Category Archives: travel

Overestimating competence

FFCCC1AE-BDF2-49B7-8366-4B377C314C1EIt seems that many of us believe we’re more capable than we are actually. Sometimes when I listen to a friend (or son) list their intended plan of action, I nod my head while mentally I’m shaking it. I know there’s no way it’s going to happen – the circumstances or conditions are never going to allow the plan to occur as projected because, in part, people neglect to factor in a random variable that can impact the process. 

An example:

Perhaps you know someone who has a child traveling, maybe in Asia. That’s a big continent, right? Could be anyone we’re talking about here. Anyway, this young person was asked by their parent to under no circumstances ride on, much less drive, a motorbike. They were just too dangerous, especially for a teenager who had barely an iota, if any of motor bike driving experience. Also, while it may have been many years earlier, the mother did still vividly recall this same child as a preschooler asking for a motorcycle. And a ramp.

No motorbikes, please.

So, predictably, the young man rented a motor bike because it was the most financially prudent mode of transportation and this kid was all about saving money. Because, of course, he hadn’t really saved enough money prior to departure and he was way over budget. Naturally, within two blocks of his destination, there was a bit of a chain reaction of quick stops and our motor biker failed to stop safely. There were damages – to a tail light, to a dominant hand, and to an adventurous guy’s sense of security.

It could have been so much worse.

Growing up and parenting are life long learning activities. We can always improve on how we’re doing and every single misstep or bad decision comes with a chance to do it better next time. To learn, both to listen and to figure out how to manage the unexpected situations we find ourselves in at times, isn’t easy.

As we get older, I think we start to develop a better understanding/acceptance of our capabilities, we meet our objectives more often because we’ve learned what we can realistically do and set goals accordingly. I don’t believe it’s a lowering of our aim, but rather a more accurate assessment of what we can really accomplish. As we experience and overcome life’s challenges our competence grows in knowing both what we can do and what we are realistically incapable of accomplishing. We get better at figuring stuff out and, hopefully, there’s less falling down and more cruising forward.

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Albany XXX

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Amsterdam

What’s up with that title, right? Is it porn? Extra large? Nope…Roman numerals – thirty, as in thirty years since I first moved to Albany.

In August of 1988 I was 21. I moved here knowing not a single person, other than Mary Panza who I was lucky enough to meet when her roommate tried to seduce me find me an apartment in his role as a real estate agent. The summer of ‘88 was hot, so damn hot. There was a heat wave that was unrelenting. I traveled to England and the Netherlands in July that year and I loved every day of dreary, damp weather we experienced abroad.

That first trip to Europe changed my life. It opened so many doors and windows and made me a traveler in a way I had never imagined. I had met a guy on the ferry on my way back to London and was acutely aware that he was great, but that the timing was not. We did, however, make some lovely memories and everyone should know the excitement of a long distance romance. When a man flys into jfk, hops into a rental car and drives to Albany to spend 2 days with you…well, you feel kind of special. I hope you know that feeling.

Albany charmed me from my very first visit when I found my way to Lark St.and enjoyed a fancy brunch at The Beverwyck. Once I got a handle on the size of the city (it’s always felt small to me, initially a disappointment but ultimately an asset), and began connecting faces and names, history and legend, I settled in with interest and made a life here.

Albany has witnessed my greatest joys. I got married here, right in Washington Park on a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. I own a house and pay taxes in the city and appreciate the privilege of both of those being possible because of the education (and degrees) I received from SUNYA. My children were born here and are students in the city school district and, while the education they receive may not be as immediately impressive as the high test scores and college acceptance rates of the suburbs, I do know my sons have learned a lot about getting along with people who don’t necessarily look or think like they do. Lessons in life count too.

I started running, an activity I never could have imagined I’d love, while a student at UAlbany and have run thousands of miles around this city.  I’ve learned to write and take photos and have been lucky to share some of my passions with an interested audience.  The opportunities here have been limited only by my own level of competence.  It’s been so cool, really.

Albany, though, has also been the setting for some of my saddest days. There are places around this town that are absolutely haunted for me – spots that I do my best to avoid because of the personal ghosts. The news, both domestic and international, that I’ve witnessed while living in Albany, has left an imprint as well. Princess Diana dying, the towers falling, the children murdered in whatever most recent school shooting…I can tell you exactly where I was for each of those breaking stories. I’ve shed a lot of tears in this town. Believe it.

After 30 years, I love Albany more than ever. The happiness I’ve known in this city that receives credit for how easy it is to get to places “to which you really want to go,” has far outweighed the heartaches I’ve experienced. I’m not sure what the future holds, (once I hit my 30 years teaching, who knows?), but these three decades have been the most productive, challenging and exciting times of my life and I wouldn’t have wanted to live them anywhere else.

Thanks, Albany xx

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Reflections on Summer 2018

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  • My travels have taken me new places and I am so appreciative of the memories I made and the food I ate and the wine I drank and the friends I hugged.
  • Cape Cod without children is like shared custody following the end of a marriage/relationship – a dirty little secret in all the best ways. (Credit to LGP for the custody thing)
  • Summer is a time for me to take on larger household chores, such as organizing and weeding out extraneous stuff that can weigh a person down. During these tasks I always stumble upon things I find interesting – like my journals from the early 90s.
  • One of the most important parts of summer, for me, is spending time with people I don’t always have the luxury of seeing. Pool dates, lunches and nights out with friends, have made Summer 2018 exceptionally special.
  • Being reminded of past heartbreaks and lessons learned can be really comforting. I think that every relationship that I was in that “failed” was followed by a much better personal situation. Sky’s the limit. Full steam ahead.
  • It’s been a hot summer and I’m fortunate to not have to work in what have been extreme temperatures. I’ve been able to accept the heat without needing to fight it. Night runs have been tremendous and I’ve mastered closing up the house to keep it cool during the daytime. It’s summer. I like when the seasons perform as expected.
  • In the last week or so, I’ve encountered a number of work friends and a couple of students. Seeing them reminded me what the very best part of my job is – the people with whom I’m lucky enough to work.
  • There are some ways in which I feel like a different person, as if I’m evolving into a new, hopefully best, version of myself. Some of it originates with physical change – different hair, new car, but more of it comes from having been through a lot emotionally and feeling a little less naive. Currently doing my best to retain and refocus “wonder” as a word of future possibility instead of rear-view second guessing.
  • Authenticity is topping the list of new words in my vernacular these days. It appears above catfishing and intentional mind fuck, not just for alphabetical reasons either. Authenticity deserves its own damn blog post. Stay tuned for that.

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In pursuit of perfection

When I instruct 6th graders on bibliographic formatting I always tell them that perfect is never my goal, except for in MLA citations. Beyond that, perfect is not my expected, or even necessarily desired, outcome. I don’t need perfect.  Authentic and true is more than enough for me.

This year’s Cape vacation has come with some moments that absolutely took my breath away. Simple joys – friends, good food, sunshine, stretched legs and a tired dog. It’s been heavenly. Yesterday Jeter swam in our pond and he was so happy that my heart almost burst. As he paddled towards me with water rolling off his back and light shining from his eyes, I took a minute to take a mental snapshot to add that moment to the other ones from this wonderful past week.

The pace of this vacation has been ideal. The first couple of days were spent as a duo (or trio if you count Jeter) and the weather was kind of overcast. It was a great way to ease into the week and become familiar with both our surroundings and each other in this new place. It was quiet and sweet and left us in the perfect position to greet our first friends with an easy and happy warmth when they began to arrive.

By midweek we were in full swing and hosted a rager mixer with friends joining us from their own vacation homes for a great afternoon/evening of walks and drinks and dinner and so much laughter. It was an epic blend of people, alcohol and sand and it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had. Sun up to sun down, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Thursday was similarly full and our evening spent at Race Point was amazing, even if the array of folks around the bonfire was shy a few faces. Effortless, organic fun.

The weather has once again shifted to windy and overcast and we’re down to two (and Jeter, of course) again. We’re vacillating between sitting around in a relaxed puddle and checking a few more things off our list of intended activities. It’s too early to tell which way will win, but I imagine whichever way we go it will be as close to perfect as I ever need life to be.

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The art of Vienna*

After taking in a fair share of dark history, when we hit Vienna I was ready to indulge in a little beauty. While I was in Salzburg, I had read something which said “go to Vienna for the art and Prague for the architecture.” Seemed reasonable to me until I arrived in Vienna and was so impressed with the beauty of the buildings. I couldn’t imagine Prague being more even more stunning, but that is a topic for another day.

The hop on/hop off bus tickets we had purchased had come with two additional attractions and a list from which to choose. My first pick was Belvedere Castle and it’s Klimt collection, reputed to be the largest in the world. I took the bus out mid morning and avoided any lines because of my travel “pass.”

The grounds were lovely but I headed pretty directly indoors, trying to avoid any crowds that might arrive as time passed. The museum itself was spectacular in terms of the decor and structure with high ceilings, beautiful floors and large windows, but I was there to see the Klimts and didn’t really pause for long. How were they? Completely as rich as you might imagine. You know I don’t know anything about art, but I felt a warm casualness about them. Not because they’re lacking in detail, but more due to the approachability of the works. To me, they tell universal stories and I just loved seeing them.

The next day I went to mumok, Vienna’s modern art museum. If I know little about art, I probably know even less about modern art, but I’m open to being educated. Because I overwhelm easily indoors with too much stimulation, I looked at what was “up” and opted to visit the 55 dates exhibit which had recently opened. The display featured 55 items from mumok’s permanent collection and I anticipated it providing me with a great overview, which it did.

There were some things which puzzled me, but that’s cool, while other pieces were mentally stimulating in a different way. André Durain’s Crouching Man particularly spoke to me, as did the Warhol’s of Mick Jagger. I felt pretty engaged by the display and continued my visit by checking out a political photography exhibit. Set up chronologically, it presented photographs which had contributed to the public understanding of political events and history. I wished the flow of the display had been more intuitive (at least for me) because I kept having to compare dates to remain committed to the chronology, but, that is a small complaint and probably my own fault anyway.

 

 

Vacation visual arts done. Next vacation post will be audible!

*just a smattering!

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History?

Terrace view

I mentioned that we had visited a number of historical sights during our July trip beginning with our excursion to Dachau. In Salzburg we took the funicular up to the ancient (700s!) Hohensalzburg fortress which was pretty interesting. The walk from the funicular stop to the very top of the hill was a good leg stretcher softened by a terraced cafe with a phenomenal view and a tasty local wine (gruner veltliner) cold and by the glass.

View from the cannon.

Liam and I split at the entrance to the fortress and went off on our casual, self guided tours. There was an animated presentation which provided an entertaining introduction to visitors, but I wasn’t there to take notes, I just wanted to walk around and take it in. I’d like to think I’m more an absorber than a consumer when it comes to travel. After about an hour of poking around in a mostly disoriented fashion, Liam and I met up and walked back down the hill to explore other parts of the city.

We planned a visit for the following day to the Salzburg Museum which had an exhibit about the rise of nationalism and Austria’s involvement with the Nazi party in the lead up to WWII. Liam and I thought that was a timely topic, so went to check it out. The exhibit was, as you might imagine, very dark. The items displayed told a story of complacency and resignation more than culpability and it bummed me out. Like I said, quietly dark. I couldn’t help but feel like our country is so fractured that we’re susceptible to the same thing these days. Dark.

Traveling in Europe, as an American, has always been an interesting experience. I’ve generally found that young people (those less than 14 or 15) were always very taken by Americans, loving our individuality and style, while those in the 20s and 30s looked upon us more as simple, irresponsible children. In my recent trips to Europe as a 50+ year old woman, the attention has once again morphed and it feels like I’m now being considered as someone who just might have something interesting to say. Maybe.Sitting in Charles de Gaulle airport, I didn’t feel interesting at all when the television displayed the president of the United States along with his tweet claiming himself as everyone’s “favorite president.” Mon dieu! His tweets make me long for the days of a maximum of 140 characters. The number of lies and exaggerations he fits into a single tweet are, as of yet, the only examples I’ve seen of his exceptionalism.

It’s a weird thing when you realize that you don’t have the words in English, much less French, to express how concerned you are about the direction in which your country is going or how much a display in an museum spooked you.

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Down by the river

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Salzburg’s riverfront

When I was traveling recently I was really impressed with the integration between city and river that I experienced in Salzburg and Prague. In both places the river was the center of the city rather than a divider and it felt very natural to make your way to the shore for walks, dining, shopping and art. So civilized.

We arrived back in Albany to a week of wet, humid weather. It’s been difficult to motivate myself to be active, but Jeter has gotten a couple of good walks and I remembered how much I enjoy running down by the river when the temperature is high. I’ve gone down to the Corning Trail twice the week and had really good runs, even with the humidity level through the proverbial roof, there’s always a breeze to be caught along the Hudson.

I couldn’t help but compare our Albany riverfront to the ones I really appreciated in Europe. People, we’re falling short…

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Prague’s Charles Bridge

In Salzburg, the river has a terrific running and walking trail, just like we do, but they also had a cool, independent market. It was a series of stalls and trucks offering unique items (most handcrafted), food, wine and coffee, fabrics and jewelry.  We could totally do something like that in Albany. In Prague the UNESCO site, the Charles Bridge, has vendors along its sides selling souvenirs, and art and there are musicians performing. Our Walkway could definitely host similar activities.

I’ve run down by the river for more than 25 years and I can tell you it is greatly improved in ways that the average person might not notice. On Friday, before I ran I had to use the portapotty and I prepared myself with a deep inhale of fresh air prior to opening that plastic door. It was unnecessary – the portapotty was remarkably clean. That’s new.

We’ve had some heavy rains and in previous years, the smell of the river after a storm that turned the water brown, would be downright offensive. There was a metallic, chemical odor that reliably accompanied the higher water levels, particularly, as you might imagine, across the river from the water treatment plant. The past couple of days? No odor at all. That’s better.

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Yesterday at the Corning Preserve

The wildlife down by the Hudson would have to be our greatest advantage over the much older, and better evolved, cities that I recently visited. I’ve had snake, bunny, woodchuck/beaver/mole thing, and deer sightings this year alone. Often they’re not really afraid of me and continue to nibble on the grass or stand at attention watching as I run by. It’s cool.

I spend a lot of my disposable income taking trips. It’s kind of a joke among people who know me. I’m sure I should be more conservative with my money and pour more of it into my house or my retirement, but traveling and seeing new things, even when they’re really old, is such a great investment. Seeing how other people do things is inspiring. 

What have you observed during your travels that you’d love to see replicated in your area?

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