Paul’s Trip To England

Paul’s Trip To England

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there,” so said Robert Browning in his poem, ‘Home Thoughts, from Abroad’.  The author clearly wasn’t taking into account the likely weather at that time of the year. T.S. Eliot was probably closer to the mark when he said about England, “April is the cruelest month”.

English Countryside Daffodils

English Countryside Daffodils

So, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive in London at the end of April to be greeted by beautiful weather. The primary purpose of the visit was an old friend’s wedding. It was also an overdue opportunity to catch up with friends and family, drink lots of ‘real ale’ and do some hiking in the Derbyshire Dales, my home ground.

My only regret was that I would be making the journey alone. I know how much Valynne loves what she has already seen of England, but caretaking and vineyard duties would have to take precedence, this time. I was instructed to take lots of photographs, which I did.

As I say, I got lucky with the weather. I knew it had been a miserable winter in England and spring had fared no better so far. Weather has always been a major talking point in England, probably because we get so much of it and most of it not good. Since I returned to the US, the weather back home has once again gone downhill, as we say.

I like to fly Virgin Atlantic when crossing the pond, but it’s a bit of a trek to get to the flight from Santa Fe. Train to Albuquerque, fly to Dallas, fly to New York, and fly to London. Leave Sunday afternoon and arrive Tuesday morning. There are easier routes, but New Mexico isn’t anyone’s hub.

On arriving in London I picked up a rental car and drove north for two hours to arrive at Stanshope Hall around four in the afternoon.  Prior to arriving I called into to see the groom (Phil) and we went for a couple of ‘pedis’…best beer in England to you uninitiated.  Ah, heaven. Then I called in for fish and chips in my old town of abode – Ashbourne.

Stanshope Hall

Stanshope Hall

Stanshope Hall is a private residence in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales within the Peak District National Park – the first national park in England in 1951 to be designated as such and covering 555 sq miles. Naomi has converted half of Stanshope into a bed & breakfast and with her family, lives in the other half. It was here I would be spending the next three nights in some of the most glorious countryside in the whole of England.  By Tuesday evening I was pretty tired as you might imagine, so after an early supper and a fine bottle of wine, I retired to bath and bed. Rupert would be arriving the next morning and we would set off on a day hike and go in search of more beer.

A full English breakfast to start the day – two pork sausages, three rashers of back bacon, grilled tomatoes, two fried eggs, Derbyshire oatcake, grilled mushrooms, toast and a pot of tea. Now you might say that you can have all of that, oatcake accepted, in the US. Yes, but it’s not the same. It’s like a pint of Guinness. Once you’ve had a pint of Guinness in Ireland, you realize that a pint of Guinness anywhere else is just not the same.  I had a good natter to Lynne, who prepared my fabulous breakfast and it turns out we both went to the same junior and high schools. Lynne was a little after me. And, her husband, Jez, worked at Rolls-Royce for 30 yrs, just like me, although we never met being in different areas of the business.

Rupert Arrives

Rupert

Rupert arrived at around 10 with a route already prepared. I last saw Rupert about 7 years ago when Valynne and I visited.  We go back a long way and used to do long distance walks together throughout England. Rupert worked for IBM and provided engineer support for the Rolls-Royce data center.

Public Footpath to Stanshope

Public Footpath to Stanshope

The hike begins right from the front door as you head over the fields and down into Hall Dale and eventually into Dove Dale, named after the beautiful river that flows through here and provides plenty of sport for Trout anglers.

Words can’t adequately describe the walk; you just had to be there, so you need to check out the pictures. Some of the highlights were the thousands of wild daffodils and the new and recently born lambs frolicking in the meadows.

Lamb Playing Peek-a-Boo

Lamb Playing Peek-a-Boo

For those of you not familiar with hiking in England I can thoroughly recommend it. England, and indeed the whole of Britain, is awash with ancient footpaths and bridleways that connect the many small towns and villages. These were the roadways of the day and are still wonderfully maintained by organizations like the National Trust. As you would expect, many of these paths cross private land, but access cannot be denied by law. Attempts have been made by landowners to block access, but with the occasional exception, all fail. It is more or less possible to walk the length of breadth of the UK without actually using a real roadway for anything other than immediate access to a town or village.

A Proper Pint at The George

A Proper Pint at The George

No responsible hiker, English anyway, would plan a route without a pub stop around lunchtime. The good news is that you are never that far away from a pub on all but the most remote of walks. So it was we arrived at the George Inn at Alstonefield. We sat outside and drank our ‘pedis’ and talked about old times, as old codgers do it seems. Rupert, living in the Derby area, maintains contact with a number of our old colleagues from R-R. The conversation was a little depressing and went something like this (names changed to protect the innocent). “How’s Frank doing” I began. “Oh, he’s dead”, replied Rupert. “How’s Geoff..…”he’s not well”. “What about Dave”…….”He committed suicide”. And so it went on.

Paul's Spot at The George

Paul’s Spot at The George

George Inn is a wonderful little pub, serving great beer and food and I was to have dinner here this evening and the next. The Innkeeper reserved my own little table in the corner by the fire. Say 10 years ago, the majority of pub fare was pretty basic, but tasty nevertheless…ploughman’s, sandwiches, pickled eggs, etc.  With the advent of much stricter drinking and driving laws and the cost of gasoline, trade declined and many pubs that didn’t have a thriving local trade, closed. Those that survived upgraded their menus and opened up for accommodation so that drivers, and indeed hikers, could stay overnight.

Paul's Old Stomping Grounds, the Derbyshire Dales

Paul’s Old Stomping Grounds, the Derbyshire Dales

Fast forward and I’m sadly checking out of Stanshope Hall and heading for Derby. On the way stopped in at Ashbourne to say Hi to Louise. Louise is the owner of Lou Lou’s in the high street – a very classy lingerie store and we’ve known each other for a while. Almost every time I’ve called in to see Louise she’s been on vacation. This time was no exception. The business must be doing well. I actually went back a few days later to buy something for Valynne, but they were closed due to the bank holiday.

The River Dove

The River Dove

Derby is a city of approximately 250,000 and its origins go back to the Romans, Saxons and Vikings. In my experience Derby has always lacked a choice of good hotels, but that’s changed in my absence. I checked into the Jury’s Inn in what is now called the Cathedral Quarter of Derby. It’s definitely the most preserved area with many old building and pubs and so a good location. I parked the car in the hotel car park and would leave it there for the next three days. The hotel was very nice, good room, good restaurant and bar, although I only did breakfast on one morning.

After checking in I set off on foot to wander and to see what had changed in my town of birth since my last visit. While driving into town I’d already found out that the road system had changed, again, so getting around was a new experience.  I decided to surprise my sister. Helen is a supervisor in one of the large department stores and I think she was a little surprised, and pleased, to see me coming down the escalator. We would meet up again later that evening with her husband, Merc, and have a few beers.

Derby has a wonderful indoor market at the Guildhall which has been open for 150 yrs. It was always busy and vibrant, so it was sad to see so many closed stalls and a general lack of activity. I thought all the shoppers had migrated to the much larger and newer market in the mall, but there were many closed stalls there too. A sign of the poor economy I guess.

Birds Confectioners Cake Box

Birds Confectioners Cake Box

Off to Birds. What’s that you may think? Birds Bakery has been in Derby since 1919 and they produce amazing cream cakes, scones, sausage rolls, pork pies and much more. There was always a queue when I went with my Mother and there still is. I’m happy to report that all my favorites are as I remember them.

A little shopping next. Valynne has been collecting Pandora beads since we first met and she has quite the collection. I’ve been trying to get a particular one for a while, but no luck in the US. I was expecting to have better luck in the UK and I did……a London bus with the British flag (Union Jack) on the top.

The Five Lamps

The Five Lamps

Now, time to head back to the hotel and get ready for a night out. Set out for the Five Lamps around 4:30 pm, which is just a short 10 min walk from the hotel. The Five Lamps has a terrific range of ‘real ale’ and according to my friends, is one of the best pubs in Derby right now. During the evening my sister and Merc arrived followed by my brother Mike, Rupert and his better half Vanessa and my best mate of 40 yrs or more, Tez.

Five Lamps

Five Lamps

Tez and I have had many adventures over the years and shared flats together. We’ve been on driving tours of Europe, hikes, and had girlfriends, wives and many nights at the pub along the way. I wish we could spend more time together. Tez is also one of the best letter writers. Just ask Valynne. After several pints and catching up on everything, Tez and I headed out to meet up with Heather, his girlfriend of quite a few years now, but first a couple of pints at the Dolphin – oldest pub in Derby and familiar to Valynne. We met up with Heather and her friends at the wine bar next door. Drank a couple of glasses of wine and I went back to the hotel for some zzzs.

Saturday morning and the day of Phil and Pauline’s wedding.  Phil and Pauline have been together for probably 20 yrs or thereabouts and make a great couple; although I was a little surprised they decided to take the plunge after all this time. Started the day off with a bacon ‘butty’ and a pot of tea at Jack Rabbits. Wonder if the owners are Pulp Fiction fans?  Wandered around town a little and noticed the heavy police presence close to a few well known pubs. It’s the last weekend of the regular football (soccer) season in England and Derby County are hosting Millwall. Millwall fans are notorious for causing trouble, but no sign yet. If the wedding had been later in the day or the match earlier, I would have gone. Not been to a game for many a year now.

Pauline and Phil

Pauline and Phil

Caught a taxi around 1:00pm to get me to the Half Moon, which is a short walk to the event. Shortly joined by Phil and his best man Adam, Pauline’s son, and a few other guests. I didn’t arrange to see Phil at the pub, but I knew he would be there. I know him too well. He was resplendent in his Hugo Boss suit. Watched the soccer on TV and sank a couple of pints and headed out together.

Now I’m not a big wedding person, so short and sweet with as little formality as possible is what I like. I’m happy to report this weeding met my goals. Selfish I know given it’s not my wedding, but Phil and Pauline sure enjoyed the day, as did I. The whole event was held in a Masonic Lodge which you may find strange, but it was a good facility and with plenty of grassy areas for photos. Phil assured me prior to the event that guests would not have to roll one trouser leg up and receive funny handshakes. I’m happy to report that was the case. The highlights for me was seeing the happy couple just that, happy and catching up with friends and acquaintances I’d not seen for many a moon. Tez wasn’t able to be there, but Heather was, so I was on her table at dinner.  I was particularly pleased to see Dave Scotter.  Dave is a friend and colleague of mine from my Rolls-Royce days and we’d not met for many years.  Painful joints, a result of the running Dave used to do, means he’s not too mobile, but healthy nevertheless. I was relieved given my conversation with Rupert you will remember from earlier. Even old friends I didn’t expect to talk to me actually did, which was nice, but that’s another story as the saying goes. Didn’t stay all night as I was feeling pretty tired by around 11:00PM.

Pedigree & The Daily Mail

Pedigree & The Daily Telegraph

Sunday arrived and the weather was still good. Felt lucky after a good lie in, but wishing Valynne was here.  Went out and bought a lot of Sunday papers. I really miss English newspapers which I could sometimes get in the US until a few years back, but they’ve stopped importing them now. Online viewing has led to the end of that one. Bit of a lazy day reading and catching up with work emails. Headed out to the Jonty Farmer at 3:30 to meet up with Tez for yes, you guessed it, a few pints. We watched the ‘footy’ on TV and went on to visit a few old and familiar pubs. Namely, the Seven Stars, Five Lamps, Old Flowerpot, Dolphin, Vines and finally met up with Heather in a pub whose name I don’t recall, not surprising by then. It was new I remember and used to be the old Engineer’s club, which I do remember. Went for a curry, my first of the trip, and it was heaven. Tez and Heather’s treat. England is still the best place for a good curry. Well, we said our goodbyes and I headed back to the hotel, in perhaps not such a straight line as when I left.

Mick

Mic

Monday morning and I’m heading south with London the end destination. I promised Adam (Pauline’s son) that I would call in and see his Dad on the way. I last saw Mic about seven years ago and about a year ago he suffered a bad accident when he accidently swallow dived down the stairs at home, landing on his head. He was in hospital several weeks and the recovery was very slow. Adam said he was much better, but that he’s not fully the Mick I would remember. I’m happy to report he was much better than I expected. He was much like his old self, but perhaps not quite as crazy.  Mick, Tez, Phil and I used to play as a team in the Derbyshire pub quiz league for many years. We even had a little TV fame once upon a time. It was good to see him and I’m only sad I didn’t get to meet his partner Bev. She was away doing what I was doing last week…hiking. Hopefully both Valynne and I will see her next time.

Time to get back in the car and in a couple of hours I was in Shefford, Bedfordshire  and staying with Keith and Ali in their lovely cottage. Keith and I both used to live in barn conversions on a farm near Ashbourne and we both worked at Rolls-Royce. We became good friends and now Keith is a big wig at Tui the travel and Airline Company. In fact Keith is heading to Seattle soon to supervise receipt of the new Boeing Dreamliner and he will fly back with it. Keith and Ali have been together for about, and I’m guessing, 12 years and have a lovely daughter called Eve. Although Keith and Ali were both working, I spent a lovely two days with them.

Eve & Ali

Eve & Ali

Wednesday morning and up early for the drive down to London. Raining outside and the first rain I’d seen since arriving in the UK. The distance to Heathrow from Keith and Ali’s is about 40 miles at the most, but it took me three hours. Driving into London early morning is not recommended. Dropped the car off at the rental place and the shuttle driver dropped me at the nearest tube station rather than take me to the airport terminal, which was good of him. A good tip when picking up a rental car in the UK is to pay in advance and use Travel Supermarket. I got a great rate with collision damage waiver and theft protection included. I paid something like $200 for 8 days for a Ford Focus diesel from Avis.

Ok, so now I’m on the Piccadilly line heading to my B&B accommodation in Chiswick, West London.  I was staying at the Wellness Home just around the corner from Turnham Green tube station, so I only had to lug my suitcase a short distance. The Wellness Home is a very pleasant private home providing organic breakfasts of fruit and cereals, cheeses, etc. Not the traditional English breakfast I’d been wolfing down, but a pleasant change and closer to my breakfast back home. I do hate single beds though. I dropped my bags off and headed back to the station. Because public transport in London is so good, it makes sense to stay somewhere like Chiswick or similar and avoid paying the very expensive hotels rates in town. After one change I was in downtown in about 25 minutes.  You can also take the bus, but of course that takes much longer. If you buy a day pass, you are good for tube and bus services.

I’d no real big plans for London other than to check out a few old haunts and do a little shopping. First stop was the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. They are next door to each other in Trafalgar Square and both are free to enter, although a small donation is always welcome. It’s fun and interesting to see all the famous faces from history. It’s often a challenge to see if you can guess the subject without referring to the guide. The National Gallery is much larger and one of my favorite places to visit and the collection is huge. I usually do the fast tour of my own design. I always like to check out the Van Gogh’s. When I look at a Van Gogh I can see something of the artist. The suffering and the anxiety that was a feature of his life seems to be reflected in the brush strokes somehow. By contrast, if you look at say a Canaletto, while technically brilliant, almost like a photograph, you don’t feel connected to the artist in the same way. One of my favorite paintings and Valynne has shared it with me, is Delaroche’s ‘Execution of Lady Jane Grey’. It’s a huge painting and portrays the moments preceding the death of Lady Jane Grey at the Tower of London in 1554. Jane was deposed by Mary only nine days after being proclaimed Queen in 1553. She was only 16 when executed. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I’m drawn to this painting. Check out the painting online, but it won’t replace the experience of seeing it for real.

It was now time for some refreshment so off to the French House in Soho. It may sound like a house of ill repute, but it’s actually a pub. They only serve half-pints, but mostly the patron’s drink wine. When living and working in or nearby London, I would always call at ‘the French’ as it’s known. The French was used during WWII as the headquarters of General De Gaulle and his ‘Free French” organization.  The French is also often frequented by actors and I once had the pleasure of standing at the bar, elbow to elbow with Peter O’Toole.

Next stop was Alfie’s Antique Market just off the Edgware Rd. I decided to walk and although a bit of a hike from the French, I do love walking around London. Soho used to be alive with strip clubs and the like, but while still in attendance, there is much less than say 10 to 15 years ago. It’s now the place to eat and be seen and to check out all the funky shops. I continued past Marlylebone station, which is one of about nine or 10 mainline railway stations in London and the one I used most frequently when travelling between home in Oxfordshire and London. There was a pang of regret when I walked past Lord’s Cricket Ground. My home team, Derbyshire, was playing there a couple of weeks earlier and I would have loved to have been there, but it wasn’t to be. You can actually take afternoon tea in the famous Long Room.  The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) founded in 1787 is the most famous cricket club in the world and one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, and its home is at Lord’s.

Alfie’s Antique Market is a huge collection of independent vendors under one roof and there is always something interesting to find and the prices are reasonable. I settled on small heart shaped porcelain Limoges trinket box. I thought Valynne would like it and she did.

I got back to the Wellness Home around five, showered, changed and headed out for dinner locally. Called at the George first to watch the footie and have a couple of pints. Went across the road to the local wine bar and for whatever reason I cannot remember what I had to eat. Perhaps it wasn’t that memorable.

The following morning I headed into the city again with my only real objective to have a good walk around, visit Borough Market for lunch and to do some last minute shopping.

I passed Stella McCartney’s shop and didn’t notice anything in the window that said wow. There was also an art gallery showing works by Ronnie Wood and he’s actually a very good artist.

Borough Market

Borough Market

Eventually found my way to Borough Market via the tube to London Bridge. I don’t know about you but I’m fascinated by markets and Borough is one of the best, nestled below the Victorian railway arches south of the river and in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, which has been a place of worship for more than a 1,000 years.  The market is mainly selling organic produce, but with a section for arts and crafts, jewelry and the like. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and I was heading for Roast. The actual restaurant looks down on the market, but I was heading for their take-away stall in the market proper. There you can get a variety of roast meats in a bun and eat as you wander. I started with the rare roast beef with horseradish.

Roast Menu

Roast Menu

About two hours later I couldn’t resist and went back for the roast pork with crackling and apple sauce and it was heaven. If you are looking for something unique in London I thoroughly recommend you pay a visit, but the full market is only open Thurs-Sat. There are plenty of other attractions about to make a visit to this less well known area of London a real pleasure. For example, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, where standing in the pit to take in the performance is always a fun experience. Close by is the Anchor which is the pub from where Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London of 1666 and recorded the event in his diary. There is also the George Inn along Borough High St which is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London and often frequented by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare himself. The pub is clearly marked as the ‘Gorge’ on a map of the area circa 1543. I was going to walk across London Bridge, but it was now starting to rain so I caught the tube. I could sense the weather was starting to change for the worse as I neared the end of my trip. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been with the weather.

I called in at Covent Garden to find something for Valynne and I got a lovely pair of earrings.  As usual the area was buzzing with people and on reflection I’d not noticed any obvious impact of the economic issues that have been plaguing Europe, in London at least. After a brief visit to the ‘French’ I headed back to Chiswick. Back at the B&B I rested a little, checked in for tomorrow’s flight, showered and headed out for dinner. I could only manage a pint and an appetizer as those roast sandwiches from earlier were still very much with me.

After an early night and a good sleep I awoke refreshed. Had a good healthy breakfast and chatted with some of the other guests. This one guy, from Jackson Hole, was a chiropractor and a semi-professional magician would you believe. He and his wife were meeting at the Magic Circle that evening. Don’t think I’ve ever met a real magician before.

Although my flight was not for several hours, I decided to check out and head for the airport. Checked in my bag and purchased extra leg room for 35 GBP and with an empty seat next to me. Nice.

Heathrow Ladies

Heathrow Ladies

For lunch I called in at the seafood bar for smoked salmon and a glass of something nice.  After some duty free shopping (nice bottle of single malt) I headed for the bar. The only available seat was with a group of girls who were obviously having a good time. I asked if I could use the seat and they insisted I join them. They were off to Majorca for a few days of sun and fun, but their flight was delayed and they were working their way through several bottles of Prosecco. They certainly livened up my afternoon and while I was in the bathroom they took a bunch of photographs with my camera, which I only came across when I downloaded to my iPad.

After an uneventful, but relaxing flight I was back in New York and heading for an overnight stay at the Marriott at La Guardia followed by a 6:00am to Albuquerque and I was sure pleased to see Valynne waiting for me at the station in Santa Fe. I enjoyed my trip, but it was good to be home.

 

Two Days at Ten Thousand Waves

Two Days at Ten Thousand Waves

Kimonos, Slippers, and Buddha Chocolates.  Ahhh.

Kimonos, Slippers, and Buddha Chocolates. Ahhh.

Paul and I wanted to do something different for our Birthdays this year, so we treated ourselves to two days and nights at ten thousand waves, a mountain spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Warm (Toilet Seat!) Welcome.

A Warm (Toilet Seat!) Welcome

Perhaps I am easily impressed, but I was pretty much in heaven before we even left our room.  The toilet included a heated seat and a bidet.  Another first for me.

The Star Lounge

The Star Lounge

I loved this little section of our room.  The ceiling was full of starlight that flickered through the night.  I am going to see about having this installed in my Airstream one day (I don’t yet own one).

Happy Head

Happy Head

This guy kind of freaked me out at first, but he grew on me.  We had our own little courtyard.  We spent all of our waking hours out here or at the spa.

Hibachi

Hibachi

Seeing this pleased me greatly.  My Dad used one of these as his main cooking source ~ probably still does.  My favorite hibachi (shichirin in Japanese) meal was veggie shish kabobs with teriyaki sauce.  We brought groceries with us (the restaurant doesn’t open until this fall) but having access to an outdoor oven didn’t even cross my mind.  Next time.

Paul in a Kimono

Paul in a Kimono

I thought Paul wore this quite well.  We left our western clothes in the suitcase as the kimonos were so comfortable.  Paul surprised me with Natalie Goldberg‘s latest book, The True Secret of Writing, and I read almost all of it while we lounged.  Ms. Goldberg lives in Santa Fe and will be at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse tonight.  I plan on going and will most likely be blogging about my experience.

Another Cool Statue

Another Cool Statue

This dragon statue lived next door.  I am really feeling dragons lately.  Not sure why.

Resting Along the Way to the Spa

Resting Along the Way to the Spa

We had a steep climb to the spa and thought this little outdoor couch was a great idea.  The small hike wasn’t an issue for us, but there is a shuttle for those who could use it.

Koi, or Nishikigoi

Koi, or Nishikigoi

I love the sound of running water and the koi ponds definitely added to the feeling of serenity throughout the spa.

Serenity

Serenity

 

Public Bath in the Morning

Public Bath

We spent an entire day at this public bath and I was able to get a picture of it between waves of naked people.  I told Paul I was going to title this blog post “Me and a Bunch of Naked Guys” but thought better of it.  It was interesting to observe the difference between sexes when it comes to nudity.  Guess who let it all hang out and who didn’t?

Private Bath in the Afternoon

Private Bath

We treated ourselves to a private bath, as well.  I love this picture of Paul, even if he is sunburnt (why he refuses to wear a hat I don’t know).  Along with the private bath, we each had a theraputic massage and salt scrub.  Thank you, Daniel and Dana!

This experience was so different for us.  I wasn’t sure how Paul would handle sitting in one place and relaxing for two days straight.  Come to find out, he really enjoyed himself and we are already making plans for our next little spa retreat.

My friend Sadie and I visited Ojo Caliente when she came out for a visit from Colorado, and I am looking forward to taking Paul there on our next spa adventure.  Are you a spa person?  If so, please share with us your favorite destinations.

Letterlust

Letterlust

A Glimpse of The Collection

This isn’t the first time I have written about collections, or handwritten letters in general. Both topics fascinate me, after all. I typically have an easy time letting go of material objects, and I don’t buy much “stuff” for myself or others, unless I truly believe it will be appreciated by the recipient and I can truly afford the expense. Yet, I am a hoarder of ephemera. Honestly, what you see above is just part of my collection. At least it is relatively light-weight and easy to haul and/or ship.

What does being a hoarder of ephemera even mean? It means that I am the person that has saved just about every little ticket stub ever handed back to me, every wedding invitation extended to me, and every post card and letter sent to me (how else could I keep track of all of the places I have lived?). I treasure journals and yearbooks, love notes from grammar school crushes, matchbooks from favorite establishments, creative business cards, and let’s not even get started on old photos. Oh, and it isn’t just personal. I love all ephemera, especially of the vintage variety.

I know that I am not alone, but it does seem that I am increasingly in the minority when it comes to things that have been easily replaced or tossed aside by technology. Please tell me. Do you collect ephemera? What kind? Or is there anything else that you collect that you feel you can’t/won’t ever voluntarily let go of? Books? Beads? Guitar picks? Records? Crystal? Matchbooks from vacations past?

*Leave me a comment between now and Saint Patrick’s Day and I will draw a name and send the winner a handwritten letter with my Waterman pen on some stationary or an old card. Your comment can be about anything – what you collect, why you collect it, the (lost?) art of all things handwritten, etc. etc. Rapport. It (still) matters to me.

 

 

 

39 Things to do Before 40 (Inspired by LifeOhm.com)

39 Things to do Before 40 (Inspired by LifeOhm.com)

Your Story Matters.

I met a Monica at a Portland Bloggers meeting back in September.  We are close in age (I’ve got a little more than a year before hitting the Big 4-0) and she caught my attention with a post titled “39 Things to do Before 40” on her Life Ohm blog.  I responded to her post with the comment you see below:

Thank you for the inspiration, Monica! Sounds like we are about the same age : ) I went with your 39 things to do before 40 theme…

  1. Finish writing our book
  2. Rent an Airstream for at least a week
  3. Get back to England to see Paul’s family & friends
  4. Take an Ayurveda class
  5. Join Toastmasters
  6. Pay off school loans (or at least a good chunk)
  7. Really learn to embroider
  8. Go back to a vegetarian diet
  9. Continue to grow my Beachbody business
  10. Spend more time with my little brother and sister
  11. Take a digital photography class
  12. Build up our Caretaking Couple business
  13. Sell the 4Runner (don’t need it here)
  14. Continue my search for vintage buttons & ephemera
  15. Join ancestry.com with my Mom
  16. Make my own toiletries and candles again (just for fun, not as a biz)
  17. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity
  18. Get back to my yoga classes (at Exhale)
  19. Start a poker night with new friends
  20. Calligraphy
  21. Polish up on my geography
  22. write a letter a week to a friend, family member, or stranger
  23. Blog on a regular basis (at least 3x a week)
  24. Garden (4 raised organic beds at our new digs – yay!)
  25. Get a monthly massage
  26. Finish my scrapbooking projects
  27. Run
  28. Find a tennis partner
  29. Learn how to play my guitar
  30. Go ziplining
  31. Continue vision boarding
  32. Visit my friend Laura in Valencia, Spain
  33. Treat myself to a spa day (for the first time)
  34. Practice more acts of random kindness
  35. Finally visit Pike Place Market!
  36. Figure out all (or at least most) of the functions on my Mac & use them
  37. Continue to transform our rental house into a “home”
  38. Get into the habit of staying in the moment
  39. Focus on people and projects that bring me joy

I would love to keep in touch with you regarding our lists ~ maybe revisit them periodically. Seems we have a lot in common!

V

This (like the vision boarding) has been a fun and enlightening process for me, and I encourage you to make your own list.  You don’t have to be turning 40 in order to play ~ just come up with a list of things that you would like to accomplish by a certain date.  And if you feel like sharing said list, please do.

PS I have crossed a few things off since September ~ feels good!

Goodbye, Tennessee

Goodbye, Tennessee

Our six month sit in Tennessee has come to an end.  While Signal Mountain wasn’t really “us”, it was a good place to hunker.   When we did go out, it was to Chattanooga.

I will miss my yoga classes at North Shore Yoga (Sunday mornings with Kay, especially), hiking Signal Point with Paul (and JohnE!), and the Monday evening writer’s group at Signal Mountain Library.

All has been quiet on the blogging front, but I did get a lot of writing done.  My book was finished…until it wasn’t. These guys helped me to clarify where I am going with it and to realize the errors of my grammatical ways.  BIG thanks to Bruce, Frank, and Joe!

Two of My Signal Mountain Library Writing Group Mentors, Frank & Bruce

It won’t be quite the same, but we are going to continue to critique each others work from afar.  I will start seriously looking for a publisher in Portland, Oregon.  Our next sit will be in the Alberta Arts District, beginning in late June.

It has been two weeks since we left Tennessee (ending with a short but sweet visit with Peg and Owen in Memphis on the way out). Since then, we have been to Louisiana (New Orleans), Nevada (Las Vegas), and Arizona (Sedona & Jerome).

I will be blogging about each of those places in the next few days.

We are back in Louisiana now, on a two week sit in Lake Charles.  Yes, it is very hot here in June!  Lucky for us, we are staying in a nice, cool home with a swimming pool out back.  I don’t have too much else to share as we just arrived…

I can tell you this much; the food is really YUMMY (can you say Etouffee?) and the people are really friendly (excepting the local who murdered his estranged wife on Sunday and is on the lam.  In the general vicinity.  Doors are locked).

It is time to get back into my Beachbody routine (drinking Shakeology each morning and working out in the evening is a good place to start).  I have been a bit naughty (might as well fess up now, as future posts will only give me away)…

P.S. Please forgive the lack of pictures as I am struggling to upload them at present.  I don’t know if it is a WordPress issue, an i-Photo issue, or simply (and most likely) a Valynne issue.

P.P.S.  Just found out Grayson Capps is playing at a local coffee shop next week (happy dance)!  I think I like it here : )

 

An Interview with Andrew Collins, the County Hunter

An Interview with Andrew Collins, the County Hunter

Last Spring, I took my first online class. It was a travel writing course through Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Initially, I was reluctant to go this route. I did it anyway and found it to be just as effective, if not more so than the traditional classroom setting. Andrew Collins was my travel writing teacher. He is a bit of a hero in my book. You are about to find out why.

Andrew Collins in Alaska

1. Andrew, when and how did you figure out that you could travel, then write about your travels, and (gasp) actually get paid for it?

I sort of lucked into the perfect job right out of college, as an editorial assistant for the guidebook publisher Fodor’s. I worked my way up to Associate Editor in about two years, but realized early on that I’d rather be out traveling and writing than in and office editing. So at age 23, too young and foolish to know any better, I quit to embark on a freelance career. I’ve been working for myself ever since.

2. Who do you currently write for? How does it work? Do you go where they send you, or do you go where you want, write about it, and submit the article? Or does it vary?

It varies greatly. I still work on several Fodor’s guides each year, both as a writer and editor – the New Mexico, Arizona, Pacific Northwest, France, and Ireland guides are the ones I most recently worked on. For some clients, like the website About.com for whom I run the “gay travel” channel – I’m basically free to produce as much content as I’d like, and pretty much on any part of the world. I’ve worked for other guidebook companies, too, and right now I’m working on my first app, a guide to Portland on food and restaurants. I’m hoping to finish that this spring.

Then there are the occasional one-off jobs – writing stories for certain magazines or, more commonly these days, websites. And finally there are the custom-publishing clients – everything from tourism offices to travel services companies, like Orbitz and TripAdvisor, for whom I’m often hired to write editorial copy. Much of the latter is without a byline and not especially glamorous, but it tends to pay relatively well. I find it all pretty enjoyable, though. As long as I’m able to support myself traveling, and I’m able to do so with relative autonomy, I consider myself very fortunate.

3. You just introduced your own blog, The County Hunter. What do you hope to accomplish with said blog? And what camera do you use?!? I want one.

I did – well, I kicked things off anyway, with four posts this fall. Then, as I feared might happen, I became caught up with too many other work projects and had to set it aside. I hope to start it back up again very soon. My aim is simply to write more in my own voice, and according to my own interests, about what I see in my travels – I’m on the road about half the time, and I spend a good bit of that driving across country.

As the name of my blog The County Hunter suggests, my goal is to visit every county in the United States (I’m up to about 1,960 out of 3,168), but that’s really just a fun (to me) excuse for trying to take plenty of back roads and visit a variety of both major and more out-of-the-way communities. I’ve always most enjoyed writing in my own voice, as an end in itself, but to pay the bills, I obviously have to take on quite a few consumer-oriented jobs – the guidebooks and custom publishing, for instance. As I mentioned before, it’s all enjoyable to me, but I’m happiest when I get to write simply as me.

I use a couple of point-and-shoot cameras – both Canon. One is a smaller one that I tend to use more in restaurants, bars, and tighter spots where a compact size is important. And the other is larger and has more bells and whistles – a good mix of manual settings. Increasingly, I shoot pretty decent images with my Droid. Honestly, I don’t think much about cameras and equipment (I couldn’t even tell you the models off the top of my head) – I take hundreds of pictures, everywhere I go, and some I spend more time setting up than others. But mostly I just snap away, and in the end, I usually end up with a few pretty impressive images from every batch. If you can knock out two or three stunners per every hundred, you’re doing fine if your goal is simple to document your adventures compellingly on the Web.

Of course, I also use my camera to take notes, visually – I take pictures of signs and exhibit markers, I shoot in poor light knowing full well sometimes that I’m going to end up with some blurry or poor shots. But in these cases, I’m just shooting to capture details I’ll need when I get down to writing.

4. Tell us about a couple of your favorite places to visit. What do you love about them? Do you always work when you travel, or are some trips dubbed “vacation only”?

There’s always an element of work to every trip, even if the main drive is, say, getting away with friends. Every summer I rent a beach house on the Oregon coast, in this cool little town called Manzanita, for a week with a few friends. I guess that’s as close to a vacation as I do, but even on that trip, I’m always working a fair amount – a couple of hours most mornings on the computer, at least. But there’s always the opportunity for work, wherever I go, and that’s a happy thing to me – it’s ideal. I can be in some of my favorite places – the mountains around Taos and Santa Fe, the Oregon coast, the Sonoma Wine Country, northern New England, New Orleans, Buenos Aires, just about anywhere in Spain – and I’ll always be able to create content for the About.com site, and potentially for other outlets, wherever I am.

I have a very hard time narrowing down any sort of definitive list of favorite places – those I just named are some of the top ones for me. I can live anywhere, and the last two places I’ve lived – Portland, OR for the past three-and-a-half years and northern New Mexico for seven years before that – I chose simply on the basis of my having loved visiting them.

For seven years before I moved to New Mexico, I didn’t live anywhere. Just floated around, drove across country for months at a time, took house- and pet-sitting jobs, crashed on sofas, stayed with relatives and friends, and so on. I loved every minute of it, but in the past decade I’ve come around to the idea of having a home base again. Now I make it a goal to spend at least 15 days of every month at home – as you know from my constantly posting pictures of them on Facebook, I have three cats back there in Portland, not to mention many good friends there. So I balance travel and home now, and in my travels, I just go wherever I feel like going.

Outside Salvador Calatrava's Hemispheric, at the City of Arts and Sciences, in Valencia, Spain

5. What is your preferred method of travel? What makes it better than the others, in your opinion?

I’m a huge fan of road trips. Few activities make me happier than driving someplace scenic, and I also feel a certain sense of happiness just from learning a city or region well, to the point of not needing maps or GPS. That’s gratifying to me. So the cross-country trip I’m currently in the middle of, that’s been a blast. And this past summer, I spent two weeks in Spain with a friend, and we rented a car. I drove, and we logged the equivalent of driving from Vancouver to San Diego over those 14 days – loved it. I like the freedom that a car affords you.

I fly often, too, and I like trains but don’t use them especially often, mostly because although I enjoy gazing out the window, I don’t find they’re as liberating as a car – in terms of just setting off when you feel like it, and turning down whatever little dirt road or remote highway looks interesting.

On a more localized level, I jog a lot in my travels – it’s a good way to balance all that I’m eating (which is a lot), and an excellent way to “tour” a neighborhood or explore a beach or trail.

6. Like Paul and I, you house and pet sat for some time. How did you go about finding the gigs? What were some of the pros and cons for you?

I did sit for quite a few years, mostly for a good friend in Greenwich Village with two cool cats and a beautiful apartment. Her work took her on the road for a couple of weeks every few months, so this was a perfect fit for me. And then sporadic opportunities came up – all just word of mouth, and nothing longer than two weeks. I’m too much on the move to commit to anything longer than that, and these days, because I do like to be home half the time, I take on house- and pet-sitting jobs far less often. I sat for friends with a place in Santa Fe for a week last June, which was great – that’s one city I get back to as often as possible. But mostly, these days, I visit a town or city for not much more than two to four days before moving on.

7. We are considering an apartment or something simple and inexpensive to call home in between sits. Would you recommend this?

That’s hard to answer – for me, I like having a home base now, as I mentioned above. But back when I had no home base, I was fine without one. I had no pets, and the lifestyle just suited me well. Even now, I have a one-bedroom, and that’s as big as I could want. I rent and have no desire to own, and I have an informal policy of not adding anything new to the house (furniture, books, etc.) without getting rid of something comparable to offset the acquisition. I come from a family of pack rats, and I’ve sort of broken away from that tendency, which was actually very strong in me years ago.

Again, though, it just comes back to what you’re comfortable with. I would recommend your current approach sometime before you decide.

8. Do you think you will ever want to settle down in one spot permanently? If so, do you have an idea of where this spot would be?

I’m very much at home in Portland – I could see that remaining my base indefinitely. But I’m not overly attached to the idea of staying in one place for long – there are plenty of places I could live happily for a year or two, or even several years. I couldn’t even begin to guess whether I’ll still be in Portland in five years, but I’d say that of all the cities I’ve visited, and certainly all those I’ve lived in, it’s my favorite in terms of being a happy home headquarters.

9. What advice do you have for those of us looking to break in to this line of work? Has the internet made it more or less difficult to be a travel writer?

The answers to these questions are both potentially a bit complicated – well, let’s just say I could probably write a long book to answer the first one, and at least a long article to answer the other. In a nutshell, as far as breaking in, you just have to be persistent and dedicated to the objective of writing for an audience – of getting your words before as many sets of eyes as possible. It’s not easy to break in, and it’s exceptionally difficult to make a living solely from writing about travel. I had the advantage of getting a job first in travel publishing, and that’s definitely one very good way to get your foot in. Had I simply tried striking out on my own, with no connections or workplace experience, I’m not sure I’d have succeeded.

On the balance, the Internet continues to make it easier and easier for writers and readers to find each other – through blogging, commercial sites, and so on. Has the Internet made it easier for writers to earn a decent living? My guess is it’s no harder or easier now than it was a decade ago to earn enough as a writer to support yourself. But the Web has provided countless more opportunities to write semi-professionally – that is, to get published, and to earn at least a modest return on that writing.

10. What are your plans for the next year or two? Any dream projects you are about to embark on? Let me know if you will be needing an assistant…

Haha…I always get asked, albeit mostly jokingly, about the assistant thing. Honestly, I’ve tried hiring assistants here and there, on a very limited basis. I’m terrible at delegating. And I’m happiest doing things on my own, even though I do travel about half the time with friends, some of whom are also travel writers.

I can’t really say I have a dream project per se – I’d like to work more on my CountyHunter blog, and perhaps develop that into a book of some kind (maybe purely an online book, or just keep it as a blog, or develop an app…you see? the Web really has opened plenty of doors for distributing information – for reaching readers). I’ve never sat down and worked out specific goals and objectives, though. I want to travel about half the time, and I want to share what I discover in my travels with any who might be amused or interested. And at the end of each year, I’d like to have earned a nickel more than I spent. That’s all. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still probably approach it all about the same way.

Arches National Park in Moab

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Andrew.  I really appreciate it!  Can’t wait to see your Portland food and restaurants app, especially as it looks like we will be sitting in your neck of the woods this summer : )

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