Sitting under a leafy tree enjoying the winter sunshine, I rocked slowly back and forth, feeling calm and disconnected from the folks who hurried by. As I caught up on some reading, I realized how unusual the setting really was. Was I observing small town life from my grandmother’s porch swing? No, I was enjoying a 3-hour layover in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, along with a few dozen other travelers. The Charlotte rockers started back in 1997 as a prop for a temporary photography exhibit called “Porchsitting, A Charlotte Regional Family Album.” The chairs were placed in the tree-lined atrium of the main terminal with the intention to convey the relaxing comfort of the traditional southern porch. They quickly became more than idle accents. Travelers enjoyed rocking and complained when the chairs were removed at the end of the exhibit. In response, they were brought back and became a permanent fixture. Airport rockers have now become a trend and are a hit in some of the nation’s busiest airports, including Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Diego and Seattle. Handmade rockers were also recently introduced in four airports in Finland. Named “Kennedy Rockers,” the chairs at CLT are handcrafted in North Carolina from aged oak logs and modeled after the type that John F. Kennedy used to alleviate back pain. Rocking may also have therapeutic benefits, and studies conducted at the Medical College of Virginia have shown that kinetic therapy can dramatically accelerate healing in severely ill patients. In fact, rocking can be beneficial for everything from nurturing premature babies, building mother-child attachment and soothing autistic children and adults to providing relief for arthritis patients. I’m not claiming that the rocker is a miracle cure for every condition, but hey – it can’t hurt. A willing “test subject,” I can confirm that rocking did indeed help with the back pain and stress that I experienced while lugging heavy bags around. And it does seem to reduce the stress associated with air travel. So if you have a choice between passing through Charlotte Douglas International and another busy hub, trust me – rocking in Charlotte is the way to go.
19 Jan 2015 4 Comments
25 Dec 2014 2 Comments
This is dedicated to my friend and stepfather, Richard.
It was 1942, and families all over the world were dealing with hardship and devastation due to war. In August of that year, the Chinnery family was hit by tragedy of another kind.
Seven-year-old Bill was the first to be diagnosed with polio and within days, his older brother George became ill. At first it looked like tonsillitis, but it soon became obvious that he also had polio. Parents George and Ardice were told that he was dying and when they arrived at the hospital, George was already gone.
The devastated parents returned home to find that their three other sons were also ill. When five-year-old Richard’s condition quickly deteriorated, he was rushed to the hospital and put in an iron lung – a blessing because there were only a few in the entire city. Richard spent several months in the iron lung, paralyzed on one side and unable to move. But at least his chance of survival was improved.
When Richard needed a transfusion, radio stations across the city put out an urgent call for blood donations. A young man volunteered, and the family never knew the name of the donor.
As Richard and his brothers recovered and were no longer contagious, family members, friends and neighbors helped with physical therapy treatments, taking turns moving his arms and legs. Both friends and strangers donated ration cards for food and gas so that nurses could visit the Chinnery home.
A friend of the family and his wife had a unique idea. Every week they delivered a bag of seven individually wrapped gifts – one for each day. They were small packages and Richard couldn’t even open them himself because he was unable to move his fingers. But he knew that each day he had something to look forward to.
More than 72 years later, Richard remembers the brown paper bag delivered faithfully each week. “They were little things, but they meant so much.” Richard credits his survival and remarkable recovery to caring friends, family and community and he will never forget all of the people that gave so much. He gets emotional when he talks about his parents and his older brother, George. “I only lived because my brother died. Otherwise they wouldn’t have given me an iron lung – there weren’t enough.” It’s hard to imagine what his parents went through and even with all of the difficulty that he and his family faced, he says, “We were lucky. We were very lucky.”
In this season of giving, joy and gratitude, remember that love, caring and creativity are precious. And sometimes your time and your presence are the best gifts of all.
Find ways to be a blessing.
18 Oct 2014 8 Comments
I recently stayed at a lovely conference center not too far from Oxford, and I’m told that it has a nice gym. But who needs a treadmill with beautiful countryside just outside the door? Each day I’d choose a destination and trek the nearby country lane to the bus stop about a mile away. The sun was shining, the weather was fair, and during that walk I saw families of pheasants, old barns, ripe pumpkins, grazing sheep, bright red berries and boughs of ivy.
Take a walk with me in the English countryside on a beautiful autumn day.
01 Aug 2014 6 Comments
Today is my firstborn daughter’s 25th birthday, and my three kids are on three continents – and not for the first time. The eldest has lived in eight different countries for periods ranging from a few weeks to many years, and she has lived in five of those countries without us.
Parenting a traveler can be both thrilling and uncomfortable. It will inspire you and force you to trust and let go. Do you suspect that you might be raising a traveler? Read on!
It started with books. The seeds of wanderlust may be sown long before your future traveler can strike out on her own. In our case, it started with stories. We read about all sorts of people (and creatures) in all kinds of places. That lit a spark.
Get out of the house. You don’t have to be international jet setters to expand your horizons. Sometimes you need to just get out of the house and explore in your own backyard. Try an ethnic restaurant or visit a cultural festival. If you feel like staying home, try some international recipes, watch movies or celebrate a holiday from another culture. The world is everything around you and travel can start close to home.
Move beyond your limits. As your young traveler grows, she will push limits and seek out opportunities. Guide and protect if appropriate, but don’t let your own fear limit your child’s exploration. When she calls you to tell you she just won an exchange trip to France – at age 14 – cheer! And when she goes to college more than 1000 miles away or studies abroad, smile, encourage – and get a Skype account. Resist the urge to resist, stand up to your fear and learn to let go. You may even grow in the process.
Invest in good luggage. When you see that there’s no holding your traveler back, show your support and invest in some decent bags. Test the zippers and handles, and look for spinners that can withstand cobblestones or gravel roads. You know this is no short-term phase and it’s more than a bag. It’s home.
Don’t know much about geography. Quick – do you know what U.A.E. stands for? Can you spot The Netherlands on a map? If you don’t want to feel completely ignorant and inadequate in comparison to your offspring, it’s time to brush up on your geography. If you don’t, you’ll often find yourself “educated.” Maps make lovely décor, National Geographics go for a quarter at the library sale and travel websites abound. When your traveler is off to exotic places, you may find yourself paying more attention to current events. Learn, be aware – it’s never too late.
Keep calm and let it be. When kids venture out into the world, they will face challenges. Things will go wrong. Kids will make mistakes. Things won’t be like they are at home. That’s the point! Now is the time to develop your listening skills and be supportive. It may be tough when the political climate is unstable and she reassures you that she’s avoiding the protests and teargas. Raising a traveler can be exhilarating. I never said it would be easy.
Goethe said, “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.” When you are parenting a traveler, you’ll both be at your best when you trust the roots are strong and let them fly.
10 Jul 2014 6 Comments
I recently wrote a post about parenting a designer, and in the interest of harmony, love and equality this will be a 3-part series. Yes, I’ll admit that I religiously counted the Teddy Grahams to make sure that each daughter had exactly the same number.
Parenting a singer is a joy, and will move you in ways that you never expected.
It may show up early. You may suspect you have a singer on your hands when other toddlers are struggling to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at play group and your budding diva regularly entertains you with a repertoire of show tunes. She may not have perfect pitch at age 3, but then again – maybe she does. Some kids seem to be born with the gift of song. With encouragement and support, you and your singer can develop and enjoy this gift for a lifetime.
All the world’s a stage. Your little singer may or may not be a performer. Most likely, though, they can’t help humming or bursting into song. It just happens. Don’t be surprised when they belt out favorite movie theme songs at the library or just perform regularly at the dinner table. Bath time is another favorite time for singing and you’ll always know when your singer is in the shower (from anywhere in the house). There must be some primal connection between water and vocal chords. Be an appreciative audience and store up these memories. Someday you’ll miss their daily performances.
A song for all occasions. As your singer grows, they may discover that any situation can be turned into a song. They may not remember later on, but singing to your baby will get things started. Cookies in the oven and timer going crazy becomes “I’m gonna beep beep beep ‘til you take me out.” A hot summer day with nothing to do but melt inspires a song called “Lemonade.” Then there’s “Fish Boy,” a catchy number about some guy hanging out in front of a seafood restaurant. A song can lighten any situation. Just laugh and sing along.
Prepare to be moved. My family will tell you that I cry at movies and am a wreck at concerts. My advice? Bring your camera, carry Kleenex and invest in waterproof mascara. Your kindergartener’s premiere at the school talent show may astonish you, and high school choir solos may leave you in tears. Music touches us in an emotional way, and when it’s your kid… good luck keeping emotions in check.
Prepare to be annoyed. I can guarantee you, with absolute certainty, that sometimes your singer will get on your nerves. On purpose. When she discovers that the song you dislike most in the universe is that beloved theme song from “Barney & Friends” or the 1982 Rocky III anthem, “Eye of the Tiger,” you will hear it 10 times a day for an entire week. Then she’ll get creative and make up new lyrics – and invite her sister to sing along. Music is a beautiful gift from the gods. It can also be used to torment.
Feed the fire. It may seem obvious, but singers and musicians of all types like music. Encourage curiosity by surrounding your child with music of all styles and genres. Irish whistles, Japanese Taiko drumming, majestic choral concerts, bluegrass, classical jazz and chill out – it’s all good. Attend concerts and performances regularly and try something new.
Your singer may be challenging and changeable at times, but great musicians express emotions and move us in a way that no one else can. Singing is also a gift given freely that will add joy to your life.
Ride the waves, encourage daily practice and most of all, enjoy.
20 Jun 2014 6 Comments
After having a few good laughs and nodding in agreement at the uncanny insight on a blog post called “Dating a designer: 10 things you need to know”, I was inspired. I haven’t dated a designer (or at least not recently), but I’ve known a few and I’ve raised an aspiring industrial designer to adulthood. It has been a unique experience – one that I’m sure that other parents can identify with. So I’ve decided to share a few insights of my own.
You’ll know it when you see it. You’ll know your kid is destined to be an architect or designer when other toddlers are cramming everything into their mouths and your child is building complex structures with wooden blocks. You’ll know it when they prefer to arrange their food into pleasing patterns to actually eating it. It will be obvious when you see their first grade drawing of a detailed scene drawn in perfect perspective – and then you see their classmates’ sketches of stick mommies and three-legged cows. Design thinking may show up early. Recognize it and nurture it.
Trust their judgment. When your designer child laments that they’re the only one in the family with style, accept reality. It’s probably true. Instead of feeling offended, accept constructive criticism and rely on their expert judgment. My young designer once told me that I needed a signature color. “I suppose you have one.” “Of course,” she answered. “I’ll bet you even know the Pantone code.” “376. Pea Green.” She was right. I needed definition. I wasn’t able to pin my essence down to a single code, but if you look in my closet you’ll see a range that spans from light aqua to cerulean blue. I’m not a designer, but my color scheme and confidence have improved.
Gift shopping can be a challenge. Unlike the blogger who is dating a designer, I wouldn’t say gift shopping is next to impossible. Or at least not until they get older, tastes are more refined and they’re lusting after a minimalist watch with no numbers. Let’s just say that you need to be willing to consider unusual presents. You may even have to visit places like Lowe’s for items such as a Dremel MultiPro kit or drop by Office Max to pick up a 12 pack of Pilot Precise V5 pens. Their friends will shake their heads and say, “You got a tool kit for your birthday? That sucks.” They’ll never understand.
Designers are the new rock stars. At least to designers. At her age, I knew the latest hits and was damaging my hearing at stadium concerts. She works at a fabric store and gets excited when the new collections arrive from her favorite textile artists. We’re not so different. Really.
From my experience, parenting a designer is like raising orchids. It’s not always easy, and they only bloom under the right conditions. In fact, just read this excerpt about growing orchids and tell me if it doesn’t sound familiar…
“For your best crack at success, start by choosing one of the less fussy varieties that is adapted to the type of growing conditions you can provide. Buy the most mature plant you can afford (young plants are much more difficult to please)…”
Yes, young designers can be fussy and difficult to please, but they are imaginative thinkers that will help you to see the world in a whole new way. With the right conditions, plentiful resources, patience and understanding, your young designer will bloom and grow.
So stock up on paper, pens, tools, hardware and art supplies. Expose your designer to new experiences and inspiration and see what develops. Most of all – accept, encourage and enjoy.
15 Jun 2014 2 Comments
I recently took an online class called “Design Thinking” through iversity.org, a platform for Massive Open Online Courses based in Germany. One lecture sparked an interest in designing user experience and made me think about travel.
The simple visual above perfectly describes my travel experience.
Stage 1 is The Vision. When I know that I will be taking a trip, I begin to imagine the experience as I plan activities. Anticipating the journey, I am already experiencing it in my mind. I can almost feel the cobblestones under my feet, smell the sea breeze or hear the animated chatter in the marketplace.
The next phase is The Experience. While I’m traveling, I tune into the moment with intensity. Unfamiliarity sharpens my senses, as I notice every detail around me. Colors seem brighter, tastes more memorable and sounds that might go unnoticed at home form a cacophonous symphony. I feel awake and alive.
The 3rd stage is Reflection. When the journey is over, I return home and reflect. Instead of being just a checklist of tourist attractions, each experience becomes embedded in my psyche and changes my perspective.
The final phase, which may last a lifetime, is The Story. This is the memory that becomes a piece of well-worn quilt that I wrap around my shoulders. Over time, the memories may lose intensity, but they are still colorful tiles in life’s mosaic.
Thinking about the entire process makes me realize how wonderful it is to incorporate design thinking into the trip. When I become the creator, each journey is unique and the experience is entirely mine. Instead of standing behind the crowd that glances at the Mona Lisa and heads to the next destination, I turn around and discover a joyful masterpiece on another wall. Walking the streets of a German town, we happen upon a tiny printing museum and are treated to a leisurely private tour with a knowledgeable master. On our way to the Alamo, we take a detour and find the peaceful garden at the Spanish Governor’s Palace. Allowing time to get lost and time to explore, we discover forgotten paths and hidden treasures.
Experience design means paying attention to the details and thinking about the entire process – before, during and after. When it comes to travel, it means creating a loose plan and allowing plenty of time and opportunity for exploration and serendipity. Planning means that I know the address to plug into the GPS, the names of cities I’ll visit and the place I might sleep. But the time in between unfolds as it unfolds. I design the experience, do my research and plan the “ingredients,” but how it all comes together is something totally unexpected and memorable.