Resiliency for Traveling through Life! And How to Get It

I’m reposting this for my friend, Leona, who turned 89 a week ago. We had lunch today and I found out she never saw this post. Enjoy this, dear friend. Love you and happy birthday!

The Autonomous Traveler

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When I was an elementary teacher, I heard about a summer class, something about making kids stronger. The course description said the class was taught by a guidance counselor who had helped students find their inner strength. I wondered if he would reveal the culmination of all  this wisdom in a little package or capsule of words and procedures that would push my students and, maybe, myself to never ending excellence? Was it worth taking 5 days from my summer vacation to go to the class that was over 60 miles away? And then I got the idea! I’d find a campground in The Adirondacks near the class and commute. I would be a student during the day and at night I would complete any assigned reading by the light of my gas lantern and a wood fire. I loved the idea.

The instructor seemed knowledgeable and passionate about what he did…

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70 days, 7000 miles, Day 14

July 6, 2001

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Breakfast at a cafe outside, Wakefield, Michigan. I’m going to put a lot of road behind me in the next few days.  Got to be careful, a lot of deer around here. I saw a young buck on the side of the road and I don’t know who was more scared him or me. Women admire my quest.  Freedom calls a lot of them. A woman I talked to at The Straits told me about  her dream of escaping from her family for just a little while and going on a biking trip alone.

 

70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 3

June 25, 2001

Great night’s sleep. Woke at 6:00 am. Breakfast. Said “goodbye” to M. and R. and thanked them for a really great time. Went out on the main highway and almost got  hit by another car. They honked at me which I accepted because I didn’t see them because I wasn’t looking.  Note to self- BE CAREFUL. PAY ATTENTION!!!!!

Headed north of Ottawa to The Gatineau Region, the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, to visit another Canadian friend, M.H.

After I became divorced I threw myself into life.  That whole thing about getting back on the horse and keeping busy, the American cure for everything.  I joined a local Toastmasters’ club which was an organization that had nothing to do with toasting but with public speaking in general. Because our local chapter was so close to the border,  we were part of the larger Toastmasters’ regional organization in Canada.  As a result, I went to competitions in Cornwall, Ontario; St. Hyacinthe, Quebec; and Montreal.  The big convention was in Ottawa.  There were informative workshops all day, and then the banquet and dancing. It’s where I learned the chicken dance. Canadians, especially Quebecers, know how to party.

I met M.H. who a regional director when she asked me to sign a petition to protect the wolves in Canada.  Since I am an outdoors person, we struck up a conversation about common interests.  She told me she had once worked in communications for Lester Pearson who was prime minister of Canada from 1963 -1968.  I saw her from time to time at TM events and at our local chapter. She invited me to visit her.

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I found her blue house among the trees. I brought in my stuff and then we went to Wakefield where Lester Pearson was buried.  I sensed she had been very fond of him. M.H. explained that in their youth, Lester Pearson and his two friends, made a pact  to be buried next to each other. There they were, three graves, the prime minister, Hume Wrongs, Canadian Ambassador to The US, and Norman Robertson, Under Secretary of State for External Affairs.  A fitting tribute to a lifelong friendship.

We went back to M.H.’s house for dinner on her porch.  We talked about getting older and the problems that go along with it, loneliness and the inability to handle daily mundane tasks.  M.H. is very involved, intelligent, and vital. She is running for her life like I do. But old age is frightening.  I will deal with it when it comes.  Not today.

Remembering My Dad-Our Ambulance Camper

Somebody once wrote “I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?'” My  family lived these words long before they were ever written. In the late 1950’s, when our small town fire department put its outdated ambulance up for sale at a bargain price, my father bought it.

It wasn’t a box van like the emergency vehicles  we see today, but rather something that looked like a blood red hearse. Our purchase included two very comfortable chairs with tiny legs for medical attendants, a system to hang canvas stretchers from the ceiling, and a metal gurney on wheels.

When my dad proudly brought the ambulance home, he enthusiastically announced that it would be our new camper. So on our  family outings my mom and I would sleep on mats on the floor, my two sisters were suspended from the ceiling in new canvas hammocks, and my hardy ex-Marine father would sleep on the wheeled gurney outside. It was only when he almost rolled into Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks that he realized that the stretcher always needed to be tied to something solid.

For some reason, we only had the ambulance for one camping season. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that so many cars would pull over to the side of the road when they saw us coming. The cute red chairs with the short legs became our TV chairs and the gurney became our favorite toy. My sisters and I hooked a rope to it and as two of us pulled, one sister would have a thrilling ride around the outside of our house. As the momentum built, a final accelerating pull would be executed and then the rope was released. The rider would be hurtled down a hill in front of our house and eventually be stopped by a small ditch about three feet from the road.

One day, a man driving in front of our house turned pale as he saw a little girl on an ambulance stretcher speeding down a hill toward his car. Of course, the gurney stopped just before the road like it always did but the man got out of his car and gave us a stern talking to. After calming down a bit, he asked us why we would ever do something so crazy. Since we were the daughters of our unconventional dad, my sisters and I looked at each other, shrugged, and replied, “Why not?”

Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

Going to India

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India has been on my list of trips for awhile but what finally made me decide to go  was a Hindu celebration held  in St. Augustine in April.  I loved the color and joy I witnessed.  I told one of the participants about my travel list and was given prayer beads and enthusiastic encouragement to choose India.

I am a lifelong learner who knows little about Hinduism.  I have paid my deposit and reserved my place for “The Mystical India” tour with Odyssey Tours. I will be going in the fall.  After my 17 day trip, I will have many pictures and observations to share on this blog.

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Fitness Training for Old Age

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 Me,  March 2018
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Eleven years ago I had back pain. I think it was psychosomatic. I was mad at myself for staying too long in a relationship that wasn’t working. Once I got the man out of my head, the back pain was gone.  Two years ago, I developed pains in my legs. It was really weird. It was intermittent, jumped from leg to leg, and sometimes wasn’t present at all.  After months of suffering,  I realized that my problem was a pair of black flip flops that had become my shoes of choice. Once I started wearing shoes with more support , my problem disappeared.  One year ago, I started having discomfort in my shoulders. This really bothered me both physically and psychologically.  I was afraid it was the beginning of the end. I actually thought I might have to give up camping and traveling.  But with help from physical therapists here at home and in Florida, I won that fight, too. I have to do stretching exercises every other day but it’s worth it. When I drove home from Florida this month I realized that even after two hours of nonstop of driving, I could exit my mini van with no grunting and no pain.  Victory!

This week, I  heard someone interview Elon Musk, the founder of  The Tesla Car Company. He has been having some trouble at one of his manufacturing plants.  Mr. Musk said he had been sleeping at the plant to keep on top of things.  On his office wall was an interactive computerized wall chart that showed strengths and weaknesses on the assembly line. When asked why he seemed to never leave the factory, he explained he needed to solve problems in real time.

Real time. Not later, not in an hour, not tomorrow.  Real time, as in now! I have not been a real time person when it comes to my health.  I overeat and then promise to start a new diet the next day.  I pledge to watch my intake of sweets and then I cheat.  I  constantly make excuses not to get in my daily walk. Well,  I am now 69 year old.  Young enough to know I have some time left but old enough to know time is running out. My three recent experiences with pain were wake up calls. I want to be as healthy as I can be. I want to really work on healthy habits. If not NOW, when?

There is enough information out there, so I know about staying away from salt, sugar, and fat.  I know about smoking and excessive drinking. I have tried all sorts of exercise plans but I like walking the best. It’s free and it can be done almost anywhere. I want to be like Elon Musk and study the strengths and weaknesses of my approach to life. It’s not  about  about how I look anymore, it’s about being the healthiest I can be.  It’s time to solve my problems in real time with discipline and thoughtful reflection.  I want to be as mobile and pain free as long as  I can because I still have a lot of traveling  to do and a lot of life to live.

A North Country Love Affair

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Author’s note: Since I wrote this piece a few years ago, I have to confess, The North Country and I now have an open relationship.  I go to Florida during the winter months.  But this is home, my base camp and I always return.   I’m here now. Unfortunately, the weatherman is predicting ice and sleet for this weekend. Ugh!

A North Country Love Affair

Being involved with the North Country is like being in a bad love affair. The summer woos me with warm breezes off  one of  The Great Lakes and the river. It offers me lush greens and sunlit days. It entices me with a multitude of lavish experiences: picnics under the trees, quiet moments on the shore, spectacular thunderstorms topped off with rainbows, and romantic interludes under the stars listening to the crickets and watching fireflies. It presents me with fantastic gifts: the sweet serenade of birds, the beauty of diamonds reflecting off the water, and bouquets wild flowers from its fields. The skilled lover pursues me, seizes my heart, and convinces me of its unwavering devotion. I fall in love!

In the fall, my intuition whispers to me that things are changing but my beloved is so
magnificence in its bight reds, oranges, and yellows that I ignore the signs. I am caught up in the joy and exhilaration of the splendor. But its moodiness erupts suddenly. It frosts the countryside but quickly hides the evidence with a morning smile. I am bewildered but I am soothed by memories of earlier carefree times. The suitor offers me even more gifts: ripe fruit from its orchards, fat orange pumpkins, and an Indian summer ablaze with color and sweet fragrances. There is still warmth but the winds blow colder and the clouds turn from white to gray. I soon realize that the glow of my summer romance is gone.

The North Country turns irritable. It shows its sunny smile less frequently and the cold storms come. The leaves have been blown to the ground and the tress stand in shame. My body and heart feel the coolness. I wonder how such a beautiful entity could change so much. At first, I make excuses and rationalize that things are not that bad and this is a passing thing. But the weather becomes angrier and angrier and then there is snow. I groan when I first see it dust the green grass. The snow piles up higher and higher. Some days the rain tap, taps on my window to play a cruel game of freeze tag and I find myself alone in the dark and I am afraid. I feel like a prisoner unable to leave my home. My relationship with this part of the world becomes a lovers’ quarrel. I wonder how I ever fell for the false promises and I resent being tricked.

I turn away from the monster and go to my neighbors, family and friends to complain. And soon everyone in the North Country becomes part of an enormous support group seeking comfort and strength to endure the abusive demon. Day after day, the heavens crash down on us but it seems that hidden between the flakes of white are angels sent to help us learn patience. We stop resisting, accept the harshness, and against the power of the villain, we become one. We check on each other’s safety. Our homes and community centers open to strangers who happen to be captured in the storms. We gather together to ice fish, quilt or share a hot cup of coffee. Moving anyway from our raging disappointment, we move closer to each other and we survive.

But a deep bitterness remains and as the winter goes on and on, I start to wonder if I should leave and never return. I need a more stable companion because I can’t take the terrible fighting any longer. And then suddenly, as if my tormentor knows my limits, it starts to smile. It knows it must be loving again to thaw my frozen heart. It drops its frigid demeanor and begins to melt some of the snow. It calls back the geese and commands the sap to run through the trees. I spy the first buds, the trilliums in the woods, the red winged blackbirds. and my first robin. I smell the freshness of new beginnings. My transformed lover returns to me the things I cherish, the waters shimmer and the sky is blue and clear again. I have an extraordinary sense of hope and all is forgiven. I am in love again!
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People who don’t know the North Counter always ask me why I stay. My answer acknowledges that, yes, the harsh weather is at times unbearable. But it is the contrasts between the cold and the warmth, the struggle and the peace, the light and the dark that keep me here. They provide a breathtaking intensity of experience that cannot be described. Like the first drink of water after a day in the desert or a hug after a long separation, the beautiful moments in the North Country are incredible. Not one of these times are ever taken for granted and the joy they bring permeate through the hearts and souls of the people who live here. During spring, summer, and fall, we live in paradise and everyday in those wonderful seasons are savored in a spirit of gratitude.

I also stay because of the other people who stay, hardy souls who have accepted the unpredictable temperament of the North Country. They have adapted and call this place home. In our towns, villages, and neighborhoods we have formed an unspoken allegiance to each other that require no laws or charter. We have formed a culture based on the ability to weather storms and we know instinctively what needs to be done. This community spirit has developed so strongly that it not only appears in inclement weather but at anytime anyone suffers a loss or comes up against a challenge. The question is never,“Should I help?”, but rather,“How can I help?”

And so I stay in this sometimes bad love affair with the North Country. At times, the relationship is very rocky but I have learned to accept the inconveniences. And with this spirit of forgiveness, I have come to truly appreciate the extraordinary power of this wonderful place and its great people. And isn’t that what love is all about?

Copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler.  All rights reserved

 

 

Every Story Must Be Told

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On the way home from Florida, of course, I stopped to see my three grandkids.  After three months of being away I received a lot of hugs. We played and played and played.

My seven year old granddaughter said that she had a librarian in her room. I asked some questions about the meaning of that announcement and she told me that I needed to see for myself. On the window sill by her bed was a collection of tiny books.  One of them was a short story I had written about the birds I had seen in Florida.  The rest of books she had created with her drawings of fairies and creatures with magical power, labeled in her own handwriting.  She also told me the journal she had started was private. It stood tall in her little library, its pages secured with a pen ready to write down new thoughts and ideas. The librarian was a little butterfly who sat behind the books and, although she was very tiny, she guarded those books with an extreme sense of pride and duty. My granddaughter encouraged me to take a book home with the understanding that I was to bring it back in a few weeks when I visited again. Before bedtime we made a nest for the librarian so she would be warm in her corner in the window.

What a lovely existence to be a child with such imagination and an uninhibited eagerness to express her stories. So many decades older than my granddaughter, I had lost that freshness, that optimist that my stories were worth telling or writing down. In a class I took recently, we talked about writing resistance. I’m proud say I’m evolving. I am keeping my inner critic silenced and I no longer am worried about people not liking what I write on my blog.  And I have overcome my greatest fear, that no one will ever read what I write. Now I am confident I will always have at least one reader, my granddaughter.

The Travel Bug, A Gift from My Dad

On Saturday, if my dad was still alive, he would have turned 95 years old. On Sunday, as I headed home to The North Country, I stopped at a tourist attraction between North and South Carolina.  “South of The Border” is bigger but shabbier than the first time I visited  almost 60 years ago. Route 95 didn’t exist back then, just the two lanes of Route 1.  My mother, father, my two sisters and I  drove there from western New York State during our two week Easter break. We made the trip in a camper, the kind that fitted on the back of pick-up truck. The tall  figure with the sombreros holding the “South of The Border” sign is still there. He impressed me decades ago as he impresses me now.

I owe so much to my dad.  He gave me the travel bug. He was the inspiration and motivator behind the many trips my family took to New England, Florida, and Canada.  He is the one who introduced me to my beloved Adirondacks. We were poor but because of my parents’  problem solving and money management skills, our many wonderful adventures were made possible. My dad had a philosophy that wherever you go it was your responsibility to make the moment fun and enjoyable. He would talk to everyone and with his sense of humor and his genuine interest in people, he made instant connections with everyone he met.

Thanks, Dad for giving me the motivation to venture out into the world. Thank you for teaching me about the absolute joy of exploring distant places and connecting with new people.   Thanks, Dad.  I miss you.

Leaving

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On a whim I took an adult education class at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. About eight weeks ago, I started this blog.
I am a snowbird. When my world up north turns grey, black, and brown I head south. But now that I hear that the snow is melting and spring in North Country is ready to burst forward, I am ready to go home.
I have been busy for a few weeks getting ready for the transition. The list is long.
(1) Packing
(2) Making sure my taxes are done and bills are paid.
(3 ) Cleaning my rental condo.
(4 ) Getting the oil changed in my van.
(5)  Making reservations for next year.
(6)  Buying Florida souvenirs for my family.
(7)  Saying ‘good bye” to short term winter acquaintances who have become just as valued as lifelong friends.
(8)  Wandering around St. Augustine one more time, wishing there was a way to put it in a box and take it out during the cold, rainy days up north.
(9)  Noticing birds. A scarlet tangier in a tree near my condo. A hawk perched on a fence downtown and wondering if he, too, will be leaving this ancient city to go north. Watching, for over a hour, a morning dove seeking shelter from the ocean winds on my balcony.
(10)  Wondering if the dose of culture and learning infused into me during this one quarter of a year has made me a different person.
(11)  Worrying about losing what I have become. I have wanted to be writer since I was a little girl. I would sit in front of the family typewriter eager to tap the keys and create wonderful stories. But I hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t seen enough. Now I have. I am no longer afraid of a blank page. I just jump in, and rely on my instincts to know what works and what doesn’t. And then I revise, revise, revise. I am going to write. I am going to continue this blog. I have to. I think I now have the courage.
(12)  Stop worrying!!!!!
I need to be out of my condo at 10:00 am on Saturday. Home is 1300 miles away. I am a traveler once again. A stranger with no titles, no name. No expectations, no  plan. Just a woman finding peace in being.