Trouble in Paradise

There's a Döner kebapci on every block in Istanbul--you can get a wrap (durum) or sandwich (samvic) for about 5TL. Döner is slices of meat on a rotating spit. The meat is usually lamb, but can be chicken, too.
There’s a Döner kebapci on every block in Istanbul–you can get a wrap (durum) or sandwich (samvic) for about 5TL. Döner is slices of meat on a rotating spit. The meat is usually lamb, but can be chicken, too.

4/16/2015
Istanbul is an amazing city. The history alone with worth the visit. Not to mention the baklava! And I do love teaching. The students seem to like my style. The flat I live in is ok—the one roommate who didn’t like me finished moving out yesterday, so that situation is looking up. At my branch, we has some great teachers and I particularly like my branch manager, Robert.

But the first serious issue just came up. Yesterday was payday. I didn’t get paid. No teacher at English Time in Istanbul got paid on the 15th as per our contract.

And it’s the second month in a row.

To be fair, last month, teachers were paid, just two days late. That’s likely to be the case this month, too.

But there are other red flags. I was promised I’d get a residence permit (the first step to a work permit) within days of arriving to Istanbul. We are coming up on 2 months; no permit. And two new teachers who came within days of me have not been found an apartment yet. They were told I got the last available apartment and they’ve been living in a tiny hotel room all this time. There are no plans to find living space for these two men, even though the contract clearly states that the company will find a place for you to live.

But the red flag that concerns me most is pretending there are no classes for some “inspectors.” This morning’s classes were canceled with less than 24 hours’ notice. Again. I’m pretty sure this is the fourth time. And the teachers aren’t allowed to be anywhere in the area. And the teachers don’t get paid even though no notice was given. When you don’t speak the predominate language, you often don’t know what’s going on. The office staff speaks little English, so there is no clear explanation, just the word “inspectors. “ What I’ve gathered is that the “inspectors” have something to do with taxes and the school is trying to hid how much business they are doing in order to pay less.

So, in short, I’m working for a company that lies, cheats and doesn’t pay on time. Oh joy.

This is the second company in a row with these issues. English Time is better than the school in Vietnam, but these are still serious issues. Is this how the English Teaching business works?

I had hoped I was working with a business where I could stay for awhile–maybe finish my 11 month contract and then move to another school location, perhaps in Antalya, for a second contract. Well, the second contract is out of the question. I don’t sign a second contract with a business that doesn’t honor the first one. Now, I am wondering if I can finish this contract.

Fishing off the Galata bridge
Fishing off the Galata bridge

Settling-in, in Istanbul

I am swamped with new classes, new curriculum, learning a new language/culture and getting settled in at my new apartment. But I do keep a short journal, occasionally.  The photos are from the Archeology Museum. I’m sure it’s an amazing place, but it’s under construction/reorganization/remodeling so many of the best items simply aren’t available to the public. I’ll return. Istanbul Archeology Museum, March 2015, 124/9/2015 Thursday
I’m teaching full-time, but weekday evening classes only last 6 weeks and I’ve joined most classes in progress. As a result, my Level 1 class finished up Tuesday night. I just love this group. Was thrilled that some of them contacted the office and asked for me as a teacher! So I will start their Level 2 class Monday. The students are mostly college age, here–no children like in Vietnam. They focus so much on grammar rules that I have to study to keep up with them! As a native English speaker, obviously I know how to say things, but you have to be able to explain why. Two of the new teachers are Hispanic and only speak English as a second language. Their accents are thick and their grammar poor. It’s difficult for their students and they’ve been removed from some classes. I don’t think they will make it. A LOT of new teachers wash out, particularly young ones. I don’t think they realize how much work it is to teach, particularly at first as you get used to a new school and curriculum.

Right now, while I’m learning the curriculum, I spend a lot of time preparing. Most evenings, I have a 3 hour class, and I spend at least that long preparing for the class. But it will get easier as I teach classes I’ve taught before. The school has already asked me to stay another year–even talked to me about management. I don’t want to manage, but I might consider another location in Turkey for a second year. I don’t have to make any decisions, yet.

My roommates are all 20-something and they make me feel old! I deal with the noise and the mess pretty well–frankly the three of them aren’t as messy as my single Vietnamese roommate, Bob, so that’s an improvement. But it’s a tiny kitchen and a single bath. With all their friends over it can be next to impossible to get into either room. And when their “overnight guests” hog the bathroom……it’s not really going that well.

It was a rainy day, so it wasn't inviting to sit outside among the ruins for tea.
It was a rainy day, so it wasn’t inviting to sit outside among the ruins for tea.
Cats of all kinds among the ruins.
Cats of all kinds among the ruins.

Later……

I went to Katt and Ali about noon today to ask about moving to another flat. Virginia simply doesn’t like me. Her boyfriend stays overnight—which is against the rules. Honestly, I don’t care what she does or with whom in her bedroom, but he hogs the bathroom! 45 minute showers in the morning! And when I asked who was in the bathroom (since all the residents were accounted for) NO ONE would answer my question. They ignored me as though I didn’t exist–As though I didn’t have the right to ask! Because I needed to pee and because I was curious, I simply waited to see who would exit the room. When her boyfriend came of of the bathroom (finally!) I just rolled my eyes. Later, I asked for a floor meeting to set ground rules about guests. After all, there are already four of us sharing a kitchen and a bathroom (with no real living room) so adding guests quickly gets to be an issue. The request was NOT well received. Virginia responded that it wasn’t needed. The other two didn’t respond at all.

And immediately, I began hearing interesting stories through the grapevine about Virginia’s opinion of me. And the dirty looks in the hallway confirm her feelings. Funny, since she was the one who told me all the “rules” and how much trouble I’d get in if I violated them. She explained them in a tone of a veiled threat! But I guess the rules don’t apply to her. I have tried to keep a low profile here at the flat. Which is easy because no one speaks to me. I would feel differently about this if I had actually complained. And it isn’t like I went to the landlords and told them about the overnight guests. I’m uncomfortable here. It’s no way to live. That’s why I asked to move. They told me they would see what they could do, but not to get my hopes up.

I wish you could see the detail on this statue. Breathtaking. But the photo quality is poor.
I wish you could see the detail on this statue. Breathtaking. But the photo quality isn’t good enough.
This is the actual chain that kept out invaders from sea! It was stretched across the mouth of the Golden Horn, keeping invaders out of Constantinople. Coupled with the land walls the city was secure for centuries.
This is the actual chain that kept out invaders from sea! It was stretched across the mouth of the Golden Horn, keeping invaders out of Constantinople. Coupled with the land walls the city was secure for centuries.
Information about the chain
Information about the chain

4/10/15 Friday
….and the roommate problems seem to have resolved themselves. I seriously didn’t intend to get Virginia kicked out. Yesterday, Victoria was told to leave the apartment. She’s been warned at least twice in the past about overnight guests. It’s clearly stated in the lease. And I was told that it’s a different “boyfriend” every time. Eeeeek! She has two weeks to get out. Unfortunately, Victoria blames me for this, and she has been very vocal about it. The next two weeks will not be fun. <sigh>

Such drama! I swear it’s the raging hormones. You can smell them in the air!

It’s a different world here. Last night, a young male student asked me to introduce him to a young female student from another class. I don’t know the girl, so I said no. He asked again, suggesting that I could tell her that he was a “good man” and could “help” her with her English. (Which is pretty hilarious considering his poor English.) I told him again that I couldn’t do this. I didn’t know him well enough to “endorse” him (so this also became a vocabulary lesson) and I had never met the young girl. I was not in a position to do this favor and I didn’t think this was something a teacher should do. He persisted, explaining (in broken English) that she would trust me if I said he was a good man. I said that was exactly why I couldn’t do it. I suggested that if he wanted to meet the girl, he should introduce himself. “No, Teacher. This Turkey. Cannot.”

IMHO, most young Turkish men are players: vain, overly concerned about their appearance with confidence fueled by testosterone and peer pressure. It reminds me of Italy. I’m glad to be above most of it, but it’s fun to be an audience. Sometimes.

I tried to show a video last night in our “cinema room” at school. I’ve been told that the equipment is pretty iffy and I don’t know that I’ll try again. The plan was to let the students watch a Mr. Bean video and practice describing actions. It failed miserably. First, the equipment proved unreliable. Then, the students simply couldn’t put together a full sentence to describe the action. I don’t think they have the vocabulary for this activity. The class is Level 3, so I feel they should have enough words to be able to do this—it’s an indication of how poor vocabulary training is in this curriculum. Baby steps. Will have to work on other simple descriptions first. Listening and Speaking, the final section, starts tonight for this class.

There was no information in English about this but it appears to be a sarcophagus, made of glazed pottery. Hope to learn more....
There was no information in English about this but it appears to be a sarcophagus, made of glazed pottery. Hope to learn more….
Fancy sarcophagus! How many people do they put in these things?
Fancy sarcophagus! How many people do they put in these things?

Much Later:
I didn’t like the way this man was looking at me on the Metro Bus. I couldn’t decide if he was angry or interested. Eventually, I decided it was a leer. OMG! He got off at my stop, but he turned left out of the bus. I was quite pleased that I was going right. But he reversed direction. Outside the station, he was clearly following me. I let him pass, but he stopped and talked to me, in Turkish. I smiled and said, “English” and tried to lose him again. He first walked on, but then stopped, spoke again and hooked his arm into mine so we could walk together. I politely untwined myself and said no. I even shook my finger at him. At the corner, he started to go straight, but stopped to watch me turn the corner. I said “bye, bye” firmly. He motioned for me to follow him. “Hayır Ya. Ben öğretmenim.” (“No. I’m a teacher.” If only I could say, “I’m not a prostitute.”) Then I picked up the pace to lose him. I decided that if he followed me to my apartment door, I would cross the street and go into the convenience store. I didn’t want him to know where I live or try to force his way into my door. He did not follow me, thankfully. I’m told it’s the blonde hair—only whores are blonde. To be fair, my hair is at least half gray by now. I’ve been growing it out for a year. But it still mystifies me. I don’t dress provocatively or wear much make up. I don’t start conversations, since I don’t speak Turkish. I’m surprised this has happened a few times, about once a week.

Later, I talked to some of the male teachers and they said I need to react more—be clearly offended, in any language. At the first leer, I should scowl. It the man doesn’t stop I should get verbal. They also think part of the issue is that I smile broadly—an open mouthed smile is flirting, here. Darn! To me, that’s just being friendly. Some of the long term, female teachers said they also have this problem frequently, regardless of their age. They avoid all eye contact, never smile or speak to anyone on the metro and sometimes just practice an “angry” look. Jeeze. I hope I don’t have to do this, but I don’t know what else to do.

I wanted to experience and understand another culture. That’s what this is, I guess.

I found this striking. The next photo has text about it.
I found this striking. The next photo has text about it.

Istanbul Archeology Museum, March 2015, 29Saturday 4/11/2015
In about 3 days I’ve gone from “New Teacher with a few classes” to “OMG, I can’t take another class” status. It’s pretty flattering, though, because student have actually gone to the office and asked for me. I think they like my (lack of an) accent. Once again that American-Midwestern that I speak helps out. And I have learned to speak more slowly. Not sure how I’m going to get through the next couple weeks, though.

It’s been a disappointing day, despite lovely weather. SOMEONE (I assume Victoria) has left the kitchen a total mess. AND I turned down an opportunity to go with Shelley, Maria and Kate to Galata Tower. I had a private lesson. Except the student didn’t show! So I came home, did my laundry (since no one was here) and have been working on lesson plans for the rest of the afternoon. Exciting Saturday night for me!

Monday 4/13/2015
Today I have 7 hours of class! The Level 5 class is shared with Albert—who doesn’t really want a co-teacher (which I actually completely understand). The students have asked for a native speaker, and he is Iranian. His English is great, but of course there are some pronunciation differences. I may have taken on more than I should, but I’m trying to work into a better schedule and that means than sometimes you have to overlap classes and work too many days in a row. Additionally, Gabriel is taking over Shelley’s portion of the Level 3 class that we shared. The students have complained about her. I don’t know the specifics. The class is certainly and handful. I’m exhausted after an evening with them, particularly if Ali is there. I was a fill-in, just 3 weeks ago, and wasn’t sure I’d last. Almost surprised that they are not complaining about me! But being a fill in means I didn’t have time to prepare for the class and I now know I could have done better. At the end of class, they are supposed to give a presentation for 10 minutes—this group has a hard time putting together a full sentence to describe an action! We should have been preparing the students for the final presentation and neither of us knew about it. We are new! I got to talk to Gabe about it and we have a plan for dealing with it, but it’s not the best. I wish someone had given me better advice on this Level 3, but I was just dealing with the class one section at a time—not good enough. Lesson learned.

I hate it, but Shelley isn’t doing that well here at English Time. She seems unhappy and now she’s been removed from a couple classes at the student’s request. We share a weekend class (which I will never do again). I have the students on Sunday, but they told me that they had trouble understanding her. I’ve tried to combat issues by reviewing all of her pages first thing on Sunday. They seem to need the review, but then, this isn’t surprising. It’s a very intensive course and a review of the previous material would help anyone. Grammar is the most difficult test and it comes first. I’ve been dismayed at the grades on the Grammar exams. I made up a special “mid-term” Grammar quiz. It has the format of the exam, but only uses two of the four verb tenses. I think it’s easier on them to see the types of questions and get a strong review of two tenses, just before they learn two new ones. I hope it will help them on the exam—which is coming up quickly! Shelley and Maria are going to Athens for a few days this week (yes, I was slightly hurt that I wasn’t asked, but the school could not have let all three of us go at one time, anyway). I’ll have the class Saturday and Sunday this coming week. I’ve got two new verb tenses to teach them and then review for the test, which should be the following weekend. Phew! I have no idea how they keep up!

This is the "nich" than marks the direction of prayer in a mosque.
This is the “nich” that marks the direction of prayer in a mosque.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great

Tuesday 4/14/15
I am exhausted, but it has been a great few days. Sunday is my four hour, Level 1 class. Great attitudes and they seem to really love me. They asked about me teaching the class both Saturday and Sunday—that they planned to go to the office to request this. I asked them not to, to give Shelley another chance. After all, I would have their class both Saturday and Sunday this coming weekend because Shelley is going with Maria to Greece. And I let them know that Shelley is new to teaching, so she is still learning. I hope this placated them. Sunday afternoon, I prepared my Monday morning class (Level 5), my Monday evening class (Level 2) AND my Friday activity (Past Perfect Verb tense) before I went to bed. Phew!

Monday and Tuesday will be split shifts for me for the next 6 weeks. I teach 10a-2p Level 5 and 7p to 10p Level 2. Since I usually need to do lesson plans between the two, it makes for a long day! I’m sure that I spend much longer preparing for classes than most teachers, but I’m just not a person who wants to “wing it.” There is enough in life that you can’t prepare for. Besides, these students deserve the best. My best.

Monday, I met my new Level 5 students. AMAZING VOCABULARY! I did a simple exercise, asking for adjectives. I find it’s a great way to know what level your students are at. I expected the usual adjectives: Beautiful, tall, pretty and handsome. I got these and so much more—fantastic, frugal, malevolent (!!!), awesome, jealous, furious…. This is a real testament to Albert, who has had most of this group since Level 2. Albert usually teaches classes without a co-teacher, so I feel a bit badly about being asked to teach with him. He usually works alone and he’s being forced to work with me—though he has been very gracious about it. I was asked to teach two of the five class days because the students asked for a native English speaker. Of course, that’s the best way to learn pronunciation, idioms and slang. Albert (an Iranian who can speak Turkish, Arabic AND English) knows a lot of this, of course, but I think they are more confident with a native English speaker. Albert has arranged a class that doesn’t focus on the English Time book. This is great! We do a grammar topic from it every day, but he has a wonderful vocabulary reference (504 Words you must know) and a listening/speaking book with MP3 files (Passages). I add about an hour’s worth of activities—that’s a four hour class!

Monday night was also the start of my Level 2 class—these are mostly students that I taught Level 1. I understand more about the layout of the English Time classes now, so I can adjust the schedule to stay on track AND teach what’s most important. Plus Albert has inspired me to expand vocabulary! The ET books are strong on Grammar and OK on reading and writing, but Vocabulary, Listening and Speaking are poorly represented. SO, I laid out for the class what we would learn in Grammar (3 new verb tenses, conjunctions, clauses, and if) and put at date to the tests (roughly). There are about 5 new students who took Level 1 with someone else. The rest know me pretty well. I think the new students are not quite sure about me, yet. I hope to win them over. My co-teacher is Kate, who is young, but a wonderful teacher. She spent the last year in South Korea. This will be a good class!

Tuesday morning (this morning) I had the Level 5 students again. (Obviously, I did this lesson plan yesterday afternoon, between classes.) If they were shy yesterday, they were not today. I found that at least two of them had actually gone to the office and THANKED them for letting me be their teacher!!! Can you imagine that? This would never happen in The States. I could have cried when I heard this. They ask insightful questions, and they love speaking. But it is an exhausting, jam-packed, 4 hours of class. I always have lots scheduled—including some fun activities. Today was vocabulary review (504 Words), Listening and discussion (Passages), Hot/Cold (an activity where I explain how Americans use these words to mean close and far away. We guide someone to candy we have hidden using cold/colder/warm/warmer/hot/red hot). We also did a warm up where we name 10 things from a category and we practiced rhyming (a good way to work on pronunciation while having fun). I like variety in the class—keeps them interested. I also dropped a few things so we could go over their homework they were having trouble with—passive voice.

I was exhausted and fell asleep between classes, after I planned my evening lesson, of course!). Naps are wonderful when you work a split shift.
Tonight’s Level 2 class really rolled—they had learned Simple Future (using “will”) before they even realized it, and got to practice it a lot (they already know Future “be” going to, so this is even easier). We also reviewed Simple Past Tense. We played Taboo to review the Geography vocabulary from the book (mountain, stream, sea, island…) and I found some vocabulary on transportation to introduce. Seems they knew about 30-40% of those words already—which I think is a good mix. It’s not overwhelming that way.

And now I’m home, showered and falling into bed. I’m grateful to just have one evening class tomorrow—I will sleep in!

In other news, Virginia is actively moving out. She isn’t even staying here at the apartment anymore. She says she will be out by tomorrow afternoon, not taking her 2 weeks. She does manage to wreck the kitchen when she’s here and doesn’t do her dishes or take out her garbage. But it will all be over by this time tomorrow. And Augustine will be going home for 3 weeks (South Africa). His Gran (grandmother) isn’t doing well so he’s going home to spend time with her. Shelley is moving somewhere tomorrow. I knew she wasn’t happy with her flat, but I know no details. She and Maria will leave for 3 days in Greece Thursday.

My new apartment in Istanbul

The view from my terrace. That's the Sea of Marmara past the buildings. When I'm feeling better, I'll walk to it. With so many people in this city, the water system can't quite cope, so we drink bottled water or at least boil the water before using.
The view from my terrace. That’s the Sea of Marmara past the buildings. When I’m feeling better, I’ll walk to it. With so many people in this city, the water system can’t quite cope, so we drink bottled water or at least boil the water before using.

3/25/2015
I slept 10 hours last night and slowly this virus is lifting. I find that traveling to a new country guarantees you are exposed to new “bugs” of all kinds, so eventually you are going to succumb to one. So far three weeks seems to be when I get sick. Will be glad when I am completely well again but I’m better each day.
In the meantime, I’ve been able to take a few photos of my new apartment. I moved in Friday March 20ith and have worked each day in addition to battling this cold, so it’s all I could do to get organized. It’s located in Şükrübey (pronounced: Shuk Ru Bay) and is just 8 metro bus stops from my school branch.

I have SIX roommates—but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. Upstairs are Katt (Canadian, tall and thin, organized and smart) and her husband Ali (Turkish, handsome and fluent in English) and Trudy (Canadian, hilariously funny and about my age. We are going to be such good friends). Katt and Ali own the apartment and another across the hall that is also rented to teachers. There is a large living room, huge terrace on their level. They share a kitchen and a bath on that floor. I’m on the lower (entrance) floor with Victoria (late 20’s, vegetarian, from Georgia, USA. She actually asked me if I knew where Dahlonaga, GA was!), Mags (late 20’s, amazing cook, funny), and Augustine (early 20’s, very tall, very thin, from South Africa). Our floor has a small terrace, medium sized kitchen, very large bath and the entry way to the apartment. Everyone is fairly clean and quiet, so far. No complaints.

My bedroom is called the gray room. View from the hallway door. It is located across from the bathroom. We each have private bedrooms. Mine is twice the size of the hotel room I just left. Good light, radiator heating. There's a washer, but we use drying racks for clothes (mine is against the wall).
My bedroom is called the gray room. View from the hallway door. It is located across from the huge bathroom. We each have private bedrooms. Mine is twice the size of the hotel room I just left. Good light, radiator heating. There’s a clothes washer in the bathroom, but no dryer. We each use drying racks for clothes (mine is against the wall).
Bedroom, view from the window. Glad I don't have much stuff, because that closet is all I have. But I am used to small spaces and have gotten a few items, like the tubs on top of the wardrobe, a bowl for fresh fruit and the hot pot on the desk. The bed has an interesting storage system under the mattress, called a bazaar--I have my backpack and suitcase under there and there is lots of other room if I needed it. Notice the bottle of water to the left--we drink bottled water or at least boiled water.
Bedroom, view from the window. Glad I don’t have much stuff, because that closet is all I have. But I am used to small spaces and have gotten a few items, like the tubs on top of the wardrobe, a bowl for fresh fruit and the hot pot on the desk. The bed has an interesting storage system under the mattress, called a bazaar–I have my backpack and suitcase under there and there is lots of other room if I needed it. Notice the bottle of water to the left–we drink bottled water or at least boiled water.

The apartment is well situated. I’ve not been well enough to investigate the neighborhood fully, but there is a small grocery in the bottom floor of the apartment building and a large one across the road. I am half a block from the metro bus line. Here are the parts I find amazing: 10. The road in front of my apartment building is part of the old Silk Road. Imagine the history. And 2). You can see the Sea of Marmara from the terrace window. I can walk to the sea!

I am so lucky. I love my life.

This is the kitchen I share with three others. There is another kitchen upstairs for the three occupants of that floor.  Gas oven. There aren't quite enough pieces of cookware or glasses. I'll probably end up adding to the supply. There is a small terrace outside this kitchen.
This is the kitchen I share with three others. There is another kitchen upstairs for the three occupants of that floor. Gas oven. There aren’t quite enough pieces of cookware or glasses. I’ll probably end up adding to the supply. There is a small terrace outside this kitchen.
The large living room upstairs is shared by everyone. There's wifi and cable TV. The door opens to the terrace.
The large living room upstairs is shared by everyone. There’s wifi and cable TV. The door opens to the terrace.
We are on the top level of the apartment building, so it's a great terrace and wraps around to the other side as well. There's a grill too.
We are on the top level of the apartment building, so it’s a great terrace and wraps around to the other side as well. There’s a grill too.
View from the terrace. Istanbul is a HUGE city. The "official " estimate is 20 million people. The unofficial estimate is 30 million. The road below was part of the Silk Road. The middle of the road is the metro bus lane. Buses run every minute or two. It takes 15-25 minutes to get to school from the time I leave my front door.
View from the terrace. Istanbul is a HUGE city. The “official ” estimate is 20 million people. The unofficial estimate is 30 million. The road below was part of the Silk Road. The middle of the road is the metro bus lane. Buses run every minute or two. It takes 15-25 minutes to get to school from the time I leave my front door.

It helps to have goals

Travel is my passion. What's yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.
Travel is my passion. What’s yours? This is Ayuttya, old capital of Thailand.

A goal is the place you want to get to

Americans are amazingly inventive. If we know what we want to accomplish, most of us can figure out a plan to get there. But first you have to decide where you want to go. Today’s challenge: write down your goal and take one step toward it. I’m on my path. How about you?

I’ve recently shared how I started weaning myself from having so much stuff that I couldn’t find things and didn’t even know what I had. I’ve posted how I subdivided my house and now live in a 500 square foot studio located in the basement of my condo. I’ve explained how my renter pays my mortgage and given you some ideas of how I reduced what I owned to fit the space. This has allowed me to pay off all my bills except my house, AND save a nest egg.

But it’s just money. And this is a lot of trouble unless you have a good reason. Saving money is good. Living frugally is good and even fun for me. But not enough. This post is about WHY I did those things.

Yup, that's the pyramids in the background
Yup, that’s the pyramids in the background

Follow your bliss

My goal started out as a silly thought. I kept thinking I should be happy. I’m healthy. I have a job with benefits. I have friends and family. I can afford to travel on my vacations, have low debt and can afford all the things I really need and most of my wants. I’m lucky. There is a lot to be said about “growing where you are planted” and appreciating what you have.

And yet, I wanted more. I still want more.

I’m bored and I feel unchallenged. Yeah, I know. Most of the world strives to have the kind of problems I have. But I know I’m actually happier when I’m working hard toward something. You’ve heard it said, Follow Your Bliss. But can “what makes you happy” also pay your way? I hope so. Because that’s what I’m working toward. It might not work out. It probably won’t work out the way I plan. Few things do. But I don’t have anyone to worry about except myself, so here goes.

I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey
I took this during a balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

I won’t be bored

I want to be wanderer, fulltime. I want to be a nomad of the world. Hence the name of the blog: Wander For Life. I may never own a home or a car again, nor many more possessions than I can fit into a couple suitcases. I may move to a different place every year, or every month. I want to meet people from other cultures, eat food I can’t pronounce, form my tongue around words I never heard growing up in the Midwest. I expect I’ll have more real problems, but fewer imagined ones. I’ll probably be dirty and lost and confused a lot. I’ll probably never have a lot of money again. But I won’t be bored.

I don’t have every single step figured out to accomplish my goal, but this blog is part of how I’m going to get there. Part of the blog is documentation. It’s also part marketing tool. Eventually. And it’s a place to solicit ideas. My guidance counselor in High School didn’t have “Wanderer” on her list of job titles. Heck, there wasn’t even an internet when I went to High School. I’ll have to feel my way. But I’ll need help. Your help. NO ONE DOES ANYTHING ALONE. I’ll need ideas from you.

That's me in the great Library at Ephesus
That’s me in the great Library at Ephesus

Plan B

It’s not all mapped out, but here’s what I plan, more specifically:

  • First I want to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. It will take me about 6 months to walk the 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. I’ve asked for that time off my job next year, but the odds are slim that I’ll get it. I’m selecting my backpacking gear now.
  • I want travel, to live in a different country every year. On the short list is South Korea, Turkey, Thailand, somewhere in the former Soviet Union, somewhere in South America and somewhere in Africa.

I think I can pay my way by teaching English, supplemented by blogging, selling ebooks and tour services online. I’m also willing to wait tables, work at hostels, be a barista at a coffee house or tend bar. I’m willing to try any reasonable/legal means to meet my goals, even some that might seem a bit extreme. None of the ideas will make me rich, but I should have a very rich life.

This will involve a lot of change and at some point I’ll just have to stop planning and step off into it. This won’t be an easy life. As Donna Freedman says, “I can say with some authority that sometimes, change really stinks. But I can also say that while change is scary, it is not the end of the story. Change is the chance to rewrite the story – or, rather, to take it in a new direction.”

So here’s to new directions!

Today’s challenge Write down what you want and take one step toward it. If you write it down, it’s less a dream, more a goal. If you take even one step toward it, it’s a path.

I’ve taken my beginning steps: I’ve chosen a goal. I’ve saved money to fall back on and–aside from my home–have zero debt. I’ve gotten rid of many of my possessions and continue to do so (more on that in future posts). I’ve paid down my mortgage so that the odds are good that I can sell the house free and clear when the time comes. I’m refining the gear I’ll need to hike the AT (much more on this to come)  I’ve started this blog. I’ve connected with YOU!

I’m on my path. How about you?

How to downsize, learning to live with less

Here’s my challenge to you: Free yourself from too much stuff and spending habits that keep you trapped.

This townhouse looks like it has two floors, but there's actually a walk out basement in the back, not to mention a deck and patio under it. How much space does one person need?
This townhouse looks like it has two floors, but there’s actually a walk out basement in the back, not to mention a deck and patio under it. How much space does one person need?

I began the journey of downsizing a few years ago, right around the time the economy took a dive. The radical move was dividing my three-floor condo into two living spaces, a duplex where the renter got 2/3rds of the space and I lived in what was left. I converted the basement into a studio apartment and rented out the top two floors of my townhouse. Though someone else now paid enough rent to cover the mortgage, I was faced with living in a third of the space I’d had.

It’s true that I had already cleared out my storage areas, lightened up the closets and even completely emptied one bedrooms and bath. But it still looked like a daunting task. At first.

I took a deep breath and tried to look at the situation logically. First define your space—the basement studio apartment is less than 500 square feet.

But how much space do you really need?

How big is a home?

Home sizes in the US are HUGE compared to other places in the world. According to Apartment Therapy, these are average square footage of new homes constructed since 2003:

  • US: 2,300
  • Australia: 2,217
  • Denmark: 1,475
  • France: 1,216
  • Spain: 1,044
  • Ireland: 947
  • UK: 818

These are all developed countries, so you can assume even smaller spaces in “the Third World.” Basically, others manage to get by with much less space than we Americans do. One woman doesn’t need over 1,500 square feet! I could find a way.

This is my new entrance. I just walk around the back of my unit of townhomes and my door is under the deck. I have my on patio.
This is my new entrance. I just walk around the back of my unit of townhomes and my door is under the deck. I have my on patio.

Where to start reducing

First you get rid of duplicates. In a three-floor, three-bath house you have a lot of duplicate items:

  • Vacuum cleaner/broom on each of three floors
  • Two floors had “living rooms” so I had duplicate couches/end tables/coffee tables/lamps
  • Television/stereo on each floor (I got rid of cable, so ended up giving all three TVs away)
  • Towels/bathmats/hand mirrors/cleaning utensils in 3 bathrooms
  • Office supplies like scissors/stapler/pens/paper on each floor
  • I didn’t need a bed since the studio apartment had a fold-down Murphy bed
  • I kept only one of two chest of drawers and gave away two sets of shelves
  • I had two writing desks, but I didn’t sit at either of them, so they both went
  • I pared down my kitchen items to fit my new, smaller kitchenette

I sold the furniture I didn’t need through a re-sale shop. What was left was donated to charity (always get a receipt) or gave away to friends who needed them. I could have made more money on the items if I’d held a yard sale or sold through eBay or Craigslist. (I’ve held back a few items to sell this way. hint: future post!). If I’d been unemployed and/or had more free time I would have sold some of this. And if between jobs, it would have been crucial to make money off my unused possessions. But I was (am) working a fulltime job and was running a part time business at the time (Atlanta Culinary Tours, which I’ve closed except for a few private dinners). I had very limited time.

Then I moved into the studio apartment, locked the door to the basement stairway on both sides and learned to live there. The realtor found a renter and I started reaping the rewards.

It’s had its ups and downs, but I’ve made it work. The rental income from the top two floors has allowed me to pay extra on my mortgage so that I am no longer under water! I’ve also managed pay off everything I owe except for my house and save a substantial rainy day fund. What did this hard work buy me? Freedom!

Financial freedom is a good feeling

If living within your means doesn’t sound sexy, maybe it’s time you grew up. I don’t stress nearly so much when things at work look rocky. I don’t want to lose my job, but I’ve got a safety net if I do. I don’t fret when the phone rings or the mail comes because I know no one is hounding me for money. I don’t owe anything but my mortgage. And I spend my money where I want, like world travel. I sleep well at night.

Sure times are hard, but even the poor in American are better off than most of the world. We don’t face the hardships my grandparents did in the Great Depression. We don’t have rationing like in WWII. It’s about balance. Having your needs met plus items that are useful and improve your life. Do you need every electronic toy available? Do you need a new car every two years? No.These are wants and they come after your needs are met and only if you can afford them.

So here’s my challenge: Grow up. Take responsibility. Make the hard decisions. And Free yourself.