Sunday, February 3, 2013

Great Ways To Make Your Solo Trip...FABULOUS!

Frigid temperatures have a way of transporting my mind to warmer climates and new adventures.  Give me a balmy cup of perfectly brewed tea and a good book, (sometimes of the travel variety) and I am well on my way to planning my next adventure.

Yes... I said MY NEXT ADVENTURE.  Most of my friends think that I am a bit looney for traveling solo, but I revel in the opportunity. After all, how often is it that you are truly given the opportunity to go and do whatever you want, whenever you choose. Although I know some who would disagree, taking advantage of the luxury of not having to consider another individual, in my opinion, is priceless. I understand that solo travel is not for everyone, but I find that it is the one time that I can be completely selfish and not have to worry about the whims of another....I'm taking sheer indulgence here.

"But aren't you afraid of traveling alone?" I am always asked.  The short answer is... NO!  I will admit, there are extra precautions that one (especially women) should take, but it's not a big enough concern to prevent me from traveling alone all together. Besides, if I had to wait for another partner to find the time, or the money, I may never have the opportunity. So with the help with my friends at Smarter Travel, we were able to come up with a list of ways to make the best of your solo trip...

Courtesy of Smarter Travel... 

Make Friends
Just because you're traveling alone doesn't mean you should be solo the entire trip. What's one of the best ways to socialize on the road? When you're dining alone, sit at the bar (or counter), where you'll have more opportunities to strike up a conversation than if you were sitting at a table. Chat up a waiter or bartender for tips on the best local sights, or converse with fellow diners/drinkers about the hip secret spots they've stumbled across so far. Use your transit time wisely, too, and chat up your seatmates if they're willing. If you want guaranteed companionship, joining a group tour, even if it's only for a few hours, can be a great way to meet people.  If tour buses and guides aren't your thing, consider signing up with Meetup (a website that lists gatherings for pretty much every interest in hundreds of cities) and attending an event full of like-minded people while you're on the road.

Avoid pricey hotel rooms for just one person and have a built-in way to meet people by staying at a hostel. Don't want to share a room on your solo trip? Many hostels have private rooms (some even en suite) that are still cheaper than a traditional hotel. Hostels usually offer plenty of common rooms (such as a kitchen and a TV room) where people congregate to meet fellow travelers. Most hostels organize daily activities (be it a movie night or a bar crawl), so you can find a good group to go out with. Or, check hostel message boards, where travelers often post if they're looking for people to travel with.

Indulge Yourself
Revel in the luxury of not having to please a travel partner (or a group of people). Spend the whole morning sleeping in your hotel bed, or wake up super early to hike somewhere in time to catch the sunrise—you're the only one making the decisions on this trip. Have an obscure hobby, interest, or taste in food? Go crazy and eat only at your favorite kinds of restaurants or spend your whole trip checking out the weird museums no one else likes—you won't be hearing any complaints or whining.

Stay Safe
Knowing that there is no one there to have your back is the most important thing that you can remember.  Do your research before you go so you know which areas are unsafe, which you should avoid after dark, what the common local scams are, etc. Be sure to let someone back home know your approximate schedule (in case you don't return on time), and use common sense when it comes to flashing valuables or going places with strangers.  In order to make the most out of your trip, be sure to stay safe—you don't want to waste time at the police station or embassy (or worse: in the hospital) after getting mugged.

Bring Good Reads
You might have a lot of alone time when traveling solo, so be sure that you have lots of reading material with you. Treat yourself to some books that you've been dying to read, and you'll always have a good (silent) companion with you when you're eating or on a long train ride by yourself. Plus, if you're traveling alone in a country where you don't speak the language, it can be very comforting to lose yourself in your native language after long being immersed in something you can't understand. Opting for a physical book can be a good conversation starter when strangers ask what you're reading, but e-books can save prime space in your luggage.

Avoid The Single Supplement
Unfortunately, solo travelers on many cruises and tours will get slammed by a "single supplement," punishing them for not sharing a room with a travel partner. Research tour companies before you book—some have an option that will let you sign up to be paired with another single traveler as roommates, so you can still get the cheaper rate. For cruises, look for ships that offer single rooms (supplement free) or for cruise lines running great deals that might be willing to waive the fee.

Get a Camera Extender
Traveling alone doesn't mean that you should be deprived of prime Facebook snaps of you posing in front of famous attractions. Get in the picture (without having to entrust your camera to a stranger) by using a camera extender, which you can use to take self-portraits. We like the GorillaPod line of portable mounts for cameras (and camera phones) that will let you take your photos, free of stranger arm contortions.

Don't forget, 2013 is the year that you begin to live your life with intentional purpose and passion.  There is an entire Earth filled with exploits and escapades expecting your stamp of approval.  So what the heck are you waiting for?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Checking Your Pulse...

Well, here we are already!  In a few short days, the reign of first month of 2013 will be over and its predecessor will continue the course.  The holidays are behind us now, and we are very much back in the groove of our daily grind.   As it seems the norm, the days just seem to fly right by us without as much as a tap on the shoulder. But before January leaves us, I feel compelled to ask the question... Are you failing or succeeding with your New Years Resolutions?

On the first day of the new year, I wrote a blog posting about living an intentional life with passion.  I challenged you to make this your year of action by quashing your fears and making more of the good stuff happen in your life. You were confronted with executing the existence that you've always envisioned for yourself, and making your 2013 your best year ever.  How is that working out for you?

I pose this question of the 27th day of the new year, simply because most experts believe that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change a habit or to form a new one. Whether or not this is really the case is debatable. For you it may take a bit longer. For me, it may only be a few days. I think it really depends on the habit that you are trying to change, and the method that you employ that appears to the best for you. But big or small, the only question that really matters... is your change still in the fore-front of your mind, or have you tossed it by the waste side because you've already given up on it? Are you checking your pulse?  

If you've given up, then I implore you... Don't be so hard on yourself.  Many of us fail during the first days or weeks of starting a new change.  Don't be afraid to let your failures define you.  Failure can equal success when we take the time to learn from it. Even the wise Winston Churchill reminds us - "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." The good news is that you can begin again.  Just because you may have tossed aside your change, resolution or habit, doesn't mean that you can't pick it up and try once again.

Lord knows, I've become an expert at "trying again."  To give you an example, for many years I had challenged myself to save more money. To this goal, I would deploy what I perceived to be simple measures, such as putting ten percent of my paycheck into a savings account. Then as the need would arise, I would spend it. $20 for gas or $50 for a night out with the girlfriends.  And before I knew it, my $350 savings would dwindle down to a mere $46, and the bank would then close my account for failing to keep a minimum balance. But after taking a well deserved year long sabbatical, and spending a pretty hefty chunk of my rainy day fund, 2013 brought with it the need to become a better steward of my hard earned cash. With the reminder of my previous savings fiascos still firmly on my mind, I knew I needed a different approach. But what I also knew was in order to make this a lasting change, I needed to start small. Maybe even miniscule. This time, I charged myself task of simply taking my lunch to work, in lieu of eating out. I was averaging about $10-$12 a day. In my mind, not only would this help in my stewardship, but it would also assist with my weight struggles, since I have a tendency to make menu selections based on options that would normally not be available to me at home.  Often times, those restaurant selections would end up being a rich, fat-laden house specialty like the southern fried chicken sandwich served beside sweet potato fries, or the shrimp over buttery, creamy, cheesy grits, like those served at one of my local Jackson favorites, Julep. Both are truly worth their weight in calories, and the city of Jackson is filled with many more culinary gems like this one... hence my financial and weight loss dilemmas.

Well, just 19 days into my week day experiment, I've net a whopping $190 in savings that I can actually see in regular checking account. And even more savings than that if you include the twenty percent tip paid to each the server who performed their duties, well. (Yes, I am a sucker for good service.) It's no secret that I love to eat well, so the simple turkey and swiss on multi-grain bread with mayo or mustard, wasn't going to cut it for me. But truth be told, it really boiled down to simply searing a one or two extra pieces of the wild caught salmon made for dinner the night before, and serving it over the same bed of organic kale, also prepared the night before.  Years earlier, a challenge to eat well by planning ahead was formed during my days with Weight Watchers, and one habit that serves me well to this day.  Saturdays are spent planning and purchasing my weekly menu, while Sunday becomes my cooking day.  The reality of the lunch idea translated into planning and preparing an extra protein and veggie, and an extra $15-$20 dollars added into the weekly food budget. What's more, I can still enjoy the practice of eating out (weekends mostly) while I'm saving real money and real calories. Simple in theory, but harder in execution. Everything in moderation... right?

I will confess that this small change is actually a part of the bigger picture of the life I envision for myself.  As I mentioned in that previous blog posting, I really do want to own more years like the totally fabulous one of 2012.  I want more travel adventures. I want to more scuba diving expeditions. And most importantly... I want more love.  But these things take time and money and looking good in that scuba suit. And just maybe, while I am globetrotting around world, and experiencing all the adventures that I plan for myself, I'll be spotted by my Prince Charming, who will fall in love with the awesome woman he recognizes as having the time of her life, and he'll want to be a part of that too!

Are you checking your pulse...???

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Loneliness, Romance and Secrets...

  "This whole thing is so nutsy that I believe it only could have happened at Notre Dame, where mythology trumps common sense on a daily basis. ... Given the choice between reality and fiction, Notre Dame always will choose fiction," sports writer Rick Telander said in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Nutsy is right.  At the risk of sounding cynical, I feel the need to ask the question... Have we as a society become so desperate to be loved that we allow ourselves to see things as they are not? Call me old school, but since when does a text or a phone call become a suitable substitution the human touch?  Can we really use the "L" word without even so much as a kiss?  For that matter, do we even know what LOVE truly is?

Since the story broke, like many others, I've been curious to know what that "thing" is that could make someone fall so deeply in love, without so much as meeting in person. To label someone whom you've never even met in person... "your girlfriend?" Publicly? On TV and interviews?  I simply cannot fathom it.  Please don't misunderstand my motives here.  I am not for one moment passing judgement.  I am simply asking the question... how do Te'o and so many others allow themselves to fall so hopelessly in love with someone, whose hand they have yet to hold? I watched the many interviews in which the Notre Dame linebacker passionately described his woman as her knew her as, "the most beautiful girl I ever met..." and "the love of my life...".  In front of millions of football fans, Te'o kneeled to the ground, bowed his head, and said a prayer for the imaginary girlfriend who was to be buried on that very day. And while I realize that there are still many questions surrounding this bizarre quandary, what I saw was a man experiencing real emotion for someone who was a figment of his imagination.

What's even more nuts is that there is now an audience for showcasing the perpetration of people pretending to be someone they are not, and the lies woven to protect the truth at all cost.  "Catfish" the documentary made an astounding $3.5 million dollars that has now spun off into a reality TV show, which is currently in its second season.  Sadly, it follows the lives of so many others who so deeply want to connect with someone, that they are willing to ignore the red flags that wave along the way. The show does in fact bring to light some couples who are able to connect and find the love they desired, but often times than not, the story ends up in the hands of a lonely person perpetrating lies that they never intended to explode horribly out of control. A cruel deception made possible by the innovations of the digital age.

As an advocate for online dating, it breaks my heart to see the lines between the dream of love and reality of finding it, so blurred by trickery.  What can start out as an alluring adventure, sadly turns into an unfathomable sea of verifiable shams.  If all anyone really wants is to be loved, then the question becomes, why not be honest about who we are and what we want?  Since when has a lie become more attractive than the truth, that the perpetrator fails to look ahead to the real moment of truth, when the con comes to light?  Has our reality become so blurred with the glamor and fantasy of Hollywood, that our own lives seem so trivial that we feel forced to create a vision of ourselves that is less than truthful? Why are we not good enough?

Although this story is still unfolding, I cannot begin to imagine the humiliation that Te'o must be experiencing. My reality is, I do know what it is like to have your heart broken.  Many of us do, and can attest to the myriad of sentiments that follow. However, I do not know what it is like to be "Catfished," and I can't imagine that the old school segment of my thought process will ever allow that to happen.  A few online conversations and phone calls are acceptable in the beginning, but there will always be a large part that will quickly forego that illusion for the desire of the human touch. Impatient? Probably so. But the romantic in me but I will always prefer to look deep into his eyes to see the depths of his soul, rather than to check my phone for the sweet sound of his text message. But that's just me...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Do You Have Kids?

   There have been times when I have written about things I regret.  More times than not, what I really regret is the manner in which I wrote about that topic. You’re writing so quickly, trying hard to capture your every thought on paper.  In the process you're bound to make snap judgements or even rant. When read these rants can appear to be bitchy, judgmental and even sometimes unfair. Today, I hope this isn't the case.

It's not the first time it's happened.  Unfortunately, it happens all the time.  You meet someone for the first time, maybe a neighbor.  Another customer in line at the grocery store.  A co-worker. After exchanging pleasantries, the next question they want answered is... "So, do you have any children?"  As if to say... " Are you the type of woman who desires to be a human incubator for another little person that will at some point of his or her own choosing,  aggressively impel its way through your guts all while simultaneously transforming your life to revolve around his?"

Are all woman presumed to have or want children? Is it assumed that our path of life takes us all down a street with a Babies R Us proudly displayed in the center of a cul de sac, and we are all expected to get out and skip with glee at the mere presence of its large purple letters above its door. Really?

What then becomes hysterical, is look on their face when the question is answered with an astounding... No.  They want to check the time on their wrist watch, all while trying not to be obviously puzzled by the response. Priceless! Its as if the look at the wristwatch translates to... Do you know how much time you have left? -while the puzzled look parlays to ... And just how old are you, anyway?

I'd be quick to point the finger to my stint in Mississippi, but the truth is, I've always been asked this question.  Even my own gynecologist has cautioned... "Don't wait too long." But in his defense, he gets a pass, since he does live and breathe this sort of thing on a daily basis. Mostly, I can give my position, and it is accepted and respected.  In some cases, I state my position and a light bulb goes off, as if it was a position that had not even been given consideration, and now worthy of contemplation as a new option. Those are the moments I enjoy, especially when it comes from a young woman at the beginning stages of forging her path.  But here lately, I find myself having to succumb to the pressure of having to defend the choices I've made for my life. There is only one way of life here in the deep south. I'll give you no husband...women here raise children by themselves all the time. But childless?  That backwards way of thinking has no place here in Mississippi.

And please do not mis-understand my rant.  I personally believe that mothers are the most incredible people in the world.  I believe it is also one of the most challenging vocations to get right.  So when I say that this applaud is coming from someone who has once left for work and had forgotten to put food in her dog's bowl, it is with the utmost sincerity that I salute mothers.

But this isn't about motherhood.  Nor is it about children. It is about all of those women who chose NOT to be rated by their potential to give life. It has no more or less merit than for those who do. This is for all the women who for whatever reason, can't. This is about all those women who have chosen more freedom and perhaps a different set of responsibilities. It is about all of those women who courageously admit that their talents could best be suited elsewhere.  And this is about all those women who chose to wait for Mr. Right, but didn't find him in time. It would be nice to be considered worthy of my contributions as a person, as opposed to the number of eggs I have fertilized. To whole-heartedly assume that a free thinking, productive and creative woman can not be totally fulfilled unless she chooses to dip into that cul de sac with the Babies R Us, is simply unthinkable. It's as if no action can ever be equivalent to giving birth, and for that matter, why would you want otherwise? Are you kidding me?

So in the event that you see me sporting a new shorter, trendier coiffure... it is probably safe to assume that I have pulled my hair out from the sheer frustration of having to explain why I do not have kids.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Its Up To You... Choose Well!

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."  George Bernard Shaw-

There is a certain satisfaction that comes with the realization that there is power in freedom. The idea that I can make a decision to go ANYWHERE and do just about ANYTHING is not just alluring… it’s liberating!  All that is needed is a desire. It can start with the simplest of ideas, like travel or even work for example. The concept of freedom is such a wonderful thing, and yet many of us don’t exercise it to the fullest extent.  We react to life as it happens instead of conscientiously choosing where we want our lives to go.  When was the last time you chose to exercise your autonomy?

Jackson, Mississippi. A choice.  Most of my friends thought I had lost my mind when I made the choice to relocate, albeit temporarily. "Why in the world would you want to move there?" inquiring minds wanted to know. Professionally, it was a really good move, but mostly I did it because I had the freedom to do it.  Why wouldn't I choose the opportunity to explore a state famous for it's devilishly-rich mud pies and seductive blues music? Legends like Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and BB King all sprung from these waters. Need more? How about Conway Twitty, Jimmy Buffett, Ike Turner and even Elvis himself. And that's just music. Going deeper into the vault you’ll find Pulitzer Prize winning authors such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, just to name a few. But in my humble opinion, I have to admit that my all-time favorite Mississippian has to be none other than Sweetness himself, Walter Payton.

And while exploring the ins and outs of any city can have its romantic allure, it hasn't been all roses.  Just as recent as our Presidential election, racism reared its ugly head highlighting the hatred of Mississippi’s student population in lead news story on every station across the country. Bringing it ever so close to home, are the subtle innuendos frequently spewed out during personal encounters experienced during an ordinary work day, and so terribly sad that we are still have reason to mention these atrocities in 2013.  Nonetheless, in fewer than 30 days time, I’ll pack it all in and set off for a new set of experiences in my new choice city of Greenville, South Carolina.

As with most things in life, you are compelled to consider the good with the bad.  How else are we obliged to receive the other?  But the truth is, Jackson Mississippi is in many ways not much different than La Ceiba, Honduras, or even Paris, France for that matter.  Good, bad or indifferent, each has deeply etched its own unique position on my lifeline and blessed me with experiences that were a direct result of my own freedom to choose.

I'll confess... its hard not to question whether a choice is the right one. What if I had not chosen Jackson, MS? What if I chosen, Jacksonville, FL? The one thing I am confident of is that the people you meet, and the places you go are meant to teach you something. The trick is to be receptive and open to the possibilities that people are placed in your path for a reason.  But its more that just being receptive. My personal belief is that we all share a responsibility to give back and spread love right where we are. That's part of the ebbs and flows of life. That's the bigger picture. And in that I can be confident.

I am truly grateful for the God given right to be the person I choose to be.  I can explore all the places I desire and do all of the wonderful things that are available to me. The choices are mine to make. Today, I choose to enjoy the patter of the raindrops as they fall onto the rooftop of my Jackson chateau. Tomorrow, I may choose to drive with Maxamole’ up to the Ross Barnett Reservoir and stroll along the Harbour Walk. Whatever I do…I know it will be the right choice!

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've always imagined.
- Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Intentional Purpose With Passion For Your 2013

Nothing happens unless we first dream…

I don’t know about you, but for me, 2012 was a pretty spectacular year.  Looking back, I can honestly say that I’ve had quite a few spectacular years.  I’ve also had more than my share of disappointing ones too.  But if I had to point to the one thing that made this year so monumental above all others, I would have to say …  that I intentionally lived this year with PASSION.

And while you might say… “oh, that’s easy!”  Let me confess to you that it is much more difficult than it sounds.  It’s more than just a task, but rather an intentional purpose.  It is one that takes vision to see, strength to quash the fears that haunt, and exceptional patience to execute.  But above all else, it requires action.

As a result of my action of intentional purpose, I traveled the world (well at least the world of Central America,) published and promoted my first book, helped my mother become a cancer survivor, earned a fabulous new position with a great company, and became a certified scuba diver. What's more, I was blessed to be able to share it all with family and the best friends in the whole world!

And as much as I’d like to say that I took great care to plan every inch of that spectacular journey, most of this didn’t happened as I imagined.  Instead, what happened was the good stuff.  I could take a few moments to share how the two differ, but why bother? The catalyst was making the promise to myself about accomplishing the things I wanted to do, and then taking the action to make them happen.  The point is, these actions were deliberate, intentional and most importantly, connected to a sense of meaning and purpose.

Make more of the good stuff happen in your life. I challenge you to make this your year of action.  May it be the year that you quash your fears, and execute the life that you've always envisioned for yourself. It is my wish that each of you live 2013 and beyond, with that intentional purpose that drives you to live a life beyond your wildest dreams.  Blessings to you on this magnificent upcoming year!

“The person who risks nothing, has nothing, does nothing.” - unknown

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"... Bad Girls Go EVERYWHERE!"

"To know her was to truly love everything about her." says a former assistant of Helen Gurley-Brown. I didn't know her.  I didn't even really know of her, truth be told.  But I do know about the legacy that she leaves behind, and sadly, that doesn't even begin to skim the surface of the life of a woman who could have been my heroine.  Well, at least one of them anyway.

As I began the research for my book, "Why Should Men Have All The Fun?," one of the first reads I ventured across happened to be "Sex and the Single Girl." Flipping through its description and table of contents, I would swiftly dismissed it thinking... surely, a book written in 1962, (and years before I was born) would hold very little significance for today's modern single woman.  Instead, I chose to read books like "The Art of Seduction" by Robert Greene and Neil Strauss' "The Game." It wasn't hard to quantify that further getting inside the heads of men was to have been the chosen road. As it would turn out, neither of which served any purpose, since the my writing quickly took on a life of it's own, in the form of a memoir. Who knew?

But as I think back to those chapters told, I can recall how a few of the sexy, salacious articles in the very same Cosmopolitan Magazine, electrically charged some of the very actions I confessed on those pages.  From the barely there ads of racy under garments, to the erotic samples of fragrances that perfumed my mailbox each month, to say that it  somehow influenced the formidable woman I've become, would be a definite understatement.  Yes, the goal-oriented articles about "How to Land that Perfect Job," would prove to be an interesting read, but it was really the scandalous essays on "How to Please Your Man in Bed" that caught the eye of every college girl around.  And who could blame us?That's the stuff that Mama never told us about.  The sharing of that subscription with my five college roommates became a monthly ritual that would shape us all to some degree...and some of us more than others.  I can laugh now about how vividly I recall becoming inflamed about how my magazine would magically disappearing, never to be found again, which coincidentally led to putting a lock on my bedroom door, just to be able to get through an entire issue. Who knew?

And as I now glance through tidbits about the tantalizing life of Ms. Gurley Brown, I am now overcome by a slight sadness, ashamed to now realize the potential of her reach. Why did I not know of her before? A champion of women's sexual freedoms during the days when Jeannie would magically appear out of her bottle via her pretty puff of pink smoke, (barely showing her cleavage, much less her belly button) at the beck and call of her Master, Astronaut Tony Nelson. These were the days of Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver, whose lives centered around the shenanigans of their children, never kissing their husbands in the lips. Re-runs of I Love Lucy were still very much in the mix, depicting how Lucy and Ricky got pregnant with Little Ricky, while sleeping in separate twin-sized beds.  Yet, there is this trendsetter crying out to all of the single women across all lands to live large, be fearless, stay sexy and remain single. She was not just an infamous promoter of women's sexual liberation, she was a working-class woman's role model who declared herself, her magazine and her message feminist, all the while taking tons of flack from her critics.  She was in fact a teacher who didn't just preach it... she lived every word she wrote.  And while her actions may not warrant a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she does as the very least deserve a place in the pantheon of 20th-century feminist leaders. Who knew?

Now that I know a bit more about this intrepid heroine who I never existed to me until her death,  I  raise my glass of wine to her as I celebrate her words...

"Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere!"