Okay, one more for 2011. Are you surprised in the slightest?

My sister picked that shirt out for me last week. She said it’s basically my theme shirt and I should wear it all the time – especially with my friends.

I wrote once about the time I Skyped with someone, got off the phone with them and a girl in the hostel looked at me. “You smile alone. You’re funny.”

A friend would later say that should be the title of my self-help book or autobiography.

“I Smile Alone.”

I ended up wearing that shirt for the first time as a pajama shirt rather than out and about with friends. When I looked in the mirror the next morning, not only did I see myself, but I could read the message perfectly. I’d put the shirt on inside-out, so looking back at me – Myself, and “You Make Me Smile.”

And it made me smile, and it made me laugh.

When I was talking to the writer and photographer at the castle in Sintra, Portugal, the ones who scoffed when I said “I’m trying to be both of you,” one of them heard about my four-month trip and with a smirk asked, “So did you come here to find yourself?”

He said it as though I must have been running, or must have had baggage at home. Yes – I changed. Immeasurably. Yes – I found out more about myself than I could have thought possible.

Did I go over to smirk-worthy “find myself” as though something in my life had been missing prior? As though I was longing to find my spot in the world because I’d previously been feeling lost? Alone?

I told him, “No, I felt pretty good before. I just came to see, learn and tell stories.”

To have had the year and the experiences I’ve just had was such a blessing. To share it – in person, on the phone, in the blog… to have people to share it with. To have people to call the second I have good news, or when I need them because I have bad news. To giggle with, to goof around with, often to overanalyze with…

There was a post Freshly Pressed the other day, and this guy is having a good week. Over 500 bloggers have “liked” it so far- my high was 130!

Five Ways to Find Your Future.

Your future is about people not projects or accomplishments. Current relationships tend to maintain stability; new relationships disrupt. Treasure both.”

I didn’t go to Europe to find myself. I know where home is, and geographically, there are a few. More importantly, I know what makes me happy and I wish for everyone that they find that place. And hell, if you have to go somewhere to find yourself – take risks to find yourself – Do it! Maybe guy on the top of the castle, so sure of himself, hasn’t reached his potential. I think you’d be so boring if you didn’t think you could improve.

Life would be boring.

But none of the best of 2011 would have happened if I didn’t have these people.

Just a few of the best. Thanks, everyone.

Can’t wait to share 2012.

Now I’m done for the year.

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One More Day

I just went eight days without writing, and I left you all hanging with a classy one. I know.

This past week has been filled with flights and food, friends and family. Ups and downs. Excitement and worries.

Reuniting with past. Living in the moment. Planning the immediate future.

Reliving 2011. Daydreaming of 2012.

I spent the Friday before Christmas in Central CA with family.

I got to celebrate the magic of Christmas with someone celebrating for the first time. There’s no better way to do it.

I returned to my house for Christmas and had the major food groups: Carbs, Coca-Cola and Champagne. I’ve undone any “best shape ever” I had when I got back to the United States. Don’t ask me about my January 7 half-marathon. That will get accomplished solely due to the “I can’t tell the blog I failed” fear.

A few days later, I landed in Albany, NY. Today, Saratoga Springs. Past home, future home.

One more day of 2011. I assume this is my last post of the year. Had I written the past few days, I might have hit 24,000 hits, but in time…

2011. I feel as though I should be terribly sad to see it go. In mind, body and spirit, I’ve been changed for the better… for the better than ever. I’ve been blessed to see places and do things of wildest dreams.

Moreso, 2011 was about people. Family, old friends. Strangers, new friends. People who expressed more faith in a 22-year-old girl than any 22-year-old-girl (woman?) could believe. People who have pushed me to be better. To appreciate, listen, understand, observe, but most amazingly, imagine better.

And because of that, I’m not sad to see 2011 go.

I am so excited for 2012.

Thanks, everyone.

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I’d Like To.

Oh, I’d like to do a write-up of what it’s like to take a trip to the salon to get waxed.

For appropriate blog material, I’d write about the time I got my eyebrows waxed.

I’d like to do a write-up about the relaxing music in the background and the little waxing woman’s hug as I entered the room.

I’d like to write about how she laughed at me because I didn’t know I had to remove the relevant clothing (you know, the kind you take off to get your eyebrows waxed).

I’d like to write about the feeling of removing said attire, taking position on the reclined seat and realizing I’d left my white socks on and look like a dweeb.

I’d like to write about the conversation we had. The questions she’d ask me, and how as I started to answer, she’d rip the burning wax away.

Are you going anywhere for the holidays?
Yeah, I’m going to New York for (rip) NEW YEARS TO SEE A FRIEND.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Well not exactly but that friend in New York, I (rip) THINK HE’S ALRIGHT.
What does he do?
He’s (rip) LEAD SINGER IN A BAND.
He must be pretty talented.
Yeah, he (rip) PLAYS FOUR INSTRUMENTS.

I’d like to tell you she told me I was all done by saying, “Okay, Merry Christmas!”

I’d like to tell you far more than that, but no one would ever publish my children’s books.

No one would ever hire me.

I’d certainly never get to be President.

So I won’t.

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Occupying Orange County

For anyone who got this post in his or her e-mail and was confused as to why it was titled 2510, I forgot to title this one before hitting publish. WordPress came up with the number.

A commenter today asked me what it’s like to be home. Six days in, here are some basic thoughts:

I keep focusing extra for conversations I expect to occur with a language barrier. Turns out the girl working the register at Target does in fact speak English perfectly. I get myself ready to explain and clarify simple concepts, speak slower, speak louder. My first dose of this was when I got on the plane from Barcelona to London, said to the flight attendant as I got on the plane “Im in 32C” in a slow drawn-out voice and she simply responded, “Smashing.”

Speaking of Target, I find it weird I was wandering a small little dark corner market looking everywhere for a notebook in Lisbon and now I’m back to one-stop shopping under bright lights.

I’m rather happily reunited with my smart phone (Shall we finally marry my social media use? Find me on Twitter @JCDeRusso), and am knee-deep in job searching. New résumés, cover letters, updated LinkedIn, research on freelancing… You get it.

I’ve begun to harness the 6a.m. energy I still have every morning. Due to the fact I’m used to not sleeping much or all that well, I don’t need eight hours of sleep anymore. I applied to a job this morning before I poured my first cup of coffee.

Then I went and played reporter.


I’d seen Occupy Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Lisbon. It was time for Occupy Orange County.
I’d driven by it a couple times but had never pulled over. That’s another change – seeing a sunset but not being able to take a picture of it because I’m driving 50mph in the opposite direction. I rather liked walking everywhere. Picturesque spontaneous moments were much easier to capture.

Side note, I tried going to the gym a few days ago – I am afterall signed up for (power-walking) a half marathon on January 7 and felt pretty good after walking all those miles day after day. Never had a blister or sore foot in Europe, right? First time in good sneakers in four months and at the slightest treadmill incline, my ankles felt like they were going to break off. We’re going to have to figure that out. It was stressful, made more stressful by the movie star female next to me, long ponytail large chest bouncing as she ran like… a gazelle? That’s the word that comes to mind. She kicked her legs up behind her as high as they’d go. Bounce, leap, bounce, leap.

Occupy Orange County has been there for over two months. The group of guys sitting at the information table said that, as a smaller Occupy campsite, they serve more for promotional purposes of the movement than the change vehicles that are the bigger sites such as Wall Street. Occupy Orange County has 20-25 people who camp there every night, with more on weekends and some that come and go as their jobs and time allow. Occupy Los Angeles had gotten recently raided and the conversation drifted to talk of other sites. The boys were from Los Angeles, Long Beach and Irvine.

They said Irvine has asked the movement to cease all overnight camping by January 11. The boys said they could be like other Occupy sites and refuse to leave, but that Irvine has been extremely respectful of the movement in the past two months. “Conversations with the police here generally end with police asking, ‘Is there anything else we can do for you?'” Occupy Orange County will reciprocate that respect and move at the requested time. Local churches, with privately owned land and parking lots, have expressed support of the movement.

I said I’d seen a few of the Occupy sites in Europe and they asked, “Oh, so what is the news over there?” In my conversation with them, I realized how serious and organized Occupy is, and I didn’t have a good answer to that question. The truth was I hadn’t followed all that much or done enough investigating. They asked if I’d be coming back to camp out. I hedged, not staunchly against the campaign but not sure if I was ready to join this movement (or any movement, I just got my bed back), but they were a nice, well-spoken group and I’m glad I stopped by.

That said, today I remembered two fundamental rules of journalism:

Come with questions.

Bring a notebook.

Today, I received the fantastic news that Kickstarter accepted a proposal I submitted. In early 2012, I will launch a page supporting the funding of the illustration, self-publishing and promotion of two children’s books I wrote while in Europe. More to come on this…

I am extremely excited.

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Simply Having a Wonderful, (Versatile?) Christmas Time

While I was in Europe, I wrote a lot but read very little. I got behind in responding to comments and questions, and I am still catching up. I wasn’t following a single other blog – I’m working on it.

That said, it’s about time I responded to one fun thing. In the past three weeks, fellow bloggers have nominated my blog for the Versatile Blogger Award three times. It’s a fun way bloggers recognize other writers they follow and help spread followers and awareness of the work out there, and I’m so thankful for the mentions in the following posts:

Rory Alexander (Dec. 1)
Ms. Christine R (Dec. 14)
Kat (Dec. 20)


Here are the rules for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Nominate 15 fellow bloggers
Inform the bloggers of their nomination
Share 7 random things about yourself
Thank the blogger who nominated you
Add the Versatile Blogger Award Pic on your blog post.

I’ve just recently followed the following blogs (I’ve yet to catch up or do much serious reading, but these are the ones I look forward to reading):

Sweet the Sound – Check the end of the linked post out, she’s been pretty great to me!

restlessjo – “Roaming, at home and abroad”

Paperballpotluck – Mattie and I met two and a half years ago, and she’s been a wonderful friend to me.

We are all oddities – One of the more brilliant writers I’ve ever had the joy of personally knowing.

That’s not 15. That’s why they’re not numbered. I promise to fill you in on more as I start reading.

7 Random Things About Myself

1. My childhood bedroom was decorated in I Love Lucy collectible items.
2. As a child, I hit parked cars twice with my bike.
3. At :45 on this clip, that’s me!

4. I’ve been to the capital of 18 countries, but I’ve never been to Washington, D.C.
5. I’m at least 4.5 inches taller than anyone else in my immediate family.
6. Shania Twain’s Come On Over album (specifically songs 2-4) has been a constant in my life since its release in 1997.
7. I had to wear headgear as a pre-teen, and it was awful.

Tonight, I took the kids to Balboa Island to see the houses dressed up for the holidays. There’s nothing better than hanging with this group. Especially when the ride home is five kids singing along to Christmas carols and then Nirvana.

Simply the best.

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Coming Home (Part Two)

I need a bumper sticker that says “When you can’t sleep, blog.”

It’s 6a.m. Sunday in California and there is no reason I should be awake. Up at 2:30, 4:30, 5:30 for good… so here we go. E-mail subscribers, I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s post where I managed to use “hear” instead of “here,” “their” for “they’re” and “where” for “wear.” I reread that one a couple hours later and couldn’t believe it.

Sleep deprivation. I’ll try harder this time. I loved my friend who saw me comment on that on Facebook and said, “It proves you’re human. You can’t be a writing ninja all the time.”

I have the best friends.

I landed in Phoenix at 8:15p.m. Throughout the day, I’d been carrying my purse and my giant blue umbrella I’d bought on that rainy Milan day. It couldn’t fit in my backpack to be checked and I wasn’t giving it up. I got my bag and approached customs.

Customs guy: (smirk) “Uh, was it raining on the plane?”

Welcome to America.

I went down to the ticket counter to check in for my last flight. I’m officially one 54-minute flight from home and the big “I survived backpacking” moment.

Self service ticket machine: “There are no seats available for assignment. Please see an attendant.”

Me: “Um, excuse me, what does it mean if my boarding pass says there are no seats available?”
Airline lady: “Oh that means there are no seats available.”
Me: “Yeah, I got that much. What I meant was, are they all taken? Or do I just need a seat assignment upstairs.”
Airline lady: “Well, your flight leaves at 9:15, so they’ll start working your flight around 8:15, in about an hour. So at that time, you’ll have to approach the desk and you should have no issue.”
Me: “It’s 8:32.”
Airline lady: “It is? Oh well then you’re late. We recommend that you arrive for flights two hours early.”

Cue me stomping feet, already twenty hours into airport day. Don’t turn this on me, lady.

I race upstairs and at my gate hear “Due to weather in Southern California and weight restrictions put on the plane, we have had to unseat people. If you hear your name, do not approach the desk. You have been unseated, we will add you in the same order we called you if the pilot can allow more seats.”

Thirty names get read. Not mine.

“Uh… hi… I don’t have a seat… I’m not on the list of people kicked off from seats to get a seat.”

“No, you’re on the list.”

“But… she… didn’t say my name.”

“You’re on the list.”

Okay. I look around at the thirty unseated people and it’s 80% angry inconvenienced businessmen. Just the prior day, I’d written here minor inconveniences don’t feel like inconveniences, I can handle it – Oh, I really wanted to get home that night. The next flights wouldn’t be until the next morning. The airline would be putting everyone up in hotels and we’d get $150 vouchers – which I’d actually have volunteered for if I ever flew this airline on a regular basis. My allegiance lies with another.

And then a moment stuns me.

Bleach-blonde business dude: “How do you decide who gets on the plane?”
Airline guy: “We will go by the order you checked in.”
Bleach-blonde business dude: “Well, what if you have a better reason to get back.”
Airline guy: “We can’t look at it that way. Then you get in the business of ranking mothers over elderly people and it’s really not our place to decide who deserves it more.”
Bleach-blonde business dude: “Well, I think if you own a business, it’s a little different.”

The crowd is silent and I’m disgusted. I turned around to a guy my age behind me and laughed. “This guy’s kinda a dick, huh.”

My-age-guy and I start talking about our travel days, which leads to talk about my trip. He’s really nice and we’re both in the mindset of “what are you gonna do… We’ll get home sometime.” That said, it’s officially been explained to us that “A storm came through in California and now the runway is ‘too wet’ for our heavy plane to land on.”

I fully understand that science, not being a wuss, led to the pilot’s conclusion. I get it, I wasn’t complaining…

But as a Syracuse grad (2010-2011 3rd worst winter ever, April 2011 rainest April ever)… The runway is too wet? Are you freaking kidding me? And as I jokingly say that to my-age guy, an old gruff serious-faced man turns around and looks at me. “They’re doing it for safety. The plane could skid off the runway. Do you want to be on a plane that skids off the runway?”

What kind of question is that?

It’s official. No one else is getting on the plane. We are to line up in three lines and get processed for hotels, new flights and vouchers. I’ve called Mom, who has been sending my sister texts that go like this:

Janae isn’t getting home tonight.

Plane was too heavy.

They kicked her off.

Another angry business man snaps at airline people. “I don’t have time for this. I’m renting a car.”

He leaves, and I say, “Ooh! I want to ride home with him!”

Heads snap toward me in shock.

“No… no, I don’t really. I wouldn’t seriously get in the car with that guy.”

Females all around: “No, no, don’t get in a car with that man, dear.”

Three minutes pass. My backpack is making it on the plane. I’m on the phone with my mom. “Uh… I have my purse… and an umbrella!”

And then I hear my last name, with a question mark attached. I look up. THAT’S ME! I’m getting on the plane! Opposite of this.

The plane took off forty minute later, an hour late overall. I don’t care. I’m on the plane… and I’m home! Waiting in line to get off, a group behind me talked about how long their travel days were and how hard their lives were in general. This hour-delay has really been rough.

I’m not one to brag, but…

Man: “I came all the way New York today. Yeah, it’s been long.”
Lady: “Yeah, Boston.”
Man: “North Carolina. Ugh.”

I turned my head back. “Barcelona.”

Silence. And off the plane I walked.

Hello, California.

The Daily Mail, December 16, 2011 -  "While many chaps have positive attributes, the majority are deeply flawed. In fact, in a study of 2,000 women, most ranked their partner as only 69% perfect."  Oh no, not me. I work hard for this - I'll settle for nothing less than a C- of a partner.

Coming Home (Part One)

Home!
It’s 8:38a.m. I’m drinking coffee in my own mug at the kitchen table. I’m eating frozen waffles.

I’m home.

I really need this coffee… and I really need to sleep. While in hostels, I got in the terrible habit of not sleeping through the night. My friend called it “power-napping” across Europe – I became so used to people coming in the dorms late, leaving early, snoring, talking in their sleep (“It’s not mine” was a great line in Lisbon), and as I’m a smart-phone carrying social media addict at home, the fact that most e-mails from New York and California rolled in between midnight and 3a.m. meant when I did wake up, I rolled over and read.

Last night I went to bed around 11:30p.m., was awake around 2, awake again from 4:30 to 7:00. I finally fell asleep. A telemarketer called at 8:18 and caused my dogs to howl at the moon, so here we are. Coffee and waffles, and a return to the blog.

I’m supposed to be going to the gym right now to retain whatever backpacker’s physique I got myself the past four months (and I say whatever because I’m slightly confused by it). In college, I managed to pack on twenty pounds junior year and gain four pants sizes (thats 4x the 2s you count by per size). I hopped on the scale last night fully knowing I was down a pant size, and thinking “way less fat + a little muscle = five pound loss to even.”

This just in – I gained eight pounds.

Built. Like. A… Rock?

If rocks could turn to mush over time.

I hate the gym. I hate the gym. I hate the gym.

Anyway, let’s go back to the 24 hours of travel that got me to this kitchen table.

I left my Barcelona hostel at 7a.m. for my 10:10 flight, got to the airport and only got checked through to Phoenix. Nothing I can’t handle. After customs, I’d pick up my last boarding pass and recheck my bag, which, let’s face it, is only checked at this point so I didn’t have to give up Pele’s knife. I imagine whoever cleans the hostel was confused to find trashcans with every article of secondhand-turned-backpacking clothing no one would ever want to wear again. All shirts, all jeans, gone. Really, Pele’s knife, my new socks and the duck scarf made it out of Europe. I grabbed an Egg McMuffin, wandered the Duty Free shop, bought a Mega-Size bag of Choco M&M’s because I still swear they’re better and decided that was a good souvenir for four kids at home.

Made it to London a few hours later a-okay.

3.5 hour layover in London, and my mind is being blown. You know when Mel Gibson realizes he can read women’s thoughts in What Women Want?

For the first time in four months, outside of hostel life and just as a solo walker, I could understand every conversation going on around me. Voices were amplified. I was unintentionally eaves-dropping on everything, and it was blowing my mind.

The Daily Mail, December 16, 2011 - "While many chaps have positive attributes, the majority are deeply flawed. In fact, in a study of 2,000 women, most ranked their partner as only 69% perfect." Oh no, not me. I work hard for this - I'll settle for nothing less than a C- of a partner.

I had a long flight ahead of me and grabbed a bagel sandwich. It came with a mince pie.

At the gate for my flight to Phoenix, a British man a few seats down called to me. “You dropped your passport.”

I laughed and told him how I’d just backpacked for four months and wouldn’t that just be awful if now I lost my passport. We talked at length about where I’d been, what I’d done, where he’d been… He says he was visiting his friend in Phoenix.

“He feels bad. I can always go see him, my job and jobs over here give you so much holiday, but his job only gives him ten vacation days a year. He can never make it.”

He lists where he’s been in the States – more than me – and said he and his buddy met in New York. “In a little city called Syracuse.”

Hey, I know that city! I tell him I went to school there and we laughed at the small, small world it is.

"A study suggests those who display a bulldog spirit might be the ones favoured by evolution. That is to say, the more a man believes a woman will fancy him, the more likely he is to try it on and therefore 'get lucky' and procreate. The report concludes that if a man is hugely attracted to a woman, the chances are she's not interested."

My flight from London to Phoenix would be ten hours and forty-six minutes long.

We took off an hour late. It was a long twelve hours that pretty much went like this:

Hour one: Sleep.

Hour two: Read awesome U.K. paper.

Hour three: Eat lunch of chicken, potatoes, chocolate mousse and salad. Consider that I haven’t done much movement since Egg McMuffin followed by holiday bagel sandwich and mince pie. I feel gross. Contemplate this for awhile.

Hour four and five: Watch Friends with Benefits. Watch Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Imagine neither of them ate an Egg McMuffin followed by a holiday bagel sandwich and mince pie followed by airplane chicken and potatoes and chocolate mousse. They’re so beautiful.

Hour six: Sleep.

Hour seven and eight: Watch Crazy, Stupid, Love. Watch Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Imagine neither of them ate an Egg McMuffin followed by a holiday bagel sandwich and mince pie followed by airplane chicken and potatoes and chocolate mousse.

Hour nine: Sleep.

Hour ten: Wonder when I’ll outgrow drooling in my sleep. Oh and look, they just gave me a chicken caesar sandwich and a muffin. Am I eating feelings? No… No. Just eating because it’s there. God, I feel gross.

Landed.

Part two to come. I need to go to the gym. Besides, I can take as long as I want with this post or too soon you all get to hear about “That time I went to Target.”

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Twenty-two and Four Months: Going Home

A spider traveled the world to see where she should make her home. She left her heart in so many places, she created the world wide web.

If you thought that was corny, you should see the children’s books I’m trying to publish.

I made that video two years ago and had forgotten about it until last night. The individual clips were never intended to be anything- had they been, I would have held the camera steadier. I was just playing. That said, the sentiment matches tonight’s.

This is it. One day and three plane rides separate me from home. I’m the oldest of five children. I took these photos in August just before I left.

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I’ll have to come up with another group photo idea – thoughts welcome. The last time I came back from a trip abroad, I got them to do this. They were 3, 9, 11 and 13 at the time.

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California, August 2009

I went on this trip with no plans, no itinerary and very little knowledge about any of the places I’d be going. I had no agenda for the trip or this blog, no preconceived themes and not even the confidence I’d stay the whole four months (which, looking back, goes quickly). I left with just enough money in the bank, no job lined up upon return, and even so, the full support of so many of my family members and friends.

I arrived in Europe one day shy of my 22nd birthday. I remember talking to people that were at the ends of their trips, talking about how wise they felt, how different they felt, what they had learned and their nerves about going home. I remember thinking how far away that point – home – was for me, and how cliche the “This is how I’ve changed” comments seemed.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and I think I’ve changed.

Here’s what I know.

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Cafe Zurich

I like that I don’t give a damn anymore what kind of milk is in my coffee. You’d never sit outside Cafe Zurich and order a “cafe con ‘skim’ leche.” I’m happy I’ve been pushed to be flexible. To deal with minor inconveniences, and not feel inconvenienced. To accidentally stay on a train too long, and roll with it. To say “pork Hungarian style? No idea what that means, but sure!”

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Bulgaria, September. I don’t have a webcam. This was a response to someone needing an explanation of when I said my hair was “getting big.” E-mail subject line: This is where I’m at.

I like that I’ve put on mascara six times in 122 days. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy a tube and it’ll get used when I get home. I’ll do it because I like that look, too, not because that is what makes me feel like a complete, acceptable female. I like that I’ve made friends everyday regardless of cheap backpacking t-shirts, no foundation and hair that air-dried.

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Today, Park Guell, Barcelona.

I like that the photo above wasn’t posed. I like that real life can look like that, and it’s just a matter of how you approach it. How you frame it. What you see when you really start looking at people.

I like that talking to strangers gives me more inspiration that the best Hallmark cards.

I like that I sat next to a man on a train yesterday for three hours without speaking, offered him gum, fought my way through fifteen minutes in Spanish and when I asked him to repeat something, he said it in perfect English. I like that we both laughed. I like that I said my school is known for basketball and he asked if I played, then said, “Well, maybe you will still be a playmaker.”

I like that the girl from Mexico I talked to in the cafeteria last night talked of her problems traveling, and said, “You know, sometimes I think things happen and it’s destiny telling you something.”

I like that I tell people where I’ve been, but at “no, not Asia, no, not South America,” I’ve been told I haven’t seen anything yet.

I like that the world is so big.

I like that I met a man in Istanbul, who a month later recognized me in Bucharest. Backpackers I met in Göreme, Turkey, who I ended up at a bar with in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, before we recognized each other. My Milan roommate again in Pisa, six days later. A college friend studying in London, in the Museum D’Orsay in Paris. Clinton and Sally on a train to Nice. Clinton and Sally again in Paris.

I like that the Brazilian cashier at dinner last night said he lived in California once. It’s a big state and I figured it would be one of those “You go to Massive State College X? You know my cousin?” moments. But no, he lived just two major streets over from my family.

I like that the world is so small.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Assen’s Fortress, Bulgaria

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Füssen, Germany

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Sintra, Portugal

I like that guardrails stopped being necessary. I’m not patting myself on the back like I climbed Everest. I like that I have faith that getting on hands and knees and holding onto tree roots is an okay route to something great, and that I’m capable of doing it without a clumsy moment. As one American said at the top of the castle in Sintra, “This would never pass code back home.”

Also, I like that I’m wearing the same shirt in two of the above photos. I like that I “need” less now.

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Lennon Wall, Prague

I like, though it scares me, how this trip has changed the way I think about writing and future. I’ve never been one to embrace being an “artist” or choosing any route toward publication. I have a degree in public relations and political science and intend to use it. Art – writing, for me – is such a scary concept. You put so much time and effort into something hoping someone will want it, but there are no guarantees until it’s done… And there are a million people just like you doing the same thing.

Some 150 posts, 5 children’s books drafted, 2 Freshly Pressed days and a few poems later, maybe I’m up for the challenge now.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Budapest, Hungary

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Salzburg, Austria

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Florence, Italy

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Nice, France

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Paris, France

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Lisbon, Portugal

I love that I learned the value of getting above the consumer junk, which is probably a literal and figurative life statement. Tourist shops and luxury stores are ugly.

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East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

I have been overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and strangers over the last four months. People ask me how I handle being alone so much – well, I spent a lot of time looking for more to share with everyone. I never felt alone, and on walks where I might have, I had good thoughts of home to distract me. I have always been impressed and in awe of the backpackers who go just to see for themselves – their own heads, their own satisfaction. No blogs, no personal websites. Of course, I did this trip for myself, but I needed to fill time with writing and photography. It kept me company, it kept you all close.

2,400 hits later, the post Freshly Pressed the other day has gotten just one negative comment, and this one comment has made me think a lot today. It certainly didn’t ruin my day, nor do I put much stock into his opinion, as the comment made fun of my first name along with its critique (and it wasn’t even witty). Also, accused me of “downloading” photos, as if I didn’t take them.

That said, the comment made me think and provided the perfect way to sum up my rather long thoughts.

It accuses me of being naive, dismissing responsibilities, hiding behind “freedom” and running from family and friends. At 22, it accuses me of already being behind in taking responsibility for myself.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I know.

I am blessed to have the closest friends and family I could imagine, who have supported this trip from the start.

They’ve read every post, every e-mail, seen every photo, and barely questioned it when I brought the idea of this trip up as a thought in January.

At points, they have had more faith in me than I have.

They push me to see more. Write more. Observe better. Dream bigger.

I have parents who put up with the questioning their peers and friends had for them, questioning why they’d allow this to happen.

I have siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who are a constant source of inspiration.

I had a summer romance to rival the best scripted ones in Hollywood, and yet, on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, dare I countdown the days to a reunion, I get harshly admonished.

And after all this, if I told them I wanted to go this route again, I’d have their support.

So NYTimes, MSNBC, CNN, National Geographic, Time, USA Today, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, PR travel agencies throughout the world, send me where you need me. All I need are new shoes and a new pair of jeans.

And if mass pleas for employment don’t do the trick, I have family and friends who lead beautiful lives, and capturing their special moments, and being there to share them, is a far better use of my time than television.

“May God bless you and give you the wisdom to settle down someday.”

Someday, this travel blog, life blog, might be a road to wedding blog, and with all my heart, I hope I get to author the best darn Mommy blog out there. But those are goals, and those are dreams, and they will never happen because I’ve settled.

You know, I haven’t been to church a lot lately, and I tend to focus more on being a good person whether it makes me a good Christian or not. I believe a smile can change someone’s day and laugher is the best medicine, that volunteering at a hospital on a Sunday morning can be as gratifying for me as church is for another, but…

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I feel.

In 2011, I graduated from a great school with a dual major, magna cum laude, with experiences I’ll remember for a lifetime. I had the honor of co-chairing an event raising $174,000 for the American Cancer Society that, more than being a personal or professional dream, taught me that each day is a gift and life should never be taken for granted. I have a personal blog with 20,000 hits in four months, and I have no complaints.

I have friends I became closer with even as I flew 8,000 miles away from them. I have friends who have put up with terrible Skype connections, rambling stories and far too many e-mails.

I just spent four months in Europe, three months alone, and I never had one issue. Not a pick-pocketer, not an overwhelmingly frightening situation (rush hour man in Istanbul, you sucked but it wasn’t traumatizing), not a lost passport or ATM-eaten debit card, not a sprained ankle or open blister.

So you know, I think God and I are on pretty good terms.

I think He approves.

Thank you all for being here, and coming on this journey with me… We did it!!!

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What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Interlaken, Switzerland