Write something dammit! ~

I’ve got nothing to say.  Really.  I’ve been trying to think of something brilliant, witty, inspiring, informational, heart warming to post for days. But…I’ve got nothing.  I’d call it writer’s block, but that would mean I’d have to call myself a writer.   Which I definitely am not able to do.  I have a blog in which I share a few of my random thoughts… but, I am not a writer.   I am SO sure of this it’s crazy.   I know writers.  Some very good ones.  I am in awe of people who have their magic way with a word or a phrase. Those folks WRITE.  Me, I blog.   Works for me. I never thought of myself as a writer and honestly as I was as surprised as anyone when I went home one afternoon after lunch with a couple of friends (thanks again Ingrid and Lois!), settled into my chair and set up Just a Backpack.  Ideas flowed and words appeared on the page.  The Force was with me.  And so it’s probably as natural as the ebb and flow of the tides, that eventually I would find myself staring at a blank screen and think “This it.  I’ve had my last idea.  Written my last post.  It was fun while it lasted.  I’ve been expecting it.”

Last night I had a girl’s date with a friend and we went to hear Cheryl Strayed speak and read from her new bestselling book Wild – from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail.   She was warm and funny and brilliant.  And, she has known she was a writer since she was eight years old.  And, still it took her 20 years to write this book.   Because, sometimes…she had nothing.  But she kept on writing.   Picking it up, letting it go until she had completed her life changing story.  Cheryl Stayed found herself again through an 1,100 mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail.  She had lost her way, but not her compass – writing.  And through her writing I felt her loss, her fear, her pain and her joy.  For a few minutes as she read, I was right there with her.  That’s what a writer does.  Shares herself.  And her stories.

So, I’m not a writer…or maybe I am.  Maybe I never will be.  Or maybe I will.  I don’t really care.  I’m just me and for whatever reason, at this moment as I’m trying to navigate the waters of change at 64, I do have a few stories to share and thoughts to explore.   I think we’re all in this together.   We all have stories and it’s in the sharing that we connect and learn and explore new ideas.  So, let’s get on with it shall we?

Turns out I did have something left to say.  And one more thing.  Buy this book.  I bought it last night and I’m only on page 30, but I am hooked already.  Thank you Cheryl for sharing your story.  I’m sure it will help me understand my own just a wee bit better.

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If you come to a fork in the road, take it

Yep, that brilliant piece of travel advice came from none other than Yogi Berra.  I’m kind of a quote fan so I thought I’d share a few words of wit and wisdom about travel that I’ve stumbled over in my recent armchair travels.   Enjoy!

1.  “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”   unknown

2.  “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” –  Martin Buber

3.  “When preparing to travel, lay out all of your clothes and all of your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money”  Susan Heller

4.  “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”  Susan Sontage

5.  “If at some point you don’t ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right.”  Roland Gau

6.  “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”  Helen Keller

7.  “I travel light.  I think the most important thing is to be in a good mood and enjoy life, wherever you are.”  Diane von Furstenberg

8.  “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”   Lawrence Block

9.  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.”

10.  “Don’t be a tourist.  Plan less.  Go slowly.  I traveled in the most inefficient way possible and it took me exactly where I wanted to go.”  National Geographic’s Andrew Evans on his 40 day, 40 bus journey from Washington D.C. to Antartica

11.  “Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”  Gustave Flaubert

12.  “Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.”  Fitzhugh Mullan

13.  “The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.”  Amelia E. Barr

14.  “Just shut up and get in the car.”  Nancy M. Thompson to Leslie H. Sims

15.  “If you look like your passport photo, you are too ill to travel.  Will Kommen

What’s your favorite travel quote?  I’ll add it to my list.

Baby it’s Cold Outside ~

Excuse me, but “What the hell happened here in the Pacific Northwest?”  Two weekends ago it was practically balmy.  So warm and sunny that I actually got a bit of a sunburn on one of our weekend treks.  I guess I was hoping I lived in San Diego and our glorious weather would last forever.  Apparently not the case as the cruel hand of winter swept in last week and now here I sit – warm woolie socks, slippers, my favorite cords, not one but two sweaters and a scarf.  This morning when I went off to Starbucks, it was still dark and I had on my winter coat and my GLOVES.   I didn’t want to risk hat hair all day, so I let my ears fend for themselves.   Pretty soon we’ll have to actually turn on the heat.  I’m cheap…so we’re holding off until we can actually see our breath when we’re sitting in our recliners watching TV.  I think that day is coming – maybe Friday.

No, it’s NOT snowing yet in Oregon.

Really, I’m not sure I can take change that comes so fast.  Is it advancing years?  I’m wondering if a few people didn’t actually get whiplash it all changed so fast.  And, I feel the cold.  In my bones.  In my arthritic fingers actually.  That’s new and I’m not totally thrilled about it either.  I used to look forward to winter – at least for a while.  Snowy days.  Driving up the mountain to take the kids skiing and snowboarding.  Putting on the chains.  Not being able to get the chains off. It was all part of the FUN.  I’m a Canadian.  I know cold and snow.   Apparently I lost my cold tolerance when I finally lost my accent.  Just thinking about being cold makes me a wee bit cranky.  I finally understand why old people move to Florida or Arizona for the winter.  Old bones need heat.  I won’t be going south for the winter this year so I guess it’s time to do some serious attitude adjusting.  Is that covered under Obamacare?  I think cranky qualifies as a pre-existing condition.  Better yet, maybe I’ll start with hot chocolate + a shot of something warm and sunny in it.  I feel better already.  Now this is my idea of a great winter day.  Sleigh ride with my girls on Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas.

Don’t you just love it? ~

It really tickles me when a lovely moment of serendipity strikes. You never know when you go out the door for a bite of lunch who you might meet.  Well, that moment of serendipity struck today when I slipped down to Nordstrom Cafe for a quick mid-day break from the office.  It was noon and the place was packed.  I ordered my half salad – chicken/apple/walnut/feta – yum! and had to squeeze myself into a tiny table along the wall between two other tables.  I settled in, put on my reading glasses and pulled out my current lunch time companion – 65 Things to do When You Retire. It’s a compilation of essays from people like Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem and many lesser known but still very interesting and inspiring folks.  They are true stories of people in retirement who found meaningful new opportunities.  It’s sort of a user’s manual for making the most of your retirement.   A few moments later, the lovely woman on my left (I believe her name was Carol) tapped my arm and asked “May I take a look at your book?  I’ve just retired.”   “Of course” I said and I passed the book over to her table.  I then took the opportunity to introduce myself and share my newly acquired knowledge about retirement and traveling on the cheap. Carol was interested, excited and open to all of the possibilities and adventures ahead.  I told her about the backpack and rollie plan and how I had come to be a blogger.  I learned about her career as a teacher and her recent trip through Spain, Italy and France with her daughter who was sitting across the table.  We chatted for quite a while about home exchange, house sitting opportunities and even WWOOFing.   She was a sponge for information and I was thrilled that I had lots of ideas to share!

It was a lovely exchange with a truly lovely woman who, like so many of us, is excited and eager to get on with her new life.  Carol, it was a true pleasure to have met you.  I’m glad fate guided me to that tiny table in the middle.  You brought a spark of joy to my afternoon.  I hope we meet again somewhere out on the road.  I’ll be the one with the backpack and the rollie.

Total Failure? I think Not! ~

Back in the middle of August, after way too many months of procrastination and good intentions that never got me making any real progress, I watched a TED talk about doing something new for 31 days.  I decided to use this as my motivator to get myself back in the gym.   A place where everybody used to know my name and now all the faces were new.  I committed publicly in this blog post.

It’s been almost two months and well past the 31 days so I thought it would be fun (and humbling) for me to check in and let you know how it went down.  Some good.  Some not so much.  Oh, I started out full speed ahead.  Every afternoon after work I walked over to 24 Hr Fitness and right in through the big front door.  This was the piece that had been eluding my fitness routine for a while.  Walking IN the door.  I told myself it didn’t matter how long I stayed, I just had to go in and do something.  I went.  I stayed.  I worked out.  I loved it.  I loved myself for doing it!  All was good.  Day 1 was a success – days 2, 3 and on through 10 – all good.  Then I hit a bump in the road.   Work got in the way and I ran out of time.  Could I have gone at 7:30pm or 5:30am?  Yes.  Did it even cross my mind?  No it did not.  So, I missed a day.  But then I got right back to it.  The not so good news is that the rest of my 31 days went something like this… gym, gym, something else, gym, something else, gym, gym, and so on.  Adding them up, I did 20 days out of the 31 that I committed to.  I don’t pretend to know anything about baseball, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a very good batting average.

So, I missed the mark… a little.  I only beat myself up a tiny bit because the really good news is that I am still going to the gym regularly.  In fact, I’ve settled into a really good routine of Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  We’ve been doing 6-8 mile hikes on these lovely Fall weekends but, now that the rains are back, I’ll probably add one more day to the gym.  Or not.

All in all.  I’m calling it a success and I’m glad I took the challenge.  I ended up right where I hoped to be.  As the hubs says – I’m cranking weights and pounding it on the treadmill – at the gym.

Five Fun Things to do before I Die ~

Or twenty or one hundred …whatever.  What I’m really talking about and what I have been thinking about for quite a while is creating a bucket list.  Maybe part of the reason I haven’t taken any action on what I believe is a really good idea is because I don’t like the name.  Bucket List just doesn’t do it for me.  Nor does the the expression “kick the bucket”. I’ve tried thinking of other names – Life List, To Do List, Before I Die, It’s Now or Never.  Ok, I’m not doing any better.  So I realized I need to just get past the name and get on with the pondering, dreaming, and creating of my very own list of things I’ve always wants to do while I still can.

For some people (me), that’s not as easy as it sounds.  It’s easier to say, “Oh, I don’t know.”  or pull out a few standard issue ideas like “I want to travel.”   So, how do you get started on something like this.?  How about with a quiet place, a comfy chair, a glass of wine, a notepad and a nice pen.  And then?  Well, according to the wikihow-Make Your Bucket List, you just start asking questions and see what comes up.  If you keep asking long enough, I’m sure lots of interesting and long buried “I’ve always wanted to” ideas will begin to pop into your mind.  Write them down.  No judgement allowed here.  It’s not too big, too expensive, too crazy or even too small.  It’s just an idea that tickles your fancy.  A glimmer.  But that’s often how things start.  Then they have to bubble.  It’s amazing, but you start to see these places or things everywhere you look.  Then one day, you think. OK.  I’m going to make this happen.  And you do.  That’s how so many things have happened for me.   So far it’s always been random.  One day an idea pops into my head – I want to start an organization for women, or wouldn’t it be fun to live in San Miguel this winter, or most recently, I want to challenge myself and walk the Camino de Santiago.  Once the idea has lodged, look out because something’s gonna happen!  But, I’ve never had a plan or made a list and had the visual satisfaction of taking a big marker and crossing things OFF the list.  Been there!  Done that!  Now that I have more free time, I also know time is running out.  I want to make sure I have all the adventures and experiences my mind can conjure up and I think the Bucket List is one way to make that happen.

Walking the Great Wall of China – on the List

Geocache? On the list!

Fortunately, when I turned to the internet for insight and a little guidance, I found no less than six bucket-list websites where you can compile your own bucket list and share it with all your friends, family and the rest of the world.  Bucketlist.org users have posted nearly 16,000 lists containing over 300,000 items, ranging from climbing a volcano to learning to play the oboe.  For more inspiration you might check out Lifed.com’s list of 225 Things.  The other fun thing to do on these sites is make a mental list of ALL the amazing things that others hope to do that you have already done.    Watch out.  It can be addicting.

So, what are my Five Things?  They will probably change as I keep honing my Bucket List but so far ~  1.  Live in small town in France (or Italy) for six months.  2.  Learn to play golf well enough to play for fun with my hubby and join a ladies team (hit and giggle golf is ok).  3.  Attend a TED talk.  4.  Visit every National Park in the United States.  5.  Win the Lottery and start the Nancy M Thompson Charitable Foundation.

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming… “WOW – What a Ride!”  (anonymous)

What’s on your Bucket List?

Everything I Know I Learned from Knitting ~

Ok, this is not a true statement.  Especially since I took my first knitting class ever exactly one week ago.  But, what IS true is that being in that beginner mind again, did bring up a few very important life knowings that I apparently need to keep learning over and over again.  I’m a lifelong learner.  I step with great anticipation and high hopes into each new learning space like a blank white canvas just waiting for paint.  I am a creative soul still searching for my medium.  And believe me when I say I have tried a whole bunch of creative mediums – photography, collage, water color, drawing, pottery, and more.  I have the one pound, three inch high pots as my badge of honor.  But, here’s the rub, and apparently the lesson that is tied up somehow in all of this learning… I am not good at being a beginner.  I want to be an artist, but I have a problem with making beginner’s art that might not stand up to the creative output of some third graders I know.  I love the process but I want to love the end result just as much. Right away.  I’m not a fan of the do over (and over and over and over).  I try.  I’m not good.  I move on.  This routine does not lead to success.

So, imagine how it played out this week with my knitting.  It started out as it always does.  I’m casting on, grasping the knit and the purl.  The teacher keeps coming by and telling me I’m really doing great.  I’m catching on very quickly.  I beam inside and I’m filled once again with hope.  I’m on my way!  All it will take is a lot more rows of knit and purl and my fingers will start to work automatically and everyone will be the recipient of my gorgeous and unusual scarfs for Christmas.  The very next night, eager to propel my mastery, I pull out my knitting and sitting next to the hubs, ignoring the TV, I’m in the zone – a knitting fool – for about 15 minutes.  That’s when I notice something is wrong.  Really wrong.  I don’t know how to fix this wrong.  Now what?  I decide to rip out the rows back to the first mistake but having done that, I have no idea how to get everything back on the needle.   Hmmm.  Maybe I should just rip it all out and start over again.  Great idea but at that point I realize I don’t remember how she showed us to cast on.  Less than 24 hours and I’ve forgotten everything.  That’s scary in itself.  I try watching one of the 100+ Utube videos showing how to cast on.  Nothing works.  I’m done.   Stumped. Stymied.  Throw it all in the bag defeated.  And here’s what I’m learning from knitting.  It is art.  It’s not easy.  I’m all thumbs and that’s OK.  It is not relaxing and in the beginning it is stressful, not stress reducing.  And, I WILL keep at it and I WILL master at least the basics.

I may never be the artist on the outside that I feel on the inside, but I’ll keep playing and learning.  For me, it’s the dabbling that is the most fun.  Perfectionism and art are not good partners.  I love the art.  The perfectionist in me has to take a long hike.  The older I get, the more I realize the need to just slow down.  Take my time.  Let things ripen on the vine.  Why am I not applying this to the creative process?  It turns out you can’t rush knitting.  I’m walking back into class tonight a complete beginner all over again.  And, I am good with that.