Tag Archives: travel

Search Stories

Often times, when I’m really busy and have important deadlines to meet and to-do lists that are four pages long, I stumble upon the biggest time wasters ever.

This week was no exception. I’m putting the finishing touches on a 7-day itinerary for a Spring Break trip I am leading for 14 students to Washington D.C. and New York City. And what do I find… Google Search Stories Video Creator.

I haven’t done a lot of research on it as I went immediately to playing, so I don’t know if it’s new or if I am the last person to find out about it. But either way, I couldn’t step away from it.

These 35-second clips are nothing more than a promotion for Google and a method for forcing users to set up YouTube accounts. Creating a YouTube channel is a little out of my comfort zone. I feel I should start making covers of music like this video I am currently obsessed with. And don’t even get me started on the data “they” are collecting on me.

But when I find something like this, my distraction from immediate priorities knows no bounds and my will must be done. You just input your searches, what Google method you want to use (Images, Blogs, News, etc.) and choose your music.

While I definitely plan to make 1,054 more of these for absolutely no reason other than my own enjoyment, I do actually think they would be great for quick marketing purposes for those with no budget and with no technical skills. This could be useful for us higher education professionals and student organizations to promote events and programming. You could get very funny and creative with these. And they are already online and easy to share. Again, no technical ability needed.

I created two “search stories” about the areas I’m most engulfed in right now.

Perhaps it’s just the need for procrastination, but I am hooked. At least until the next distraction comes along.

What are your favorite time wasters?

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Vacation Book Review

I want to write about my latest vacation to St. Croix because it was wonderful, but who wants to see other people’s beach pictures? Hey, guess what I was doing while you were at work? Oh what’s that, you’re laid off due to a bad economy and have no paid vacation days? Aww, I’m sorry……. but look, the water is so clear you can see my feet!

No, no, I didn’t want to do that (this time). So instead, I will recount my vacation through the literature I read while away. Having time to devote myself fully to a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures (for me) and is surely a way I restore balance.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

I actually read this leading up to my vacation,  and it’s a good thing, because even though it is a quick read, it is not exactly what I would consider beach reading.

I’m usually hesitant to read or watch Holocaust-related books and movies, especially when it focuses on the youngest victims. True to form, I had a troubled sleep every night while reading this book. Sarah’s Key is fiction, but centers on the real event of the massive round-up of French Jews in Paris, largely women and children, in  July 1942. Most involved in the arrest were ultimately sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.

I had resisted reading it despite recommendations, but I was lent a copy and with that guilty accountability you feel when you borrow a book and you know the next time you see that person they will ask you if you have read it, I decided to give it a try.  I didn’t put it down for three days.

Sarah’s Key follows the story of a little girl and her family involved in the round-up, juxtaposed with a current-day story about a journalist in Paris investigating that horrific event. To remind you that this is fiction, there are conventional plot twists and some all-too-convenient coincidences linking the two stories, but nevertheless, I found it to be engaging, emotional and educational (I was previously not familiar with the Vel’ d’ Hiv’ round-up).

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

At just 166 pages, I started and finished this book on the flights to St. Croix. McEwan is the author to one of my favorite books, Atonement. (Yes, the Keira Knightley movie, but the book is much better, as per usual.) Atonement had a tentative start, but it’s build-up, twists and ultimate pay-offs have made it a book I like to go back and read the last few pages of every so often.

McEwan showcases the same refined writing style in On Chesil Beach, along with the “what could have been” agony that characterizes Atonement. I picture the author writing this book in one sitting on a rainy afternoon. As he hits “send” to his editor and shuts down the computer, I hear him saying to himself, “Well that was easy.” That’s kind of how I felt reading it too. I was never very attached to the two characters in this book, Edward and Florence, or their predicament — consummating their marriage on their wedding night.

Most of the book takes place on this night in their hotel room. In the end, it’s much more about communication, confronting fears, and sharing them with those you love than any physical act. And I found these emotionally damaged partners and their loosening grips on their relationship very interesting. I just needed a little more. As my flight touched down in St. Croix and I closed the book, Edward and Florence were already far behind me.

Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn

At least the last book had the word “beach” in the title. I can’t find any reason why this book should be read on vacation, but it was actually the one I read anytime I was out by the pool or relaxing on our patio (I’m not really into sand or sea life so I keep my distance from the actual beach).

I’m not a Bonnie and Clyde aficionado or anything, but it was a selection of my (now former) employer’s staff book club and I thought it would be an interesting read. I was right. The author delved into the life of robberies, fast getaways and family dedication of these young criminals with rich details and, from what I can tell from reading the sources, a whole lot of fact-checking.

Besides his driving ability, Clyde was a pretty mediocre thief. They rarely had glamorous bank robberies or a posh life on the road as presented in the Warren Beatty movie. They were just poor West Dallas kids who every now and then had money to buy some nice clothes. I’m not sympathizing with them by any means; they had a death count, mainly of law enforcement, to be sure. But it’s amazing how we romanticized these and other legendary outlaws.

I’m not sure I would be as interested in this book if I wasn’t from Dallas, but reading about familiar locations added a certain feeling of insider knowledge. If you’re local and/or a history buff, you might enjoy this work.

In reviewing this blog, it’s clear I read a lot of depressing sh*t. If you were looking for suggestions about how to begin and end your upcoming vacation with books about death, I hope you found this post helpful.

If you want some actual “beach read” recommendations, check here and here. And if you have your own suggestions, please share in the comments!

Retirement Living

Yesterday was my last day of work. And I don’t start my new job until Monday. So for two whole days, I am not an “employee.” There is no parking decal on my car (crying when you drop that off at your employer’s parking office is awk-ward, by the way), no company ID in my wallet, and no emails piling up that I will have to respond to upon return. This is different from vacation. For two days… I am retired, baby!!

While my retirement is short-lived, I was able to celebrate two real professional farewells this past week — American Airlines Captain O’Neil (can’t confirm the spelling) and Oprah (pretty sure babies coming out of the womb know the spelling).

When flying back from vacation on Sunday, we were informed this would be the last flight for pilot O’Neil after 33 years. As we pulled away from the gate (and again when we landed), the traditional water salute for retiring pilots and planes commenced. This isn’t a picture from the actual occurrence, but to give you an idea of what it looks like:

It was a moving tribute. Even more special, as we flew, we learned that Captain O’Neil’s wife was making this last voyage with her husband. The pilot thanked her in flight for her support, despite a work schedule that includes many missed holidays and birthdays over 33 years. Needless to say, I was emotional.

Upon touch down, all of the passengers immediately broke into applause. The women, if comfortable, were asked by the flight attendants to give Captain O’Neil a hug on the way out. Every woman I saw, myself included, did just that. All the while, his adorable wife was snapping pictures.

Another moving tribute happened earlier that week, though I didn’t watch it until I returned from vacation. Ms. Oprah Winfrey said goodbye to her viewers as the last “Oprah Winfrey Show” aired. Now, I am not a huge fan of the show. I have nothing against it, but it’s on at 4 p.m. which isn’t exactly conducive to my weekday schedule and my DVR has a “no vacancy” sign.

But I did record her very last episode, as any self-respecting pop culture junkie would do. I knew it would be no-frills, but I was a little taken aback by the simplicity of the episode. Oprah stood on her stage, speaking to her ever-adoring audience both in the studio and watching in their living rooms about what the show and the fans have meant to her over the last 25 years. Needless to say, I was emotional.

Her last episode touched on some of the themes her show addressed, but I’ll leave the rundown to bigger Oprah fans over at Salt and Nectar.

While Captain O’Neil and Oprah might be retiring from very different environments, it was interesting what they had in common. They both profusely thanked and shared credit for their success with staff, family and friends. Stedman affectionately sat  in the Oprah audience just as Mrs. O’Neil sat in the front row of the plane, just a step outside the cockpit where her husband was addressing his audience in his own way. Clearly, no matter your job, your ultimate success comes down to those who support you along the way.

As if she knew about my future blog post, Oprah said she told her team that they were finally going to “land this plane.” And as she concluded the show and walked backstage through her entire staff lined up on either side cheering and hugging her, it reminded me of the two streams of water forming an archway of recognition. Recognition for, at its most simplest, a job well done.

Good luck to Captain O’Neil, Oprah and your families! I’m not quite ready to land my plane yet, but I hope when I do, I can leave with similar support and the knowledge I’ve had a career where I gave all I could to make an impact.

And then I’m sleeping in.

Home Is Where Your Sock Monkey Is

It’s hard to believe that even when you have been experiencing this:

Lunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, CA

It still feels comforting to come back to this:

A most special gift and symbol of home

While the vacation in Orange County was brief, it included all the makings of a great getaway: making new friends, eating pastries instead of fruit at breakfast, reading  a book, dancing the Hora, dreaming of retirement, secretly coveting iPads in the airport, leaving the phone in the hotel room (Ok, just once. On accident. But still!), staying up late, sleeping in, and most importantly, marveling yet again at the compatibility with your favorite traveling partner.

But even so, it’s nice to be home.

What’s your symbol of home (assuming of course it’s something other than a sock monkey)?

Things I Will Absolutely Not Do This Weekend

I will ABSOLUTELY NOT:

1. Secretly hope that LC and Lo are visiting their parents and will walk into the local Laguna “hot spot” (so I’m told) where we are eating dinner Thursday night.

2. Hum Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” in my head while NOT secretly hoping to see LC and Lo.

3. Jam to Phantom Planet’s “California” while I get ready in the morning. (again)

4. Kick myself too hard for not living in CA at a point in my life when I didn’t care about things like “cost of living.”

Yes, I am headed to Orange County tomorrow! And yes, I will, in reality, do all of these things no matter how hard I try!

I’ve been to San Diego and LA, but never this quaint little county in between so it’s been left up to TV shows about high schoolers and “real” housewives to shape my impression. As a pop culture junkie, this excites me, but I’m most looking forward to seeing and experiencing all the great things I have heard from actual people. It’s been a long two weeks and a coastal vacation is just what I need. I wonder if it will be a similar balance conundrum as the other coast.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. And if you have any OC recommendations, please let me know!

For those who were Laguna Beach and/or The OC fans, let these songs take you away to a simpler time… 🙂 And if you were not a fan of these, you probably have no idea what the hell this blog post was about. So put down your book or stop spending time with your family and watch some crap television!

Oh Happy Place!

I hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing holiday season that hopefully includes some time off work. And if you are at your office this week, I hope you are wearing jeans and keeping your Internet browser busy. I won’t judge you if you didn’t even shower.

I’m back in Dallas, but have spent most of my break so far in Ohio visiting JB’s family. Ohio happens to be home to the latest infraction in college football, so there was much discussion (some calm, some not) during our trip about what exactly goes through the minds of these players (and coaches and parents and boosters and…) that gets them in so much trouble when they otherwise have so much to gain. I found myself getting downright angry about all of it and my feelings were snowballing — I couldn’t even get through a simple episode of “Two and a Half Men” with the family without espousing on the injustice of Charlie Sheen making millions despite his off-camera alleged criminal activity.

My plan was to channel these feelings into my next blog post because after all, I can’t think of an entity that needs balance restoration more than the college athletics system, but as I listened to myself rant and rave, I wondered why anyone would want to hear, much less read, this negativity.

So I as I sat here thinking about a happier topic, I looked around and realized I was in it — my Happy Place! I think everyone should have a happy place that you can go to physically and, if nothing else, mentally. We need surroundings that restore our sense of calm and equilibrium. We all have different needs in this area, but I want to share a little about my own, Cafe Brazil.

It’s just a local chain of restaurants in Dallas, nothing fancy — a coffee house, but so much more. Let me share a little bit of what my senses are experiencing right now to get me to this feeling of peace and happiness:

Sight: I’m at a location that mixes North Dallas hipsters (um yes, there are some!) with families with professionals. People eating alone, people at a table of 10. A woman is working on her laptop, a man is reading some papers, and others are just chatting. You can make this place whatever you need it to be. I like coming with friends or alone, like today, to read and write.

Taste: Oh, the taste! Like I said, it’s definitely more than a coffee house. The food here ranges from breakfast to dinner, from pancakes to crepes to salads. Since I basically ate cookies and pasta for five days straight in Ohio, I opted for one of their healthy options today, the Wine Country Salad — a delicious mix of greens, apples, strawberries, grilled chicken, and walnuts. My picture below doesn’t do it justice.

Smell: It’s more than a coffee house, but my favorite thing about Cafe Brazil remains the coffee and it’s aroma fills the air. They have a self-serve, bottomless coffee bar with different flavors of java, including my flavor of choice below. I love being able to just get up and refill my mug; it’s that comforting feeling of being at home (with no clean-up required).

Sound: Today the music has been mostly 80’s rock, including some “Sweet Child of Mine.” Enough said.

Touch: Well, if my hand touches something in the restroom here, I don’t freak out. That’s pretty much a bare minimum for a happy place.

The Intangibles: The biggest reason that Cafe Brazil is my happy place is just the vibe I feel when I’m here. I feel like I’m in Austin. I feel independent and empowered as I sit and eat and write by myself — yet being surrounded by others doing the same. I feel balanced.

I’m not anti-corporate by any means. I can, and do, all of these things at Starbucks too (well, except the bottomless coffee — yeah right!). But for me, Cafe Brazil is all I need. In 2011, I am committing myself to spending more time in my happy place. I mean, as long as they don’t start airing college sports, why wouldn’t I?

So… what is your happy place? What makes it so happy for you?

The Balance Conundrum in South Florida

I barely know how to “point and shoot” (I think that expression is supposed to convey simplicity and quite frankly that offends me), but I thought this blog post would come across better in pictures.

I recently came back from a brief vacation to the South Florida area, specifically two days in Key Largo and two days in Miami Beach. My blog is about finding balance without simplifying, and these two cities — only 70 miles apart — definitely exemplify the polar extremes of leisurely beach town living and hurried city life. True to my nature, I found I longed to be in one when I was in the other! Let’s begin the journey, shall we?

When JB and I travel (or do anything), we like to start with food. This trip was no different. Here, we indulge in the freshly made sticky buns and strawberry shakes at Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead, FL.

We left full of sticky-cinnamony goodness and arrived in Key Largo. Hello simplicity. This is our friends’ back porch on Little Buttonwood Sound. To quote JB, “it doesn’t suck.”

I would continue to enjoy that box of sticky buns and coffee in the coming mornings right at this table below. So far, relishing this life – mornings for me are the time when I welcome simplicity the most.

On our first night in Key Largo, we drove to another key, Islamorada, to enjoy sunset drinks at Lorelai Cabana Bar. I include this because I think it’s pretty telling of the pace of a town when you can show up at a bar at happy hour, easily find a parking space, and get a table (overlooking the water, no less) immediately.  All that was left to do was sit back and enjoy the music. Not too shabby.

The Keys were wonderful and relaxing, but it only took a couple of days for me to start missing the fast-paced city life. I craved seeing more people out and about and the little things like a Starbucks on every corner. So, in the words of Will Smith, welcome to Miami (Beach).

I could feel the difference immediately — goodbye undemanding life, but hello to energy! And diversity! And….. traffic. Oh well. We ate a great cafe on Ocean Drive.

The crowds on a beautiful Sunday afternoon around the Lincoln Road shops – yay for commerce (and dreidels made out of shells)!

And even when you are bringing the heat in South Beach (which we did none of, by the way), you can still find some peace, such as sitting on the rocks watching the cruise ships leave at dusk. Bon Voyage!

And so we said bon voyage to our time in Florida as well. After two days in Miami Beach and then back home to reality, I was nostalgic for my days eating sticky buns overlooking the water with nothing to do, but I know my life will always need the energy and diversity (and even the traffic), so the quest continues for perfect balance.

What do you prefer on vacation — doing nothing or sightseeing? How do we balance the two? And, most importantly, do you call them cinnamon rolls or sticky buns?