It Was the Best of Vacations, It Was the Worst of Vacations

October 12, 2011
Best-laid plans often go astray and are most unwelcome when they happen on vacation.

Here is a brief synopsis of our September trip to France and England.

What we expected to see in France and on a river boat through six locks on the Seine:

The charming French village of Les Andelys, the city of Rouen and the harbor town of Honfleur.

The beaches of Normandy where Allied forces landed during WWII’s D-Day Invasion, and the site where Joan of Arc was martyred.

Monet’s home in his beloved village of Giverny, with the familiar Japanese bridge and water lily-covered pond that inspired his great works of art.

One of the world’s grandest cities, Paris, the “City of Light” — with its iconic Eiffel Tower, famed Champs-Élysées, grand Notre Dame Cathedral, and incomparable Moulin Rouge.

Normandy countryside along Eurostar chunnel train to London

What we saw in France:

We saw everything we expected to see.

Three quick impressions:

  1. The fashion for three out of five men, women and children is a scarf tied around the neck.
  2. Paris is thin! The overweight all appear to be tourists.
  3. They light the Eiffel tower at night with spotlights and bright lights. We thought the lights were was gilding the lily and detracted from the spectacle.

What we expected to see in England:

Countryside along chunnel train route from Paris to St. Pancras International Station

London City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Tour of Coventry Street, Piccadilly Circus, Baker Street by Madam Tussards, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and wherever else the bus would take us

Thames river cruise

Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge

Billy Elliot at Victoria Palace Theater with dinner beforehand

London Eye Millennium Wheel

HOWEVER, there was a slight glitch when I got a virus (possibly on the ship) that made its presence known when we arrived in London.

So what did we see in England?

Countryside from channel to St. Pancras train terminal

Streets along taxi ride from terminal to hotel

Ambulance ride from hotel to hospital.

Taxi ride from hospital to hotel

Taxi ride from hotel to Heathrow Airport

Three quick impressions:

  1. London has lots of wrought-iron fences.
  2. The menus at the airport restaurant gave us a chance to figure out what in the heck it meant when they offered something like “bangers and mash.” (Sausage and mashed potatoes)
  3. Had to ask the nurses several times what they said and agree with Churchill that we are two countries divided by a common language and a very big pond.

Unfortunately, according to the doctor, I will be laid low for several more weeks. Also, unfortunately, my husband developed pneumonia at the same time I got the virus, which has created a very slow-moving household.

Fortunately, he is getting better and now able to work. And I am managing to crawl out of bed for brief periods of time. Doing some reading just for fun while my body recoups its energy.

Actually, moving slowly from one day to the next is a nice change of pace. And it allows me to continue my experiment with time — in which I accept that whatever I do from day to day is, as I said in my newsletter of Sept. 12, “enough.”

Hope this post is enough to satisfy you until the end of November. By then I hope to have a brand new website and more energy.


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Quick French Lessons, Anyone?

September 12, 2011
How could you take a trip to France if you didn’t know the language?

Hello Bonjour written on blackboardI wish my parents had taught me another language when I was young. Then today I might be able to speak foreign words, even if I didn’t speak them fluently. However, my ears seem deaf to the pronunciation of non-English words.

What will I do when we take a boat ride down the Seine later this week? I feel particularly anxious because I have always been puzzled by French. Every word seems to have letters they don’t pronounce!

Consequently, I’ve never felt comfortable ordering a French dish off the menu, afraid I will sound terribly uncultured (aren’t cultured people always supposed to speak French?).

Living in Southern California we often eat at Mexican restaurants and though I don’t speak Spanish, at least in that language words are almost always pronounced the way they’re spelled. That is not true for French, as far as I can tell (though a man I know who speaks several languages says English is the worst in that regard).

Anyway, if I feel unprepared to order French dishes here in the United States, what will happen when I get to Paris and am faced with a menu that will expose my linguistic limitations?

That’s why I’ve decided to aim for a middle ground. Every day I am practicing some words from Rick Steve’s French, Italian and German Phrase Book, focusing on basic words for meeting and greeting and ordering food. Now I feel at least a bit less anxious and have a place I can look up words with easy pronunciation guides.

I am starting with phrases like C’il vous plait (pronounced see voo play), meaning “please”. Without the help of the phrase book, I would have pronounced that as “see-ill vous plate.”

I have also memorized Parlez-vous anglais (pronounced par-lay-voo ahn-glay). Now I can ask, “Do you speak English, please?” Imagine I shall use it frequently!


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Sing Out Those Titles

July 26, 2010
Have fun with friends and relatives this summer remembering song titles.

Cartoon of man singing off-keyThis take-a-break can be a lot of fun at a family reunion, or to have something to do when you’re waiting for a plane that’s late. Here’s how it works:

Choose any word and see if you can think of a song title or lyrics that contain that word.

If you do this with another person, first ask him or her to think of a word and then tell him or her your first choice. [UGH! — can’t we find a better gender neutral description than him or her, her or him, him/her, her/him, his or hers, hers/his, he or she, she or he, he/she, she/he? . . . it makes writing so terribly complicated and un-melodious, especially for those times when you want the words to flow.]

Another twist on this game is to use a simple word like “I,” “you,” “how,” “baby,” “for,” “so,” “my,” “she,” or “he,” and think of as many song titles or lyrics that begin with that word as you can. There are bound to be a zillion that start with “the,” but I’ll bet there aren’t any (or at least many) that begin with “She or He”!



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Introducing Take-a-Break Stress-Busters

July 5, 2010
If ever there was a time to take a break from the pressure you put on yourself, summer is it. Discover dozens of ways to release stress that has built up in the earlier months of the year — and will only get worse if you don’t do something about it.

Cobbled Street in Old PompeiiThere are several reasons why taking a break in summer is particularly good for your body, mind, relationships, and spirit.

  1. Your body is under a lot of pressure to perform all the tasks you ask it do in a busy life. It needs rest.
  2. Your mind has only so much capacity for solving problems and it needs time to integrate what it has learned so that it’s ready to learn more later.
  3. Your relationships may need a new perspective, especially if you are trying to extricate yourself from difficult relationships in which memories of your past get mixed up with your current situation and worry for the future.
  4. Your spirit can lose its capacity to guide your life when you are on automatic pilot, which is the modus operandi of many of us.

Our bodies, minds, relationships, and spirit are intertwined, controlled by the brain’s neurons that run down the same pathways over and over. Fortunately, when you take a break from doing things the way you’ve always done them, you disconnect the wires in the brain and open the possibility for new ideas and new energy to come through.

That is why I’ve decided to use Take-a-Break Stress Busters for some of the posts this summer. If you have visited that special feature of Support4Change, you will know that these activities are designed to untie (at least temporarily) your nervous neurons from their stress-producing pathways. Since I know that not all of you have seen all of them (and most of you may not have seen any of them), I’ve decided this summer is a good time to share them with blog readers.

Here now is the first take-a-break of the summer of 2010:

Capturing Moments for Memories

In this Take-a-Break I tell how paying attention while hiking to the Vetter Mountain Lookout Tower helped me enjoy the memory of it that evening as I started to work on a difficult, long-term project.

Now, as I read that piece again, I am saddened by the realization that I will never again visit that place because it was destroyed in the large and deadly Station Fire last year. Nevertheless, the experience of consciously remembering what I saw as we hiked to the top — where I received a certificate stating I am “a recognized member of the ANCIENT AND HONORABLE ORDER OF SQUIRRELS,” signed by the volunteer lookout man — has stayed with me.

That day is an example of how becoming consciously aware of whatever you are doing with as many of your senses as possible — seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting, and noticing the sensations in your body — creates pleasant images to be retrieved later when you need them. Do this frequently as you experience the relaxation and enjoyment of whatever you do this summer and you’ll have a pile of pleasant memories to warm you when winter arrives.

The only requirement for capturing a moment is to consciously become aware of what you are experiencing as you experience  it. Try it right now:

1. Look around and see something that brings you pleasure.

It could be a greeting card from a dear friend that you have open and standing on a nearby table, a trophy you received for winning a high school debate, an abstract painting you bought at a seaside resort simply because the bright colors struck your fancy, or any of a hundred things in the room that ordinarily melt into the background. Notice how it feels to consciously experience these things.

2. Later today, retrieve this memory.

Notice how easy it is to add a little pleasure and relaxation to your day.

3. Continue using this technique in the days ahead.

Consciously take advantage of small moments to notice lots of little things you usually take for granted — like the delightful way your grandson bites his tongue when he’s concentrating on a task, the feel of your partner’s hand on your arm as he or she gives it a loving squeeze, the dew on the grass when you go out to get the paper.

Even on days when most things aren’t going well, there are small moments that are, at least by comparison, worth recalling.

Incidentally, the illustration for this post is a picture of a street in Pompeii I took a couple years ago. When I see it, I am taken back to that marvelous experience of walking where people lived so many years ago. Yet even without the picture, I can feel my body back there in that vacation.

Gather memories while you can. Life doesn’t last forever.