Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson, in Song

In June, for my birthday, I treated myself to a 4-night cruise to Cyprus, Rhodes, and Mamaris, Turkey. I sailed on a reconditioned ferry, run by a small Israeli cruise line. We sailed out of Ashdod, and I soon learned that, aside from some crew members, I was the only English speaker aboard.

I wasn't fazed by that. I've been living in Israel for almost ten years, and by now I'm fairly fluent in Hebrew. I chuckled when I realized that all announcements were going to be only in Hebrew, but again, no problem- I understood every word. Food wasn't an issue, either, as after 10 years my tastes now often lean more toward the Israeli than American.

I signed up for shore excursions in each port, and once I decoded the Hebrew words for Cyprus, Athens and Rhodes (each roughly pronounced as 'Kafrisin', 'Atoona', and' Rodoos'), not only was I able to understand the guides' narratives, but I was able to participate in the question and answer give and takes that were a part of their repartee.

A substantial part of my enjoyment of that cruise was how easily I felt I fit in - no language barrier, and culturally, at least to the storekeepers in each port, I was as much of an Israeli as anyone else on the ship. For someone who will forever be known locally as an 'American,' being thought of as just another Israeli in the group was nice.

In general, although my accent will always disclose my immigrant roots, I've been pretty well absorbed into Israeli society. We have Israeli friends, with whom we speak only in Hebrew, and there are even some popular Israeli songs that I find myself humming more often than old English language favorites.

But, every now and then, we find ourselves in a situation that flies our immigrant status in our faces.

This past Saturday night was one of those times:

One of our friends is a retired music teacher, and every year he holds a sing-a-long in his home. 30 or so friends cram into his living room; song lyrics are projected onto a wall, and his sons accompany us on piano and flute.

My husband and I did our best to join in the singing, but we soon were stealing mirthful glances at each other. We were surrounded by friends who were belting out songs they had grown up with, and we enjoyed joining in as soon as we caught onto the melody. But aside from the occasional song we recognized (and gave ourselves a happy squeeze when we did), we were definitely in new territory.

To anyone who had grown up in Israel, or who had raised children or grandchildren here, the evening's songs were old, comfortable favorites. But to 'lone immigrants' like ourselves, who have no young ones at home or nearby, each song was a new revelation.

What a joy to be in a room filled with friends and song; all of us having a great time! And, while we were trying to catch on to each melody, we had a chance to carefully read the lyrics of each song, and gain a greater appreciation of their loveliness that we would have if we had been able to join in the singing from the first chord.

As we sat on that small couch towards the back of the living room, we knew we were also sitting on a small island of immigration- and that for as long as we lived in Israel, that couch would never be far away. To the surprise of neither of us, we're perfectly fine with that. We'll always have new lyrics to learn and enjoy, and the accompaniment of friends to help us learn the tune.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeing the World with a Painter's Eye

My husband, Stu, has always been 'into' photography. The first time I met him, he had two cameras around his neck (and a girl on each arm, but that's not at all relevant to this post!).

Stu has a natural eye for photography. I've always been impressed with his instinct for framing a photograph, for capturing a moment, and with his eye for composition. I've tried to learn from him, but as the years pass, I've come to realize that he's got some sort of innate photography sense that I don't possess.

That's probably one of the reasons that I don't take many photos when I'm traveling. I find myself wandering about wide-eyed, drinking in all that I can see, and not wanting to have to think about how and what I should be photographing. Which is totally opposite Stu's approach- he always has a camera at hand, and seems to be able to instantaneously spot and click the perfect photo, no stress involved.

After traveling to London and Paris, and having no photos
from those trips, I was determined to take pictures on my latest trip. I took all the standard tourist photos- the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, beaches and koalas and kangaroos. Taking photos in New Zealand was easy: the scenery was so gorgeous that snapping away was a no-brainer.

Somewhere in New Zealand, I found myself thinking how painterly the scenery was starting to look, and I found myself focusing my photography on things I would like to paint. Suddenly, picture taking became much easier- and much more pleasurable.

I thought I'd share some of those photographs. Maybe one day, I'll post pics of paintings that incorporate elements from some of these photos. What I'd most like to do is to go back to New Zealand with an easel....

From New Zealand:

As inspirational as I found New Zealand, it was at the nature sanctuary my cousin took me to in Florida that I came across the most 'paint ready' scenes (the last two photos were taken on St. Martin):

Add Image

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Replugged, with No Worries

I've been back from my trip for about 3 weeks, and I woke up this morning determined to return to my blog.

So here I am, back home, back online, and getting back into things.

It's been a
busy three weeks, filled with visiting grandchildren, apartment hunting (and showing our apartment to prospective buyers), noise from renovations that our new upstairs neighbors are doing before moving in, adjusting to being home and back in Israel, and, as ever, dreams and plans for my next trip...and the ones after that.

Where I've been..

A quick recap of my trip: On September 30, I flew to Los Angeles with my husband. We spent 2 fun weeks together at our son's home, relaxing and enjoying our grandchildren. We saw the youngest, Moshe, take his first steps, and enjoyed mornings with a bed filled with little ones, and days giggling, chatting, and hugging.

After my husband returned to Israel, I took a 4 night Carnival cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. A few days after returning from the cruise, I was on my way to a week in Sydney, followed by a week in New Zealand's South Island. Then, a short stay with a cousin in Florida before a week of total relaxation on a Caribbean cruise on the Emerald Princess. On Novemeber 16, I returned home refreshed, fulfilled, smiling- and wondering where my travels would take me next.


The beauty of New Zealand floored me.

I've always dreamed of visiting New Zealand, and from photos and reading knew it was gorgeous, but I literally found myself breathless as I looked out the plane's window on the flight from Christchurch to Queenstown. More shades of green than I'd ever imagined, blue skies punctuated by snow capped peaks, thousands of sheep, glacial lakes...

Walking around, and traveling by bus, I found that each bend in the road brought another breathtaking landscape. I've mentioned before that, to my occasional regret, I'm not much of a picture taker, but in New Zealand I found myself clicking away, intent on capturing the beauty unfolding before me.

Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Mt. Cook, Queenstown.... glory upon glory...

A Week of Firsts- I Prefer Nature Touring, but Sydney was Lots of Fun

I toured Sydney with my friend Laura, and while my week in New Zealand was unquestionably the highlight of this trip, I really enjoyed Sydney, too.

We walked and walked (actually, it was more like Laura walked and I trotted next to her- boy, does she have a long, quick stride!), took ferries to beaches and to the zoo, toured the Opera House and went to an opera, and saw little children everywhere - Sydney seems an energetic city of young, blond, expanding families.

It was a week of firsts for me: I saw my first opera, petted my first koala, saw my first platypus (a real highlight for me, as they've been stuck in my mind since I read about them in second grade), and maybe most important, learned a great new phrase: 'no worries.' I heard it countless times in Sydney and in New Zealand, and now I've found that it's replaced my usual 'no problem.' Such a sweet outlook on life, embodied in a quick and easy phrase!

Here's a few photos from Sydney:

A Very Pleasant Surprise

From New Zealand, I flew to Boca Raton, Florida to spend a few days with my cousin Susan.

I'd been promising to visit Susan for way too long, a
nd finally, on this trip I made my way to her home. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that she had gone out of her way to ensure that I would have a comfortable and enjoyable visit. For months, emails flew back and forth, asking me about my favorite foods, favorite things to do, how much quiet time I wanted...anything and everything that the perfect hostess would want to know about a guest was asked and answered. When I arrived the fridge was filled with yummy treats, my bedroom outfitted, and I was treated better than royalty: Susan's love and delight in seeing me embraced me, and I could feel the smile on my face enveloping my entire being.

Besides feeding me, Susan took me to the beach, to a nature preserve, and on a tour of 'Boca' and neighboring towns. I had only set aside 3 nights for my visit, and by the middle of the first day I was regretting the brevity of my trip. Needless to say, the promise I made to visit at least once a year is one I will be eager to keep.

Capping it off with a Sanctuary

As long as I was going to be in Florida, I figured I might as w
ell take a cruise! I wound up on the Emerald Princess for an Eastern Caribbean cruise (Princess Cays, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk), but I spent most days in the private area of the ship called 'The Sanctuary.' The Sanctuary more than lived up to its name: an oasis of quiet and pampering, with thickly cushioned daybeds instead of the ship's regular lounge chairs, and a staff who strived to make one's stay as comfortable as possible. The ship was great and the Caribbean was lovely, but my time in the Sanctuary was heavenly.

A few of my favorite photos from Florida and from the cruise:

... Where next!?

No question about it- once you've got the travel bug, it never goes away. When I booked my ticket to Sydney, I thought that might be the end of my travels for a while. Silly me! Within a couple of days of returning home, I was already leafing through travel magazines and browsing websites..

My husband's asked me to stay home for at least a little while, so the trip to Egypt I was flirting with for this week will have to wait for a bit- but only a bit, as Stu's promised me that the next time he goes to Port Said on business, I can fly with him to Cairo and tour from there. Hopefully, that will be by the end of next month- especially since I've already started planning my trip!

We're hoping to finally get to Petra together next year, too, but other than our regular trips to see the kids, I'm leaving my travel plans for 2010 open for now. Sure, I've got some 'maybes' floating in my head: a return trip to London and/or Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen, a British Isles cruise, Sedona, AZ and thereabouts. A Greek Isle cruise if I spot a great price. Maybe a long weekend in Prague with Stu.

Mostly, travel in 2010 will be low key, with mainly shorter trips. But I've got big plans for 2011 and 2012 :-)


How could I not include at least one pic of the true highlight of my trip!:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


When I went to London a few years ago, I surprised myself by deciding not to bring my laptop. I figured that if I brought my laptop, I would linger in front of it in the mornings instead of getting out of my hotel room bright and early each day.

It was the best decision I could have made for that trip, and since then, not only do I always refrain from bringing my laptop with me when I travel, but I find myself looking forward to the prospect of 'unconnected' days. Without my laptop, I've taken a cruise on the Siene at night, seen 'Wicked' in San Francisco, spent 2 glorious days hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, and spent days and nights relaxing to the sound and smell of the sea. I started my days in London with a cup of hot cocoa, and then a brisk, early walk or rush hour ride on the Underground, and spent hours walking and roaming, lingering and watching.

Last night, as I was preparing for my trip (I leave tomorrow night for 7 weeks in Los Angeles, Sydney, New Zealand's South Island, a visit with a cousin in Florida, and a Caribbean cruise), my laptop crashed. Totally, absolutely, hard-drive-erased-crashed. After a few minutes of choice words, with brow sweating, and mind in overdrive trying to figure out how the heck to fix it, I suddenly stopped and thought, "Hey, this may not be such a bad thing, afterall."

OK, so sure, first thing this morning, I dragged out an old laptop and managed to get it up and running and online, but the connection is fairly slow, and instead of being able to sit at my kitchen table and surf, surf, surf, the only place I could set it up was up in our office, which is one of those rooms we rarely step foot in anymore, mostly because it's poorly insulated, and pretty much cut off from the heart of our home.

With this set up, I have to make an effort to access the computer, instead of having it at hand in the place I spend most of my time. I have to go upstairs, and sit in a place with no distractions. No sound of the neighbors, no watching the birds and butterflies at the window, no stepping outside for a second to see if there's a sign of fall in the air.

It didn't take long for me to start feeling like I didn't really need to be online all the time. No need to be signed into Skype, just in case someone wanted to reach me. No need to check Twitter every couple of hours, or any of the blogs I sort of follow; not even a need to check the news regularly.

It was almost like being on one of my trips.

I had plenty to do today, what with packing and all, but while I was keeping busy, I couldn't help noticing that I didn't have that compulsion to sit in front of the computer for 'just a few minutes'. There were even a few hours somewhere during the day when I didn't go upstairs to sit down even once.

What a relief! Truth be told, every now and then I've gotten the feeling that I spend way too much time in front of my laptop. I'd wonder if I was kinda isolated. Or maybe insulated? In any case, I certainly wasn't interacting face to face with all that many people (unless you consider video Skyping a face to face interacion). I don't think my social skills were necessarily suffering, but then again, I'm pretty comfortable being by myself, so I'm not sure if I'd actually know if I was lacking or awkward in multi-person settings.

(I also have to admit that I've had an occasional nagging worry that if I continued spending so much time online, that one day I might find that I had turned into some sort of old, dried up, spinsterish old lady, whose social life consisted of 'talking' with her internet 'friends'.)

A long while ago, a friend of mine told me that he purposefully did not sit down at his computer for a couple of days at a time. I thought this was really odd, especially since he made a good part of his living designing programs. His words have pretty much always been with me, and I often would find myself reflecting on them, and scratching my head. But, every now and then...

Every now and then I'd get a tiny glimmer of an understanding nanosecond, where I thought that maybe I got what he meant. But, I'd always brush it aside, not scoffing at his words, but certainly thinking 'no way' for me.

Today, I heard his words echoing again. This time, though, I lingered on them. Being unconnected didn't seem so bad. I got a heck of a lot done today. What I noticed most of all, was that while my body was working, my mind was really, really active. [Note to close friends and family who just choked on their food, while laughing so hard they fell on the floor: My mind was even more active than usual. Hard to imagine, I know. But- really!] This was different- instead of deep, concerned, philosophical thoughts, or mind-racing to what I'll be doing over the next five years thoughts, my mind amused itself with calm, peaceful wanderings. My muscles are aching right now, but my mind feels relaxed, unharried, and unhurried.

I think I could get used to being unplugged. Maybe... Well, we'll see how it all plays out when I get back from this round of travel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova/ Happy New Year

The Jewish New Year starts tonight. There won't be any fireworks- Jews mark the new year with prayer, retrospection, and pleasant meals with friends and family.

I've been meaning to write a couple of posts all week, but with selling/not selling our home, getting ready for my trip, and all sorts of everyday business, I never found the time. Well, maybe next week (or should I say- next year ;-)).

Wishing everyone a year of smiles, and of hopes and dreams fulfilled.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Keep it Simple

It turns out that simplifying our lives isn't all that simple.

How small a place can we move into? Will two bedrooms be enough? Can we be happy without a terrace? How much of my studio should I dismantle? Where will we put all our stuff? How much privacy do we each need?

Last week we had our home appraised. Tonight, the real estate agent was in a tizzy. She had it all figured out: she knew of a young couple looking to move into a larger place. They were already familiar with our building, and wanted to buy into it. If we liked their apartment, then we could buy theirs, they could buy ours, and within a month we'd each be settling into our new homes.


Even though that was moving much too fast for us (yes, even for me), we agreed to look at their apartment. The location was perfect. The apartment was in move-in condition.

But at 90 square meters, and only two bedrooms, it feels too soon to move into a place that is so much smaller than ours. It's great that it's on street level....but not so great, because in Israel people hang out on the street until 1 or 2 am, talking, laughing, honking their horns...better to have a flight or so to walk up, and have some privacy and quiet. Can we really live without a terrace? As soon as we walked into the living room, we had an urge to push out the wall so that we could sit outside... And, where the heck would we put all our stuff?!

Back at home, we started looking around and figuring out how much we would need to get rid of in order to fit into that apartment. The cabinet filled with antique dishes I'd been collecting would have to go. OK, I can live with that. I'll keep a few of my favorites to pass on to our grandchildren, but I can part with the rest. The chests of drawers in the guest room, the extra beds and sofa beds, the closets, most of our bookcases, all the furniture in the back den, at least half my studio... no problem. Half the contents of our kitchen...well, OK. Everything in our storage room.. sure, why not.

Hmm...maybe it is doable after all. But, not in one month's time. Not even in three- not with the holidays and my subsequent trip coming up. I could be packed up and have all the extra stuff sold off by March.

Well, unless we find the perfect apartment... then I guess I could somehow, however frentic the time would be, have it all done in a month or two..

It seems like I've just finally put behind memories of packing and unpacking boxes, of daily hauls of things we were ready to discard, of hours upon hours of filing, marking, labeling, decision making, of hands raw from taping. Where did all this stuff come from?!

I've got the feeling that the biggest challenge won't be in reducing the amount of stuff we have, but rather in making sure that once we've gotten rid of it, we stop accumulating more. Maybe that should be my new meditation mantra: 'keep it simple.'

Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting Antsy

A few years ago I finally acknowledged what my friends had been chuckling over for years: I've got a touch of hyperactivity in me.

When I get busy, I get over busy, with several projects running at once. I talk fast, think at hyper speed, and always have my eye on the next set of things I want to do.

For most of my life, I never gave it a second thought. Heck, aside from realizing that I talked way too fast for most people (being constantly asked to slow down made that hard not to catch!), I always figured I did things the same way as everyone else.

Deep inside of me, though, I always wondered how people settled down and stayed in the same community for decades. When we moved to New Jersey, I think I really tried to buy into that, and at one point I might have almost had myself convinced that I could take comfort in living in the same house for 30, 40, or 50 years until it was time for either a nursing home or a grave.

It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to find that my husband had been as antsy as I was about living in NJ. It wasn't until we had been living in Israel for a couple of years that I learned he had been thinking about making a change for quite some time.

Well, we've been in Israel for 10 years, in the same apartment for five, and I'm getting antsy again.

We've had a realtor in to appraise our place, and the day after she was here, I turned to my husband and said that we have a chance to make another huge change in our lives, and what did he think?

A couple of years ago I suggested that we sell our apartment, and backpack around the world for a few years. He sweetly demurred, but smiled and said it was fine with him if I did some traveling. I jumped at the chance, and since then have been either on the way to somewhere new or busy planning my next trip.

But I'm starting to get an itch for more than just a month or two of travel a couple of times a year. I want the challenge of living in a new place, getting adjusted to a new culture, learning a new language, experimenting with new foods.

I've suggested six months in London or Paris, thinking that a central, metropolitan area might be fun. I've got visions of hopping a train or bus or cheap flight for weekends exploring Europe.

Just as I start feeling comfortable in that idea, I get another vision: of a quiet life on an exotic island deep in the South Pacific. A couple of years ago, we spent a fun afternoon fantasizing about changes we could make in our lives, and I had another pleasant surprise when my husband started talking about moving to far flung places.

In my realistic moments, I acknowledge that for now, we'll probably just move to a smaller apartment in the same town, and I'll continue to travel, with, hopes that my husband will join me on a trip or two.

But we have agreed to get rid of as much of what we've accumulated over the years as we can. He'll be happy with just simplifying our lives, but I'm thinking that the less we have to pack and unpack, the easier it will be for us to pick up and go...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Three Funerals and a Wedding

Last week we were running on emotions. Each day found us either at a funeral, paying a condolence call, or at a wedding. On top of that were very frustrating problems with a neighbor that led to legal intervention, so needless to say, it felt like the week would never come to an end.

Thank goodness the wedding was on Thursday night, so we had it to look forward to all week. And, on Tuesday, our son was in for a few hours, which made for a very special and much needed treat.

One of the funerals was of yet another person our age. He was someone we knew when we were teenagers, and when we opened our email in the evening to find the announcement of his death, and that his funeral was being held in half an hour, we wondered for a moment if we should attend, and then quickly got ready to go.

I think most of us expect that at some point in our lives, our friends are going to start dying. We just never thought that it would start happening while we were only in our 50s. When Sarah passed away earlier this year, we were very shaken, and filled with the surety
that her untimely death was an anomaly. We spoke of learning to live life to its fullest, but I don't think it ever crossed our minds that Sarah's death marked the entrance of a new stage in our lives.

Aaron's death last week struck a different chord. As we were driving to the funeral, we started comparing ourselves to elderly people we've known who seemed to accept the death of a friend as an unavoidable eventuality that is mourned with a few tears, a shake of the head, and then a continuation of life.

Do you do that when the dead were still in the prime of life? Can you?

As I write this a week later, I understand that the answer is that yes, we do move on fairly quickly after the death of a friend. Their passing floods us with fond memories and strong emotions, but perhaps the difference is that at our age a friend's death also bears a very sharp touch of reality, and a determination to not let life slip by.

To Sarah and Aaron, may you rest in peace, and with dreams and hopes that all your friends enjoy life with you in mind, and that many more years pass before we find ourselves gathering at the funeral of another friend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Making Something Great Even Better

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube clip. I've watched that video a couple of dozen times, and it's never failed to make me smile.

It's so good that when I'm looking for a smile, I turn to that clip.

Chances are you've watched it, as it's gotten over 16 million hits since it was posted in mid July.

It's titled, 'JK Wedding Entrance Dance.' In case you haven't seen it yet, I don't want to spoil the fun for you, so I'll simply say that it is, indeed, a wedding entrance dance, but it's not necessarily what you'd expect. (I've posted the video at the bottom of this entry.)

What's made the clip even better is that when the bride and groom saw how many views it was getting, they added an appeal toward violence prevention, and included a link to a website they set up to help collect donations.

(I just sent a contribution.)

I can't think of a better way to start a marriage! First, they've brought smiles to the millions of people who've watched the video of their wedding entrance, and then they decided to put that good will to a much needed cause.

Kudos to Jill and Kevin! My way of saying thanks for all the smiles you've brought me is to make a donation through your website, and to post the link to both your video and your website, in the hope that others will also reap smiles and good deeds.

To view the video, click here

To visit Jill and Kevin's website, click here

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I Love Dark Chocolate, But I Prefer a Sweet Life

My husband just posted this quote on his Facebook page:

"Having faith in G-d means having faith in other people, and the measure of our righteousness lies in how many people we value, not in how many we condemn." Rabbi Sachs, Great Britain

I'll discuss faith in God in another post. Right now, I'd like to take a look at the end of the quote, 'how many people we value, not in how many we condemn.'

It's sort of a 'do you view the cup as half-empty, or half-full' type of thing, and I think
s a good measure of a person's character, and a guideline for each of us to use as a springboard for self-evaluation.

Lately, I've been coming across articles, letters, and editorials in all sorts of forums and publications that talk about how good manners, graciousness, and respect seem be falling by the wayside. Some say it's a symptom of the failing economy, others attribute it to a lack of parenting skills, and others say it's yet another result of the 'me generation.'

People complain about fellow travelers who cut in line, throw tantrums when their demands and/or expectations aren't met, and who generally behave as if they are the only ones who matter at any moment.

I've read of incidents involving a shameless lack of respect and compassion for the very young, for the elderly, and for the infirm.

Personally, I've noticed an alarming rise in people on eBay who accompany unreasonable demands with threats of leaving bad feedback, or of filing falsified claims of bad or deceptive services to the eBay 'authorities.'

I shake my head at all of these, and wonder is it that people don't want to get along, or is it that they don' t know how to?

We've all interacted with people who seem bitter with the world, who just seem to be brimming with anger. Many years ago, I had a small blow up at a friend, and when I had finished my little tantrum, he calmly asked me, 'so, do you feel better now?'

Over the years, his words have often echoed in my head, and I used to work at moving to the 'feel better now' stage without needing to throw the tantrum first. But, a couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to get to a place in life where I didn't need the anger at all.

It seemed like an impossible goal, but it turned out to be easier than I ever imagined.

For brevity's sake, I'll jot down a short list of how I maintain a state of calmness, happiness, and acceptance:

  • I meditate daily, at least once a day, but if I feel under stress, I'll add another round or two. I've found that even just a few minutes of meditation is often all I need.
  • I tell myself to smile! I walk around with a smile on my face (and in my heart), and a bounce to my step.
  • I avoid people who have 'negative energy'- people who are always complaining, who can't or won't find a positive spin to a situation, or to life itself.
  • I never hesitate to lend a helping hand, a kind word, or a hug of support.
  • If I find myself in a difficult situation, I take a deep breath, brush off all negative thoughts, and then leap in to the challenge.
As I mentioned in a previous post, besides opening my eyes each morning with smiling expectations, I've experienced impressive improvements in my health, not only in my blood pressure, but also in every recent lab test.

I feel a sense of pity for people who can't shake off their anger and bitterness. I know men in their 60's who seem to revel in feelings of anger toward their parents. When I tried talking to them about it, asking them why at their age they didn't want to work through their feelings, they looked at me in confusion. They seemed to identify so strongly with that anger that they couldn't imagine separating from it.

I wonder: Are people who hold onto such intense anger toward another person expressing a sense of self anger? If you haven't found peace with yourself, can you feel peacefully toward another? (Yes- it seems like such 'psycho-pop', especially if that anger is being directed toward a parent. And if you groaned at that, just wait until you read my next paragraph..)

Taking a leap, and reflecting again on what I talked about in my 'Quest, and the Game of Life' post-

If on a personal level, we can't find peace within ourselves...if we can't show love and respect and compassion to others...if we approach life as a competition we have to win... then what chance is there for peace in the world?

Getting back to the quote from Rabbi Sachs, wouldn't it be lovely if we chose to speak highly of others, rather than to disparage them? When I was little, our rabbi's wife literally never had an unkind word about anyone. She could be talking about an extremely physically unattractive person, but by the way she described them, you would think they were a beauty queen. I had to grow up a bit to realize that she was talking about inner beauty, but I know that even at a young age I was in awe of the respect she showed for others. I'm still in awe of her, and every year, I strive harder to model even a small part of myself after her.

As my husband and daughter-in-law (and now myself) like to say, it's easy to be nice. And it makes a world of difference

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Faraway Dreams

If there's a wanderlust gene, then there's no doubt I inherited it from my mother. Mom was a teacher, and every summer she'd join a tour to just about anywhere- Europe..the Caribbean..Scandinavia..the Far East. She'd been to them all.

When my mother came to live with us, I started organizing her mess of photos into neat little albums, hoping they would be a good Alzheimer's tool. While I was sorting through the pictures from her travels, I realized that in every single picture, she had a huge smile on her face, and her body language was telegraphing signs of pure relaxation and happiness- things we never associated with Mom, who always seemed to view life as a series of bitter, harsh challenges.

Sometime during the week of
shiva I observed after Mom passed away, I took out all those pictures, and as I was leafing through the travel album, I started to cry for that happy side of my mother that she had kept from us.

I knew then, that as soon as I could, I would start to travel. At the time, I found myself with an overriding desire to leave an album of happy photos for my grandchildren. Thankfully, in the two years since that week of mourning, I've realized that it's not a legacy of happy photos that I want to leave, but rather memories of a happy, loving grandmother who always had a smile on her face, a gleeful jump in her step, and an eagerness to see what was over the next hill.

So began my wanderlust.

For the past year or so, if I haven't been on the road, then I've been busy planning my next trip, and dreaming of the ones that will follow. Although I'll join them when convenient, I prefer to avoid the organized tours that were my Mom's standard method of travel. Instead, I strike out on my own, taking advantage of free or inexpensive walking tours to familiarize myself with a new city, and then spend the rest of my visit walking and wandering, chatting, and watching.

I've been to London and Paris, cruised on a very large ship, and also on a small refurbished ferry, have hiked in US national parks, and delighted in the decadence of Las Vegas.

I've found that I love waking up in a new place, enjoy fleeting encounters with new people, and equally prefer traveling solo or with a companion. But the most important thing I've learned about myself is that as much as I enjoy exploring new cities, it's nature that I crave. That lesson will be the one that steers my travel plans- I'll be balancing city touring with hiking, cruising, walking, and camping in the most glorious spots I can find.

Here are the places I've been to since I started traveling last spring:

First trip (after 2 weeks visiting my son and his family in Los Angeles): Las Vegas- Valley of Fire- the Grand Canyon- Bryce and Zion national parks- San Francisco- Yosemite- Big Sur- DC

This spring: Paris- New York- LA- a cruise to Mexico- hiking around San Francisco, and Point Reyes

In June, for my birthday, I took a 4 night cruise to Cyprus, Turkey, and Rhodes

I'm still planning my trip for this fall, but so far, this is how it looks:

LA- Sydney, Australia- South Island, New Zealand- Florida- NYC. And, I'll be adding a couple of short cruises in there somewhere (I'm starting to really like cruising- especially when I find a great deal!).

And, needless to say, I'm already looking ahead to next year, and beyond- for the next couple of years' travels, I'm eyeing: cruising the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, a Nile River cruise, Sedona, Arizona, Monument Valley, and return to the Grand Canyon, hiking in Petra, Jordan, and at least one trip somewhere in Europe. I have dreams of a South Pacific cruise, but that may have to wait another year or two.

There's an unexpected benefit that came with my travels: I had my yearly physical a couple of weeks ago, and my lab results were so good that my doctor actually giggled with delight when he reviewed them. He asked what had changed in my life, and when I told him I had started traveling, and felt stress-free, he suggested that I continue traveling, as my lab tests were at better levels than they had been in years. [One of my friends (half) jokingly suggested that I get my doctor to put that in writing, so that I could claim my travel as a tax deduction!]

[BTW- in case you're wondering how I've managed to do all this travel: my husband was a frequent business traveler for many years, and his accumulated pool of airline miles and hotel points has been my travel mainstay. Combined with a keen awareness of travel deals and how to find them, I've been able to cram in quite a bit of travel in the past year- and there's still plenty of points left to easily keep me going through at least the middle of next year (I'm already working hard at figuring out how to finance my travels once the points run out!) Please feel free to ask me questions- I'm always happy to help inquisitive travelers :-).]