Prague with an open mind

img_3376When 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.

img_3432            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.

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The Grace of Diversity – Guest Post

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.

img_2508Saturday 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.


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Take Time to Breathe

      2015-07-18 11.56.19-1      This morning I am feeling a lot of gratitude for the space I have at home. I’m especially grateful because I have an entire room that’s all mine. It is filled with lots of things that I love: books, magazines, art that I’ve made and art that’s been given to me, photos of friends, my various creative projects, etc. As I write this in my comfy chair, my big dog, Cliff, is taking a nap a few feet away. Every once in awhile he slightly parts his eyes to look at me when I’ve made a bit too much noise for his taste. This is heaven on earth.

         If you are feeling wistful or a little envious, then that means you need to make a place for yourself as well. It probably means that you have devoted everything in your house to others and not laid claim to a piece of it that’s just for you. With this post, I hope to encourage others to make their own space and give themselves the time to enjoy it. I realize that, for a lot of people, having an entire room of their own is not practical or even possible. But, that’s not a good reason for not claiming a space of your own. It can be a corner of a room or a drawer of personal items. It can even be a room that is used by the rest of the household, but that you make into your own for an hour or thirty minutes each day. For some, just getting up 30 minutes before everyone else in the house to enjoy a cup of coffee at the kitchen table while the house is still and the energy is low is enough.

            Even more important than having a space is allowing for quality alone time. The key part is the “quality” time and not necessarily alone time. For those that live without a roommate, you may find that you spend lots of time by yourself, but do you give yourself some quality time to just relax, nap, take a bubble bath, etc? Living in a society where everything moves at warp speed can make it hard to slow down, but it is good to have some time every day when we can simply sit and breathe.

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Get Some Z’s

img_2248            It really is amazing the things that keep me up at night. As a light sleeper, I am woken up fairly easily and can usually go back to bed quickly. Yet, if I have a lot on my mind it can prove much more difficult. This has been the case lately. The myriad of noises pulling me out of my slumber range from a cat sucking on her fur, a verrrrry long dog drink out of the toilet, or the neighbor’s dog behind us that loves to start barking at 3:00 a.m. because we have a nest of coyotes living in an abandoned house nearby. Yep, it happens all the time.

            In my waking hours it’s a bit easier to analyze the things that are keeping me up, but I start to have anxiety about being up at 2:25 a.m. and thinking about what I’m going to pack for my upcoming trip or whether I’m going to have everything ready for a client meeting that week or what color I want to use for the kitchen backsplash. One night in particular it seemed like I was up for 3 or more hours just lying there with my eyes closed and “thinking.” This makes for a long workday and triggers all kinds of other issues – needing coffee late in the day to stay awake, not feeling good physically so it’s hard to concentrate, and generally wishing the day was over so I could get – you guessed it – some sleep.

            The interesting thing about this latest sleeping phenomenon is that it reminds me of when it was a regular occurrence. Years ago I struggled with sleep so much that I would have a very hard time staying awake at work — to the point that I would sleep under my boss’s desk during lunch. I would literally crawl under the desk, get into a ball and nap for about 45 minutes. Sometimes, if I was lucky and got there before anyone else, I would catch some z’s on the couch in the women’s bathroom.   Today, I just dream of having a couch in my office. I’ve heard some people swear that their key to success is a short afternoon nap. I believe this. Then there’s the Bill Murray 60-second nap, but I’ve never been able to master that.

            Not one to enjoy sleep deprivation, I will try almost anything short of a sleeping pill to sleep through the night. What I have found is that if I am using the tricks that I have been taught to stay centered, I can most likely avoid this brain churning at 3 a.m. The first item of business is to write and write and write some more about what’s bothering me. As I mentioned yesterday, writing morning pages is an excellent way to empty my head. Then there’s meditation – even 10 minutes of it can change my perspective. While I’ve always thought that the “right” way to meditate was to do it in morning, when I’ve done it at night it helps me to get centered before bed. There are a number of apps that are great to start a practice and have some cool guided meditations that include specific meditations for relaxing at night – check out omvana and calm to name a couple. Lastly, talking to someone about the fears (and they are almost always fears) that are keeping me up or just simply taking the action on the list to remove an item from my plate will go a long way toward a restful sleep.

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Mots du Jour

      IMG_5602   Recently, a friend and I started The Artist’s Way journey.  For anyone that has read and gone through the process described in The Artist’s Way, you are familiar with the “morning pages.”  These pages are not meant to be fodder for creativity, but are a “clearing” of the mind – kind of like the foam on top of your coffee – it’s not bad, but the good stuff is underneath.  Since starting these pages a few days ago and committing to the artist recovery process, I have already enjoyed a few inspirational moments and ‘getting to the good stuff.’

         Part of the clearing is also opening up the creative channel. I firmly believe in inspiration coming once we commit to an idea or path. Some call it coincidence, but I am a bit more into the woo-woo and choose to believe that things awaken in our consciousness when we have finally turned the dial to the channel to the right place.
One of the inspirational moments came yesterday morning while I was listening to a podcast while waiting in the mobile bank teller line to make a deposit. The Beautiful Writer’s Group hosts a podcast in which they interview a writer, agent, or other person working in the publishing / writing industry. Yesterday I was listening to the podcast interview with Glennon Doyle Melton. I am not very familiar with her writing, but her name has been coming up a lot lately. She’s written a few books and is now teaming up with one of my favorite authors and thinkers, Brene Brown.   But, before any of this recognition, she wrote blog posts . . . every single day. She would write for about an hour and a half – then publish. She says that it taught her to be done with something. What a great message! How many times have you worked on something and tinkered with it until you were bored and never finished it?

         As a result of hearing what she said, I have decided to try my hand at posting something everyday. I’m not sure if I can do it, but I am going to try. It would be awesome to have an hour and a half every morning to spend on writing (in addition to making my precious cup of coffee, walking the dogs with my husband, meditating, yoga, and getting ready for work). Perhaps, if I woke up at 4:00 a.m. then I could do all of that, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Nevertheless, I’m open to whatever changes are in store for me based on this kind of a commitment. The post may be short; it may simply be an observation about the world or a comment on something I am jacked up about. The point is to write and publish without holding back and put it out in the universe. And, for good measure, I’ll throw in some longer posts on travel, the Be List, and the book (yes, I also have a book project) I am working on as promised elsewhere on the blog. In honor of my (other) recent commitment to working on my French, this section will be under “Mots du Jour” for words of the day.

         À bientôt, j’espère


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Let It Go

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.  IMG_3094

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.

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The Journey is the Reward

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.

20150502_Brandy_40_088Recently, 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.

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Enjoy the Journey

IMG_6161In researching for the book, Get Down (this is what I’m calling the book so I don’t just call it “the book”), I figured it would be a good idea to speak with the “players,” such as the prosecution team, defense counsel, judges, defendant, and possibly the police officers involved. Since this case occurred between 1985 and 1986, I’m quickly running into the age-old problem of researching long past events – death and dementia. At least with dementia, generally speaking, the oldest memories are the last to go.

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Change Your Thoughts By Taking Action

IMG_5272Be Kind

When I was in first grade I entered into a contest to see how many books I could read over the summer. Ever the competitor, I read like a champ that summer. One of the books that I absolutely loved was Aesop’s Fables, a book of tales for children. The stories were so creative and wove a tale that always illustrated a moral. One of my favorite morals from the Fables is “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” It is derived from the story about the lion and the mouse. The lion reluctantly spares the mouse who later saves the lion by chewing threw the ropes ensnaring him.

Despite the fact that these Fables are for children, they are instructive at any age. Sometimes it feels like our world is spinning so fast that we have forgotten some of the simpler things in life, such as kindness. But kindness isn’t hard; it’s as simple as a smile or acknowledgement. The dictionary definition of kindness is “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others.” Simple, right?

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Just Write it Down

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.”

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