Thursday
Starting at $299

Weekends
Starting at $329 Friday & Saturday
2 night stay may be required on Saturday
www.wentworthmansion.com

During my visit last January, I stayed at the Best Western King Charles Inn . It had a great location, the price was right (think it was about $79 a night) and the room was cozy. It was comfortable and lacked glitz but I don't need glitz when I travel.

Valentine's Day is around the corner and maybe you're thinking of a proposing marriage in Charleston. If so, be sure to check out my article on locations to "pop" the question in the Holy City. The article includes some of the touristy and not-so-touristy spots I found during my trips.

My next trip into the lovely Southeastern U.S.? Virginia Beach in February (just received confirmation of a kayaking and biking trip) and the mountains of Asheville, NC in March.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Year's Goals: I Hope to Check One Off the List Already

I didn't make New Year's resolutions this year, I made goals. One of them is to overhaul my two blogs, this one and my Tallahassee blog. I may be a step closer in getting this done. Keep the fingers crossed and expect to see changes.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Spiritual Journey: Off to a Slow Start

"Church bells ring, are you listening?" No, that's not how the song goes but this morning, for the first time EVER living in my Tallahassee apartment I heard church bells. Maybe it was a sign from above wanting me to get moving at 8 a.m. I rolled over and slept another 45 minutes before beginning my weekly chores.

While I could start reading the Bible or Koran (which I have on hand) I picked up a copy of "The Watchtower" (the Jehovah Witness magazine) in the laundromat (I use the one at the apartment complex). I'm now noticing it's dated November 2005! Suppose the message is still the same.

I also picked up a copy of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs. It's labeled as "Humor" vs. Spiritual or Religion but am sure will be relevant to my journey. I'm also reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road (absolutely nothing about spirituality but about travel) but hope to finish The Year of Living Biblically by the end of the month.

Where in the World is Colleen? Guess and Win a Groovy Prize!

"Who's Colleen?" You may ask. She's a Tampa-based blogger with the blog called, "Simple Kind of Life," (she also has The Tampa blog and The Florida Blog) getting set to take a vacation with her hubby and friends. She's challenging blog readers to read the daily clues about her vacation destination and offering groovy prizes:

1st Prize - a $50 Travelocity Gift Card, and a souvenir from her trip.
2nd Prize - a $25 Travelocity Gift Card, and a souvenir from her trip.
3rd, 4th, and 5th Prize - a souvenir from her trip.

[Note: I haven't met Colleen but from other blogs I've read, she's has great tastes so her trip souvenirs will be fab]

It’s easy to play - each day until she leaves, she’ll provide readers with the location of a clue as to where she’s headed. When you think you know where she’s going, just shoot her an email with your guess.

Send your email to: colleen_ccATyahooDOTcom
Subject Line: Where In The World Is Colleen?

TIP: Do NOT use the comments on the blog to make your guess! The correct guesses will be compiled by Colleen and a random drawing selecting the winners will be conducted upon her return. To read more of "the rules," drop by this post.

Clue #1
Clue #2
Clue #3
Clue #4

Good luck!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Let Me Brag: I Did My Christmas Shopping in Italy

Christmas is over and thankfully, there’s a few months of reprieve until shopping begins for next year's holiday. I did the majority of my Christmas shopping in Italy. Yes, there’s an article coming soon (maybe this weekend) about cheap souvenirs to buy in Italy. And since Thanksgiving is an American holiday (which is when I was in Italy), I didn't have to deal with the Black Friday mess. Yeah!

My overall budget for the trip wasn't as much as I would have liked. Because of the weak Dollar (it hit an all-time low during the trip), I used cash sparingly (to use where plastic wasn't accepted) and relied on my debit card and a couple of credit cards.

This Christmas, I think everyone was pleased with their Italian gifts. It was almost like a scavenger hunt, I really didn't know what to get but found great treasures. Got lost in Venice’s alleys and found a great little shop for jewelry. In Florence, wandered the local markets and found a wool cap for my Dad and in Rome popped into several little shops around the Vatican finding those special Catholic gifts. I was also on the hunt for a specific candy and by chance, found it in Rome, too.

I didn't do too much damage to my credit cards but for those who did, visit my friends over at Beat That Quote and apply for loans to do away with ugly Christmas debt before next year’s shopping begins.

Photo: Some of the Italian gifts and treasures I found.

Friday, January 04, 2008

It's Like Thowing Spaghetti on the Wall

Well, my spiritual journey is off to a slow start but suppose it's like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. I just need to jump in and start somewhere. Spirituality doesn't seem to have a beginning to well, begin with. I mean, I know there's Genesis but am looking for something a bit more advanced, I think.

I've received a few emails, a reply to this blog's post and a few replies over on MySpace from supporters of the journey. I'm really surprised (pleasantly) how supported everyone has been and most have the same questions I do. That's comforting.

Most people seem to be skeptical of organized religion. All who responded are my age, is this indicative of Gen-X or just a coincidence? Gen-X is independent because we've seen how our parents were loyal to their employers yet, they were screwed with lay-offs and corporate down-sizing. We've seen so many changes in our short life-span: energy shortage, fall of the Berlin wall, end of the Cold War and horrific 9/11. We're skeptics (maybe a bit paranoid), influenced by the world we grew up in. (There's a lot of good about us, too.) Is organized religion too structured for us?

A couple of people inquired whether I'd be exploring agnostic beliefs (or non-beliefs, or would that be called dis-beliefs?) and science and religion.

Interesting perspectives but since I actually do believe there is a Creator, I probably won't be exploring those avenues, for now. Plus, my education is in science and it was always a struggle for my professors to preach the age of the Earth (billions of years) yet being Christians. They found that balance, I'm sure I can too.

Luckily living in the south there's a church (or house of worship) at every corner. When I first arrived in Tallahassee, I was told the amount of churches in the South correlates with the immorality.

I hope to find something this weekend, stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Who's Joining Me on My Next Journey?

Or, this post could be more appropriately named, "The Longest Post Yet."

Happy New Year! Rather than making resolutions, I’ve set goals for myself, but that’s not what this post is about. Outside of my goals, I’ve decided this year I’d set out on my own spiritual quest by exploring other religions to discover what spirituality is, what it means to other people an what it means to me.

Let me explain…

Why do we cringe when others mention religion? Our currency has “God” written on it, when we say the “Pledge of Allegiance,” we say, “one nation under God,” yet, we can’t openly talk about God or faith without fear of offending someone. Religion seems to be the hot topic in the presidential race. Why does religion make us uncomfortable? Is there a difference between religion and spirituality?

Religious Mutt
I think of myself as a religious mutt, my father is Lutheran and my mother is Catholic. Somewhere along the way, I was asked who I wanted to go to church with. My father’s Lutheran church services seemed to last for hours on end but the Catholic masses were done in under an hour, 45-minutes on a good day. Best of all, Catholics can attend mass on Saturday so church didn’t cut into precious sleep time on Sundays (although, we frequently attended 8 a.m. mass).

Given the choice, I opted to go Catholic but truthfully, not sure if I was really given the choice, at least I was made to feel I was given one.

During my childhood and young adult life, I lived in the shadowing fear of Catholic guilt. If I did anything I deemed bad, or bad by my parents or the Church, I was condemned to hell. My whole childhood and young adult life I did things because I didn’t want to go to hell. Not only is it a bad place but hot and I don’t do well in heat. My salvation, so to say, was an introduction to the born again Christians (I'll refer to them as: BACs).

I Was Saved! (Or, Free Pass to Heaven!)
My first summer working in Yellowstone, I befriended many college-kids who were part of Campus Crusade for Christ. Best I could figure their mission was to “save” as many park employees as possible. I even think they had a quota because by the end of the season, I gave in along with a couple of other friends.

Now, I don’t say this in a bad way, but I was saved. Amen! HALEIGHLUYA!!

What does this mean? I accepted Christ into my life.

Hello? Are you still with me? Okay, I can hear the silence (and disbelief). Let me continue.

Looking back, it’s all a little blurry. No, I don’t think I was served Kool-Aid, but am pretty sure I was tag-teamed into this accepting Christ into my life business. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing and thought of it as a backup plan to get into heaven, in case I didn't meet the Catholic standards. And, it’s not like I had to rob a bank or commit some sin to accomplish this. Didn’t even have to sign anything (which I’ve heard rumors members of the Mormon Church have membership cards, is this true???).

The selling point of the deal was learning no matter what sin I had and would commit, by accepting Christ, I was picking receiving a “get out of hell card.”

“Now, I can kill someone and still go to heaven?” I asked (Mind you, this is something I wouldn't do).

“Yes,” was the reply.

“I could kill a dozen people and still go to heaven?” Another hypothetical question I asked, believing this “get out of hell card” was too good to be true.

“Yes.”

“Interesting,” I thought and this is where I began questioning faith, spirituality and realized how hypocritical religions are. With my Catholic background this didn’t make sense. But, according to the BACs, I could do anything and commit any sin because as long as I accepted Christ, I had my pass into heaven.

Purgatory doesn’t exist in the BAC world. Upon death, my soul wouldn’t have to sit in the purgatory waiting room praying and repenting to get into heaven. I remember back in Sunday school a nun showed a drawing of men and women looking miserable. She told us they were in purgatory. These people were not evil enough to be sent to hell yet, they didn’t live pure enough lives to make it into heaven right away. We were told to pray for one of them to ascend to heaven (I remember praying for some woman who looked like the Virgin Mary). If only the nun (and the souls in the drawing) knew how easy it was to get into heaven she could have done other things than praying. Of course, not sure what else she would have done.

When I accepted Christ on top of some mountain in Yellowstone, I felt a burden lifted. A bit of the Catholic guilt controlling my life lifted (although it soon returned and I still live with it daily).

Considering myself a BAC didn’t last long, it didn’t feel right. Upon returning home to Western New York and college, I didn’t find a group to keep the devotion going.

Have I Lost the Way?
Since then, 15 some years, I’ve been in my own religious/spiritual limbo. I was married by a youth minister (and friend) in my parent’s backyard, something not recognized by the Catholic Church. I’ve since divorced, making me feel unwanted in the Catholic Church (by Church law, I can’t take communion, but if I was never married in the Church, does that count? Probably.).

I recently learned my paternal grandfather was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for marrying my grandmother, a Lutheran, in the Lutheran Church. (He was later let back in).

I’ve discussed faith with a friend and cult member. He told me the Catholic religion is one of the oldest cults. Traveling to Italy in November made me very aware of the Church’s cult-like tendencies. I’ve prayed in Japanese temples and have randomly stopped in Catholic churches while traveling in the U.S. to light candles for those who need them lit (BTW - some churches don’t have candles. Drop in 25 cents and push a button to light a light bulb). I’ve even survived the full-length tour of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and resisted the conversion (Note to timeshare sales people – look out, I can’t be broken).

I often wonder if having a better grasp and understanding of my faith and spiritual belief (I’m staying away from the word “religion,” at least for now) would make me feel more content in my life.

So Many Questions, But Are There Answers?
It's the beginning of the new year and I’m on a journey to discover the meaning of spirituality. I have so many questions I want personally answered, such as, why do we choose the faith we do? Is it just because of our parents? When do we change our beliefs? When do we give up believing in faith? What does spirituality mean to individual people? Why do we cringe, get uncomfortable or make fun of people who share their faith? Are we afraid of something?

I saw my sister’s mother-in-law the day after Christmas. Out of nowhere she told me her neighbor is friends with the Dalai Lama and if I ever needed an interesting person to interview, I should consider him (the neighbor, not the Dalai Lama, or maybe she meant the Dalai Lama, too). I took this as a sign I need to move forward with this idea and discover the meaning of faith and spirituality.

I have no illusions of meeting the Dali Lama on this journey but I hope to meet some interesting people. I’ve already located a voodoo priestess in New Orleans for the April volunteer project. I’m going to TRY and visit different houses of worship in my community as well as when I’m traveling. And if the Jehovah Witnesses stop by one Saturday, I may just as well invite them in for a spot of tea.

A friend recently said to me, “You like to keep busy, don’t you.”

It's not keeping busy that I like. I enjoy learning, I’m curious about the world, universe and individuals. Fear is based on the unknown and maybe that’s why faith makes us uncomfortable, so much of it is unknown.

There’s so much I haven’t done, said or written because I’ve been afraid of what people may think. This time, I’m not letting that fear prevent me from pursuing this idea. If I fail, it’ll be because of me and not what others think.

Whether you think I’ve gone crazy or not (I can only imagine what my family is saying now), I hope you’ll enjoy the journey and share your input and help me understand what spirituality is. There’s no right or wrong answer.

So talk to me, what do you believe or don’t? Why?