Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple

Just in the nick of time, for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Purple, I bring to you, shades of Belgian pottery.

We spent a long while talking to the potter himself at his stand in Bruges, about his technique and his glazes.  You can see a picture of him below as well.  He makes beautiful jewelery as well, but unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of those during our chat.

Hope you’ve all had a wonderful week so far.

Could I Have Been An Olympian?

As everyone knows, the Olympics are in full swing. Even though I’m a fan of the games, by next week the Olympic theme song that is played throughout the day will likely drive me mad. Two weeks straight of the same ten second piece of orchestrated music at the start, end and every commercial break in between will cause my ear drums to reach for the remote and hit mute. Maybe it’s because I have the games on while I go about my business each day.

Regardless, I love the sense of pride and the dedication from Olympians. There is always a heart wrenching story or significant feat embodied in the spirit of the games.

I grew up as a fish. My parents could not get me out of our pool to eat and my summer attire consisted only of a bathing suit. I dreamed of being a real swimmer with a swim cap and goggles and eventually joined a swim team where I did fairly well. During the summer of ’92, my bathing suit transitioned into a gymnastics leotard and my poor Great-grandmother suffered the “look at me, I’m a gymnast” phase, cartwheels in her rowhome and all, when I stayed at her house during one week of the Olympics that year. Poor Grandmom. She never dared to crush my dreams either, though quite frankly, I don’t remember her appeasing me and saying I’d make it either.

Toddler Mae fashioning summer attire for the rest of her childhood.

I don’t remember really ever trying very hard to be anything I dreamed of. I was the queen of one season sports or clubs. I’m probably not in the memories of any of my teammates or fellow members because I dashed in and out, never leaving behind anything substantial and never hanging in to form real memories. Until recently, I thought it was me. I thought maybe I’m just a flake and like so many things in life, I just never knew was it was to give my all and keep persevering. But it’s not true. I’ve come to only understand recently that my Mom discouraged me. But before a judging finger is pointed her way, I understand and I do not place blame. My Mom had severe anxiety and taking me to events was very trying on her. I don’t believe she held me back from anything that I carried full potential in, but I guess we won’t know. I don’t think I would have been an Olympic swimmer, but I wonder if I had stuck with something now and then, if I could have had a different mindset in life. Maybe I could have fought harder.

Now that I’m an adult, I can’t base the rest of my life on the fact that I played one season of softball or did one year of Girl Scouts. I am in control of my own fate and if I don’t try or stick with things, it’s my fault. It’s time to learn a new mindset.  And maybe because I’m not an athlete, that doesn’t set the baseline for other things. I’ve stuck with the things that really do matter in life; I’m not a complete failure.

I didn’t even mean for this post to go in this direction. It was supposed to be a lighthearted joke about my Gram who used to say constantly, “If my parents had had money to get me singing lessons, I could have been a famous singer”. Gram had not a lick of a voice or an ear for keys, but it was something she dreamed about as she grew up in a family of fourteen children.  I found myself saying to my husband the other night, “If I had been able to stick with swimming, I could have been an Olympic athlete”. We both knew it was wrong, but we laughed anyway.

If you think about it, it is funny how at the still-young age of 29, it is so easy to see dreams that are too late to happen in the faces of young Olympians. I’d like to think that I’ll encourage my future and non-existent children to follow their dreams young and be able to support them along the way, and without trying to make them accomplish mine.

Brussels: More Seedy than Chocolatey

On a partly sunny late June morning, our redeye landed in Brussels. With dreams of chocolate and architecture, we waited in the immigration line, eager to hit the cobblestone, rather Belgian stone. Our plan, per Rick Steves, was to peruse the town for a few hours and later ride the rails to Bruges. We hopped the train to city centre, stowed our carry-on suitcases in a locker and approached our first outdoor look at Belgium with a warm welcome from…drunk bums. Upon exiting the main train station in Brussels, we found trash, drunk confrontational homeless people and open outdoor toilets. Yay, we made it!

Don’t get me wrong, we like to make our own adventures but since we were foreigners, I suggested we just keep walking toward the Grand Place or Grote Markt like Rick said and get the heck away from the train station. He did mention Brussels was a little seedy, but Brussels sounds so fancy and French, so the only seediness I envisioned was that of chocolate dipped strawberries. Still, each city has its less desirable areas, so we ventured on and found what our little hearts desired…cappuccinos and chocolate filled pastries amid tall and ornate structures.

It became more and more overcast and eventually started to downpour, but the flowers that lined the windowsills of La Grand Place were still beautiful. The architecture consumed hundreds of pictures on our memory card, with each angle or sculpted archway appearing more intricate and astonishing than the last. This was the Belgium I wanted to see, shortly followed by a little peeing baby. “Let’s go see Mannequin Pis”, I tell my husband. “A pissing mannequin? What? Why?” I expected a response like this, since the only portion of the Belgium book he read was on the beer. But we did find the tiny statue of the baby boy peeing into a fountain, which seems to capture quite the crowd of tourists. It is a national symbol afterall…and there are many different variations that poke fun at the original. I found these much more amusing and not quite G-rated enough to post for your viewing pleasure.

We continued to wander and saw a parade of Belgian police ride through the narrow streets on gorgeous horses. It was a procession that included drumming and what seemed like a ceremonious trot through the main square. And though it was raining and the sight was one that we’d remember, I remember most getting my jeans smattered by….”stuff” from a horse splattering on the Belgian stone. I think that is the most delicate way to put that. Wonderful, a post full of bodily functions. But luckily we had our handy laundry detergent and my husband stopped laughing long enough that I could get cleaned up and we could head over to Bruges, which would hopefully welcome our tired and cranky selves with open arms, clear skies and beer.

Travel Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist, but I pretend to be one when I travel.

In preparation for our ten day European trip, I thought about our prior two trips to Ireland. We had taken large rolling duffels and then I wore a satchel as a day bag. My shoulders were sore and the bag was inconvenient. The second trip in particular was rough because we were caught in the middle of an epic snowstorm. When buses were stuck, we ended up hauling our duffels through snow drifts for what felt like miles to get to our destination. Well, we knew we wouldn’t hit snow this time, but I was not going to be an over packed American. I made rules that I was unsure that we could follow, and they are as follows:

10 Day strict packing list:

  • Carry-on suitcase each; only 1/3 full
  • Rucksack each; nearly empty
  • Money pouch (neck/waist-type)
  • Five pairs each; socks, underwear, tee shirts
  • One pair sneakers; worn there, not packed (I cheated with a pair of sandals too)
  • Two pairs of jeans each, wear one there
  • Two pair each either shorts or capris
  • One quart size bag of liquid toiletries each, each with a 3oz bottle of detergent
  • Small bag of shared necessities; nail clippers, tweezers, band aids, razor, bobby pins, etc.
  • Glasses/belts and other random requirements
  • Ipad, two cameras, eReader (Nook), chargers and spare memory cards
  • One 4-socket power converter.  Charged all electronics in one swoop each night.
  • A long cord aka clothesline

Score one for us. It was the easiest travel trip ever. Since we nearly missed our plane to Brussels, one of the key begging points in allowing us to board was that we had no luggage to check. We were able to fit both our bags in the same train luggage locker at each city we went to, saving time and money when we were unable to check into our room too. Halfway through the trip, we washed our clothes in our sink, hung them up on the cord we cleverly tied across one side of our bedroom and off we went the next morning, fresh, clean and with far less luggage then the over packed tourists who could barely lift the bags up and onto the train.

Laundry in Berlin

The worst would be seeing the retired couples with the elderly men hauling multiple enormous pieces of luggage behind his wife on crowded public transportation.  I gave my husband the go-ahead then and there to berate me if I ever got that bad.  I may not wash our clothes in the sink forever, but maybe one day if we’re fancy we’ll just pay to get them laundered instead.  Who am I kidding?  We’ll never be fancy.

Back to the packing list; for those who may question the possible excessive electronic choices, let me explain.

Ipad, a wonderful gift from our parents saved my shoulders in a big way rather than toting the heavy laptop as we did in years past. But, since there is not Wi-Fi everywhere and we found many Europeans do not offer it for free, the Nook was a great backup to access tour books, maps and translators that were pre-downloaded, thus eliminating the need for the internet and heavy travel books during the travel. In cities like Brussels, where we were limited on time, we used the Nook to do our own walking tour per Rick Steves, saving both time and money. When you have the opportunity though, I do suggest taking a real tour, Rick is wise, but he doesn’t know every nuance.

And there you have it. We came home with smiles, souvenirs that fit in our existing bags (including a real cuckoo clock) and never had to check a bag or pop a painkiller. This my friends, comes in handy when you’re sharing a six person sleeping compartment on a train.

Many stories to follow.

I’m Back…365 Consecutive Days…Not This Year

It’s been a process, but I’m back.

We’ve travelled overseas, worked our tails off and I’m officially unemployed. This is all a good thing, but it has taken a toll on my time. Today is the official start of a new life and a happier Mae.  The weight has already been lifted, though it seems very surreal. Having left a stressful and unrewarding career behind, I’m on the hunt to do what makes me happy and somehow find a way for it to pay off in satisfaction and eventually to pay some bills. I’m lucky because I have an incredibly supportive husband who would rather see my smile than my paychecks, at least for a little while.  He’s giving me the chance to do good for others and for us, despite the sacrifices that may lie ahead.

The World Is Your Oyster by Bill Frymire

I have a lot of ideas and wonderful volunteer opportunity that I start at the end of this week.  One that I’m hoping leads me down the road to a career of history and ancestry, and maybe a few other options. I’ll be immersed in the smell of old books and side by side with brainy researchers. It’s the first step toward working toward something that has appealed to me since the fourth grade. Will this be my career or will it just lead me to something else?  Who knows, but if I didn’t take the leap, we’d never ever know. Life is full of chances and I’m about to take a lot of them.

Thanks for following me to my new address; I’m so lucky to have you along for the ride.

Tell me about some of the chances you’ve taken. Was there ever a chance that didn’t pay off or at least bring you some sort of opportunity or happiness that you may have never realized?

 

Looking Forward to New Adventures

This will be a short one this evening. My husband and I are embarking on an adventure soon and I realized how lucky we are. I saw a commercial and a married couple was bickering about how to plan a vacation. They clearly had different agendas and concepts of what fun was. It made me wonder if people get married and really have that little in common. I’m not one to judge and no one wants to read sappy blogs, but I’m going to go ahead and be sappy anyway. I’m married to my best friend. We have so many things we enjoy together; bad days become adventures and in the end, we have good memories, stories and pictures to remind us of our journeys.

I’m just feeling lucky this evening, as we look forward to our next adventure coming up. I can’t wait to share it with you…and I promise it won’t be sappy. But do prepare yourself for a lot of pictures.  (I think I might even roll my eyes over this blog.)

 

Together

Take Care of Your Feet

Warning: This is a ridiculous lady rant about shoes. You’ve been warned. Paragraphs may imply awkwardness and whiney personality. It does not have “Whitney” writing as my spellcheck insists on telling you.

I spent almost four hours dodging fellow shoppers and navigating two shopping malls, traffic and a random shopping center after work tonight. Countless department stores, shoe stores, teen, sophisticated, hipster, skater, sport and anything-apparel type stores later, I found a decent pair of shoes. I didn’t have crazy criteria; somewhat stylish, comfortable, flat and with an ankle strap. I prefer non-man made material and I didn’t want to wear something resembling my grandmas cruise apparel from the early 90’s.

I learned a couple things tonight:

– All athletic shoe stores carry exactly the same brands, styles and colors. If you’ve been in one, you’ve seen them all.

– All retail employees ask how you are but they don’t listen to your reply. I learned you could respond with an array of ridiculous answers and they will still say, “great, if you need anything, let me know.” Well, salesperson, I can tell you right now that you are not the kind of person I can rely on, considering you think that my dog dying is great. (My dog didn’t die, but it still would not be great.)

– Old people know how to take care of their feet. Is it wisdom or refusal to cram their feet into awkward confining foot-shackles any longer? Either way, they have quite a selection to choose from. My younger feet even seemed old when I tried a couple on. Eek, glimpse into the future?

– Young people will pay for a flat piece of plastic, covered in cheep vinyl, with a piece of fibrous rope glued to it and be happy about it. My heels cringed thinking about wearing them for more than ten paces. And that’s coming from a kid who wore “jellies” in the 80’s.

– Lastly, I’m old. I’m not even 30 but as I shopped, I found myself in an undefined category. I saw professionals in gorgeous and costly shoes, twenty year olds with canvas wrapped loosely on their feet and old people with cushy leather clod-hoppers that have bulbous soles and unflattering bulky shapes.

I’m going on a trip where I will do a lot of walking, out of dozens of stores, I found one, just one part of sandals that were well made, comfortable and not from grandma’s or little cousin’s closet. Do I ask for too much? Is it too much to try to avoid blisters and pain but still care about appearance; is it too often one way or another? Such a silly argument, I know, but there I was thinking that I couldn’t be the only one that didn’t want to limp this summer with irritated and abused tootsies.

If only I could make Hush Puppies trendy for my generation. If you had a grandma who dressed up, you will know what I’m talking about.

Trust me…they do look cute on, I just don’t feel like being a foot model tonight.

20120625-235008.jpg

Smiling at Gladiolus

Image

image

Gardening is peaceful to me, as it probably is to anyone who gardens. Those who don’t find calmness and pride in it probably hire landscapers. I even find picking weeds makes me happy. Although I like to be intellectual, sometimes the mindless activity of pulling weeds stimulates my mind because it can drift along with the breeze; thoughts wonder unforced and unprovoked. I do some of my best thinking hunkered down along the flower beds with dirty fingernails. Gloves just done give me the ability to snag those tiny, tricky weeds.

Yesterday, amongst my other chores, I found myself gazing at the pride of my garden, the gladiolus. They stun me each summer with their beauty and each summer I smile as I pull into the driveway or as I pull away and see their bright colors on tall stems. For the time in between, I’m sure a dog walker or two can appreciate them, but otherwise they complete their short cycle of blooming beauty and whither during the high heat of July, generally ignored and unappreciated.

I decided to cut some and enjoy them in the main area of the house and I can’t tell you how many times I stopped to smile at the arrangement as I walked by this weekend. For someone who loves nature so much, I’m not sure why I hadn’t started to bring the outside in a long time ago. Maybe I felt bad cutting the plants up, but they will certainly be enjoyed in here more. After all, bouquets aren’t grown in a vase, the flowers all grow in dirt somewhere.

I Dream of Black & White; They Dreamed in Radio

20120623-232614.jpg

Tonight we watched “Midnight In Paris”. The movie arrived via Netflix and I wasn’t expecting to really like it, particularly since it’s a Woody Allen film. Not that there’s anything wrong with his collection of work but people either really love or adamantly despise his movies. I think this was my first, and if they are all like this, I may be a fan.

I felt like I knew the main character, Gil, as if he and I were of the same mindset. He dreamed of another time, the golden age of Paris in the 1920’s. He felt the romanticism of history and like an old soul, felt a pull toward nostalgia. You know I feel that way; not about that particular period, but about feeling a connection to another time. It’s purely an unrealistic fascination because I don’t dream of the lack of vaccinations or the uninvented advancements that accompany the chores of today’s everyday life; but there is a sense of simplicity and an appreciation for things as they used to be. He is treated like he’s crazy for his dreamlike longing and I can relate to that with certain people. Maybe their souls aren’t quite as old or they just lack he part of our brain that wanders.

Gil literally takes a ride into his dream time period and mingles with the likes of Hemingway, Dali and Picasso. He experiences quick friendships with that era’s most prominent and important creative sorts. Along the way he meets a fascinating woman and as he falls for her, she reveals that she longs for the turn of the century, and how dull life is during her existence. He comes to understand that his longing is not new, but that romantics have always longed for what is gone and what will never be again. It is obvious and likely that this is the case, but for someone like me who dreams of days I will never experience in a realistic sense, it is slightly sad. Dreamers don’t accept reality fully, because what would we dream about? I don’t want to dream of paying my bills or mowing the lawn. I want to have fantasy because it ultimately doesn’t matter if I have the right vaccinations in my dreams, as long as I fill whatever void I have with stories and distant time periods.