Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 1

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My daughter and her boyfriend went to Barcelona this week, and were surprised to find that their AirBnB rental had no air-conditioning. Even though they live in Miami and are used to the heat, they still had a hard time sleeping at night without the comfort of A/C or even a fan. That got me started thinking about surprises I’ve encountered and lessons I’ve learned while traveling. On my first trip to Europe, for example, I was flabbergasted to find that our bed and breakfast in England’s Lake District did not supply washcloths! When we asked for one, we were told that in Europe a washcloth is considered a personal item. Who knew?? I certainly hadn’t seen that information in any of the dozen guidebooks I had combed through before our trip. For me, discovering the differences between cultures and countries is part of the fun of traveling. Some of the lessons I’ve learned, however, have been about myself and what I need to make a trip enjoyable. And while I’m certainly getting better at it, I still learn something new on every trip! So without further ado, here is a random list of lessons I’ve learned during my years of travel; which has become such a long list that I’m going to split it into multiple parts. Check back over the next couple of weeks for the rest of the list…

An adapter and a voltage converter are NOT the same thing – A plug adapter only makes it possible to plug your electronic device into the wall socket; a voltage converter adapts the current from 110 (which the USA uses) to 220 (which Europe uses). Luckily, most phones, tablets and laptops are dual voltage these days, so if you’re only bringing these types of electronic items, chances are you won’t need to bring a voltage converter. If you are traveling with a single voltage electronic item, you will need BOTH a voltage converter and an adapter.

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Don’t bother bringing a single voltage blow dryer or curling wand/straightener – I read this advice online, but didn’t heed it, and learned firsthand how accurate it was when I fried my curling iron in London, even with a voltage converter. **how many of you are out there raising your hands right now in “fry the hair appliances” sisterhood?**  I have since invested in a dual voltage curling wand, one of my best travel-related purchases. I never bring a blow dryer from home, however, as most hotels supply them these days.  When I stay at a place without a blow dryer, I let my hair air dry and then just use the curling wand to fix any funky spots. I know many women just let their hair do whatever it wants while traveling, but my hair has just enough wave to get all frizzy and funky without a little help, and I do like to look pretty in my travel photos!

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Logistics are stressful – This, I think, is one of the major reasons people sign up for guided tours. Navigating your way around a country when you don’t speak the language is harder than I anticipated. I once spent a day on my own in Germany where ALL of my plans went awry due to the difficulties of figuring out logistics in a foreign language.  That day deserves its very own blog post, which is coming soon, but remember to allot extra time and patience when trying to figure out train schedules, subways, airports, ticket machines,etc. I never schedule any fixed activities on a day when I’m transitioning from one location to another anymore, as I’ve missed a few due to transportation delays. When all else fails, it is worth every minute you stand in line to get help from a real person!

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Do whatever it takes to get enough sleep – I am constantly reading statements like “you can sleep when you get home – you’re in Europe so make the most of every moment”.  I learned the hard way that this rule does NOT apply to me! If I don’t get the sleep I need, neither I nor my companions will enjoy the trip; just ask my husband! We once spent our last 24 hours in Germany not speaking to each other because we were so exhausted we had hit the wall and got in a huge fight over 5 euros. I cannot rise at dawn and spend an entire day sightseeing; I need to get a solid eight hours of sleep to be pleasant company and enjoy myself. I may see fewer sights each day, but I thoroughly enjoy the ones I do see. If you know you can’t function well without sleep, do whatever it takes to get the sleep you need, whether that means taking a 20 minute power nap on a metal folding chair in Westminster Abbey or going to an air-conditioned movie midday so you can rest (and nap, if you’re like me)! A well-rested you will enjoy the trip way more than an exhausted, cranky you!

Don’t pre-book too many activities – On my first trip to Europe, I had our entire itinerary planned out ahead of time. I laugh now when I look back, because we actually only saw about half what I had planned. Again, logistics came into play; it took longer to get from place to place on the tube than I had anticipated, and we were tired from navigating the city and being on our feet all day, so often didn’t have the energy for the night time activities on my schedule. On our last night in London, I had booked tickets to see The Gypsy Kings in concert at Hampstead Heath. The tube in London was not air conditioned, and we were tired and hot when we arrived back at our hotel after a full day of sightseeing. With only a 30 minute window to freshen up and change before getting back on the (non-airconditioned) tube for the 90 minute journey out to Hampstead Heath, we ended up staying in and having a picnic dinner on our bed, losing the money we spent on the tickets. Now, I choose carefully when pre-booking activities.  Some attractions, like the Vatican Museum or the Anne Frank House, are absolutely worth booking online ahead of time, as they have super long lines all the time. But I try not to book a night activity unless we’ve got a light day of sightseeing and can plan some rest time during the day

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This is just the beginning…I’ve got enough material for at least two more posts! How about you? What lessons have you learned through travel?  Do you have great stories from a time when something went wrong?? Leave a note in the comments section and I’ll include your tips in my next post!

A day out in the Venetian Lagoon: Burano and Torcello

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My youngest spent his first semester in college studying abroad in Rome; I, of course, leapt at the chance to visit him (I did miss him desperately, but ITALY).  We decided to split our time between Venice and Rome, so that we could experience the Acqua Alta, or “high water”, which causes floods in Venice twice a year.  I’m so glad we went in November; yes, it was on the colder side, but we didn’t have to worry about the heat and crowds that I’ve heard make Venice fairly miserable in the summer, and the floods were quite fun to experience. Venice has an ambience like no other city I’ve ever seen, and one of my absolute favorite things to do was wander the back streets away from the tourist areas. I saw a suggestion online to spend one day exploring the islands of the Venetian lagoon, so we added that into our itinerary, and had a lovely day out!

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Hotel Campiello, our lodging, was in the Castello sestiere (neighborhood) on Calle del Vin, a quiet back street opening onto a tiny square (or campiello) with an ancient well in the center.  Despite being only a five minute walk from Piazza San Marco, it was supremely quiet and included a yummy breakfast (if you arrive on the weekend, ask for the cappuccinos at breakfast – we were not offered one until Monday, so apparently the weekend server didn’t know/want to make them). I booked the Deluxe Double so we’d have room for our son, and as a bonus we got a private rooftop terrace and an amazing spa shower! Located just a hundred yards from the San Zaccaria vaporetto stop, we could have easily taken the vaporetto around the city to catch the ferry out into the lagoon, but decided to walk so that we could explore back streets and pop in to the Libreria Acqua Alta along the way.

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We set out after breakfast, and a few wrong turns later found ourselves at the bookstore, where we spent a happy hour rummaging through the treasure trove of old and new books, old maps, post cards, magazines, etc., piled not just in gondolas but also on chairs, the back patio, and the street in front of the store.

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We found the world’s tiniest math book (about 1 inch by 1 inch), which of course had to come home with us as a stocking stuffer for our oldest, who loves math.

** Does anyone else give weird and quirky things in Christmas stockings? Or is it just me?? I once gave my son a tiny little buddha statue because when he was a baby and always smiling, we called him “the Happy Buddha”**

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With our purchases in hand, we continued on to the Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, where we jumped on Line 12 to Burano. From there, we transferred to Line 9, which runs back and forth between Burano and Torcello.

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The island of Murano, with its glass factories, is closest to Venice, but I was intrigued by the island of Torcello, where the original Venetians first settled back in the 5th century as they fled from the Germanic invasion of Altino after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta was built in the 7th century and is the oldest church in Venice. An intricate Byzantine mosaic covers the entire back wall of the cathedral; as I studied the astounding artistry I felt a yearning to attend “mosaic school”and learn this ancient craft. We did not climb the campanile (bell tower) but for a small fee you can get beautiful views out over the lagoon

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Right next door is the small, round Chiesa di Santa Fosca, a lovely, simple, unadorned Byzantine-style church from the 11th century. If you go, take a few minutes and soak in the peaceful atmosphere of Santa Fosca, the tranquility is calming and the church is beautiful in its simplicity.

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There is only one path from the ferry landing to the Basilica di Santa Assunta, so it’s impossible to get lost. There are a limited number of restaurants on the island (I’ve read there are only 10 permanent residents); the restaurant that looked most promising had a sign out front with a cardboard stork and what we assumed was an announcement that the family was enjoying a new baby boy, so we ended up grabbing a coffee and a sandwich at an outdoor cafe before heading back to the ferry for Burano.

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Pictures of Burano are all over Instagram these days due to the colorful houses, brightly painted so that returning fishermen could distinguish the houses in the fog that often blankets the lagoon.

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Most famous for its lace, we also enjoyed hearing the history of Venetian masks made on the island. I had often wondered about the long nose of the doctor’s mask, and the mask artist we met explained the long nose was designed to keep the doctor’s face from getting too close to the plague victims he examined.

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**Doctor’s mask photo courtesy of maxpixel.com**

We did a little shopping but didn’t have a lot of time on Burano, so mostly enjoyed wandering this beautiful island before taking the last ferry back to Venice.

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I love spending relaxed days just exploring and getting lost in a new place…where are your favorite places to wander? As always, thanks for reading!

 

Best Summer Activities in Winston Salem

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Happy June!  School is out in Winston Salem, which means it’s officially summer! We don’t have any big plans for a summer vacation yet, so I’m going to make sure I take full advantage of everything on offer right here at home this summer. If you’re looking for ideas,  here is a short list of some of my favorite summertime activities in Winston Salem…

bailey parkSpending time at Bailey ParkBailey Park holds myriad summer activities in the Innovation Quarter. Whether it’s the Innovation and Cinema outdoor movie series, Sunset Salutations yoga in the park, Food Trucks at lunchtime or Ice Cream Tuesdays, there is always something fun happening in Bailey Park!

salem bikingRiding a Zagster Bike along the Greenways – I’m currently training for my next bike trip (through the Czech Republic in September) so I can often be found riding on one of the greenways around town. My two favorite locations to rent a Zagster bike are Bailey Park (jump on the Long Branch Trail from here – it connects up to the Salem Creek Greenway) or the Gateway YWCA (access the Salem Creek Greenway directly here). Both trails connect up to the Salem Lake Trail for a 20 mile roundtrip ride. 

IMG_8554Minor League baseball with the Winston Salem Dash – Minor League baseball is awesome… it’s family-friendly, you can get up close and personal with the players (some of whom may be the stars of tomorrow), fireworks happen on Friday nights, and kids can run the bases after the games. But the Dash takes it a step further with additional activities such as Pups in the Park, when your pooch can join you for the game, and Yoga in the Outfield, where a special ticket buys you a yoga class in the outfield before the game, a soda or a beer, and a lawn ticket for the game. Yoga, beer and baseball all for one low price – how can you go wrong???

Summer Music Series – Winston Salem has some awesome musicians, partly due to the fact that the UNC School of the Arts is located here (the ONLY publicly funded arts conservatory in the nation – think Juilliard but at in-state tuition levels – it’s part of the UNC system). During the summer, we have lots of opportunities to hear great music. Whether it’s Downtown Jazz at Corpening Plaza, Summer on Liberty with the entire intersection shut down for live music and dancing, or the Summer Parks series with concerts in local parks, there are tons of options for free outdoor concerts!

IMG_4014Movies under the Stars – This is probably my all time favorite summer activity…I love seeing a movie outdoors on a breezy summer evening, and am so grateful that Winston Salem offers lots of options! Bailey Park has an Innovation and Cinema series, Reynolda House has Movies on the Lawn, and Winston Square Park (pictured at top) is the setting for Sunset Flicks (I haven’t seen a schedule yet for this year, so am keeping my fingers crossed that it reappears). The neighboring town of Lewisville also has a series at Shallowford Square.

scooby sup salem lakeStand Up Paddleboarding at Salem lakeSalem Lake has just undergone a massive improvement…the city built a new boat house, playground, restrooms and a Zagster bikeshare station. A seven mile trail circles the lake for walkers, runners, bikers and equestrians. Pier and boat fishing is allowed and they also offer canoe rentals. Small boats, canoes, kayaks and SUP boards can be used on the lake as well. I love getting out on the lake for an hour or so on a nice summer evening. I’m even training my dog to SUP with me! He doesn’t try to chase the ducks and geese, but keeps falling in as he tries to eat the bubbles in the water from my paddle 🙂 The Salem Lake website is woefully out of date, so I highly recommend you call the marina for up to date info!

Taking a tour or SUP class with Triad ECO Adventures – Full disclosure here…I am a Segway Glide Guide for this company (although this post is not sponsored and I am in no way being compensated for this post).  However, I truly believe that our Segway tours, Electric bike tours and Stand Up Paddleboard lessons add fun options to Winston Salem.  You can even book a Glide and Dine event for a group – we’ll do the first half of the Segway tour on the way to lunch or dinner, let your group eat, then do the second half of the tour after your meal. If it’s your first time on a Segway, read this post for some tips!

western NC mountainsHiking in the Western NC Mountains – Okay, so this isn’t actually in Winston Salem. But when the summer heat starts getting to me (any of you who know me can attest to the fact that I am NOT a fan of hot weather!) it’s an easy hop skip and a jump to the mountains, where it is usually about ten degrees cooler. There are hundreds of hikes and I love to take my dog and explore!

Tips from a Seasoned Segway Tour Guide

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Summer, to me, means Segway season!  As a Segway tour guide in Winston Salem (I’ve been a Glide Guide at Triad ECO Adventures for almost four years now), Memorial Day marks the start of our busy season; kids are out of school, families are on vacation, and we have lots of visitors coming through our doors looking for a fun way to experience the city.  I’ve probably trained over five hundred people to ride a Segway through the years, and today, I thought I’d share some tips for those of you who may be taking a Segway tour somewhere soon!

I first rode a Segway at Epcot, in Disney World, many many moons ago. It was a tour around the World Showcase on a girls’ weekend with my family. We had a blast, and I remember my mom behind me, yelling out “excuse me” and “my bad” as she tried to navigate around (or bumped into) people, lamp posts, etc. ** Yes, she did yell “my bad” to a lamp post!**  My second tour was in Munich, Germany, where I was lucky enough to get a solo tour on a cold, rainy November day. Segways are a great way to explore a new place; you can cover more ground than a walking tour, and it’s actually easy to ride one – but the key is to relax! Here are my best tips, gleaned from hundreds of tours.

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Remember how you felt when you were learning to ride a bike? How the first time your dad (or whoever taught you to ride a bike) let go, you wobbled for a second, and then all of a sudden you were smoothly riding away? That’s how you’re going to feel the first time you ride a Segway…you’ll feel a little wobbly for the first few minutes, but don’t let that deter you…it becomes intuitive after just a bit!

Flat, supportive sneakers are the best shoes to wear when riding a Segway. Your feet will get tired; you’re standing for the entire tour plus your feet will be gripping the platform for balance, both of which cause foot fatigue. Supportive shoes help prevent foot fatigue. Flat shoes are key to your weight being correctly balanced on the Segway platform. Heels, even an inch high, can throw off your balance and make it harder to ride. Closed toe shoes also protect your feet and toes from getting bumped as you step on and off the Segway. Every summer we have gliders show up in flip flops and sandals, not realizing they won’t be able to ride with that footwear; both Segway manufacturer guidelines and our insurance require gliders to wear flat, closed toe shoes. We actually keep a bucket of extra shoes and socks for just this situation, but if you’re traveling and think there’s a chance you might want to book a Segway tour, go ahead and throw a pair of sneakers in your bag!

Posture is everything! You are the brakes and the gas on a Segway; to speed up, you simply lean forward toward your toes. To slow yourself down, you lean back on your heels (think “toes to go, heels to slow”). But the key here is to keep your body straight and LEAN FROM YOUR ANKLES. When you bend from the waist, your weight doesn’t evenly shift forward or backward on the platform. You want to keep your body straight, like those ski jumpers you see in the Olympics, and think about leaning forward from the ankles. Another visual is to imagine a string coming out of the top of your head, pulling your body into a straight line, and then hinge at the ankles. If you imagine pushing your hips toward the steer stick, that helps to keep your posture upright when you are leaning forward.

Keep your movements smooth and steady. A Segway reacts to our body movements a thousand times a second; it’s reacting to the tiniest of movements, most of which we are not even aware of making. If your movements are jerky, so will be the Segway’s; if you are smooth and steady, you’ll have a smoother ride. It’s our instinctive reaction to jerk our body when we bobble on a Segway, so trying to fight against that is hard, especially for a new glider, but if you can relax while gliding, it makes it way easier!

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**Above: NOT an ideal place to Segway for the first time – cobblestones, traffic and road construction!**

It helps to glide the first time in a private group with friends who are experienced, and to do your tour in a less crowded city (and somewhere relatively flat – I wouldn’t recommend, for example, taking your first Segway tour in San Francisco). When I biked across Austria in 2016 with two girlfriends, we took a day trip to Bratislava from Vienna, and decided to do a Segway tour on the spur of the moment. I actually love to take Segway tours when I’m traveling – it’s always fun to see how other tour companies operate, and as I previously mentioned, it’s a GREAT way to see a new place. Our friend was gliding for the very first time, and she was a little nervous, so we tucked her between the two of us who are Glide Guides. She felt more secure and was able to relax a bit. She crushed it, even up the VERY steep, cobblestoned hill to the castle!

If you’re going on a cruise and planning a Segway shore excursion, it’s helpful to book a lesson from a local tour operator before you go, as I’ve heard reports that many shore excursions provide minimal training. (Europe as well – in Bratislava, our “training” consisted of a demonstration of how to step on and then being told to push our hips toward the steer stick – we asked for a few minutes to let our friend practice before we set out, but most groups didn’t get that!) Some tour operators will have a shorter “mini-glide” or “learn to ride” option, which is not a narrated tour, just a lesson and a little glide time – we had two sisters come in and do a mini-glide with us before they went on a cruise, and they sent us a lovely photo with a thank you note. They enjoyed their shore excursion more because they already knew how to ride!

Who should NOT ride a Segway? For safety reasons, people who suffer from vertigo or any other condition (or take medication) that affects their balance should stay off, as should women who are pregnant. Anyone who cannot stand for the duration of the tour should not glide; although when purchasing a Segway for personal use, you can buy an adaptive seat. Segway manufacturer guidelines say gliders must be 14 or older; some tour operators have smaller Segways for kids between 10-13, but call ahead to ask if you want to bring anyone younger than 14! Finally, we get calls every St Patrick’s Day asking if we do Segway Pub Crawls, but believe it or not, in the USA you can get a DUI on a Segway. So anyone who has been drinking or is under the influence of any drug should avoid gliding.

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**I have heard reports, however, that some islands in the Caribbean provide cup holders and a mid-tour stop at a bar – if any of you want to Segway in the Caribbean with me, I’m totally down for that!**

Where are your favorite places to glide? I’d love to hear about your experiences! And as always, thanks so much for reading!

P.S. This post is not sponsored in any way…I just mention Triad ECO Adventures because that is where I’m a Glide Guide 🙂

What I’ve been reading – May edition

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Have you heard of the blog Modern Mrs Darcy? Anne’s blog is one of my favorites – if you’re an avid reader like me, you’ll love her! I’ve participated in her annual reading challenge for the last few years, and have enjoyed expanding my reading repertoire.  Anne writes a “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” series and I always look forward to her list, so thought I’d write a similar post for all of you! Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading this spring.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This novel is classified as science fiction/Post-Apocalyptic fiction, which made me hesitate, as I don’t normally read this genre. But Anne recommended it, so I gave it a shot, and loved it! A National Book Award Finalist in 2014, it tells the story of a traveling theatre troupe in the Great Lakes area after most of the world’s population has been wiped out. I became completely wrapped up in the characters, and had a moment of panic when my Kindle library loan expired as I was 76% of the way through the book. Luckily, I was able to re-borrow it 30 minutes later (I can hear the collective sigh of relief from all of you) and finished it that night! I totally could have binge-read this book…that’s how good it was.

The Century Trilogy by Petra Durst Benning – I read this series for the “Book in Translation” category of this year’s reading challenge. Each of the three books (While the World is Asleep, The Champagne Queen, and Queen of Beauty) tells the story of one of three childhood friends from Berlin. Set between the years of 1890-1920, each of the female characters is a strong, independent woman making her way through the trials and joys of life. I love historical fiction and this series did not fail me (it is available on Kindle Unlimited for those of you with a monthly subscription). The author also wrote The Glassblower Trilogy, another series I adored. 

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I read this for the “A book longer than 500 pages” category of the reading challenge. It’s the first in the Kingkiller Chronicles, and is considered fantasy/heroic fiction. Again, not my usual choice of genre, but my son said he thought I’d like it, and he was quite correct. At 736 pages in the paperback, this one took a long time to read, and I found I really needed to read it in larger chunks of time rather than a few pages before bed each night. I had a hard time getting interested in this one at first, but am so glad I persisted; by about page 100, I was hooked. It’s a coming of age “story within a story”.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey – Currey has compiled short descriptions of how 161 artists structure their days. I’m about halfway through this one, and find myself skimming the descriptions until I find one that interests me. It’s kind of fun to read that Agatha Christie, even after publishing ten books, still didn’t consider herself a writer and put her occupation down as “married woman”; or that Carson McCullers snuck a thermos of sherry into the library with her while she wrote; but overall it has not held my interest so I probably won’t finish it.

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Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99U, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei – This book has been SUPER helpful as I’ve been trying to figure out how to carve out time to write and make my blog a priority. With essays by many different authors, I’ve found great nuggets of wisdom to help me structure my days. If you’re struggling with time management like I am, I highly recommend this book! Also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I found this while searching for an audiobook to listen to as I painted the trim in my son’s dining room (THREE coats of white paint, people!) and ended up using it to fulfill the “a book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection” category of the reading challenge. Hearing the African American author’s voice as she described her childhood growing up in 1960’s Ohio, South Carolina, and New York City brought the verse to life. A National Book Award and Coretta Scott King award winner.

**You may be wondering about my goal to discontinue my kindle unlimited membership…I’ve been trying to get caught up with all the books I had borrowed – and I’ve been enjoying them so much I’m considering keeping the membership! I’ll keep you posted on the final decision**

Have you read anything good lately? Send your recommendations my way…I’m always adding to my TBR (To Be Read) List! Up next for me – Ready Player One (Do I need to read the book before I see the movie?), Three Junes, The Nightingale and Being Polite to Hitler…check back in at the end of June for another update!

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Mother’s Day gift ideas for someone who has recently lost her mom

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Mother’s Day is not the same for me since my mom died seven and a half years ago. The first year after she died, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I no longer had a mother with whom to celebrate (obviously, I still celebrate the fact that I HAD a mother, but her death left a gaping hole which I particularly feel on Mother’s Day), and the weeks of commercials leading up to the day only intensified my feelings of loss. That first year, I spent the Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day in bed, crying. The actual day itself, however, turned out surprisingly well, because my husband and my three kids were sensitive to my grief and were so very sweet to me.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day with someone who has recently lost their mother. Should I talk about her mom? Will I make her sad if I do? Should we even celebrate Mother’s Day? All these questions circle in the brain – but the answer is YES, you should talk about her mom and acknowledge Mother’s Day! I asked a few friends what gifts and gestures they most appreciated the first year after their mom died. In honor of the upcoming day on Sunday (in the USA at least), here are some gift ideas for any woman who has recently lost her mom.

A Mother’s Day card with a twist – One of my most treasured Mother’s Day cards from my husband is the one he gave me that first year after my mom died, in which he listed all of my mom’s best qualities and how he saw them continuing on in me. I’m actually tearing up as I write this, because taking the time to think about the things he loved the best about my mom and then write them down for me was such a perceptive, sensitive and loving thing to do. If you know someone who has recently lost her mom, and you knew her mom, a card or even just a phone call to say “I really loved this about your mom, and I see the very same quality in you” will make her so very happy!

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Stories about her mom – So often we don’t speak of the loved one for fear of making the grief worse. Yet, all of my friends said that they loved hearing stories about their mom from people who knew her. One of my friends said, “Recognizing she’s no longer here is important to me.  Ignoring her absence hurts.” So a short note or a phone call sharing your favorite memory or a funny story about her mom would be a treasured gift!

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Gift of your time – Now that my kids are grown and scattered, time with my kids is precious to me. I don’t usually get to see them on Mother’s Day, but I love when they call or FaceTime with me on the actual day. That first Mother’s Day, my children (who were in middle and high school at the time) spent the entire day with me – they made me breakfast in bed, helped me plant in my yard and played some of my favorite games after dinner. I also love to hike – there is something about being out in nature that is healing, so taking her for a hike might be just the thing! Your time can be particularly important if she doesn’t have kids of her own with whom to spend the day. Sharing a few moments, either in person or long distance, with siblings who share the loss can also be very meaningful. One friend stated that “Talking to and texting my sister on Mother’s Day are also part of my post-Mom ritual.  We both lost our mother and we’re linked by shared history since our births.” This is something I wish I’d been better at those first few years…I’m going to make it a point to call or text my brother and sister on Mother’s Day from now on!

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A photo of her mom – Find a great photo of her mom, or the two of them, and frame it for her. Another friend, whose mom worked her entire life with preschool children, said she loved getting a picture of her mom reading to a circle of children.  I asked my dad for a copy of their wedding picture, and have it on my bedside table. I also have a fantastic picture of my mom and dad, on their last vacation before her cancer diagnosis, which I keep in my living room.  I love seeing her beautiful smile when I walk past her photos.

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Time to be alone – she may not be up for a big celebration this year, so let her make that call. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is time alone to rest, recharge and feel sad. My friend said it best…”Feeling sad is healthy – where there is great love, there is great grief.  I don’t want my family to try to jolly me out of this necessary, though brief, poignant sadness.” If she wants to be alone, you can send a text (with no answer required), drop a card with a treat or flowers on her porch, or send a short email to let her know you are thinking of her.

A gift of service – Is there a project with which she could use help? Maybe one she started before her mom died which has been laid to the side? Offer to help her work on it! I am always so grateful when my kids and husband help me with planting – I love my garden, but it’s time consuming to plant every spring, and the fact that they willingly pitch in, despite the fact that they don’t enjoy it, is so very appreciated!

A quilt made from her mom’s favorite clothes – One of my friends, who is a quilter, received a quilt made of fabrics from her mom’s closet. What a thoughtful, personal gesture! I have a piece of my mom’s wedding dress, which I will frame in a shadowbox with my mom and dad’s wedding photo. Another idea would be to stretch the front of a favorite souvenir t-shirt (especially if it’s from a trip she took with her mom) over canvas to be hung.

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Her favorite flowers – As long as she’s not allergic to flowers (my grandma had such bad allergies that we could never give her flowers) a bouquet of her favorite flowers is always a good idea. If her mom had a favorite flower, include some of those in the bouquet as well. Yellow roses were my mom’s favorite, and every time I see them, I think of her. I would love to receive some yellow roses on Mother’s Day in remembrance of my mom.

This year, I am spending the Saturday before Mother’s Day with my aunt, cousins, and sister. I’m so excited to get together with these incredible women, with whom I have a shared history and all of whom have lost our mothers. We are going to celebrate having (and being) bad ass moms, and we’ll probably tell lots of funny stories about my mom, aunt and grandma. Sunday I’ll get to see my youngest son and a young man who is like a son to me, and then on Monday, on my drive home, I’ll stop by Arlington Cemetery to say hi to my mom (as a 20-year Navy Wife, she’s in the columbarium there). I’ll tell her how my kids are doing and about my husband’s job search, catch her up on the extended family news, leave her a yellow rose, and somewhere up there, I hope she’ll know I’m thinking of her.

7 Great things about Rochester, NY

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Before my son started graduate school at the University of Rochester, I had never visited the city. Now, it almost feels like my second home (well, at least in the late spring/summer/fall; Miami, where my daughter lives, is my winter/early spring second home – aren’t I a lucky woman to have so many climates from which to choose?). I just spent a week in Rochester helping my son unpack in his new house, and thought I’d write a post on the things I love about this city in western NY.

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Autumn – beyond anything else, I love fall in western New York! The reds, oranges and yellows of the trees are amazing and there are SO many spectacular places to hike not far from Rochester (Letchworth State Park is about an hour away if you want a truly beautiful hike through a gorge with several waterfalls). Orchards for apple picking abound in the area – we enjoy tasting “new to us” varieties and making apple pie with our loot!

The Genesee Riverway Trail – a 24 mile paved trail that runs from the Erie Canal on the south side of Rochester up through downtown, ending at Lake Ontario. The trail runs right by the campus of UR, so we’ve walked the trail from there up to High Falls just north of downtown Rochester. This trail connects to the Erie Canal Heritage Trail just south of campus, in Genesee Valley Park.

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Erie Canal Heritage Trail  Part of the 365 mile long Erie Canalway Trail, the Heritage Trail is itself 86 miles long. One of my absolute favorite things to do in Rochester is to rent a bike from Towpath Bike in Pittsford and ride along the canal. It’s a scenic, mostly level ride, and absolutely spectacular in the fall!

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Pittsford Farms Dairy – Pittsford itself is an adorable town, particularly Schoen Place along the canal where Towpath Bike is located. But Pittsford Farms Dairy deserves a special mention – it’s a dairy, bakery, ice cream parlor and retail store, all in one. The ice cream is to die for, and they carry all kinds of baked goods and dairy products, as well as locally made jams, sauces, etc. We try to stop by every time I visit (alas, during my most recent visit we were so focused on unpacking that we didn’t make an ice cream run – next time!)

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The Rochester Lilac Festival – For 120 years (it started in 1898!!), Rochester has celebrated the arrival of spring with a free festival in Highland Park, where thousands of lilacs bloom. Highland Park is beautiful all year, but during the festival there are concerts, art shows, booths selling hand-crafted soaps, lotions, and other wares, as well as 5K and 10K runs and many other special events, drawing over 500,000 visitors each year. Last year, I was able to run about 4 miles of the 10K, so my goal is to make it back in a year or two and run the entire 6.2! This year, it runs from May 11-20, so if you’re in the area, I highly recommend you stop by!

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra – My husband introduced me to the joys of the symphony when we were in college. Now, it’s fun to watch our son enjoying the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra! Luckily for us, the RPO had a concert while we were in town last week, so all three of us were able to attend A Night of Symphonic Rock. The orchestra played classic rock and tunes from Broadway musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, then a classic rock cover band played the second half of the show. RPO has tons of special events, including movie nights – the orchestra will play the soundtrack as they show Ghostbusters and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets later this year, among others! And as a bonus, they sell student tickets at a steep discount – some shows cost as little as $15 if you are a college student!

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Electrical box art  – this may seem like a small thing, but I love how the city of Rochester has turned the street corner electrical boxes into art! Each one is painted differently, but it’s a simple way to beautify a utilitarian item. My Scooby tried really hard to blend in with this one!

So there’s my completely random collection of things I love about Rochester…I’m sure there are tons of other things I haven’t discovered yet! If you’ve been, what are some of your favorite places or events???

Living in Limboland (aka dealing with uncertainty)

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Fun fact: I have moved 20 times in my life. I have lived in my current house for 5 years and 9 months, which is precisely three months longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. After 20 moves, I am in the first house I’ve ever really loved. My house and my yard bring me such joy; some of my happiest moments of the last five years and nine months have been spent on my front porch. I love Winston Salem – it’s the perfect size for me, there’s a great sense of community, and there are always fun things to do. And my friends here in Winston Salem bring me even more joy than my house!

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Not so fun fact: We will, most likely, be moving again in the not too distant future. My husband has been between jobs for a year, and may be getting a job offer (or two, or maybe even three, if we’re really lucky) in other cities during the next month or so. Now I know some of you might be out there thinking that he should just try to get a job here so we can stay in Winston Salem, since we like it so much.  And he has…but what he does is somewhat specialized, and one of the downfalls of living in a smaller city is that opportunities for him are not plentiful. I work very part time, so his job has a huge influence on where we live at this stage of our lives. I am, however, an integral part of the discussion and decision on which job and location is the best balance between his career goals and the needs of our family. And our long term plan is to come back here at some point for retirement, so it’s not like we’ll be leaving forever. 

**I hope I’m not jinxing the process by writing this post – if you’re paying attention, Fate, I didn’t write that he IS going to get a job offer, just that he MIGHT get a job offer**

Since last year, I’ve known the possibility of another move is in our future. And while I’ve tried not to worry about it, I have to say that the uncertainty has affected me. I’ve basically been living in Limboland for the last year, which equates to constant low level stress. For those of you who move frequently, the following situations may sound familiar to you. Or you may have experienced other worries. Here are some of the ways uncertainty has affected my life this past year, and how I’m dealing with it.

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Being afraid to make long term commitments – Last August, I was feeling drawn to a volunteer project that required a commitment for the entire school year. But it didn’t feel ethical taking on that obligation when I knew there was a chance we might move before the school year ended, so I didn’t volunteer. Now, of course, it’s almost the end of the school year, so I could have safely signed up – but I didn’t know that last August, now did I? Even something as simple as a dental cleaning caused stress – should I make the next six-month appointment? What if we move and I forget to cancel it before leaving? Should we buy the new couch we desperately need for our current house, or should we wait because our next living room may be completely different? Anything requiring a commitment more than a month out began a cycle of “what if” that drove me crazy.

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Anticipatory grief – Because I love where I currently live, I’ve been sad off and on this past year, knowing that I will most likely have to say goodbye to my house, my town, and my friends. Starting all over again in a new city entails so much emotional work – we’ll have to find a place to live (should we buy or rent? live close to work or farther away? can we even FIND a house we’ll both like?), new doctors (not just a Primary Care doctor, but a new dentist, GYN, a new dermatologist, etc.), a new hair salon (this is super hard for women), a new dog sitter, and a new place to workout (will there be a YMCA close to my new house? will it be a nice facility? will they have the classes I like? will there be any long bike trails to train for my ride in September?), along with a myriad other details I haven’t even thought of at this point. I’ve also been remembering how very lonely I was when we first moved here, and am dreading a repeat of that experience. And what if we end up moving somewhere I don’t like? You never really know for sure if you’re going to enjoy the next place until you’re actually there!

Excitement – I know you’re probably thinking “This woman just said she’s dreading saying goodbye – how can she be excited, for pete’s sake?!” It sounds contradictory, but along with my inability to make long term commitments and my dread of being lonely, there is a little fissure of excitement at the opportunity to explore a new part of the country. I inherited my love of travel from my dad (a career Navy man who traveled the world on submarines and aircraft carriers and loved every second), so there is a part of me that is drooling at the chance to share new adventures with my husband. I’m also excited about sharing my excursions with all of you here on the blog!

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Acceptance – One of my mentors from grad school told me “Life is never 100 percent; it’s always 60/40. As long as the 60 percent is the good stuff, you’re doing okay.” Every place has good and bad. I’ve found that focusing on the good and minimizing the bad to the best of my ability leads to an easier adjustment, so I’ve started making lists of the good things about our potential locations as a way to mentally prepare. Even my least favorite possibility has several good things about it, so no matter where I end up, I’ll be good, and my husband and I will be together, which is hugely important to me. We’ve shared many adventures through the years, and hopefully we have many more to come. Stay tuned for more news as things develop! 

An April goals update…

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Happy Saturday everyone!

Back in March, I wrote about my ideal day and my “feeling goals”, and said I would post an update in April.  I’m at a family wedding this weekend so am sharing this quick update today in lieu of a travel-related post.

If you remember, I described my ideal day as calm yet energetic, filled with fresh air and sunshine, something productive, something fun, something active, quality food to fuel my body, and a good night’s sleep. Using this scenario as a guideline, I chose the following Feeling goals: energetic, productive, happy, well-rested, and active.

How did I do?

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Doing one small task before my morning coffee – I accomplished this about half the time in the last few weeks, and definitely notice an improvement in how energetic I feel when I get one small (even tiny) task done upon first waking. Even something simple like drinking 16 ounces of water or making the bed makes a big difference! My goal for April is to create a list of simple tasks that I can tackle upon awakening (my brain can’t handle anything too complex before coffee lol) and then improve my percentages in May.

Blocking out time to work on my blog – I’m still struggling with time management and carving out time to work on the blog. I’ve recently been introduced to Google calendar by a friend, and I am currently playing around with the app to create reminders and goals. I’ve set a goal of working on my blog three times a week, for two hours at a stretch, in the afternoons. Google calendar looks through my events and finds a good time to squeeze it in, which is very helpful. Once it’s on my calendar, I can rearrange if needed, but I am much more likely to keep the time sacred once it’s blocked out.

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Trying three different coffee shops – I tried two coffee shops in March, and realized that I am not a fan of working at Starbucks, as the loud music doesn’t allow for the concentration I need when writing. I am currently researching independent coffee shops in Winston Salem for a blog post, so am making some good progress on this goal in April.

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Going to bed earlier and disconnecting from electronics by 8 PM – complete and utter fail! In the last five weeks, I have only been asleep before midnight 11 times, and asleep by 11:30 PM FIVE times! So I am really missing the boat on this one. I have done a bit better turning electronics off early, but it’s really more like 9 or 9:30 rather than 8 PM that they go off. I feel most energetic when I wake up between 8 and 8:30 am, so I’d like to be asleep by 11:30. I’d be very interested in hearing your tips on getting into good sleep patterns!

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Exercise – this is one goal where I’m doing great! My goal was 20 workouts in March, and I did 24. I checked off my “fresh air and sunshine” goal on 27 of the last 30 days as well, so I am rocking and rolling on the exercise front! My April and May goals are to do 20 workouts per month and one minute of planks five days each week. I find that when I do planks consistently, I feel stronger and it only takes a minute out of my day, so it’s a win-win.

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Breakfast – you are my downfall! After my morning latte, I’m not usually hungry, so I forget to eat until lunchtime, which is often when I end up having my fruit smoothie. I keep reading about the importance of fueling your body in the morning, so might try prepping “smoothie bags” on Sunday to make it easier for my morning brain – I could just dump the contents into the blender, add almond milk, and voila – breakfast! I’ll likely add a column to my chart for eating SOMETHING in the am, even if it’s just a banana or a hard-boiled egg. Look for my May update to see how I do!

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Something fun – While I only did one full day outing in March (my overnight to Macon, Georgia), I did go to the opera with my husband, meet friends for lunch, schedule coffee dates, and have lots of exercise dates with friends, so am definitely feeling happy with this category. I’ve also read several good books lately and traveled for family events (two weddings in April) which has been fun. I’ve got some fun trips planned in the next few weeks as well, so watch for some new posts in my Wednesday Wanderings series! And let me know if you’d like to hear what I’ve been reading.

**I’d really love to hear your tips for better sleep and time management! Leave a comment below if you have any advice!**

48 Hours in Austin, Texas

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As they say in Texas, “Howdy”! This edition of Wednesday Wanderings is all about Austin, Texas! My nephew got married there recently, and my mother-in-law asked me to fly in a few days early and play “Tour Guide Barbie” for her and a friend.  They wanted to visit some tourist sights in Austin, and left it completely up to me to plan the itinerary.

Austin has so many amazing activities, it was really hard to narrow down my list, but I tried to think of what my mother-in-law and Sister Fran would enjoy the most. I also threw in a few things I wasn’t sure they would like, but which to me are quintessential Austin experiences (food trucks, tacos and street art). Luckily for me, they enjoyed every adventure I threw their way!

Here’s what we ended up doing…

Austin Ducks – I wanted to start with a Duck tour to give Mom and Sister Fran a good overview of the city, and see if they were intrigued by anything special that I could then add into the itinerary. We got distracted by Shipley Donuts on our drive down from Dallas, so missed the tour time I had targeted for Thursday afternoon. Rearranging on the fly, we decided to tour the Texas State Capitol instead, and made a reservation for the Duck tour on Friday morning. Duck tours use amphibious vehicles left over from World War II; we drove through historic old Austin, down Sixth Street, past the Texas State Capitol building, then splashed down into Lake Austin for a different view of the city. Our driver was hilarious, told tons of cheesy jokes, and even played some 50’s music during the tour (Mom was jamming to “Splish Splash” as we splashed down into the lake) and we had a great time. Some of those waterfront houses along Lake Austin are SPIFFY!!!

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Texas State Capitol – We did a couple of laps around the Capitol before finding the parking garage, so we saw it from several different angles as we approached (it used to be the tallest building in Austin, but is now surrounded by skyscrapers). Once we parked, we walked a block over to the Capitol and waited about ten minutes to join the free 30-minute guided tour (they do have a self-guided tour pamphlet if you don’t want to do a Guided Tour, but our guide pointed out a few things I missed on my own, so I recommend the guided version).

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I particularly enjoyed the chandeliers in the Senate and House chambers (the lightbulbs spell out TEXAS) and the 130 year old elaborate door hinges. In the floor of the Rotunda, there is a huge mosaic depicting the seals of the six flags under which Texas has flown, which is beautiful. Portraits of every Texas governor hang in the Rotunda (each time a new governor is elected, they shuffle EVERY PORTRAIT to keep them in chronological order with the newly elected Governor’s portrait in the right spot!

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After the tour, we walked over to the Capitol Visitors Center, which has a gift shop and exhibits about the history of the Capitol, the XIT Ranch (Texas ingenuity at work…instead of paying for the Capitol building themselves, the Texas state government sold thousands of acres in West Texas to a group of businessmen from Chicago and used that money to build the Capitol), and a little bit of Texas history. Sister Fran was excited to see a small exhibit about O. Henry, as she is a big fan of his writing. We wandered the Capitol grounds, which are open to the public as a free city park, and enjoyed watching some big black birds put on a mating show for the females hanging about.

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For dinner that night, I took Sister Fran and Mom to a food truck area on Burnet Road, where several food trucks are parked, so they’d have lots of choices. It was their first time experiencing food trucks, and I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy the food truck scene, but they both LOVED the adventure! We ordered from three different food trucks and shared everything so we could taste a variety of foods. For dessert, we ate doughnuts from Gourdough’s -they were HUGE and so good! We tried the Dirty Berry and the Son of a Peach – both were delicious and we rolled back to our car when finished.

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Friday morning, we started with the Duck tour, then stood in a long line at Torchy’s Tacos for lunch. Torchy’s is a local chain which started as a food truck, and they have TONS of different kinds of tacos. The owner experimented a lot when he first opened, and whenever he heard a customer say “Those are da** good tacos”, he would add that experiment to the menu! Torchy’s now has locations in Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, so if you get the chance, do go enjoy!

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After lunch, we headed to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. There is an IMAX theater, an interactive film about the early days of Texas and tons of exhibits. My favorites were “The Texas Cowboy in Hollywood”, the clips of musicians who have played at Austin City Limits (from the beginning all the way to current times), and the replica of the facade of the Alamo after the famous 1836 battle. A particularly evocative touch were the artifacts embedded into the floor in front of the facade in the exact spots in which the originals were found after the battle in March 1836. They also have the original statue from the Capitol Dome.

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After the museum closed, we made a beeline to the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery. It’s the only paint park of its kind in the entire USA, which over the last seven years has become a popular space for Street Artists and Muralists to showcase their large scale art. Unbeknownst to me, Sister Fran is a big fan of street art, so she took loads of photos! We were lucky to see several artists at work while we were there and had fun picking out our favorites from the layers of art.

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**If you want to see the HOPE Outdoor Gallery in it’s original location at 11th and Baylor Streets, visit before June 2018, when it will be demolished. The gallery moves at the end of 2018 to a new location at Carson Creek Ranch, 30 minutes east of the city, where it will occupy a six acre site and offer art classes.**

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Once we‘d had our fill of street art, we ran by the airport to grab some other family members, then headed to Hopdoddy Burger Bar for dinner, where we had amazing burgers and were impressed by the servers’ ability to layer multiple plates upon their arms and wind through the crowd without spilling! (If you’re getting the impression that we mostly ate our way through Austin, you’d be absolutely correct – the food there is SO GOOD!)

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That’s how we spent our 48 hours in Austin – we had a blast! Mom and Sister Fran kept saying they felt like they were on vacation…I reminded them that they WERE on vacation. Personally, I am still waiting to see the world’s largest urban bat colony at Congress Avenue Bridge. It wasn’t the right time of year for the bats, so I’ll just have to go back – my brother and my godson both live in Austin so I have plenty of reasons to visit!

What are your favorite things to do in Austin?? I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!