Thursday, February 19, 2015

Speeding through time zones

at the Hoover Dam, circa 2002

Crossing America at 65mph

 When I was 23 I stood at the edge of Old Faithful with throngs of other tourists waiting for the big geyser to erupt. After ten minutes of waiting I got fed up and we left. I went to Yellowstone National Park, I stood next to the geyser, and I left without seeing it erupt because I was impatient. That is just embarrassing.

Hans and I were driving across country, from Montana to Connecticut. We had done the trip the previous year and we had made a real vacation out of it. Six weeks: Graceland, the Texas panhandle, White Sands National Monument, The Grand Canyon, Vegas, California. Our return trip was more of a trip than an adventure, but we tried to hit some big sites on the way. Like Yellowstone. We were speeding across country; we were speeding through the time zones. How much did we miss by sticking to the interstates as opposed to the Blue Highways?

Intentional travel. Slow down, see the sights

In his book Along the Edge of America, Peter Jenkins runs a boat along the Gulf Coast shoreline from the Florida Keys to the Texas-Mexico border. He writes "I could not have done this particular boat trip when I was twenty-two. I had to . . . learn to slow down, to be vulnerable, to understand both how different and how alike people can be." (p. 274) I hear you Peter Jenkins. I can say, without a doubt, that if I were at Yellowstone today, I would wait for that geyser to erupt.

How long does it take to get to know a place and its people? The argument for "forever" can be made. Or, "you'll never know a place till you live there." Back in my college years, Swedes told me that you never break the ice with Swedes until you get drunk together. (And Swedes can get rip-roaring drunk.) In a place with four seasons, like my home state of Vermont, you can say that you never really know it till you've lived through the grips of winter in January, mud season in March, and leaf-peeping season in October.

But what about the traveler? If you have a two-week vacation, is it even feasible to think that you might get to know a place, or its people? Or should you just scrap the idea of finding cultural and social connections and just book a room at an all-inclusive?

Don't even.

Create memories, make friends, find a sense of place

I have some fantastic memories from my travels, from places we only stopped for one night, or spent one afternoon or three days.
  • There was the family on the west coast of Puerto Rico who were our personal tour guides for a day. They wanted to get into the tourism business, we were their guinea pigs. Win win.  The next day they invited us to their house for Thanksgiving, and the day after they came sailing with us. We spent three days together but those days were so rich and so full.
  • I'll never forget the night in Bequia when we watched the returns roll in for the 2008 Presidential election. We were the only Americans, the only tourists in a bar/fried chicken shack and we celebrated raucously with the island's residents.
  • And, most recently, there was the mechanic in South Carolina who, after diagnosing our engine as dead in the water, invited us to his boat to show the girls his shark tooth collection. It was a glimpse into a different life - a cigarette-smoking, soap opera-watching life - that reminded me that we're all unique, but still the same. I shudder at the damage to the girls' lungs in those 10 minutes we were aboard the boat, but the mechanic and his wife were so sweet with the girls and they loved boats. As Freja likes to say: same-same.
Of course, while a week spent lounging on a beach chair at an all-inclusive would be infinitely relaxing, it's just not for me. When I travel I crave social connection, human interaction, newfound cultural insights. Being away from home and outside of my comfort zone does not stress me out or make me anxious. Quite the contrary. Stepping outside of my daily life is precisely what relaxes me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Freja diligently worked on Valentine's cards all day. (That's face paint.)

Week-long holidays

When I was in my twenties (free and untethered), I used to love to celebrate my birthday week. I've always loved my birthday, but an entire birthday week was a great excuse to go out to eat multiple times in the same week. Cake? Yes, please.

I'm noticing that more and more holidays are jumping on the long-term bandwagon. Christmas is popping up among the Halloween decorations and Thanksgiving starts on Wednesday and extends through Sunday. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for taking time off work and spending it with family and friends, but it's getting kind of confusing for the young-uns.

Valentine's day week

Freja is just getting the grasp of holidays but take Thanksgiving, for example. First of all, she kept calling it Halloween. My explanation of the holiday was a simple: "we remember what life was like a long time ago by eating special food and being together with our friends and family. It's on a Thursday, so you won't go to school." Except we went to church on the Sunday prior to Turkey day and had our Thanksgiving feast there. And the next day one of Hans's colleagues hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for people that may have to work on the actual day. And, finally, we celebrated (and ate) with friends on the actual day. At that point, Freja was done with Thanksgiving. Next.

A pink week

Now we're up to Valentine's day. Again, I keep the explanation simple: "it's one day a year, February 14, when we tell everyone we love how special they are to us and that we love them. We can give people cards to show them how much we care." February 14. Every year. Well, it will be a 3-day, 4-party celebration for us. It rained all day yesterday so Freja spent the day gluing together doilies and glittery hearts for her classmates. Tomorrow there is a party at her school; in the afternoon we're going to a cookie decorating party. There's a potluck at the marina on Friday night. And then, of course, there is the actual day that needs celebrating. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, at least not too much. But it can get overwhelming. Head over to Pinterest to take a look at all the Valentine's crafts you can do or the cake you can make or the mini-tartlets you can bake. Schools throw parties for all the tiny holidays. Everything must be recognized! The crunchy earth mom side of me feels very guilty for not celebrating the solstices and surely I must have some Irish in me around St. Patty's day.

Anyway, just my observation on the escalation of holidays. Is it consumerism? Is it competition? Or is it just an excuse to party with friends, (be them little kids at an Easter egg hunt or adults waking up with Bloody Mary's on Valentine's Day)? Maybe it's as simple as the that: celebrating the random holidays with vigor as an excuse to be with friends and family. I'll subscribe to that rationale.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Island time, defined.

 Island time

I'd never heard of the term "island time" until I spent some time in the Caribbean, in the islands. When I first heard the term, it was often spoken with Western values...fellow boat owners or ex-pats who were trying to get something done, on Western time, and it just wasn't happening. Long lunches, siestas, red tape, power outages, spontaneous national holidays, etc. From a Western point of view, residents of the Caribbean islands operate at a totally different pace than residents of, say, Washington DC or New York City. (Heck, doesn't everyone operate at a different pace than New Yorkers?!) I get it. Born, raised, and having spent the majority of my life stateside, being impatient is almost like an inherited character trait.

Definitely not on island time. Image courtesy of
You should have seen me in line at Starbucks the other day. (Yes, that was me. Loudly sighing, tapping my foot, checking my phone, sighing again.) By the time I got to the car and gave the girls their promised cake pops, I was ranting up and down about indecisive people and bad customer service. Then I laughed. The girls were happy and my husband was taking a minute to check facebook. The only person who was upset was me. Hang on, didn't I just write and publish a book all about how to live on island time in the rat race?

Island time, as a state of mind

So what does island time mean? It certainly doesn't mean getting all huffy while I wait in line at Starbucks. If I type "island time" into my Pinterest account, I get flooded with images of turquoise water, hammocks, and white sand beaches. Yeah. That's island time. But, to me, it's so much more than that. It's a state of mind. And if it's a state of mind, it can be independent of geography. Of course lounging in a hammock and sipping a rum punch are very conducive to island time, that's not necessary. How do you feel when you're lying in that hammock?

Connected to nature.

Easier said than done

I type this as one of my girls is napping on the living room floor after screaming for half an hour that she wasn't going to sleep and the other one is on and off fussing in her bed. Typical toddler: deliriously happy, no, wait, furiously angry. I have a lot of background chatter that pulls at my heartstrings and makes it very difficult to achieve that kind of hammock relaxation.

Relaxing in a hammock, figuratively

Hanging out with my girls. Not on a tropical beach, but definitely relaxed and happy.
But I also know what relaxing like that feels like, and I try to order my priorities and my to-do list to be more conducive to internal island time. I cross things off without doing them. If it needs to get done, it'll get done. I go outside, a lot. I meet with friends, a lot, and create and embrace my community. I do things that make me happy - I cook, I bake, I write. I embrace the concept of mañana, mañana. And I still get stressed. There is always a million things to do and places to be and people to see. But I try to prioritize the here and now with the goal of living the good life today. Being happy, today.

How about you? What does your island time look like?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A new year's resolutions, +31 days

(Let me preface this by saying that I am a Type A person in many aspects. I love lists. I love writing things down and coming up with plans. I love being organized. If you don't, then this kind of intentional life improvement, for lack of a more sexy term, may not be for you.)

Image courtesy of Stephen Halpin

New Year's resolutions - the February 1 update

31 days ago was the big day for dreaming up and writing down resolutions. Today is February 1st, seems like a good day to check in. Did you write resolutions? Are you on track to sticking to them? Every year on January 1 when the new year rolls, we have the tendency to feel refreshed and inspired. Some people set forth minor goals like recycling more, while others tend toward the more grandiose like losing weight or quitting smoking. My goals are...unwritten (at least on pen and paper. I typed a little about this a couple weeks ago). We have a little red book where I like to write down our favorite memories from the previous year and resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. It's February 1st and we just haven't gotten to it. (I also haven't gotten around to sending out thank you cards for Christmas presents, but that's a whole 'nother story. I have a pipe dream of sending out Valentine's cards, but, at the rate I'm going, those may not arrive in people's mailboxes till April.) But let's pretend that my goals are written down. And let's pretend yours are too. It's so easy to let that new year excitement dwindle away till you forget the commitments you made for the new year. So, in the spirit of resolutions, let's resolve to check in on the first of every month. Pull out that red book or the sticky note where you scribbled down your goal. Are you on track?

Smaller time frame, smaller resolutions

So maybe, like me, you haven't specifically written down your resolutions. Or maybe you feel so daunted by the prospect of sticking to one big goal all year that you simply skipped it this year. Here's another idea: monthly resolutions. Even weekly resolutions. Bite off a little at a time. Narrow your focus. It can be simple: I'll read the newspaper once a week. Or, I'll go for a run once a week. On March 1 I'll check in again. Did I work on that goal? How did it go? And then I'll make a new one.

Taking stock of the important stuff

This very tangible way of "taking stock" of what is working in our lives helps push us toward the intentional life. It's easy to swing on the pendulum. To go from day to day and then suddenly the year is, over-analyzing, basically being too introspective. So my idea is to focus on one goal per month, put it in the back of my mind and then reassess after 30 days. I'll be tuned into a specific goal but, at the same time, I'll be living my day-to-day life.

Here's to February Resolutions. I'll be back in touch on March 1.

Oh February Resolution: be more patient with my eldest kid at bedtime.