Monday, February 24, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: I Feel . . .

It's topics like this week's Ten on Tuesday that give me pause as a blogger. Honesty = vulnerability, and that can be scary. {Taking a deep breath} Well, here goes!

I feel . . . 

1. extremely blessed to have the opportunity to spend this semester in England.

2. frustrated and disgusted by people who demand tolerance of others while at the same time  refusing to be tolerant of anyone whose view differs from their own.

3. like a square peg in a round hole in one area of my life.

4. happiest when I'm with my son and daughter.

5. excited about learning to contra dance after I return to the states.

6. embarrassed by my lack of technical skills re: blogging and

7.  determined to learn how to add photos and use different sizes/types of fonts, etc in my entries.

8. invigorated by the changes I plan to make when I return home.

9. thankful for facebook and other forms of technology that allow me to stay in touch with family and friends easily and at little (if any) expense.

10. pretty darned proud of myself for navigating 8 countries via 11 train journeys AND successfully following walking tours I downloaded from the internet for each of the 4 cities I stopped in -- at age 50+, by myself, and without being able to speak any of the native languages!!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Change, Reduce, or Eliminate the Negatives (Dream Save Do #3)

Getting settled here in England, spending time with my students, preparing for lectures & seminars, and getting out and about in Canterbury (and beyond) has taken up the vast majority of my time the past 7 weeks, but Dream Plan Do has never been out of my mind. The last time I blogged about this process (http://aliferedesigned.com/2014/01/dreaming-amid-life-and-its-surprises/), I briefly discussed my thoughts on the 20+ items on my list of things I would not miss in my life if they were to magically disappear tomorrow (my "Wouldn't Miss" list). Now, I'm finally picking up from where I left of in that post. Before I do that, though, I want to mention that I've come to realize that that while the 3 steps -- Dream, then Plan, then Do -- are quite linear, there is quite a bit of recursiveness to this process, at least within each of the 3 major steps.

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Even though I wanted to keep my backpack as light as possible as I traveled a bit through Europe last week, I tossed in my small spiral Dream Plan Do notebook. I'm glad I did, as I found that traveling solo gave me plenty of time to contemplate where I am and where I want to be in the future. Just after lunch on the first day of my trip, as the train I was on sped toward Amsterdam, I pulled out my ipad and read the next section of Dream Plan Do.

I don't want to give away too much of the Talbot's material, as that would be unfair both to them and to you (you really do owe it to yourself to purchase their book and read it in its entirety).  I'll just say that part of this step involves brainstorming strategies that at first might seem outlandish but through which, if implemented,  I could "change, reduce or eliminate" each of the 20+ items on my "Wouldn't Miss" list.

I tend to be pretty pragmatic, so not discarding the seemingly-outrageous but instead even welcoming them was a bit challenging at first. It was hard to abandon 50+ years of practical thinking, but eventually I came up with a pair of ideas that seemed totally undoable. For example, in response to the "Won't Miss" item #3 -- home maintenance (jobs/cost), I listed "barter". I have no idea how I would go about bartering or what I would offer in exchange for home maintenance work, so that strategy qualified as off-the-wall (for me).

I closed the notebook and sat back to watch the countryside glide past my train window. About 30 minutes later, I opened the notebook and jotted down a few more out-of-the box ideas, and over the next few days I was able to add more. Before I knew it, I was enjoying coming up with other outrageous ideas.

Today, after watching the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics, I pulled out my "Won't Miss" list and its accompanying strategies. I'm not done with this step yet; I still have some blank spots (again, you'll need to read Dream Plan Do to understand what I'm referring to here) to fill in, and that may take some time. But as I read over the strategies I've already written down, it occurred to me that a few of the ideas that seemed outlandish a week ago seem more doable today. Additionally, reading the out-of-the-box ideas with a fresh eye caused me to think of a few more-easily implementable strategies that I hadn't thought of before.

And so the process continues . . .

 

If you are unsatisfied with your current situation and would like to make some changes, I hope you'll  purchase Dream Plan Do and work through the process with the Talbots as your guide. And then please share (via comments) your own experiences in redesigning your life. 

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

While I didn't actually go "to market, to buy a fat pig", I am home again -- or, at least, I'm back in my UK "home", with backpack emptied and clothes washed, dried, and put away again.

Before I reflect (throughout the coming week) on each of the 4 places I visited, I thought I'd share a few things I learned during my 7 days on the road. Disclaimer: These are simply my observations from my very limited experience. 

1. By some strange quirk of physics, a packed backpack will, without a single item being added to it, become heavier in direct proportion to the number of days it is carried.

2. In countries where English is the 2nd language, it is best to ask for help or directions from either younger people (teens and early 20's) or older individuals (post-60). Younger people are more likely to have at least a working knowledge of English. They are also less likely to be in a hurry to get to work & have time to stop and provide assistance, and they typically know of decent but inexpensive places to eat. On the other hand, older individuals may not have the strongest English skills (may not even speak English at all) but (like their younger counterparts) are not usually in any hurry to get somewhere, and they often love to talk and to help others!

3. National galleries housing works by the greatest artists of all time have no entrance fee (or a nominal one), and great cathedrals that are so beautiful they take away a person's breath are open to the public free of charge; a cramped bathroom that give pause to the least discriminating folks on the planet have an entrance fee of anywhere from 30 pence to a pound!

4. It is always, always, always best to reserve bunk #1 (bottom bunk) in a train sleeper.

5. If no bottom bunks are available (see #4), bunk #2 is acceptable as long as you do not board the train past 11 p.m.


6. Ear buds are much less common out and about in Europe than in the states. I saw few people wearing ear buds or headphones the entire week; instead, people were talking animatedly with their companions and reading books (yes, books!).  By the way, I've noticed this to be true since arriving in the UK on January 9.

7. On a similar note, in the 6+ weeks I have been here, I have yet to see in a restaurant (or anywhere, for that matter) a group of people sitting together in which the participants are tapping away on a cell phone or talking on a cell phone. I have seen a person who is part of a group briefly check their phone, but no prolonged use. It's refreshing to watch people actually engage with the people they are with!

8. The most tiring days are those spent sitting -- sitting on a train/plane or in a train station/airport waiting for a train/plane; conversely, days in which 6 or 7 hours are spent walking and exploring a new place are energising and invigorating.

9. A smile and a few very basic German phrases -- danke (thank you), guten tag (hello or good day), and entschuldigen sie (excuse me) -- will serve a person very well in the places I visited (The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland). Well, maybe not so much in Prague (more on that later this week).

10. What seems very foreign (i.e. England and British English) will quickly become familiar and comfortable. As soon as I cleared customs at Gare du Nord in Paris and was technically in "UK territory" again, I actually heaved a huge sigh of relief at being "back home".

I plan to share this week a little more about the 4 cities I visited -- Amsterdam, Prague, Wien (Vienna), and Luzern (Lucerne), and I hope you'll join me.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Heading out on an Adventure

"Well, my bag is packed, I'm ready to go . . . "

And I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that since I made my reservations for reading week,  I've vacillated between excitement and fear, with a few brief moments of something resembling calm thrown in just to keep things interesting.

Perhaps before I go on, I should explain why an avid reader like myself would fear "reading week". I'm not sure of all the details -- does it happen every term? do all universities have this? -- but the university my students and I are fortunate enough to be a part of this semester has a week that used to be called "reading week".  Think "spring break", but instead of tanned coeds frolicking on the beach, picture studious scholars bent over books or computer keyboards, working on class papers in the library -- well, that's the idea at least. The title of the week was actually changed to something else this year, but everyone still calls it "reading week", so I do as well. Many exchange/international students (maybe even non-international students) travel elsewhere in the UK and Europe during this break, and I will be traveling as well.

Of course, I'm excited. Never in my wildest dreams prior to this past October did I imagine I would travel to England, yet here I am. And now, I have the opportunity to take a whirlwind train trip through 6 countries (staying in 4 cities) in one week!

At times, I'm a bit concerned. Other than a few trips within the U.S. in the past 4 1/2 years, I've never travelled alone. And I've never travelled by myself in a foreign country! I feel more stressed as I remember that I've have to get to and from train stations and then find the right platforms; with my hearing problem (even with hearing aids, there are issues), I have difficulty understanding people with accents I'm not familiar with, and that makes solo travel a bit more daunting.

What is bothering me most, though, is that the prospect of this (albeit exciting) trip  has also raised a tidal wave of loneliness that's as strong and as sharp as the one that engulfed me the week my son and daughter returned to med school and college after their father passed away.

I can't really explain it; I've been sitting in front of this laptop for 20 minutes, trying to put into words how I feel. I simply can't.

I keep telling myself this trip will be good for me, that I will be a stronger person for having done this, that I would always regret it if I didn't do this.

And so, scared or not, lonely or not, I'm going. Tomorrow morning, I will wake up (if I fall asleep at all) at 5 a.m. and walk 20 or so minutes to the train station, where I will board a train which will take me to the continent and on an adventure I am sure I will never forget.

I'll see you when I return!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Royal Residency and the Final Resting Spot of Royalty

For some reason, I can't quite figure out how to post pictures here from iphoto; getting two photos resized and into a previous entry caused me so much frustration that it takes away from the joy of blogging, so I am going to stop trying until I get back home and can get some help. I hope that when I do add photos, you'll come back and browse through the entries again. Until then, I apologize. 

This past Friday found the students and I heading out on an excursion to Windsor, the town famous for being the home of Windsor Castle (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle) and Eton College. We didn't visit Eton, but we did have the opportunity to tour Windsor Castle, touted as Queen Elizabeth II's favorite home. The largest inhabited castle in the world and the longest-occupied palace in Europe, it is far grander than I could have ever imagined it would be.

Once again, we were given individual audio guided tour devices and headphones, cautioned that photos could not be taken inside the castle, and sent on our way. I spent a glorious morning moving from room to room at my own leisure and soaking up as much as I could. Of course, not all of the castle is open to visitors; visitors are able to see Queen Mary's Dollhouse, the State Rooms, and the Semi-State Rooms. Having never been a great fan of dollhouses, I was going to skip Queen Mary's, but when I saw there was no line (according to the audio guide, the queue is often quite long), I made the quick decision to check it out, and I'm glad I did. It is exquisite, and if you go to the URL given above and scroll down a bit, you will find a link to pictures of it.

Without a doubt, though, my favorite parts of the castle were the state and semi-state rooms. As I meandered from room to room, my audio guide shared more facts and interesting tidbits than I could ever hope to remember or share here in a blog entry. One of my favorite tidbits had to do with the morning routine of the earlier kings. When I entered "The King's Bedroom", I learned that the king did not actually sleep in the large, ornate 4-poster bed with luxurious draperies and linens. Instead, he slept in the room next to the bedroom (the name of this room escapes me) in an equally large, ornate 4-poster bed with equally-luxurious draperies and linens. However, in the morning, the king would get out of the bed he actually slept in, move to the one in his bedroom, and then, with secretaries and those wishing to meet with him about important business in attendance, his servants would help him get up, dress, and get ready for the day!

I asked one of the marshals  (docents) if the children in the royal family actually *played* in these rooms, and he assured me that they did, but only when there were no dignitaries or official guests present. He reiterated (this information is also shared at the beginning of the audio guide) the fact that Queen Elizabeth II spent much of her childhood at Windsor Castle; like many other children who lived in London during WWII, she was sent out of the city -- she and her sister to Windsor Castle -- to avoid injury or death from Hitler's bombs. I had to laugh at the image of Princes William and Harry playing hide & seek or driving their little Hot Wheels cars (or whatever is the British equivalent) on the beautiful rugs!

I finally exited Windsor Castle and strolled a few hundred yards to St. George's Chapel (on the castle grounds). Not knowing anything about the chapel, I thought I'd "pop in" for a bit, look around, and then go find a nice tea shop or pub and get a bite to eat before strolling through the streets near the castle.   http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/worship-and-music.html

I slipped off my headphones as I entered the chapel (a very large structure) and an "older" female marshal greeted me with a warm smile. I smiled in response, and when I said, "What a beautiful chapel", her face lit up. She asked me where in America I was from, and she explained that she and her late husband loved to visit the states (California, New York, and Florida), visited 2-3 times a year, and have a daughter living in California. Her eyes misted a bit as she explained that they had planned to go for Christmas, but he had passed away in August, and she just wasn't up to it. I told her I was also a widow, and we hugged.

Just then, I heard (I don't know how else to describe it) an elderly man's voice say, "If the young lady is giving hugs, I am most definitely next!" I turned, and there was an elfin white-haired man in a marshal's uniform; his blue eyes were twinkling, and he had the most adorable smile! He took my arm and proceeded to give me a personal tour of the chapel, complete with anecdotes about the various goings-on that he's seen in the many years he has served as a full-time marshal -- a story about Tony Blair, for example, and two about Margaret Thatcher.

He explained that when a person is crowned king or queen, they write their will, and one of the things they must state in their will is which of the two possible burial sites -- Westminster Cathedral or St. George's Chapel (very early monarchs had other options as well). As we walked through the nave and the quire, he pointed out each resting place and shared a fact or story about each royal buried there. For example, he explained that when Princess Margaret passed away, she was cremated, which is unusual for British royalty. However, he explained, it was evident that the Queen Mother was "also soon to leave this world", so Princess Margaret was cremated so that her burial could be delayed until her mother's death, which occurred 7 weeks later. Princess Margaret was then buried with her mother and father, who had died 50 years to the day before Princess Margaret's funeral.

In the quire, he showed me the kneeler at which the Queen confers knighthood on any new Knight of the Garter and other knights and dames, and with eyes twinkling even more, explained what I could expect to happen when the Queen made me a Dame! :)  I noticed a section of the quire floor that indicated it was the burial place of more than a few former kings and queens, and my new friend explained that 16 or 17 (I forget which) royals are buried in a large vault beneath the chorister floor. I asked if he'd ever been down there and he said no, but if I wanted to go down and dust the cobwebs he knew just the person to talk to. He then led me to a man in a pastor's robes and told him that I was interested in the burial vault.

The "pastor" explained a bit about it to me while my guide searched in his pockets and found a picture of it. With a flirtatious smile, he assured me he doesn't show it to just anyone, and then he handed it to me. The 8 x 10 wrinkled and worn black/white photo showed a very large room with what appeared to be stone walls and a stone shelf (not on legs but built into the wall) around the perimeter and what looked like metal or concrete vaults arranged around the vault on that shelf. Oh how I would love to be able to go down there!

I glanced at my cell phone and saw that I needed to head back to our meeting place, so I said a reluctant goodbye to my charming guide, who urged me to return to Windsor and visit him again before leaving England. I stopped to say good-bye to the marshal I met when I first entered and to give her my card with my email, and she promised to email me and to try to visit Missouri on her next visit to the states.

I had just enough time to buy a take-away chai tea latte and a slice of an absolutely scrumptious "pie" with a light pastry bottom, a layer of butterscotchy caramel, and a top layer of the best chocolate I think I have ever eaten, which I savoured as I strolled through a few Windsor streets and back to our meeting place.

While I have enjoyed every excursion we've been on and every site we've visited, I do believe this day in Windsor might be my favourite so far. A beautiful sunshiny day, a spectacular castle, and a courtly & flirtatious guide made for a day I will never forget!

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Favorite Things that are Red

I love red -- I really, really do -- so I thought when I saw this week's Ten on Tuesday topic, that this would be an easy one. Hmmm . . . not the slam dunk I thought it would be!

1. Strawberries -- I love them on their own, dipped in chocolate, on shortcake with whipped cream, in a smoothie -- you name it, I love them

2. My Levenger red leather "briefbag" -- my celebratory purchase and treat for myself when I was hired at my current position

3. My wonderful little red '09 Prius -- I hope to coddle it so it lasts forever

4. My blinged-out St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap -- I love wearing it when I go to a Cards game with my daughter

5. Watermelon -- if I could get fresh strawberries (see #1) and watermelon all year round, I'd be ecstatic

6. My nice little red umbrella that I've had for years and never really used much or appreciated until I arrived in England a month ago :)

7. The super-soft red sweater I found on sale earlier this winter

8.  Cherry and grape tomatoes -- love them fresh off the vine

9. Male cardinals (the birds) -- I especially love to see their bright red against a backdrop of snow in the winter

10. Dorothy's ruby slippers

 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: "I am . . . "

Starting this week, I'll be joining a group of bloggers who post on the same topic every Tuesday. The overall title of this project is "Ten on Tuesday"; typically the assignment is to list 10 somethings-or-others -- whatever fits the assignment. This week is a bit different. I'm to write 10 sentences that begin with "I am".

I usually define myself by my relationships to other people (i.e. I'm the mother of 2), but today I'm going to stick to the topic and share things about me. Here goes!

1. I am, contrary to what many people think, an introvert.

2. I am in a quandary about where I want to go from here in terms of my career.

3. I am a warm-weather, beach-loving person living (except for this semester) in the midwest.

4. I am committed to making changes in my life to be as healthy as possible spiritually, physically, financially, socially, emotionally, and vocationally.

5. I am a meeting-hater of the highest order!

6. I am searching for the perfect hairstyle -- easy to maintain and flattering.

7. I am a reader, writer, knitter, scrapbooker, lover of sports (especially the NFL, the St. Louis Cardinals, and college basketball), and other things I can't think of right now! :)

8. I am least patient with other drivers and customer-service people who wouldn't know customer service if it came up and kissed them on the nose.

9. I am in love with the idea of living in a small, cozy home or a really nice travel trailer that is decorated in shabby beach style *and* that is mortgage-free.

10. I am a Christian, but I don't care for chain "If you love Jesus you will 'share' this" facebook statuses and have little patience for people who will read this list and immediately think, "Hunh, #10 should have been #1."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Rainy -- Very Rainy -- Day in London

This past Friday brought our first excursion to London. I opened the blinds early that morning to gray skies and rain, walked to our meeting point in the rain, rode all the way to London in . . . . well, I think you get the picture. Things did change a bit after noon. The rain became heavier, the temperatures dropped considerably, and a heavy wind blew incessantly. Definitely not what I'd hoped for in the way of weather, but thankfully the excursions for the day were indoors (except for the 15-20 minute walk between the two).

Even in the rain and under metallic gray skies, London was/is beautiful! The Thames and dockyards, the architecture of the buildings that surrounded us everywhere we drove or walked, the vibrancy of the city, and so much more all combine to make an absolutely gorgeous city.

Our guide for this excursion was a joy as well. On the journey to London, she shared some interesting information to prepare us for our day, and as we drove through London to our first stop, she provided an interesting and engaging play-by-play of the "things" we were passing. sprinkling in interesting tidbits and humorous points to season some of the dryer facts (thank you, Dawn)!

Our first stop was the Churchill War Rooms (http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms), the underground bunker from which Churchill and his team conducted the business of war from 1940-1945. The individual audio guides provided a very interesting commentary as we wandered through the hallways and looked into various rooms such as the Cabinet War Room, the map room, Churchill's bedroom, Mrs. Churchill's bedroom, and so on.

After leaving the Churchill War Rooms, we took a fairly leisurely 15-20 minute walk (in light drizzle, for a welcome change) to the National Gallery, stopping along the way so the tour guide could explain points of interest and pictures could be taken. Westminster Abbey was a popular photo subject for many of the students, but possibly even more photos were taken of the 2 horses (with guards) posted outside the queen's stables and of various students standing by one of them. I even got my picture taken by one of the pair!

As we neared the National Gallery (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk), the rain grew heavier and the wind began picking up. We stopped outside the Gallery so the guide could remind us of our meeting place and time (15:40 under the "giant blue cockerel, which you must see to appreciate, so I hope you'll google it), and then everyone quickly scattered, some to find an eating place, others to tour the Gallery, and others to do whatever interested them.

I didn't even hesitate. I'm no art connoisseur, but this was a no-brainer. Braving the rain and wind to find a pasty shop or visit shops OR entering the warmth and dry of the National Gallery to see first-hand paintings by Cezanne, Michelangelo, van Gogh, Titian, Rubens, da Vinci, Monet, van Dyke, Manet, Rembrandt, Botticelli, et al? I scurried across the road and into the Gallery, where I wandered for a couple of hours through the almost-70 rooms, with works from each period in its own grouping of rooms.

I had already looked at a map of the Gallery and identified the artists whose works I most wanted to see, so I moved from one cluster of rooms to the other on a fairly-loose schedule that allowed me to see each of my "must-see" pieces and quite a few others as well. What both surprised and impressed me the most (based, remember, on not seeing every single work of art) was the vibrant colours of the paintings in the Sainsbury Wing, which houses pieces from the 13th-15th century. I had expected those pictures, the oldest in the Gallery, to have dimmed and darkened most with age, but they were, almost without exception, the most vibrant and brightly-coloured. The various shades of blue and red were especially  striking, and I was simply amazed at their clarity and beauty. Without a doubt, these were my favorite works

I also enjoyed most of the 16th-century paintings I had the opportunity to see. Some of these works were as richly-coloured as the earlier pieces, and the subject matter was more varied. I also enjoyed many of the pieces from the 18th-early 20th century, as I've always appreciated the light, bright colors of Monet, Van Gogh, etc. I have to admit I least enjoyed the works from the 17th century. The darker colors, portraits of unsmiling people, still lifes, etc., simply didn't appeal to me as much as the other periods.

The afternoon passed quickly -- in fact, I forgot to eat lunch -- and soon I was back on the bus heading out of London. We left right on time (15:40, or 3:40 p.m.), and already the traffic was horrendous. Between the pouring rain & dark skies (it gets dark quite early here in the winter), bumper to bumper traffic through London and quite a ways outside of the city, and motorcyclists that kept cutting in and out of traffic, our poor drive had his hands full! I was so glad to be able to sit in my nice, soft seat and relax during the drive back to Canterbury.

After arriving back in Canterbury, I enjoyed a nice dinner of fish and chips at Wetherspoons (as it's called by the locals; its real name is The Thomas Ingoldsby), a popular -- and very lively -- pub about 10 minutes from my flat. I then braved the wind, rain, and cold back to the flat, changed into some warm, dry clothes, and did some quick research on the National Gallery.

At the Gallery's website, I immediately saw an "Artist A-Z" tab. Curious as to whether or not there was an artists for every letter of the alphabet, I made my way through the alphabet. As I neared "Q", I thought I might find my first "artist-less letter", but Peter Quast from the early-mid 1600's put a stop to that notion. I was surprised to find only one artist with a surname starting with "Y" (what, no Youngs?) -- Ysenbrandt, and even more surprised to find 8 artists whose names begin with "Z". Alas, the Gallery currently does not house any works by an artist whose last name begins with an "X".

Now you see what I do on evenings when I have nothing to watch on TV, and I don't feel like settling down to any of the real work I need to complete. :)

We've now been on 3 excursions and have visited 7 historical or cultural sites. One of the students asked me during the bus ride back to Canterbury which so far has been my favorite and which my least favorite, and to be honest, I was stumped. I posed the same question to her, and she couldn't answer it, either. We both have enjoyed each one for different reasons and considered them all equally-wonderful.  We also noted that the rainiest days have been those on which we have been on group excursions, but even the rain (and wind) has had no real effect on our enjoyment of the experiences.

Great experiences in a beautiful country -- what more could anyone ask for?