Rocking in Charlotte

Rocking in Charlotte

Relaxing in CLT

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.

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A Walk Down Sandy Lane

Oxfordshire Footpath

Oxfordshire Way Footpath

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.

The Path

Stairway

Granary

Wabisabi Gate

Shady Lane Farm

Parenting a Traveler

Another Departure

Another Departure

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.

This is the third and last in a parenting series that included parenting designers and singers. Add a world traveler, and you have a road show!

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.

 

Travel by Design

The journey is about more than the trip

Experience Time Span (iversity.org)

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.

 

Letters from the Front

Collection at the WWI Museum in KC

Collection at the WWI Museum in KC

Museums don’t always thrill me, with their guards and heavy silence and collections of objects trapped lifeless behind glass.  But I was pleasantly moved and surprised by a visit to Kansas City’s World War I Museum during a recent trip to my hometown.

Housed in the Liberty Memorial, this is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to World War I.  Featuring exhibits and interactive displays that engage all senses, the facility appeals to history buffs and those who aren’t so enamored with conflicts and hard-to-remember timelines (like myself).  I always enjoyed living history, oral history and first-hand accounts that told individual stories.  Primary resources like diaries and letters speak to me and I like candid photos, music and letters that describe the laughter, love and pain absent from textbooks.

A collection of envelopes that had encased letters from a father on the front to his son in San Antonio caught my attention.  Skillfully drawn and addressed to Private Walter L. Myers, these miniature works range from comical to patriotic and capture remarkable everyday experiences, from one soldier to another.  The sketches carry a message through time and space, so that a century later we understand at first glance.  Connection in the face of conflict.  Textbooks document the dates and timelines, victories and losses, nationalities, maps, destruction and casualties.  But a comical sketch sent from “somewhere in France” or a photo of the artist drawing in a distant combat zone soars above boundaries like the hot air balloons depicted by Myers, an artillery scout.  It doesn’t matter if the soldier is French, American, German or Russian – he’s a man and a father, far away from home.

After touring the museum, I visited the post office and bought 2 books of “vintage seed package” stamps.  I haven’t written to my daughters in awhile – maybe I’ll get out the colored pencils today and get drawing.

Badges and Treasure

Girl Scout Badges

Self discovery takes many forms.  Assessments can be helpful to uncover your strengths, interests and abilities. You can be a tourist in your own home and examine bookshelves and spaces, music and tools.  But I found the most helpful clue hiding in my closet and discovered that my interests and passions were there all along.

My mom had kept my Girl Scout sash for safekeeping and I was a little startled when I looked more closely at the collection of badges.  It was all there.  The hobo bandana (it’s called a bindle – there’s an official term) hinted at my inner vagabond and the footsteps and tent foreshadowed my cross-country walk and many camping adventures.  There is the dutch oven and grill, different than my titanium cookware and compact camping stove, but with the same function and simple pleasure.  The sculpture, palette and brushes, tools, basket and yarn doll bring back memories of craft-making with my daughters and a forgotten love of drawing, painting and clay.  The treble and bass clef are a nod to my enjoyment of music and the ingredients are evidence of the beginning of a lifetime of cooking and culinary exploration.  I don’t experience much of the four seasons down here in Texas, but remember watching in anticipation for the first spring flowers and loving Indian summer, cool weather and autumn leaves.

What are your badges?  What activities do you enjoy?  Look closely and find the treasure of you.

How to Attract Followers and Build a Blogging Community

Sending up a flare

Sending up a flare

“It’s kind of like, when you make a film, you’re on this ocean at night. It’s black. There’s nothing. And I’m out there in my little boat. I send up a flare, saying “these are my thoughts.”  And you discover there’s a lot of other people out there in their little life rafts, thinking ‘Oh! I’m not alone! These thoughts exist!'”  (Terry Gilliam on film making)

To me, that’s exactly what blogging is like.  Your goal may not be to broadcast wildly and attract the multitudes, but chances are good that you are blogging because you’d like to connect with others.  Otherwise, you’d probably be writing in your diary or keeping a private stash of your photos.

So how can you attract followers?  Even better, how can you build a community?  In the months that I’ve been blogging, I’ve learned everything from you!  I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen unique approaches and connected with some remarkable people and can only tell you what works in my opinion.  There’s no handbook but here are some lessons learned.

1.  The naming is the hardest part.  A name tells others about you and the purpose of your blog.  A good name should be clever and/or clear.  For example, More Than Bratwurst features great contemporary and traditional German recipes and FrugalFeeding is about eating well on a budget.

2.  It’s all About you.  The “About” section of your blog or Gravatar bio is an opportunity to tell about yourself and connect with others.  How would you describe yourself or your blog in a 140 character tweet?  The first blog I followed on WordPress was The Edmonton Tourist.  Why?  Because of her “About Me” that described the decision to become a tourist in her own life.  I was hooked.

3.  There’s someone for everyone.  There’s a 100% chance that someone will relate if you write about an interest or a challenge, or post a photo, travel story or poem.  Be authentic, be yourself and others will respond.  Ido Lanuel describes his journey from Combat Officer to journey to India to yoga practitioner and self-awareness writer and, at last count, 2,518 readers responded by liking his story.  It’s like The Secret for bloggers – whatever you focus on, you will attract (in the form of followers).

4.  Visuals aid.  It might go without saying, but readers are attracted to interesting visuals.  Posts with photos stand out when browsing the WordPress reader.

5.  The sense of Purpose.  Having a purpose helps you as a blogger and it helps others to find you.  Here are some common themes.

  • Travel.  Blogs can be better than a tour guide.  They’re up close and personal and you can see new places and old favorites through someone else’s eyes.  Have Bag, Will Travel takes readers on journeys around the world with wonderful descriptions and stunning photography, and with 416,708 hits, I’m not the only one who enjoys Andrew’s blog!  Everywhere Once details the story of full-time wanderers traveling the globe since 2010.
  • Food.  A constant source of inspiration, food blogs can teach you to make any type of cuisine.   Kiran’s Cooking Club is described as “Everyday Indian Food” which seems anything but ordinary to me and Vina’s Delicious Recipes has also introduced me to Bengali cuisine.  My Custard Pie has a very professional style and clearly conveys Sally’s passion for cooking.  Vegan, vegetarian, low-cal, Asian, Paleo…it’s all there!
  • Inspiration.  Some blogs are there just to inspire and to encourage readers, the writer or both.  Penny at The Why About This   brightens your day with inspiring thoughts and music.  No Fries for 365 is more physical kind of inspiration blog charting progress on a journey to fitness.
  • Craft.  Are you a crafter or a maker?  There’s sure to be plenty of material for you!  Sites like Pillows a la Mode, iMake and other DIY blogs are full of project inspiration.
  • Photography.  Photos can be a quick pick-me-up, a work of art, interesting, provocative or all of the above.  Mobius Faith specializes in urban photography, while others document travels or try their hand at landscapes or portraits.
  • Poetry and Writing.  Whether it’s haiku or a serial novel, writers like to share.  Rivers of the Heart and Another Wandering Soul create beautiful images with words and other writers share tips and success stories.
  • Lifestyle.  Bloggers share their experience of urban life, rural dwelling, retirement and other lifestyles.  Retiree Diary is written by a Hong Kong native sharing his adventures for the first time by blogging.  As Michael says, “I have never written anything. Pre-retirement, the only thing I need to write were emails.”
  • Challenges.  Some bloggers aim to help others through shared difficulty by writing about illness, loss, and other challenges.
  • Sharing Knowledge.  Writers like Thomas Cotterill share thoughts and philosophy and many others educate about every subject imaginable.
  • Blogging.  Bucket List Publications is an exciting site about adventure travel, but Lesley has an incredible amount of traffic (more than 10 million hits!) and is generous with tips and advice for other bloggers.     

6.  Active engagement.  The best way to find your tribe and build a community is through engagement and interaction.  Visit others, like posts, leave comments, give encouragement.  Share and give and good things will come back to you – in blogging and in life.

7.  Be a regular.  Write or post.  Period.

8.  Great content.  Write well, post great shots, share something of value and others will respond.

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