Starting Again

Several years ago (5 almost to the day, in fact) my friend Tracy forwarded me an email newsletter from a woman named Kate ( The title of the article was Two Magic Words. I’ve kept that email at the bottom of my inbox and periodically, I re-read it and appreciate the simple power of those magic words: Start Again.

She talks about how this wisdom was born out her meditation practice, where the ideal is to clear all thoughts from your mind.

“… what you’re supposed to do when you realize you’ve veered off course isn’t to berate yourself. Or wonder why you can’t pay attention. Or give up. No. Your most powerful tactic is to let go of all the lamenting and the blaming and the analyzing and just go back to following your breath. That’s it. Just. Start. Again. No drama. No regrets.”

Words of wisdom, they are. And knowing that article is there always helps me remember what to do when my routine – or my intention – gets sidetracked: Just.Start.Again.

So I recently turned 42. As my birthday neared and I practiced saying my new age, I would joke it was my “Meaning of Life” birthday. Yes, it’s a geek reference — if you don’t get it, look here.

The thing is, I wasn’t joking at all. I had begun to feel strongly that I was ready to understand – and voice – my own personal meaning of life and then honor it. Several times over the winter, I’d sat still and asked myself “what do you think the meaning of life is?”. The answer always came quickly and clearly: love.

With my birthday approaching, I asked myself what I want from the next year. The answer again came quickly and clearly: love.  I want to experience and share and create love wherever possible. And I want to be in love – with my partner, with my business, with my home, with myself, with my life.

Satisfied I’d identified The What, I turned my attention to The How. Well, that question – “how will you experience and share and create love” – evoked what can only be described as a long, deep soul sigh.  Why did such a beautiful question feel like so much work??

With the same rapid clarity, I understood I was depleted. I had been pouring energy and creativity into business development AND 6 months prior, I had relocated from Austin to Asheville. I arrived with a carful of my most prized possessions, fresh off a 3 month, 8,000 mile road trip. I started a new job; I lived in 3 different apartments; I handled an endless list of relocation-related tasks; I formed new relationships; I connected with my new community. A lot of my energy had been spent rebuilding my life. The word rebuilding sounds dramatic – and perhaps it is, given I relocated by choice (in fact, enthusiastically). Overall it was an easy transition, but it wasn’t without effort. I had dismissed the impact of the transition and all the newness – which is both invigorating and exhausting, just like extended travel.

[side bar: I have begun to view relocation as a form of extended travel]

The crux of the matter was that I’d lost my sparkle while pushing myself to create my ideal life on a time line that I essentially made up. I wanted so desperately to have the life I’d been dreaming about that I wasn’t enjoying the life that I had! Can you relate — even a little bit?

In a flash of brilliance (and self preservation), I decided to take 42 days off from thinking and just enjoy whatever was in front of me. I called it my 42 Days of Now. I stopped thinking about the business, about traveling, and about my never-ending list of to dos. I went on an information diet and ignored the forums I participate in and the blogs I subscribe to. I planned the bare minimum and said yes to impromptu fun. Essentially I took a break and I rested – I rested my body and my brain and my soul.

After about a month, I sensed the wind gently filled my sails. I began to feel flashes of creativity and slowly started interacting with my network again. I felt excited about Travel Coaching and set a date to re-engage with the concept. I was thrilled and I was relieved. I am passionate about Travel Coaching because I want to help people travel more AND because it’s a core component of my own epic travel plan.

The date came for me to re-engage.  I made my to do list … and promptly cratered.  It was massive!  All the goals I hadn’t met in the past months and my neglected blog plans came rushing towards me.  The overwhelm crushed me. I pretty much went fetal for a couple of days, as my coach and mentor Christine Kane likes to say.

And then I remembered:  just like when I fall off the wagon with a diet or exercise program, I simply needed to wake up in the morning and start again.   That is all.  So on Friday, I woke up and just started on my list.

I am choosing not to beat myself up. Instead I choose to have compassion for myself and appreciation for everything I have accomplished and gratitude for all the people in my life who love me and support me. And I do not wish I’d spent my time different.  In fact I enjoyed some de-licious experiences during my 42 Days of Now and, looking back, I wouldn’t have spent that time in any other way!

And so, without too much fanfare (OK maybe a little bit :)), I declare the blog is back.  Woohoo! I am really looking forward to sharing some Inspirational travel stories with you, dear reader, in the coming weeks. And I am excited to better understand what you need from me and this blog in order to become your own travel hero.

Is there something in your life that you need to start again?  Can you gently honor yourself by waking up tomorrow – or perhaps right now – and simply starting again?  

♥ Audrey

Gratitude ~ November 2011

During Thanksgiving, Americans typically express gratitude for the many blessings we’ve received.  I have much to be grateful for, including the whirlwind of positive changes in my life since last Thanksgiving.  My Word of the Year for 2011 was nimble and I think I embodied that one pretty well!  Here’s the recap for those following along:

In November 2010 (twelve short months ago), I was living in Austin, Texas.  I had put my house on the market, planning to downsize into a smaller living space.  After 2 pitiful showings in 2 weeks,  I learned my position as a Business Analyst at UT had been eliminated (read: I was laid off from my secure state job 2 days before Thanksgiving).   I assessed my options and decided to rent the house fully furnished.  In early January, I moved myself and my cat to Rockport, Texas, where I spent a wonderful winter living in my parent’s garage apartment and falling in love with the many birds who migrate to the Texas coast when it gets cold.

During this down time, I thought a lot about my priorities and the concept of lifestyle design.  I made a commitment to begin crafting a job for myself that better supports the lifestyle I desire.   I want to spend my time traveling and experiencing new things, building relationships with passionate people and solving interesting problems.  I want to be in control of my time.  And I want to generate a solid, steady income.  So I decided to become an entrepreneur.  There were a million ideas rolling around in my head and I had no clue what I was going to do (or when), just why.  I named my fledgling business Nimble Creatives, because that’s pretty much what we all need to be these days (nimble & creative).

In late March, I had the opportunity to return to Austin for a 4 month gig as a software developer.  By June, I was clear that I was ready to leave town.  I put an ad on Craigslist for a summer sublet, a tenant materialized and I was free to go.   I quickly put together a trip I dubbed my America the Beautiful tour, using the National Parks Pass I won in a photography contest as an “anchor activity”.  The idea was to see more of my country’s natural beauty while scoping out my next home. If you missed it completely, you can read about the tour here and here.

In late July, I kicked off the first leg of the trip, which primarily involved visiting friends & family in the southeast and midwest.   I spent a week house sitting for a friend in Asheville, NC  and instantly recognized that Asheville had everything I was looking for in a home base: a locally-oriented community with a progressive mindset, a strong music & art scene, an abundance of great restaurants, more craft beer than I should really drink, a moderate climate and easy access to hiking in stunning mountains. The only thing missing is the beach and happily Charleston SC is an easy 4 hours away!  (note: I just spent Thanksgiving in the Charleston area – trip report coming soon)

I was reluctant to commit to a place without finishing my tour of the country.  Plus I’d already lived in nearby Boone, NC for most of the 90’s and was pretty keen to explore a new part of the country.  Still I applied for a couple of jobs that stood out and pretty soon I had secured a full-time position as a Business Operations Analyst with a not-for-profit organization.  I took this as a sign, and, in the spirit of being nimble, I cut my America the Beautiful tour short, loaded up the wagon and moved myself to Asheville.  I flew from LA to Austin on October 5, arrived on Asheville on October 11 (just in time for peak leaf season) and started my new job on October 13!  Wow!

I’ve been back in the arms of the Appalachian mountains for 6 weeks now and  I am so happy to be here!

But wait – there’s more!  I’m thrilled to announce that I’m creating a Travel Coaching and Facilitation business.  My mission is to help people travel more!  I meet a lot of people who have taken epic trips (sabbaticals, round-the-world trips, living somewhere new for 6 months, etc).  I also meet a lot of people who say “I wish I could do that…” to which I find myself enthusiastically saying “You can!”  I know it can be very overwhelming to research, plan and prepare for a big trip on your own. So I’m creating a program called Be Your Own Travel Hero that helps people with their trip planning and preparation.  You can read all about it on the Travel Coaching page 🙂

I am _so_ excited for my new adventures!  Please tune in as Be Your Own Travel Hero evolves over the next few months.

Oh and remember that lay-off?  Although it was painful at the time, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me.  I’m having so much fun redefining my life (again) and I have tremendous gratitude that the universe knew what I needed, even when I did not.

Wishing you all much love and abundance this winter!

♥ Audrey

ps I’ve moved all of the content from my personal blog over to this new site and will only be posting new content here.  You can use the widget in the sidebar to “subscribe” and receive posts by email (or just add it to your blog reader)

In transit(ion)

I’ve pretty much learned to stop saying “I’m in transition” and embrace the fact that change (growth, evolution) is a constant in my life.  Right now, not only am I in transition job-, career- and location-wise, I am quite literally in transit – in between where I was and wherever it is I’m going. Pretty much every major aspect of my life is open to change. Occasionally I sit back and marvel that I’m not freaking out. I attribute this to the fact that I’m gaining greater clarity of purpose and making more intentional choices. That and practice. I’ve been here before and I know – I truly, deeply understand – that everything will be fine. So I intend to have fun with the journey.

(click for a larger view)

About 10 hours into my 20 hour drive from Austin to Asheville, I was gifted with this incredible postcard from the Universe.

In my rear view mirrors was a fiery sunset waving a gorgeous goodbye. And in front of me, ushering me into my next adventure, was a beautiful rainbow. Metaphorically, it felt extremely powerful and I get thrill bumps whenever I think about just how awesomely perfect it was.

Love, Audrey

grace and flair

Get over your hill and see what you find there,
with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
– Mumford & Sons, “After the Storm”

I love the imagery in the above lines.  This is what I aspire to do: to show up to my life, especially when I don’t know what lies ahead, with grace and at least a little flair.

my low- information, high-gratitude diet

The past six months have been pretty amazing. They’ve also pretty much kicked my ass. I’m blessed with a naturally high energy level, so I didn’t realize just how mentally fried I was.

Granted, I spent the better part of the winter traveling to awesome places and hanging out at the coast with my cat. I was on a fantastic high – calmed by the ocean, recovered from the negativity of my last job, detoxed from the digital overload of modern life, and excited by all the possibilities in front of me. It was a joyful, relaxed and fairly insulated existence.

But the entire time I was thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking… Continue reading

Austin-bound (winter 2011 recap)

As I write this, I am preparing for my return to Austin. Since not everyone is up to speed on Audrey’s world, the fact that I ever left will be a surprise to some of you!

My latest adventure started in November, when I learned my position at the University had been eliminated (translation: I got laid off). Yeah, I was pretty shocked too! I didn’t see it coming – although the saying that hind-sight is 20/20 certainly applies in this case. I wisely decided to hold-off “sharing” the news widely until the edgier emotions were gone. That didn’t actually take very long…but then I got busy with having fun and dreaming about the future and in the end I just blew it off 🙂 So below is the “abridged” version of my winter.

First of all, like many things that blind-side us, the layoff started out pretty awful and ended up pretty awesome. It turns out being laid off is a whole lot like being dumped – there is a cycle you go through. Initially, your emotions and ego are in charge, so you swing between feeling hurt, numb and angry. Then the panic sets in – about how to pay your mortgage, about the job search, about not having health insurance (or being single, reentering the dating pool, being flabby/bald/boring) – whatever your fears are. Then you put one foot in front of the other, deal with whatever needs to be dealt with and start moving forward. And finally, at some point, you look back and realize you are genuinely better off without that job (or person) and that everything that happened really was in your highest good.

For me, the cycle took a few short weeks. I am blessed to have kind friends who ushered me through the initial period of hurt and panic, and kept me focused on the future (thank you, thank you, thank you). And it turns out that all the personal downsizing I’ve been doing for the past year allowed me to nimbly skip out and live another life for a little while.

After my return from a trip to Guatemala last year, I started consciously simplifying my life. I got very clear about the need to free myself – mentally and physically – from my excess stuff. I’ve always moved a lot (shout out to everyone who’s helped me move…some of you multiple times 😉 so I probably have a lot less crap than the average American. But I still had quite a bit of extraneous stuff, stuff I rarely used (if ever). I became aware of how much space and mental energy that stuff requires to own and how often I am distracted and drained by caring for my stuff – demands for my time, money and energy. So I began whittling away at anything I no longer needed (this is a process, not a one-time project, by the way). I also simplified my finances, gutted my mailing list subscriptions, stepped back from extra-curricular activities, and so on.

I eventually decided that I no longer wished to put my energy into my house, and in early November, I put the it on the market. It had exactly 2 showings the first 2 weeks – dismal. But I didn’t care. I had gotten to a place where I was excited – really excited – to sell it. I had a post-homeownership vision that I could practically taste: move my stripped down belongings into a cute garage apartment near the University, ride my bike and walk to work, to the food co-op, to the radio station, to my sister’s house…maybe even sell my car and use car share or get a scooter (woohoo!). My expenses would be cut in half and I would quickly pay off my last remaining debt – my massive student loan! And THEN I would be FREE!

Why am I sharing this vision here? Because even though I had this fantastic, elaborate plan fleshed out in my head, I suppose what I most often saying was simply “I can’t wait to be free!” And funny enough, I got what I was asking for. The day before Thanksgiving break (ouch), in a short and tidy conversation, I was told my position had been eliminated. It was like the lyrics in that sunscreen song “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind: the kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday” (by the way, that song is totally worth listening to right now I was initially shocked and momentarily devastated. But even in those first moments, as I staggered out of the building into the sun, I remember smiling through my tears because I understood at some deep level that a) I would be fine and b) I had been set free.

Naturally time dulls the emotions and gives us wonderful perspective. Looking back , it is clear that that position was a struggle I no longer needed to engage in. It was challenging from day one and, although I learned tremendously from the experience, I had long since wrung every bit of growth there was out of it. I believe the Universe – God, Source, whatever name you want to use – always gives us what we need. I find this to be an unfailing truth, although how it goes down is not always how we would have chosen (I learned this important concept during my divorce).

After a couple of weeks of nursing my wounds, I was able to switch gears pretty quickly. I rented my house fully furnished to a visiting professor and headed down to my parent’s property on the Texas coast. I moved to an adorable garage apartment (!) on the water – for free! And me and Jackson (el gato) spent a lovely winter enjoying a wonderful mini-retirement. See how that worked out?

It’s been a month since I wrote these words and my feelings are the same:

(February 18, 2011) As I write this, I am looking out over the bay in front of my family’s property, watching and listening to all of the birds that come to winter in south Texas. My curious and energetic niece and nephew – visiting from Austin – are playing in the yard . My harmonica, my hula hoop, my straw hat, my colored pencils and my grouchy kitty, Jackson, have all been called into duty, played with and discarded. They each endured their fates like champions – especially Jackson who originally came to live with me because he doesn’t like children at all. It’s another gorgeous day and I’m smiling about how I came to be sitting on the water in a sleeveless shirt in the middle of a brutal North American winter. I am tremendously grateful for my life and my opportunities. And I am in complete awe of my personal evolution and all that I’ve come to understand as my own truth in the past year and a half.

Looking back on the last 4 months (4 years…), I feel tremendous gratitude for the twisty turns of my life. After this latest twist, I spent 3 fabulous weeks in Mexico and the warm Caribbean waters, exercising my Spanish and my body. I also took a cruise with my mother and a road-trip to visit lovely friends, family and hot springs that I adore.

In between my travels, I’ve spent my days being relaxed and creative. I read. I write. I dream. I take pictures and take walks on the water. Every day I sleep enough, floss, carefully wash my face. I cook meals with fresh veggies and fruit. I do yoga and ride my bike. I help my parents. I brush my kitty. I practice gratitude. In short – I’m living well. Although it’s not sexy or exciting, one thing that has stood out this winter is that having the time to relax and take care of you makes for a happy and healthy existence.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. It’s practically a full-time job to separate from the University, get health insurance, deal with unemployment and apply for jobs. None of that has been particularly fun or fulfilling. I’ve just tried to face them with grace and move forward.

So what’s next? Well, starting Wednesday I’m joining my old department for a few months. I am super-grateful for this opportunity and super-happy to be working with some of my old colleagues again. The lease on my house is up June 15 and I’ll either re-rent or list it for sale (let me know if you know anyone who might be interested). **And speaking of renting, I’m looking for an inexpensive, cat-friendly place near campus from April until late June or July. Solo living or roomies are fine. Please contact me if you have any leads. I won’t have a garage permit so bikeable/walkable is key.**

After that gig ends … I do not know. I have faith that interesting opportunities will come my way. It’s entirely possible my life will continue it’s lovely zig-zag pattern and I’m completely OK with that. A million ideas sprouted in my head over the past few months and a million more are germinating. I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun – fun to dream, fun to play with the ideas, fun to feel inspired!

And this, my friends, has been the peace-love-n-happiness version of my winter. To those of you who are in Austin, I’ll see ya soon. To those of you who aren’t, come visit! We’ll have fun…promise!


Thoreau’s Worst Nightmare [article in Mother Jones]

This is an interesting read for anyone who is crawling (walking? running?) down the path of intentional downsizing and simple(r) living.  Thoreau’s Worst Nightmare 

As I’ve evaluated how to best jive my lifestyle with my values and goals, I’ve encountered more of what this author calls gimmick than I ever expected.  And to be fair, this is the world we live in, where everyone and everything is branded.  I’m not sure the branding is avoidable for those who choose to participate in society.  And I do admire those who are trying to creatively make a living.  I think the real question (I think, not sure) is whether you are helping someone else with your writing/experiment.  If it changes a few lives, makes people think, then great.

I especially appreciate this reminder in the closing paragraph:

“We must strive for continuous, daily, incremental improvement toward whatever social, environmental, and economic goals we deem important.”

warning: old material

Note:  the older material on this blog was imported from my personal blog, which I started whilst engaged in Transitional Travel after my divorce. It is meant to provide inspiration and proof that traveling during transition can be a very positive thing to do!

Factoid:  the original name of my blog was Operation Sparkle Search.  It was inspired by the parting comment from my boss, who wished me luck and said she knew I’d get my sparkle back. 

Opinion, damnit!

I recently fired up the blog again and my friend G told me the other night that he had this image of my blog title looking something like this:

Operation Sparkle Search
The Blog Formerly Known as Operation Sparkle Search
Opinion, Damnit!!!

Well, of course, it’s named Observations, Opinions and Adventures (although I admit I strongly considered ¡abrir sus ojos!  – be aware! or more literally, open your eyes! 😉

Since I pretty much post my short quips and observations on Facebook these days, the re-booted blog has been heavy on the Observations and Opinions (damnit!) component.  This is a part of who I am – the issues I pay attention to are my passions and the opinions I have beg for a constructive outlet. 

But the time has arrived for a heaping dose of ADVENTURE!!!  And I am very Very VERY excited for my upcoming travels.  At the same time, I’m excited/outraged/opinionated about some big things going down in our world right now.  And I’m confident that while traveling and meeting people from across the globe and seeing things from a new perspective, I’ll want to share my thoughts on those big things in addition to my day-to-day adventures (see my older travel posts).

I have many different wonderful people in my life and I don’t expect everyone to agree with or appreciate every single thing I have to say.  But we do enjoy being in each others lives, so thank you for reading my blog!  I hope you will consider everything, take what resonates and leave the rest!

The official countdown has begun!  I’m about to get my travel on!  “Final” itinerary to be posted shortly…!!!

back in the USA

(note:  I’m cleaning some draft posts and found this.  I never published it and I’m not sure why…so here it is – a glimpse into my early post-trip adjustment)

Well, I’m back in the states. I don’t know how many of you will read this now but I thought I’d post an update.

The flight from Madrid to Newark was 9 long hours — long daytime flights are the worst! My plane was full of people from Madrid who were traveling with me to Houston, then on to various points south. There was a whole group going to Buenos Aires, which is another 8 hour flight! I slept a little bit and chatted with my seatmate some. He is from Madrid and moving to St Louis for work. Poor guy will be in for quite a shock, although he seemed aware of the challenges a midwestern lifestyle would present. He is already prepared to drive and wanted to know if he could buy a car for $3000! Anyway, after a layover in Newark, I flew 4 more hours to Houston, then another hour to Corpus Christi. Customs and immigration were easy, I had no baggage issues and my flight delays were all very minor, so overall my travel was as good as can be expected for 18 hour trip.

Getting off the plane in Newark wasn’t much of a shock, as all kinds of travelers were moving through there. But when I hit Houston, the difference was immediately obvious. Everyone – everyone – was on their phone, talking loud and long. Europeans certainly use their phones but not like we do here in Texas. Hell, most of the country doesn’t use their phones like we do! Of course there were hats and boots everywhere – and the Cowboys vs Greenbay game was on – and I was happy to see all that. I saw BBQ and Mexican restaurants – I liked that too.  But honestly, I was really surprised how all the Americans appeared to me after just a few months gone.

We are BIG people. I don’t mean just fat, although we are that too. But we are big – we have a big presence and we take up (over?) space. We are loud and we are obvious. I didn’t run into many groups of Americans abroad, so I never really noticed it. But after seeing mostly small, quiet Europeans for 3 months, I totally saw what people mean about Americans. Australians are the same way, by the way – big, loud and obvious. But happy – we are both a happy, optimistic people and I think that is awesome.

Anyway, we are physically bigger people. I’ve complained before about the troubles I had finding clothes to fit my chest and shoulders. And yes we are also fat. I swear to those of you who have never traveled outside the US – people are not fat. I saw one – ONE – truly obese person in Spain and I took her picture.  Cruel? Maybe but she was the only one around.  In Cordoba, I saw a sob-story segment on the local news about a woman who weighed…are you ready…200 kilos. That’s 450 pounds. Her kids were talking about all the stuff she couldn’t do (get in the tiny euro shower) but the woman still walked up the stairs to her flat (huffing the whole way). Her size is virtually unheard of there but she has a metabolic disorder. Interesting how few Europeans have them, by the way…I’m pretty sure our food supply is responsible for this.

And why are we fat? Because we eat too much. The portion size is striking to me. Eduardo, my seat mate from Madrid, ended up going to McDonalds for their most basic burger because everything else looked too big to him.

I went to Walmart the other day because my parents computer has no virus protection and its the only place I know of to buy software in town. As I sat in the car (on my cell phone!!!) I was barraged with BIG – big trucks, big asses and a big store. I swear I spent 2 hours buying 11 items for a grand total of $60.98. I’m reading a book now called The Paradox of Choice and it is about precisely this. We have too many choices and they are limiting us, not freeing us.

And while I’m on my soap box, I would just like to say that while yes, I was able to buy software, wine, hot sauce, organic waffles, white rice, tampons and a broom set all in one store, I feel certain that I would have been able to buy all those things within a 2 block radius in any city in Europe. True they would be at 5-6 different stores but since Walmart is about 2 blocks big, what the hell is the difference?!

OK, obviously I’m still adjusting. Overall, I am happy to be back in the US, so don’t take my bashing as anything other than constructive criticism 😉 I think we could learn a few things from the way Europeans shop, eat and use transportation. And I think they could learn a few things from us about customer service and efficiency.

Sooooo, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m house-and-cat-sitting for my parents in Rockport, Texas. It’s a nice enough town on the coast. The weather is gorgeous right now – high 60’s and sunny during the day. If I fished, it would be an even better place. But I don’t, although maybe I should take it up.

I’m surfing on my parents dial-up connection, surfing jobs and vehicles and places to live. My tenant will be staying in the house for now – he is happy and cares for the house. Without a job or plan it seemed silly for me to move back in that big house alone.

As for a vehicle – I really didn’t want to get one. I didn’t miss a car and got along just fine without one while traveling. In fact, the one time I rented a car, it was a constant worry with parking and theft. But alas, Texas is not Spain and moving around anywhere but central Austin will be tough without wheels. To get from Rockport to Austin on public transport, my only option is bus. Although it is only 180 miles and 3.5 hours by car, the bus takes 19 hours, going through Corpus & San Antonio, and costs almost $40. So I am renting a car next week. But having to buy their insurance means it is very expensive. So I need something. I want a very very cheap car that doesn’t need much initial work. If you know of anyone selling, please let me know! I don’t care about the specs (and I drive standard) since it will be a temporary vehicle. I’m also considering joining Car Share ( and/or getting a scooter and just renting a car when I need to go to Rockport.