Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As if You Need Another Reason

It's funny how one event can change a person's perception. If I were to do a free association of "Japan" just last week, I would have thought of the following: sushi, Shinto Temples, Tea-Ceremony, Ukyo-e Prints. Lots of happy, interesting thoughts.

Now so much has changed.

This disaster isn't just a shift in perception. The whole country moved eight feet. The earth's axis wobbled. The images and numbers are so staggering, it's hard for me to wrap my head around it.

Please consider giving to the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders.

To sweeten the deal, United will give 500 miles for each donation to the Red Cross. You can even donate unused miles.

This is just too big to ignore.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Whenever I have a large task at hand with deadline, I need to have a countdown device. Note the word, "need." Not "like" or "prefer." Need. For work, I plan out my entire semester in an Excel spreadsheet. The schedule for each course is combined in one master schedule, with monthly meeting dates highlighted. As time marches on, my schedule shrinks as I hide the passing weeks. Most of my coworkers are aware of my habit and will often ask me: "What week are we on?" and I'll reply, "Week five, only three more weeks until Spring Break." I've turned into a speaking clock.

Some (such as my darling husband) would argue that my hyper-scheduling is a manifestation of my desire for control. Sure, I'm a list-maker and planner. I will not disagree. However, my countdown also serves as a motivator. When faced with a dreary, soul-sucking task, such as grading research papers or cleaning out the refrigerator, I will visualize my next break, or better yet, my next trip. This is why on any given return flight home, I will start thinking of when I can sneak away again. Day hikes are nice, but longer trips are much better at subduing the "I-can't-not-bear-one-more-day-of-this" blues.

(I am certainly not implying that my job is more miserable than most. Rather, this tactic helps me with any monotonous aspect of my life.)

There are sometimes in life when the countdown tactic just doesn't work. In the Summer of 2009, my husband found out on a Sunday afternoon his boss was sending him to Madrid for two and a half weeks - leaving on Tuesday morning. He called me on noon at Monday to let me know that the company travel agent found a screaming deal, and bought a ticket for me. I literally had 24 hours to reschedule my life and pack for Spain. My countdown was boiled down to hours instead of weeks. Even without the long-term planning, it was a fabulous trip. It taught me to allow time for wandering, and that some of the best memories are made by having a long lunch in a restaurant not listed in any guidebook.

My constant planning also runs against the Buddhist thought of living in the present moment.* Can I really be present when I am so focused on the future? Maybe the everyday doldrums wouldn't seem so bad... Clearly this is something I have to work on.

The countdown is now 7 days until we leave for Istanbul. I do have some days planned. But there are some days that are open for suggestions and other ideas. I do not know how to count in Turkish, and have yet to buy a map. But that's ok. We'll figure it out.


*I am not a expert in Buddhism. Rather I enjoy expanding my mind by looking at other religions and philosophies. 'Nuff said.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Waving Goodbye

My Wonderful Son (WS) is off on his adventure today. This morning he left for Singapore, a two-week trip on his own.

As with much of parenthood, this is a bittersweet moment. Yes, I'm happy we've raised a son who's independent and brave enough to discover the world. Just as with the first day of kindergarten, there is the achievement of reaching the milestone, but a reminder of how fast they have grown. Eleven years ago we took WS on his first trip to Europe; his first taste of escargot, playing in Sherwood Forest and skipping rocks in the Lake District. That trip was also the first time we travel out of the country as a family; something I had dreamed about, but wasn't sure we could achieve.

As WS was getting ready, it was hard setting aside the Mom-ness - "Do you have your passport? Did you pack your allergy medicine? Do you have enough sunblock?" Even though I know no matter how much you prepare, there will always be bumps in the road (or crying babies in the cabin). The most important travel skill is dealing with the unexpected. No guidebook or jet lag pill can give you common sense on the road. For just like walking, it's a skill you have to learn for yourself.

Bon voyage Son. Have fun and take chances. Show the world that some Americans love Al-Jazeera and won't let patriotism act like a blindfold. We're proud of you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dusting off the blog

Welcome back.

That was directed to both you, dear reader, and myself.

This project took as respite as life resumed to "normal;" working (teaching) and getting son off to college, home improvements... life.

Then life gave me a wake up call.

One ordinary morning this Spring, I was on my way to work with neither coffee nor lunch - not a pleasant situation. I stepped into Starbucks to correct both issues and hovered over the sandwiches. "I don't like chicken salad with tarragon, the tuna looks dry, the egg salad could kill me..." Without the caffeine, my decision making skills were nil. It was several agonizing minutes before my lunch was decided upon.

As I turned to get into the coffee line, a gentleman motioned for me to go ahead of him. He was a normal, docker-wearing guy - wire-frame glasses, fresh haircut, button-down shirt. The kind of fellow that mom would approve of. Nothing out of the ordinary. I deferred his offer to cut in front of him by saying, "That's ok, I don't know what I want." To which he replied,

"You don't know what you want out of life?"

"Uhhh.....no.... yes, no... I mean... I don't know what coffee I want... no really, go ahead."

The now cruel, but ordinary looking man shrugged and went ahead. Meanwhile, I was shaken to my very core. "What do I want out of life? What am I doing with my life? What kind of sick bastard would ask someone such an existential question before they had coffee?" By the time I had gotten to the barista, not only did I still not know what I wanted but felt like I was thrown into some supernatural scene from the 90's show "Northern Exposure."

After I fumbled my order and paid for my latte and sandwich, I saw the gentleman leave. I was starting to wonder if I hallucinated the whole scene, but seeing him leave with his grande drip coffee struck me even more. He wasn't some stoner, or punk, or Mr. Anti-Establishment. He was a Mr. Ordinary asking an extraordinary question.

As I continued my walk to work, wondering how I could possibly carry on with an ordinary day with such questions rattling in my brain, the answer came to me as clear as a bell:

"I want to travel and I want to write."

This hasn't been an easy thing for me to accept. On some level I feel like an eight-year-old wishing for a pony and wanting to be a ballerina. Sure, honey, good luck with that. Who wouldn't want to travel and write?

Ironically, I have traveled out the country since this blog last updated - twice. In both cases, I considered posting updates with "wish-you-were-here" type of antidotes, but I didn't. Keeping up a blog while traveling is work; work that would keep me away from the experiences of travel. (And I am not the only one facing this conundrum.)

What was missing was the writing component. Over the last several months I have taken some classes and workshops with Lighthouse Writer's Workshop. I am still forming ideas, and taking one-step at a time. But if I want to write... maybe I should be writing.. something.

So here we are. Thanks for coming along.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I've been home for over a week now, and am slowly getting back in the swing of things.

My plane arrive on Thurs (7/31) evening, and the next day I was shopping for WS's dorm room. I highly recommend being jet-lagged for such an occasion, as you are too tried and disoriented (even with a triple-shot from Starbucks) to really get into the emotional aspect of what you are doing. Instead to thinking, "Oh my God, my baby is going off to college," I was thinking, "Please God, get me through this so I can go home and take a really long nap."

A couple of culture shock points:

-Driving. It's been two months, and Egypt was a pretty scary place to be in a car, or on the road. (I neglected to mention in my blog, that we did witness someone getting hit by a car while attempting to cross the road in Alexandria. Not a happy moment.) I feel my driving skills are just fine - but I have noticed that I do speed a little more than I normally would. The Egyptian mentality of "If the road is clear - GO" may have rubbed off on me; but I don't believe a police officer would let me off the hook for that.

-Suburbia. Except for Cinque Terre and Lake Maggiore, I've really been in urban spaces. I currently live in a beautiful example of suburbia; and for some reason it does feel a little odd. It is so clean here, I feel like I could lick my sidewalk. My house seems stinkin' HUGE, the yard even huge-er. I'm starting to resent the fact that I have to driver nearly everywhere. (I will be taking the bus into work three-days a week this Fall, maybe that will help.) Now don't get me wrong, I love my neighbors and I don't see us putting up our house for sale any time soon. It just seems to be so big... so American, to live this way.

-Walking. I've been trying to keep up my walking from Europe/Egypt; and it will require determination. It's not like I lost a lot of weight (my stomach would not let me eat a salad in Egypt), but I do feel better (and sleep better) when I walk more. In an attempt to keep up with the walking (and raise money for a worthy cause), I've signed up for the AIDS Walk on September 6th. I know it's only a 5K (3.1 miles) but it's a start.

-Food. Not only are our supermarkets huge, they are filled with crap. How many twinkie/ho-ho variations do we as a culture need? Or types of cereal? Or cans of soup? When we were in Cairo, our hotel was right across from a "Metro" which was "Egypt's largest supermarket chain." It was maybe a quarter of the size of my local market. Granted in America there is a larger market for "ethnic foods" than there was in Egypt; but why do we need so much?

-Normalcy. This may sound very odd, but there are moments when I'm sitting on my sofa, or laying in my own bed, that I wondered if the last two months really happened. Was I really out of the country? Did I really see all of those things? Almost like the trip was an outer body experience and I've been thrown back into reality.

Now I don't want to say this will be my last blog post, and I did want to set up this blog as "Thoughts on Travel and Life" not just one particular trip. With that said, a slight hiatus is in order. My teaching srarts tomorrow (our school is starting early, but closing down during the Democratic National Convention) and WS will be leaving soon. Life and its demands will be knocking.

In any case, thank you for reading. I hope it didn't bore you, or that my typos drove you nuts.