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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I’m back from Chicago and Worldcon and what proved to be quite a whirlwind experience. I’m also sick. Alas, using hand sanitizer and taking Vitamin C and eating fruit wasn’t enough to keep this particular miserable virus at bay. And I’m sick enough that my brain is somewhat foggy. So I’m going to table the topic I had planned to write about (which deserves my fully functional brain) and give you some snippets instead.

– I met a lot of people at Worldcon and spent most of my time socializing. And one thing that I find continually fascinating is how everybody has their own story. Some people wear their stories on their sleeves. Other people keep their interactions entirely surface to the point that it’s easy to forget they have  stories at all. And some people gradually reveal their stories to you, one layer at a time. But they’re always there: the goals and dreams, the insecurities, the setbacks and old wounds, the history, the personality quirks, and the bedrock of character.

– Many people seem to have a lot of social anxiety around convention going. There was a lot of talk about various kinds of social nervousness, as well as more than one person talking about trying to let go of worrying about what they might be missing. (“Just enjoy the con you’re at” was the chief advice being bandied about.)

I don’t have any particular insight to share about this because, as it turns out, these are not my particular problems. I tend to get nervous before a con, and sometimes I have a short period of nerves upon first arrival (although even this seems to be lessening more and more), but once I dive in, I’m pretty much fine. And I hardly ever worry about what I might be missing because what’s the point? Besides, I’m usually having a fine time doing whatever it is I’m already doing. This makes me think that perhaps some people have very different goals for their cons than I do.

That’s not to say I don’t have any problems at a con. I worry about when and what I’ll eat (because sometimes food just doesn’t happen, and sometimes I end up subsisting on French fries). I worry about my body holding up through so much standing and walking and lack of sleep. I feel sad that I don’t have as much time as I would like with many of these fabulous people I’m surrounded by. Sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversations I want to have. And sometimes I’ve had enough superficial chit chat and really want a more substantial conversation than what I’m getting. But so far, at least, I’ve found that these are workable problems.

My feet over Chicago.

– I really like Chicago. I love the varied architecture of the buildings downtown, and I love the beauty of the lake. The Art Institute was a real treat, and the pizza was intense.

– My sprained foot got hurt on an overcrowded elevator one evening, which resulted in a fair amount of pain (and possibly some tears, but don’t tell anyone). I was really struck by the generosity of spirit from the people around me. Let me tell you, I was taken care of. Before I knew it (and I certainly didn’t have the presence of mind to make any of this happen myself), I was sitting down with my foot elevated, I had ice in a ziplock bag, I had taken Ibuprofen, I had tissues to dry my eyes, and I was being diverted by kind people talking to me while not expecting me to provide a coherent response. Later, a few friends went to dinner with me in the hotel to save me extra walking, and other friends were visibly concerned, sympathetic, and willing to help. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who contributed in turning what could have been a catastrophic event into a demonstration of kindness and thoughtfulness.

– Now I want to sleep for a week. Possibly two.

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I’ve written before about how travel can cause us to get to know people better. What I didn’t say was that travel can help us learn to know ourselves better.

This fact is perhaps why I care about travelling so deeply. Because all those things you can find out about your traveling companion? If you’re paying attention, you can also discover them about yourself.

Travel forces us to exist in liminal spaces, pushes us into in-betweens. We are no longer inhabiting our familiar landscapes, no longer in our comfortable personal worlds. We are past the comfort zone, pushing boundaries, encouraged to see what is around us with new eyes. Grocery shopping becomes glamorous and the tenth art masterwork we’ve seen today becomes mundane.

A fjord in Norway

Travel is taxing. We are often tired from long sits on airplanes, the passage of too many time zones, making our way from point A to point B in stifling heat or numbing cold. Our bodily needs become complicated as we try to manage our hunger, our thirst, our exposure to the sun, or our aching feet. The food may be different. The language may be different. Things go wrong and fall apart, and we are left feeling simultaneously buffeted by a large, impersonal world and lifted up by strangers’ acts of kindness and generosity.

It is because travel can be so uncomfortable that it is so rewarding. We find edges we didn’t know existed inside of us. We run headlong into our assumptions. Many of our outer trappings are stripped away even while we experiment with creating personal narratives for the people we meet. And meanwhile we are surrounded by brain food or soul food or the seeds of creative inspiration, or all three at once.

Sometimes we lose ourselves, and travel is one way to begin searching. Sometimes we crave change, and travel is one way to explore the possibilities. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive, and travel is one way to find peak experiences.

Exploring in Portugal

Travel is an active doing and a passive waiting. Travel is discomfort and pleasure, sublimity and boredom, a pain in the butt and the best time ever. Travel is flinging ourselves into the world and asking, Will you catch me? Which sometimes turns into, Can I catch myself?

We often think about travel as an exploration of the world. But it can also be an exploration of the self. In removing ourselves from our routines, our comforts, and our surroundings, we gain fresh perspective.

I had a friend ask, “By traveling, aren’t you running away from your problems?”

But sometimes traveling is running directly into our problems. We take ourselves wherever we go. The question is how serious we are about creating change. And traveling is one way to do just that.

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It’s the end of April, April 26th, to be exact, and as always on this day, my thoughts are with my mom.

Her death at age fifty really brought home to me the reality of mortality. All things must end. We have a finite amount of time. It made me realize how important it is to prioritize, to make things happen now because there might not be a later, to fight against becoming stuck in a daily routine if it makes me unhappy.

Her death taught me the importance of shaking things up.

You want to know the truth? I don’t like shaking things up. It’s scary and uncomfortable. There tends to be a fair amount of risk involved, as well as failure and disappointment. It can be hard to decide when to shake and when to let things settle.

But when in doubt, I’d usually rather shake. I remember the finite life span of human beings. I remember my mom’s unhappiness, and how she couldn’t shake things up to make her life better. And then it was too late.


Could I be a writer if I didn’t believe in shaking things up? Could I be a blogger? I don’t know. I’m guessing I couldn’t be a blogger because blogs tend to shake things up. Any blogger worth her salt will have to occasionally offer up an opinion, and people will disagree. Shake, shake, shake. And without that extra push to make life happen for myself, would I have found the courage to spend so much time writing? To attempt a novel? To send stories out to be rejected? All these choices shake things up.

I worry when people my age (thirties) tell me how much they want to travel, but they haven’t been anywhere. I want to say, I hope you’re not serious. I hope travel isn’t actually that important to you. I hope it’s a nice dream that provides a pleasant thought diversion. Or else I hope you’re just being polite, like me when I say how amazing it would be to learn to knit (I don’t actually care if I learn to knit or not). Because otherwise, what if it never happens? What if you never shake things up enough to make it happen?

This is why priorities matter so much. So we can decide when it’s important to shake and when we can take a break, be laid back, and let things sort themselves out. It’s like my experience with Las Vegas. I live a short flight away from Vegas. People I know are going to Vegas all the time. It’s never been a real priority of mine to go to Vegas, so I sat back and figured it would happen when it happened. I chose not to shake things up.

And guess what? I’ve still never been to Vegas.

So in a way, today is about remembering my mom AND remembering the power of shaking things up. I don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore? Then bam, I’ll learn more about it, I’ll push myself to change, I’ll ruffle some feathers. I want to be a writer? Then bam, I’ll take risks with my writing, I’ll go out there and meet people in my industry, I’ll leave myself vulnerable, and I’ll commit myself fully even knowing failure waits right around the corner.

Hi, Mom. This earthquake is for you.

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At this time of year, I always feel like I’m straddling the flow of time. Half of myself is looking backwards and evaluating what has gone on before, while the other half is looking forward to what the next year may hold for me. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per say because I prefer a continuous evaluation process, but thinking in terms of units of time can be helpful when trying to look at the bigger picture of my life.

So, without further ado, here are a few reflections on 2011 and few wishes for the year to come.

Cute little Nala and me

Writing:

2011 was an exciting year because it was the first year I had something published, thus realizing a dream I have cherished since I was seven years old. Hooray! In fact, I had three short stories published this year, one of them to a pro market. I was also able to join SFWA as an associate member.

My wish for 2012 is that I am able to use the lessons I learned this year to increase both my productivity and my enjoyment in writing. (Being greedy, I also wish for more sales.)

Health:

The first half of 2011 was dominated by crazy dental problems. While that silly crown still often aches, the level of pain has subsided to the realms of the tolerable. I also had more ankle problems. But on the plus side, my knees continued to improve in a most pleasing fashion. I also began to eat more healthily, trying to limit my consumption of saturated fats in particular, and have done fairly well with it (although not when traveling. Eating healthily when traveling is ridiculously hard).

My wish for 2012 is to keep growing stronger so I have less overall aches and pains, and to continue following my moderate diet.

Travel:

2011 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t leave the country. Various health concerns dampened my travel ambition somewhat, and I mostly stayed close to home. My favorite trip of the year was my first time in Washington D.C. in March. I would definitely return there for a follow-up visit someday. We also attended the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, visited Disneyland with friends, and relaxed over Thanksgiving at our favorite Maui vacation spot.

I was able to attend five writing conferences and conventions, two local and three an easy traveling distance: Potlatch, FogCon, SCBWI LA, WorldCon, and World Fantasy. I particularly enjoyed attending the inaugural FogCon and moderating my first two panels, and catching up with my wonderful writer friends (and making new ones) at the larger conventions was fabulous as usual.

My wish for 2012 is to leave the United States. We’re thinking either Japan or certain favorite Western European locations…

Personal Growth:

I wrote about the two most important lessons I’ve learned this year last week. I feel like I’ve made a fair amount of progress on the people pleaser front and have developed a stronger backbone. I’m more likely to stand up for myself and less likely to take responsibility for everyone else. So, yay!

My wish for 2012 is to continue tackling my vicious perfectionist streak and to do further work towards trusting myself and my abilities. I’d also like to be able to reach out more to other people.

Happy upcoming New Year, dear readers! What are your wishes for 2012?


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The Thailand Test

I doubt it will come as much of a surprise that back in my dating days, I was always very interested in how my boyfriends responded to travel. Were they excited about the idea or were they neutral? Where had they already been? When I suggested a trip, what would they say? So my first trip with my now-husband was a pretty big deal. (Why yes, it’s personal anecdote time.)

After much discussion and way more procrastination than I was comfortable with, we finally settled on taking a trip to Thailand. I had never been to Asia and I really wanted to go (thus getting one step further to my six continents by age 30 goal), and Thailand sounded like a truly magical place: Buddhist temples, cheap massage, great food, and elephants. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I coaxed Yony into going.

We arrived safely in Bangkok, where we got lost in a poor part of town and managed to avoid a scam artist while still being totally confused. The rancid smell alone was enough to make us grateful to head out into the countryside. It was perhaps our third day in Thailand when we took a guided adventure tour that was to include a waterfall hike, an elephant ride, and some kind of boat (maybe rafting?) trip.

Me in the middle of the hike. Don't I look insouciant?

The trip began with the waterfall hike, which was a steep uphill climb through the mud on a hot, sticky day. The wise tourists stopped partway up at some pools where you could go swimming, but Yony and I were determined to reach the top, and I was trying with all my might and main to keep up with his faster pace. I was tired and uncertain of my footing, so I didn’t follow Yony to one of the viewing areas that looked difficult to reach. Because, you see, I was being careful. We eventually made it to the top and took some photos.

Beautiful view from the top

Soon after we started the climb down, I rounded a corner, slipped (whether on mud or slick rock, we will never know), and took a very bad fall down the slope. Yony was behind me, and from his perspective, I might as well have fallen off a cliff–I had fallen out of view and he had no idea how far I might have tumbled.

Luckily for me, I stopped at the bottom of that particular slope where the path veered to the right and didn’t continue on past the trail. Otherwise, I might not be writing this today. I was okay except for an extremely muddy backside…and a very injured ankle. And remember, we were still at the very top of trail, in Thailand where, as far as we knew, there was little chance of outside aid.

Some of the mud we had to hike down through.

We walked down that mountain together, Yony and I. He encouraged me onwards, he helped me past the narrow and slippery bits, I leaned on his shoulder as I limped downwards, every step sending pain shooting up my leg. I held it together for him, and he held it together for me, and after an endless walk, we reached the bottom.

When you travel with someone, you get to know them. Yony and I got to know each other better that day. He saw my levelheadedness in a crisis (one of the first things I did was to ask for the ibuprofen in our backpack), my determination, and my courage. I saw his devotion, his strength, and his patience. He realized how he’d feel if he lost me, and I learned how to trust him more than I had before. That day we became a team.

The Amy-Yony team

Of course, it’s not only through travel that we get to know people. We learn more about people by facing adversity together. Through grief and disappointment, hardship and disagreement, conflict and fear, we get to see deeper inside. We get to share the parts of a person that are weak, fearful, that make mistakes and have regrets. I said last week that travel can make or break a friendship, but in the bigger picture, it is those hard times and the hurt places within us that will test a relationship. And upon being tested, that relationship may fracture, fail, or grow stronger than ever before.

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If you want to get to know someone, take a trip with them. If you really want to get to know them, don’t bring anyone else along, don’t take an all-inclusive guided tour, and either go somewhere that neither of you have been before or somewhere the other person truly loves.

 

Even deciding where to go together can be instructive. Do they want to go camping? On a cruise? On a beach vacation or to a theme park? Are they attracted to big cities or locations off the beaten track? Close by or international? Low key tourism or adventure travel? Or do they want to do all of the above? (This would be me, although it changes over time.) Are they willing to save up for a more expensive trip? Do they talk about how they’ve always wanted to travel but haven’t? Are they completely uninterested in leaving their region/state/country? Do they have a dream of someplace they’ve always wanted to go but haven’t visited yet?

Egypt, outside of Cairo

The obvious reason that traveling with another person causes you to get to know them is the vast amount of time you’ll end up spending together. This is doubly true if the trip involves lots of travel time (by car, train, plane, bus) during which there aren’t many distractions and you don’t have much to do besides be together. You’ll probably end up talking a fair amount. You’ll see this person at all times of day and in many different moods (excited, tired, cranky, hungry, interested, relaxed, etc.). It’s harder to hold onto a public persona under these circumstances; the mask tends to slip.

You’ll discover, if you don’t know already, how they interact with the world around them. How do they respond to trying something new? What about something new that they’re trying just because you want to? What activities do they end up actually advocating for or spending time on? Which ones can they obviously not stand? How much downtime or quiet time do they need? How do they react to crowds? Discomfort? Fatigue? How engaged are they in what they’re doing?

Traveling also requires many decisions, and watching what someone decides, how they decide it, and how they try to communicate with you can also be very revealing. When and what are you going to eat? How are you going to find a restaurant? On what activities will you spend your time? What souvenirs do you buy? Even the timing of when you go to bed and when you get up in the morning can be a point of contention.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

And then there’s that inevitable moment when things go wrong. And make no mistake about it, things almost always go wrong at least once during a trip. Often a lot more. These moments are among the most revealing of character and personality: how he deals with stress, what kind of fiber she’s made of, how resilient he may or may not be, how creative she is when thinking of solutions. And these are also the moments that can make or break a relationship, either throwing the two of you into conflict or bringing you closer together.

Of course, even if we can’t travel with a certain person, we can learn a bit just by spending some time asking them about their trip. What do they tend to talk about: the logistics? the food? the physical activities they did? the beautiful painting they saw? the people they met? Do they turn their trip into some kind of narrative through which they find insight or meaning? Do they dwell on what went wrong (the weather, bad food, lost luggage, etc.) or what went right (or maybe a bit of both)?

Traveling with someone is challenging, so don’t do it to keep the peace and maintain the status quo. I’ve heard stories of friendships ending during trips because they aren’t strong enough to bear up under the additional stress. But if the end goal is not to keep a friendship going at all costs but rather to know a person more deeply, then travel might give the insight we seek. We might not like everything we discover, but sometimes we’ll also find that we love that person anyway.

Your turn: Where would you like to visit? What aspects of a trip do you tend to talk about once it’s over?

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I recently received an email from a friend of mine asking for travel advice for an upcoming trip to Europe. I am always thrilled to be asked about travel, because any excuse to talk about it is a good excuse in my book. So I wrote back promptly sharing what I knew, and when he thanked me, he also said, “You talk and blog about the wonders of travel, but for us newbies the actual process can be a bit intimidating.” And I knew I had today’s blog post.
One of my favorite things about travel (and also one of the things I most dread, paradoxically enough) is how uncomfortable it can be. It can shake us loose from our daily routines, from our preconceptions, even from who we might think we are. It challenges us, it taxes us, and sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things go very, very wrong.

But I realize that maybe that’s not what I tend to talk about. My excitement and passion for travel shines through so brilliantly that it tends to eclipse all else. I gloss over many of the hard bits, or I don’t mention them at all. Plus many events that were quite difficult at the time seem funny or interesting in retrospect. Even as they’re happening, I try to see them as all part of the adventure, and that attitude carries through even when I’m back home.

So yes, the process of travel is intimidating, and not just if you’re a travel newbie. It takes a certain amount of energy to get started, and at this time in my life when I’m getting more settled and am dealing with lingering physical limitations, I have that energy less often than I used to. And while I’m not overly intimidated by travel to Europe anymore (which wasn’t always the case), I’m still easily overwhelmed by contemplating trips to other parts of the world. (Exotic diseases are my bugaboo. If the ailments I read about in the medical part of the guidebook are too disgusting, I lose all enthusiasm for visiting. I’m also convinced that I will get malaria in many parts of the world because mosquitoes love me soooo much.)

I didn't have a digital camera when I was in Sweden, so a photo of Norway is going to have to do...

Still, it is through the discomfort that transformation can occur, which is why I love it in spite of itself. The first non-English-speaking country I visited by myself was Sweden. Very modern, almost everyone speaks at least some English there, the food isn’t too crazy. I’d arranged to stay in a dorm room in Stockholm, so I even had a place to head upon arrival. I went out and about my first day, and I was so overwhelmed by being alone in a foreign place that I went back to the dorm and hid. I’m not even kidding, I hid and watched TV and cooked food in the dorm kitchen and felt miserable. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake, and it took all my willpower to eventually leave the safety of my room and continue my travel adventure.

On top of the world... in Switzerland.

Fast forward two months and I was in Switzerland, also alone, but completely transformed. It wasn’t that I was so much more comfortable, but I knew I could rely on myself. I had more confidence, I had seen amazing places and met a huge array of different people, and I had survived. I had faced up to the strong surges of grief I still felt over my mom’s death, and I had finally found a measure of peace around it. I was a different person, and to this day I believe that those two months are among the most important experiences of my life.

So is travel amazing? Yes, but it’s not for the weak of heart. It can be dizzying and terrifying, tedious and stimulating, painful and healing, and no matter how carefully we plan, travel will turn out differently than we expect.

What is an amazing travel experience you’ve had? Or, if you haven’t traveled much, what destination are you eager to visit?

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Photo by Werner Kunz

I attended a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and I had a conversation that’s become stuck in my mind. I was talking to a friend who was foregoing travel for a period of time (maybe a couple of years) in order to save up for a car he really wants. He said something like, “I always prefer spending money on things instead of experiences because I can keep on having great experiences with material objects for a long period of time.”

This statement caused me to begin questioning the culture of consumerism and my own relationship with the materialistic world. If questioned, I would have answered the exact opposite of my friend, that I prefer to spend money on experiences because those experiences will make me happier and more engaged in my life as a whole. There’s even research supporting my viewpoint.

But it’s not that simple, is it? I like material things as well as anyone else. My husband and I own a house, and we just purchased a new car since my old one (a ‘95 Corolla) has become finicky in its old age. Plus I have my three consumer weaknesses: books, sheet music, and clothes & jewelry. Hence the main storage problems in my house are bookshelf space and closet space.

I remember when I was starting my studio business, and I had to strictly prioritize my budget to make my earnings stretch. I allowed myself to buy sheet music (within reason) because I used it in my business. I only bought books on special occasions (thank goodness for libraries), and pretty much only mass market paperbacks even then. I did go clothes shopping, but I was careful to visit stores like Mervyn’s, Target, and Ross, where my money would go a lot farther.

In return for this thrift, I allowed myself experiences that I desperately wanted. I always allowed myself gas money if I wanted to drive somewhere to visit friends or enjoy a particular sight. I’d occasionally splurge on a dinner out with friends. And I’d save everything else for my annual trip abroad—the experience of travel and seeing other cultures was my highest priority. Sometimes I wished I could buy “pretty” things, but more often I worried about unexpected medical expenses taking away my travel budget. Experience trumped all.

One year, however, after I had received some gift money, I splurged and bought the complete set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs. I was so excited about this purchase, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched those DVDs—over and over, and I’m sure I’ll be watching them many more times in the future. So I understand what my friend meant about material objects giving lasting pleasure. What about a good piano? Does that count as a material object or do we purchase what a piano represents: the experience of making music? And driving in an expensive car (like my friend wants) is a completely different experience than driving my rattling old Corolla.

I wonder how often when we’re spending money on something material, what we’re really buying is the experience the object represents. I think I’d personally still prioritize straight-up experience expenses over more object-oriented ones: a night at the theater, a delicious meal, being able to spend time with non-local friends, traveling around the world. But perhaps my friend and I aren’t so different in our thought processes after all.

In which case, here’s the lesson I’m taking away from this: if I am making a purchase, I will try to remember to stop and consider what experience a given object represents, and then decide whether it is an experience that I truly want and that the object will actually deliver.

Objects are never going to be what makes me the happiest, however. My husband, my dog, my friends, intellectual stimulation and challenge, music and stories—these are the most important to me.

Which do you prefer—spending money on experiences or physical objects? Care to share a particularly memorable experience or purchase? I’m all ears.

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– People should travel around the world to learn more about both themselves and other cultures.
– People shouldn’t waste their time and money traveling abroad when you can learn everything that’s really important about life in your own backyard. 

– People shouldn’t write more than one book a year because the quality of their writing will suffer if they try to do more.
– People who don’t write at least two books a year don’t have a strong work ethic.

– People shouldn’t have children because studies prove that parents are less happier than people without children.
– Everybody should have children because passing on your genes and knowledge to the next generation is the most important and fulfilling work there is.

– All authors should aspire to be offered a traditional publishing contract because that is the only established way of both distributing your work and filtering for quality.
– All authors should consider going indie because not only is the market tightening, but the contract terms from big publishers are becoming less and less favorable to new (and some mid-list) writers.

– Moms shouldn’t work because you don’t want strangers raising your children.
– Moms shouldn’t stay at home because women shouldn’t give up rewarding careers and fail to reach their full potential.

Remember that just because something is true for you does not mean it’s equally true for someone else. We all live in this world together, but we’re all individuals, each with our own point of view.

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1. Being in a foreign country, even one in which they speak my native language, forces me to see.  It shines a light on the world around me, but even more important, it opens myself up.  Whatever I’ve been trying to ignore, whatever I’ve been trying to leave behind me unexamined, well, there it is.  I return to the U.S. a different person from when I left.

2. The day we leave, we decide to get a cab after all because it’s raining, and slogging to the Tube with all the luggage and the wet only to squeeze into the steaming commute-time train sounds distinctly unappealing.  Plus I barely slept the night before.  Our cab driver talks to us the entire drive to the airport.  He is worried about the foreign embassy workers who won’t pay their parking tickets.  It’s mostly the Arabs, he says.  He’s been to Florida and Disney World, and he wonders if California is the same.  It’s not, I say.  Then it begins to snow in light swirling flakes.

3. It’s maybe one in the morning as I enter the large square room laid bare by its strong fluorescent lighting.  I instantly want to back out and run the other direction, but I’m an adult now and I have to deal with things like this.  I sit in the dentist’s chair in the otherwise bare room, noting how there is absolutely no high-tech equipment in sight.  No, wait, there’s a box that looks like a machine of some kind.  Until I realize it’s an old PC vintage 1998.  Not reassuring.  The assistant, wearing baggy white clothes that remind me of the gangster rapper wannabes at my high school, looks like he’s not more than eighteen.  He tells me, without knowing anything about my case, that it will either be a root canal or an extraction.  I laugh nervously and try to make a joke, only to realize that he is completely serious.  Those are the two things that happen in this room.  The dentist holds the X-ray up to the light, does a bunch of fast talking, tries to make me feel stupid and small, but luckily I’m too stubborn for that.  No way do I need a root canal in the middle of the night with old instruments and two assistants who cover themselves from head to foot with plastic bags.  I wonder about the sanitation.  I leave.  My cheek doesn’t swell up horribly the way he said it would if I didn’t get treated, so I feel pretty good about that decision.

4. Shiny twinkle lights adorn every shopping area in London.  Oxford Street is a steady stream of shoppers, already laden with paper bags on every arm, prominently emblazoned with big brand names that even I have heard of.  A sidewalk vendor sells crepes.  We stop and I have my favorite, with apricot jam.  My leather gloves are covered with stickiness by the time I am finished.  Shiny red ornaments, grotesquely over-sized, hang from the ceiling at the Covent Garden market, and a large green reindeer, two to three times as tall as me, stands to one side with a red ornament nose.

5. Thanksgiving night, we are going to the theater.  We stop off at a nearby pub and both order fish and chips.  I eat my chips with gallons of ketchup.  It feels like just another night but I’m okay with that.  I’ve been doing the “five things that make me happy” exercise pretty faithfully lately, so I’m very aware of just how much I have to be thankful for.  Back home I will have pie and think Thanksgiving thoughts.  I just have to decide between pumpkin and cherry.

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