And as for me, I shall go somewhere…

If you have access to news, you’ll probably see there has been a rash of deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic. Folks looking for a beautiful vacation at seemingly safe resorts ending up mysteriously dead, one woman dragged off the path and beaten within an inch of her life, and people mysteriously getting sick. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were targeting American’t specifically. I’ve never been to that region, so I’m not really sure what it’s really like. Folks I know who have been there say “as long as you stay at the resort and don’t go anywhere, you’re fine.”

Sounds friggen’ horrible.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t much care to travel to a resort where I can’t leave, can’t experience the locals and the true place I am visiting. I might as well be visiting Epcot and experiencing the world that way. What good is it to travel and not fully experience the place? If I’m only allowed to stay at the hotel, and have to be frightened of being beaten or killed if I step outside their gates, then I’m thinking maybe that’s just not the place for me to go. It reminds me when I had an apartment I chose not fully knowing the area. Late at night, I sometimes heard gunshots. I remember singing, like Ariel “I want to be…where the gunshots aren’t. I moved to a place I felt safer.

The thing that concerned me, outside of the actual events of these people getting injured or killed, was how some people reacted. “I’ll never leave the US!” many said. “I have everything I need right here in the US!” Some of those commenting had likely never even left their own STATE I saw posted more than once on social media. It occurred to me how boxed in many people make themselves. To have this big, beautiful world, with so many cultures, foods, and places to see, and then to ignore it all, and not even TRY to get out there seems like such an inherent waste to me.

Look, I am far from a world traveler but I HAVE traveled quite a bit in my lifetime. There are many, many places I want to somehow visit in my lifetime. This world has so many beautiful opportunities and places that call to me. There is something different about people who travel to various places. They seem more worldly, often more tolerant of differences, and more open to new ideas. They seem less complacent.

A few of my cousins have set off on some major traveling excursions. I saw pictures of her at the airport, bright, wide eyed and looking excited. Over the next few weeks, I saw pictures of her show up on social media, meeting an elephant, sitting with an African tribe, and beaming with joy in some of the most beautiful photos I have ever seen. Pictures of African sunsets and the people that live there…each picture more stunning than the rest, yet she had LIVED it for a short time. I have no doubt she came back with an expanded mind from all she saw.

My other cousin went to India to work. I’d never much thought about travelling to India, but her experience opened my mind. I began to see how beautful some areas were and wondered why it had never really crossed my mind to go there.

Another cousin just MOVED to Australia. I was shocked. Sure, I packed up and moved 300 miles away from my parents. She moved half way across the WORLD. Each picture, each mention calls to my soul to go there. It looks amazing. I actually think I would suck it up and do the monsterous journey just for the experience.

I know, I know, for most, travel to foreign lands seems so out of reach. I often wondered how I could afford to get all four of us to England last year. I scrimped and saved, carefully watched prices on flights, and gave up a few little things. I stopped eating lunch at work. At $5-10 a day, that EASILY added up to a big monthly payment to put towards the trip. I made my own coffee at home, saving several dollars a week. I put the funds in a special account, not easily accessible, so I wouldn’t be able to pull them out and spend them on a whim. Such small changes made a huge difference.

Are there places in the US I would like to visit? Of COURSE! I have a friend who I believe will always be a part of my girl tribe, but I’ve never met her in person. I’m dying to fly down south to meet her sometime. I have friends around the US that I want to visit, and places I want to see. I want my kids to see new places, and experience new experiences they can’t easily do so here.

When I took my kids to England, they LOVED it. As in, they loved it so much they begged to go back. One child proclaimed they were seriously thinking about moving to England when they get older. They felt a light in their heart there. It is a slower, easier paced life, and they LOVED it. They loved having all their other cousins around, seeing things they don’t see here at home, and trying new experiences. It was eye opening to them. They came home with a fire, and I loved it. Hopefully we can get back sooner rather than later. Time to save those pennies!!

If you travel, find a place you feel safe and you can see more than just a resort. See the locals, the customs, the traditions. Taste the local food. Learn the local language (at least a few words) and make as many wonderful memories as you can. Right now, the Dominican Republic may not be the best place. Hopefully one day things will be better and it will be safer than it feels to many right now.

My point being, please don’t lock yourself into a mental box and think you shouldn’t travel. You SHOULD. It will make you a better person more often than not. It will open your eyes to so many things, and give you experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. Eat cheaply, save pennies, have a tag sale, whatever you can do to save a few bucks. Instead of buying that new outfit or new item you’ll be donating in two years, invest in yourself and invest in TRAVEL.

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Creating Happiness

This year I started off super antsy. After coming out of a year where the family and I took an amazing trip back to England, I came eager to travel some more. I always come back from England, where I was born, feeling nostalgic, yearning for a simpler, more country based life, and feeling a strong pull to go back. January has felt like it’s been 85 days long already, and I found myself starting the month off NEEDING change in whatever form I can get. I need some change, and I need things to look forward to. It brings me happiness.

I’ve always been a firm believer that one CHOOSES to be happy. As someone who grew up struggling with depression and anxiety, I had to make some solid life changes. It had become so bad I was in a very dark, sad place. I woke up one day and realized just how bad it had gotten, and knew something had to change. Depression is much deeper than a simple attitude shift, trust me, I know. That being said, the first step for me in learning to manage and come out the other side of depression was to find ways of changing my mindset. The first thing I needed to realize was that I can’t always change a situation, but I can change my mindset about how to deal with it. I can choose how I look at things, or research things to learn to see things a different way. Once I started choosing and really trying to look at things from different perspectives, I noticed a break in the doom and gloom. It helped me to start the process of managing things much better.

My mom once told me…”no matter how bad things get, someone is always worse off than you”, which helps to keep things in perspective sometimes. I remember my dad recounting a story of when my parents when to a huge business dinner in NYC. The dinner was a big deal, and mother, despite being in terrible pain from a degenerating disc in her spine, was determined to go. She needed a cane, and was struggling to walk. My father looked at her, struggling, and said “maybe we should just go back to the room and forget the dinner….you don’t have to put yourself through this”. My mother turned and said “I’ve been looking forward to this dinner for ages, and remember, no matter how bad things get, there is always someone who has it harder, or worse off than me. I can do this!”. Just then the elevator door opened, and inside was a man who only had one leg. My mother glanced at my father and proceeded to head to dinner. She knew that happiness is realizing what you have, that things could always be worse, and being grateful that your struggles are your own. Someone once said if everyone threw their stuggles in a bowl, most of us would all grab our own back. Frankly, we don’t know what others are dealing with, and at the end of the day, struggles are often minimal when you see what others are struggling with. I am an oft repeater of “silver linings!” Even when things are bad, one can usually find a silver lining if they look harder enough. Even if it’s a small one.

But I digress.

Winter is a tough time for many, especially those with depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder. While I don’t struggle like I used to, I do make a conscious choice to plan things to look forward to. Why? Because on a bad day, I can look at my calendar and despite the busy chaos, I can see a vacation, a trip, or a school event I am happy about. This reminds me that happy days are ahead. I am excited to go visit my dad soon. This usually also entails not only a happy time with him and my step mom, but also a dinner out with my close friends I don’t get to see very often. Always fun. I am excited about a family vacation I have planned. While it won’t be cheap, it gives me a goal, something to work towards, and something exciting to share with the husband and kids. I have a few day trips planned, one just by myself, to spend a day wandering and sight seeing. There is a school field trip I am chaperoning, which made my daughter beam ear to ear when I told her.

These trips and events keep me looking forward in a positive manner. I LOVE my job and what I do, but I have stressful days like everyone else. On those stressful days, I remind myself those extra hours or that hard work is earning me money towards a vacation. When I am cleaning the house (which admittedly I’m not great at….have you seen the title of my blog?) and I find change people have left everywhere, I am at least excited to put it in the vacation fund. When January hit and stomach bugs and flu arrived at our house, I console myself that we’re getting it out of the way now and will be healthy again hopefully for the happy events planned. Having something to look forward to brings happiness.

Not only do I plan the event, I plan little, simple things about it that bring me joy. Some of these revolve around food. That probably explains why I am working on losing some weight….10 pounds down so far! For example, the trip to NYC I have in mind. I am already planning and excited to go to Tea and Sympathy for dessert. Why? Because they have one of my favorites there. It’s a British tea shop, and their rhubarb and custard reminds me of being a kid in England. When visiting my dad I always go for fajitas at my favorite place. It was a place I used to go to with my mom. While the food is delicious, the memories it conjures up are happy ones spent with my parents and friends. Happiness is a feeling, and being as sentimental as I am, I always lean towards it.

Looks like it’s going to be an exciting (and yummy!) year!

Our UK Vaca!

Picture from the “Princess and the Pea” room at Chatsworth. Also how it felt crawling into bed upon our return. What a sleep!

Well, we made it back from England, safe and sound. Actually, we made it back sleepy, cranky, sweaty and breathless from running to catch a plane, but all in all, full of good memories. I am learning more and more about how our family likes to vacation, which will help me plan trips better in the future.  What I’ve learned is that we like a trip with some downtime, peppered with interesting things to do, and moments of making our own fun. It’s the people and places that make it special.

We arrived in England on Thanksgiving.  It was weird to leave a country so invested in the food and holiday of Thanksgiving and arrive to a place that didn’t acknowledge it at all.  Because we flew overnight, I found the rest of the week I stumbled through a sort of time warp, not knowing what day it was.  Our flights were uneventful.  The rental car situation, however, was not. I had purposefully rented the same type of car I drive in the US.  I knew it was big enough for us and our luggage, without being too big to park or tackle UK roads.  The area we were staying in was full of small, tight British roads, with a mix of one lane country roads and tiny villages.  I had figured tackling the above in a car I was familiar in was a good plan, especially as I was driving on the right side of the car, left side of the road.   When I arrived at Hertz, however, I was promptly told they didn’t have the car I’d reserved, nor anything similar. “You do,” I ignorantly replied “I’ve reserved one.”  Not so much.  My only options were a tiny car too small for our basic needs of people and bags, or a Mercedes. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Except the Mercedes was a 9 passenger van,  It was HUUUUUGE.  I was left with no choice.  I needed a car we could fit in.  The passenger van was the only option.

Y’all, when I tell you this thing was big by American standards, you can only imagine how big it was by English standards.  It was a bit of a gas hog, so a half a tank of diesel cost me over 50 pounds.  It was difficult to park in the tiny lots designed for tiny cars.  The struggle was real.  Honestly, I was glad we had it fully insured, because I was nervous through most of the trip.  We got lost a couple of times, and the GPS took us down one lane country roads through sheep fields, with a stone wall on each side and no space to pull over.  I’m not a religious person, but even I caught myself saying little prayers that no car would come from the other direction, because one of us would have to reverse, and I couldn’t see out the back window well of this monster. My husband grew tired of me giving myself props for navigating that beast as well as I did.  I was proud of myself.  50mph hairpin turns down tiny country roads?  Nailed it. Returning the car was a hot mess, however.  I pulled in and the attendant from Hertz pointed to a tiny parking spot.  No way could I have gotten the beast in there without risking the cars on either side.  I told him that wouldn’t work.  He pointed to another equally tiny spot with cars parked crookedly either side.  He got angry and said he’d park it.  He literally missed the car next to him by an inch, but gave himself almost no room to exit the car.  He squeezed out, and told me to get in.  I did, figuring he was processing the return.  He then shouted at me “will you please leave?!”  Needless to say, Hertz won’t be a company I’ll be using in the future.  I messaged them, got no response.  

During the trip, we stayed with my aunt and uncle, two of my favorite people.  They have a house in the countryside, and are antique dealers.  We spent our first day hanging at the house with them, having an easy day.  The following day, we hit the pub with them and my cousin for her birthday and had lunch.  It was delightful and laid back.  Saturday was spent preparing for my cousin’s birthday bash.  My daughter had begged for us to wear matching dresses, and I didn’t disappoint.  We had similar dresses, matching cardigans, and matching shoes.  The smile on her face made all the hard work and money spent getting her the right dress all worthwhile.  One of the best parts of the night was having such a large group of family all in one place. Normally there are folks I don’t get to see due to distance or time constraints, but we had a large group of us.  Many beers later, we were all singing Queen to finish out the night.  Perfection.

I got to visit my grandfather while I was there. He looked good.  Thinner, older, since my last visit.  Since that time, my grandmother had passed, he had been ill, taken a few falls, so all in all I thought he looked well.  An added bonus was that my dad flew over to meet up with us (he goes to look after my grandfather every other month) so 4 generations all sat in the living room catching up.  As members of my family have slowly died off, it doesn’t escape me how special that moment was to have all of us together.  My grandfather handed me a beautiful pearl necklace belonging to my grandmother, and asked my dad to take me to her grave, which he did.  

Another amazing aspect of the trip was our visit to Chatsworth.  If you’ve never heard of it, please take a peek here: https://www.chatsworth.org
because it’s simply an amazing place with a lot of history.  Each Christmas, they decorate the house in a theme.  This year’s theme was Once Upon a Time, focusing on fairy tales or children’s stories.  Everything was stunning.  After walking through the house in awe, we stepped outside where there was a beautiful Christmas market.  All the vendors had little wooden huts to sell their wares from.  You felt almost back in time.  I fell in love with a few things but knew I couldn’t tote them back in my suitcase, so I had to step away.  It kept raining while we strolled the market, until finally we got so wet we decided to call it a day.  In true “our luck” fashion, as soon as we pulled out to leave, the sky turned blue again.  Regardless, we had such a great time, and it was a perfect start to our day. 

We also walked the Tissington Trail and meandered around Tissington Village.  This is a tiny place that will take you back in time and make you wonder what year it is.  The church has big arches and beautiful stained glass windows that bring the light in.  Some info on Tissington (click on take a photo tour) is here: http://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Derbyshire/Tissington

One of my favorite moments of the trip was our visit to Bakewell. The village of Bakewell is pretty and was quite busy.  As we parked at the Agricultural center (perfect place to mark the monster van) we strolled over the bridge crossing the little river to head into town.  The bridge was covered with “love locks”, which is where people take padlocks, write their initials or loved ones names on, and attach them to the bridge.  I’ve seen this done in Pittsburgh on my travels, and have always wanted to do one.  Silly, I suppose, but I love sentimental things like that.  As we strolled the village, I saw a sign in a shope window advertising they have and engrave love locks, so we went in and purchased one.  The thing was HUGE.  We had our family name, and hometown with USA engraved on it, and set off to find the perfect spot.  If you’re ever in Bakewell, as you cross to head into the town, on the right side, 3 sections from the end of the bridge, you’ll see a huge lock…that’s ours. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time with my cousins as I would have liked.  Their work schedules didn’t allow them much free time or they had stuff going on.  It’s hard, because I miss them so much, but I get the life gets busy. One cousin, thought she was working long hours and had a ton of stuff going on, was a rockstar in her efforts to make our trip special.  She got us the tickets to Chatsworth and also made my daughter’s vacation bucket list complete.   She has two horses, and my daughter has been asking about those horses for well over a year.  My cousin took us up to the stable one night and let my little one pet, brush and feed the horses, as well as give them carrots and apples.  Whereas I was a bit nervous around such giant, majestic animals so much bigger than I, my daughter had no fear, introducing herself to all the horses in the stables, giving them a carrot, and gentle stroking their noses. She was a natural, clearly something that runs in my family but skipped me. The last full day of our trip, after we’d walked around Tissington, we planned to go to a pub at the end of the trail where we had parked.  The stables were within walking distance, so my cousin had us meet her there. Her big horse was saddled and ready to ride.  She put my daughter up on the horse and walked her to the pub where my dad met us for dinner.  My daughter beamed from ear to ear, absolutely thrilled to pieces.  My cousin walked, leading the horse, while my daughter sat on the horse, so proud and happy I almost cried a little with joy myself.  I knew a little girl’s vacation dreams had come true when she responded “I really think we should move to England….or at least, can we come back for my birthday?” Sorry kiddo, it’s a little out of my budget to just jet back and forth, but yes, we’ll be back. 

I stopped at my mother’s grave to say hello and goodbye.  I always do.  I also popped by my grandparents grave to do the same.  I mentioned I would love a sign.  On the way to the airport to come home, I noticed the car in front of us had a bee sticker on it that resembled my tattoo. Bees are a symbol I relate to my grandmother.  In fact, one of the things I learned during my trip was that my younger cousin also had a bee tattoo for her.  I felt like I got my sign.  

I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got on the plane.  I was so incredibly tired I went into the plane lavatory and had a quick cry, like a toddler does when they are overtired and cry about nothing.  I composed myself, went back to my seat, and watched a movie to stay awake so I could make sure my daughter ate.  If she doesn’t eat, and she’s tired, she gets beastly.  Afterwards, I was so tired I couldn’t even recall the movie I watched when my husband asked me.  I was in a fog. I got home, fell asleep at 7 PM and slept for 15 hours straight.  I hadn’t slept well much in England due to the sinus infection, so my sleep bank needed refilling in a big way.  I woke up feeling like a new person.

All in all, a fantastic trip.  I can’t wait to go back.  

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