Category: Uncategorized

Life is a Daring Adventure

Somewhere over the rainbow...
Somewhere over the rainbow…

As some of you may already know, I made a trip to Panama in April. Other than some brief weekends in Cabo, this was my first real journey into Central America.

Part of me feels silly, thinking about what to write, what was the same, what was different, what surprised me… as if I were the first person to discover the country. I didn’t stay there long enough to be able to give a deep commentary on the culture or people, but I feel like I should say something about my journey! I mean come on, this is my adventure blog! A journey anywhere helps us to examine ourselves and discover more facets to our souls, to see how similar we are to humans everywhere else, and to see how different we are as well, reflecting how we were raised and what we were taught. It’s a hands-on opportunity to share knowledge and to challenge one another.

I learned what a cashew looks like on the tree. I learned that junk mail doesn’t exist everywhere. I learned that the ideas of organic, sustainable, solar-powered lifestyles are reaching far and wide. I learned that not far from a city where people can pay thousands of dollars in rent for their apartment, live people in tin huts in the jungle… I still have many more questions, so much more to learn, than could be learned in 10 days.

I spent my first full day in a car, driving with another couchsurfer from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. It was a long drive, and we watched the terrain go from dry and brown, to a Jurassic Park-like lush forest, complete with several rainbows along the way. The drive was long, and we arrived at the docks after the last official ferry had gone. $40 later, we were on a ferry heading to our island. This ferry was not what I had expected (teaches me to expect anything! I keep thinking I’ve learned this lesson…), being a small boat with a motor and a tent-like enclosure that bounced across the black waves towards the faint lights.

Lounging Aqua-rdly.
Lounging Aqua-rdly.

The next few days were spent at a hostel called the Aqua Lounge, where we would observe mostly younger travelers jumping into the ocean pool, partying late into the night, and eating the free pancake breakfasts. The first night however, my travel partner gashed his foot on a barnacle trying to rescue a girls phone from the ocean, and we got the experience of a visit to the local hospital one morning. That experience was enough for me to cross Bocas off of my “I could live here.” list.  But as my first ever experience in a hostel, not bad. The people were laid back and friendly, and it was set up for having a chill time over the ocean. Was not a fan of sharing a bathroom and shower with an unknown number of people (one of whom vomited in the shower during the party night, after I had gone to sleep), but there were no major problems.

The ocean was warm, and there were rumors of bioluminescence (I would ask several people about this, and rainbow eucalyptus), which will have to wait until my next trip for me to discover. I wanted more time, to climb through the tangled jungle trees, to swim in the ocean, to do all the things wood and water nymphs do.

 

I think I can be a wood nymph here.
I think I can be a wood nymph here.

 

Panama beach

On the long journey back into the city, we had to find an alternate route, because the main bridge was still closed thanks to the Summit. The city had nearly emptied during this period, because of all the road closures and hassle it had caused, and I wondered what it was normally like.

panorama2

The film festival had begun, and it was time to pick up my fancy lanyard and other goodies, which included a 6 pack of beer. Because I was in Kendal the Explorer mode, I saw few films, and opted to experience a few days in Coronado at my couchsurfing host’s brother’s hostel (did you follow that?) Villa Lilimar, to try and get my fill of the ocean and a more relaxing existence. We were the only guests at the hostel, and spent all of our time with our host, driving around picking mangos and avocados from neighbourhood trees, buying our dinner at the supermarket (not the organic store, which doubled the price of several items that are currently in my fridge, and did not sell any fresh fruits and vegetables).

Coronado

I enjoyed the stillness, the sun and the calm blue water of the pool, so much that I only went to the beach once. I mean, it wasn’t like the Bocas beach, anyway. It wasn’t freezing but it wasn’t warm. It had black sand (which is really cool! But really hot!). And I was told if you walked up a bit, the waves were calmer. But I was being lazy, and my friend’s foot injury prevented him from getting too crazy and adventurous, so I didn’t mind the relaxing days in the shade by, or in, the pool. We even discovered some giant balloons after a day or so, which became a foot condom for him, and he was able to get in the pool.

black and whitePanama City

Back in Panama City, I walked around the old city for a bit before attending the closing night’s film, Whiplash. There, I tagged along with the only English-speaker I had met to the afterparty. We explored upstairs, downstairs, outside, ate appetizers and drank wine (I think everyone might have been tired of all the beer!), danced to the singers and the DJ, and said hello to everyone he knew. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

art

The next morning, I had a lunch date with a woman I had connected with online, Rosalind Baitel. She’d been living in Panama for about 30 years and ran one of it’s only Crossroads-like secondhand shop, Promises. So of course I had to buy a few things, including a cute pair of pink Ferragamo heels. All profits go to charity, so hey, I was just doing a good deed! Luckily Copa lets you check your luggage for free. We talked for an hour or so, and I got very excited about the potential of Panama, for someone like me. I know “the grass is always greener” and I thought the same of Paris years ago, but this time I have that essential missing piece – contacts. Which I still lack in France.

selfie
Me and my bag of Promises.

 

I didn’t do a lot with the rest of my day, but hung out with my host in the evening while eating some (um, bad) cheap vegan food (basically rehydrated dehydrated seitan – but a take-away meal was $3.60!). Bedtime came fairly early, as my flight was at 10AM…. it had gone by so quickly, and I was a bit frustrated that I couldn’t just extend my stay to explore more… but my pets were waiting, and I have to prep for France, so… it was not to be.

I won’t get into my Panamanian-TSA rant here, we’ll save that one for another day, but let’s just say if anyone out there owns a private jet, I would be so grateful if I could just fly with you from now on. I’ll bake cookies, brownies, a meal, whatever. I’ll pole dance on the plane, just please, please don’t make me fly commercial ever again.

Back to Panama. Yes. I look forward to going back. To seeing my new friends. To making more new friends. To discovering tropical paradises and having new adventures. To figuring out what value I could bring to the country (I’m still figuring that out in regards to France, though I think it has something to do with vegetarianism). To exploring the nearby countries, and the Caribbean (because it’s about time!). And maybe next time, rescuing baby turtles in Costa Rica and visiting my brother down in Chile. I can’t wait.

Panamanorama
Panamanorama

 

If you’re interested in seeing more of my photos from Panama, click on the Instagram link above in the menu! If you want to keep up-to-date with me via photographs, be sure to follow me on Instagram, too. 🙂

_________________________________________________

And heck, while I’m here, enjoy this video, part of which was filmed in Panama. I didn’t have a clear vision going into the making of this video, nor a real cinematographer on hand… it’s a learning process! I also still suck on guitar, have some kind of allergies, and haven’t invested in decent recording equipment other than a lavalier mic that didn’t seem to want to work the day I was working on recording. But I’m not out to make things perfect, just to keep creating, experimenting, learning, (this time, I learned things about Final Cut Pro X, though if anybody knows what on earth this long black/grey track is that is attached to my main clip… email me. It’s making fade-in’s and fade-out’s impossible without exporting to iMovie) and hopefully get better at what I’m doing. Also if anybody is interested in collaborating on anything, let me know. I would love a talented team to work with! It’s really time to start polishing up my own songs… and they deserve REAL music videos.

 

 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Sometimes I feel like a slow learner.

I love learning, I love “self-help” books, quotes from wise people, and try to appreciate it when I learn a hard lesson in life. But I feel like I’m growing so slowly! I look back on my life and think “remember that situation? If I knew then what I know now, I would have been able to deal with it much better.” But I suppose we all grow at our own pace, determined by many factors in our early lives. I know lessons I might have been able to learn sooner (remember my last post? I knew the book The Power of Now existed, way back in 2005. I even thought, “I should read it, so I know what on earth this girl’s character is talking about in this scene.” But did I?) but for some reason they came later. Sometimes I wonder if we pass up chances to learn and grow that we won’t get again. Or if we get a second, third, or fourth chance. If God puts something or someone in our path because we need it, but we say, “no, I’m not ready for that” or “I don’t want that,” and we lose out on this experience that would have shot us forward in our growth. I don’t have the answer to that one. I suppose the answer would be that even if it were true, you can’t change the past, so just keep moving!

Anyway, the lesson I’m struggling with these days is that you need to give to receive. For instance…

I want better friends! Well, it means I have to be a better friend.

I want more financial security! Well, I need to give, believing that God’s supply is infinite and I do not live in lack.

Basically… it can feel like I have to give what I don’t have. Give friendship to get friendship. Give money to get money.

 

"You don't know how to manage Looking-glass cakes," the Unicorn remarked. "Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards."
“You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes,” the Unicorn remarked. “Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.”

 

But I get it. I do get it. It’s presenting an attitude of love and abundance, which draws more of the same to you. It’s not living in your head, for yourself, always thinking about what you lack, what you want, but focusing on others and how you can improve their world. In the process, yours improves as well.

Some prayer/faith/energy healers say that sometimes when they let God flow through them to heal other people, their own ailments are cured in the process. How could they not be, when love is flowing through you?

One of my favourite poems is one by Saint Francis of Assisi. I try to keep it memorized to recite to myself sometimes, because I think it’s the perfect reminder of how to move through life.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I can tell I’m not yet at the highest version of myself, because I can still get quite butt-hurt when I give and give and give and give and then get taken advantage of, or ignored, or hurt in some way. I know my time is finite, and I must be wise in who I give it to, but I also need to learn that I give because of who I am, not because of who the other person is (other than another child of God) or how they will “repay” me. But then that also gets confusing if you do have sort of self-centered motives behind it, such as “be a friend to make a friend.” So my mind runs in circles trying to sort out how I should behave and think.

if-you-have-much-give-of-your-wealth-if-you-have-little-give-of-your-heart-quote-1

 

And when I think of the advice to rely on God, and give of what I have to others who have less, because He’ll take care of me… I think, well, I’m already awfully close to the edge, it’s a pretty big leap of faith to give money when I’m in debt and have no savings… how do I really know You’re going to take care of me? I have to take the leap before I see the net. It’s very hard to let go. It’s hard not to worry about tomorrow, though I know it does no good. Plan, but don’t worry.

worrypeace

One thing I’ve learned recently is that when my mind is troubled, when I’m stuck on a particular worry, to meditate. To pray. To medi-pray. When worrisome thoughts are crowding themselves into my head and I find it hard to breath, I sit down and close my eyes. I pick a phrase appropriate to my situation and repeat it either out loud or in my head. I give thanks to God for everything I have in this moment, and give thanks again that He will deal with this situation. I know that by worrying, I’m not being productive at all. But by radiating love and gratefulness and saying, “Lord, I give this to you, because I can’t control it,” I find myself relaxing and refocusing. Sometimes I nearly laugh at myself. I could start a meditation sit sobbing my eyes out but by the end… I’m cool.

letgoofworry

It’s really saved my sanity, and I believe is moving me forward to being the person I want to be. The person I know I am, underneath all the grim I’ve gathered on the first part of my journey.

So I guess I’ve covered two lessons in this post. Give what you want to receive (even if it feels like passing around the cake before you cut it), and don’t worry. I think these are the big lessons in my life these days. And I’m really excited for the day when I’ve finally, really learned them. What big lessons are you learning at the moment?

 

I Could Have Read All Night

Of all the things I appreciate about Paris, one was my time in the metro. Wherever I went, I usually had either a book or my Kindle with me, and would whip that thing out as soon as I took a seat. When it was too crowded and I had to stand, I would still try to read. This is something you can’t do in a car. Sure, you could listen to audio-books, but how are you going to bookmark or take notes? Here in L.A., I have to be content with reading at home, instead of multitasking like that. But I have motivation! A giant pile of books to read or re-read in order to continue on towards my goal of a more minimalistic lifestyle. Sometimes I get on myself about how long this is taking (and not just with the books, but the 4 bins of stuff I want to get rid of, too), but I guess the process is different for everyone. And every journey begins with a single step, as they say!

If you don't own apple crates, you should.
If you don’t own apple crates, you should.

 

Last year, however, I discovered Goodwill bookstores. And I left with armfuls of books. Three of which, however, have made it onto my “books I tell everyone they should read” list. But I really can’t go back in there again. At least until I’ve read the books I have. I have a lot of books to read… I’m trying to get rid of everything I don’t need, and books are heavy, replaceable items so I’m hoping to shorten that stack considerably.

Anyway, I figured some of you might find yourself on planes, trains, or other forms of public transportation, in need of some mind-stimulation, so I wanted to share what I enjoyed reading in 2014.

 

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

One of those books I should read once a year as a refresher, as it really has the power (well, you have the power, it just helps you find it) to bring positive change to your life. I first heard of it in an acting class way back in 2005, and always meant to read it. Just didn’t until now. A close friend read it last year and got so annoyingly preachy about it that I decided to read it and get it over with, finally. I liked it. And I’ve kept myself from getting preachy about it. Basically, Eckhart Tolle points out that to find peace you can’t live in the past or the future, but right now. If you think about it, most of our thoughts are about things that have happened, or things that we want (or don’t want) to happen. We are rarely present, focused on this very moment. And if we can be present, we can appreciate what we have, right now. He doesn’t use this example, but I keep thinking… what if I woke up today and knew nothing about my past? I only knew what I have right now, and I didn’t know what my future plans were.  What if I could just walk through my life, without carrying the fears and pain from my past? Oh, just go read it, it’s a best-seller. 🙂

 

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Another one I should read regularly. I put the four agreements in my email signature as a daily reminder (it’s a good place for them, since it can be easy to just snap off an email to someone you’re irritated at). The four agreements are:

Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.

And of course he expands upon them in the book. I think keeping these things in mind really helps with relationships of any kind, and helps to create more peace in your mind. When you realize that everyone else is living in their own heads, has their own problems, and isn’t (usually) out to purposely hurt you, you can focus on what you can control – yourself and your reactions.

 

Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

This is a book I’d heard about for a while, but growing up in a pretty traditional Christian setting, thought it was probably blasphemous or something. But for $2.99 I figured I’d give it a go. Then I went on to read the next 2 books in the series. I have to admit it’s been a while since I read these and now I’m blanking on specifics, but I thought it was an interesting read, and brought up some questions and answers for me. Like, why do we feel that God spoke to people thousands of years ago, but not today? But then why do some people say they talk to God, or hear God talking to them… but if they were to write it down, or write a book, we would think they were crazy…. It’s like “true” Christians think God is dead. Eh.

Now onto some books I didn’t get at Goodwill.

 

The Writings of Florence Scovel Shinn

OK, this one is embarrassing. Not because of what it is, but because of how long I’ve had it before starting to read it. And the person who gave it to me will be reading this blog. 😀

bookmarks
Photo taken before I finished reading it. I’m done now.

 

I’m finding it interesting because I rarely read books that combine Christianity and the Bible, with the concept of creating your own reality. And this was written a century ago! I’m about to type up a document of all my favourite “affirmations” and examples so I don’t have to bring the book with me to France. But there are so many! With everything I’ve been learning about God, and about the world, miracles and science, I love to see how they actually complement each other when you know what you’re looking for. I think the problem with modern prayer is that we don’t truly believe that we have what we’re asking for. It’s like wishing for blue sky during a storm… you have it. It’s above the storm clouds. It never went away. Believe it’s there. I definitely need to put my faith into practice, and this book is a good motivator.

 

The Findhorn Garden by The Findhorn Community 

This may seem like an odd one. But if you believe in angels, then why not believe in other spirits, too? I’m sure there are all kinds. The Findhorn Garden was a garden started several decades ago in Scotland, in a very inhospitable, sandy spot. But the plants grew to enormous sizes, because the founders would communicate with the spirits of the plants to learn how to make them flourish. Even if you don’t get into that aspect of it, it might make you take a second glance at the world around you. Now when I pass gardeners just hacking away at plants, I almost want to yell at them to stop. When I see how we tear up and cement over nature, leaving struggling little weeds in the depleted dirt, I wonder how we got so far, so unconnected to the earth. I can’t even keep a tiny potted plant alive. So yes, this is a recommended read if you want to feel like more of a connection with nature is possible. I know I, for one, am going to spend some time this summer meditating in the forest with the fairies. 🙂

 

So those are my book suggestions of 2014. I know this post is late. I’ve been lazy about it. I have a lot of books to read right now. 😀

 

So what were your favourite books of 2014?

Kendal’s Elsa Costume Tutorial

Do you want to build a costume?

Seriously, I don’t know how I went from not even wanting to see the movie, to spending weeks making this costume. I’m such a sucker for a sparkly dress.

I made my dress in 2 seconds.
I made my dress in 2 seconds.

On about October 11, I started to make my Elsa costume for Halloween and for prancing around in Hollywood (what? The kids can do it….).  Since it’s been a large part of my life this past month, I figured I’d share the process here. It’s the most creative thing I’ve done in a while, so I’ve found it challenging and rewarding, and I’m proud of the outcome. Most of you regular readers probably won’t care and aren’t interested in making a dress for yourself, but this is for those wandering the internet who may want some tips.

It’s been a bit of trial and error, but I want to share what’s worked!

First! The supplies, and in some cases, quick links on where to find it.

Skirt material

Corset

Rhinestones – sorry, they were vintage. 🙁

Shimmer Sheets

Quick shirt

DIY shirt fabric – I haven’t tried this yet but I’ve read that you should order samples, because the colours are different on the website.

Clear shoes

The easy shoes

Rhinestone strands, glue, Foamies, paint, etc, found at Joann Fabrics.

Now, step by step….

I purchased fabric for Elsa’s skirt on ebay (you can also find some on etsy.com), along with a basic white corset. I had a hard time finding the exact corset shape I wanted, and didn’t want to spend a lot on it, but what I got seems to work. It’s a bit difficult to sit in, and after putting all the shiny things on it I wouldn’t recommend driving in it!

First, I used a New Look pattern (6584) and modified it to create Elsa’s skirt. It worked well, fit great, but then the dry-cleaner kind of ruined the fabric (and I dripped super glue on it too….) and I got to make a new one. I lucked out and found patterns for $1 at Joann’s Fabric (OMG I found the master of all Joann’s…. it’s heaven…) right before making my new skirt, so now I’ve done it the “official” way. I do like it better.

$1? Gimme two! I've already ordered my tiara....
$1? Gimme two! I’ve already ordered my tiara….

 

My cat loves to help.
My cat loves to help.

For the corset, I began with hand sewing the same material over it, in case I had to use it before it was completed. It was a good thing I did that, because I’ve pooped out before finishing the back.

I bought some silver cord to lace it up in the back. I purchased blue as well, but it was too thick. I hope I can return that. Where is the receipt….?

I purchased some blue iridescent Shimmer Sheets and cut them into tiny little round-edged rectangles of various sizes. How many packages will depend on your size and how much of your coset you want to cover. To date, I’ve used 4 packs of them. Could use another pack or two, so I’m ordering that now! I tend to lose a few here and there and if I’m going to use it consistently I should have repair materials!

scraps

 

I bought a string of rhinestones at Joann’s… it’s actually 2 strands supposed to be some kind of trim, but I cut them apart. Later at the monster Joann’s I saw some beautiful rhinestones for $14.99 a yard. But even with the sale going on… I’ve spent so much on this. That will have to wait for the costume upgrade.

I used fabric glue for the “sequins” (what can I call these?) and superglue for the rhinestones. Though things still fall off if they’re in an area that bends. I’m wondering if there’s a solution to this? I thought of perhaps painting over the whole thing with some kind of clear, flexible protective layer but I’m not sure what will work. The glue seems to dissolve the colour on the sequins… I guess it would take some trial and error if I decide that’s the way to go.

I purchased the little rectangular rhinestones off of ebay, and alas, they were vintage so I can’t really point you to them. If you want to search for the exact things, the title was “Vintage 288 Swarovski Crystal Flat Back Baguette”.

This was the most time consuming part of my costume.

corset close corset front corset back

 

I confess, I cheated on the cape/train. Since I’d ordered the Chinese Elsa costume, I had that train available to me. I’d spent so much time on the corset and could see the train being a giant time-suck as well, so I used the pre-made one. If you want to do the same, you can find them on ebay from China (allow a month for shipping…) for about $60. Or less if you don’t want the same kind I got. It’s not bad, but the darn thing spreads glitter everywhere. It looks like there’s a constant party in my car, so be aware of that drawback to a glittered train. DON’T unpack it or wave it around indoors! Unless you like glitter. At some point I may make my own.

I purchased some tiny little nuts at a hardware store and glued them to a few points at the bottom of the train, to try and prevent it from just crumpling at my feet, and perhaps flow a little nicer behind me (but not outside, it gets so dirty if it touches the ground).

Speaking of my feet! I had a pair of silver shoes I’d used for Halloween but really lucked out the other day when I stopped into a Crossroads Trading Company. I found THESE!

 

Can't get much easier than this.
Can’t get much easier than this.

And what’s great is that they aren’t discontinued yet. I found them on Amazon! (click me, click me!)

OK, so they aren’t exactly Elsa’s ice shoes but oh my gosh, they match so well, and the shape is so close.

If you want heels, however… well, I can advise on that as well. 🙂

While I was at Crossroads I also happened to find a pair of nude coloured heels with open sides, and an ankle strap (which seems like a good bonus to me). So I bought them too, so I could try my hand at making Elsa shoes worthy of a photoshoot. Heels always look better with long dresses….

So back to Joann’s, where I finally learned what Foamies are. I bought a blue Foamie for 99¢, some Foamie glue (which is kind of useless and I might return) and a bottle of FolkArt Metallic Acrylic Paint in Ice Blue.

Looking at the various pictures of Elsa’s shoes online, there are a few ways you can go. In the poster, they’re quite transparent, and you can find some clear shoes on Amazon (for $50+….but they aren’t pointed at the toes, and I like that look…. it’s also difficult to know what size to order when you can’t try them on…) or model them after her shoes in the film, which seem more solid. So that’s what I am going for. As much as I love the glass slipper look.

Take a close look at what we're dealing with here.
Take a close look at what we’re dealing with here.
Magical shoes!
Magical shoes!

I feel as though they have a bit of a greenish iridescence to them, I’m not sure if I will imitate that or not. I’ve made mine a little more likely to stay on my feet (not a fan of shoes that are hard to keep on, as these might be, plus, I didn’t feel like cutting the existing leather). I also made the design a little thicker, since I wanted it to be a little stronger and less likely to bend or rip/break off. I really can be a perfectionist, and I still wonder if I’ll redo it at some point…. most likely, yes, if I wear them out. It’s foam. It won’t last long.

If you want to take the long way...
If you want to take the long way…
Shine, make 'em wonder whatcha got....
Shine, make ’em wonder whatcha got….

So far, I like the Foamies. It conforms well to the contours of the shoe.

After hot-gluing the Foamies to the shoes, I painted them with about 4 layers, and then decided to spray some sparkles on them as well. Then I sprayed seriously about a dozen layers of a clear protective spray (not sure where it is right now) to make them shiny and maybe tougher. They did last through a photo shoot, but there was some cracking. 🙁 I’m thinking another product I recently re-found (from my jewelry-making days) that says it’s more flexible might have been a better choice. Next time.

My feet are too smaaaaaaall.
My feet are too smaaaaaaall.

Elsa shoes

 

Backing up a bit to the sleeves/shirt. This also proved frustrating. I couldn’t find a good material for it at Joann’s, and I kind of dislike going downtown for things. So after making a temporary top from a non-stretchy mesh, I took some photos to a highly rated yet affordable seamstress I found on Yelp. The first draft was horrible. A right itchy mess. They also chose a non-stretchy mesh, covered in glitter which I found in my shoes a day later. I told her that it couldn’t be so itchy and glittery and I needed to be able to move my arms. So…. please try again. The next version was better… A blue sparkly (but not glitter-shedding) mesh on top of another skin-toned mesh… anyway to cut a long story short, she needed to extend the sleeves, cut the neckline down farther, and then I finally called it a day. By that point I’d found this on Amazon. So yeah, I ordered it. Because I’m a perfectionist and it’s the closest I’d seen. If it’s made for dancers, I’m pretty sure it’s made so that you can move your arms above your head. Like this girl.

dance shirt

 

Someone else had pointed out a good shirt on ebay that was slightly more off-the-shoulder, but they were all sold out and never plan on being in stock again. So forget that.

It arrived quickly, and I have to say, it was REALLY bright blue. So off I went to Joann’s for some Design Master Colortool Spray in Blue Sky. And I got to work, praying I wasn’t going to just ruin the whole thing.

Don't mess up, don't mess up....
Don’t mess up, don’t mess up….

I managed to do a good job, but after some wear, it started rubbing off in some places. I don’t know if it would make it through a round in the washer. I also still want to cut the neckline but I’m afraid of just ruining it. I’m not going to attempt putting the silver patterns on this one, because the colour isn’t staying well so I don’t know if it’s worth that much effort. It did give me an idea for the other shirt, and I’m going to see about buying some elastic and altering it, since the other one seems to get bunchy at the top.

Hmmm. OK, last but not least (I think… am I forgetting anything?) The hair. I ordered clip in extensions from aliexpress.com and they’re OK. I ordered them 30 inches long, and I’ve trimmed them a bit because I have trouble with it getting tangled. It takes 15 minutes to braid my hair in the morning. Well, I think I’ve gotten faster, actually. My hair is kind of blue, so I tried to dye a few strands to match, so it would blend to the end. Here’s a pre-blended photo:

Get your hair done!
Get your hair done!

Then, the last detail to arrive before my first photo shoot were these lovely snowflake hair clips (purchased on Amazon). Which you can’t see at all in the photo I’m going to share.

snowflakes

And now….

Wait for it…

This is going to be awesome…

Kendal Brenneman, as Queen Elsa….

 

I can't stop staring... at myself... is that OK?
I can’t stop staring… at myself… is that OK?

So since I know you can’t see everything I made (except the shoes), here are some un-retouched photos so you can get a good look at the front of the dress.

elsa 1

 

 

elsa 2

I know her train begins a little farther under her arms, but mine must have been made for a big-chested girl, so it wraps around me a little farther. Ah well. Overall, I’m pleased with things. I would still love to perfect the sleeves, but I need a rest for now, before the next project….

Queen

Let me know what you think….

I Am Your Queen

So as you may or may not know, I started work on a Queen Elsa costume almost as soon as I hit the runway in L.A. I had originally ordered one off of Aliexpress that I was excited about…. until it arrived. They had assured me that it would fit my 5’7″ frame and 25 inch waist… well the waist was OK, but the rest of the dress was made for someone several inches shorter. It looked like Elsa shrank her dress in the wash (why didn’t she use cold water?!). So I immediately opened a case there (which I am still fighting, because I had such a short amount of time to make a new dress that I decided to use the cape, and we can’t agree on a refund amount. I hadn’t the time to order or make a new one). I’ll let you know how that goes.

My sister couldn't be here today. I have to keep making excuses for her.
My sister couldn’t be here today. I have to keep making excuses for her.

So anyway! My brilliant plan was to not only make use of my blue hair for Halloween (I know her hair isn’t blue, I just can’t get it back to white…) but to have a little part time work walking Hollywood Blvd in costume. Yep, back to doing that. But this time as a princess! THE most popular princess EVER.

I forgot, however, how obsessive I can get about costumes. As of today, I have spent over $300 to create this costume (including about $40 in new make-up. It’s organic). I actually had to order more material to make a new skirt, because I dripped super glue on it, and then the dry cleaners did something to it that picked at all the silver thread and made it extremely itchy. I also think it may have shrank, because that side seam just keeps inching it’s way up….

My new friend!
My new friend!

On the positive side to that is that when I went to Joann Fabrics yesterday for a zipper, I found new Simplicity Frozen patterns (new to me, I hadn’t seen them before and nobody had mentioned them online!) and they were $1 (down from $20! So many parenthesis today!). So instead of modifying a skirt pattern, now I can just use the “real” Elsa skirt pattern. Perhaps it will lay better with the split in the side accounted for in the pattern.

$1? Gimme two! I've already ordered my tiara....
$1? Gimme two! I’ve already ordered my tiara….

I haven’t worked many days on the boulevard, and some have definitely been better than others, but I’m actually beginning to find it enjoyable. As Catwoman, no little girls were running up to you, throwing themselves around your knees, crying “Elsa’s here! I knew she would be here soon! I can’t believe it!” I’m really enjoying the ability to make a little girl’s day. I just keep hoping I live up to their expectations. I’ve even rigged up a levitation trick with a snowflake, but I’ve had problems with it and didn’t set it up this weekend.

Not to mention the everyday weirdness of Hollywood...
Not to mention the everyday weirdness of Hollywood…

I’m actually sad that it’s the “off-season”, and not just because I can’t make money on weekdays, but because now I do look forward to going out there. OK, it’s not my dream job, but I can excite so many people simply by putting on a costume. By becoming someone else. I hear my name (“Elsa!”) every few minutes, people waving from cars, people who haaaave to take a picture with me for their daughter/niece. I start to wonder if this is how it feels to be someone like Kiera Knightley or Angelina Jolie, or any celebrity you might recognize walking down the street. Of course, they aren’t wearing a bright blue, sparkly dress everywhere they go. I’m an easy target.

Though I enjoy brightening people’s days, it can also be a little depressing at times. When people take a photo with you, and you say “we don’t charge for it, but we work for tips….” and they just walk away laughing. Laughing?! Do you laugh at your waiter, too? Oh, silly people, wanting money for services…. And then come the days where the theatre is hosting a premiere. Last week it was Interstellar. From across the sidewalk, I stared at a huge screen where Anne Hathaway was projected in her lovely gown… I looked down at mine. My homemade princess dress. I’m out here asking for tips, she’s over there celebrating actual work. I had to leave early that day. It was hard to go back out there after that. Even getting texts from friends saying, “hey, I just drove down Hollywood Blvd, I think I saw you!” can be a little depressing. They’re on their way somewhere, doing something fun, probably. Heading to the beach? I don’t know. But everyone walking by, and I assume people in the fancy cars, are all dressed nice, wearing heels, dresses, doing something more with their lives…. No part of them thinks, “yeah, I should dress up like a Disney princess to earn some money.” That’s just what goes through my head sometimes. I’m sure plenty of them hate their jobs. 😀

That's just... stellar.
That’s just… stellar.

Perhaps because I feel I’m in a rut I don’t know how to get out of, but this costume has become my life. I’ve been focusing on it almost exclusively. The excuse is that I can use it for work. I have even sent emails to companies that do children’s parties, since they pay well. But really, I think it’s my creative outlet, and also a way to transform myself into the beautiful, magical being that I want to be. Though that beautiful, magical being cannot drive a car in a corset made of sequins and rhinestones….

An Elsa selfie
An Elsa selfie

I think, because of the popularity of Queen Elsa, I will put together a post about my costume, a little “how to” with lovely photos. I’m going to be doing a photoshoot in the next week or so, and I want to include one of those photos to show the fabulousness of it. 🙂 It may not be a solution to world hunger, or a contribution to world peace, or anything like that, but if I can help someone else in their quest to feel like a princess, well, then I’ll do that.

The Fatcats Discuss FATCA

The alarm rings. 7 AM. The room is still dark. I inch out of bed and make a morning smoothie. I don’t know what to expect, where I’m going today.

I take the metro to the other side of the river. I know I’ve found my destination by the small gathering of Americans outside. Once we’ve introduced ourselves (and realize that the door is open), we proceeded into the building.

I look up as we enter to see three clotheslines hanging above, all draped with red and pink clothing.

“Someone likes to wear a lot of red,” I said. I’m told it has a special significance.

We sign in and enter a room with a long table, crowded with chairs. I hang up my coat and hat by the door.

The room is filled with Americans. Americans living in Paris and elsewhere who have come to learn more about the issue we all have in common.

Senator Lee and lawyer James Bopp are introduced.

Why were we here? What is so important?

Mmm Bopp (sorry, I couldn't help myself)
Mmm Bopp (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

You may not be familiar with the plight of the expat, but once you leave the US, you certainly start learning quickly. Did you know that if you reside outside of the US, as a citizen you still must file your tax returns? Even if you didn’t make a dime on US soil. Even if you haven’t set foot there in years. Even if you have never set foot inside the US in your life. If you are a proud holder of a US passport and citizenship – you file. Not only that, but if you earn over a certain amount you will owe taxes on it. Sure, those double taxation treaties are handy – up to a point, and that point is around $99,000. Which is about 80,000€ I believe. Less, in pounds.

Not only that, but you must declare any bank accounts that you have if you hold over $10,000 (all together) in them, plus any assets. I’m sure there’s even more to it that I can’t remember at the moment. But if you don’t file those papers, you could be in for a fine of up to 50% of the highest value in your account.

This is why were here here. Senator Lee shared his thoughts on FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) and the FBAR form (which Mr. Bopp called the FUBAR form), and how they were planning on fighting it for us. The whole thing is just plain unconstitutional. Our own government is picking on a minority of people who don’t even live in the country (so it’s hard for us to fight back, I suppose), and costing not only us but the world more money than they even stand to take in. Americans are being denied bank accounts because of what the US government is demanding from banks. Accounts are being closed. Companies are being urged not to hire Americans. Lives are being destroyed.

I know not many people in America will care, because it’s not happening to them, and perhaps you’ll think it’s in the name of security, or catching tax cheats. OK, so the government is throwing a net into the ocean with the goal of catching one kind of fish, but in that dragnet they are also dragging in many, many other species… animals that they don’t care about, and toss aside. Maybe save them, you can get a little money from them too. Doesn’t matter, we caught our fish, right? (yeah, think about that when you eat fish – it happens).

But what’s next? If they are allowed to get away with destroying the lives of thousands, if not millions, of Americans living abroad… what’s to stop them from getting greedier and applying the same measures to everyone at home? Soon they will also know about where all of your money is, and how much you have. They’ll know everything about you. Although, they probably already do…. but then add to that the cruel and unusual punishment of excessive fines and fees for not “confessing” everything they “need” to know about you.

FATCA, FBAR, and the citizenship-based income tax are all horrible, horrible consequences of being an American who chooses to live in another part of the world. Many Americans are being forced to make the difficult decision to give up their citizenship, for no other reason but that the government is not allowing them to keep what is rightfully theirs – their money, and a reasonable expectation of privacy. FATCA violates not just one of our constitutional rights, but at least 3.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

 

The French people I have talked to about these issues think it is absolutely insane, and they can’t conceive of the notion that a government would be so invasive and greedy, to tax and fine you even if you have never set foot on their soil. Why are we OK with this?

To top it off, bills like this get passed as add-ons to other long, unrelated bills. The Senator told us one bill got passed in the following manner: 1AM on New Year’s Day he received an email with a 150 page attachment of a bill he was to vote on. While printing out page 13, 6 minutes later, they were asked to vote on it. This is how our bills get passed. They don’t even get read. Something is wrong with the way our country is run. Bills aren’t being passed to help you, or me. Our government doesn’t care about us. Last year I earned about $15,000. And if you know what rent is like these days in large cities, you know that over half of what I earned went to rent. The rest to food and debt, basically. And yet, when the accountant tallied up my tax return, I owed the government a whopping $1800. I cried. It was everything I had managed to save. Which was a step better than the year before, when I had to put about the same amount on my credit card. But even that is part of the debt I’m paying off this year. Thank you, America.

But that’s another issue. I just wanted to make you aware of FATCA, and the challenges one faces when venturing out of the US. Those thousands of people who have renounced their citizenship? You know how they’re punished for that? They get a whole month every year to visit the US. One month. Oh, even if you don’t expatriate and you simply live in another country, if you spend over 5 weeks out of the year in the US, you have to have ObamaCare. Yes, you do. Giving up your citizenship also has had a sharp rise in the actual fee, as well. Before this summer, the fee was around $450. Now it’s been raised to nearly $2350 (Forbes). If you are considered “wealthy,” there is also a hefty exit tax. So you basically have to be financially secure enough to afford the $2350 fee, but not too financially secure as to avoid the government deciding to just steal a chunk of your money on the way out. And forget about visiting family or friends for any length of time. Though your foreign spouse can spend several months in the US, if they so desire.

We can’t just sit back and allow our government to discriminate against a minority (though 6 million+ is not a small number!) of our citizens because it’s not a problem that we all face. As human beings, we have the right to live and work and enjoy the fruits of our labour, the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the right to not be punished by a government simply because you happened to have been born in a certain part of the world. Nobody can control where they’re born, any more than they can control the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation (I know we debate that one, stick with me). So why do we allow this? Why do we allow our government to punish people simply because they happened to be born in a place other than where they want to live? You may not believe in God, but I do, and I believe as human beings, we have no borders. Nationalities are just ideas in the minds of men, and we subscribe to it because we were told we had to. There is no America, no France, no Mexico, no Canada. There’s earth. There are people. I don’t belong to a land mass with an invisible (or barbed) fence around it. Nobody has the right to know where my money is, how much I have, what I spend it on, who I talk to, what I’m doing…. anything. And anybody who wants those rights does not have my best interest at heart.

The government does not see us as people, as individuals. Simply other fish caught in the net. We are little ATMs, little money-making machines that they can use and discard. Because they don’t care if we can pay our rent, or eat. They don’t care. And they are going to keep testing the limits, pushing the boundaries, until we say enough, and push back hard enough.

So push back with me. Stand up for our rights. If you’re an American living abroad, look up AARO (The Association of American Residents Overseas) for starters. Look up Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Write to your senators and congressmen. Vote for the ones who support the Constitution, and our rights.

Don’t wait until they come for you…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

A Day in Hollywood

Once in a while, someone will tell me that I should do more video blogs, talk more about my day-to-day life, take you on my adventures… the way I used to on my trips to Paris. The truth is, most of my days aren’t very exciting. I’ll either spend a lot of time on the computer trying to earn some money, or I’ll be doing background work on a show that only requires me to walk back and forth, or sit in one place, and it’s not all that exciting.

But yesterday turned out to be such a Hollywood day. I would love more days like this. And because it was so entertaining, I figured it would be a great thing to share! I apologize for not taking video, it’s not always the first thing on my mind, plus my iPhone has dust in the lens and I’m trying to get that fixed.

I arrived to set early today, as I usually do, and ordered a vegetarian breakfast burrito from the catering truck. Base camp was in a church parking lot, and no chairs or tables had been set up, so I ate it standing around with the other background actors (extras).

Once we checked in, we were bussed over to location, which was supposed to resemble a university in Paris. We were French students in a clown school. One of the actors ended up being placed right behind me, so I twisted myself around to chat. In English, though, because I’m still embarrassed about my French. No matter what I want to say, there are so many words I still grasp for.

After “class”, we all changed into our movement class outfits.

Here to save the day.
Here to save the day.

And guess where that class was?

If you cant read that, it says Scientology.
If you cant read that, it says Scientology.

Our holding was in a lovely courtyard, and we filmed in a small grassy area on the other side of the building. I was so curious as to what was inside, but the only part I saw was the lobby on my way to use the bathroom, which smelled strongly like some sort of hand-sanitizer.

So we jumped around like turtles for a while, and then our day was done! And the fun continued….

Earlier in the day, a new friend of mine a friend of a friend) emailed me an invite to a movie premiere and after-party. So I changed as quickly as I could and headed straight down Hollywood Blvd to the Egyptian theatre. I arrived an hour after the movie had begun, and the outer courtyard was looking quite empty, except for 3 security guards and a few star-stalkers. As I was talking to the guards, asking for the person I was supposed to check in with, Amanda Peet exited and encountered the autograph-seekers (a handful of middle aged men who probably sell the photos). Out of the corner of my eye I saw her (reluctantly) take a picture with one of them, as another insisted he had seen her at some certain bar or restaurant or something, while she said she had never been there. As she climbed into her chauffeured car, he protested that yes, that was where he met her for the first time. She still denied it, and left.

Meanwhile in my own world, security told me everyone had wrapped up and gone inside, since the movie had started an hour earlier. I texted my friend and stood on the sidewalk, while security wandered into the theater. I was left alone. I inched my way up to the theater doors, while still waiting for a reply. I could see the security farther inside, and decided to try the doors. They were locked. Another woman soon joined me outside, also late. We stood by the doors until someone else approached and opened them. We explained that we were late, and he let us in. Tadaaaaa! We both found seats to the front of the theater.

After the movie, I tried to find my friend. He had rushed off to the after-party after I told him I had made it in, to see if he could get me a wristband. Otherwise, I wouldn’t make it into the party (and I’d be a little irked that I’d chosen to pay $10 for parking simply to see half a movie). I decided to walk the 9 minutes to Hemingway’s and hope for the best.

On the way, I heard two men saying something about “do you know where we’re going?” and I figured they had come from the premiere as well. I approached them to ask.

“Hey, did you just come from the screening?”

“Yeah”

“I’m going to walk with you, you can be my protection.”

Because walking down Hollywood Blvd in the middle of the night is not exactly something I’m comfortable with.

We walked and talked, and when we got closer to the bar, I explained that I’d have to wait outside for my friend. But my new friends Boyd and Patrick (can I say that? Are you a friend if you may never see a person again?) decided it was worth a shot to try to get me in with them. And it worked. Once inside, we all got free drinks (red wine for me!) and I had to beg off to go locate my friend. Later in the night, I danced a song or two with them, but we didn’t get a chance to speak further.

It was fairly uneventful, just a lot of people dancing, eating little hors d’oeuvres, talking, etc. My friend really wanted to compliment Felicity Huffman, so at one point we went over to her as she was on the dance floor with her friends, and introduced ourselves.

“Hi, I’m Felicity!”

“Hi! Kendal.”

She leaned in.

“Kendal?”

“Yeah!”

“That’s my middle name!”

“Oh, cool!”

It was hard to hear people talking over the music, as we were standing pretty close to the DJ booth. But after short conversation with my friend, she said something about dancing and being old. She had a really warm and friendly personality, and was thoroughly enjoying herself on the dance floor. It’s funny, I only really know her as Lynette on Desperate Housewives, and now this movie (Trust Me). Apparently she and many other people involved in the film were really supportive of their friend Clark Gregg in the making of this film. I think it’s beautiful when people who have the ability to help and support their friends to reach their dreams and goals, do it. I hope to be in a position where I can do that as well. Though first, maybe I’ll be the one accepting some help (anyone? Do I know anyone? Hellooooooo?).

New friends! :-)
New friends! 🙂

Well, I suppose the key to having a supportive network is to just keep making friends, and being a good friend! Which is fine with me. As a kid, one of my goals to was to make friends with everybody in the world! That may not be possible, but looking back on my day and all the new people I connected with, I realized that that really is my favourite part of life. Just connecting with other people. It’s like creating a giant web of love and friendship around the world.

My little group left around midnight, and I never did get to say good-bye to the guys who got me into the party. I saw them in the light of their cell phones, with a girl, on my way to the restroom, but when I made my return walk through the room, they were nowhere to be seen. That was the only down part (besides missing half of the movie) of the day, because I was very grateful to them and didn’t want to leave without saying good-bye. Ah well. Perhaps someday we shall meet again, and recall this Hollywood night!

Not the Next Audrey Hepburn

So, back to Africa!

Here is where I admit that I adjusted to Africa like my dog would adjust to swimming in the ocean. Which is to say, you toss her in and she gets out as fast as she can (or she’d probably drown). It appears with a quick Google images search that there are no other Yorkies that enjoy swimming in the ocean either.

And I feel terribly guilty about it. Not throwing my Yorkie in the ocean, but how I handled my time in Africa. The people were wonderful, and it was amazing to experience something so different from my own life, but it was way outside of my comfort zone. Yes, that’s partially what draws me to foreign lands… a chance to get out of my comfort zone, to stretch myself, to humble myself, to see things rather than to just hear about them… but it’s not easy. I’m like a new pair of toe shoes that needs to be worn in. I’m stiff and shiny and I need to be bent and softened, cut and beaten down a little bit before I am ready for use. Before God can dance in me.

I would love to react to life the way Audrey Hepburn did. She was always thinking of others first, it seemed, and wouldn’t mind her own discomfort. Of course, she grew up during World War II and had a mother drilling into her that “others matter more than you.” I’m sure she handled Africa much better than I did. Though, to be fair, she did request to have an air conditioner shipped to Africa during the filming of The Nun’s Story, and also that “quarantine laws in the Belgian Congo would be waved for [her terrier] Famous […] and most important of all, that a bidet would be installed and waiting for her… It was probably the only bathroom fixture of its kind in Central Africa at that time.” (I read this ages ago and found this particular reference Here)

Mr Famous in Africa
Mr Famous in Africa
Having fun!
Having fun!

The above photos are from the Leo Fuchs gallery.

I, however, did not have a bidet or my Yorkie. So perhaps Miss Hepburn’s trips to Africa were slightly more comfortable than mine. I did my best, but I felt that two weeks was enough to experience major culture shock and not really get acclimated to a new country such as Ghana. I admit that my own discomfort really took over my thoughts at many times. Many, many times. But what drove me crazy about that was knowing that many, many people have traveled to Africa, have lived in Africa, spend their whole lives in Africa… and probably do it without complaint. I mean, I’m just assuming. Maybe I’m being hard on myself. I don’t know. I can adjust to things. It doesn’t mean I like them, but who says you have to like everything? Perhaps I was just not sufficiently mentally prepared for this.

I knew there would be no running water in the village. I knew the internet situation may be sketchy. I was prepared to bend the rules on being vegan or vegetarian. I was not exactly prepared for other things, however.

I haven’t known exactly how to approach all of this in a blog post. To me, it was another world far from my own. To those who live there, it’s life as usual and people seem generally content. I don’t want to gloss over my experience there and only share the positive, fun stories, but I also don’t want to focus only on the negative points. Because it’s a completely different culture that I’m not a part of and won’t completely understand or agree with. To me, it’s shocking to see the living conditions of some people, and I feel the urge to change things. But I don’t know what it’s really like to live there, or if they even want to change. I’m sure there are aspects of my own culture that Ghanaian people would witness and say “that’s terrible!” and they would be right. We all have things we can learn from each other, and ways we can help each other. This could be it’s own topic….

That said, let’s move on. I’m going to just start with some of the things I wasn’t prepared for. 🙂

I rode in this way too many times.
I rode in this way too many times.
Oh my gosh, a TV in the trotro!! Now where's my seatbelt....
Oh my gosh, a TV in the trotro!! Now where’s my seatbelt….

Transportation. I actually did not get a photo of the exterior of the trotros, which are large white vans that can seat over 20 people inside. They go down the road in set routes, with the mate hanging out the front window making signs with his hands to tell people along the road where they’re headed. You hop in and pay about 25¢ for a ride.

From the junction near our town, we would get a taxi (see above). Several of them would line the street, waiting for either enough people to fill it up, or someone willing to pay for all 4 seats. Somehow, most of the time we got a taxi, it was the one above. The inside was terrifying. You could touch the rolled-down window through the inside of the door… because there was no inside of the door. I don’t recall if it was this particular taxi or another one, but I’m pretty sure there was a jug of gas with a hose stuck in it on the floor of the passenger side. Every time we’d pass a sign saying something to the effect of “slow down! 12 people died here” I was pretty sure they were talking about a trotro accident.

The issue here seems to be that cars are imported to Ghana, and a heavy tax is levied on them, making them unaffordable to most people. So they wring every last bit of life out of the cars they have. Even if in the US, they wouldn’t even be allowed on the street. Here, apparently, if it starts and you can still move it… continue on.

According to Road Safety Services, a few of the major causes of road accidents in Ghana are, in fact:

•    Most accidents are caused by broken down vehicles on our roads.
•    It appears in Ghana there is a leeway for drivers to drive on worn/second hand tyres.
•    The unworthiness of some cars on our roads also invariably leads to road accidents.
•    Over-loading of vehicles beyond their expected gross weights is a known cause of  accidents.

And according to Irin News:

Road accidents are among the top causes of death in Ghana, with malaria, diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases, according to deputy director of the Ghana Health Service, George Amofa. Road accidents kill more Ghanaians annually than typhoid fever, pregnancy-related complications, malaria in pregnancy, diabetes or rheumatism.

Eek.

At The Department of Social Welfare
At The Department of Social Welfare

Sanitation. I don’t know why I thought nothing would be different. Sure, in the US and in France you run across the idiots who pee in the street or don’t wash their hands, but I was practically in shock here. Men, women and children used places other than covered toilets to relieve themselves, and don’t seem to see the importance of washing their hands after. I witnessed a small boy at the marketplace casually relieving himself on the ground not far from where food was being sold, and the toilet above was found on a visit to the Department of Social Welfare, with a little sink out in the hallway. Toilets in this part of Ghana seem to be treated the same way as kitchens in Paris – an afterthought.

I got a lot of use out of my organic, lavander-scented hand sanitizer spray on this trip, and cringed inside every time somebody wanted to shake my hand. I loved the children and let them touch me, but I also knew that they probably hadn’t been washing their hands either. I’m not a mysophobe, I swear, but I must have seemed like one. Even with all my precautions, by the end of the trip I suffered mild diarrhea and major stomach pain during my flight home. I’m better now. But so many people are not as lucky.

According to UNICEF:

In Ghana, diarrhea accounts for 25 percent of all deaths in children under five and is among the top three reported causes of morbidity…. Nine million episodes of disease could be prevented each year by washing hands with soap.

Ghana Business News adds with a quote from Mrs. Theodora Adomako-Adjei:

“In Ghana it is even critical because most of us like eating with our hands, because of the type of dishes that we cook. So when it comes to handling food we use our hands a lot. Secondly, surfaces [transfer] to palms a lot of germs. It can be a door knob, even our computers, the ATM cards…people use their hands a lot so there is the need to create awareness. Look at the food that we eat – fufu, kenkey, banku and all those things – we don’t enjoy eating with fork and knife, so we have to eat with our hands – therefore we have to keep the hands very clean.

I’m really glad to see that there are efforts to promote hand-washing. Global Handwashing Day has even been established by GlobalHandwashing.org. It’s just one of those things I never even thought about… I naively assumed most people knew you get sick less often if you keep your hands clean. Even last year I learned my lesson once more. After months of winter illness, I started carrying hand sanitizer and not touching anything on the public transportation. Add to that a morning smoothie, and I have not been sick in over a year (though there was the one time I fell ill from lack of sleep). Sometimes I forget that we are not all aware of these things. Heck, there are still things I could learn.

European supermarkets rock.
European supermarkets rock.

See all that fruit up there? That was not to be found in Ghana. Apparently I’d missed mango season so really all I had were tiny bananas, avocados, apples…mmmm am I missing something? Oh, some papaya but I really don’t like papaya so I couldn’t finish it. My friend had told me diets were different here, but I thought really… so close to the equator… there wouldn’t be tropical fruit to eat? I’d find something. I was a little wrong. I am realizing my love of fruit is so strong that now I’m researching tropical paradises I can live happily ever after in. Kauai?

Ghanaian cedis - I'm rich!
Ghanaian cedis – I’m rich!

 

In Ghana, I’m rich. Fair enough, I understand. I do earn more than most of the people I met. But the cost of living is much higher in the US and EU. And right now I would not be considered rich in either of those places. lol But in Ghana it was assumed that I am rich, and that prices can be higher for me. I suppose it’s like that anywhere for a foreigner…. the other day I bought a little toy from a man outside of the Pompidou Centre and we got to chatting… he told me that he sells the toy to Arab tourists for 10€ because to them it’s nothing. It’s all relative. I don’t mind so much when I’m buying bananas or some fabric, but when they want to charge you oohhhh like, 500% more to enter a fort and then the equivalent of $100-$200 to take pictures…. I’m wondering exactly how rich they think we are.

I'm so whiiiiiite!
I’m so whiiiiiite!

I’m white. And that’s weird. lol. There is no walking around unnoticed. Even in my nice new dress.

Yep, still white.
Yep, still white.

I love that dress. The niece of a friend of my friend made it for me from fabric I’d bought at the market. Other than that dress I wore for Manon and couldn’t keep (it was a costume), and my “Belle” Halloween costume when I was about 12, I think this is the only time someone has ever made a dress specifically fit for me. I usually buy second-hand. But anyway, yeah, there’s just no blending in. You’re white, and you’re rich. Get used to it. 😛

Now we’re moving into the cool unexpected things… 🙂 I mean starting with that dress. I’ve even worn it out in Paris, and I’ll wear it out in L.A.

Still white.
Still white.

Water… baggies. What do you call this? This is pretty cool.

Why didn't I take a better photo of these?
Why didn’t I take a better photo of these?

 

OK, I’m going to say it, still a little unsanitary because you have to bite it to open it, but if it’s fresh from the bulk package, it’s cool. What I think is great about it is the reduction in plastic waste. Sure, you still see a ton of them littering the ground, but it’s probably better than a lot of water bottles littering the ground, right? And think of what you can do with these things. 

Trashybags.org is even doing what I had been thinking about as I stared at all the bags along the streets and outside of the villages – collecting the bags and upcycling them.

Sorry to go back to the negative zone, but this does bring up the issue of trash collection in Ghana. I found an article focusing on waste management in Accra here, if you care to read it. In the village I was at, there was no trash collection, and in my meanderings around the community center I stumbled upon a trash heap (on which someone was, er, squatting, to top it off….). Walking along the beach, I would see buried trash beginning to peak out after a high tide. I didn’t take a photo but I found one online to illustrate:

Under the sand...
Under the sand…

Anywaaaaay. Since I knew where all my bags would end up, I decided to take most of them home with me. I’m using one of the bags as a soap holder, and the rest are awaiting inspiration.

Moringa seeds!
Moringa seeds!

I’ve been learning about natural cures (specifically in the tropics but some apply anywhere, you can learn more at anamed.net) and one powerful plant seems to be Moringa. It grows in Ghana! In fact there was a tree right behind the community center. Sadly, the pods were very dried up and the seeds didn’t look so good, but we did find some in Cape Coast!

New food!

Yummy stew
Yummy Ghanaian stew, on a Parisien stovetop.

I was taught how to make a certain veggie and fish stew that I found tasty, and it’s been my easy go-to meal to make since I’ve gotten back to Paris. I’ve had to adjust because of differences in the availability of ingredients (those whole cooked fish, not sure where to find them here. Short grain rice? Seems different in France…) but I like to have this new African dish in my recipe book.

mmmm palm wine
mmmm palm wine

Seriously. I’m going to start hacking down palm trees when I get to L.A.

Obama biscuits. Yes they can.
Obama biscuits. Yes they can.

I don’t think I actually ate any, but I’m including it here because it’s funny.

I forget what this was called but it was tasty. :-)
I forget what this was called but it was tasty. 🙂
Talapia. I even tried to eat the head.
Talapia. I even tried to eat the head.

I believe this was the first time I’d ever eaten a fish that still looked like a fish. And I’d do it again. So un-vegan of me….

Well, this blog post has taken hours, and I should start packing up my things for another move this evening.

In closing…. I’ll say of course there is more to say about Ghana… good and bad. It was my first time in Africa, my first time in a really, truly completely different culture…. I was almost going to say “I hope in some ways it’s changed me for the better,” but then thought how self-centered that seems to me… what I really wish is that somehow I could have gone and returned having made someone else’s life better. But perhaps it’s just given me things to think about, and a better idea of what I can be a part of in the future to make someone’s life better. Some sort of reconnaissance mission, in a way. There must be a better phrase for that. But I think with first-hand experience it helps one to understand the world better than you can simply by Googling things (duh). And some day the pieces of the puzzle that you’ve gathered simply by being open and curious will come together and help you fulfill your purpose.

I’d like to leave you with one of Audrey Hepburn’s favourite poems (and one of mine, too) by Sam Levenson…

audreysomalia

Beauty Tips

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

My First Time

…. in Africa.

Whenever I would think about going to Africa, I would think about seeing wildlife I would never see in America or Europe – lions, giraffes, monkeys. I imagined large, quiet plains of grass or desert with a sunset more magnificent than any one I’d ever seen over the Pacific Ocean.

True, Africa is large, it can’t all be filled with lions and giraffes and sunsets. What else came to mind when I’d think about Africa…

Well, I thought about what I’d be doing there. Perhaps helping to bring water to a village, or helping out in some other way. I like to go places with a mission, though many times that just doesn’t happen. I didn’t really have a mission for this trip, other than to visit my friend in Ghana and to take some nice pictures. I’m working on the photography thing. I tried to get in contact with film makers there, but being far from the main town made networking difficult in person. We had thought perhaps I could take some video of my friend’s computer class that she could use as promotional material, but it turned out my trip fell right before class started. Regular school started midway through my stay, so I got to see the kids in their school uniforms and take some class photos of them. I did take some photos and video in the computer lab, since the kids would go in there and play on the computers some afternoons. Silly me with my new microphone though, sometimes I forget that I have to turn it on in addition to the camera. I’m still learning.

One class photo
One class photo

 

Computer time
Computer time

And speaking of photography… Ghana not only knows you’re coming with your camera – they’re counting on it! Many of the touristic places in Ghana not only charged non-Ghanaians more than double the entry fee to places like parks and forts, but the equivalent of about $100 to take photos…. and more for video. Needless to say, most of my photos were taken at the beach, in the village, and in the city, but not in the parks and forts. That just gives me another reason to come back (and this time with some money. Apparently I’m the only person who goes to Africa on a budget).

So, Ghana….

I spent two weeks in Ghana, between a small village called Afrangua and a place called Kokobongo Beach. I don’t want to make this into a massive blog post that nobody will ever finish reading, so I won’t give you a day-to-day account of my time there. 🙂 In Afrangua, my friend and I spent a lot of our time chilling out in the courtyard of the community center, hovering in the one area by the table where cell phone reception was the best, so we could check our Facebook walls and post photo updates. She let children into the computer room occasionally, where they would sit at the computers drawing pictures, putting together puzzles, and other activities for young kids.

 

To the left, you will see the community center of Afrangua.
To the left, you will see the community center of Afrangua.

The kids were very curious about me, the visitor, the “obroni.” They wanted to play, be chased, hug, touch, handle my hair… one tiny girl giggled hysterically until I got nearer to her, at which point her giggles turned to terrified shrieks. She would run and hide, and we would try to convince her to touch me, that it was OK. When she finally did, she found me endlessly entertaining. She reached out for my face with a look of utter amazement…. it’s the look I imagine I would have on my face if I were to reach out and pet a unicorn.

I'm a unicorn!
I’m a unicorn!

We spent some of our days near the beach, where there was running water and even a little restaurant. The bread that the sandwiches were made of was really unique. It was in slices perhaps three times as thick as American sandwich bread, and a bit more solid and sweet. Being on  budget, the tuna cheese sandwich was the only thing I ordered at the beach. And the one I got that actually had cheese in it was quite tasty! 😀

sandwich

There are so many little moments to record, and many of them I documented with photos, so I’ll be spreading out the details and thoughts on my trip as I remember things to share with you. For some reason I’ve been putting off blogging about it. Maybe because it feels like such a big task. I don’t know. But I’m determined to get this posted tonight and get back on track!

I also need to get more focused here. I started this particular blog to document how I make things happen in my life, how I create, how I give back to the world, how I join with others to make films and make music… but I feel like I haven’t done much of that at all this year! I suppose we go through peaks and valleys, and every experience serves us in some way we may not be aware of yet. I have written several songs this year, so that’s some progress, though they all still need the finishing touch and a genius musical partner to help me bring them to life.

I feel like I’m still figuring out life. My snow globe world is still being shaken up, though I’d really like it all to settle into place soon. This is why I’m taking some time out to get myself back to Los Angeles, land of the familiar, to take a few deep breaths, write a few deep songs, and make a plan.

So that’s all for today, stay tuned for more. 😉

Focus

Death Kiss

 

So I’m still in Barcelona and my stay here is already halfway over! I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I wished to accomplish while I was here and realize I’m not very far into making any of them a reality. Perhaps I was a little overambitious, or perhaps in the end it was a really good thing for my sanity to just take the time to relax a bit instead of constantly trying to be productive. Or perhaps I just succumbed to the heat and really could have gotten more done had I been able to breath.

The Potential Big Ideas I had for Spain….

Connect with film makers and film something.

Perform music.

Make a music video.

Write more songs.

Learn some Salsa or Tango!

Well, I did write one more song, and a second is on it’s way. And we may be playing a set at the very end of the month, but we seriously need more practice, and that may be the only show we do.  Still pretty cool though. 🙂

As for the music video, well, I never did get someone to help professionally record one of my songs, so that’s not happening yet.

And I have not gone dancing yet…

I really have just unplugged since being here. Of course, the heat kind of makes you feel like holding very still in front of  a fan for long stretches of time, but that’s not all I’ve done. I’ve done some wandering around, put in some beach time, met a few new people, gone to the grocery store a lot…

This week I’ve gotten sucked back into reality with a surprise bill from the IRS (how are they allowed to just NOT tell you that you supposedly owe them taxes and fees from years gone by until you log into their website and try to set up a payment plan for this previous year… the only one you’re aware of owing anything for?) and the ATM rejecting my request for cash because there’s not enough there. It makes a person want to just disappear. Even buying the discount fruit at the corner store, this girl is still on the verge of trouble. I get an Adsense payment around the 25th of the month, but I’ve spent the past hour trying to figure out how to transfer any amount of money from my US bank to my French bank (since they have no useful ATMs here…) with no solution.

In good news. Today I took a free Reiki course a new friend was offering through his Meetup group, and tomorrow is another beach day. We are also going to get a little more organized in planning our days, since we don’t have a lot of time left before our show and the end of the trip.

So I Googled information on productivity. Again. I tend to forget how to be productive, and get really scattered or distracted with “things that need to get done that I don’t care about or want to be doing.” You know those things.

I found this article at the Harvard Business Review about How to Accomplish More by Doing Less.

And this one at The New York Times, both by Tony Schwartz, where I learned:

…. during the day we move from a state of alertness progressively into physiological fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. Our bodies regularly tell us to take a break, but we often override these signals and instead stoke ourselves up with caffeine, sugar and our own emergency reserves — the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.

OK that helps for long stretches of songwriting and singing, or doing work on the computer. I was spending all day every day working online last month.

This article on Inc. also mentions the 90 minute cycles, along with several tips on how to be more productive. They’re kind of obvious, like stay away from distractions. But setting small goals on the way to big goals is a good one and I think we’ll be doing more of that this week. I have so many bigger goals in my mind that I need to work towards, not just ones for this month. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not make any progress.

I read an old article once in which Audrey Hepburn was interviewed (a very old article, from the 1950’s) and mentioned something about focus, and how important it was to success. I wish I had the article with me to share, but alas, I do not. But it stuck with me, because focus can be very hard for me unless I’m doing something I really enjoy. I keep working at it though…. focus, productivity, time management. Someday I’ll master it and make some progress in life. 🙂

What about you, how do you deal with time management and reaching goals?