Category Archives: Travel

Seeking Adventure in Small Ways

On Sunday, I went to three cafes and spent time in three towns.  In the morning, after singing at church, I picked up breakfast at a cafe before driving to Weequahic Park where I walked around a lake.  Later, on my way to play the organ (at another local church), I sipped a decaf latte on the bench of a cafe facing Independence Park, around the corner from my house.

That evening, my husband and I were ready for another outing, so we drove to Belleville, adjacent to Newark, and ate dinner at Topaz Thai.  I was happy to discover there was a Thai restaurant within a 20-minute drive from where we live.  I’ve missed eating Thai, Indian and Ethiopian food regularly since moving here from Brooklyn close to three years ago.  In my neighborhood in the Ironbound, Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian food predominate.  I’m still exploring all of the nearby towns and discovering what cuisines they have to offer.

After dinner, we drove a few minutes down the road into Lyndhurst and enjoyed a bavarian cream lobster tail and pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery.  Then my husband realized we were practically in Rutherford, which was home to William Carlos Williams, so we looked up his house and checked it out.

I started a notebook the other day to keep track of some of these outings.  It actually has three sections, “Music” (where I record the pieces I’ve practiced on the organ), “Outings” (for hikes, new towns, new places), and “Special Projects” (various priorities).  I process and remember things better by writing them down, so this helps me remember that we hiked in the Palisades two weeks ago, or practiced a Bach prelude and fugue that I want to revisit soon.  I don’t write everything down–but I like writing down what’s important to me.  The act of writing it affirms that it’s important.

I’m grateful that I live in a city that has such easy access to many different types of places.  I also feel grateful for having honored my desire for a little excitement.  Maybe it wasn’t a trip to Europe–but even a little outing, devouring Thai food, bavarian cream pastry, and seeing W.C. Williams’ house, in three new-to-me towns, temporarily satiates my yearning for excitement and adventure.

I suppose it’s adventure on a modest scale, with a lowercase “a,” quite different from ones I’ve taken in the past such as circling around Sicily for a week, or living in Paris for a year.  Yet when those capital-A Adventures on a grand scale aren’t possible, modest adventures go a long way.

Yesterday was quieter.  I cooked breakfast, did some cleaning, worked out at the gym, went to the hardware store, played the organ for a bit, gardened, had two client calls, and talked with family.  A quiet, productive day–and for today, it felt just right.

It always feels wonderful coming home after being out, and conversely, going out after staying at home for awhile.  Something about the varied pace feels important.  I need stability, and I need excitement.  When my schedule doesn’t allow for more, simply walking around a lake or trying out a new restaurant really does provide that sense of newness and discovery.  My need for fun and adventure can be honored by seeking out simple pleasures.

Which needs and values are you honoring?  Which ones are getting stepped on or overlooked?  Small tweaks to our routines can make a big difference.  A small step can often have a huge imapct.

Appalachian Morning and the Power of Narrative

I’ve come to Appalachia, at the intersection of southwestern North Carolina and north Georgia, where some of my family has its roots. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch with my husband and parents, enjoying a view of Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald (pictured), and hearing hundreds of birds calling.

My great-grandmother, whom we call Granny, raised my grandmother and her four siblings in this area. My great-grandfather died of pneumonia while crossing the mountains in wintertime to buy wares for his store, and Granny made do by raising chickens for eggs, which she sold in town, and growing vegetables. She did the wash in the stream behind their house.

For weeks, I haven’t been inspired to do much writing, but here, it comes easily. Lots of writers and artists come to this area to tap their muse. Tonight we’ll hear a bluegrass band play at the John. C. Campbell Folk School, which has a long tradition of attracting and showcasing talent.

It occurs to me that one can consciously choose a life of creativity and connection. I’ve never gone on an organized writer’s retreat, but I see the value. Whenever I’m in a beautiful place, I’m more inspired to create. I have just enough remove from my everyday life, and the help of mountains and birds, to elevate my thoughts.

Some of my thoughts are still pretty ordinary, like wondering how often the owners of our rental house prune back the trees in order to keep a clear view of the mountains. Others are along the lines of what it was like for my earliest ancestors who lived here; which generation, if any, may have encountered Cherokee; and whether our roots and cultural identities have more to do with where our families are from, or the places we visit, come to love, and the stories we’re told.

My family is from North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. Generations back, they’re from Germany, Ireland, and the British Isles. I also have one line from Portugal and a little bit of French.

Which of these places and people are most deeply a part of me? Is it determined by the stories I’ve been told? Of my great-grandmother’s great-grandmother standing on the Irish shore, waving goodbye to her daughter who was sailing to America, knowing she would never see her again?

I haven’t heard similar stories of my German ancestors, and perhaps that’s why I always tended to feel more Irish than anything else. So I need to try to envision what life may have been like for my family who once lived in countries like Germany–even if I don’t have the aid of oral history to help awaken my imagination.

Subjective experience isn’t everything, but it counts for a lot. Where we go, physically, imaginatively, and emotionally, builds the narrative of who we are and how we’re connected. The stories we tell ourselves and each other matter deeply.

Today, I’m grateful to be immersed in the majesty of the Appalachian mountains, which embody both natural and spiritual beauty. They also hold the lived history of my ancestors.

And where are my family and I now? In the living room, looking out on the mountains and the Nantahalia Forest, telling stories.

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Dreaming Big: Flamenco in Madrid

Almost two years ago, my husband and I were planning a trip to Spain.  We’d had a hard couple of months, and needed an adventure in a beautiful place to reconnect with each other and with the beauty and vitality of the world.

Ever since a family vacation to Ireland and England at age 9, I’ve been passionate about traveling.  I can still picture the verdant fields, castles, and windy cliffs with the ocean below.  At 17, I spent two weeks in Toulouse with my French class, and at 20 I spent my junior year in Paris.

Traveling has also always been a core part of my relationship with my husband.  We camped in New Hampshire, canoed in Quebec, honeymooned in Paris, and took a ferry from Rome to Sicily (seeing Stromboli, Mt. Etna, and the ancient Greek Valley of the Temples in Agrigento).  I love his openness to and excitement about the world, which inspires the same in me.

I honestly didn’t know a lot about Spain before we went, but I knew I wanted to see flamenco dancing–which we did.  We also walked on the walls of Avila, toured the beautiful Alhambra in Grenada, and ate oranges that we picked ourselves in Seville.  We budgeted for the trip, secured the vacation time, and our dream became reality.  We rented a car and drove south from Madrid to Andalucia.  The mountains, miles upon miles of olive groves, and abandoned castles were breathtaking.  I felt truly free, immersed in a beauty that I had no part in creating.

It’s important to dream big, and equally important to make those dreams a reality, even when other people aren’t happy about them.  (They’re your dreams!)  They can be flexible, evolving over time as we get more information and our vision gains clarity–but we owe it to ourselves to pursue them.  Life isn’t meant to be endured, but to be lived.

As a couple, we’re currently toying with a few dreams (as documented in several Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets):  building a deck on our roof that would have views of a park, a stadium, and the Empire State Building; taking a 10-day trip around Bavaria, Germany; and investing in a vacation rental property in Brescia, Italy.

While we may not know the exact shape these dreams will take, we’re doing the footwork of communicating about our hopes and  priorities, researching options, and playing with budgets.  We have engaged an architect.  We have weekly “business meetings” where we review our spending and savings.  We look at pictures of Brescia (that’s the fun part) and property listings.  Even if we decide to use the money elsewhere, it’s perspective-widening simply to imagine what’s possible.

Personally, I recently acted on my dream to mentor a child in Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I had volunteered in the past with New York Cares and really missed it.  The fact that I could develop a long-term mentor relationship with one girl also appealed to me.  Nyshira will be 11 later this month.  A few dates, phone calls, and texts later, I completely love her.

What dreams do you want to achieve?  What’s your vision of your future life?  Is there an area in your career, family, health, or personal growth that you long to develop?  Are you excited to get in shape and train for a 10K race?  Do you secretly want to turn a hobby into a second career or even go into a completely different line of work?  Do you want to spend more time with your family, or travel the world?

Our dreams matter.  They speak to our deepest (often our highest) selves.  What might at first seem impractical or too hard just might be the thing that changes our lives–if we’re willing to listen to that inner voice, and do the footwork.  It won’t happen without our attention and effort, but the results are worth it.  What’s more, when we’re our best selves, we’re able to be of greater service to others.  We can share our abundance, unencumbered by fears.  So don’t be afraid to dream big, but don’t stop there.