My Mom is a social worker and often goes into hospitals to assess the elderly for their eligibility to receive assistance from the state. In the elevator on her way out of the hospital she was standing next to an older woman and noticed she was teary. My Mom asked, “are you all right?”

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Mom & I at the game
The woman replied “I’m here because my sister is dying of lung cancer. She smoked for 50 years and while she may have enjoyed the habit, she had an obligation to those who loved her not to kill herself in this way. What about those of us who love her and are left behind?” My Mom saw the pain in her eyes and asked if she’d like to sit in the lobby and talk. Over the next 30 minutes they connected to share in the sorrows and tears that life has inevitably brought each of them. The sorrows of life cut short before its time and of loved ones whose actions leave wounds that scar over, but never fully heal. After they had shared their stories, my Mom told her she had to go but that she “felt they were meant to have this time together.” They exchanged first names and the woman thanked her being there and both  women recognized that a special moment had occurred. They hugged and separated.


As my Mom told me this story, I felt admiration welling in my heart for her willingness to commune with someone in pain. How often do we see pain in others and make excuses about how we don’t have the time or the energy to give? Of course we can’t completely abandon our own needs to serve others, but can we just take that extra half hour to make a difference? Or can we take the extra little effort to smile at the person we pass on the street who may be having a bad day? To truly listen instead of waiting for our turn to speak? My Mom’s story challenged me to look at all the little ways I sabotage “coming together” and inspired me to do something about it. Those are the best kinds of stories :).

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Neda's 1st Phillies Game!
On a practical note, we have been doing a lot of coming together here in Philadelphia as we catch up with family and friends and continue to make preparations for our trip to Bulgaria and beyond. We got to catch a Phillies game with the family (it was rained out in the 3rd inning, but we still had a great time) and to see our friends and families cute little babies! We also survived a category 1 hurricane (thanks Irene). Hope everyone else stayed safe during the storm! See the rest of the pics here


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Our cute niece Ella!
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Lilianna, our friends Beth & Ed's daughter!
 
 
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Mmmm....El Pastor Tacos!
Columbus, Ohio! We arrived last Wednesday to visit my old college friend Natalie and her partner Rayn. Nat & Rayn took us on a culinary tour of the city as we enjoyed the city’s taco & BBQ trucks as well as my new obsession - delectable macarons from Pistacia Vera! They also took us to a Columbus Pecha Kucha event (the Japanese Word for Chit-Chat, pronounced “pechakoocha”) where we heard people give 6 minute presentations on everything from the powerful influence of radio to their love of photographing food that arouses desire in the viewer ("food porn").

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Pabst & Chit Chat - can't beat it!
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More macaroons please!
A conversation I had with Natalie while we were hanging out in her kitchen struck me. Taking this grand journey with Neda has excited both of us, but has also provoked feelings of fear and vulnerability as we take a financial risk in order to stimulate non-material growth (i.e. wisdom, creativity, etc...). Neda and I have enjoyed the readings of Eckhart Tolle and the way he speaks about bringing awareness to when we identify with fear-based reasoning. In other words, the underlying fear we have about not being in control of our lives colors our reasoning so that we  justify making decisions that limit us and prevent us from growing.

Natalie introduced me to the metpahor of “floating downstream” from her work in the Abraham spiritual tradition as another way to work with this idea. In this tradition, the universe is seen as moving all of us in a synergistic way towards what we need for growth and fulfillment. When we focus on what we don't have in our lives and what we don't want in our lives (i.e. fear based reasoning), we are attempting to swim upstream. This futile attempt to control the sweeping river of our lives slowly and inexorably exhausts us, leaving little room for creativity or spontaneous flow. Instead, life becomes a single minded focus on a few ideals that are born out of fear instead of flow. 

As we arrived back in Philadelphia on Monday night and started working on all the preparations for traveling to Bulgaria, Neda and I felt the familiar constriction of trying to swim upstream. It is easy for us to get tunnel vision when we feel overwhelmed by how much we have to do. The question for all of us is whether we can see that constriction in our mind and body when it occurs and notice it without judgment.  This witnessing allows us to float along with the universe towards whatever destination awaits us to next.

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An attempt at food porn :) Fried chicken topped with fried plantains, cheese, and onions from a Honduran food cart in Columbus
This post concludes the “American Tour” part of our trip for the time being. We will make preparations in Philly for our international exploits before leaving for Bulgaria at the end of September. Along the way we'll try to get up along the East Coast to say goodbye to our friends there. Also wanted to send thanks to Josh & Anne for being wonderful hosts as we visited them in the small town of Granville, OH. They both continue to be inspirations to Neda & I for their free-thinking and creativity. See the rest of the pics from Columus here!


 
 
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The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis was the largest ever. Sporting 12 giant exhibition buildings (focusing on topics from innovations in manufacturing to education and social economy), a campus of over 1,200 acres (covering Forest Park and parts of what is now Washington University in St. Louis, my alma mater), and an attendance of nearly 20 million, the 6-month long Fair was an epic event of its time. As I walked through the exhibit at the St. Louis History Museum, one facet of the fair particularly caught my attention - its purely temporary nature.

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Festival Hall across from the Art Museum
Looking at the pictures of the fair, it appears that this amazing city within a city was put up right in the middle of St. Louis. Gorgeous facades lined every street corner of the Fairgrounds and the great basin provided waterway views for anyone coming to the fair. But it was all temporary - each of the buildings was made of rough wood frames covered in a substance called “staff” a mix of plaster and hemp that looks just like marble…for about 6 months...Then it starts to deteriorate and fall apart.

Before I knew the buildings were made of this temporary substance, I couldn't understand why St. Louis would produce such beautiful buildings just to knock everything down. As I realized that these buildings had been built to fall apart, I reflected on how the Fair informs our own lives. Each of us comes into this world as a temporary structure, like the buildings in the Fair. We meet millions of people along our journey and hope to instill some inspiration in a few of them if we're lucky. Just like most Fairgoers briefly enjoyed the experience of the Fair before returning home, many of our relationships are temporary connections that change as distance and time moves us apart.  But the inspiration and growth that the Fair induced never goes away - just as our friendships continue to shape us long after parting ways.

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On this trip through St. Louis, we got to connect with many of the people who have inspired us as we shared our time together in the city. At the Lake of the Ozarks, Neda & I got to hang out with my old college friend Matt McKeague and his girlfriend Michelle. We enjoyed lazy days on the Lake, tubing and catching up on old times. 

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At Double D's with Chris
In St. Louis, we met up with Chris Curtis and his girlfriend Alice Tseng, who took us out for a night of great fun at Double D’s bar. Then we had delicious Dim Sum with Neda’s old co-workers Mike & Don before heading out to O’Fallon, MO to spend time with Dave, Diana, and their new baby son Jake. Jake was a joy to be around and showered us with smiles and baby talk our whole time there! After O’Fallon, we headed South to have dinner and a night of catching up with Traci & Scott before we head off to meet up with our friends Meiku and Kuryo at the Missouri Zen Center tonight.

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Dim Sum with Don & Mike
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Neda & Jeff with Baby Jake!
St. Louis has always been a place of meetings for us – Neda & I met here and the past few times we have visited we are always whirling through as we try to see everyone we had such a wonderful time with when we lived here. While the “St. Louis Fields Fair” is over for us for now, we look forward to coming back and seeing how everything has changed since the last visit! Next stop: Columbus, Ohio and more friends from St. Louis!
See the rest of the pics from this part of the trip by clicking here:
 
 
The next stop on our journey is taking me back to one of the first homes I had in the United States. It was hard to leave the great weather and beautiful adobe home in Santa Fe but also exciting to see my friends in Springfield. We drove 12 hours to Tulsa, OK, stopping in Oklahoma City for scrumptious tacos that took our bellies back to Austin!

Driving through Springfield, I was shocked at how different it looked to me yet how nothing had changed! This was one of my first real homes in the United States, and what a different town it is compared to NYC and Bulgarian cities. As we travel through the country without our own home now, I am realizing more and more how much home is with the people that you meet and connect with. 

My first job as a waitress was at a Chinese buffet, Jade East, so we had to make a stop there because who knows when we will return there. I remember thinking how weird Chinese food was. In Communist Bulgaria, we didn’t have any other culture foods or exposure, so the only thing I ate was the fried chicken, fries, and pickles for a long time :)! Jade East was the same, same people working there, even the food tasted exactly the same!
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At Gastropub
In contrast with the somewhat bland city landscape is the love and warmth with which I was greeted by my longtime friends. I haven’t seen them in at least 2 years but feels like we have been hanging out every day! We stayed with my maid of honor and high school friend Stefie! We had a delicious farm to table dinner with her crowd and also met up with my good friend Lisa who I have also known for about 13 years. Love you girls!

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We drank more than we have in the past month in this one weekend! We had  a bonfire at Stef’s sister’s (Jen) house for her birthday and then headed off to the North Fork river for a glorious day of floating down the river. It had rained all night and all morning and it seemed as if we were in an enchanted forest as the sun was peeking through the fluffy clouds! Black butterflies were everywhere and the rugrats and raccoons were out on the banks. It was so beautiful and luscious!

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At the Daily Pub
We are now at the Lake of the Ozarks relaxing and really enjoying the amazing home of Matt's (Jeff's college friend) grandma. We are cooking, doing laundry, and in a way made a new home already! :)