Monday, April 26, 2010

What Flying Feels Like

Where am I now? I'm ecstatic. Sometimes I stop myself and am struck dumb by the reality of what I'm going to be doing soon and where I will be going--and I still can't even fully fathom that "reality." It's incredible. I hear a song that played before I left and I remember where I was at that time (just barely out of a major leap of faith) and then where I am now (flying head over heels on that same wind of faith, higher, stronger, and faster than ever), and I have to hold back joyous tears, so-grateful-that-I-can't-believe-it tears.

I've never been so confident, motivated, or optimistic. I've never been so impressed with other people's creative lawns, vegetarian restaurants, travel experiences, or diligent work outs. I've never cared so much about education...or about getting an education.

Where else am I? I'm back to pre-Moldova weight, almost to pre-first-marathon weight, and starting my last YMCA week before my membership expires. I'm trying to remember how to work out without a gym. I'm going to enjoy this calm week before my (how many times have I said this?) last week of coaching gymnastics. I'm finally relaxed enough to admit that I was avoiding coffee dates and lunch dates because I was nickel-and-dimed for about two months.

And here I am again, closing my eyes, remembering how young I am and grateful that I reminded myself (yet again) to slow down. Laughing that I still tend to forget it. "One year at a time," Grandma said when I told her I wasn't going straight to the PhD. "It's better that way." Oh yes it is! I realized today that I will have graduated from college, run two marathons and one half, served two years with the Peace Corps, and completed my masters degree ALL BEFORE TURNING 25!!!! And WHY ON EARTH do I still have the habit of always thinking about what to cram in next?

Meditation has helped limit that craziness a bit, but I still get caught up, especially now when I feel like my eyes are open to everything.

And this is going to be a full-throttle summer, heading straight into a full-speed academic year. So I will prepare for the full span as much as possible so that I can enjoy one while it is happening instead of thinking about what I need to do for the next.

Side note: My readjustment to America seems perfectly normal now...except when I still find myself COMPLETELY psycho in Trader Joe's. "Do you want to find a treat, Sammy?" Michael asked, oh-so-kindly. "But I want everything!" I said. "How about one healthy little treat?" he suggested. "Ok," I smiled as if I was getting away with theft. I couldn't focus on my brother (or the task at hand, for that matter) because my eyes couldn't stop spinning around, trying to take in every new type of granola, every spice, every type of honey!

Oh and then there's the shyness, the not wanting to drive somewhere that requires looking for parking, and the not wanting to go to parties by myself. "Samantha, you just spent two years in Moldova; you can go to a party by yourself!!!" I tell myself. (Of course there's the necessary "Sam, it's really easy," reassurance from Kimmy that helped get me out the door, too!) It usually works and I have had a great time, been recognized by people I swore had forgotten me, made a new friend, and found the world's best parking spot!

And now the same logic applies to the "It's so cold in Boston" conversation. Man, I spent two insulation-less, heat-by-coal winters in Moldova...I CAN DO ANYTHING!

Catfish and Cactus on my California Weekend

As a family, we had a very over-the-top/academic/California weekend:

1. Brother flew in (oh, just for the weekend) from his business trip (in Vegas, of course);
2. Ate catfish, salmon, practically an entire top sirloin, and a tasty green cake;
3. Sunbathed;
4. Brother took a practice GMAT;
5. Parents had a study date: Dad went to school to research his paper and Mom hung out at the university because she could read there, too--in the sunshine, of course;
6. Went in the jacuzzi;
7. Discussed Dad's "history of history" paper;
8. Saw an old friend;
9. Said goodbye to a good friend and a much-closer-to-empty house;
10. Helped Dad dig holes for a cactus garden.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Responding to the Universal Question

Well, maybe it's not the universal question, but it's the one that comes up most frequently with my haven't-seen-in-two-years-or-more-mates. This is in response to the "would you go to Moldova again?" question asked in a comment from the previous entry:

Hi Laquia -

Since I can't link to your profile, I'll respond here. Let me start by thanking you for asking my opinion! I was glad I ended up in Eastern Europe, but if you read my earliest blogs, I DID ask to go someplace else but then "left it up to fate/God/life/everyone that knew better." Some have somehow gotten the impression from my blog that I would have come home, which confuses me because I like to word my blogs carefully. But if that were the case then I actually WOULD have come home. No, it was sad and I was lonely sometimes, but I knew I was getting myself into this for two years and not at one point did I actually even seriously consider leaving early. And, truthfully, that was partly out of curiosity for what would come at the end -- an intuitive blessing, seeing as the most "productive" events did come at the end...but don't they always?

But it was my choice to "go where I was needed," and I have no doubt now that Moldova was the right place for me to be. But that's also my whole outlook on life, God, decisions, and events...but yes, I did FEEL as if it was the right place when I landed and I can REASON now exactly how it worked out in my benefit. "If I hadn't gone to Moldova, I never would have..." and so on. I now have a new understanding (and awareness!) of a whole region I had never really thought of before.

I, too, was in shock when they told me I had been sifted to Eastern Europe, but this was my process and it doesn't work for everyone. I understand intimately that this experience is not for everyone, and, even within the same village, volunteers have entirely different experiences.

So there are a million different ways I can elaborate upon this response, but to keep it short and straight to the "would I do it again?" question: I'm sure glad I did it once.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Limitless Ocean

And here almost another two months have passed us by and it feels both like only a week has passed and simultaneously a whole lifetime.

This really has been an incredible period for me, these first few months of 2010.  I received my first responses from schools in January and am actually still waiting for the last one.  So it has, needless to say, been a very long and emotional process.  But very exciting.  I wanted an easy choice -- "just one school please" -- and instead got an avalanche of options.  I tried to remember to feel glad to have these options, grateful for the opportunities that were throwing themselves at me, but I continued to feel stressed, saddened to have to let some of these options go.  And with every response my emotions changed a million times over.  So while I'm not going to waste time with the play-by-play, I'll tell you that the predominant lesson was in telling myself to wait "just a little longer" because I knew that it wasn't time to make a decision yet; there were still more factors.

And perhaps it still isn't yet time, but it feels close.  And out of respect for the schools I will likely not be attending, I want to let them know in as timely a manner as possible.  But...wonderfully...I have finally come to this great excitement, this liberation from worrying about the options I felt I am tossing and (almost pure) enthusiasm for the multitude of directions I could go in from here. (More on this later.)

But life, though seeming to revolve around graduate school responses, does not.  And I have filled January, February, and March with an art class that I am so glad to have taken, new avenues in prayer and meditation, a re-inspired joy of teaching/coaching...and dreaming about SEA.

1) The painting class: This was something I told myself I wanted to do while I was still in Moldova.  I wanted to improve. I wanted to learn.  I didn't want my painting to be inhibited by ignorance, but to be propelled by whatever my inner spirit desires.  So I went to an open house at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art, won a small discount in their drawing, and (since I believe that serendipity is inspired) signed up. Although, truth be told, I probably would have signed up anyway.  I was so nervous at first; I had never painted with oils and "drawing with a paintbrush" had only just begun to be even semi-successful. But there is so much concentration involved! I know this seems like a given, but it wore me out.  I kept telling myself that I was taking this class to improve, to learn from it, to get feedback from a (very helpful) teacher...and that I could paint whatever I wanted when I was done.  

And it has been so worth it.  I don't feel totally skilled yet, but I feel optimistic.  I am more aware and excited and eager and feel I have at least crossed a painting threshold.

2) Meditation: I had anteed up my prayer and meditation since summer 2006, and did some more reading while in Peace Corps.  Prayer and patience and trust in the harmony of life's events became a silent constant while gone.  But I knew that I wanted to seek it out.  I wanted, like with painting, to learn from someone.  When I got back, I looked up retreats and classes and all of them seemed either too far or too expensive or too "something," but then I found a group on (which I had signed up for in college to find French-speaking groups I never went to).  The group is all the way in Torrance ( but it has been so perfect and beautiful.  I knew that I was going into more constant meditation practices because I wanted to learn how to listen better, to silence all excess and just LISTEN.  But, again like painting, it takes concentration.  And effort.  And these two parallels completely exhausted me in the beginning.  

Come mid-February, I was so emotionally spent, but I knew I was going in the right direction.  I spent so much time in Moldova in inner-reflection, thinking about who I want to be, and these few months home have been the opportunity to LIVE IT OUT.  And it feels GREAT!!  Now, at least.

3) Coaching Gymnastics:  Being around kindergarteners again was humbling.  It reminded me that I really don't know what I'm doing.  And coming in as the substitute at low-income schools (where the kids don't necessarily want to be there and certainly don't want to compete) was a big challenge.  The driving around stressed me out.  The rush hour traffic stressed me out.  The kindergarteners stressed me out.  And so this became the outlet for the attitude I've gained over these past few years.  Because even through the stress, there are beautiful moments when you just feel...light...and totally at ease and you remember why you LOVE working with kids and why you applied to the schools you applied to and why you want to study what you want to study.  And everything makes sense.  And then by the beginning of March you feel on top of the world and you are rocking the classes again and you are smiling and see the good in each child and are so grateful to have the chance to do this again.

Each of these things affected the others and the culminating result is a Samantha that feels so much more patient and free.  But now I can see the wheels turning again and I can't stop thinking about SEA.  In a little over two months I will be heading to Massachusetts to learn about navigation and oceanography, to prep for a 4-week trip from Honolulu to San Francisco.  I will know where I am going to school.  I will be done with coaching and driving in rush hour.  And I will be standing on a ship looking out into a literally limitless ocean.  And I couldn't think of anything better.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Homecoming and Humble Pie

I told myself that I would continue to write when I got back to America, even if I didn’t update the blog online. Of course I haven’t and I have totally felt the absence.

It has been stressful.

Exciting, but stressful.

My world could go in a million (very good) directions right now and that’s wonderful. These are the moments we pray for: opportunity-filled and limitless.

But what I actually pray for: easy decision-making. When it comes down to it, I don’t ask for opportunity. I have opportunity; I just need help taking advantage of it.

But these great moments of change and life are shadowed by other stresses, and so I haven’t really had the chance to sit and ponder my Moldovan experience. In fact, I find myself trying to avoid thinking about it – for reasons I’m still unsure of.

Perhaps I find it too difficult to focus on what “needs” to be done here when simultaneously thinking of what has already been done there?

I also find myself so overwhelmed with hypothetical situations, constantly reorganizing the matrix of possibilities in my mind. (It is this ever-changing matrix that normally helps keep me calm…it gives me faith that there are a million “right” ways for a situation to work out because everything else can shift accordingly. But here, where I was once again responsible to people...)

I had prepared myself mentally for a lot of the realities I knew I would face in America, and when I first returned I handled them almost effortlessly. But then I went away for Thanksgiving, had an excellent time, and returned to LA only to be met by the memories I had run away from in the first place. Smack. They materialized in the freeway exits that reminded me of events, the restaurants we passed, markets, street names, everything.

And so December and January found me wanting to leave again. But seeing as I have been in California for over two months and haven’t seen all of my dearest friends, I’m not ready yet…but I do need to acknowledge that inkling. When it comes time for graduate school, I will be ready to try out a new city, to explore it on my own terms, to get a feel for its culture, restaurants, people, and for what it has to offer me, too.

Perhaps that’s why I have been so preoccupied thinking about the hypothetical balance between all my varied choices: because I didn’t want to think about anything else.

Arriving in America had me finishing applications, patient as a nun, lighthearted and excited over simple things like green lawns, brick houses, and customer service.

Returning, then, to California, reminded me to slow down a little, that I didn’t need to finish all applications by my birthday, and that a little humility would do me some good (a theme that would reoccur shortly).

So we come to the stress: I was so worried about making the “right” decision in a matter that was not yet mine to direct. And as I’ve said multiple times now: I pray for easy decision-making, for help in listening. And so God gave me a big ol’ helping of humble pie, eliminating one of the “options” by telling me one school was saying “no” to me so I didn’t have to worry about saying “no” to it.

I chuckled, and I felt relief. Great relief. The truth is that not all of my emotion is caused by graduate school issues, but I had merely chosen to focus on those. And this reality (that the cards had not been laid for me yet, that it wasn’t time for me to worry about making a decision, and that it would be clear to me if I stopped worrying so much) helped to minimize my worry about the other issues too.

…What I believe most of all is that there will come a time when I am able to make a choice and if I can listen…truly listen…I will know which way I am supposed to go.

And so now I am learning how to trust that not only in theory, but at the present moment, rather than just in retrospect when I can say “ah, now I see how it has all pieced together.” If, when looking back, you see that there is a harmony, and, when looking forward, we trust that the harmony will prevail, then the only option is to trust each decision, each situation, and each moment right here.

So where does all of this take me? Well right now I am waiting to hear back from 8 more graduate schools. The circular conversation you may have followed brought me right back where I started with a more established interest in programs that range in name from Child Development, Human Development, Educational Psychology, and Interdisciplinary Studies in Development.

I have to constant remind myself that the mannerisms, attitudes, and habits I see around me are the same that were here in LA before I left. America, on the whole, has not changed much since I left. Even though I think I had the same frustrations before leaving (like when people honk at you while you are letting a pedestrian cross) I have to remind myself that I have indeed changed and that as universally correct as I may think I am, the world hasn't necessarily changed with me. (And, then of course, there is always the possibility that I am wrong...but we're not talking about that right now...)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Purpose and Pumpkin Pie

When I first got to the village, I slept in the front room. That meant that we had to heat two fires (and sometimes twice a day each). So then I moved into the middle room. It was warmer, protected from cold by rooms on each side. And we only had to light one fire for both bedrooms and the kitchen combined. It was nice. But I didn’t make it my own until just this last winter when I finally put up pictures and letters from friends and family…and some Christmas garlands that I kept up on the walls until now.

Two weeks ago, though, host mama asked me if I could move my stuff back into the front room so they could do some repairs in the middle room before the cold comes. Ok. That meant that I needed to pack up all my clothes, get rid of even more, and move everything into the other room. So last week I was half in one room and half in the other and this week I am completely in the front room, all my belongings sprawled in various piles waiting for me to decide what to take and what to leave.

At the time, I didn’t want to move my stuff because it meant I would be living out of a suitcase for the next two weeks. But now I’m glad, because it forced me to get rid of a lot of stuff in advance, and now, when the last few days are up, I have significantly less to deal with. Getting rid of tons of items brought a much needed feeling of liberation. And it’s a nice cycle…back in the room where I started…

I also had a lot of documents to finish up: the last quarterly report of all activities, outcomes, and projects: site history report documenting all village organizations, relationships, possibilities for another volunteer, safety issues, transportation, etc.; the official “description of service” condensing my two years into 1.5 pages; the collecting, pasting, and reporting of all Kindergarten Project receipts, budget forms, and writing of the final report. Then I still needed to actually FINISH the project: the seminar; the demonstrations; ordering the furniture; buying the learning tools/books/games/musical instruments (when we don’t have our own transportation); convincing villagers why the money was already allocated to something specific and why it could not be used for A, B, or C.

I was stressed. I was excited to be busy, but it gave me very little time to relax, reflect, and adjust. I finished earlier than expected, baked pumpkin-pie-from-scratch number 2 for the Peace Corps Staff Appreciation, and exhaled. And now I have this week to visit with people, get pictures developed, and pack. Honestly, I don’t think I would have wanted more down time because this transition is uncomfortable enough. I’m neither truly here nor completely gone, my things are everywhere and I can’t yet think about home because then I won’t get anything done.

But as I was riding into Chisinau Friday, looking at the extraordinarily beautiful autumn we’ve had up north, I felt so utterly content. I was thinking about the seminar at the kindergarten and I was so energized! To update you all: Sunday the 4th Natalia came up and we held the training with kindergarten teachers. I was unbelievably nervous; I didn’t want to be the young American who has been here for two years and is now coming to tell them what they are doing wrong. But we planned well. Natalia did a great job of including them in the activities, of asking them for their input, telling them we understand that they are experienced but that they get tired sometimes and that we only want to offer them a wider selection of tools for their choosing.

They were smiling, nodding, participating, and throwing out ideas. This is the second time that I have planned a seminar directly related to child development, fourth time I have led the workshop, and second time that I thought the topic would be too basic. Again, I was surprised. Ideas that I took for granted even BEFORE undergrad had still gone unarticulated here: the purpose of hands-on learning; the ways movement-based activities are good for kindergarteners; the simplicity of using “baby talk” and repeating words to demonstrate actions (“open, close”) to young children; the benefit of limits and discipline that teaches instead of just punishing.

And then afterwards, the women were so excited to demonstrate some of these new activities, to be an example for other kindergartens and volunteers who might like to lead similar trainings. But my favorite comment was that “you taught us things that we already knew but didn’t realize we already knew.” (Of course there were those who chose not too participate, but as long as at least one teacher changes at least one technique and benefits at least one child, then we have made a difference.)

And then on Monday when we were discussing what learning materials to buy, the teachers were trying to explain a toy to me, and it was taking me a while. The word they were using was “pyramid” so I kept picturing a building block shaped like a pyramid. They were trying, instead, to describe the standing pole on which we stack rings of different sizes and colors, largest first and smallest on top. I was secretly stunned, realizing that we were planning consciously to provide these students with an item that I still imagined as a kindergarten given. Shame on me.

And it really is incredible how far the dollar goes. Each classroom now has books, balls, toys, building blocks, math cubes, and plastic “exotic fruit” that I also took for granted (bananas and oranges). There are now puzzles, a plastic piano, guitar, drawing easel, plastic vegetables, storybooks, math books, and a working accordion for their music time (the one “artistic” activity they had done consistently until the accordion decided to die).

And the tables and chairs, which were sure to come only after I’ve left, should get delivered within the next two days!

Wednesday two other volunteers came up to film the demonstrations and the children (and teachers!) were excited. The teachers were talking about what they learned, what the kids liked, why the guide was beneficial, and how they wished we had collaborated earlier.

I met the woman who is in charge of preschool education in the Soroca region (AMAZING WOMAN!), gave her a copy of the guide, and took her contact information. She was the best advocate of making sure the items were out and readily available in each classroom instead of tucked away in the downstairs cabinet. She wants to make copies for each kindergarten in Soroca and run an experience exchange with all the other teachers in the region! Oh how I wish I could have been able to see it happen…but perhaps this is the time to let it go, no? When someone else has offered to take it up on their own…

Well anyway…so I was on the way to Chisinau Friday, thinking about all of these happenings, the unexpected success I felt after this project…and I was overwhelmed with the strongest memory of coaching gymnastics. And the strongest desire to do things correctly, to work to the maximum, to give my all, and the joy of being creative in my work.

I have been writing graduate school application essays about how much coaching and PC have together contributed to my desire to study child development…but it was coming away from this project that brought such a joyful contentment. I have changed my mind a million times since coming here, modified my interests, thought about law school, med school, art school, and about working abroad for a few more years. But here, in this moment, overjoyed by memories of coaching and always trying to be one step ahead of the class in the most creative way possible….and already having started the application process in this same area, already sure that it was necessary to come full circle in this field…

Sorry, I’m not expressing myself clearly because I haven’t quite sorted it all out. But the point is that I felt content in the way things turned out, the way they are going, and the interconnected relationship between the two.

I almost studied something else, I almost went to a different school, I could have gone somewhere besides Moldova, I could have done a million things differently, and I don’t know exactly WHY things happened the way they did. But for better or worse, it all seems to fit together, the pieces became clear, and I could see the whole puzzle…and I KNEW without a shred of doubt that every moment that led to that moment staring out the window has been necessary and perfect and that each step taken has already set me up for the place I will eventually need to be…wherever that is.

And now I can’t tell you how even more excited I am for graduate school, for the ten months before then, for finding out where I will end up, for the topics I will be studying…for all of it!

A week ago I was testy, cranky at all villagers who didn’t respond to my “hello,” and now I am at peace. Calm. Appreciative.

Friday we had the staff appreciation dessert/ice cream bar. Saturday we had a Peer Support 5k and the Wine Festival. Sunday before leaving Chisinau, I sent in my first application! I said goodbye to some volunteers who I won’t see next weekend (and maybe ever again). Then I got on the bus for my last trip back to the village. The further out of the city, the more orange and red the trees and the more grateful I became that I’ve lived somewhere with four distinct seasons…and that I’ve gotten to see them cycle twice. And the orange leaves reminded me first of Halloween and then of Thanksgiving…and then I smiled, because I will be home for Thanksgiving this year. And now I’ve made a pumpkin pie from scratch. Twice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Emotions, Parasites, and Grape Picking

I started this a week ago but my emotions have been so up and down that the mood of the writing kept shifting. It’s going to keep changing so I might as well write. Memories from the last month:

1) September first brought a sudden shift in weather. It was autumn. Dry wind and cold nights. And tons of caterpillars. Where do they all come from? They are short and black with long fuzzy white hairs and they are EVERYWHERE. They climb up the front door and the curtains and I have to shake out my outside slippers before putting them on.

2) I was on my way back from the capital when the bus stopped in Soroca (our regional center). I got off to buy something and when I got on the bus a drunk man was drinking from my water bottle. Wordlessly, he asked if he could have some (though he already had) and I told him to take the whole thing. The bus driver yelled at him and he got off.

3) Giardia: I still have it, and truthfully, I think it’s the same bit I’ve had since the beginning. I try not to be angry. In fact, throughout my service I took it as a given of the circumstances and the fact that it is everywhere and you can’t really protect yourself completely. But seeing as there has never been a point when it’s been out of my system completely, I began to get really angry with the people who served me the gallon of well water and didn’t bother telling me that they had refilled the store-bought bottle without my knowing. “Is the water good?” he asked me. At the time I just thought it was an odd question but at the moment it makes me fume. It isn’t the TASTE of well water that makes us distill it, it’s the bacteria. Distilled water tastes even worse than well water. But honestly, who knows? I COULD have gotten this giardia from somewhere else and it COULD be different bacteria than the first time. Unfortunately, I’ll never know. But now I have giardia that is resistant to medication and I can’t run more than thirty minutes without needing a bathroom break. So I was finally given the more complicated 5-day medication with stronger side effects and at the end of the week we’ll see if it’s finally been kicked.

4) The Close of Service conference: this really hit home. I had found out that I would have funding for my project by the end of the week so as I went to the conference, I knew I would be able to leave on time, thus listening more objectively to the speakers. The conversation became real; I was able to picture the bizarreness of returning home. We talked about how to explain our service, job searching, financial planning, the paperwork required before leaving, as well as what to expect upon returning. And the weeks that have followed have been emotional. The optimism I encouraged throughout my experience has thinned as I have accepted what I no longer have time for. The adrenaline that sustained me has thinned as I see the finish line. And that’s ok. I am still very grateful for the project that will occupy my time during the final month, but I am now able to accept that I will have an emotional catharsis when I return. I know it’s part of the process; I had just denied that I would have one.

5) The Close of Service physical: I was really grateful that she took the time to discuss all of my worries, symptoms, and improvements. But once she told me that someone had brought a concern to her attention, I could no longer focus. The ultimate point was that I should “be careful who I talk to,” and perhaps I took this the wrong way, but it took me a few days to get over. This isn’t the first time someone has warned me that not all people are as goodhearted as they appear but this time caught me especially off guard because she couldn’t tell me to what she was referring. I’ll never know and it could’ve been brought up in an infinite number of ways – possible even out of genuine concern. But I’ve come a long way because of the people I’ve grown with here in Moldova and would rather be disappointed than expect ill intentions.

6) The kindergarten project is on the way and tomorrow we will be purchasing the furniture! Then next weekend we will hold the first hands-on training with the teachers. It really is quite exciting, especially as it will fill my last month here. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to this project and whose hopes, support, and prayers made it possible. Our time in Moldova teaches us more thoroughly how to cover all bases and make sure your interests are met, but whatever we did along the way, the mayor and kindergarten director have lived up to their promises as well and I am even more grateful for the experience I’ve had.

7) I finally helped pick grapes! Granted, I was glad I didn’t need to pick grapes the whole day – and I couldn’t imagine how intimidating it could be to have an entire vineyard to pick – but the three hours I spent were quite peaceful and enjoyable. And, tasting each kind, I was able to see the great uniqueness of each grape. Some are juicier, some have more pulp or thicker skins, and some are sweeter or have a more saturated color. But I have great respect for those whose hands turn blue picking grapes all day long!

8) My host mom asked me randomly how I was planning on getting all of my things to Chisinau. It wasn’t the question that caught me off guard, but her assumption that I would only leave a day early so I can catch my early-morning flight. As it is, I don’t actually know what my last day in the village will be but one day early is the latest I would leave…and that made me sad, both realizing that I would then be leaving in less than one month and that I didn’t know how to explain that I would probably spend my last nights in Chisinau. I’ve been able to spend this weekend in the village – visiting an old monastery with some students who participated in the summer village cleanup – but I know that this last month will be filled with a lot of trips to the city. I just have to accept that. Each week I’ve been bringing in a bag of items to give away: clothes, books, etc. I’ve been trying to fit as many activities into as few trips as possible. But it seems like just yesterday I was saying “seven weeks left” and now it feels as if I’ll be leaving tomorrow. And I almost don’t want to be this busy at the end because it will make the last month go by that much faster.