Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Memories and Spice

Posted: February 21, 2019 in Food, Musings
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Taking a little break from travel blog writing to bring you a cheesy, personal post. Enjoy!


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What you see before you in this photo is an empty container once full of cumin powder. Not very special at first glance, but this particular container holds a lot of value.

At this very time six years ago, in February 2013, I was midway through my second year of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) member. I was living in a basement apartment in downtown Albany, NY (perfect for late-night vibraphone practice sessions) and spending my days advocating for refugees and immigrants of the Capital District. I remember this time fondly, feeling very much like I was making a big difference in the community by organizing workshops, running volunteer trainings, presenting benefit concerts, tutoring English language learners, and just generally spreading awareness of the presence of such a large, diverse, and wonderful refugee population in the area. The refugees and immigrants of the Capital Region, and everyone who works so hard to support them, will always hold a huge place in my heart.

At this same time I was attempting to a) Figure out how to spread my SNAP-assisted budget to make it through a month (AmeriCorps members are provided with a stipend that allows them to live 5% above the poverty line) and b) Expand my horizons as a meal-prepper, with my brother hundreds of miles away constantly reminding me that I wasn’t a great cook. To stretch my food budget I often bought things in bulk because of the cheaper unit prices and long-term value, so one day I walked into the local Price Chopper, saw a large container of cumin on sale, and decided to buy it.

If memory serves me correctly, I bought that container of cumin early into my second year of VISTA service. Back then I didn’t have a huge spice collection, so every time I walked into the kitchen it stood out. I often found myself staring at it as I prepared dinner after each day of VISTA service, reflecting on my experiences, the stories of the refugees I was working with, the passion and selflessness of the advocates who gave their time so willingly, and what I could do to make the most of each day of my service term. I had some great, solo reflections there with that cumin bottle, and came up with some ideas that proved to be extremely worthwhile endeavors, such as organizing a benefit concert for RISSE and the decision to start tutoring a young woman from Japan learning English. I was also a little lonely; by that time many (but not all) of my college friends had moved out of Albany, and while I still had people to hang out with, I spent many nights home alone (happily practicing my vibraphone, of course). So…that giant cumin bottle was like an extra friend, who allowed me to vent about/reflect on the day while adding new flavor to my cooking.

VISTA was amazing, but all good things must come to an end. After my service ended I took on a position on as a VISTA Leader, mentoring VISTA members organizing hurricane relief efforts on Long Island. I moved back in with my parents and my cumin came along, but since my mom had her own large spice collection it stayed packed away for the entire year.

Next, graduate school! My VISTA Leader experience came to a close and I moved to Brooklyn, where I would live (and still live) while attending graduate school in Manhattan. Out came the cumin bottle once again, now accompanied by a beautiful spice rack inherited from my grandmother (rest in peace). After a year of not seeing it, that cumin bottle instantly brought back memories of my VISTA life, and of the refugees and advocates I knew and loved. Over the next four years, every time I opened the cabinet and saw it, I would think of VISTA.

It is bittersweet that I have finally used up the last of that cumin. It has lasted so long (I use it often enough, but I am only one person and I like to travel, as you readers know, so it has stretched a long way). I almost don’t want to recycle it, because I love the connection it brings to my refugee work, a hugely inspirational experience in my life which I miss dearly. Ironically, this same week that I am saying goodbye to the bottle, I’ve said hello to some faces from those VISTA days, reconnecting with old acquaintances and learning about updates in their lives. Perhaps reuniting with those people is a sign that I will continue to find ways to keep those memories alive, and maybe even return to refugee advocacy work in the future.

Thank you, shukran, and asante sana, cumin bottle. The memories you’ve brought me will live on.

Greetings, radical readers.

It’s been a long time – too long – since I wrote a post here. Life has been moving forward in a typical American style: Work, eat, work out, see some friends, sleep, repeat. I miss traveling, and as a result I’ve been listening to some travel podcasts, including  The Budget-Minded Traveler. I just listened to Episode 99: “‘It Seems Impossible Until You Do It.’ Moving forward with Erin & Erin Zipperle,” and it inspired me to get back on this blog (plus, I just read an old journal in which I reflected on my primary goals in life: Play music, teach, travel).

As I learned in the podcast, Erin and Erin made a decision to move to Austria three years ago with the goal of shaking up their routine and experiencing life from a new perspective for a few years before returning to the US. They discussed what it was like to return to the US after such a life-changing, mind-opening three years in Austria. As seems to happen to most people (including me), coming back to the US meant a return to “normal;” they found themselves falling back into a typical American routine: Eat, sleep, work, work out, buy stuff on Amazon, repeat. They recognized a misalignment in their life; why does this have to be the routine? They took a hard look at their daily lives and reflected on what they want out of life and whether they were shaping their days to allow for those priorities. They made a plan to begin to “find adventure in our own backyard.” Here are some questions/statements they reflected on:

  • Are we approaching every day how we want to?
  • Do we need to incorporate more fun?
  • We can change our path if we want to (again).
  • “We hadn’t done that because we didn’t have time, but we didn’t have time because we didn’t choose to make it a priority.” 
  • “You can lose track if you don’t reassess.”
  • If you’re not happy about everything, what is the one thing that’s the itch on your back?
  • “Hey, I’m getting into this schedule, and I don’t want to be.”
  • Just stop what you’re doing, reevaluate, and move forward.
  • Challenge yourself whenever you can, even if it’s not abroad.
  • “It seems impossible until you do it.”

I love this. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the daily grind of American life, and while there are positives that result from this routine, I think we all have moments in our days where we can refocus. In particular, the idea of finding adventure in my own backyard stands out. While I do experience many local adventures, I never really think of these as travel, but they are! Thus, I’d like to start a series of short blog entries about my NY adventures (and adventures outside of NY when I have them). Stay tuned for the first entry coming soon!

(Mini adventure: Commuting across the Manhattan Bridge)

2018 Adventure Summary

Posted: June 7, 2018 in 2018, Adventures, Musings

Hello readers! Whether you’ve read one post or many, thank you for your interest in my 2018 journey. This post serves as a summary of the adventures I’ve embarked on this year, especially for those of you who haven’t been reading but would like to know a bit about my trip. So…here’s a short(ish) summary of my 2018 experience.

Why Did I Do This?

Many reasons:

  1. I am enrolled in a graduate program with an “en-route” Master’s on way to a PhD. It’s been a frustrating ride and I’m still not sure whether this doctorate is right for me. I finished the requirements for the Master’s portion and, after four years in this program, felt like I needed a break. Hence, a leave of absence!
  2. I host couchsurfers in my apartment and love their stories. They are an inspiration, and I’ve been wanting to go on a big adventure for quite some time.
  3. Traveling is a way to expand perspective and reflect. While away, what do I miss about “normal” life? What makes me the happiest on this trip? I was hoping for (and have found) some answers to those questions through this experience.
  4. Why not?!

So, here is a wee (as they say in NZ) summary of my five months of travel, with a couple photos for each place:

  • January:
    • Florida: After subletting my apartment,  I flew to FL to visit my parents, finish my schoolwork, and prepare for teaching online while traveling. I also visited the western “Nature Coast” of Florida for the first time to catch up with some family, see manatees, and kayak. Awesome!19575218_10157116909735299_2834212453498620899_o
    • New York: A quick trip back for the CUNY Games Conference, one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to, which I also helped to organize! 🙂
    • Canada: Next, flew to Toronto to see my friends Amanda, Marlyse, and Eva, plus a weekend trip to Montreal with Marlyse. How I love hearing that Quebecois French.27629240_10104275693862510_8117121442088582198_o
  • February:
    • Canada cont.: Stayed up there through early February, hanging out, working out bugs in my online course, and enjoying time with mes amies.
    • Utah: Next stop, a week in southern Utah with my friends Val and Tracie. I loved hiking through Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks – incredible places, even in the winter. I definitely want to go back there. 
    • Colorado: Two relaxing weeks in Breckenridge with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I used this time to get my online course working, went snowshoeing with my cousin, did an escape room, and my uncle gave me a ski lesson! 🙂20180222_151617400936593.jpg
  • March:
    • Kansas City: I went here to present at a conference, but it was also a great opportunity to talk to academics in various fields regarding my hesitations about my PhD. Their insights and suggestions were helpful, and I continued to process these throughout my journey. I also met Amber, Jav, Teo, and Mari, a wonderful family and some of my favorite couchsurfing hosts!20180301_220021-1636330712.jpg
    • Vietnam: Met up with Marlyse and her fiancee for a couple days in Dalat, then explored Ho Chi Minh City,  the surrounding area, and the Mekong Delta on my own for the rest of the week. In Saigon I met Quynh, one of my all-time favorite couchsurfing hosts, and began to realize how lucky I was to be able to travel and teach at the same time; in Vietnam the US dollar is so powerful that I could have lived there for months with just the one course I was teaching. I also met some ex-pat teachers and saw how easy it can be to embrace the unknown and accept outside-the-box work opportunities, as they had. And, for the first time in a long time, I experienced what it’s like to be the linguistic minority, relying on the kindness of others to navigate unfamiliar territory and words. 
    • Australia: I flew into Melbourne, then up to Newcastle to reunite with my friend Mike for a few days. We explored the sunny beachside city of Newcastle, went sandboarding, and I was able to get another perspective on the PhD journey (Mike is a post-doc). I also reunited with my friend Aruna in Melbourne. This was a quick trip, just to see my friends en-route to the destination I had my eyes set on.20180317_1557352064470779.jpg
  • Mid-March-Early May: New Zealand
    • How do I sum this up? New Zealand is one of my favorite places on the planet and I had the privilege of spending seven weeks there on this trip. I spent most of my time on the South Island, with a full month in the Otago region and the majority of that time on possibly the most peaceful and fulfilling place I’ve ever stayed, Quarantine Island (a former quarantine station). There I volunteered on a number of conservation-based projects, met wonderful community members, began to learn Flemish, and became a sort of au pair for the incredible kids living on the island, who are some of my favorite people from this entire trip. During my NZ trip I also biked, hiked, kayaked, and camped my way across the West Coast and explored many other towns and cities on the South Island.
    • What did I learn from New Zealand? Mostly things I already knew, but which I felt like I needed to confirm:
      • I am so happy when I am outside, and even happier if I can give back through volunteerism.
      • I will always make music a part of my life, but even without practicing six hours a day and performing regularly, simply making music casually – especially for kids – still makes me happy.
      • Teaching is my passion. Period.
      • I love working with kids.
      • I also enjoy teaching college students online.
      • It’s much more fulfilling to “slow travel,” staying somewhere awhile and getting to know the community, than it is to “fast travel” and spend just a day or two in one place.
      • I met so many people on this trip who left their “traditional” professional paths to pursue more outside-the-box lifestyles/jobs and are much happier. Embracing the unknown is okay.
      • I met one guy who has been traveling and volunteering for two and a half years, another who has been volunteering in exchange for accommodation for three, and many others with similar stories. Suddenly three weeks volunteering for accommodation in the same place doesn’t seem so long…
      • So many other lessons, but I’ll end there.
  • May: Hawaii
    • I spent one week on Oahu/Honolulu and one on the Big Island. I didn’t love Oahu (although I caught up with my old music teacher and partner!), but Big Island was one of the best parts of my entire trip. I met incredible people through couchsurfing, hitchhiked, camped, surfed, snorkeled, and hardly spent a dime. The Waimanu Valley hike is now one of my all-time favorite hiking experiences.
  • June:
    • Florida: I returned to my parents’ place for a week and a half to grade end-of-semester student work and readjust to life in the US.
    • Long Island: Two weeks here to visit friends and family.
    • Brooklyn: Sublease ends, “regular life” returns.

On this trip I traveled with two backpacks and flew carry-on only on most airlines (the secret is packing cubes; they are amazing). Not counting flights and my splurge week with Flying Kiwi, I spent an average of $8/day and was grateful for the kindness and hospitality of everyone I met, many of whom I hope to keep in touch with, and found the clarity of mind I needed to evaluate my position as I return to academia this fall. I’ve lost the worry and panic I was feeling over whether to complete my program, and that stress has been replaced with the comforting feeling that no matter what I decide, there are plenty of cool opportunities out there for me to pursue. This trip was worthwhile on so many levels, and I would repeat it again in a heartbeat. Huge thanks to all the people who were a part of this adventure; I am grateful for each of you. 20180515_124216931416055.jpg

Kia ora from Kaikoura! That actually doesn’t rhyme quite as well as you probably read it to, but I had to write it nonetheless. That Maori welcome is pronounced something like “kee-ora,” if you’re wondering. And hey, check out this cool toilet at my current hostel! 

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Anyway, throughout my journey, I’ve discovered some fun New Zealand quirks, so I’m taking a quick break from my daily posts to share a few with you:

Busses

For those of you in the states, imagine your average MegaBus, BoltBus, or Greyhound journey from one city to another. You get on the bus, maybe you get a quick safety overview, and then you don’t hear from the driver until you reach your destination. Typical for a multi-hour bus journey, right? Not in the New Zealand.

Here in New Zealand, I’ve been traveling from town to town through the popular public bus line, InterCity. When you get on the bus, the driver asks where you’re going and, depending on how full the bus is, might be able to drop you off close to a particular spot in the destination city. Then, as you’re riding the bus, the driver gives a bit of a tour, showering you with fun facts about the history of the area, what it’s known for, etc. as you travel. I learned most of my fun facts about the Otago Gold Rush from riding on InterCity, for instance. After the last fun facts, the drivers tend to let you know that they will now be silent and will check in again closer to the destination. So quirky, so cool!

Toilets

On those buses, you also get to have a brief rest stop at some sort of town with public toilets, and these toilets are a riot. When you go inside, it’s kind of like walking into a low-budget TV spaceship, with lit-up buttons to press at particular times. Need toilet paper? Just wave your hand across the glowing blue light with the toilet paper icon and it will appear. Want to flush the toilet? Wave your hand below the sink to wash your hands, and the toilet will flush simultaneously. Sometimes the toilets even talk to you, telling you when you have locked or unlocked the door, etc. Very impressive in another quirky way.

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Hitchhiking

Totally acceptable form of transportation. Don’t have a bus ticket or a car and need to get somewhere? Just stand on the road and stick out your thumb. Everybody does it!

Sheep

New Zealand has a ton of sheep, and this crazy country loves to laugh at itself for how many sheep it has. Thus far, my favorite example of this was in Dunedin, where the entire city seemed to be attending the Ed Sheeran concerts over Easter weekend (seriously…all the moms chaperoning the kindy (pre-k) visit to Quarantine Island were talking about when they were going, I heard people talking about the shows at multiple cafes and on the buses, and at the Settlers Museum I even heard a very elderly man talking about how much he enjoyed the show. These people just love Ed Sheeran.

Anyway, the best part about the Ed Sheeran craze were the advertisements I saw everywhere for the show, promoting not Ed Sheeran but…get ready for it…Ed Shearing…featuring an Ed-like sheep playing the guitar. Oh New Zealand, you are so sheepish.

Ed Shearing

Time

Kiwis (people who are from New Zealand) have a very laid-back sense of time; you never know when a kiwi will show up (of course, this doesn’t apply to all New Zealanders, but it is a quirky stereotype, hence earning a spot in this post). On Quarantine for instance, I spent an entire afternoon mowing the grass with a push mower. Then, just as the Keeper, Dries – who is Belgian, not a kiwi – was about to leave the island to pick up his kids from school, some locals rode over in their boat to deliver a sit-on mower that wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another two or three days, because they figured they had time to bring it over that day without notice and could give a 15-20 demonstration on how it worked. “I can’t stand kiwi time,” Dries grumbled 30 minutes later as he ran off to get his kids.

Bente from the Flying Kiwi company, who is originally from Germany (and who you will hear about when I get to that part of my trip) said this laid-back attitude about time was at first hard for her to get used to, but now she loves it. When she meets up with her friends back in Germany – who she says always arrive early or right on time – she is now the late one because she has adapted to New Zealand’s casual attitude about time. 

Phrases

Kiwis love to squish together and/or shorten words whenever possible (I’ve been told it’s a waste of air to draw something out with all its syllables, as, according to the kiwis, the Australians tend to do). For instance, a chicken becomes a “chook,” a “cuppa” is a cup of tea or coffee, things are “wee” rather than little or small, and if you go camping on a platform or some other not-completely-wilderness setting you are experiencing glamorous camping, aka “glamping.” Even their own country’s name gets squished together a bit, becoming more like “N’Zealand.” One common phrase is “Sweet as!” meaning something like “awesome!” and there are various terms for a holiday home, called a “crib” on the South Island and a “bach” (pronounced “batch”) up north. For whatever reason, flip-flops are “jandals,” hiking is tramping, and perhaps most mysterious of all, dinner is tea, breakfast can be tea, and tea is tea. Is it time for tea? Ask a kiwi why “tea” is synonymous for dinner however, and they’ll probably tell you they have no idea, it just is (I’ve asked many kiwis, with similar shrugs from all). Tea, tea, and more tea. So, in N’Zealand, you can go glamping and tramping, hang out at your bach, wear your jandals, have tea followed by a cuppa, and watch your wee chook run around. Sweet as! 

Respect for Indigenous Culture

This isn’t really a quirk, but I love how Maori culture is so present here. As one of my couchsurfing hosts explained, people are people. Everyone here sees the Kiwis and the Maoris as New Zealanders, so they treat them all the same (to a point…there is still some segregation, disrespect, and resistance to/ignorance of Maori culture, but nothing like we see with Native American culture in the United States; in comparison the Maori people are treated incredibly well). I wish this wasn’t on my list of quirks, but I don’t know of a place in the world where indigenous culture is recognized quite as thoroughly as it is here in New Zealand. Good on you, NZ.

Conservation

Similarly, NZ seems to put more of an effort into preserving and protecting native flora and fauna than any other country. When you arrive by plane, you need to make sure you have no seeds or anything else on your shoes that you might bring into the country. The Department of Conservation here is making huge efforts to get rid of invasive plants and animals, with a country-wide goal of becoming predator-free by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, but most of the locals seem to be on board and are doing their part to support it. Very cool.

 

That’s just a taste of the character of New Zealand. Stay tuned for a return to regularly scheduled posts sometime in the next few days. Long story short I’m heading back to Christchurch tomorrow afternoon (eventually looping back down to Dunedin) and will have lots of time to update this blog from Carl and Renee’s house in Christchurch over the next four days (catching up on student grading for my course takes priority when I have internet, hence the slow progress catching up here).  Hey and if anyone wants to video chat, the next four days are good for that too, just let me know! Sweet as! 🙂

Roughly one year ago, I wrote my first post on this blog (but not my first ever, that can be found on my first blog- “Oh Canada!”). At that time I’d just left Albany, traveled a bit, and began a year of adventures on Long Island. It was a great chapter in life, to be sure. Highlights included:

  • Seeing my Long Island friends/family so often (such a welcome change after being four hours away for so long!)
  • Traveling to Utah (now one of my favorite states) and Dallas, TX
  • My two favorite weekends of the year- The Flurry Festival and the Old Songs Festival
  • Four seasons of softball with amazing teammates (fall, spring, summer, travel…can’t get enough!)
  • Vibraphone adventures: Lessons with Christos, going to gigs, jamming, the World Vibes Congress, joining the swing band, playing a solo gig, going to the UDel summer workshop again (check out my YouTube page for videos from the workshop)
  • Watching one of my best friends get married
  • Playing/recording songs with my dad (such as this original)
  • Learning to successfully bike to work on LI, and cycling 56 miles on The Ride to Montauk
  • The World Cup parties hosted by my friend Mike, a great cook from Brazil who served food from each country competing
  • Exercise: Spin class, combat fitness, the Philly Run Wild 5K
  • Bonding with my brother while crashing at his apartment over the past month
  • Discovering the CUNY Graduate Center and getting such a prestigious fellowship award 😀

It’s been a great chapter of life for sure. My experience as an AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader was not as exciting as I’d hoped, but I made the best of it and learned some lessons along the way (plus I should have known; how could anything compete with my most-amazing experience as a VISTA?). The good thing about my VL experience being less-than-incredibly-awesome is that now I’m extremely excited for this next step in life. My year on Long Island was good, but it was temporary. Now, a new adventure begins!

A New Chapter

I have officially moved into my Brooklyn apartment and am taking full advantage of what the city has to offer. It’s ironic…when I was little, although I loved to ride the train (and still do), I didn’t enjoy NYC; I said it was my least-favorite city and I’d never want to live there. When it came time to choose a college, I wanted to go somewhere rural and warm…and wound up in urban Albany, NY. Now here I am in a complete 180, living in Brooklyn. It’s so funny to me that I didn’t want to live here, and now I’m loving it. Some reasons why I’m happy here:

  • My favorite mode of transportation is the bicycle, followed by walking or swimming, followed by a train.
  • An extremely important factor in my life is having access to a great music scene with jazz
  • I love contra dancing and swing dancing, and NY has plenty of both
  • I like living in diverse areas with lots of different kinds of foods to try
  • I hate driving and avoid it as much as possible (so it’s great that I don’t have to here)
  • I always said I didn’t want to live on LI long-term but that in a perfect world I’d still play softball there. Well…I guess this is my perfect world!
  • Another important factor in my life is being close to nature. My apartment is a couple minutes’ walk from Prospect Park, just about as much green as you can get in a big city!

Those are just a few reasons this seems to be a great place for me, though I never realized it. Yes, I still have my heart set on Quebec, but this is the place for me right now and I’m happy to be here!

New Adventures

Life in Brooklyn is amazing. There is SO MUCH to do here, even when I’m alone. Tonight for instance, I will be checking out the Brooklyn Contra scene. So excited!

With all the amazing things happening around town, I think even my frugal self will have to be careful keeping a budget. It’s so easy to say yes to going to a gig, a festival, a dance, a restaurant, a bike trip…so much! I’m finding things that are free or very cheap but still…for the first time in my life I’m actually actively tracking my spending, just in case.

In other news, I’m all set for starting at CUNY. Registered for classed including “1920s: Music and Culture in New York”, and an ethnomusicology research class with one whole textbook devoted to the mbira and the Shona people of Zimbabwe. So exciting! I’m on payroll, and I signed up to take my first language exam (we take two any time before graduation. I can pass the French one easily so I figured I’d get it out of the way). I’ve ordered textbooks, met with the department head, attended orientation #1 (there are three- one for GAs, one for all students, one for music students), and am now preparing for the French exam and the start of the semester. Speaking of…

My first class is Aug. 29th, but between now and then I’ll be exploring NYC tourist-style with my friend Marlyse from Canada. She’ll be visiting for one week and we plan to do a ton of cool things. I’ll blog about our adventures after they happen 🙂

As for other adventures, I’ve been here less than a week but I’ve already done a lot. Genai and I attended the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island (photos below), I saw the movie Grease on the beach on Coney Island with April and some of her friends, my new friend Elaine and I ate at a mediterranean restaurant close to our school, I biked through Prospect Park, I jammed with one of my vibraphone friends, and of course I commuted by bike from the train to my apartment. Now tonight is contra dancing, then Marlyse arrives on Sunday and the fun continues!

Moral of the story: Brooklyn is cool, life is grand, and I’m excited to start school. Adventures ahead!

Flappers in style

Flappers in style

Beautiful day for a picnic

Beautiful day for a picnic

Me picnicking

Me picnicking

We're so classy ;)

We’re so classy 😉

On the dance floor

On the dance floor

"Bathing Beauties and Beaus" show

The “Bathing Beauties and Beaus” show

The Dreamland Follies and Mike Arenella, bandleader and creator of the Jazz Age Lawn Party.

The Dreamland Follies and Mike Arenella, bandleader and creator of the Jazz Age Lawn Party.

The above is a quote from myself. That’s legal, right? 😉

This morning Suffolk County was hit with a flash flood, and it made me reflect on life. Sitting in traffic for three hours left plenty of time to assess my situation. The facts:

  1. I was sitting in a car that works, which I’ve paid off, that provides shelter from the rain and reliable transportation on the roads.
  2. I was headed to a job I chose, which pays enough money to live off, through which I get to network, inspire others, and which does not eat up all my time.
  3. I had ample amounts of CDs and radio programs to choose from to pass the hours.
  4. I brought a nutritious breakfast in the car, easily obtained, so I wasn’t hungry.
  5. I had not only my GPS but also my new smart phone to guide me if necessary.
  6. While on the road many people contacted me to make sure I was okay, proving I have a support network that cares.
  7. Being stuck for so long gave me time to clean my car a bit, a task I’ve been putting off for months.

With all those facts, how could I complain? Looking at the bigger picture, how can I complain about anything ever? While driving, I heard NPR talk about Iraqi refugees stranded in the mountains, about people dying from ebola, about recent shootings, about individuals living in poverty…the list goes on. With the right perspective, being stuck in three hours of traffic seems like a blessing, a reminder to be grateful for my life and the opportunities I have been given. Suddenly this dreary day doesn’t seem so bad…

You know the scene. You know the quote. You know the movie. Or…at least I hope you do. The Blues Brothers, one of my favorite films of all time. This scene, with one of my favorite lines of all time. A line which, somehow, reminds me of the crazy journey I’m about to embark on. Let me explain:

In this scene, Jake and Elwood are fleeing from the police (what else is new?). They jump into their battered car and Elwood makes, in my opinion, one of the most memorable statements in the movie:

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As I get closer to the start of my own 106-mile journey, I find myself relating to Jake and Elwood. I’m not heading to Chicago, but my journey towards a PhD feels like 106 miles. I’ve got an ill-prepared car to help me along the way, in the form of limited knowledge of world music research. I’ve got a full tank of gas, meaning I am motivated and ready to go. I don’t smoke but I have half a pack of cigarettes- some of the tools I’ll need for success, but certainly not all of them. It’s dark; I can’t quite see what’s on the road ahead, but I’m driving towards it anyway. And of course I’m wearing sunglasses, blinders which serve both to help me keep my cool and to mask some of the unpleasant realities of NYC scholarly life I’m not ready to face: Getting sick of reading textbooks, rats in my apartment, getting lost, not playing vibes as much as I want…I hope these aren’t in my future but if they are, I don’t want to see them yet.

So that’s that. Jake and Elwood escaped the cops and got the band back together, and I’ll get my PhD and enjoy the ride. It’s almost June. Soon I’ll be living in a tiny NYC apartment preparing for the first day of class, and before I know it those 106 miles will have come and gone and I’ll be walking across the stage on graduation day. The Blues Brothers achieved their goals and so will I. As Jake Blues would say: “Hit it.”