On getting a puppy.

Wanda the Wunda Dog

Somehow, during the not so dog days of August this year, I thought it was time to get a dog.  I know how that sounds, but please know the two are not connected. Or perhaps they are, the humidity this summer as opposed to the dry heat we’re used to saturating my perspective on daily life.

It’s been nearly four years since our old Jones passed on, and as much as I would rather not admit to life being easier  since, can say it’s been different without her ever present self, devoted gaze, and soft muzzle nudging me to give her a pat.  She was such a sweet girl.

Puppy Mess

But I’m not a dog person.  I know people draw a line and stake their claim to whether they like dogs or cats, and although I’ve loved both, cats have been a part of my life far more than dogs.  I remember a dog named Cookie when we lived in Spain, then there were Misty and Greta when I was in Junior High.  They were more my sister’s dogs than anyone else.  Yogi, a beautiful pedigreed Doberman, was a part of our family after I’d had my first child — and he was lovely — but we were not the family for him and so he went to live with an older woman who needed company.

I don't want to gopher a walk.

Years went by before my youngest decided I needed a dog for my birthday, and so we adopted Jones, a mixed breed puppy who was found abandoned on a school playground, full of worms and advertised as a Chihuahua.  It’s no matter that she grew to be 60 pounds or so.  We were happy to have her be a part of our lives.  I know I was, at least after she outgrew puppyhood.  I still have furniture that bears the marks of her teething phase.

When my very best friend realized I’d brought home a puppy, she said, “Really?”  And I knew what she meant.  I’m sure I told her more than once how confined to a house a dog can leave you, their neediness requiring so much more thought than a cat’s might.  Oh, the time devoted to living with, being around, and training a puppy. I understood what she meant having observed her with her Maddy, a beautiful, large, highly spirited Golden Lab who accompanied us on all our morning walks — or dragged us, to be more accurate.  Maddy’s life did not end well and I know an experience like that doesn’t fade quickly.

Belly Rubs, Please?

I think at this point in my life I have no reason not to spend time with an animal who loves as intensely as a dog can.  Although I have three grown boys, not one has an inkling of a sparkle of the possibility of a grandchild in mind, and I’m perfectly fine with that.  But I also think that I need something to balance my time, or I’ll spend all day in my head weaving whatever it is I weave all day, every day, with seemingly little to show for it.  Besides, a dog is a perfect excuse to procrastinate doing whatever it is I promised myself I’d finish by October.

There can be so much less to look forward to each day than a puppy who lies at my feet, allowing me to softly run my toes over her smooth coat as she sleeps, occasionally waking when I stop, wondering what she’s done to cause it.

Scary Green Frog

I’ll save the ins and outs with her daily habits for another time.  Suffice it to say, they’re kicking my butt and reminding me of what it was like to have an infant in the house minus the sustaining energy of youth that accompanies such a life event.   But I’m determined to nudge our Wanda into a place she’ll be comfortable knowing she doesn’t have to be in charge, because I will be.  So far, she seems to appreciate that as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with dishtowels hanging from the rung on the oven door.

My life is rarely boring, but these days, it is even less so.  I’m even realizing with my Mac downstairs to keep an ever vigilant eye on Wanda, that I actually don’t have a valid reason to not get my writing done.

Stay tuned.

 

The Last Summer Vacation

It seems no matter where I am on the web right now, someone somewhere is headed Back-to-School.  Mothers are sad summer is over (or secretly not), healthy lunches are discussed (or those not so healthy tsk-tsked over), and teachers are settling in with yet another year’s classroom full of children.  The smell of crayons and freshly sharpened pencils waft through the streets.

It’s ingrained in us, isn’t it?  Going back to school each year — a season in and of itself barely resembling what it once was:  a simple returning to class after work was done on a family farm.  I have always wondered exactly what portion of the country’s population was actually affected by that.  Did most of America live on farms? It doesn’t make sense, but I’m on a bird walk trying to escape the real point of my thoughts today.

My youngest son, who has been home all summer, will be headed back to school like seemingly everyone else this week.  He’ll have a duffle bag and case for his laptop instead of a backpack and lunch box, and will be dropped off at the curb at the airport instead of a bus stop or school playground to wait for the morning bell.  His dad will do the honors — he always does.  And I will stay at home, my eye on the clock waiting for just the right moment to look out the front windows for the plane headed north I know he is on.  I’ll watch it until I can’t see it any longer, and then I’ll go about the business of reacquainting myself with a house that has one less person in it again.

When I asked my son about whether he was excited for the new semester to begin, he said yes, that he was, and then paused.  “My very last summer vacation,” he said looking at me with an expression I understood, remembering my own thoughts of those milestones in life.  What I didn’t tell him was that this summer also marked my own last summer vacation — the one a parent experiences if she’s lucky enough to be at home instead of at work.  I was at work or school — sometimes both for most of my three boys’ summer vacations and the memories are tinged with stress.  Because I was not at home, I had to find a place for them — someone to watch them, a camp, something until they were old enough to take care of themselves.

It’s been a luxury the past many years to enjoy my youngest son’s company when he comes home during the summer.  He’s a quiet young man — someone easy to be around.  When he isn’t out with friends, in the evenings after his dad comes home, we eat dinner together and often watch television later, chatting about nothing in particular.  Just enjoying the time.  It’s great company, and I’ll miss it.

I know many parents have had to refluff the empty nest they once mourned because the economy hasn’t quite welcomed their bright and shiny college graduates.  I also know that the once welcomed company of an adult child on summer break can lose its polish after the reality sets in that life expects certain things of us once we’re adults, and camping out at Mom & Dad’s waiting for a job to knock on the door probably isn’t the best plan.  But I realized something myself this summer — something not too different from the familiar perspective with which I raised my children.

They are going to make their own best choices about their lives in their own time.  I know so many who would immediately disagree with me for believing that.  My oldest son would be one.  He’s told me he wishes he’d not had the freedom to make those choices, yet of my three children, he was the one who most diligently managed himself in school.

I could have spent this summer cracking the whip and nagging my youngest about whether he’d gotten an internship, or summer job.  Or I might have done a search for leads on both, then pointed him in the right direction before pushing him out the door.  It is completely in my nature to want to do those things, but that behavior is completely contrary to what I believe.  They have to make their own way.  Isn’t that what we do in our own lives?  Make our own way?

I have, and part of making my own way has been to enjoy the time I’ve had with my youngest on this very last of our summer vacations.

Here is to whatever is next along the way and to a life that makes time for a summer vacation.

 

 

 

One step at a time. Maybe.

I woke up well before I normally do today, willing myself to stay in bed and lie still, listening to the fan whir back and forth, the puff of air it creates just reaching me.  I watched the brightness on the walls created by the streetlight outside slowly fade as the dark sky made its way toward morning, but grew bored after a while and decided to get up.

I used to think this scenario presented the perfect time to write, grabbing on to whatever was in my mind and making more of it than it might have been, had I left it there unbothered.  But today, I climbed the stairs to stand next to the open window, listening to the crickets, taking note of the first driver speeding through the greyness, a bird just beginning to chirp its good mornings and sounding a bit rusty.

I used to love to walk in the dark, and as much as I think I’d still enjoy the intense quiet of a morning just before the sun rises, I’m wary of what’s out there.  It’s an excuse that keeps me inside and promising myself the rest of the day that I’ll go out for a walk.  Later.

A quick glance at the clock just now lets me know I’ve still not been out and it’s nearly 2pm.

Another day has flown by while I’ve been lost in my head thinking of much, accomplishing little.

But there are words written here.  Maybe they’re evidence of a first step toward a desperately needed routine.

Walking, writing, or both?

Paper, scissors, rock.

 

 

DIY: Travel Planning

In less than a week, we will be on a non-stop flight to London, then take a short flight to Paris. Yes, Paris.

I’ve been many places before — many –  but think I’ve been saving France in general for when my husband and I could go alone.  We’ve enjoyed trips to England and Wales with our youngest, then another fabulous road trip there with his parents.  We’ve also traveled through Italy with one of my older sons, but we’ve never been with each other — alone.

A couple of years ago just as we were embracing the very real and daunting empty nest syndrome, we flew to New England and took a road trip to enjoy the Fall leaves and a variety of excellent restaurants from New Hampshire to Maine and Vermont.  I guess you might say we got our feet wet with that trip, going it alone.

It’s not like we’ve never traveled alone before, but most often the traveling has been due to work, or a quick get away and not the involved two week plane train automobile type of travel we’re prone to.  And I’m not sure about how that happened, but might suggest it’s a bit of my worrying about the mister’s wanting to do and see everything combined with my obsessive planning tendencies.

I like to think those tendencies have kept us from less than savory situations when we travel.  Yes, I suppose I like the idea of being spontaneous as long as it’s planned.  As much as I don’t mind a surprise, I don’t want one thousands of miles from home and without the wherewithal to appropriately respond to it.  How sad is that?

I know.

Regardless, please know I’ve left room in our itinerary for surprises (I can’t help myself) — the kind we happen upon when we least expect it (how surprising!) walking along a street and, well, you fill in the blank.  If whatever we find is fabulous, then the itinerary is poof — as long as an already purchased ticket isn’t involved.

Have you ever thought of traveling somewhere that it seems everyone has been before you finally go?  Paris is a city I’ve seen throughout my life in classic films, read about in books, appreciated in art, in advertising, and wistfully wondered about when others I know have been.  I think I’ve put the idea of visiting Paris on a shelf for many years, just waiting.  And now the time is here.

Because I believe my ignorance could dim the brilliance of our time there, I have been carried away with all things Paris.  I’ve read fiction (ooh-la-la), non-fiction, travel guides, blogs — everything.  And all I really want is to wander the streets and take photos.  Sit at cafe tables watching people pass by.  Soak in all that is different.

I love museums, but honestly, they’re not always high on my list of things to do when I travel because I can see the works of art in high resolution on my Mac.  I can’t do that when it comes to the streets of a city bustling with traffic and people, weather factored in for good measure.

We recently went to Virginia with my mother and brother for a niece’s college graduation.  At some point, my mother, who hasn’t been on a plane in more than five years and has had some angst about flying told me about the time we flew to Spain.  It was late in 1963 and my step-father had traveled ahead of us.  My mother would be traveling with three small children on a very long flight that would conclude in spending her life for several years in a foreign country.

I remember the flight, but I don’t remember sensing any of my mother’s anxiety.  When I asked her about it last weekend, she mentioned that it may have been the first time she’d been on a flight anywhere.  I had to imagine it since I’ve had three children and only taken one on a flight as an infant — and a short one at that.  Yes, I can imagine I would have much to worry about if I’d been in her shoes instead of enjoying the flight sans movies, iPhones, iPads, or any electronic device to keep children occupied.

Clearly, I’m wandering with my thoughts.  It’s a challenge not to wander when I think of things like this.  Memories never leave me.

If you’re interested, I’ll share a few of the things I’ve found while I’ve been preparing for our trip — which includes Germany, by the way.  Someone asked, “Why, after Paris?” and I’m happy to say it’s because my husband wanted to see Bavaria and all of the tiny, old towns near the Alps — and this castle.   Since I began researching, I’ve also added a ride up the peak of this mountain (if it’s clear), and a hike through this gorge near the Austrian border to our list of things to do beyond enjoying the jaw droppingly beautiful countryside.

When we started talking about this trip years ago, we thought we’d visit three cities in Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary:   London, Paris, and Venice — something like that.  But we’ve been to London twice, and we’ve been to Rome and Florence.  Living in Spain when I was growing up somehow rules that out of the picture, but I’m not always sure why.  The final decision is made based on how we will get from one place to another more than anything else — and just how long that will take.

Originally, we began sometime before last December with a list of 15 cities to research.  It was more challenging than we thought it would be since we ruled out a couple of continents (Asia and Africa) and we felt our lists were very predictable.  But we narrowed them down to cities we’d both included:  Paris, Venice, and that’s where we split.  He wanted to go to Munich and I wanted to go to Prague.

When it comes to the planning, ultimately the transportation from one place to another is what helps make the decision.  Once I’d begun to look at the travel time and cost between Paris, Venice, and Munich (Prague was put on a back burner) we quickly decided two cities would be enough.

Or so I thought.

I’m a compulsive planner so stretched Munich into a jaunt around the southern part of Germany near the Bavarian Alps.  This would be where the automobile comes in.  We drove extensively both times we were in England, so this seemed easy in comparison if anything because driving on the opposite of the road wouldn’t be a factor.  But there is the autobahn…

Here’s our two-week itinerary:

  • 7 nights in Paris and a rooftop apartment in Montmartre near Sacre Coeur
  • a TGV ride to Munich via Mannheim
  • 3 nights in Munich
  • a drive to Fussen near the Bavarian Alps where we’ll be for 3 nights
  • a drive to Strassbourg where we’ll stay for 1 night
  • a TGV ride back to Paris
  • 1 final night in Paris at a hotel in the Saint-Germaine de Pres arrondissement on the left bank

And here is what I’ve found helpful as I’ve planned this trip:

  • “Mxsmanic” on YouTube has a huge number of Paris walks recorded.  They’re a pleasure to watch because he simply walks and shoots the video.  There’s no narrative or music and I’ve been able to get the best sense of what being in Paris is like — minus tourists.  He’s taken some at night, in different seasons — there’s a good variety.  Some are as long as 30 minutes, like my favorite, “Montmartre, Paris…Off the Tourist Track.”
  • Perfectly Paris is the company I have used to book our apartment.  Because I enjoy seeing as much as a local might depending on where we’re traveling, this company seemed perfect.  After looking at dozens of apartments available and the companies advertising them, I realized that if I wanted to see rooftops and chimney pots when I looked out the window and walk in the older streets to find a local boulangerie or cafe, then Montmartre was perfect and because Perfectly Paris specializes in Montmartre properties, the decision was made.  The information provided has been excellent and thorough as well as easily accessible along the way through an app, emails, and their website.  They also provide concierge services which have been helpful for savings on things to see and do in Paris that are out of the ordinary.  I’ll have more to say about this when we return.
  • David Lebovitz A favorite for years, not only do I enjoy his blog, but have recently read his book, The Sweet Life in Paris which is not only helpful, but hilarious.  His shared experience moving to and living in Paris is priceless, as are the recipes he includes along the way.  His piece on “Where to Find a Good Cup of Coffee in Paris” is my favorite.
  • Secrets of Paris  Lots of good info on Paris — tours, articles, food, you name it.  There’s a newsletter you can sign up for.
  • Love in the City of Lights  A personal blog written by a young woman who relocated to Paris a few years ago.  It’s a pleasant read in the morning with my cup of coffee.
  • My Beautiful Paris has all kinds of information with photos of what to see and do, including general travel tips.  It’s a fun read.
  • Matt Barrett’s Travel Guide to Montmartre was fabulous.  Helpful and entertaining — the best combo.
  • The Hip Paris Blog  We’re anything but hip, but that didn’t stop me from using this great website to its fullest.  Its lively tone makes it fun to read and pieces like “Living Like a Local:  How to Spend Sunday in Paris” kept me interested and taking more notes than we can possibly use on our trip.  Each piece has a variety of links that make navigating a particular topic easy.
  • Paris in Four Months is full of beautiful photos primarily of Paris.  It’s visual dessert on any day for me, but has helped me think of photos I might shoot.  No words — just great photography of perfect scenes.  She has me thinking Corsica should be on our next destination list.

I could keep listing, but this is enough for starters.

For travel planning in general:

      • “19 Web Sites for Travel Savings 2012″ from the NYTimes includes great resources if you’re looking for deals for flights, vacation rentals, etc.
      • Skyscanner I found this site earlier this year and really like it.  It compares flights from quite a few places and differently than many of the other flight comparison sites.
      • Tablet. has a great selection of travel guides as well as information about restaurants, hotels, and sights, including shopping for those interested.
      • Conde Nast Traveler is always interesting with articles for all kinds of travelers and trips — as well as pieces on how to take better vacation photos with your iPhone.  Even if you’re not planning a trip, it’s great for Armchair Travel.
      • Concierge is another comprehensive site.  I like its “What Not To Do In…” you fill in the city feature.  It’s just their opinion and I measure it against others, but it helps to know when a vacation is only so long and we don’t want to waste time on something and miss out on another.
      • Trip Advisor  I rely upon this because of the reviews of hotels and the lists of top things to do in a city.  I take it all with a grain of salt because the most popular hotel is not necessarily the best — but it’s a good resource.
      • The Man in Seat Sixty-One was enormously helpful to my planning for this trip specifically for train travel.  The train schedules always overwhelm me until I spend some time with them and his videos and thorough information, links, and handy tips were outstanding.
      • DB Bahn is Germany’s train site.  It’s schedules are very helpful for travel just about anywhere in Europe.  I sent a question to them about a particular type of ticket and received an answer within a day!  I think the most challenging thing about this site was realizing that if I was looking for tickets too far in advance, they just weren’t available yet and I didn’t figure that out at first.  But you can get notification about when they’re available — important because some of the high speed trains are reservation only.
      • Google Maps It may seem obvious for trip planning, but how many of the cool features have you used before?  I peg all of the places we may be interested in seeing when we visit a place — especially the ones I’ve learned about that are new and/or unusual.  When I can, I link a website to the peg so information is ready to review if we need it.  You can make a map public or keep it private — important if you have specific hotels listed.  You can also create routes and save them for future reference.  Once I’ve created a map on my Mac, I can access it on my iPad and iPhone as well.  Easy!  It makes planning fun.


View Larger Map

One of the things I learned planning this trip is that Google Maps Street View isn’t available in Germany outside of large cities so to get a sense of where we will be traveling in the countryside, I had to rely upon the photos people upload to Panramino. I love looking at photos so using Panoramio is usually a huge diversion and I am easily lost in what people have shared of the places they’ve visited.  When you’re using Google Maps, in the upper right hand corner, there are two boxes.  If you place your cursor over them, drop downs give you more options — like “photos.”  If you click it, then photos people have uploaded show up.

Here’s a public map I recreated of our first trip to the UK in 2006:


View UK Trip in a larger map

And this one shows the route for our last road trip through England a few years ago:

View UK Vacation Route in a larger map

You get the idea.

And last, but definitely not least, Google Translate.  I speak Spanish badly.  One year of college German barely gets me by.  But French?  Unless it has something to do with cooking, not so much.  We’ve been busy playing with Google Translate and starring handy phrases to practice and having a great time doing it.

Have fun picturing both of us standing outside of a shop in Bavaria where we understand very few people speak English, and practicing our German before we enter.  It should be interesting.

Bon Voyage!

Planning for Paris

Planning for Paris

 

February is nearly half gone and I’m just now feeling as if there’s a new year ahead of me and things to plan for.  The holidays have long passed, the remnants of that nasty bout with bronchitis are finally gone, the Super Bowl — which always seems to allow some sort of hanging on to a reason to plan a party — is history, and finally, a lovely several days spent with an old friend who came to stay have also been crossed off my calendar.  Time flies.

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Sunrise

2012: A year in photos

Twenty-twelve was a blue ribbon year for me and for many of the people I care about.  Milestone birthdays and graduations abounded. There were planned trips to familiar places, and an unexpected vacation to somewhere new.  Day trips were enjoyed out and about the city we’ve called home since 1968 and tend to take for granted.  A mix and match of family got together for myriad reasons.  There were babies, continued good news about a friend’s fight with cancer, new homes warmed for the next phase in lives, and deaths mourned.

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The science of grasping life by the short hairs