Archive for the ‘Misc. Thoughts’ Category

I said in a previous post that I’ve spent a lot of time travelling recently.  As a lover of travel, and carry-on luggage and free airport WiFi, I’m always happy to travel for work, but even my enthusiasm dwindles after three solid weeks of it. 

It’s easy during a work trip to basically stay put at the hotel or the client’s office and shuttle between the two without really exploring the city you’re visiting.  You’re working after all, so you’re on someone else’s schedule and dime.  In order to make the best of my precious free time in a new place, here’s what I do.

1. Go running.  I like running in a new city to orient myself, and it’s also a much faster way to take in the sights than a walk.  In San Francisco a few weeks back, my colleague and I took an early morning run to see the sea lions on Fisherman’s Wharf before catching our flight home.  An early morning run in Palm Beach last week was also a great way to check out the amazing houses off the main boulevards, where I had to spend the workdays.

2. Do some restaurant research.  It is way too easy to eat at the hotel restaurant during a business trip.  It’s just so close and convenient, and adding the expense to your hotel bill does make those expense reports a little less complicated.  But I love food and I love restaurants it’s sacrilegious in my book not to make the most of a new city to try a new fun restaurant.  A cab ride to a different neighborhood away from your hotel home base never hurt anyone.  I particularly enjoyed Café Gratitude in San Francisco, and a cute Thai place in Boston last week. 

3. Talk to people.  I visited Palm Beach last week, and it was my first visit to the area.  I chatted with a woman at a café about the cities surrounding the area (we were only an hour or two from Miami!), and how we were in the slow tourist season (since it gets so hot during the summer).  She also gave me a good tip about where to run.  Locals know what to do and where to go – go figure.  Use them.  The woman I met was thrilled to give me some pointers.

4. Don’t drink too much.  I know how tempting it can be to party it up when you’re away from home without the normal responsibilities of life.  Sometimes colleagues or clients make it extra tempting to make bad decisions late into the night.  But wow.  Flying home after one of these little escapades is never fun.  On my 5 hour flight cross-country two weeks ago, I was sandwiched between two other business travelers who had both had way too much fun the night before.  They were hurting, and it wasn’t pretty.  I got to spend the flight watching reruns on Bravo while they popped lots of medicine and moaned and groaned about work the next day. 

This weekend I’m taking a short-ish road trip to visit my old roommate in Connecticut – we used to spend our Easters together so it should be like old times.   I expect my next post will be about the woes of high gas prices.   


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I promise this is the last time I will complain about the weather of the newly passed winter.  Pinky swear.  After spending January in flip-flops, while our home was battered with weekly blizzards, we hoped that February and March would be good to our thinned blood.  Um, no.  Old Man Winter had his way with the Northeast in early 2011, and all I can say as we approach April is good riddance!  Actually, I hear that our first April weekend might see some snow!?!?!  Seriously?!?!?  How is one supposed to remain sane during this cruel April Fools joke?

Anyway, I thought I would post a few shots that I took over the past couple months – the first snowy series is from mid-February, and the last couple are from last weekend (end of March).  What a difference a month makes, true, but these non-snowy pictures were taken in 30 degree temps, so it’s not as amazing as it looks.  And we still have a snow pile on our driveway.  Hello April.

Basil clearly doesn't mind the snow in his eye.

this picture is of the 'shallow' area that we dig for him to run in.

the melting snow means that the ground is atwitter with good smells and dead animals

Clearly, the line between winter and spring is still a little blurry in these parts

And with that, my lips are sealed and my complaining finished for the year….unless we have a crazy Nor’easter like we did back in 2006 that people still talk about and then I can’t promise anything…

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In the weeks since we gave up our cable TV, both Drew and I have slowly begun to make more changes that reflect our desire to spend more time/money/energy in areas that we really care about and less of those things in areas that we really don’t value.

For example, early this month Drew joined our local YMCA.  He and a buddy play squash twice a week there, and for months, he was just paying the per day fee each time they played (when they were playing once every week or so).  They decided to increase their visits, which made getting a membership a better solution than just paying the fee each time.  It was a pretty big financial commitment (at least in our city, where you can get many gym memberships for less than $30/month), with a large starting fee, but he figures that not only will the monthly payment motivate him to use the membership but now he can go more frequently to play pick-up basketball games and racquetball with other people. 

Another health related item that I’ve reconsidered is my devotion to hot yoga.  I love it and it’s important to me to include it at least once a week in my fitness regimen.  However, it ain’t cheap – each class is $12 – $15 depending on the studio, etc.  I have 11 classes left in a package at my favorite studio (Christmas gift) so in a couple short months I’ll need to decide how I want to move forward.  A local athletic clothing store has a cool marketing tactic where they ‘sponsor’ free yoga classes once a week at surrounding studios – it’s a way to develop brand loyalty to the clothes, and get new people in the door at studios.  With this little discovery, I can essentially double the amount of yoga I do without any added cost, and try out new studios and instructors as I please. 

Finally, and maybe most groundbreaking, I decided to downgrade my cell phone.  I’ve had a Blackberry for a couple years, and I’m not gonna lie, the iPhone is also a tempting little toy.  All the bells and whistles that these fancy phones provide are a nice time killer in a waiting room or airport, but I honestly don’t use those features much beyond that.  Plus, I don’t really care about getting all of my email the second it lands in my Inbox – I sit near a computer for most of my life and can check it every minute if I want to.  Our contract was up recently, so I just bit the bullet and went back to a ‘normal phone.’  I was surprised when we were browsing in the store that the sales associates readily refer to the most expensive phones as the better than the lesser expensive phones (as in, “when I upgraded to a better phone…”).  I think it’s an interesting observation given that in reality, these phones do essentially the same things.  Heck, I even refer to this switch as a downgrade, but it’s a brand new phone and it still able to support any and everything you could want.  My phone switch will only save me about $30/month, but it’s not so much about the money as it is about making a conscious decision about how I spend my $30/month, and I can think of other areas where I would enjoy it more.  In this arena, Drew and I have very different opinions – he really needs his email accessible for work, and he messes around all the time online.  So he remained with Blackberry, though he got the newest version for free and it’s really spiffy.   

Out with the old...


...in with the new

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So many goals, so little time...

I am sick of being realistic.  In my corporate life, it’s my job to ask questions like, “What’s a realistic timeline for x, y or z to be completed?”  Or, “What is a realistic budget for this endeavor?”  At work, my ability to do this quickly and efficiently has made me successful.  My ability to be realistic is a real strength.

In other parts of my life, however, I hate being realistic. 

For instance, if I was always realistic, I would never have chosen to commute two states away for graduate school.  The prospect of commuting like that for several years was tiring, riddled with obstacles, and arguably unnecessary.  Now that it’s all over, and I have my degree in hand, I’m glad I didn’t consider the realistic reasons why I shouldn’t follow this dream.

Another example of this was the recent trip Drew and I took to Asia.  Lots of things about this adventure were unrealistic.  From asking for time off from work, to making sure we had enough money to sustain us on the road and cover our expenses at home, to leaving our furkid Basil for five weeks, to planning the entire thing, etc., etc.  I mean, there’s a reason why people don’t take off on these adventures all the time, right?  They’re just not realistic.  Well, thank goodness we did because it was an amazing journey that expanded our worldview. 

As remarkable non-conformist Chris Guillebeau said in a recent article:

I’m not saying (realistic is) a bad word, that there’s no logic to it, or that it’s completely irrelevant. I’m just saying… who cares whether something is realistic or not? You might as well leave this word to the cynics—let them have it. Let them own it. It won’t do you any good anyway.

I have some aggressive goals for myself over the next two years that I agree may be unrealistic according to many.  Well, frankly, I don’t care.  Unrealistic things happen every single day, so why should I be any different?  I want to have a life where unrealistic (and amazing) things happen, so I’ll continue to set my unrealistic goals and reach for my unrealistic dreams and just watch them all come true!

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After publishing a post a couple days back (which sparked lots of discussions and emails!), my friend and coaching guru, Molly, wrote a comment that hit home.  She said:

“My two cents? Stop planning for a minute and start playing. Take those long weekends and evenings and do whatever it is that inspires you in the moment. Walks in the snow? Making soup? Curling up with candles lit and travel magazines in hand? Calling an old friend? Bring something thrilling to YOU to the moment. Take a break from the spreadsheets.”

My first thought: She clearly doesn’t understand the value of a good spreadsheet! 

My second thought: Why do people always say that rest and play is so important to living a fulfilled and satisfying life?  I don’t have time for all of that!  DO, GO, PLAN…those things are the most important!

My third thought: Thank you Molly, for permission for me to stop with the crazy! 

It’s true that my most clear ideas come when I least expect it, perusing Borders, walking Basil or just sitting around.  Staring at a computer screen and willing a good idea to hatch is not typically the best idea-generating activity.  I wish it were, since I spend a lot of time in front of screens of various sorts, but alas. 

In fact, a lot of my recent revelations about my stuff and my time and my priorities came to me while hanging out in a hammock in Cambodia (Friendly Tip: If you never want to have a deep thought about your life and where it’s going, don’t go to Cambodia).

The hammock where all my crazy life-altering ideas appeared!

As a Type A’er with a competitive spirit, it’s difficult for me to:

  • Come to terms with the fact that slowing down and not trying so hard are keys to tapping into the good stuff of life
  • Give myself permission not to produce, check-off and otherwise plan away my time
  • Admit that some things are illogical, and cannot be explained no matter how much logic I try to force upon it.

My sister, Lisa, is currently in Ethiopia kicking ass and taking names and was noticing how much more enjoyable her time is when she allows herself just to accept the way things are (in particular, the aspects about her life there that she cannot control).  Her post about it is here and she’s an exceptional writer.  She begins and closes her post with reference to the Serenity Prayer (below), which I also really love.  

I think I’m going to take Molly’s advice, allow some serenity in my life, take the steps I can, and trust that my path will unfold clearly.


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As one who has worked hard to achieve, accomplish, check-off, accumulate, and stabilify (yes, made up) my life, I have a nice little picture to show for it.  A cute house with matching furniture.  A dog who goes to day care and eats natural food.  A husband who is supportive and loving, plays tennis and has a freakish obsession with aeronautics (and will kill me when he reads that).  We have nice luggage, two newish cars, and reusable shopping bags from Whole Foods where I like to buy freshly ground peanut butter and locally sourced milk.  We do our taxes on time, invest for retirement, save for a rainy day, and most recently have joined the hoards of Americans who are also trying to pay off debt (for my recently obtained MBA).  We both have good jobs with bright futures and benefits.  So, why do I stare blankly into space wondering where my life went and how I can get it back?

I can tell you know that I don’t have the answer to that question.

Theory #1: I was raised by peace-loving self-employed parents who really embody the words deliberate living.  My dad is the poster child.  He has given up, well, basically everything including alcohol, caffeine, meat, sugar, most Western medicine, and any frivolous spending that didn’t directly contribute to paying for his five kids to go to private school and college.  I didn’t give up anything, ever, and instead chose to be the poster child for ‘stylish, corporate 20-somethings who enjoy sushi and expensive handbags.’  I grew up in their house, rejected everything they stood for, turned 30, and realized that maybe they’re right.   

Theory #2:  I’m not unique at all.  This little question of living a fulfilled life is, in fact, normal for someone my age, but most people find their answer by having kids and moving to the suburbs and I’m not super excited about that proposition.  Instead, I scour the Internet reading about other options, like hosting retreats in a cottage on the beach, or becoming a yoga instructor. 

Theory #3:  It turns out that taking care of all the things I’ve accumulated – the house, cars and even sometimes the dog (like when he ate an entire chicken carcass and spent the day at the vet) – sucks.  I find no pleasure at all in doing yard work, decorating, or washing the car in the driveway, and I’m finally being honest about it.  I want to throw things away, give things away and read travel magazines on a blanket in the backyard.

Theory #4: I have a hard time with down time.  Since I graduated from college, my life has been on fast forward.  I have filled my time with big projects – moving, wedding planning, applying to graduate school, going to graduate school, buying a house, planning the Asia trip, and working through it all.  Right now there is nothing.  My evenings and weekends are free.  I should be feeling, well, free, and instead I feel strangled.

So, what am I doing about it?

So far, I’m doing what I do best.  Planning.  I have a goal to have most/all of my school debt paid off in two years. I want to downsize and outsource the parts of my life I don’t enjoy, which includes selling the house, and eliminating one car, my fancy cell phone, and cable.  I want to spend money deliberately and consciously, which means really thinking about what I value and spending money on those things and brutally chopping everything else.  Whole Foods peanut butter?  Keep.  Monthly trips to the Banana Republic Factory Store?  Chop.  I want to bike to work (once the snow melts).  Start a women’s group of some sort.  Meet interesting people who inspire me.  Follow their lead.  Figure out how to be location independent.  Be location independent.  Do good.  Be grateful. 

Basically, I want to live a fantastic and remarkable existence where I wake up every morning thrilled to pieces about everything.  Or whatever is the realistic equivalent of that. 


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At work, I’m basically the go-to person whenever anyone has questions about any travel plans related to anything.  It’s kind of a fun role to play, but sometimes, like when I’m helping a co-worker plan his upcoming honeymoon, it pisses me off that I’m helping someone else plan a trip that I would happily take.  I realize that not everyone enjoys this stuff, nor do they know the greatest websites, most reliable ratings and secret deals that I happen to follow closely.  I thought I’d repost (in part) an email that I sent to said co-worker about choosing a hotel in Paris for his honeymoon.  This is the exact procedure I would follow if booking for myself!

1.  Absolute first step.  Check out Trip Advisor to get a lay of the land.  I don’t typically bother putting in dates.  Instead I’m looking for rankings and price ranges.  I also have a typical price in mind (like, for your trip, I’m looking for a great place under $200/night).  When I search for Paris Hotels, I can see that the top 10 or so hotels all cost like $500 or more, but there are hotels with prices in the $200 range once I hit #12 or so.  I make a quick note of the top ranked hotels that fall somewhere within my price range, and scan the reviews:

  • #12 – Le Fabe Hotel – funky rooms, seems like the hotel is very centrally located but is close to a Metro stop which is more important
  • #13 – Orient Hotel – the decor is a little stuffy for my taste (maybe a place for newly retired folks), but it has a decent location near the Metro
  • #14 – Grand Hotel Francais – ok, this one piqued my interest because it just one a Trip Advisor awared for hotels in Europe.  That’s always a good sign.  Plus, I like the room style – modern but not crazy funky.  They also have a deal in the ‘special offers’ section for 98 euros when booking far in advance!

2.  After this, I go to my favorite travel websites.  Budget Travel, Travel & Leisure, and NY Times Travel Section.

  • Budget Travel – Click on Destinations, then Europe, and you can see every article they’ve ever published about Paris.  They JUST did an article about ‘secret’ Paris hotels.  They also have a cool series featuring four easy day trips out of Paris if you have time to kill.  One hotel, called the Hotel de la Paix that they mentioned in the secret hotels article looks cool. 
  • Travel & Leisure – Click on Destinations, then search for Paris.  They have a bunch of different types of articles, and are always more high-end, but I like their articles in general.  Here’s an article on frugal but funky restaurants and one on affordable hotels.  In that article, they mention a hotel called Le General Hotel that has advertised rates for around $200 and gets the T&L stamp of approval.  Looks crazy funky. 
  • NY Times Travel Section – You can search by destination and pull up articles on a specific place (top toolbar that’s an orange color).  I just quickly looked up hotels, and found this one that is affordable (under 200 euro) and recommended and reviewed by the New York Times, called The Five Hotel

3.  Based on these hotels I’ve found, I narrow down my options based on photos online, ease of use of website, general vibe I get, etc.  Out of these hotels, the options I like best are the Grand Hotel Francais, Le General Hotel and The Five Hotel.  Now I go back to those websites, and enter in my potential dates, solidifying available rooms and prices.  Also, sometimes the hotel will list final prices including all taxes, which is a nice gauge.  You can look up most accurate exchange rate on www.xe.com (currently 1.375 euro per dollar).  Since the dates for your honeymoon are not finalized, I picked three night in early September (3rd – 6th) for my search.

  • Grand Hotel Francais – 130 euro per night ($179), taxes included
  • Le General Hotel – 200 euro per night ($275), taxes included
  • The Five Hotel – 214 euro per night ($294.25), taxes included

4.  I also go back to Trip Advisor and look up reviews for hotels I found on other sites (in this case, Le General and The Five).  Read the really bad reviews to see what people complain about.  Sometimes people complain about stupid stuff so I ignore their complaints.  Look up the hotels again on Google Maps to confirm proximity to anything you really care about and the nearest Metro station (not a problem in Paris, since the Metro is everywhere). 

5.  To make a final decision, I compare prices with photos, and I also see if there are any included amenities at a particular property that put it over the top (free WiFi, breakfast included, pick-up from airport?) as far as my choices.  In this case, The Five Hotel offers breakast for an additional 15 euro per person, and the Grand  Hotel Francais has breakfast included in the rate.  None of the hotels specifically mention airport pick-up. 

6.  After all that research, I usually know which hotel I really want, and if it makes sense financially and logistically, I just go for it.  I don’t always choose the cheapest option, or the most convenient.  It’s a combination and a big gut check that help me decide the best.  Out of these three, I would definitely choose the Grand Hotel Francias…it’s significantly cheaper, breakfast is included which can save significant bucks and I like the modern rooms and location.  Plus, that Trip Advisor award is nothing to scoff at – those babies mean a LOT!

And that’s it.  Since you’re also going to London, just repeat exactly!

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