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Planning a trip is leaving me in need of a vacation

Some friends and I are planning a trip to France in the spring. In all, it will be four of us – three coming from the US and one temporarily living in Paris. I’ve been wanting to see France since I was a pre-teen, so this will be a dream-come-true for me. I finally decided earlier this year to stop saying that one day I will go to France. It was time to make it happen. I’ve read a lot of motivational books, and one common theme is to start taking steps as though the thing you want is actually happening. So I did just that. I mentioned my plan to a friend that I sometimes travel with, and she was immediately on board and even knew our other friend was planning to go visit her daughter (the one temporarily living in Paris) next year.

I opened a dedicated savings account for France before I’d even researched the cost of a flight, and just started putting a little something aside from each paycheck. Now things are starting to fall into place. We’ve picked our travel dates, looked at flights, and discussed lodging options. One of the important things we needed to talk about was our ‘must-sees’ while there so we could work out an overall plan. Luckily we’re all fairly laid-back people with just one or two required stops. I even said if no one was interested in mine, I’d have no problem hanging out by myself for part of the trip, but it sounds like we were all interested in each other’s choices.

Since we’re planning to be there about 10 days, one of my friends suggested we take a couple of days and visit another city. This seemed like such a great idea that I was immediately glad we were traveling together and could build off each other’s experiences. But now to narrow down which will be the second city. That will require some research into ease of travel, things to do, expected cost, and who knows what else. Right now, we’re seriously considering Lyon or Nice.

Another great idea is that we each only take a carry-on with a minimum of clothes. I was especially fond of this suggestion once we had determined to stay in another location. Now we won’t have to worry about lugging around our bags on the train. We’ll just have to wash and reuse a few things, and as the Parisian-living friend volunteered – scarves are hugely popular over there. So I’m thinking I’ll take some basics and change up my look with accessories. Light scarves shouldn’t take up too much room in my bag, nor be too heavy.

We’ll also be lucky in that the girl that lives there speaks French, so we can rely on her quite a bit to do the talking for us. However, I’d like to learn some basic French before the trip so I can experience the Paris scene a little more personally. So that brings me to the next item – French lessons. I took a couple of years of French in high school, but that was 20 years ago, so without having used it since then, I’ve forgotten quite a bit. I researched taking some classes, but most are quite expensive, and I’m trying to save for the trip itself. Then it occurred to me yesterday that you can find just about anything on YouTube these days.

I spent about 30 minutes yesterday taking some beginner lessons. I have a French coworker and am thinking about asking her if she would mind having a couple of short conversations with me in French before the trip. She knows I like to travel, and when I got back from my Montreal trip earlier this summer, she asked me where my next trip would be. When I told her Paris, she volunteered to help with suggestions right away. She said there are things I need to be aware of so I don’t go to the wrong places and end up hating Paris. I’ve often heard people either love Paris or hate it, there’s no in-between. My coworker said it’s the ones who don’t know the right places to go that give the city a bad reputation. Her main point that she immediately said I should take note of is under no circumstances eat at the restaurants right by the museums. The food is horrible, really expensive and in no way representative of true French cooking. Note taken.

Another matter on my mind is not being one of those ‘annoying American tourists’. That’s partly why I want to make sure I know at least a few basic phrases before I go. I also read up on clothing and styles, because I know that’s another thing that really bothers people in many countries around the world – the lack of respect Americans show with some of their clothing choices. Plus, since we’re packing light, I’m going to need some quality, basic choices. So I spent some time researching good traveling pants and have found a pair I’d like to go try on.

As you can see by the varied topics above – things to do, places to go, where to stay, French language lessons, French cultural tips, etc., I’m beginning to feel a bit exhausted by planning my vacation. I didn’t even cover our plans to increase our walking stamina before the trip (we live in Houston, a city with very little walking when compared with most of the world). But I think as long as I do a little here and there, by the time the trip really does get here, I’ll be relaxed and confident that I’ll be able to enjoy myself while marking off one of my longest-running ‘bucket list’ items.

I am so excited and grateful that everything is coming together so nicely! Let me know in the comments section if you have any great international travel tips in general, or something related to France in particular. Merci!

Recharge Sunday

It’s been a long week, and I could definitely use a day to recharge and shake off the doldrums. I started by taking a little walk around my apartment complex while I mentally listed things I’m thankful for and worked on improving my mood through gratitude. I recently watched an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday that featured Dr. Brené Brown. I really liked what she had to see and am planning to look up her TED Talk one of these days and read her books as well. Anyway, something she said in that episode really registered with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically it went something like this – it isn’t an attitude of gratitude, but the practice of gratitude.

Well, the walk and talk did help, but I still wasn’t feeling quite myself. I knew I needed a little something more to raise my spirits. I did some reading, which is one of my favorite pastimes, but I found my mind wandering where I didn’t want it to go. So I decided to try a different tactic. I pulled out my laptop and started doing some searches on France, as I’m in the early stages of planning a trip next year. I started with the basics – weather at that time of year, what to pack (or not pack), an article on customs and etiquette suggestions to avoid being one of those ‘annoying American tourists’.

I realized a solid amount of time had passed in which I’d remained focused on good, positive things and was already beginning to feel a little better. But now I was hungry and tired of looking at the computer. I ordered a pizza just the way I like it, then picked out a few movies – comedies. As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.

I started with The Other Woman, which I love not only for the comedy and camaraderie, but also the fashions. I love, love, love all of Cameron Diaz’s outfits in this movie. Leslie Mann also wears some great stuff, but it’s Diaz’s style I want to emulate. Next up is Ride Along, which cracks me up. It’s playing in the background now. I only recently discovered Kevin Hart and am loving his sense of comedy. Next on today’s lineup is probably going to be Horrible Bosses, which I can’t seem to get enough of. I’m excited for the sequel and hope it will be as great as the first one.

Laughter, quiet time, focusing on the things I’m grateful for. These are all helping me to recharge, leaving the past few days behind, and prepare for the upcoming week. What are some of the things you do to help recharge yourself?

Thoughts on the guy who ended the Starbucks ‘pay it forward’ line

So this morning I saw a headline about a guy in Florida who purposefully refused to pay it forward and ended a run of over 450 people. Okay, I admit it. My initial reaction was – what a jerk, it wouldn’t have killed him to keep it going, I mean, he was going to buy his own coffee anyway, right?!

Then I read the article, which incorporated his statement on why he refused. And now, I kind of agree with him. Yeah, someone did something nice that got it started. And the whole idea of paying it forward is wonderful. But when it’s mostly peer pressure and no one is actually being helped, then where is the benefit except to the person that generously starts the chain? 

I understand from the article that the guy who ended it was in the drive-thru line. Probably not a lot of homeless people use the drive-thru to buy a cup of coffee. And if someone has to resort to living in their car (thankfully, I never have, so I’m speaking from a place of not knowing), I would imagine they would not go to Starbucks for overpriced coffee. I get that Starbucks isn’t about just a cup of coffee – it’s an experience. I’m just saying that if you’re having to live in your car, you probably want the cup of coffee and not the experience, and will therefore go elsewhere. You probably wouldn’t get in line at the drive-thru and hope for a cup of free coffee. 

But let’s backup a little. Like the guy said, when the barista informs you that your coffee was paid for already and asks if you want to pay for the next person’s coffee, it becomes a peer pressure situation. 

This is far from the first time we’ve heard about paying it forward at Starbucks. And while I’m sure it started out with the best of intentions – to bring a smile to someone who isn’t expecting anything – I think it might have gone too far and is starting to become more of a socially expected situation, rather like tipping at restaurants even when you’ve had subpar service. I probably wouldn’t have been able to say no if I had been in that line. I would’ve felt bad about being ‘the one that broke the streak’. 

How about we go back to the roots of ‘pay it forward’ and honor the movement at its core by actually giving a leg up or a helping hand to someone who could really use it. For example, take that $5 you would have used at a Starbucks, where I’m pretty sure the person behind you also has $5, and go to a grocery store. Find a checkout line with an elderly person buying a large number of cat food cans but noticeably no human food, or a stressed-looking mom with all generic labels in her basket and a look on her face that you can tell is her calculating if she’ll have to leave something behind, or an exhausted looking blue-collar worker with only the bare minimum in his basket and a hungry look on his face. Hand the cashier your $5 and ask them to apply it to that person’s grocery bill. Now that’s paying it forward at its true meaning – being thankful for all you have and showing your thankfulness by helping someone else and giving them something to look up and smile about. 

Or maybe next time you’re at the gas station and run inside to by a splurge candy bar or energy drink, and you see that person counting their change and asking the attendant for $3 in gas. Maybe try giving them a boost and adding an extra couple bucks to their tank. 

I can’t help but feel using ‘pay it forward’ in this manner can have such a bigger, more positive impact on the world, than feeling obligated to buy the next person’s Starbucks coffee, when you’re fairly certain they can more than afford it anyway and might even be expecting you to pay for their coffee. Helping someone truly in need is good for them obviously, but it’s also good for you. It’ll perk up your spirits to know that you did a good deed and helped someone. Let’s get back to buying our own coffee, please.

My kind of randomness – an introduction to me

Nowadays it’s certainly popular to have your own blog, and I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time. But I could never figure out what one topic I wanted to focus on. I have several friends with blogs – about dating, teaching, running, fashion, etc. But I kept putting off starting my own because I was afraid of tying myself down to just one subject.

I’m a person who has a lot of interests and also finds lots of things interesting. I also have a tendency to be a little blunt at times and say something that someone might find hurtful. And I definitely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. In the meantime, more time kept passing. More friends kept starting blogs, and there I was, still thinking about it.

Then it hit me this morning – can’t I be the Seinfeld of the blogosphere (minus the comedy, my humor is very subtle, and I’ve resigned myself, probably won’t be detectable in print)? A blog about nothing in particular, like a show about nothing in particular.

I had just read an article that inspired a long internal thought session, as my boyfriend and I were not getting along so I was home alone and didn’t have anyone to discuss the article with. I realized that I should just jump in and start a blog about whatever I happened to be passionate about at that moment. It wouldn’t have to be a life-long commitment. And to give myself the freedom to say what I want, I’d keep it anonymous, except for a few stats to give my readers a little more insight to where I’m coming from.

I’m a single female from Texas – born and raised. I have lived in a few others places as an adult and also traveled to several places. Since travel is something I’m passionate about, I’m sure there’ll be entries on travel in the future. I love to read, watch movies, listen to music and work on crafts. I’m a life-long lover of learning. I hope that by starting this blog, I’ll be able to find a few people who also like to exchange ideas and we can have a grown-up conversation about various matters.

Thanks for reading! Can’t wait to see where this goes!