Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: The State of the Bucket List

My bucket list isn't made up of crazy stunts and bizarre experiences.  My main goal for the end of my life is to travel more.  I want to see as much of the world as possible.  In 2013 I made a rather unfocused blog post about my biggest travel priorities.  Since I made that post, I have crossed a few destinations off the list.  I have also made some more focused travel goals for my priority destinations for the next several years.  I thought it would be fun to compare the notes and share my revised lists.

Places that were on my previous list that I have been to since then:

Costa Rica - I saw much more of this beautiful place in 2014 than I saw on that cruise ship 10 years earlier. I explored rain forests, rode a horse on the beach, and swam and snorkeled in the Pacific.   This is a definitely bucket list destination.

Italy - I said I wanted to return there and particularly wanted to return to Venice.  The 2015 cruise took care of some of that.  (I would still go back to Italy 100 more times.)

Croatia - This wasn't a high priority destination, and I didn't go to Dubrovnik, but I did make it to Croatia on the cruise. 

Greek Islands -  I only saw two islands on the cruise, but it was a start

San Francisco - I went there right after posting my last bucket list.

Yosemite - This was part of the San Francisco trip.  

Places on the previous list where I will go in 2016:

Chincoteague - It broke my heart a little to not go Pony Penning last summerI am happy to return in 2016.

Hawaii - (including Volcanoes National Park) - Heading here in February as an early celebration of our 15th anniversary.  Kevin can cross a national park off his bucket list.

Prague - I have a family vacation scheduled in August.  This was another second tier destination, but I am looking forward to seeing what looks like a beautiful city.

European destinations at the top of the list:

Amsterdam and BeNeLux - I was actually planning to go to Amsterdam this year, but lack of money on my part and the offer of free cruise from Dad changed the plans a bit.  I hope to regroup and plan a trip in 2017.  My plan is to stay based in Amsterdam and do day trips to Brussels and Bruges.  If I can conveniently do a Luxembourg day trip, I will definitely consider it.

Danube River Cruise - In my previous list I mentioned a few second-tier priority cities in Europe that I would like to see, but wasn't sure how much time I wanted to devote to them.  This included cities like Prague (which I'll be staying in for a while after all), Budapest, Vienna, and the Bavaria region of Germany.  A river cruise like this one would take care of these nicely.

Loire Valley Barge Cruise - My dream had always been to do a horseback riding tour through the Loire Valley.  Kevin is less enthused about further riding vacations.  They are fun, but they are physically demanding and can be a bit harrowing if your horse isn't on his best behavior. I recently learned about barge cruises.  Old canal barges are made over and fitted out with luxury trappings and high-end cuisine, making them into little floating inns.  A barge cruise can offer me similar advantages to a horseback tour.  I would travel the countryside at a slow pace, visiting the local villages, castles, and wineries. Most barges have bicycles on board too, so if I get tired of sitting for long stretches of time, I can bike alongside the boat as it heads down the canal.  It's not a horse, but it would keep me active.  Some barges have small swimming pools on board too, but I think those are really pricey.  Best of all we could take a day or two in Paris at the start or end of the cruise so I can return to my beloved beautiful city.

Top U.S. City Destinations:

These haven't changed since the last list.  Kevin and I haven't traveled in the U.S. (other than Chincoteague) in almost 3 years.

New Orleans
Salem, MA
Florida Keys 
Santa Fe
Las Vegas - I have to see it once

Top U.S.  National Parks

Acadia - Since this is on the east coast, we could probably see this in a long weekend.  It would be easy to fly out on Friday morning, spend Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday in the park, and fly back on Monday. 

Glacier - One of the guides from our Grand Canyon tour with leads a tour in Glacier.  She was great at the Grand Canyon, so I would like to travel with her again.  Then again, I have a hard time believing any trip with Natural Habitat Adventures could be bad.

Olympic - The varying ecosystems here would pack a lot of bang for the buck. 

Ultimate Indulgence for a special occasion: 

2021 will be our 20th anniversary and we need to celebrate in style.  How can we possibly top our 10th anniversary where we spent a week at a horse farm in Tuscany?  Anniversary #20 needs to be spectacular.  We first discussed Bora Bora (who wouldn't want to stay in one of those overwater bungalows?)  Then we realized what would be even cooler would be Galapagos.  Once again, nature tours don't get any better than Natural Habitat Adventures.

I think that's a pretty good list.  If I can cross these off in the next ten years, I will be thrilled.  Once I do that though, it will be time again to decide where to go next. It' a big world and life is short.  Let's make the most of it.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For Everyone Planning To Get In Shape in 2016

Do it.

Don't do it to lose weight.  Don't do it look hot in a bathing suit.  Don't do it to make yourself more attractive to current or potential sexual and romantic partners.  Don't do it because you fear obesity.  Don't do it because you fear other health risks.

Do it because you can.

As a klutzy, unathletic nerd, I spent years developing physical skills and a certain level of fitness that I felt I could be proud of.  My accomplishments were never impressive to most people, but to me they were everything.  I was proud of my strength gains and the crazy stunts I could pull off at the gym.  I was proud of how I managed to ride a green pony through the phases of her education.  I was proud of the complex tap dancing steps I could execute.  I was proud of my endurance for long hikes in nature.  I was proud of the time I was able to swim out to a sandbar and tow a drowning man to safety on my boogie board.  I was no athlete, but I proved to myself that I was fit.  I wasn't naturally coordinated, but I had managed to develop some coordination.  It felt wonderful.  I had come so far.

Then one day it all changed. Injuries happened.  Surgery followed.  I missed months of riding, dance, weight lifting, and so many other activities that brought me pleasure over the years.  It wasn't just about feeling down because I gained 30 pounds and fell out of shape.  I was depressed over my lack of ability to move.  I was not doing the activities that brought me joy.  You truly don't realize how much you miss your physical abilities until you don't have them.

My condition was temporary.  I was able to ride again 5 months after surgery.  I was back in dance class 9 months after surgery.  My elbow has prevented me from doing anything vigorous with my upper body, but I am slowly coming back from that.  Being out of shape is not a permanent state for me (at least not yet).

There are millions of people out there who aren't as lucky as I am.  Their physical functionality has been taken from them.  Maybe it was due to illness, or injury, or hereditary conditions, but whatever the reason, they will never feel the joy of physical movement.  We forget that our ability to exercise could be taken from us at any moment.

If you have a functional, reasonably healthy body, it's time to start appreciating that fact and take advantage of it.  Stop wasting the health and abilities that have been gifted to you.  You're not getting any younger.  If you don't use your muscles they will atrophy and stiffen up.  The less you use your body now, the less ability you will have to use it in the future.  Get off the couch.  Step away from the computer.  Put down your smartphone.  Take a step forward on those functional legs and experience the world outside.  Take advantage of the body you have.  Don't hide it away from the world.

Our society has come to see exercise as a mere necessary health routine at best and "punishment" for bad eating at worst.   I hear many people say they hate exercise because their narrow definition of exercise means a sweat session at the gym or a punishing run (YUCK!). We are taught at an early age that physical activity has rigid definitions.  In our gym classes we are taught to run laps around the track and do push-ups and sit-ups, or else have the non-athletic kids be humiliated by the athletic kids in team sports.  Somewhere along the way we learn to separate the concept of fitness from the concept of fun.

As adults fitness experts tell us exercise is just a daily health chore like brushing your teeth.  I read an article by one fitness trainer who believed running is the exercise equivalent of eating your vegetables - something that must be done no matter how much you might hate it.  Tell me something: when you were a kid your mother probably had to remind, and even nag you, to brush your teeth and eat your vegetables.  Did she need to remind you to go ride your bike with your friends or go to the pool on a hot day?

If fitness is your New Year's Resolution for 2016, then make this the year you find your true fitness.  This is not the year you are going to lose 50 pounds and be extra lean.  It's not the year you are going to look like the mass media ideal in a bathing suit.  It should be the year you find your fun.  Make 2016 the year that you find the joy in using your body in all its imperfect glory.

What have you always wanted to try?  What activities have you admired from afar and never thought you could do?  Maybe you want to join that new local boxing gym you have been looking at lustily since it opened.  Maybe it's time to try that salsa class.  Maybe you want to rekindle your childhood love of ice skating.  Maybe it's time to dust off that bicycle that has been sitting in the garage.  Maybe it's time your lived out your fantasy of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  What would you enjoy?  What interests would you like to rekindle?  Go out and find a way to pursue it.  Use the power of the Internet for good and find classes and Meetup groups in your area.

This won't be easy.  Unless you're athletically gifted, there will be a learning curve for any new activities.  If you have been inactive, new physical pursuits may be a struggle for a while.  You will fall down - perhaps metaphorically and perhaps literally.  You will fail.  You will feel foolish.  You will feel convinced that you are a klutz who just can't do this kind of stuff.  Whatever happens, don't give up.  Very few people get anything right the first try.  You will only truly fail if you stop trying.

Let's face it, if you were automatically good at something, there would be no challenge and no sense of accomplishment.  Part of the joy of learning something new is seeing your own progress.  On the other hand, if you truly give your new activity a good try and find you don't like it, or the struggle isn't worth it, then it's okay to quit.  Find your passion elsewhere.

I recent watched a series on Ovation called Big Ballet.  Former RBC principal, Wayne Sleep, gathered together a group of plus-sized, wannabe ballet dancers and staged a performance of Swan Lake.  The dancers were ordinary women whose dreams of dancing were dashed years ago for various reasons, including their size.  Sleep himself was told when he was young that he wouldn't make it as a dancer because he was too short.  He proved them wrong by working hard and showing his talent.  He dreamed of giving other non-typical dancers a shot at the same dreams.  It wasn't the most beautiful production you have ever seen.  The choreography had to be adjusted because some of it just doesn't look right when not performed by sylph-like women.  The dancers are not en pointe.  Still they are eager and graceful and willing to put in the work necessary to make the production happen.  They were happy.  They were enjoying themselves.  That's what fitness should be about.

So if fitness is your goal for 2016, go out and pursue that fitness, but pursue it in a way that is truly meaningful to you.  You have a body.  Learn to enjoy it before it's too late.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Letting Go (or "Why I will have myself a Merry Little Christmas")

Thanks to following Spandau Ballet on Facebook, I learned that Tony Hadley has released a Christmas album this year.  I'm not a fan of celebrity Christmas albums.  I don't like most contemporary Christmas music and most popular Christmas songs, both traditional and contemporary, have been done to death.  I wasn't sure what Tony Hadley could bring to the table.  Still, Tony Hadley is my long-time crush and the man can sing Row Row Row Your Boat and make it sound like a choir of angels singing.  I considered giving the album a chance.

I took a look at the song list online. To my horror, the second song on the album was my Christmas musical nemesis Have Yourself A Merry Little ChristmasWhy? I lamented.  Why why why does  every singer need to record that song on a Christmas album?  Does any pop singer every consider that not everyone loves songs that are so hokey and maudlin?  I remembered how several years ago when Sarah McLachlan (my favorite female singer) put out a Christmas album and I refused to buy it because she recorded that song. Could I buy Hadley's album and just skip over that song?

Then suddenly, after more than 20 years of finding that song unbearable to listen to, I stopped and asked myself this question:

Why do I continue to let that song have power over me?  Why must I be this ridiculous?

As silly as it might seem to others that I would have such a visceral reaction against a simple Christmas song, there is a reason and a story behind it.  Years ago I was in a situation where I was happy and content, but knew that it would all be coming to an end soon.  The reality of it came crashing down around me at Christmas time, and the song had become a way of triggering it.  (If you don't know the full story, I am sorry but I will not discuss the actual association.)  It was a painful reminder that my life was about to change, possibly for the worse.   People who were close to me, who were a constant presence in my life, were no longer going to be there.

For a few mercifully short years, my life did change for the worse.  I went through a period where I felt more loneliness, depression, and despair than I would ever admit out loud to anyone.  Hearing that song brought back the situation where I was, and contrasted it with what my life had become.  That song just stuck me in that time period.  It reminded me of the people no longer in my life.

I'm a sentimental and sensitive type.  I tend to cling to people and situations, because I try to hold on to something that was good in the past.  I rarely ever admit when a relationship of any kind isn't working for me anymore.  I tend to want to keep people in my life who have indicated by their actions (although rarely in their words) they no longer want to be there.  I was putting out enormous amounts of effort that were rarely reciprocated.  Despite what internet memes and inspirational posters like to tell you, not everyone you care about is destined to be part of your life forever.  People's lives go in different directions; their attitudes and interests change.  It's all part of reality.  If we were meant to be with everyone we were ever close to, we would all marry our first loves and never divorce.  If your romantic relationships can change and end, then it makes sense that other close relationships can end as well.

In recent years I have made an effort to stop wasting efforts on people who aren't interested in staying in touch and start concentrating on and appreciating the people who still want me in their lives.  I think I have a pretty strong circle of people who matter.  I am not in the same position I was all those years ago.  My life is full and happy.  Sure there are people I wish I could see more of, and I sometimes wish I were included in more friends' activities, but sometimes that's as much my fault as it is theirs.  I'm not always picking up the phone and inviting people to spend time with me.  Regardless, I have a job, hobbies, friends, and a husband.  I travel often.  There is no guarantee that any of this will last, but right now I'm living a happy and contented life.  I have no need to dwell on happy times of the past.

That's why I need to learn to stop letting myself be dragged into the past. It really isn't about a song.  It is about me dwelling on a time that will never come around again.  I am mostly over the old days, but there is obviously a little bit of it I can't let go of.  I can't let something so harmless drag me back to a time when I was on the brink of unhappiness.  I can hear the song and think about how things did go bad, but I need to remember how much better they became.   There is just a little bit of my past I need to stop wallowing in. The time is now.

Don't get me wrong though.  I will still hate the song.  It's hokey and maudlin and that will never change.  But in the end I guess it's no worse than half the Christmas music I hear every day.