Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cruising the British Isles: Oh The People You'll Meet!

Irish Pub

At dinner one evening we sat with a couple who were celebrating their 52nd wedding anniversary. He was American and she was Mexican. They'd met when she was visiting a cousin in Southern California who lived next door to him.  The woman smiled as she told the story. "I didn't speak English and he didn't speak Spanish." Of course, my female curiosity had to know how they fell in love under those conditions. The man chimed in "When she went home I bought a Spanish dictionary and taught myself Spanish so I could write her letters." They had written each other letters for 3 years--"he wrote 3 for every 1 I wrote"--until he drove to Mexico city with several members of his family to marry her, arriving the week before the wedding to meet her family. They had 7 children all of whom were doctors, lawyers, or engineers and scads of grandchildren. They looked like they'd had the happiest life.

In the hot tub one afternoon I struck up a conversation with a man and his wife. He was a professor of business ethics at a university in Santiago, Chile and she was a "head hunter" for several major corporations. Our discussion quickly started with the lack of long term thinking among corporations and governments and covered several other topics until I finally asked what he thought the largest problem was. "Population. Specifically people living in cities." I was intrigued and remembered Dunbar's Law, which says that humans can only have approximately 150 real relationships. I asked if this was part of what he was speaking about. His eyes lit up. "Yes!" He gave a lengthy lecture on the effects of it. (It all seemed familiar somehow. :)) His basic theory was that once people moved into large groups and away from villages where everyone knew them from birth to death they gained a sort of anonymity that greatly affected their behavior. Decisions stopped being made for the good of the group and the self was exalted. Once that happened the short term thinking about what would be good for a single person became more important than long term thinking. He explained that he found the same thing happened in corporations the larger they became.

When he got all finished I asked what the solution was. As the words came out of my mouth his wife smiled a cryptic smile. He said, "Oh yes, my students ask that all the time. But there is no solution. This living in groups will kill us eventually most likely by a plague (he asked if I'd seen the movie, Contagion) and this he felt sure would happen in the next few decades.

Some other people entered the tub and broke our conversational spell but it was nearly time to get ready for dinner anyway, as stepped out of the tub he said "Enjoy the rest of your cruise, our species is going to end soon."

One of the things that impressed us most on our trip was just how genuinely kind people seemed to be, particularly in Scotland. My husband played a round of golf on the "wee course" (meaning 9 holes) and after we went to the clubhouse for a pint and a snack. The chef came out to chat with us and when we asked if we could use the phone to call a cab he insisted on driving us back to the ship himself. "It's 5 minutes out of my life, I'm not doing anything right now." We explained that after changing our clothes we wanted to catch the train and asked where it was. "I'll just drive you over to it so you  can see where your are going. It's 10 minutes out of my life."

A regular occurrence even in large cities was that if we were asking directions from someone 2 or 3 other people would stop to find out if we needed assistance and if they could help. Everyone was nice but the Scots seemed to be willing to go the extra mile.

We had lots of other random encounters. There was the Israeli dairy farmer, the woman who taught international folk dances as a profession, our bar tender who owned a rubber tree farm in Thailand, and an old guy who walked up to me at a bar in Belfast while my husband was in the bathroom and said "How long have you been sitting here waiting for me."

I told him it had been a really long time and I was beginning to wonder what had happened to him and that I thought maybe he'd changed his mind.

His two friends he'd come in with had the most priceless looks on their faces. :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Arriving in London for British Isles Cruise

 This was quite possibly our favorite trip ever. So many wonderful experiences and sights.

Let's start with an overview: London, Southhampton (to set sail from same port as the Titanic), then Guernsey, Cork, Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Invergordon, and La Have before returning to Southampton and London again to fly home. An exhausting itinerary except that a cruise ship makes it possible to unpack once for such a journey and sleep in the same bed every night.

We arrived a day early with good intentions of checking into an airport hotel, having a nice dinner and a pint, then off to an early bedtime to start off our UK adventure fully rested and recovered from our long flight and loss of sleep.  But as we know, travel is full of surprises. The hotel receptionist directed to a neighborhood restaurant a few blocks away. It took us a moment to figure out there was one queue for ordering food and another one for ordering drink, but then each was brought to the table. While we stood in line a young woman behind me struck up a conversation with me about the news from Egypt being shown on the screen over our heads. She was from a middle eastern country working for the embassy of another one in London.

She found the news footage upsetting and proceeded to explain to me that the people rioting could neither read nor write and had no knowledge of world affairs or politics other than what their religious clerics share with them. She explained that a good man with modern ideas who could get himself elected could most likely not maintain control. "These people only respect strength. The need is for a very strong leader who also has a modern way of thinking, but I fear this cannot be found." We discussed her own country which has a reputation of stability which I was glad to hear, as it also has a site high on my travel list.

While I was engaged in this conversation my husband was chatting up a young man and woman in front of him in line. 

Which is how we ended up staying up all night drinking with a Sicilian, a Serb, and a Swede (guess which one was a girl? ;)) They were a crew of flight attendants on a layover for Qatar Airlines. They were quite curious about the number of Americans who are passport holders. They'd heard 8% someplace but I argued (only guessing) that the number must be closer to 30%. Luckily I wasn't far off with Forbes reporting last year that a record number of Americans, roughly 1/3, have their passports.

We eventually moved from the pub when it closed to our hotel lobby, where a bored night time manager was willing to open the bar back up for a little company. The evening was filled with discussions ranging from religion to politics, travel, family history, home, education, and love.

We began our UK adventure less rested than we'd hoped, but such encounters are always worth losing a little sleep over.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Crisis Reading: A Life Raft Of Books

I've always been a big reader of self help books. Filling your mind with information you can use when things start to fall apart is a plan I highly recommend. 

“Most people who decide to grow personally find their first mentors in the pages of books.”
John C. Maxwell, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential

Dark days are coming. In one way or another. Maybe you've already been through some hard times or are going through them now. In any case they are inescapable because life is unpredictable. You may be sick, have lost someone you love, or have been shaken to your core by disappointment in someone you trusted. Our ability to cope with hard things is not unlike building physical muscle. The more things you endure and deal with the more things you can deal with. And next time you'll already have some skills in place and tools on hand to help you. You'll know that you aren't going to feel this level of hurt forever.

You have choices and power over yourself no matter what has befallen you. Are you really just going to pull the shades on your life and wallow in your pain for the next 30 years or so claiming you can't get over, forgive, or move on? Or are you going to deal with your situation, doing whatever needs to be done and then get about the business of working on yourself? The latter allows you do take pain and use it constructively to grow into a fuller version of yourself. 

I've put together a little reading list for life's darkest moments, curve balls that hit you in the shins, broken hearts, and all manner of fiery arrows that may be hurled your way. They don't all seem like books you'd want at such a time, but it's been my experience that I am a much better student in the midst of pain.

 1.Healing is a Choice  by Stephen Arterburn. Acutally, anything by this author is helpful when you are in crisis mode. He's been there. And he's extremely honest about it. If things are bad I'd say, start here.

 2. Rick Warren's classic Purpose Driven Life has been...well, repurposed and updated into What On Earth Am I Here For? It's the question we all really want the answer to. Take 40 days and do this one a chapter at a time, it's filled with extra resources via your smart phone to further your discovery process. A great book for starting the beginning.

 3. Stephen Arterburn has another winner called Reframe Your Life. Simple idea that helps you develop a new perspective.

 4. Joyce Myers has a collection of books that would help anyone get through pretty much anything but I found Change Your Words Change Your Life to be particularly helpful. Those words have the power of life and death in them and NOT just when we are saying them to others. Watch that self talk!

5.  Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway. Classic. Simple. Brilliant.

6. Boundaries by John Townsend: Put your people pleasing ways to an end once and for all.

 7. The Marriage Benefit: The Surprising Rewards of Staying Together. If you happen to need a list of reasons to do that. Full of stories from his counseling sessions that are honest and hopeful.

 8. Just like all his other books John Gray's book Why Mars and Venus Collide is like drinking a cool glass of water on a hot day. You recognize the truths he is outlining immediately.

 9. The Five Love Languages. A modern classic that will help you understand how your spouse, children, and friends are communicating love to you and what they need in return. Fascinating discussions will follow! He has versions for kids, teenagers, and singles but the basic information applies to all.

10. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Even on the worst day there are things to be grateful for. Many of them, in fact. Practicing gratitude is going to ease your pain in ways you can't even imagine.

 Biographies. Biographies. Biographies. People have endured some pretty wretched things and lived to tell about them and thrive. They have then written them down for us so that we can learn from their experiences. Sure your life may suck right now but have you had to cut off your own arm? Were you born without arms and legs? Have you been held prisoner and tortured by anyone? Sometimes a little perspective doesn't hurt. Here are a few I recommend:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

One from the Archives. But It's about shoes, so it's awesome.

The two sides of my brain often give me problems...

All I wanted was a pair of shoes.

In about 6 weeks I'll be embarking on the trip of a lifetime (I call them all that until I start planning the next one). It will mean hours of walking on cobblestones in old world cities in unpredictable weather. Practical walking shoes will be in order.

I used the words "practical" and "shoes" in the same sentence. Feel free to make a sad face. :(

If you have shopped for a "walking shoe" you know one thing: they are ugly. And they are expensive. Okay, maybe you know two things.

Researching all of the available options online I read several reviews from customers about each brand. I know I should be inspired by phrases like "good arch support." My intellectual brain knows that this is what is going to be of primary importance after about 6 hours of walking shoe review ever said "These shoes make your legs look like a million bucks."

You can make your sad face again. :(

After doing all my online research I headed out to the brick and mortar stores.

Remember that 1960s show Lost In Space? Remember the robot that would frantically wave his arms and yell "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"?

Yeah. It was kind of like that. Only it was in my head. And it was "Danger! Leopard print! Hot pink! Sexy heels!

Here are some samples of the shoes I NEEDED to be shopping for...

Here is what I kept trying on...

To make matters worse I haven't bought myself anything new to wear since Thanksgiving so the word SPLURGE kept popping into my head.

SPLURGE is a very dangerous word. Please note the name of this blog. I should also point out that SPLURGE is relative. For me it would mean spending as much as $85.00 on a pair of shoes. I know for some of you that isn't a big deal, but I recently wore a $5.00 dress from the Goodwill to a wedding. Coral cotton eyelet was perfect for an outdoor event in record breaking heat. Here's a pic of me with my daughter, who would not be caught dead in a five dollar dress:

On top of all of that the nerdy part of my brain kept saying "There is a bookstore right over there!" I couldn't help thinking how many books I could buy with the money I had budgeted for these shoes.

Stupid nerdy brain. Leave me alone when I'm shoe shopping! 

So hard to stay focused on a mission when temptations abound...

At Stein Mart early in the day I happened upon a pair of Privos by Clark. Good reviews online, extremely comfortable, and not hideous. Not hideous being the key selling point. I think they may even look okay with a short skirt for day trips.

After visiting a dozen other stores to see if I could beat the price or find something I liked better, I went back and picked them up. Black is so practical. They didn't come in pink.

Feel free to make that sad face again. :(

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pre-Packing Portfolio

Working on putting together some outfits for an upcoming trip. Can you guess where we're headed? Here are some clues for the 5 countries:

I won't be leaving the jeans at home this time. 

A book about one locale has been thoroughly discussed over on the Professor and the Housewife blog.

I expect one stop to be completely "fab."

At one destination my husband hopes to get into the "swing" of things.

One country is at the top of my husband's travel wish list.

Green Wellies and a Macintosh should be useful.

We won't be swimming one famous body of water.

We'll be visiting a bit of American sod in Europe.

When I was a kid one of these countries wasn't a likely tourist destination because of terrorism.

On to the clothes: