Archive for the Category » Travel «

Tuesday, December 09th, 2014 | Author:

medium_142324601photo credit: [phil h] via photopin cc

“Don’t tell them that you’ll keep in touch,” she said to us. “Because you won’t.”

One of the school administration was talking to the group of 5 of us from the US who were brand new to the school and were there for the semester as study abroad students. We were at a small (read: 25 students) university on the border of Switzerland and Germany. The rest of the students were from Europe. This admin gal was giving us a new student orientation, and she herself was American. But I was taken back by this strong command.

“What?” I asked. Maybe I had misunderstood.

“Don’t tell them that you’re going to be friends forever or that you’ll stay in touch or that you’ll come back and visit. It happens every year, and the thing is that while you might think you mean it, you don’t. Not to their standards. Keeping in touch once a year is not keeping in touch. So don’t promise anything like that.”

This started me out on a sour note at the school. But soon, I forgot her words as I was swept away by how much I enjoyed my new friends at the school. The whole place was a dream — we did school together and played together, we cooked together and ate together, we lived together and did chores together. It was this tight-nit incredible community and I loved being there. I even decided to stay for another semester as one didn’t feel like it would be enough. I didn’t want this community, this season of my life with these people, to end yet. So I delayed the inevitable.

But too soon, the second semester at the Switzerland school flew by, and before I knew it, it was December. We had Christmas parties and talent shows and went to Christmas Markets (Wienachts markts) and then we had a week left. Then a few days. Then it was the night before I was to leave, and the swine flu was sweeping through our little community like wildfire. Most everyone caught it in that last week.

And the last night before I had to leave, I remember sitting on my friend Bekky’s bed as she laid there miserably. She’d caught it a couple days prior and was already in the deep throws of it. Luckily I had just caught it just that day so I was in the beginning stages and could still be up and around and go around to everyone’s rooms to say goodbye.

I was sitting on the edge of her bed, and she was telling me about how our friend, Gideon, had taken her for a walk and professed his love for her and she was freaking out about it. She’s married to the man now, but at the time this was brand new information and she didn’t know what she wanted.

I remember those moments of sharing one last piece of important life turns amid the regular-life things like being sick. I got up to leave, and hugged her and my friend Sara who was hanging out with us, and they asked the question: Will you come back to visit? I remembered the Admin’s words, and made a decision that I would mean what I said: “Yes. I’m not sure when. But I promise I’ll come back.” And then I left them in tears, returned to my room to finished packing and sleep. I cried my sick self to sleep that night.

In the following weeks, “normal life” didn’t feel normal anymore. It was the first time I’d ever permanently moved away from a place, and it was a feeling of loss I can only describe as grief.

But what happened was that grief pushed me to stay in touch with my close people there — something I’d never been great at prioritizing before. The upswing of facebook helped severely, but it was the first time when I learned how to truly maintain relationships across such great distances. Coming from such a steady small-town upbringing, I had been used to just leaving for a month or two at a time for college, and then coming back and catching up with everyone, then repeat. But I had begun to realize that that only really worked with those long-standing life-long friendships from home. And it only worked with semi-regular visits in place. I’d need to do something different this time.

I have a friend I grew up with who’s blog url is (“The distance is what you make it” for those of you that struggle reading things like hashtags and urls without spaces). I believe she started the blog when she, too, was leaving for a semester abroad.

This notion, the distance is what you make it, is dead on. I didn’t learn that fully until I came back from my year in Switzerland. And I shake my head at the admin’s advice at the beginning of my first semester: “Don’t tell them you’ll keep in touch. You won’t.”

I’m not saying I’m great at keeping in touch with everyone. Statistically you can only truly have a limited number of people you’re regularly connected with in life. But coming out of that amazing year of community life, I was driven to try to figure out how to do it with at least some people.

And it’s taught me how to continue to do that as I move around in life. As I move around to different places now, it’s a comfort that my relationships are not cemented by time and place.

Just this summer I got to fulfill my promise to visit those friends Bekky and Sara (and 8 others) again for the first time in 5 years, and it was amazing to be there with them and to feel how incredibly normal it felt to be friends in person still.

My friend Kate told me once, “I think everyone collects something: You collect stories and people.”

And as I’ve continued on in life, and continue to get to know people and want to continue friendships with them even when there’s distance, I think she’s right. As I’ve moved around, I have less friends in every day life as I’m breaking into these new places, but I continually have many close friends all over. And I’m content with that, because my friend’s blog url is right:

The distance is what you make it.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Author:
I was 16 when I first went to New Orleans and the destruction was everywhere. It was April 2006, a full 7 months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the area. I had first heard the news on the radio on the way to school in the first week back to classes my junior year. The end of August brought the end of life as New Orleans knew it.

I had never been there, knew no one there, but just hearing about the massive loss made my throat tighten and my nose sting with tears that wanted to come. This was a new thing for me. I had never felt so deeply about the lives of people I didn’t even know, and I’m not sure why it happened this time, but it did.


I watched the news as the months went by, waiting for my chance to go and try to help in some capacity or another — I wouldn’t get a chance until my spring break. And the city’s plight that first flooded the news as the waters flooded the streets, soon became a brief mention now and again over the next few months, and within 4 and a half months, nothing. I had to search for information, and it was hard to find. The pictures I saw online were all dated from the beginning. So I was shocked and pained to see that the imagery was all the same when I arrived on the ground 7 months later. Not a lot had changed, the world had just stopped watching.


That was the first of two relief work trips I went on to the city in that year after Katrina. The second one, 11 months after the hurricane, showed more improvement in the city. We went to some neighborhoods that had had houses sitting, displaced by the storm, in the middles of streets, and those houses were now gone, cleared, and the street was useable once again.  We saw the rebuilding of some homes and some city buildings. We saw a drastic drop in the number of broken windows in downtown’s scenery. The whole feel of the city actually was different, slow progress was happening. Slow clearing away of the rubble was happening. Slow rebuilding was happening. And where two months before people’s demeanor on the street had still seemed somber, now the jazz artists had returned to the french quarter, and churches were beginning to re-open their doors for services and more people had their FEMA trailers they’d waited so long for.  On that second trip we even saw the super dome being repainted — what had been the epicenter of panic, chaos, wounded lives and bodies was now being returned to a place of regular life, of games, of victories and defeats that don’t hurt your life more than for a moment.


What I saw in New Orleans was a city that was broken and rebuilding.  And I think that’s why New Orleans so quickly and completely captured my heart.


I would say that I am currently broken. I have less brokenness in my life than a year ago. But I still dont have what there used to be, my life still doesn’t always work the way life is supposed to be able to work. I am rebuilding with the broken pieces. I am in that process. As is New Orleans. And most that come for the first time may not even know that this is not the way we know it could be. It looks pretty good. Pretty cleaned up. A newcomer doesnt even know what’s been rebuilt and what was left whole in the wreckage. But those familiar with the city, they can take you to the ruins. They can show you water marks and piles of rubble still. They can paint a picture for you of how the waters rose and whole houses were thrown blocks away with their foundations still attached.


But the city, while broken and rebuilding, is not wounded.


This is a distinction I had to make for myself recently, after my blog post about the ways I don’t trust the church but I wish I did. Lots of people began to hear my story for the first time in conversations after that post, and many people who had known my story started to see some of the brokenness that still remains because of the storms of my life. But the word I heard a lot and began to react to was about me being “wounded”. I will say that yes, I have been wounded by the storms, but the circumstances and the people and the places and events. And by wounded I mean I’ve been hurt. But I began to react to it (which is not about those people using the word, but about me processing for myself) because I had to honestly look at myself and ask: Am I living like a wounded person? And after a lot of self-examination, I’d say no. I’m not.


Wounded animals lay in the road or in the woods or under the stairs to the back patio waiting to die.


Wounded people are not functional — their words leak bitterness, their lives wreak of rot, their relationships are shallow and unhealthy.


Wounded people need to heal.


Broken people are healed or healing. But they still have to rebuild. And sometimes, when a storm comes, they get a little wounded again. So they heal again. But its not the wounds overall that hurt. Those are just scars now. The hurt is in the memory of what used to be. The loss of life before it broke.


And that loss will not ever go away.


Mostly, I’d say I don’t have a lot of wounds that need healing still, I’ve done a lot of work on that, and I continue to uncover new hurt places and seek healing in those. I’m committed to that process. But for the most part, now is the time to rebuild. The time to clear the streets, to rebuild the buildings, to re-paint the football stadium.


And this is why I always love to see the New Orleans Saints football team win. They’re not my football team, but I love their city, their broken, rebuilding city, and I want to see that stadium see as many victories as possible. Because with each victory that happens there, it’s like a small brick on the pile rebuilding a broken city’s spirit, which is harder to rebuild than buildings.


But the good news is, spirits are harder to destroy than buildings, too.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 | Author:

Last Sunday marked 25 years since the Berlin wall fell. But in reality, it didn’t just fall. That’s passive. It was torn down. With bare hands. It was pulled to the ground. And for the first time since before Hitlers rule, Germany was again a united nation. Nov. 9, 1989.


I remember hearing someone mentioning this when I was 14 and I wrote it down as being a good speech topic for graduation. (I had my eye on being one of the top students of my class even then so that I could give a speech. And I’m a nerd who writes ideas like that down 3 years before I need it.)

When I was 17 I was preparing to end the school year and I had to write the speech I had worked so hard to have the honor to give. I was wrestling with becoming aware of all the social injustices in the world — things like lack of clean water, lack of food and sanitation, AIDS, the ways the world had managed to take the African continent, the richest continent in resources, and keep it the poorest continent overall. I was struggling with these things, paired with the overwhelming joy and fear about traveling to Malawi, Africa a mere 9 hours after graduation to see these injustices for myself for the first time. And I remembered I had written something down about a speech idea years before. I found the paper, and it simply said  — “The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, same year we were born.”

And so at 17 I gave a graduation speech about that being symbolic about out potential to tear down falls. To have a world that is free. To be a generation that can be the ones who use our bare hands to tear down the boundaries that keep people at bay, that keep them afraid, that keep them in the dark or in poverty or in oppression.


But it wasn’t until this past summer that I actually got to visit the wall (SEE PHOTOS BELOW). I had just turned 25. The wall had been torn down for almost 25 years. And it was more emotional of an experience for me than I would have thought. It’s been a lot of years since that graduation speech. And I’ve learned much more about the history of the world, and the wall, since then. But I’ve also learned more about pain. About oppression. About being trapped in.

And it surprised me to see that there are still several significant chunks of the wall left standing. I thought all had been torn down except at checkpoint charlie, but they haven’t. And even where the wall does not remain, you can trace it’s course from bricks left in the pavement that go wherever it did. They serve as a marker, as a memory of both the pain, and the triumph of tearing it down.

I respect that about Berlin. I think most cities would like to just bury it. To give it no air time. But united Berlin, urban Berlin, busting metropolis Berlin still bears the scars of a torn Berlin, bears the scars of so many years. And I think that’s honest. Because sometimes, I feel like I wish I could bury my scars under pavements, but I want to make the intentional decision to let the brick path stand — not as an obstacle, just as a reminder that says:  “We bore life for a long time with the wall, but we have torn it down now. Both are parts of our story.”

I’m celebrating with Germany this week.

Below is an excerpt from an article on yesterday:

With her customary decorum, Chancellor Angela Merkel led her country in celebrations flavored with the only-in–Germany mix of triumph and tragedy.

In a 20-minute speech at a new memorial to the tragedies wrought by the wall, Ms. Merkel noted the special meaning of Nov. 9 in German history. It was on that day, in 1918, that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated, “after four terrible years” of World War I. In 1923, it was the date of Hitler’s failed march on the Munich Festhalle. In 1938, she said, it was when the Nazis set fire to synagogues, plundered Jewish homes and businesses and detained and killed thousands of Jews — “the start of the killing of millions” in the catastrophe of the Holocaust.

Only in 1989, after Europeans across the Soviet bloc were rising up against Communism, did Nov. 9 become a date of joy with the wall falling. Now, Ms. Merkel and many other speakers this weekend noted, it is up to Germans to nurture the memory, preserve democracy and intervene to prevent injustice.


*Disclaimer, I’m not well-trained nor well-skilled in poetry. I don’t know how to stick to rhyme or meter. So maybe these aren’t really poems, but I’m calling it one. I have it as one of my goals for my 26 before I turn 26 list to write 12 more poems, and I thought this was a fitting topic. 



The Wall by Joanna O’Hanlon


That wall so high, so thick so sick

it makes my wiley gut churn.

Our city is two, is blue is doom

but one side is red as our blood runs.


It’s been here far too long now,

runs round the SS HQ —

it’s 1989,

where’s the SS for you?


The east and west, forever at odds,

one side captive, another in awe.


Pull hard pull fast

let’s pull the wall down.


It’s time.

Time for a united town.


Our children will know a different world,

a united Berlin, non-blood stained ground.


They will feel the rough concrete,

see the barbed wire,

and they will feel no fear.


A relic to remember,

a symbol to our pain,

they won’t hear bullets as they draw near.


The wall will not be mended,

the long cold will be ended.


What was once our scorn

will be a tourist place, graffiti adorned.


And our hearts will slow,

our breathing will steady,

our Berlin is here,

we are ready.












Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 | Author:

Today is the first day of fall. The start of a new season. Which is appropriate because my life has had many seasons of its own in the past couple years. Before now my life seasons were longer than the year seasons, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case anymore.

But there is a gift for me in the seasons of the year, in the consistency of change. And in the fall especially, I always think about what has changed since the leaves last dropped. Since the acorns last covered the sidewalk of my parents house like marbles to slip on. Since the last time the air caught a chill and the halloween stores popped up and since pumpkins last decorated door steps.
photo credit: douglas.earl via photopin cc

I have moved twice since last fall. Once just across town, once part way across the country.

I have made many friends since last fall. I was really just at this time barely beginning to get to know some people in Rocklin, Calif., and wasn’t super ready to open myself up again.

I have gone on many first dates, some good, some bad, some embarrassing.

I’ve had lots of hard conversations. And seen many people step into my life after them, and seen some step out of my life after them.

I’ve seen many new places, and many old friends.

I’ve started to create art. Lots of art. Lots of styles of art.

I won’t list it all, but a lot has changed. I look back on myself and my life at the beginning of last fall, and really I was just starting a new season then, as well. I recognize that last-fall girl with familiarity and affection, but I don’t feel that I am that same girl this fall day. A lot of the changes are for the better, but change is never easy, though it is often good.

But this past month, as I’ve been traveling around the world and moving across the country, I’ve been reminded of the things that are the same. And the biggest thing that is the same is this: there are people in my life who have chosen to love me, whose presence and friendship is a constant. And as I have moved now yet again, and as I have an overwhelming feeling that I don’t really have a home, these people, their comforting presence reminds me of what home feels like.

While I was traveling in Europe, I was staying each place with some of my friends from such a beautiful season of life when I studied abroad. To be with each of them was to be with old, good friends and to feel like no time had passed. We picked up where we left off, and it felt so natural, so normal to be with them again. I was camping a few weeks ago and the people I was with there, they feel like home. They’re the people who hear about when I feel sick, and what I’m wrestling with, and they know the random facts about me like the fact that I don’t like pancakes unless they’re made from bisquick. I was with good friends in Oroville and Chico who have been a part of my life for over a decade, some for over two.

In a rare gift, this season I get to again live with one of my best friends and my college roommate, for the third time in life. I can’t believe it’s already been 7 years since I met her in that Klassen 1st north dorm room on our first days of college. But she has been a consistent friend since that very beginning.

Just today, I said goodbye to a friend who had stayed with me as she passed through Denver. “How do you know her?” My roommate asked. “She’s from Oroville. I’ve known her her whole life.” There’s not much more of an explanation available than that.

And as I stood on my front porch with my family, about to make the drive to Denver, my mom said, “I think we should take a front-porch selfie before you go.” So we four squeezed together and my brother with his long arms held out my mom’s phone for our family selfie. And I hugged them and got in my car and unexpectedly cried as I drove away, waving to them.

I don’t feel like I have “a home” anymore, but I have people who feel like home to me. I’ve come to see that these people, who have been family, whose friendship and love and support has been constant despite the ways that my life and I change, they are the constants in the seasons of life.

In my ever-changing life and my ever-growing self, it’s comforting that the earth and time still remains constant. The acorns still fall. The leaves still change color. And there are still people who know me and love me. People who feel like home. And the rest — well, the rest will change with the seasons.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was at the post office. It was 4:40 and I needed to mail a stack of about 7 envelopes all registered mail (meaning, apparently, that I have to fill out a form for each of the already-addressed envelopes with to-from info as well as estimated value included inside, and then they have to be specially sealed, then stamped all around that seal, then addressed again and sealed with an additional sticker of authenticity, and then weighed and posted). I’m tired just writing that.

So I filled out my portion of the form for each of my 7 envelopes hurriedly while I was in line, letting several people go in front of me. By the time I reached the counter it was about 4:50, 10 minutes until the closing. A tall, thin man in his 50s or 60s waived me up to his empty station at the far end of the counter. His name tag told me his name was Ike.

I came up and told him, apologetically, that I needed these 7 envelopes sent by registered mail and the rest sent regular post. He turned and walked away without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he was getting something or heard me or just decided that enough was enough and it was close enough to closing.

I hung in the balance for a good 45 seconds, not knowing, until he turned around the corner with a roll of brown sealing paper in his hand. As he re-joined me at the counter, he set to work slowly, but not dawdling, just taking his precise time, still not saying anything. His face was kind, though, so I started: “How’s your day been today?”

“It was pretty good, then you showed up,” he said dryly, looking up at me with a glint of humor in his brown eyes. A beat. Then he smirked, softly.


photo credit: TheeErin via photopin cc

We began chatting, slowly at first, with long pauses between conversation topics. But the process to complete my request was long and I was with him for literally 30 minutes, and we chatted about his work, his life, where he’s lived, that I just moved to Colorado…

“When did you move?” he asked, still looking down, busy with his work.

“Last week,” I said, a little too peppy.

He paused. Looked up. “Last week!?” he exclaimed drawing out the emphasis like Bill Cosby would when talking to his kids.

“Yessir,” I said, smiling, friendly.

“Man. Well, I think you’ll like it. It grew on me, but it’s home now. I think that you’ll find that people are kind here. And if you meet the few who have bad attitudes, just tell them to go smoke a bowl and chill out,” he sat flatly, then looking up at me with that same sly glimmer, he let his full grin slip and laughed.

“Just offer them some cheetos to compliment their necessary high?” I joked. He laughed and then coughed from laughing.

We parted ways and I told him my name and told him he may see more of me as I seem to mail things often these days. “I’ll run the other way next time,” he said, winking. And then he silently waived the next person in the still very long line up to his desk as I walked away, 20 minutes after closing time.

He’s been at his job with the USPS for 30 years now, and been in this particular post office for 20 years. Never had a mail route: “Heck no. I like to be indoors with the controlled temperatures. If I’d have had a mail route, I’d have made a liar out of their ‘through sleet hail and snow’ motto real fast.” And he was not just patient, but pleasant as I came in with my lengthy request at almost closing time.

“Sorry again that you had to do this,” I said. “I promise next time it’d just be a simple “Hey Ike, can ya ship this for me,” request.”

“Nah, nah, it’s alright Jo. It was mighty fine closing out the day getting to stand around and chat with you. Have a good one.”

I may have moved to a pretty big city, but so far, I feel like the connections I’m making are these small-town type connections. Getting to know my post office employees and the workers at my local Costco. I’ve become well acquainted with my maintenance guy now — he’s been to my apartment to fix and re-fix issues with the gas in my fireplace about 5 times now over the past week.

I went to church last night and was fortunate enough to have a friend let the pastor know I’d be coming, so I got to go to dinner afterward with the pastor, his wife, and several others from the church. And I found myself telling my story, and crying in a restaurant as I am so familiar with doing now in public places when I get real and share my past pain.

And I’ve been to two family dinners — one with a cousin of mine and one with my friend Kate’s Aunt and Uncle who live here.  And I spent part of an afternoon giving a ride to Kate’s little sister who goes to college here now and doesn’t have a car.

Like I said, I may have moved to a big city, but these connections don’t feel like it. In a week I have had more honest and real interactions with people than I had in probably the first several months of my time in my previous town. Which doesn’t say as much about Denver versus Rocklin as it does about me now versus me a year ago.

I am opening up again. I’m coming alive again and being vulnerable again and it’s opening up some beautiful doors of connection. Even at the post office at closing time.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, September 02nd, 2014 | Author:


About six years ago now, I left my college, and then left my hometown to study abroad at a small school in Switzerland.  And I mean small. I thought that I had read or been told that it was a school of about 500 people. “That’s pretty dang small,” I had thought.  The two people I knew of who had studied or worked there both raved about how amazing of a place it was.

That, plus it’s physical address and the fact that it was small was all I knew of the school when I decided that I would study there the next semester.

It wasn’t until two days before I left for the semester abroad that people were asking me more about the school and I realized I really didn’t know anything. So I ended up googling it, and looking at it on google maps and seeing that it was right across the street from the Rhine River — awesome — and across some fields from the dense German forest — that would be fun — and then I saw, it’s in a tiny village, literally one street runs through the town. One street. Small freak out moment.

Then I was reading some more on the school website. And somewhere it mentioned it’s school body of “approximately 50 students.”

If you’re not great at math, let me do it for you — 50 is a lot less than 500. A LOT less. I had already suspended my enrollment in my regular university. I had already paid for the semester abroad and had already bought plane tickets. And seemingly didn’t have any other option but to go.  But when I learned that there were only 50 people really did make me panic.

“What if there are no cool people in the 50? What if I won’t make any friends? What if I’m miserable?” I had asked a friend of mine rhetorically, panicking. I often agree to do things that I don’t know a lot about. I suppose it’s the adventurer in me and my keen sense that I will be able to adapt no matter what.

But when I learned how few students there were, and realized how extremely little I knew about the whole living-4-months-in-a-foreign-country thing, I did experience some anxiety.

When I arrived, I found there were actually only 25 students, and they were varied, and interesting, and difficult, and wonderful people to study and live and be with. Two buildings held our entire lives. We lived in that one-street village, Buesingen, and we were each other’s peers, and study partners, and roommates, and dinner guests, and movie-watchers, and walk-takers, and river-swimmers. We were all from elsewhere, but all we had there was one another.

It only took 3 days for me to feel like I was at home. Something I had never felt anywhere besides in my hometown where I had been born and raised. It took 3 days for me to decide that one semester wouldn’t be enough. And quickly I found a way to work for the school to support my dream for one semester to become a year.

But still, one year is not a lot. That was one of the unique features of the school in Buesingen — every semester held some new faces and lost some old ones. Even in a school body of 25 students, there was turnover.

I asked one of the students there at the very beginning how she handled that turnover. “You are so sweet and welcoming. How do you do this? Becoming friends with new people every semester?”

“Well,” she said matter of factly, “you have to make a decision every semester. Don’t let new people in, or choose to have your heart ripped out every semester. I choose the latter.”

I am so glad that I asked her that. Because while she, and the others who embraced me so well there taught me so much about how to connect, they also taught me so much about goodbyes. And see you laters. And see you soons. They taught me that it’s an art form and a discipline to open your heart even knowing that the hurt of separation will come shortly. And they taught me that it was worth it. They were practicing vulnerability before Brene Brown made it cool, and they were doing it without the label. But what’s true is that because they were welcoming and open, and because I was the same, we forged friendships that still have lasted over the span of continents and oceans and years.

I recently was able to return to Europe and see, not all, but many of my good friends from my time there. It was so good to be with them again after 5 years since our goodbyes. I know that we are still friends because we decided the hurt of goodbyes with close friends was a worthy price to pay for good friendship.

As I said goodbye to them this time, my throat hurt again. And as I moved away from Rocklin earlier this week, I said more goodbyes. And as I camped with people from home this weekend, I said more goodbyes to them as I am moving to another state within the week.

And yet somehow, the goodbyes are still worth it.

I used to think this was a curse that I kept feeling led to live a life of comings and goings. I felt jealous of those who never had to say goodbyes.

But, I have such a different perspective now. I agree with the ever-wise Winnie the Pooh.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I’m about to embark on another adventure that I know nothing about. I know that in the comings and goings, I will have to decide to keep closed, or to open myself and have my heart ripped out. I choose the latter. And I’m confident that it’s worth it.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon
Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 | Author:

It was Halloween day and I was wearing a princess costume. Think Belle’s dress from Beauty and the Beast but in a blue-purple shimmer hue.

I dressed that way for work for the costume contest (which I got second place in, but Medusa had actual (fake) snakes in her hair. Hats off to her.). However, I was also flying to Denver that evening. I do bold and funny things, though, so I thought, “Why not travel in this dress?”

Now, I am often late to things. But I know that airlines (and swiss trains) don’t wait, so I left work an hour and a half early just to be safe. Between leaving work and actually getting myself into the airport, there were constant delays — traffic, roadwork, an accident, shuttle buses not coming — so by the time I was checking my bag, I was still late. Really late. Late enough that they said, “Your bag may not arrive on your plane. If it doesn’t, it’ll come in on the next plane, which will arrive tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t have another option so I said, “fine,” and I rushed off to security.  I literally sprinted through the airport, one hand holding up the hem of my dress, and the other holding my tiara on my head.

Quickly, people got caught up in the moment.

“It’s Cinderella!” one lady exclaimed.

Her young daughter got very excited: “Hurry Cinderella!” she chimed in.

Soon everyone that I passed began cheering  (yes, like onlookers cheering on folks at the end of a marathon) and calling out things like, “Oh no! She’s late!”

“Don’t miss the ball!”

“Cinderella, hurry, your carriage will turn into a pumpkin!”

They cleared the way for me through security, through the walk ways, and I walked onto the already boarded plane and everyone looked up at the hurried princess. And then they applauded.

And then I took my place in the last middle seat available, because while chivalry may not be completely dead, even Cinderella had to run home like a hot mess when she was late, and the middle seat  of a 747 is a bit of an upgrade.

End Note: It wasn’t until I sat down that I realized, if my bag didn’t arrive, I would be in cold Denver stuck in a princess dress overnight. I don’t think I would’ve been such a popular disheveled-princess sight on November 1. Talk about a walk of shame. It’s amazing the difference a day makes. Luckily, my luggage did arrive, and it went down as my most favorite airport experience to date.

Photo taken in Denver, not while rushing through SMF airport

Photo taken in Denver, not while rushing through SMF airport

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 | Author:

Want to know my secret?

I plan to be adventurous and spontaneous.

In fact, my whole life is in preparation to be able to make those spontaneous, adventurous moments possible.

I stay in shape so that I can do fun active things at a moments (or days or weeks) notice.

I save my money into an nondescript “non-designated adventure fund”. (I also have many designated saved funds for specific big, longer-planner trips/activities.) This way I can make the decision to use these for-whatever-i-want adventure funds when opportunities arise (or when I create them).

I save my vacation time and my sick days and I plan ahead the most lucrative ways to use my time off (and my general free time). So when someone becomes my friend and is like, “Hey, let’s go to Europe next month,” I can be like, “yeah, I’ve got vacation days for that.”

I also try not to procrastinate, as I know that this leads to lack of accessibility for adventure. When I’ve put something off too long, and then the chance for adventure knocks, I’m left having to decide to be responsible and do you work, or say yes to the adventure. But if I do my work ahead of time, I can do both. In fact, when I do my work ahead of time, then I have the room in my schedule to be able to look around and ask “What fun thing could I do right now?”

The saddest part about procrastination is that I am most guilty of doing meaningless things with my time while I wait for the deadline to approach.  In college I made a mental shift. I knew I was going to procrastinate either way (I hadn’t overcome this tendency AT ALL yet), so I decided that instead of pretending that I was going to do my homework, I would just decide that I wasn’t going to start it until a later time.  That freed me up to really enjoy and use my time wisely until then. However, I would still argue that it gives you more freedom if you do your work earlier rather than later.

I know who might want to go with me on spontaneous things. It’s always valuable to invite a buddy along, even if they don’t end up being able to come.

And lastly, I say no to a lot of other things so that I have the time, the physicality, the funds, the freedom to say yes to the really great opportunities that come my way (even though sometimes that means saying no to other great opportunities to get there). I always remember that saying yes to something means saying no to something else.

So I practice that when planning to be spontaneous and have adventures.  And then when it happens, it all feels like it falls together so smoothly, it’s almost easy to forget that my life is structured in a way that the hard work is done up front so that the adventure can just be that — adventurous and fun.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 | Author:

powells bookstore card

I was in the famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland, spending over an hour browsing through their cards-and-quirky-things section when I pulled up one of the last cards that caught my eye, and it made me freeze.

In the middle of Powell’s, I could see people meandering around, chatting, browsing, loading their arms and their baskets with books, and I was paralyzed with gratitude. The card in my hand was plain white with a simple, dark-faded-to-light blue font. It’s message was simple: “I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. -Edgar A. Guest”

And just like that, I was that emotional lady in the greeting card aisle. The memories started bubbling up and brimming at the rim of my eyes: the faces, words, touches, presence of the people who have been a friend to me. And I couldn’t stop the tears from falling.

It was this beautiful mosaic of love flashing before my eyes showing me that in the midst of what has often felt like a life of brokenness and heartache, I am blessed. I am so blessed.

I have had people face shame with me, literally hand in hand. I have had friends who physically held me when I so desperately needed someone to, but didn’t even have the words to ask for it. I have had people who brought me comfort food in the dark hours. Friends who call me several times over the course of days and weeks, and when I don’t answer their calls, they aren’t deterred, they keep calling, keep checking in.

I have had friends who have made midnight drives when I needed them, friends who have flown to other continents to vsiit and adventure, friends who have loved me not because of what I do, but because of who I am and the fact that they decided to be my friend.

I’ve had friends who let me share my painful moments with them. Who, when I say honest things like, “I don’t know how to do this,” have responded honest things like, “You’re not supposed to know how.”

Friends who watch FRIENDS with me when it’s too hard to cope with the heaviness of life. Friends who make me laugh. Friends who let me cry (and some who cry with me). Friends who are honest with me about their own crap. Who journey with me. Who support me and let me support them. Who accept me, enjoy me, and make me lovable through the process of loving me.

And in the card aisle, as I wiped away the sweet tears of gratitude, I put the card back, because I couldn’t afford to buy it for every one of the people I had thought of in those moments. But as I moved from that spot into the rest of the store, I felt like it was time for me to make a move in my heart — a move from gratitude to fruitfulness. Like the card says, I want to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. I am so blessed by these people throughout my life. But it’s time I started to be a blessing to them, and others too.

Thank you for blessing me, and for showing me how incredibly powerful it is to be loved by a friend like you. And thank you for modeling how to be that kind of friend. Some of you may never read this, but you have shaped my life, and now you’re shaping my heart. I thank God for you.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Thursday, May 01st, 2014 | Author:

If you would like to have an adventure, this is for you.

10 steps for Adventure(ing like a responsible adult) :

1. Decide to have an adventure.

2. Invite someone to join you — you can adventure by yourself, but it’s better to have an adventure partner lest you need help climbing up a snow embankment, need someone to grab the broken windshield wiper before it flies away, or someone to walk you to the drug store after you accidentally eat peanuts (this is probably only necessary for those allergic to peanuts).

doing so on social media is encouraged. It allows others to jump in too, if that’s your desire. If you         struggle with control, or really want an exclusive adventure, save posting about it until it’s happening, or after it’s over.

3. Go somewhere. You don’t even have to decide ahead of time. It could be adventuring into a new part of your town (or the surrounding land if you want to get naturey), or it could be the other side of the world.

4. Know how much time you have until you HAVE to be back. Then decide along the way where to go in between. Flexibility is key to adventure.

5. Know how much money you have to spend. If you know you have only $10, my advice is to know what priorities you have: if food isn’t one of them, but entrance to a national park is, then eat from the McDonald’s menu so that you can afford the latter. Be a grown up when it comes to money management, even on adventures. And know when it’s worth it to bend the budget for the sake of an experience/memory.

6. Talk to people. People you know. People you don’t know. Ask people for their suggestions (what’s your favorite drink here? Where do YOU like to get donuts in Portland? What’s your favorite graphic novel, man who is standing in the graphic novel section of Powell’s and looks like he belongs there?)

7. Practice the art of wandering and exploration. This applies in cities and outdoors. Remember what it was like to be a kid, eyes wide with wonder at the world unfolding around you, always excited and curious to know what lay behind the next bend? Practice letting yourself do that again.

8. Take a camera. But don’t spend too much time taking pictures. Make sure you see the beautiful views with your eyes, not just your lens finder.

9. Do some leg work ahead of time if you are going to a place where you know nothing about, but know that there are specific things the place it known for. (Look at possible routes. Look for famous places. ask around for people who have been there. Check your tires before you leave — I would suggest realizing you need a new tire prior to the day before the trip… but that’s still better than realizing you need one when it blows out on the highway. These are hypothetical examples, of course.). But then be willing to let your itinerary go if need be.

10. Enjoy yourself. Even in the mishaps. That’s part of the adventure. And make sure you laugh a lot along the way.

If you are super adventurous and flexible, have no schedule commitments you have to be back for, and have unending funds, follow steps 1, 3, & 10.

That’s how to have an awesome adventure. So go have one. And tell me about yours when you go!

Sharing the adventure stories with each other helps to keep our sense of adventure alive, even when we’re doing the important work of everyday life.

If you missed it, you can read my latest travel adventures from my roadtrip to Portland last week (and see photos of some of the awesomeness we found along the way!).

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon