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Operation UNunhappy Over & Out

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“And that letter hath she delivered, and there an end.”  ~William Shakespeare (Two Gentlemen of Verona, II, i)

SAVboatsnight

This will be the last entry of my “Operation UNunhappy” blog.  For those of you that have read all (or even some of) the words I’ve written over the past two and a half years through this outlet, I thank you and I appreciate your support.  I’m not saying I’ll never write or blog again, but if I do, it will be under a different guise and theme than this one.  I may keep this blog and just change the name, or maybe I’ll start a whole new one in the future…I haven’t decided yet.

What I have decided is that I have come to believe you can’t achieve happiness by constantly seeking it.  I believe that, if we’re lucky, we get to experience small moments of happiness here and there, every once in a while – sometimes they appear of our own making, and sometimes they are pleasant surprises bestowed upon us by others or by fate. I think mostly they’re just a byproduct of regular old life; hopefully just by living your life the best that you can, you have more happy moments than unhappy ones.  But to constantly be on some incredible journey to seek out this overarching, grandiose every-moment-of-life overflowing barrel of happiness – it’s just not possible.  Or advisable, in my opinion.  “Happy in that we are not over-happy,” said Hamlet, one of my favorite Shakespeare lines – even way back then, there was a cautiousness against overdoing it in the search for contentment.   

A few years ago I made some big changes in my life to try to get happier, which was the impetus for starting this blog.  Did the changes work?  In some ways, I’d say yes, definitely.  Has everything progressed the way I’d hoped it would?  I’d say no, not really.  I’m starting to feel stuck again and those feelings of wondering have come back, leading to ruts of anxiety and uncertainty and frustration.  One of the other reasons I don’t feel like continuing this blog series is because I fear it could be on the verge of becoming a constant complaint-fest about all of the many things and people I’m frustrated with – no one wants to read about that, and I don’t think it would be good for me to write about it all the time.  

I do feel like I get more easily and quickly frustrated with the daily intricacies of life than most people.  I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing or just my personality.  Maybe it’s that inner perfectionist that I keep trying to fight, wanting everyone and everything else to be perfect too.  I’ve had fantasies of just being completely 100% honest all the time with people and situations that irk the hell out of me, but I’d probably need to invest in some body armor if I wanted to make that dream a reality.  Why can’t we just say what we’re feeling and thinking of all the time?  (Or at least like 65% of the time?)  I mean, I know why, but it just seems sometimes that we’re so obsessed with being polite and non-confrontational that we’re dying inside of repressed feelings and sentiments that, if we could just free them, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Maybe that’s the real key to contentment, but we’re so concerned with how everyone else feels all the time that we continually neglect our own needs of expression, and silently go on in glum survival-of-the-mediocre mode.  God I really must come from British roots after all…

I know I have it pretty good in the overall scheme of things.  Everyone has to deal with many aspects of life that are frustrating, annoying, angering, overwhelming, heartbreaking; if we’re lucky, we have family and friends and captive co-workers to be our sounding boards and help us through those tough times.  If we’re really lucky, we can afford to pay therapists to listen when family and friends get tired of doing it (or when we’re too annoyed with family and friends to talk to them about it). And if we’re broken – well, we all deal with that in different ways…some good, some not so good.  Healing is hard.

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog, and it helped me in many ways to face both past and present challenges.  It was cathartic to write about losses and traumas in my life (I still miss the smell of popcorn paws every day), and I meant every word of the heartfelt Life Letters to My Nephews; being Ant Kristi to my nephews is definitely near the top of the list of what makes me UNunhappy during the good times. Thanks for bearing with me as I waxed on (and on and on) about my trips to England and my fascination with the Tour de France.  And I apologize for those less-than-stellar posts (mediocre movie & croissant reviews, you know who you are). 

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I feel like I’ve gotten out of this blog what I needed to…and I hope it provided a moment or two of occasional entertainment, education, or value (somehow) for you too.  For better or worse, things end; isn’t that one of life’s most important lessons?  Thanks for the words of encouragement during these times of transitions over the past few years.  I’ll keep the blog site active for now and if you stay subscribed, you’ll get any new posts that may come along under a different/new blog name, but it may be a while. 

“Tis time, I think, to trudge, pack and be gone.”  (Yes, one last Shakespeare quote, from Comedy of Errors, which seems fitting for a large portion of my life thus far.  You are now freed from any more random Shakespeare quotes!)

Operation UNunhappy over and out.

Ant Kristi

Lay ee Odl Lay ee Odl Lay Hee Hoo

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“Sound, music!” ~William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV, i)

Today I’m going to write about something that might not appeal to some people, but it certainly makes me UNunhappy so we’re going to go with it.  Many of us have movies from our childhood that we remember and that make us feel nostalgic: a few blockbusters that stick out for me were ‘The Black Stallion’ (I was a typical horse-crazy little girl), ‘Star Wars’ (my brother and I had every single action figure), ‘E.T.’ (which I want to believe started me on the track to future X-Files super-fandom), and of course ‘Grease’ (I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John).

Other lesser-known film gems that I saw as a kid also bring back fond memories, like:

  • ‘The Cat from Outer Space’
  • ‘Escape from Witch Mountain’
  • ‘The Shaggy D.A.’
  • ‘The Rescuers’
  • Any of the ‘Benji’ or ‘Herbie the Love Bug’ movies
  • (I’d include Wizard of Oz but I firmly blame it for my phobia of tornadoes, sorry Lisa.)

But there’s one movie above all the rest that made a life-long impression upon me, and I wasn’t even born yet when it was released in 1965.  The first time I remember seeing it, I was 8 years old and in the third grade, when our teacher Mrs. Martin asked us to watch it at home because we were going to be putting on a play in class using goat puppets made out of milk cartons and popsicle sticks.  She also taught us how to yodel for our singing parts in the play, which we all thought was great fun.  Yes, the movie is of course ‘The Sound of Music.’

You may think it’s sappy or cheesy, with all those singing nuns and curtain-clad kids running around Salzburg.  I just think it’s pure happiness.  It’s one of those movies that if I see it while flipping the channels, I’m stuck for the next few hours singing every word to every song – which I, along with millions of others, know by heart since I’ve seen the movie an estimated 42 times now.  (Other movies I’m obligated to watch if I catch them while channel surfing:  ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ ‘Love Actually,’ ‘The Holiday,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ ‘About a Boy,’ and yes, I admit it, ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’)

I really have Mrs. Martin to thank for my love of the movie and its songs, as a good portion of that third grade year was spent rehearsing “The Lonely Goatherd,” which is definitely the funnest song in the entire movie.  But it’s not my favorite song of the film – that honor goes to “I Have Confidence.”  I relate to the words in that song – I’ve been known to sing it as I’m sitting in my car about to go into a big job interview, or to boost my morale before major meetings or speeches or projects.  Just listen, how can you not love this, especially when sung by the indelible Julie Andrews?

I also love her outfit in that scene and I wish I could pull off Maria’s simple but chic hairstyle that was unmussed by that fantastic hat.  She was confident, despite being faced with an overwhelming and uncertain challenge.  Everyone in this movie is facing challenges of one kind or another, which is the main draw of its appeal for many fans (and that all of those challenges get resolved in neat packages by the end, tied up with string) – that, and the fact that it’s based on a true story of course.  Though the screenwriters took a few liberties with the storyline, the basic tenets are all there, and I’ve read in-depth accounts of the actual Von Trapp family (it’s an extremely interesting history).  This past fall my father and stepmom visited the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont and brought me back a family anthology book signed by one of the actual grandchildren of the real Maria Von Trapp.  It’s a treasure and I enjoyed reading every word of it, and hope to eventually visit the Lodge myself sometime.

I also have thought of visiting Austria one day to go on a Sound of Music tour, and yes of course those really exist.  A few years ago, right before I moved to Austin, I bought tickets to the now-famous yearly Sound of Music Sing-a-Long at the Hollywood Bowl outdoor amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  (By the way, the best ‘Will & Grace’ episode ever was “Von Trapped,” where all the characters get stuck at a Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, it’s hilarious & well worth a watch!)  But, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go with me, and I didn’t want to travel there by myself, so I ended up selling the tickets; maybe I’ll try again this year, the 50th Anniversary year of the movie’s release, what better year to go?  Everyone dresses up for the Sing-a-Long in their favorite SOM-inspired costume and it’s hosted by actress and comedienne Melissa Peterman – what it must sound like for 18,000 fans to be singing all the songs together at the same time!  It seems to me that must be what pure joy sounds like.  (I wish they would also do one for ‘Mary Poppins,’ another one of my favorites; Julie Andrews can do no wrong.)

I have many favorite scenes in the movie: when Maria and the Captain are dancing on the patio outside the ball; when she comes back (after leaving) to face her feelings and is reunited with the children, only to find out the Captain is engaged; the scene at the end of Do Re Mi when Julie Andrews hits the highest note in the history of the world; and of course the wedding scene – that train!  As a young girl watching both The Sound of Music and Princess Diana’s wedding, it’s what I wanted my future wedding to be like: in a grand cathedral with a wedding gown train the length of the aisle and a handsomely-uniformed man at the end of the aisle (some dreams are meant to remain dreams I guess).

MariaDress

SOMwedding

I read a Vanity Fair interview last week with Dame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer – she’s 79 now and he’s 85, it’s hard to believe.  They have very different memories and opinions of the movie these 50 years later, but it’s still a thrill to see them together in photos and tributes after all this time.  It’s truly heartbreaking that she can no longer sing due to throat surgery gone wrong many years ago; I told my mom as we were watching the Oscars last week that I would have given anything in the world to see Julie Andrews walk out on that stage and sing those songs herself (during a tribute to the movie during the show).  They must both know by now the love that fans the world over have for the film and for them – watching ‘The Sound of Music’ takes me right back to third grade and the goatherd milk carton puppet I made for our class play, and reminds me of happy times.

And I can still do a pretty mean yodel.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Steady As She Went

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 “Quiet yourselves, I pray, and be at peace.” ~William Shakespeare (I Henry VI, IV, i)

I was just re-reading a few of my posts from this past year.  I didn’t write as many of them as I’d hoped, as I originally set out to make this a weekly blog.  But some weeks there just didn’t seem to be anything of import to write about, and I felt better once I lifted the expectation off of myself and just wrote instead when I felt like it (I also am happy to report I finally replaced my ID bracelet tag that used to read “Practice Makes Perfect,” so that expectation is now not always staring me in the face either).  Re-reading my posts from a year ago also reinforced the sensation of time passing at warp-speed – who was it that said the older you get, the faster time passes? 

Looking back on 2014, it was mostly a “steady-as-she-goes” year, I’d say.  The high point would definitely have to be my trip back to England during the summer – a solo sojourn around ancestral lands and a Yorkshire depart that gave me memories to last a lifetime.  The low points have been several months worth of annoying and nagging illness that I’ve already written about, so I won’t rehash it here, but feeling not-great for six months out of the year (or more) is not something I hope to repeat. 

A return to the mother land in 2014.

A return to the mother land in 2014.

The biggest change of 2014 for me was the self-imposed drastically revised diet that I’ve undertaken in order to improve my health; I’m still trying to get used to it and after three months, it’s still pretty difficult.  I used to love food and looked forward to a satisfying breakfast or a fun weekend treat…but now eating just seems more of a necessary chore, with not much joy in it at all unfortunately.  My revised regime is low-acid, low-fat, no-caffeine, no-tannins; this means very little tasty is left.  Not allowed is anything containing citrus or citric acid; tomato base of any kind; onions or garlic; carbonated drinks; cheese; chocolate; 99% of teas; anything with a cream base; the list goes on.  I’ve even had to give up most fruits except for melons and pears, and no juices are allowed.  I haven’t had one bite of pizza or chocolate or cheese, Mexican or Italian food, ice cream, queso, anything spicy, etc, for over 3 months now.  Office potlucks and family dinners have become uncomfortable and depressing.  Going out to eat is near impossible – so much is cooked with something that I can’t have. 

The good news is that these diet changes, along with my medication and lifestyle changes, are making a difference I believe – slowly but surely I have been feeling better, in terms of the symptoms I’d been having when all of this started in August.  It also helped that President Obama was recently diagnosed with the same issue I’ve been having (silent/airway reflux, or LPR in medical terms = laryngopharyngeal reflux); it made it more real somehow, that it wasn’t just a made-up thing I’d invented for myself. 

Getting back to the year in review – I think what was really most comforting about this year was the fact that despite some health issues and my ever-increasing debt burden, things stayed pretty steady for me this year.  I didn’t have to quit a job, or go through the stress of looking for a new one.  I like where I work at my part-time job, the people there are nice and I feel confident in my abilities.  It only pays about half the bills but it’s so nice to have an enjoyable job for a change.  Things on the flower front with my business have been pretty slow this year, but I’m not letting that stress me out too much yet.  I’ve had a few flower jobs here and there and I hope to grow the business in 2015 even further.

To that end, I branched out just a little from the actual floral design part of the business to start offering a side item:  floral art note cards.  I enjoy taking pictures of flowers, both ones that I work with when I design but also floral nature scenes or garden scenery seen on my travels.  I like editing my pictures with photo software to make them really pop, and wanted to share them with others in some fashion – so I decided note cards might be a good way to do that.  I started an online handmade craft shop through Etsy, where a LOT of other people also showcase and sell their handmade wares, it’s a great site.  If you’re so inclined, please pop over to have a look at my card designs, I’d be very grateful:  www.Etsy.com/shop/MuchAdoAboutFlowers.

(Here are a few examples of some of my designs:)

iris

“Blue and Blue” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

hydrangea

“Shades of Hydrangea” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

"Pink Hydrangea" Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

“Pink Hydrangea” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

I’m grateful that 2014 was also relatively calm and steady for most of my family members, although there were some bitter personal disappointments and some extended family health concerns that are still being dealt with.  The nephews are growing up so fast – with each new week they have gone through another change or struggle or triumph, and it’s interesting to watch.  I think 2015 may be a much choppier year in terms of waves of change for all of us in my little family circle, and I hope we’re able to handle it without too much stress.

And now I’m off to a quiet, and I hope peaceful, holiday here at home.  No travels for me this year (don’t want to add to that debt).  If you’re traveling I hope you have a safe journey, and thanks for continuing to follow me along in my UNunhappy meandering over the past year.  Wherever you are during this holiday season, I hope you also can find a little quite and peaceful time for yourself as well.   

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Growing Your Wings After You Jump

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“Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie…” ~ William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, I, i)

Welcome to a rare Friday post of operationUNunhappy.  I usually only publish on Mondays, but I wanted to recognize this specific day with a few thoughts.  It’s a special anniversary:  one year ago today was my last day at my misery-filled, soul-sucking, toxicity-laden city government job.  And it was a glorious day indeed! 

I had made the decision to finally cut myself loose from a bizarro world of constant negativity, mind-numbing repetitive tasks, and maddening bureaucratic nonsensical red tape.  Why did I wait so long??  It was one of the best days – and decisions – of my life.

(If you’re a fairly new reader of this blog and want to read more about how I quit that job, click here.)

I didn’t have another job lined up when I quit.  I was giving up an extremely comfortable income, high-level health & dental benefits, and a nice little retirement nest egg.  I own a home, and have bills to pay like anyone else.  I have aspirations and dreams, many of which require a significant source of funding. 

And yet I had no doubt I was doing the right thing by walking away. 

You know that little voice deep inside of your gut that tells you what to do, but much of the time you don’t listen?  Well I listened that day, and I got out.  For my own sanity, for my mental and physical health, for my future – I jumped off the edge of the known into the unknown.

“Sometimes you just have to jump and grow your wings on the way down.” ~ Les Brown

I love that quote by motivational speaker Les Brown (the husband of Gladys Knight).  Some might interpret it as a message of impending doom: that if you jump without wings – without having a plan – your only directional option is down (and then the unavoidable *splat*). 

I think it’s the opposite: if you have the courage and confidence to leave the negative behind, as scary as the unknown future is, your reward can be a pair of anti-splat wings to help you get to where you are really supposed to be.

There was another day, in what seems like another lifetime, that I listened to the urgent voice inside me, so I recognized it this time when it showed up again.  Completely different situations, the two, but similar in the debilitating effect they had on me – and that I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. 

The day before the one-year anniversary of my first marriage, my husband (and I use that term very lightly) yelled curses at me and called me names on his way out the door to work, telling me to not wait up and that he had no idea when he would be home, if ever.  This was not a new trend.  He’d only recently come back to our apartment after a 3-week booze-filled “break.”  And he’d already put a hole in the wall with his fist during an earlier fight we’d had, showing his true colors.

As he slammed the door behind him that morning, I stared at it through tears of anger, hands clenched into tightly-balled fists.  I shook with rage, and slid down against the wall onto the floor.  Then something happened that I’ll never forget: a voice inside me – soft but clear, faint but insistent – said “GET OUT. NOW.” 

And so I did.  I jumped that day.  I grew wings, and they took me and everything I owned out of that apartment in a matter of hours.  I was on a mission, getting on the phone to friends and family, and they came through for me with flying colors.   With all my stuff packed and in storage, family having flown into town on a moment’s notice to protect me, and a safe place to stay, he came home to an empty apartment.  And I started over.

It’s possible.  Excruciating sometimes, yes, but possible.  Screw that courage to the sticking-place already; chances are, you won’t regret it.  I don’t.  (Now go back and read the quote at the very top of this article, including the name of the play.)

In the past year, I’ve had many ups and downs but the positives have far outweighed the negatives.  I started my own business – it’s been a little slow-going so far and there’s still so much I don’t know, but it’s mine (www.MuchAdoAboutFlowers.com).  I found a part-time job that I truly enjoy with kind and competent managers and people who are nice to work with – with no benefits and only earning 30% of what I did before.  I’ve had more time to spend with family and on de-perfectionizing myself.  None of which would have been possible if I’d stayed in that dead-end job.

I started this blog just two weeks after that last day on the job a year ago, so on the approach of my blogiversary, I’d like to say thanks for sticking with me through 45 posts so far!  Thanks for reading and the positive comments and the support.  My wings are stronger because of all of you.

Wings

©operationUNunhappy

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

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“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

blue butterfly bike

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

mmimperfectquote

You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

RoadIDPMP

I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

UNunhappy Moments Update (UMU)

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“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio. ” ~William Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost, I, ii)

Welcome to a new feature of the operation UNunhappy blog, called the “UNunhappy Moments Update,” or UMU.  Every so often I’ll be doing a brief & bulleted UMU post to encapsulate three recent moments, happenings or events that have made me appreciate life just a little more than usual lately. 

I encourage you to list your own UMU revelations in the Comments section of these posts as well.  Evading those negative crap dodgeballs that life throws at us on a pretty regular basis isn’t easy, so it’s good to take a few moments every once in a while to think about and focus on the positive and actually put it into writing!  (Need a refresher on the definition of UNunhappyClick here.)

So without further ado: (or with much ado?):

  • UMU #1:  By far the best UMU event recently for me happened on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday a few weeks ago, April 23rd; I’m still in awe when I think about it.  I was sitting at work reading about the festivities and fireworks happening in England to celebrate the Bard’s big day, when I suddenly remembered that there was a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio literally minutes down the street from me at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin.  So off I sprinted during my lunch hour to go check it out, looking forward to peering at it through the glass case as I’ve done with other rare copies before (in England, both at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and in London at the British Museum).  I’d never seen a First Folio here in America though.  If you’re not familiar with the First Folio, it was printed in 1623 (a few years after Shakespeare’s death) as the first complete compilation of 36 of his plays – about half of which we would never have even known about if this Folio had not been printed by men who had the foresight to document the Bard’s words for all time.  Only 228 known copies of the originally-printed First Folio are in existence today, and they are widely known to be some of the most valuable books in the world; First Folios in the last decade that have been auctioned or sold go for between $6-$22 MILLION (!) depending on their condition and completeness.  So you can imagine my complete shock when I arrived at the archive center and was told that yes, not only could I see one of their two First Folio editions, but that I was permitted to – I still can’t believe this happened – check one out, hold it in my own hands, peruse the pages, and read the words at my own leisure.  WHAT?!?  I went through the steps of setting up an account, watching a training video on rare-book care & handling, requesting the items I wanted, watching as a staff member disappeared into the bowels of the archives to retrieve my request, and then waiting at a table in a pin-drop-quiet and heavily-guarded room.  As the attendant approached me with a wheeled cart, I held my breath in disbelief – and then he opened a protective case that housed the First Folio and showed me how to place it on a velvet reader stand.  I lifted history out of the box, and closed my eyes briefly, thinking of the many different hands that must’ve handled this treasure over the past 400 years.  I leaned down to inhale the smell of it – an ancient, earthy, weighty scent.  And then for the next hour, I carefully turned through page after delicate yellowed page, looking for my favorite passages and plays, and straining to read the Elizabethan-English introductions to the Folio and tributes to Shakespeare himself.  I had also checked out a very small 1600 copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ upon the inside cover of which was scrawled in an ancient owner’s handwriting “The folio of 1623 was probably printed from this edition.”  When I told my family later about this experience, my 9-year old nephew Hudson said “Wow, did you freak out of your pants when you picked up that old book?” “No,” I answered, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “but I have to tell you, I did almost cry.”  He looked at me strangely, then announced loudly to the entire dinner table “That book meant so much to you that you almost CRIED??”  Hard to explain to a 9-year old…  I had to get a special permit to take pictures of the books, which I did, but was told in no uncertain terms I wasn’t allowed to publish or print those photos anywhere.  So, the few pictures below are from a public domain site (Wikimedia Commons) of another First Folio (these are not the picture I took), but I wanted to give you an idea of what I was seeing…  What a momentous honor that experience was for me and a very memorable way to mark the occasion of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in my little corner of the world.  (UMUs #2 & #3 after the pictures below.)
Shakespeare FF portrait page (2)

Portrait Page of the First Folio

Tempest First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0019 (2)

Title page of ‘The Tempest’ from the First Folio

Catalogue page First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0017 (2)

Catalogue Page of the First Folio, listing the plays contained within.

Memory First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0009 (2)

“To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR, Mr. William Shakespeare: AND what he hath left us.” – First Folio

Finis First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0118 (2)

“FINIS” page of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – The First Folio

  • UMU #2:  For some reason I got great pleasure out of hearing about the new Star Wars VII announcement a few days ago that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be reprising their original roles in the next movie (due out in 2015).  Apparently it wasn’t a surprise for those true sci-fi aficionados who’d been following the trail, but it was a surprise for me!  I like those kinds of surprises (which are so rare in this spoiler-heavy online world we live in now) – like when Michael Scott showed up in the series finale of The Office…I literally yelled at my TV when that happened.  For those of us that grew up during the first epic Star Wars era (in a time that now feels very far, far away), saw each movie at the theatre multiple times, dreamed of being Mrs. Han Solo (or Mr. Princess Leia), and played with all the original action figures and toys for hours on end, it brings waves of nostalgia over us to realize those movie heroes from days gone by are still capable of bringing it!  Kudos to the producers of the movie for roping all of us 70’s and 80’s kids back into the franchise with this move.  It takes a LOT for me to willingly shell out the insane ticket price at the movies these days, but this is definitely one that I’ll be lining up for. 

S7AR_WARS

  • UMU #3:  Some members of my family try to meet up for a family dinner one night a week.  This past week we met at a nearby restaurant, and when my 3-year old nephew slid into the corner booth and saw me sitting across the table, his eyes lit up, he flashed a big smile, and yelled out “KRISTI!!”  I said “Hey that’s Ant Kristi to you mister,” but my insides went all mushy that he was so happy to see me and so unabashed in his reaction – I love how little kids don’t know how to filter their actions yet and how they pretty much just go with their first-gut feeling.  It’s nice to know that someone is genuinely happen to see you!  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty much the cutest kid on the planet right now…
Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Well there you go, this week’s 3 moments of UNunhappy.  Helping to balance the positive and negative scales between the realms of dark and light…and using the force for good instead of evil.  Until next time, may the UNunhappy force be with you too.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Memories Light the Corners of My Mud Brick Hut

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“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” ~William Shakespeare (Henry V, IV, iii)

Bowel habits, big bugs, and blistering heat…tales of long bus trips and cracked, dirty feet.  These are just a few of the favorite things that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers love to talk about.  Spend any real time around one and eventually the conversation will take a turn down a foreign road beginning with “This one time when I was in Peace Corps…”  Get a bunch of returned volunteers together in one room and the most commonly-heard story starter is “In my country…” (talking of the country where we served).

In order to save our friends and family members from that perpetual glassy-eyed haze that comes from listening to yet one more excerpt of Peace Corps nostalgia, we have our own memory outlet in the form of a weekly Twitter online chat group, called #RPCVchat.  It’s a one-hour discussion that’s been hosted by the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) in Washington DC since June 2011, and it’s open to all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) and currently-serving PCVs around the world.  For a short time most Fridays, we tune in from states and countries near and far to remember, honor, laugh, commiserate, brainstorm, theorize and advocate.  A big thank you to NPCA for tirelessly hosting this weekly chat session for almost 3 years now already!

I’ve been participating in the chats on a pretty regular basis for over two years now, and I really look forward to these sessions each time they’re held.  Even though the actual “chat” is not verbal at all, but rather silent on my part as I read and respond from my computer or phone, I still feel part of a welcoming community of like-minded people, and that’s comforting.  Recently some of the topics of our more popular chats have been:

  • Peace Corps & Technology (so much to discuss it had to be a two-parter!)
  • Valentine’s Day Edition: Love & Romance in the Peace Corps
  • The Peace Corps Commemorative Act (three words: bronzed flip-flops)
  • Gift-Giving & Holiday Traditions during Peace Corps
  • Leadership & the Peace Corps
  • Day of the Girl & Gender Roles in the Peace Corps
  • Favorite Foods while in the Peace Corps
  • Toilets & Bathrooms in Peace Corps (brought about by “poopular” demand in honor of World Toilet Day back in November)

The most recent #RPCVchat focused on the issue of happiness during our service (as it did fall on International Day of Happiness).  (There truly is a “day” for every little thing now on the calendar, but why only one lonely day for happiness I wonder?  Shouldn’t it warrant a month, or a quarter at least?)  This being a blog dedicated to the idea and pursuit of being UNunhappy, I felt it warranted not only a mention but a brief expounding as well.

Our moderator started things off by asking “what was your happiest day in the Peace Corps, and what made it so happy?”  This is actually a pretty difficult question and made me really think.  I get this inquiry quite a lot actually although sometimes it comes in the form of “what was the best part of your whole Peace Corps service?”  (I get the opposite question just as much, asking me what the worst part was…which is even more difficult to answer diplomatically!)

Just like life here in America, life during Peace Corps in a foreign country has its ups and downs and my experience was no different.  I did have plenty of not-so-great days, whether it was because of personal or personnel issues where I lived and worked, or consistent gastrointestinal woes brought about by my puny resistance to street food pathogens.  I can’t ever forget the serious injuries I sustained during a security incident and the resulting long recovery road (both physical and mental).  But things were far from all bad; once I started thinking about all the good days during my service, the days that I remember as being truly happy and satisfying, it was easy to come up with many examples:

  • International Women’s Day during my second year, when we held the first-ever all-girls soccer match in front of the entire village, chief elders included.  It wasn’t even related to my primary job assignment, but this secondary project of pulling together girls’ soccer teams and helping to organize the match is one of my proudest accomplishments of my service.
  • The day I figured out I could use my rudimentary Dutch oven to bake an actual chocolate cake – which I then shared with neighbors who had never tasted such a thing, which made it all the sweeter.  This was only possible when I could find eggs, which for some reason was next to impossible where I lived.  Also related: when I could obtain fresh baguette bread, which wasn’t very often in my village, I would toast it in my Dutch oven and slather it with local fresh peanut butter for the perfect breakfast.  This would set my happiness quotient at a very high bar for the rest of the day.
  • Any day during mango season – I fondly remember many, many days when I would eat nothing but mangoes and freshly-roasted peanuts for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner.  The mangoes and peanuts were that good, that I never got tired of them.
  • About halfway through my service, our tiny two-room health clinic obtained a generator-powered refrigerator to be able to keep vaccines in cold storage.  But my clinic colleagues and I also would take the liberty from time to time of using any extra room and shelf space to store liquid libations that were MUCH better cold: for me, that usually meant either Kool-Aid or Gatorade…for my colleagues, it meant bottles of beer, Coke and Fanta.  Days with ice-cold Kool-Aid = extreme happiness for a Peace Corps Volunteer used to drinking only warm and hot water for months on end in a village with no electricity and equator-sizzling temps.
  • Days I received mail, and especially care packages, were always very happy ones for me.  The care packages usually contained chocolatey Clif Bars and other treats, which I hoarded and rationed out over weeks to make the happiness last as long as possible.  The words on the paper bringing news from home of family, friends, and my dog were just as treasured.
  • I remember being very happy to be included in the tea-making ritual that would take place amongst friends and coworkers in my village almost every afternoon.  It’s an elaborate, social activity culminating in teeny tiny portions of brewed tea in small shot glasses that pack a powerful caffeine punch despite their size.  The tea was good (especially with those roasted peanuts), but it was the social aspect of the discussion and friendship that was the happiest part of it for me.  A fellow Burkina PCV wrote an excellent blog post in 2013 about making tea in Burkina, which you can read here.
  • Straying from the food & drink theme (which if you haven’t figured out by now are forefront interests for all PCVs!), I also remember being extremely happy on the day I rode my bike to a neighboring village to pick out and adopt the (almost) cutest tiny little African puppy you’ve ever seen (second only to a little Foxy red poodle I once knew).  I strapped him into a cardboard box onto the back of my bike and all the way back along the red dirt road to my mud-brick hut, he kept poking his little head out to see what was going on.  Little Mulder quickly became Very Big Mulder as he was the best-fed dog in the village, and a very important part of my Peace Corps life.
  • Lying in my hammock in my courtyard during the cool rainy season while listening to BBC on my shortwave radio – those simplistic little experiences make for long-lasting happy memories.
hammock time

Hammock Time

puppymulder

Puppy Mulder

I’ve been looking through some of my letters I wrote to family & friends during Peace Corps, and thought I’d note here a few other examples of times I mentioned being or feeling happy:

  • “Health is good today except for alligator-dry skin; but the tradeoff is no acne so I’m pretty darn happy about that.”
  • “I feel part of something bigger & better than I have in a long time; I’m sure a lot of it is the elation of the day and the facts that I went swimming after the ceremony and found actual sour cream & onion potato chips to eat (!) – but nevertheless I feel sound at heart tonight and proud of myself.”  (Written on the day we were sworn in as PCVs at the Embassy after 3 months of training.)
  • “Today someone complimented me on my French…so that made me feel pretty good. I love the reactions I’m getting from the local women when I say hello to them in Djoula [their local native language] – they go from frowns to all grins and giggles. They say to each other ‘She understands Djoula!’ Which I don’t very well, but what they don’t know…”

I don’t want to sugar-coat my time in Burkina Faso: life there, in one of the world’s poorest countries, is hard.  Very hard.  (I loved and laughed at a fellow RPCV’s tweet the other day that said “Every time someone asks me what the Peace Corps was really like I think, ‘You can’t handle the truth!‘”)  Quite honestly, one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of as a Peace Corps Volunteer having served there is simply that I survived and actually finished my two-year term.  Some members of my family didn’t think I would stay or finish because of the rough conditions…and there were times I almost didn’t.  But I’m glad and proud that I stuck it out, finished my projects, and hopefully made a positive impact in some way.  And I like remembering the positive and happy times like the ones mentioned above.  It doesn’t negate or erase the challenging times, but it feels good to think of what was good about my time there.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers share an unspoken bond, knowing that we’ve challenged ourselves to extreme limits by going to the far corners of the world in hopes of helping others, promoting world peace and friendship, and discovering more about our own selves in the process.  Through forums like #RPCVchat and involvement in our local returned volunteers associations where we live, we are free to tell as many latrine, bus and village stories as we want without fear of judgement or drowsiness.  It’s a nice group to be a part of.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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