Tag 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.

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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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Singing Italian in a Jewel Box

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently made a list of challenges and achievements, and discovered that many of my greatest accomplishments have been things that scared me silly at the time.  Here are some items on that list:

+ Lived and studied in Paris
+ Ran a half-marathon
+ Finished first on my team in a regional cross-country race on a rainy, muddy day
+ Canoed through rural Quebec
+ Studied Italian and traveled through Sicily
+ Studied and played organ professionally

All of these experiences involved adventure and challenge. Some entailed physical anguish:  aching at mile 10 of a half-marathon or portaging on a canoe trip.  Other times, the anguish was mental: realizing I had a ways to go at speaking French fluently or being a virtuoso at the organ.

Stretching my limits is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Since it’s Easter weekend, I’m doing a lot of singing and playing the organ–activities that are very rewarding but make me nervous, because improvement is always possible. When I’m offered an opportunity to play, my inner response tends to be, “This makes me nervous, and I really want to say yes.”

I’ve played the piano since I was seven, but only started learning the organ a couple of years ago.  It’s easy to think people will notice every mistake, but the truth is, no one’s standards for my playing are as high as my own.

Before playing, I often think, “It won’t be perfect, but it will be beautiful.”  This mindset helps me to stay present.  Playing is worth the nervousness–it’s creative, rewarding and fun.  It’s also gratifying to see my progress, no matter how slow.  It gives me a sense of achievement, and hopefully has a positive impact on others.

How can we light the path to our achievements?  Visions can be powerful tools.  I use visions in many areas of my life:  work, family, health.  My “music vision” continues to evolve, but core components are a pipe organ, choir loft, beautiful sanctuary with stained glass, singing a foreign language, decently paid, and pastoral support.

One church where I played last summer checked nearly all of these boxes.  It was gorgeous, like a jewel box or music box–a music box decked with jewels, perhaps.  I played on a 3-manual pipe organ and sang Italian hymns.  It had a choir loft, so I didn’t feel conspicuous.  It didn’t check one or two boxes, but otherwise, it was a music dream come true.

I knew less about the pipe organ when I began playing at that church than I do today.  When I sent in my resume, it was because I believed that I knew enough to get started, to pick up what I didn’t know, and to do a good job.

I had enough passion that I took the right steps to get hired, and filled in the gaps later.  I studied registration more closely–principals,  flutes and reeds; 8, 16, and 4 foot stops.  I learned about couplers.  At first, I relied primarily on pistons (pre-sets), but after a few weeks, I was doing my own registration (or selection of stops).

My vision got me to that point of playing the organ and singing Italian in a jewel-box of a church.  I can look back at various mistakes I’ve made–playing at the wrong time, missing a note or two, ending a hymn too soon–and congratulate myself.

Why?  In most lines of work, someone who is successful fails more than someone who isn’t successful; she just recovers more quickly from her failures.  Who remembers a missed note–or even notices? If I always played it safe, I wouldn’t leave my house.  Some of my “peak experiences,” or vivid memories that reveal my core values, involved stepping way out of my comfort zone, being scared silly, and taking action anyway.

Speaking of leaving my house, the first month I lived in Paris, I barely ventured outside my new neighborhood as I acclimated to new surroundings and a new language.  Yet by the end of the year, I felt at home in the City of Lights.  My comfort zone had widened.  I had learned to navigate the subway, shop for groceries and order lunch at a cafe–all in French.  I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable doing those things when I arrived.

Passion conquers fear, but not without courage and persistence.  We need to be willing to fail, and keep moving forward anyway, to make our dreams a reality.  So keep failing, keep succeeding, and you’ll move ever closer to your wildest dreams.

What is something that you’ve achieved in spite of adversity, because your passion was greater than your fear?  What challenges have you taken on because deep down, you knew that you had it in you?  Most importantly, how can you apply that learning to what you want next in your life?

Liebster Award

I’m honored to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by Upasna Mattoo at LIVE OUT LOUD!  Thank you — I always enjoy reading your blog, and am looking forward to connecting more.

The goal of the Liebster Award is to help generate attention toward new and upcoming bloggers; typically those with 200 followers or less.  I will nominate 10 other bloggers once I’ve given it a bit more reflection.  In the meantime, here are my answers to the questions I was asked:

1.  What’s the best adventure you’ve ever had?  Traveling through Sicily must have been one of the very best adventures I’ve had.  My husband and I took a ferry from Rome to Palermo then took trains around the island.  We saw Mt. Etna from Taormina, ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, and wandered through food markets in Catania.

2.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  Doing lots of writing, working one on one with coaching clients, playing the piano and organ, hiking, and traveling.

3.  If you were an animal, what would you be?  Definitely a cat.  They are experts at being present and perceptive.  They engage in lots of sleep, cuddling, playing, exploring their environment, and deep observation.

4.  What’s the one food you can’t live without?  Dark chocolate.  In Modena, Sicily, I went to a chocolate shop with hundreds of kinds of exotic chocolates including 99% chocolate.

5.  What is your life motto?  Be present.

6.  What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?  I’m not sure what this would be.  Probably calamari.

7.  If you could go back and visit any time period, what time would you travel to and why?  It would be hard to beat meeting Jesus.  Meeting Sappho, Shakespeare, or Lincoln would also have been amazing experiences.

8.  Name a gift you will never forget.  My husband is the most thoughtful gift-giver.  He once gave me a yoga membership to Om Yoga in New York.  Another year he gave me a weekend NY Times subscription because it made for a leisurely Sunday afternoon.  For our fifth anniversary, he gave me two books of organ music–German/Austrian and Portuguese/Spanish.

9.  What is your biggest addiction?  Caffeine.  I’m working on breaking my adrenaline addiction and being content with a half-cup of coffee rather than two cups.  Peacefulness is so much more relaxing.

10.  Where do you see yourself in ten years?  See #2.  I will add to my answer:  being of service–in my career, through volunteer work, and to my family.

Patience and Fortitude: Living in the Present

On my walks through the city, I often pass the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th and 42nd.  Its entrance is guarded by two lions, named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia during the Great Depression to inspire New Yorkers.

Enduring hardships does require both patience and fortitude–whether something we want to pass (illness), or something we want to happen (starting a family).  Our peace lies in trusting the unknowns; our power lies in pursuing the knowable, taking steps to find out what information we can, and making choices that are in line with our greatest good.

This week, my neighbor and friend passed away over a long illness.  I was moved by how his courage and faith sustained him in difficult times.  They seemingly enabled him to immerse himself in the moment, whether that moment was ordinary or out of the ordinary…  playing with his 1 1/2 year old, watching a movie with friends from church, or taking a trip to Hawaii with his wife, where they had lived for several years.

In the midst of what must have been tremendous sorrow,  my friend was also filled with gratitude and hope.  I witnessed his openness to the grace of joyful moments that only come from living in the present.  He had a service mentality of looking for ways that he could help others and was mindful of what his legacy would be.

I was moved by his wife, as well, by her practice of living a day at a time.  Yet, she made plans.  She and her husband had planned for him to work as long as possible, while she cared for their baby, until he no longer could, at which time she returned to work.  She arranged for extra help.

She–and they–looked ahead to the extent that it was possible, from a place that was both heart-centered and practical.  With that in place, she lived in the present.  I’m sure she felt sadness and fear in ways I can’t imagine–yet what amazed me is that she also truly counted her blessings, and made time to express her care and concern for others.

As someone who can be impatient, I am inspired by both of their lives that I have witnessed.  I have been doing a lot of work around changing the things that I can in my life, and surrendering the future, which can’t be known or controlled.  We often have more power than we realize, both by changing our perspective, but also by taking concrete actions on our own behalf to improve our lives, follow our passions, and connect with others.

It’s a practice where I often stumble and grope in the dark through unfamiliar territory.  I’m tempted by the illusion of control–but in fact, I am led by as much light as I have today.  Tomorrow, I will be led by as much light as I need at that time.

Everything that I need is provided.  When I do the necessary footwork around what is within my power and trust that the rest will go exactly as it’s meant to, I feel more serene.  When I focus on what’s in front of me and the difference that I can make–in work, love, or any other area–my life and my faith grow bigger.

I’m deeply saddened by my friend’s passing, and for his family’s loss.  I’m also extremely grateful to have known such a shining soul, and to have witnessed his family’s path in a difficult time, living in a place of openness to love and grace.

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.

Falling Down: Adventures in Skiing

After Christmas, my husband and I went skiing for a couple of days in the Poconos.  It was our first ski trip in 7 years, so as you might expect, we didn’t instantly have our ski legs back.  In fact, as we approached the ski lift on our first time up, we were rather unceremoniously knocked to the ground when we mistimed the lift’s arrival.  Well, I think I mistimed it, moved forward too soon, and consequently knocked my husband to the ground, as well.  The guy working the lift made the rather unhelpful comment, “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”

In spite of a rocky start, it was a wonderful chance to recharge our batteries, now that the flurry of entertaining and being entertained was over, not to mention all of the Christmastime singing and playing that comes with being musicians (6 times over 5 days)!  The Victorian-style B&B with a step-up bathtub didn’t hurt, either.  When else do I take candlelit baths?

However, I was reminded that the gifts didn’t only come when things went smoothly–when I glided down the slopes as if I had been on skis since the age of 4, like quite a few kids we saw on our trip.  The gifts also came from that small opening when things didn’t quite go according to plan, and in the ability to choose my response.

My other notable fall was one I’m proud of.  On our second day of skiing, Kevin and I were feeling pretty confident.  We had navigated all but two slopes, including several black diamonds.  We were exhilarated.  Kevin was mostly in charge of keeping track of which slopes we had skiied (I attribute it to his Master’s of Library Science degree) and shared that we hadn’t tried Mohawk, so we glided over to check it out.

It was starting to get dark.  The sky was a beautiful, deep blue.  We looked over the edge of the cliff.  It was steep.  It had moguls.  Kevin asked, “what do you think?”  I knew if I thought too much about it, I’d lose my nerve, so I said, “I’m going down,” and off I went.

I didn’t last more than 10 seconds before tumbling over a mogul (not knowing the trick was to go AROUND  it), losing a ski several feet up the slope from where I landed in the process.  No twisted ankles, only bruised pride, as other skiiers could see me from the lift above as I fumbled uphill towards my ski.

Yet I knew even in that moment this was a win.  I had ventured something difficult, and was still alive to celebrate that fact.  My fear had not held me back, and the stakes were not really that high.  (If I had feared veering into the woods, I wouldn’t have attempted it–or would have at least considered wearing a helmet!)

How many times do we not try something because we imagine it will be too hard or we’re afraid the results will be messy, imperfect?  Yet there I was, on mogul-riddled Mohawk, the sky growing ever darker, not too proud to accept help from a more experienced skiier who stopped to retrieve my ski.  He helped me reattach it, each of us clumsily balancing with our poles on the steep pitch of the mountain, then off we went our separate ways.  While I did feel slight embarrassment, I focused on my pleasure at making it down the mountain without another fall, and my gratitude for my own bravery and daring.  Not recklessness–but willingness to risk results that were uncertain, messy, an imperfect and fun adventure.

Daring in Webster’s:

1: willing to do dangerous or difficult things

2: showing a lack of fear
I think “showing” is a key word. Acting in spite of fear, not letting it dictate one’s actions.

When have you acted in spite of your fears?  I’d love to read your comments!