Rick Steves…again!

Travel as a Political Act is the name of Rick Steves’ latest book. It’s also the name of a thought-provoking talk we heard him give last weekend.

You may recall from an earlier post here that we ran into public TV travel guru Rick Steves twice while we were in Italy this spring. (Of course, we were following the restaurant recommendations from his book while he was coincidentally in Italy taping a new season.) We are big fans of Rick. For independent travelers like us, his books, shows, tapes, travel forums, etc., have been the backbone of more than one trip abroad. So, we were very excited to learn that he was speaking at the local junior college.

And, we were not disappointed.

Though his books are full of savvy travel advice, this was not a discussion about about itineraries, European train travel, the best way to get museum tickets or any of those nagging questions would-be travelers have. It was a talk about traveling with “purpose,” about choosing to be open to new experiences.

Personally, I think travel, especially to other countries, is a leap of faith. You may not know the language, the food will be different, and so will the money. You may find yourself somewhat humbled. People do things differently.

The first time I went to Europe was a trip to Paris with my then sixteen-year-old son. We hopped into a cab one evening and, in my Chicago way, I brusquely gave the driver a restaurant address. The driver didn’t make a move. Instead he patiently greeted us, “Bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur.” I had totally forgotten the essential niceties always observed in so many other countries. (So, we all exchanged greetings and then we proceeded to discuss our destination.) It is, however, a faux pas I have never forgotten.

It’s easy to travel checking things off your bucket list but not always really seeing and savoring what’s around you. In all honesty, Steve and I are not hugely experienced travelers, but we do try to make personal connections whenever we can. On our first post-retirement trip, we took a train from Edinburgh to London, chatting with a wonderful man who had retired after serving as the major general of the Queen’s bagpipe regiment. He talked about his many experiences and gave us a running commentary on the countryside and towns we were passing. He added a personal view of Scotland (not to mention Scottish view of the U.S.A.) to our trip.

1On the same trip, we were working our way through the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh when a giggling, running, skipping pack of what could only have been kindergarten or first-graders swarmed into the gallery. The little boys hopped astride some small canons and the girls spied a memorial, exclaiming “Look, look, it’s Mary Queen of Scots!”

Then they managed to swarm around the effigy, patting her hands and her dress. While their somewhat mortified teachers tried to gather and shush them, we joined the museum guard in a good chuckle, happy to realize that kids are kids no matter where. For me, it is one of the singular moments from that trip.

Rick’s talk was 90 minutes, but the time just flew as he moved seamlessly from point to point. Among them: the importance of being open to new experiences, taking history seriously and overcoming fear. He points out that these are all things we grapple with to varying degrees and with a range of success.  And, he says, that’s okay.

Some trips take you farther out of your comfort zone. As an editor I traveled on trade missions to both Istanbul and China. Despite being with co-workers and clients whom I knew well, along with charming guides charged with making sure we had a memorable time, both destinations were far afield from anything I had experienced. And while touring the Forbidden City or climbing the Great Wall in China and shopping the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or visiting the Blue Mosque are travel moments to treasure, visiting factories, often in tiny towns, added a whole new dimension to those trips. On one hand, this is a way of life that’s totally different from ours. On the other, we’re all very much alike, working hard to lift ourselves and our families to the next level of security and safety. And that’s important to remember when we are sorting international friends and enemies.

1-copyUnfortunately we live in a scarier world these days. Is it sad or strangely reassuring to see armed soldiers at popular sights in Rome and London? I’m not sure it’s any different from this country where we walk thru metal detectors and have our purses and backpacks searched to enter a museum or a ballpark. This is the world we live in. (Sometime I’ll tell you about the first time Steve and I traveled to Paris and both lost our wallets to pickpockets on the same day!)

Finally, I’ve been pondering this post all week, and I think the concept of traveling with a purpose applies as much to domestic destinations as it does to foreign travel. My family will tell you I am the queen of hunkering down in a beach chair with a new book and happily tuning out the rest of the world. And I think that brand of travel has a well-deserved place in our busy lives. I also think that stepping out of line to talk to a museum docent or engaging the sweetgrass artist in the fine points of his craft are more than worth the effort. What about you?

I encourage you to read a text version of Rick’s talk here or to check out a copy of his book by the same name.

See you next time!



The blogs I read

bluehydrangeasWhen I introduced my blog here, I talked about how I had written and/or edited a handful of blogs for the trade associations I worked with and how that experience morphed into more blog reading in line with my personal interests. I think most blog readers follow multiple blogs, whether we subscribe to them or we just bookmark the homepages and check to see what’s new. In the interest of full disclosure I thought I should share some of the blogs I’ve been following.

Initially, I was really just focused on design blogs, in fact it’s all I read. Vignette Design was like a master class in creating luscious, layered table settings, a look that spilled over into Delores’ charming house (especially her kitchen!). Delores and her husband recently downsized to a lovely home they renovated in San Francisco, and so the design lessons happily continue.

At The Enchanted Home, Tina’s enthusiasm for elegant design, all things blue and white, flowers and entertaining is irresistable. Her tasye is impeccable and her attention to detail is flawless. She has an online shop where she stocks many of her favorite things, often manufactured to her specifications.

Thistlewood Farms is a light, bright country bookend to The Enchanted Homes’ sophisticated style, and blogger KariAnne’s take on parenting, design, and life in general is often funny, always refreshing. Her photography is spot-on and her designer’s eye is awesome. I hope to hear one of her presentations some day.

Mocadeaux is a more recent discovery. Mo writes about many of the things that interest me — wine, travel, and grandchildren. She’s also in the Chicago area, so I’m hoping that one day we can connect.

Sometimes I think Julie at Creating This Life and I have the same decorating muse. Her house reminds me that much of my own and we share dozens of pins. She shares the same decorating and gardening dilemmas and triumphs we all have.

Because I’m a reader…

bookI recently discovered The Modern Mrs. Darcy. Blogger Anne talks to other readers, writers, and independent booksellers, and is focused beyond current best sellers. (Thank goodness!) You can also sign up for her podcasts or join her book club. She also covers a lot of other lifestyle topics.

What Maggie Read. This a shameless plug for my daughter’s blog, and while we have fairy divergent reading interests, they also often intersect. Plus, she dives into a lot of additional reading resources.

Because I like to cook…


I can’t remember how I stumbled on The Cafe Sucre Farine, but Chris and Scott are not so different from my husband and me. Retired, traveling, enjoying more time with family and friends. Chris cooks real food, recipes I have served to family and friends.

My daughter got me started watching The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network, and now I follow Ree’s blog, too. I feel like she shares real recipes for real family. My daughter and I love that she has a separate kitchen at the “lodge” and now I’m totally charmed by her budding business in town, “The Merc.”

Jenny Steffens Hobick approaches cooking from a different perspective at Everyday Occasions. A former caterer, she draws from a personal library of simple, delicious recipes, some designed for family, others clearly meant to make entertaining easy, elegant and delicious. She has worksheets for holiday dinners and her online store offers some hard-to-source supplies she regularly uses.

In a category all their own…

Reveling in Retirement, my friend Nancy’s new blog about the joys and challenges of her post-career life. Her current post details her quest to master the Italian language. (You will love her story about finding an Italian teacher at Starbuck’s.)

If you aren’t reading Katie Clooney’s Preppy Empty Nester, you should be. She invites everyone into her life with the Mister, her Sista, #1 and #2 and the Adorable Jonathon. She also has a pair of lovable dogs, probably the cutest on the Internet.

What are your blog recommendations? Please share!

See you next time.


DSC_0176I realized a few days ago that time has just whizzed by since my last post. September slipped away and we’re into October. What have I been up to lately? Well, not that much.

Last week our household was “media free” for 48 hours because the cable company cut our line as they were upgrading the neighbor’s service. It was a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.

Yes, we could have gone to any number of nearby hot spots to use our tablets and laptops. Our cellphones did work, even if the landline did not. We could — and did — watch a few DVD’s, but we did have a break from the 24-hour news cycle that is this election year (and that Steve and I both have a love/hate relationship with). But all in all the house was blessedly quiet, so quiet the quiet was humming.

I loved it.

For some time now I have been thinking that I am just a little too attached to my electronics. I am very quick to pick up my iPad, where I can easily check email and view the latest on Instagram, which I find as addictive as Pinterest. (I think this is an extension of my magazine habit. Pretty pictures get me every time.)

In my working days, I would get coffee and often some breakfast to go on my way to the office, then sit down at my desk and read and respond to emails as I drank that coffee and ate that muffin or yogurt. Sometimes it took a few hours with complex email requests and responses, the inevitable interruptions from co-workers and phone calls. But then I carried that habit over in retirement, reading blogs, skipping from one link to another. It’s fun and some of it feeds Ivy and Ironstone, but sometimes I think I’m just spending too much time online.

So no, I did not seek out additional wifi.

I need to admit here that much of my media-angst stems from my growing cellphone disdain. Yes, they are remarkable gadgets. We were glad to have them last week since our landline service comes via our cable. What’s more fun than carrying all those photos of the grandkids in your pocket? But is anyone else out there tired of how much people have their nose in the cellphone rather than in the moment? Is there anyone else who cringes at the presence of cellphones at the dinner table?

But, now we have service and a seasonally-appropriate orange cable running across the yard until the crew that actually buries it shows up to do so.

Life without cable, landline and internet worked out well for me because I needed to finish reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for a book group I’ve joined. I know — it’s long, difficult and depressing, but awesome! I read this book for the first time decades ago, and to be really honest, it had mushed together with some other Steinbeck works. This time I found it totally engrossing. The poverty of the Joad family and the rest of the Okies is numbing. But they are also totally selfless, inviting others to join them on their meager journey. There is also the anger the Okies share at losing their homes and their livelihoods, and the fear of so much that is unknown. The Californians at the end of this road are angry, too, at refugees poised to take their jobs and drain their resources. It’s an old story, but timeless. And sadly familiar.

“Gas” by Edward Hopper, 1930. Scan by Mark Harden

Not totally coincidentally my husband and I went that week to see “America After the Fall: Paintings in the 1930’s” at Chicago’s Art Institute. It captured the same period of time from several cultural angles, from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” to the labor movement and socialism. And it included “Gas,” by Edward Hopper, which seems to perfectly and poignantly capture a scene from Steinbeck.

Looking for another good read?

My friend Nancy just launched “Reveling in Retirement” here. This is a fun and thoughtful look at the challenges and rewards of retirement, as well as life, work, family and more. You don’t have to be retired or even retirement age to enjoy what she has to say. I hope you’ll stop by.

See you next time!