Friday, June 27, 2008
I love those crazy, creative guys from Greenpeace! They'll find any reason to take their clothes off for a good cause.
As I watched this lovely video it simultaneously brought back memories of a certain clothing optional beach on an island off the coast of Croatia and the Alaskan glacier I landed on via helicopter. Both provided very happy memories. So here you go....have a great weekend, enjoy, and be enlightened!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
At first nothing changed after my conversation with Tom in the courtyard. I avoid him, not so much by choice but by circumstance, we travel within different work and social circles. When I’m at work, I stick to my desk and when the day is done I leave quickly.
Soon after I started my tour at the Embassy I developed a routine to my days. I came to work in the morning, arriving early enough so that if the weather was pleasant I stopped at the park across the street. While I had not yet begun to feed the pigeons, there was something I found comforting about sitting in silence, and observing the trees in motion, or people for that matter. The key was simply to be quiet to sit for a moment and enjoy the familiarity of morning light that held in its fragile leaf dappled light a remembrance of my childhood in the States. It wasn’t always there, but its frequency was just enough to keep me coming back in hopes of capturing it again.
This was often the best part of my day. And it was often enough. My days started in this way and then progressed as I moved through the security checkpoint at the outer gates, where I showed my identification and slid my duffle bag and purse through the baggage scanner. Generally it was enough to simply flash my Embassy ID and my bags would quickly slide through the scanner. I knew most of the young Marines who covered the front gates and could say hello by name.
After my conversation with Tom, there began to emerge small differences in this routine. One morning, as my bag slipped through the scanner, and I walked through the body scan, I reached for my duffle but before I could pick it up I was stopped.
“We have to search the bag,” the security guard said.
“Come on Jeff,” I laughed. “Nothing new today.”
“Sorry, just a quick look,” and with a firm grip he took the bag from my hand and spent the next five minutes making a concerted effort to take every item out of the bag one by one and place each item on the counter before repeating the performance in reverse and finally, handing me the bag without a word.
I submitted that first morning chalking it up to a rise in the security alert that I hadn’t heard about. But when it happened again the following week, while one of my colleagues went through without incident, I began to silently question why I was being targeted for closer scrutiny.
I tried not to make a connection between these occurrences and Tom, though his influence among the military staff at the Embassy was unassailable But then this shadow began to follow me through the day. There were small instances. The atmosphere in the Embassy had always been a mixture of familiarity and turf protecting paranoia. This meant that while we work within our own departments, the friendships we develop outside of work often lead us informal visits through the day. What I found, however, was that I began to get looks. Sporadic at first, I didn’t pay attention, because moods shifts within the corporate entity were often viral, taking on the atmosphere of the whole rather than an individual. Thus, in the middle of a particularly long stretch of winter when the sun had disappeared for more than a month, it was not uncommon for everyone in the Embassy to be more on edge than usual, for outlets for the built up pressure to appear, short tempers that launched arguments like summer squalls, or weekends binge drinking and the unsightly morning after effect if someone had gone home with the wrong partner.
As these events culminated into a more pervasive pattern, I lowered my profile. I came to work, went straight to my desk and stayed there until it was time to leave at the end of the day. As a result, the highlights of my day now revolved beyond the gates of the Embassy. Those brief moments in the park, when weather permitted, before work. Then the strolls through the outdoor markets on my way home.
There was an open air food market near the Embassy. These outdoor markets were disappearing with the advent of the more popular, brightly lit supermarkets and their smaller cousins the corner market that sold expensive imported brand name groceries, whose brightly colored packaging somehow spoke to the Russian sense of growing affluence. And while I also frequented these stores, I preferred the old fashioned open markets for my produce, or when I felt daring enough, to buy an unidentifiable hunk of beef to use in a stew. These open air markets shared a similar structure. They were housed in large warehouse structures with small windows near the roof-line and large industrial rollup doors, which made the inside fairly subject to the temperatures outside.
The enormous open space was filled with long rows of concrete counters upon which were arranged the produce, or dairy, or meats. Undoubtedly, several merchants sold identical items standing next to each other beckoning you to come to their stand before you finalized that purchase, their wares were better, their prices cheaper, they would make a deal, their pickled beets were much tastier.
It was a wonderful game, enjoyed by all the participants. As you walked along the rows, they would hold up a slab of meat, or a bunch of grapes and extol their virtues. You would walk from one to another, argue about the price, walk away, seek a better bargain, return to the seller, and finally when both sides agreed, make a sale. You were responsible for bringing your own bag. Or you could buy one from one of the old babushkas selling the ubiquitous plastic plaid nylon bags imported from
This comfort ended the night I retuned to my apartment, opened my purse and found that my keys were gone. A hole neatly cut into the side of the purse, a light touch in a crowded market, and they were gone. The culprit had not bothered to take my wallet, which contained my Embassy identification as well as the address of my apartment, credit cards, and money. They had taken only the keys.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Last week I wrote about my fear of failure as I received two rejections from agents who I had queried on my the previous novel I'd completed and started sending out for representation. My feelings of helplessness were compounded by opening the file for the chapter I was to revise for my current novel the "Glass Mystery" and realizing that I had no idea of how to tackle it.
I should pause to explain that I stopped writing for four years, leaving three novels that I had completed sitting in files on my computer untouched. A year ago, in March, I began tentatively, to write again by opening these novels one by one, chapter by chapter and revising them. This journey was actually the impetus for this blog, as I have detailed in previous posts. The journey has been a fruitful one, and certainly enjoyable as it got me writing again and brought me to the realization of how much I enjoyed the process of writing.
All of this came to a halt last week with those two rejections. They were the final straw in a culmination of second guessing my current path in life, a reflection of what I had accomplished in life and where I was headed. This was compounded by my frustration in not having decided yet where I would be going in September, where I would spend that month in the mountains. And then I opened that file of the next chapter in my current novel and seeing that what I had written seemed to have nothing to do with the direction I was taking the current revision, simply led me to a complete and depressed halt. Which is what that post about how to deal with disappointment was all about.
For a few days my blog remained silent, I had nothing to say. I am grateful for the kind comments I received. Thank you, they meant a great deal. I tried to rally by posting my favorite recipe for gazpacho soup. I've found that when my mind is in its mulling mode, it's best for me to head to the kitchen, to work with my hands, or take a walk, or read a book, which is what I did on Sunday when I stayed in bed for most of the day to read John Dunning's The Bookwoman's Last Fling, a terrific mystery.
Today, the fog has lifted. Visiting a real estate website, I found a small town outside of Denver that seems to offer homes both the acreage that I want as well as a price that I can afford. And then through the day, my mind began to offer me snippets of sentences, a new direction to take in that wayward chapter. And so I've spent this evening, after another long walk, writing those ideas into the chapter, and I like what I'm writing. Finally, the momentum has returned.
So here's what we can look forward to: tomorrow I will be posting the new chapter. And in the following days I will post another recipe, a photographic essay of tonight's dinner featuring two of my favorite dishes.
Today was a good day.
Friday, June 20, 2008
One of my favorite summertime meals is a deliciously chilled gazpacho soup, which originated in Spain, and in its most familiar incarnation is a tomato-based soup filled with a tantalizing assortment of chopped fresh vegetables. Everything about this dish says 'summer' from the wonderful crunch of the of the veggies to the cold soup that is wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day. I like to make enough to keep in a Tupperware container in the fridge, just what I need for a quick lunch or a pick-me-up after work...it's the perfect antidote to the heat exhaustion that you get at the end of a hot and humid Florida day. One mug of this terrific cold soup and you're ready to go!
Best of all, it can be assembled in literally five minutes using ingredients found in the pantry and vegetable drawer.
My chopped vegetables included the familiar assortment found in gazpacho, including: cucumber, green onions, green bell pepper, a Spanish onion, and garlic.
I like my gazpacho soup to be crunchy, which is good, since my knife skills resemble those of a first grader with a really big crayon. But you get the point, chop the vegetables into a fine, or not so fine dice. You can use a food processor if you want to reduce the prep time...in which case this would be called 'Three Minute Gazpacho Soup'.
Which brings me to a variation of this soup. For those who prefer a smoother soup, use your food processor to combine all the ingredients and process until the vegetables become one with the tomato base. That's what's great about this soup, it easily lends itself to your personal creative or culinary point of view.
For this five minute recipe, I'm using V-8 vegetable juice as my base, as well as canned diced tomatoes to add texture and additional tomato-ey goodness. I begin by first adding the diced tomatoes to the chopped vegetables (in the end, I used two 14 oz. cans to maximize the texture).
Then I pour the V-8 juice just to cover the vegetables, which makes the soup more of a vegetable stew. This is another area of subjectivity, if you prefer more broth, simply add more juice.
To bring out the fresh flavor of the tomatoes and veggies, I'll finish the dish with a liberal dash or two of hot sauce and the juice from half of a lime. You'll be impressed by how much these two ingredients 'brighten' the taste of the vegetables.
Finally, I like to refrigerate the soup overnight so that the flavors have time to meld and become a greater sum of the whole. In other words, the soup simply tastes better the next day!
Ladle this soup into a pretty bowl and top with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil or a dollop of sour cream. I prefer olive oil.
Give this a try, the next time you need a quick lunch, or dinner starter. Because it travels so well, it's also a great dish for picnics at the beach, or cookouts at the neighbors. Just pour the soup into a wide-mouthed thermos to keep it chilled and you're good to go! And it tastes so good, your children will never figure out that they're actually eating something nutritious!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
photo credit: http://domja.com/graphics/disappointment.jpg
Today I received two rejection letters from agents that I had queried with my previous novel. It seems that this novel will never see the light of day. And I suppose I'm okay with that. My question is this, how to deal with failure or disappointment.
How do you find the energy to keep moving forward when you are faced with disappointment, when it seems that what you have dreamed of achieving is either going to take longer or perhaps not happen at all?
Years ago, when I was a swimmer, my success was not immediate, it took years of building one success upon another to achieve the eventual success that allowed me to go to college on a full scholarship. But it did eventually come. I have had success in my chosen careers since then, but in this thing that is the dream that feels most like swimming did to me as a child, a passion, I am simply running again and again into walls. And I don't know how to deal with that. I want to be good at something, I want to be a success.
My greatest vulnerability is to be my age and to still be trying to find my way forward. It seems ridiculous to not have attained more by this point.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Jennifer from Thursday Drive....you have won the drawing for a one year subscription to Budget Travel! Send me an email to claim your prize!
Thank you all for entering our first ever give away. I greatly appreciated reading all your travel dreams. I hope we all get to achieve them in the coming year!
Friday, June 13, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Tomorrow I will be announcing the winner of the one year subscription to Budget Travel. Tonight is your last chance to enter to win....all you have to do is leave me a comment describing your dream vacation. I've received some terrific suggestions and really appreciate your ideas....so keep them coming....and maybe soon you'll be going on the trip of your dreams!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Note to self, situations to avoid in the future:
1. Answering the telephone.
2. Not screening calls before answering the telephone.
3. Attending dinner parties, rather than hosting.
4. Responding to the misconception that I am outgoing simply because I talk to you.
I wrote the above in my journal after being awakened from sleep this morning by the phone. This occurred after an evening at a dinner party which I didn’t cook, at which someone called me an intellectual, and someone else looked incredulous when I told them I was a recluse, because they thought I was ‘soooooo outgoing!’.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because I view the regional phone company with the same disdain as the IRS, I refuse to pay more than I absolutely have to. This means that I refuse to pay the extra charge for caller I.D. Therefore, every time I answer the phone it’s like playing Russian roulette. Only in my version, the gun holds four bullets as there are very few people I actually want to talk to. On the other hand, I gladly pay for voice mail so that I can hear the messages of those who called with out the tiresome bit of having to talk to them. I think I need to re-think the logic in this decision and perhaps opt for caller-id, afterall.
There is no plausible reason to talk to someone you dislike. For instance, I assume that when I break up with a boyfriend that I have found good reason to discontinue communication. A few years ago, one of those boyfriends decided that it would be remarkable to call me. I was young when I had this relationship, he was older, more accomplished, which is probably what attracted me to him as I was just beginning my career and eager for a mentor. To say that I was naive is an understatement. I was foolish enough to believe that if someone told you they loved you, that they would not get up from your bed and go to someone else’s and when confronted, lie about it. I hate liars, they are anathema to one’s ability to make rational decisions. So when this knucklehead called me years after we broke up and said that he wanted to be friends, well, I was incredulous for a moment…the moment before I told him to lose my number.
As to dinner parties, I do not detest the concept. It’s simply a matter of being in control versus relinquishing control. Hosting a dinner party allows me to enjoy the company of friends in small doses, always having the excuse of tending to pots in the kitchen. Of course, the popularity of kitchens that open to the living room, such as mine, or the bizarre propensity of guests to congregate in the kitchen, rather than in the perfectly comfortable living room sometimes confounds my best efforts.
Being a guest doesn’t afford me the same escape. Despite my entreaties to the host to let me help in the kitchen, I am often rebuffed and sent to mingle. This exile means that I am forced to smile and make friendly conversation. I would rather sit and watch. If I retreat out doors on the pretext of going for a smoke, someone or ones, even on a bitter cold night like last night, usually follow and ask me what I am doing out there alone. This makes me very nervous.
I hadn’t planned to attend this dinner party, in fact had entirely forgotten about the invitation until the host called to ask me if I would bring an extra bottle of wine. My initial reaction was to scrounge up a polite but vague illness. After the events of the previous 48 hours, however, I thought it better to leave the house, be among people rather than alone in the house.
Further, it afforded me a chance to get to know my neighbors, most of whom are very pleasant, if a bit too curious. I asked my hosts, a wonderful gay couple who’d lived two doors down for the last fifteen years and had been the first to welcome me to the neighborhood, if there had been any recent burglaries in the neighborhood. They assured me that this was a very safe neighborhood and home invasions were generally limited to the multi million dollar homes closer to the lake.
As to the insult of being called an intellectual, I find anyone who would proclaim themselves, outright or via association, to be smarter than average, usually turns out to be a fool. Perhaps I am averse to intellectual elitism, to those who are book-smart, but lack the insight of humility. I like the strong silent type myself. I like someone smart enough to keep their mouth shut and let the fool across the table reveal himself.
When I am feeling too full of myself, I simply turn to the Psalms. They’re written, in part, by David, a great warrior, and poet. The strong silent type, I’d like to imagine. In the eighth Psalm, he wrote:
‘When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him?’
Indeed. If God is silent, perhaps that speaks volumes about His wisdom.
Despite the rude awakening of the phone call, seemingly a wrong number, it was a beautiful morning. After staring at the ceiling to regain my bearings, I went downstairs, made coffee, and recorded my thoughts in my journal.
I’d decided that I would indeed continue to use the journal. I felt better.
Though not so good that I actually answered the phone the next time it rang. Instead, I took out my passport. The new one. Its pages were blank. I pulled out the other one, the one with the different colored cover. I flipped through the pages and looked at the various stamps. I held the last page closer to my eyes and examined the stamp that showed my departure from Russia.
I sighed and calculated that if I took a certain airline I’d be able to manage an overnight stay in Paris, dinner at a favorite restaurant, and a new Hermes scarf from the store on Rue de Faubourg in the morning before catching my next flight. I looked out the window at the bright sunlight and shuddered at the grey that would envelop me in Moscow. I thought of the rude customs agents, the aggressive taxi drivers. No, they were no worse than JFK. That wasn’t an excuse.
I looked around the living room. I wanted to have Christmas here. I’d planned on a ten foot tree that would do justice to the two story ceiling in the living room, planned to invite the neighbors over for a Christmas Eve party, as a show of my hospitality. I liked to entertain, as long as it was on my terms. This was going to be the place of my new beginning. I was going to put down roots here, begin again, do all the things that one does in a place that signaled home, and permanency. I would shun those other cravings and create the life I’d dreamed of when I’d sat staring at the walls in foreign venues. I’d imagined a place that spoke of family, of at least one generation that had created memories in a home. I’d seen it in magazines, and thought with enough money I could create it for myself. I was looking forward to Christmas in a new place, this place. I had better ornaments here. Better produce, better everything.
Yet the lure of foreign airports still called to me. I fought constantly with the longing for the eternal new beginning. The cold white unfamiliarity that greeted me through bleary eyes after an all-night flight, the blue, chrome, sleek lines of the automated walkways that lead me to shops that were just beginning to open in this new country. Business class lounges. The frosty allure of anonymous business men reading their newspapers, talking on cell phones, un-tethered in this way station of bad coffee, juice from a machine, and day old muffins. Orange laminate restroom counters upon which I spread my Chanel cosmetics after the trans-Atlantic flight, with fluorescent lights over the mirrors that would challenge the best esthetician, putting contacts into sandy eyes, that have been called cat-like and beautiful but only adorned for special occasions, smirking at the reflection that came into focus, with an hour to go before the flight that would take me further east, after I’d changed in the bathroom stall into the outfit that I’d want to be seen in when I arrived at my destination.
I liked that play.
I liked moving through crowds anonymously. I liked looking around at others without being known. I liked selecting my choice of wines on the flight and flipping through the choice of movies on the personal video display. I liked the suspended limbo of being neither here nor there. I liked wondering what my fellow passengers were thinking, where they were going, and their stories. Who waited for them at the end of the steel grey customs gate? I liked walking out that gate and knowing that no one was waiting for me.
But I don’t want to go back there again. Not even for the Cracker Jack prize of an Hermes scarf on the trip home through Paris. I don’t want to see smiling faces that are thinking unpleasant thoughts. I want to find a new destination. I want to find a place again where I am not known. Where I can walk through the streets and not recognize the economic price a country has to pay for its freedom. I don’t want to be pointed at and labeled an American, I want to be invisible.
The phone rings again.
I stare at the slim receiver that sits next to me on the couch, as if it is a visitor. I watch the little red light blink with each ring but don’t pick it up, although I am touched by its desperate entreaties. I wait until it stops. Then I get up and move across the room to the kitchen and refill my cup with fresh coffee.
I turn and look at the TV screen and with the remote control I turn up the volume of CNN. As the program of international headlines begins, I think of how differently the world is portrayed here versus there, our splendid naiveté…there where I don’t want to go. Because it is too complicated. I know my limits now. I don’t understand the way they view human life. I don’t understand their view of its infinite expendability. I cannot, will never, understand because I am not one of them, I have not lived their history.
I push a button on the remote and find a program on incorporating a water feature in a garden of a newly built home, in a newly built subdivision in New Mexico. I listen and think that they should have arranged the rocks in such a way that the water wouldn’t make such an annoying sound as it came out of its self-regulating water pump. Yet my eyes are drawn to the water that splashes happily as it splatters against the sun-baked rocks and heads towards its endless loop.
I flip back to CNN, throw the remote down on the couch next to the phone, and walk to my study, to my computer where I check the cost of flights to Moscow. But I don’t make a reservation, I just save it as an itinerary. A possibility. One of several flights I’ve saved in the past two days. Including one to Tahiti, another to Iceland, and one to Chicago. I cancel the one to Chicago and reserve a cruise through the Panama Canal and another up the inland passage to Alaska on a luxury yacht that promises the opportunity to go kayaking in front of calving glaciers. Then I book a flight to Katmandu and then another to Bishkek, Kyrghistan. It then occurs to me that I might be better served to book successive flights linked together, I play with the idea of creating a necklace of flights circling the globe. If so, it should have a theme. I am tempted to entertain this thought in greater detail, to spend the rest of the morning creating it, but realize that it would lead me into an expensive and too tempting a journey. “Lead me not into temptation.”
I check my email. I delete several messages purporting to save me millions or make me millions. I write a quick message to the online Dostoevsky discussion group that I know will be chastised as having nothing to do with the current discussion of Nietzsche-ian nihilism. I savor the simple pleasure of knowing it will be disparaged as politically incorrect. I don’t respond to an IM from a friend. I have turned on the message that says I am away from my desk. I go to Amazon.com and check my reviewer rank. My goal is to get into the Top 1000. No matter how many reviews I write, I seem to maintain a spot somewhere in the 1400’s. Regrettably, one of the things that brings me pleasure, works against the elevation of my status. I particularly enjoy racking up negative votes on the books I pan. This indicates a success in my ability to convey a message clearly. Sadly, they only count ‘helpful’ votes, my negative reviews rack up too many ‘unhelpful’ votes. Hoist on my own petard. Not that I only write negative reviews…I am as ardent in writing glowing reviews of books I enjoy; though I’ve noticed these reviews garner fewer votes than the negative reviews. But there is more than this working against me. I also suspect that some of those ranked higher than me are cheating by logging on under another name and then voting for themselves.
I finally leave my computer while still connected to the Internet so I can’t be accused of lying, and return to the living room. I pick up the remote and turn to EWTN in time to catch the morning Mass. I cross myself and follow along for five minutes. I admire Mother Angelica and believe she is spreading the gospel, although the program I most like on her network is “The Journey Home” which features guests who have converted to Catholicism. I like to hear their stories. My own conversion is very simple. It was the Eucharist. Body and Blood of Christ was more than enough for me. I’ve never actually read the Catechism, but I always look forward to getting marked on Ash Wednesday. And though I’ve yet to successfully deprive myself for the entire 40 days, I’m very spiritually minded during Lent. Then there’s the draw of Mary. She shows up everywhere nowadays. People scoff at the sightings, but I believe. I believe because it gives me hope.
The phone rings again, so I switch back to CNN and watch a brief stock market update. There’s been a report of unfavorable economic data, the market is down by three hundred points. Market panics are akin to the ‘Last Call’ sale at Neiman Marcus. If you know what to look for, you can pick up a bargain. I am tempted to go back to my computer to check the performance of my portfolio, maybe do some buying, but someone is knocking at the door.
Before I am ten feet from the door, I can see through the glass paneled door that he has finally come out of the woodwork. He sees me too. Neither of us smile, though I experience a shiver of excitement.
Monday, June 9, 2008
As a follow up to Friday's post about the rising cost of travel and the prospect that we may all soon become reluctant armchair travelers, I've been inspired to host my first giveaway!
What could be more appropriate than a one year subscription to Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine? I will pick one lucky winner to receive a one year subscription to Budget Travel, with the hopes that it will inspire you to take the trip of your dreams in the coming year.
To win, all you have to do is leave a comment between now and Thursday, Jun 12th, describing where you would go if money were no object!
Why this current obsession with places to go and people to see? I've realized over the past few days as I've contemplated how the cost of travel curtails my wanderlust, that travel is an integral part of my being. As much as I search for a new place to call home, a house to anchor me to this earth, I also realize that one of the considerations that always comes into play is the proximity of the nearest airport to my mythical home town.
You see, as much as I want to put down roots, to create a home, to decorate the interior and front porch to reflect all the seasons, I also want the freedom to get up and go. Because I have been blessed to get just the merest tastes of what our world has to offer, I want more. I firmly believe that one of the keys to world peace is a greater understanding and appreciation of the lives our global neighbors experience. And then there is the outrageous beauty of unexplored environments, the forest in China that looks nothing like the forest in Northern California.
It's been seven months since my cruise around the cape of South America. It's been only a month since my trip to Houston. And yet, I can feel that urge to go again. I have to stop my imagination and focus on the task at hand. I have to book that trip back to Lake Tahoe, or the new one to Salt Lake city. I have to contact the realtor in Evergreen, Colorado.
But in my imagination, I dream of seeing The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. A friend of mine who went there last year described seeing it in early morning light, shrouded in fog, eerily mystical as its marble walls seemed to glow from within. My dream would be to spend two weeks traveling through India, though I know even this length of trip would not do justice to the complexity of the country.
Another dream trip would be a trip to New Zealand. I am captured by pictures of its natural beauty, I want to explore the snow capped mountains, the lakes, the small towns, and wide open spaces. This would be one of those month long trips, requiring a car, hopefully a companion, and a very sketchy itinerary, so that we could leave open the opportunity to discover unexpected treasures that only seem possible when one travels beyond the limitations of a set schedule.
For the ultimate trip, let's dream REALLY big. I dream of taking a cruise around the world. Like a snail with its home on its back, this big boat would ferry me to ports around the world, allowing me to dip my toes into far flung oceans. It would become a launching of future trips, a way to sample the whole and then eventually return to savor in depth my favorites.
Now it's your turn, between now and Thursday, leave me a comment describing your dream trip. At the very least, it will be fun to take a moment to just dream of where you might want to travel if money were no object, to share them here, and see what destinations other readers have in mind....and it might just win you a one year subscription to Budget Travel!
Friday, June 6, 2008
Larramie from Seize a Daisy gets full credit for being the inspriation for today's post. Okay, let's be perfectly clear.... I know a brilliant idea when I see it, especially when it's not mine.
Or when winter blues sent me in search of the beach a burst of sunshine, I hopped a plane to Dubai, for a quick two and a half hour flight, a 30 minute drive from the airport, and voila, breakfast poolside.
One summer I flew from Baku to the beautiful coastal town of Dubrovnik, Croatia for a the modest sum of $585.00. From there I spent an incredible month hopping from island to island along the Dalmatian coast, sunning my tummy and eating the wonderful Mediterranean diet that had the magical properties of not only being delicious but helped me to lose 10 pounds. The result being that I came back with not a golden tummy, but a much slimmer one.
Now that I'm back in the United States, any contemplation of a trip to another country begins with a lengthy flight across an ocean. What this means economically is that I can forget about any quick weekend getaway to Paris or any other overseas destination. For instance, just now I logged into travelocity.com and looked up the cost of a flight to Paris. Even with a 30 advance booking, the cheapest flight was over $1400.00!! When I added in the cost of hotel, even using the advantage of booking both airfare and hotel together, a one week stay begins at $2,300.00. That's before I start to add in the cost of taxis, meals, museum visits, and the purchase of at least one tacky black beret to wear around the city to irritate the locals. Given the current exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Euro, currently at $1.58, my travel dollars are not going to go very far.
All of which brings me back to Larramie's essay on the joys of being an armchair traveler and seeing Europe through the eyes of The Frugal Traveler's The Grand Tour
(by the way, this link will take you to a very interesting article from Wikipedia about the historical origins of the Grand Tour, a coming of age tour of Europe for the young and rich in the 18th century, and one which evolved to become the Europass tour of lucky college students.) The Frugal Traveler's raison d'etre is to test whether you can do the Grand Tour on 100 euros a day, over the course of twelve weeks. It will be fascinating to read the account of his travels and to see how his budget is tested along the way. It should be noted however, that even the meager sum of 100 euros/day still adds up to a princely sum, even after one week. I'm guessing he won't be buying a black beret in Paris.
While we may not be able to join him on his actual adventures, it will be fun to be armchair travelers this summer and to follow his journey through the countries of Europe, and to wistfully imagine our own choices along the way. So, thank you Larramie for the link, I know I'll enjoy the trip, if even from afar.
Now, I've got to get back to travelocity and see about booking those flights out west.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods to do some shopping. I'm trying out a new diet, the Flat Belly Diet, that I read about in last month's issue of Prevention Magazine. My experiments with diet and the struggles of trying to lose weight at a certain age is not the point of this post, merely a reference point to my state of mind. What I want to discuss is what happened while I was in Whole Foods.
I began my shopping in the produce section. I shop with a general list of items in mind, but leave myself open to what's on sale or what catches my eye. I picked up some baby lettuce and began examining the tomatoes. I have a pet peeve with tomatoes...so often they are dreadfully devoid of any flavor. The best luck I've had was buying locally from a farmer's market. So I examined the variety of tomatoes on offer with a skeptical eye. As I studied the vine ripened variety that were promised to have been grown in a greenhouse, one of the produce managers approached me and asked if I needed help. I explained that I was looking for a tomato that tasted like a tomato, not like a piece of cardboard. He suggested one of the heirloom tomatoes which sat in their mottled beauty in a stack behind me. Promising that it tasted like the real thing, he asked me if I wanted to try a slice. I declined, choosing to trust his judgement rather than going through the embarrassment of tasting a tomato in the middle of a store, after all, what would we do with the rest?
I put two of the dark purple heirlooms that he'd picked out in my cart and continued to wander around the produce section admiring the plethora of succulent produce displayed in tantalizing piles of color and texture.... are your teeth on edge as mine are after reading that sentence? ok, how about this.....the piles of pretty fruits and veggies.
That was when I found the little Gallia melons pictured above. Looking at them I was confused, from the outside, they appear to be a smaller version of the cantaloupe I'd just put into my cart. But their price tag was nearly double their much larger cousin. I looked to my friendly produce manager for assistance. 'What's this, and why the high price?' I asked. He told me that they were imported, green instead of orange inside, and much sweeter than the cantaloupe. Again he offered me a taste. I declined, out of politeness, but I was admittedly curious. After all, what could justify the cost? Before I could object further, he grabbed one of the little melons and disappeared.
When he returned, he held a small plastic container in one hand and half a melon in the other. He handed me the plastic container containing cut up pieces of the melon, saying, 'Here try this'. He placed the plastic wrapped melon half in my cart, saying, 'Take it, no charge.'
And that is the point, finally, of this post. This man offered me the blessing of a simple kindness. Sure, we can write this off as a calculated marketing ploy to promote Whole Foods and their level of service as a means to justify the sometimes higher prices they command. Certainly that would have been the conclusion if he'd just handed me a couple chunks of the melon and then put the melon half out for purchase. But his kindness extended beyond that, he gave me the whole melon for free. He didn't ask if I was a regular shopper or would never return to the store again. He was simply being kind. That to me is a treasure in our often harried, get the most for your money world. As you can see, it made quite an impression.
And so, this morning I enjoyed succulent slices of sweet Gallia melon that I mixed in with my other cut up fruit to make it go further. To that produce manager, whose name I don't even know, I want to say thank you, it was delicious.
For those of you who will question why I would choose this thirsty girl, let me just say that I did honestly research getting a hybrid SUV. However, two considerations came into play: 1) Hybrids, being new on the market are priced at a premium right now, effectively pricing them out of my intended budget, 2) car dealers, correctly reacting to the lower demand for non-hybrid products are offering substantial discounts. Therefore, it becomes a matter of economics, the discount in the purchase price is greater than the savings at the gas pump. In three years, when I turn in this car, hybrids will be priced competitively in the market and more accessible for everyone. And finally, I drive less than 7,000 miles a year, one of the advantages of being a relative recluse...so the Hummer's rather moderate 14/18 gas consumption works for me.
Alright, now that I've made my apologies, let me tell you that I chose to get another H3 simply because its incredibly cute, fun to drive, and makes me feel safe on the road, which is important because I spent 12 of the last 20 years not driving when I lived in New York and then overseas. Which means that I tend to drive like someone's grandma...getting around town I avoid interstate highways and driving at night sends me to the verge of tears and recitations of prayer. Don't make me tell you what happens when I am compelled to drive at night, while its raining....
So please forgive me for sharing pictures of my baby, but did I mention that she's really cute?!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
I was introduced to Trish Ryan via Allison Winn Scotch's blog where she profiled Trish's debut book: He Loves He Loves Me Not. Ostensibly, the book begins as her search for Mr. Right, however, like Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, it becomes more about a spiritual journey and a search for self. I was drawn to the book, in part because I am a single woman, although at my age my search for a husband is less frantic than it was in my thirties and now more focused on the larger issues of what I want to accomplish in life.
On the other hand, what really resonated for me was Trish's spiritual search which ranged from all the familiar New Age to an exploration of Christianity. Much of this journey will be familiar to just about anyone. For me, it reflected a lifelong exploration of what it means to believe in God. Although I have been a lifelong Christian, I was raised in a Protestant household and then converted to Catholicism at the age of 26. My own journey took me through an exploration of the the denominations of my Christianity, the latest trends in New Age thought, an exploration of the Bahai faith while I was in college, and conversations with my Pakistani students in Baku, who were devout Muslims and lived their faith and love for God with a passion I admired.
After seven years of attending Catholic Mass without converting, I finally realized that I'd found a spiritual home that felt right for me. To this day, I remember the phone call home to tell my parents that I would be confirmed at the Easter midnight mass. I am forever grateful that their reaction was to tell me that they would fly up to New York from Florida to attend. All these years later I am still happy with my decision. Yet, I still struggle with understanding what a relationship with God entails. There have been moments when I can with certainty say that I have seen prayers answered. Unfortunately, there are too many other times when I have seen prayers so desperately offered up, go unanswered.
As I got into Trish's book, I began reading her blog which describes her writing life and road to publication. And then last week, Trish announced that she was creating another 'special purpose' blog. As an offshoot of the journey described in her book, she has created a new blog entitled 40 Days of Faith. This blog has been created as a forum for what I would describe as an experiment in spiritual journey.
For the next 40 days, Trish is going to be blogging and creating a community of people who are interested in seeing what role God will play in their lives over the next 40 days. The journey begins tomorrow. For any readers who might be interested or curious, I would encourage you to just stop by her blog, read what's there and see if it resonates with you...if so, join in, if not, no harm.