Have you ever thought about why we read books? Sounds odd, I know, but sometimes I think about how much time it takes to read a book and have this fleeting thought – is it worth it? Well, I would say that most of the time my answer is a resounding YES!!! But as I’ve crossed decades, I have grown less tolerant of reading a book that I don’t enjoy and can (almost) force myself to stop reading one. We all know it when we have a good one – you can’t put it down. The story is engrossing and you find yourself looking for time to read it. I’ve gone so far as to listen to a book on audible while driving and reading the physical book at home. (This works far better with kindle because you can “whispersync” the book and the kindle will pick up where you left off when you stopped listening. Otherwise, I’m having to fast forward on audible.) When the story doesn’t grab me or the writing is banal, I think about the fact that we all only have so much time on earth and wasting it on a bad book is a travesty. Put it down. There are a million other excellent stories to read.
So, why do we read? In contemplating this question, I think back to a very young me that read voraciously and would enter reading contests over the summer between school years. (I even won a reading trophy in first grade.) I won’t ignore the fact that my competitive nature didn’t drive me to read more than I normally would have in those summer months, but it is a skill that has served me so well in my life. Setting aside the competitive component, reading provided an escape and a window into an unknown world. As a child growing up in a not-so-sophisticated suburban world, books showed me ideas, places and people that I would never otherwise come to know living in Irving, Texas.
In 2020 (pre-pandemic), I chose 30 books as my challenge. Right now, I’ve completed 18 books and in the middle of a 944-page novel (this should count as 3 books!) and another non-fiction book that I’ve been “reading” for about a year. It never occurred to me until writing this piece that I am engaging in the same practice as I did when I was 6-years-old – almost 40 years ago. (really??) For some reason, it makes me smile to think about the fact that I’ve entered a reading challenge in 2020 reflective of a challenge from 1981. Are we challenging each other in a parallel universe? Does the 45-year-old read with the same vigor as the 7-year-old? Quite possibly. I do know that the engulfing nature of a good book is the same today as it was then – the feeling of “knowing” the characters and anticipating their reactions and words when an incredible writer has brought the character to life. Not wanting the story to end or crying my eyes out at the devastating death of a character or the poignancy of how the story ends. That has never changed.
And, again, I find myself escaping the everyday through the books and stories I read. Travel is nigh impossible right now – at least to the places I pine for. So, I’m left to explore them through books and the internet. The only hindrance a year ago was finding time to travel with a busy workload. It never occurred to me that at some point I would be met with closed borders. Left with my imagination, like rolling a die over and over, I have toyed with the idea of the first locale I will visit. Knowing this will end keeps my spirits up, but for now I have my books and my imagination.
When travelers visit Europe it is so easy to get caught up in trying to see everything. In every major city you can make a list the length of your arm of sites to visit and things to do, which is practically impossible due to the length of time most people are able to spend in one place. Yet, the tendency is to cram every moment full of things on the list. But, in my opinion, this is so counterproductive. Now, that’s not to say that I am not guilty of this, but I have learned that taking your time to “smell the roses” will definitely enrich the experience.
On this particular trip, we are spending 5 full days in Prague, a half day on the train to Vienna, then 6 full days in Vienna. While two weeks in Europe is such a luxury, it goes by quickly and can be quite harried if not (un)planned properly. Choosing a great place to stay both in comfort and location will take the stress level down a notch or two. When we arrived yesterday, our airbnb host greeted us and showed us around. We followed him around exclaiming “wow” every time we looked in a room. The place is lovely and has a full kitchen equipped with a DeLonghi coffee machine.
After settling in, we found the local grocery store and stocked our kitchen with the necessities – milk for coffee, yogurt for breakfast, and some fruit. This is always a fun way to dive into the culture. It’s so interesting to see the local flavor and how things are marketed, not to mention it can always bring on a good laugh . . . like this: (What the?? Since when did Texas become synonymous with corn and kidney beans?!?!?)
Enough about groceries – let’s hear about Prague. To be sure, the sites and sounds of Prague evoke romance. Everywhere you turn you can see stunning architecture, which is lit up at night adding to the drama. Ironically, while the city went unscathed by the bombing during World War II, its Jewish population was all but eliminated by the Nazis. While a solemn choice of sites, no trip to Prague is complete without a visit to the Jewish quarter and museum, which we are planning to visit on our last full day in Prague.
The following is a guest post from a dear friend of mine. Thank you, Tracy, for lending your talent and insight to the Maven’s Blog.
Saturday night I took my two-year old grandson and seven month old granddaughter to dinner at a nice local restaurant in an upscale suburb. Many families with small children frequent this restaurant so, although the staff is prepared for the ‘challenges’ of little diners, I recognize and appreciate their kindnesses. Our server was a woman who appeared to be about my age (61). She could not have been nicer. After two high chairs were delivered to the table, she lifted one child into a chair and I lifted the other. Children’s menus were provided. She cooed over the baby and caressed the toddler. Orders were placed and she ensured that the food was delivered quickly. Hungry toddlers can be cranky as grandmothers know. Half of the food on the toddler’s plate went into his mouth and the other half, the floor. I apologized. She tsked. I heard about her family including grandchildren in Peru. In addition to being helpful, patient and understanding, our server could also be “labeled” an immigrant.
After a lovely dinner the check was paid, and I prepared to leave. I scooped up the baby and struggled to free her big brother from his perch. An African-American gentleman from an adjacent table rushed to my aid, leaving his meal and family of three. I gratefully accepted his assistance. He looked down at Luke and asked if Luke minded his help. Luke acceded. The gentleman lifted Luke out of his chair and then asked if he could help us out to my car. Having already lent me such gracious assistance, I felt I couldn’t ask for anything further so I politely declined.
I know our country suffers from institutionalized racism and problems stemming from illegal immigration. I agree that we need to first acknowledge and then work to solve these challenges. But on one Saturday evening in Southlake, Texas, a Peruvian immigrant, an old white woman and a nice black man’s interactions showed me that we don’t need to make America “great again.” America, with its varied and serious problems, is already great.
It’s hard for me to believe that it has been so long since my last blog post. Time has flown by. Choosing a topic to write about given everything that has been going on in the past few months is not an easy task. We’ve traveled to Ireland and had some heavy, beautiful, and fun experiences. It seems like I’ve resolved some big questions in my life. And then there’s just the daily living part of life.
Despite the myriad of topics floating around in my brain, the one that has had the most impact on me is having my path made clear. Over the past couple of years I have been in search mode. It’s the classic “I’m about to turn 40 and what am I doing with my life” theme. One day recently it was like I looked up and noticed that I had become surrounded with messages about finding purpose, stepping out on faith, taking risks, and other jargon aimed at giving someone the encouragement to do something better. Along with these messages are endless stories of (mostly) women that have created a financially successful business. The bloggers seem to have taken over the world. A great number of the innovative app developers are women or the companies are run by women (class pass, Yahoo!, Eventbrite, etc.). An endless number of interesting and creative ideas by women run through my Instagram feed. It is exciting and exhilarating to see what women are doing in today’s world. I can only imagine the triumph in the faces of all of the women in our past who have fought fiercely for this moment in time.
For some travelers, planning a trip is almost as enjoyable as the trip itself. It generates excitement and wonder. Nothing else can compare to this kind of freedom of exploration.
Recently, we met with the couple we are traveling with to Ireland to plan our itinerary. With our plane tickets purchased, we had the dates nailed down and the parameters of our schedule set. The next point of order was to decide where we were going to visit so we could make room reservations. For some people that like to live on the edge, booking the accommodations beforehand is too structured. In fact, a friend that I consulted about our trip arrived in Ireland without one night booked. She and her husband flew to Dublin, rented a car and just started driving. The couple stayed in Ireland for a month and never failed to find a place to rest for the night. Apparently, with the numerous bed and breakfasts in Ireland, this kind of travel is easy. For those of us that like to have it all laid out in advance, that is not something I could ever imagine doing.
Coming together to plan a trip is an opportunity to share a meal and catch up. It was our turn to host so we prepared dinner – our companions were in charge of the dessert. [For my husband, letting go of the dessert planning is akin to my trepidation in traveling to Ireland without accommodations—he had to make sure they were bringing something “good” and “not just fruit.” Needless to say, the homemade blackberry cobbler and Blue Bell ice cream met his expectations.] After a lovely meal, we got out our maps and the handy itinerary chart I prepared for everyone – a planning element I developed for our trip to London a few years ago. The chart is designed to plot out where you are staying each night and what to do in the morning and afternoon. Filling in the chart with a map and guide ensures efficiency in travel and sightseeing.
Every since I can remember I have wanted to write a book. I guess that’s not an uncommon goal for us humans. In my daytime career, I read and write a great deal, but it does not satisfy my creative needs. I imagine it’s a bit like trying to scratch the travel itch by just reading about a place; it just doesn’t do the job – the sounds, smells, and experience can only be gained by going there.
A few years ago I moved into a smaller office to cut overhead (it was 2008). I moved into a closet with another attorney – our desks were literally 18 inches from one another. Luckily, he is a criminal defense attorney meaning that he spends more time at the courthouse than he does in the office. So, the place was practically mine. And then I added a paralegal to the closet . . . but that’s another story.
My new friend was / is a storyteller. One day, at my request for a good one, he wove a tale about a man that he represented who was wrongfully accused and almost convicted for a murder he didn’t commit. There are so many amazing and quirky parts to this story that I immediately thought, “This would make a great book, and I need to write it.”
Ireland is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Partly because I have always been told that I have an Irish heritage – along with half of America! (More about that later . . . )
For me, one of the best parts of a trip is the planning stage. I’m a “learner” by nature and this gives me an excuse to research and learn about somewhere new. Books, guides, blogs and various travel websites all provide great fodder for research. This trip began by learning about the weather and the best time to visit Ireland – May through September with August being an optimal time to go. With our summer travel schedule, we couldn’t do August, but we also didn’t want to be there during the high season for tourists. We opted for May – the weather would be fair and the tourist levels would be low.
Thankfully, as of the writing of this post, I have (finally!) secured our accommodations for our trip to New York on October 22. Everything else – plane tickets, check; tickets to a show, check; reservation for dinner before the show, check – was done BEFORE we even had a place to stay.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to visit the South of France – in particular, the regions of Provence and the French Riviera. It evokes so many images – fields of lavender, the Mediterranean sea, and stone pathways through ancient cities lined with bougainvillea. The cities are iconic – St. Tropez, Cannes, Arles, Aix-en-Provence, and Nice. The magic of the SOF will delight anyone no matter what your interest: if you’re an art lover you can walk in the steps of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso; if you love French food (and who doesn’t, really?), then you will find the land of mussels and fries, salad Nicoise, and lots of pastries; if you love the outdoors, there are beaches, bike paths, and mountains.
Boston is next on the travel agenda. Over the next few posts I’ll talk about how we arrived at the decision to go to Boston – no science, just happenstance – as well as some ideas of things to do that we’ve been given by friends. And, of course, pictures!
It’s been a few weeks since I posted – work has been super busy, I’ve written an article for an upcoming CLE, and I’ve actually taken some time to make some art. Life goes by quickly so enjoy it!