Every Journey is Different

One Way

One of the things I love about blogging is the connection I make with people both similar and very different from me. Some of them are surviving very difficult circumstances and others are learning what it’s like to be responsible for their first very small human being. Some make me laugh daily and others quietly inspire me to step forward in my journey.

Many of the bloggers I read are new mothers. It’s wonderful to see the support that can help someone in the middle of the night when their baby won’t stop screaming and they just want to get in the car and drive away, never to return. I love that a new mom can find someone to tell her that you don’t always feel warm and fuzzy towards the little person running around the house causing chaos and disaster.

Sometimes, though, I notice that the unrealistic expectations and judgements we see in the world are still alive and kicking online. It’s been something I’ve observed over the last few months and yes, I’m making a judgement.

While we can learn amazing things from others, the journey still belongs to each one of us. Just because you didn’t breast feed your child until she decided to stop sipping from your breast, doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. What? You don’t schedule your child for regular play dates? I’m sure he won’t grow up to be a hermit despite your failure. You didn’t go to the gym every day last month for thirty minutes? The hand made, individually folded Christmas cards never got sent? If House and Home came by to take pictures, the photo would appear in the how not to section? OMG!

Give yourself a break! Even though we can make things look perfect on paper, or on the screen, everyone struggles and there is no one right way to travel through this journey except on your own path, which will include skinning your knees more times that you might expect. None of us will live our lives scar free. Thank goodness. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if there was only one way to do things?

Learn, love, share and support, but don’t let someone else make you feel guilty for not being perfect. Guess what? Despite their best efforts to make it appear differently, they aren’t either.

Photographers from Different Mothers

Waves Against the Shore

I eagerly gathered all my gear and headed up into the Colorado mountains very early on a fall morning. We were meeting in at the home of a couple in Silverthorn. Another person was driving in from Aspen. I’d never met any of them before, except during online chats.

John greeted me at the door of the natural wood sided home that perfectly meshed with the beauty of the mountains. His wife, Linda, was in the kitchen making coffee. I sat down in a comfortable chair and enjoyed the incredible views filling every window.  A short time later, the doorbell rang and Kelly joined us.

It only took a few minutes before we were laughing and comparing notes. While we’d never met in person before, we all shared a common interest…photography. It’s like we’d known each other forever. John and Linda gave us a brief tour of the home, walls filled with shots of incredible wildlife and landscapes. And then we were off.

They had some favorite places in the area so we all piled into one car. We ended up at a beautiful lake surrounded by trails…a photographer’s dream. It was quiet, except for the clicking of the cameras. I’d stop as I walked, trying to capture each shot quickly, so I wouldn’t hold up the group.

Then I realized that no one was rushing me along. As a matter of fact, they were all on different sections of the trail, within viewing distance, but focused on what they were seeing. It was the very first time I was surrounded by fellow photographers. Joy and freedom…that’s the only way I can describe the feeling. There was no need to hurry and words weren’t required. I’d walk ahead and slow down to photograph a section of shoreline and another person would pass me focused on a leaf, tree or reflection on the water. It was like a choreographed dance, weaving in and out. I loved every minute.

Photographers share a common bond and speak a language all their own, not in words, but in moments that visually record their journeys. That day, we were focused on nature. It was a wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

In less than a week, I’ll be meeting up with another group of photographers who share my joy. We encourage and push each other to levels we’d never reach on our own. They feed that creative part of me that sometimes gets lost in the daily demands of life. Each one of them is unique and inspiring.

I can’t wait to spend time with my photography family. They get me. Don’t you just love kindred spirits?

I’m a Cry Baby

Son- “Are you crying, again?”

Me- Sniffle, sniffle…

Son- “Well quit watching those things.”

At the time, I was watching YouTube videos of soldiers returning home, surprising their children. It started with an innocent post on Facebook by a friend of mine and led to watching video after video of reunited families.

Yesterday, it was a short clip from a Queen Latifah show as a soldier was reunited with her dog, Emma. At first Emma just walked right past her and then it must have been a whiff of her scent and Emma went happy crazy.

I used to be so serious. Strong. Focused. Always in control. These days, I melt and the tears start flowing. The tissue companies must love me.

This morning, it was the final section of a three part series from The Mom Cafe. Chris has been sharing the story of her amazing daughter, Cassidy. I’ve cried every week as I’ve read the updates. You go, Cassidy!!

This is How God Works

This is How God Works: Part 2

This is How God Works: Part 3

After I finished wiping the tears, I wondered why I cry so easily these days. Maybe I’m allowing myself to really feel my emotions. Strange, but it feels good.

I also think social media has brought things to life: videos, photos and very personal stories shared by the bloggers living them. These stories would never have made the newspaper or television news in the past when it was the only way to get information.

Even football players cry. Knowshon Moreno, our star running back for the Denver Broncos, was caught on camera crying crocodile tears just before our game with the Kansas City Chiefs in December. While lots of people made fun of him, I get it. Sometimes the emotions are so intense, the tears flow.

Crap! Here I am crying again as I search for the video and URL links for this post. Okay, I admit it. I’m a big cry baby and wouldn’t have it any other way…

Non Traditional is in my Genes

Mom-and-Girls

I remember a whistle at the back gate of the house. Pictures show a handsome silver haired man with glasses, sometimes in uniform and other times in dress pants and a nice shirt. The pictures are all formal and stiff, and are that of a stranger. I never got to know him because my father died when I was four. And my mother was left alone to raise me and my two sisters.

Before she married, my mom graduated from college and enlisted in the Army, serving as a dietician. Marriage and children ended her career. At the time she left the service, my mom outranked my dad. He was a Master Sergeant and she was a Lieutenant. Those were the days when women weren’t allowed to stay in the military when they had children. On the day my father died, my mother was a stay at home mom.

That’s when she took charge. With the support of friends and my grandmother, who came to live with us, mom dusted off her degree and went back to work. She applied for a job with the local school district so we could all have the summer off together. It was only five years later that my grandmother lost her battle with cancer.

I’m not sure how mom was able to overcome the grief and I remember times when she shut herself in her bedroom to cry. But, she never gave up. I learned about strength and putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, even through the darkest times.

My mother never remarried. She was the head of our family making all the difficult decisions, encouraging, disciplining and serving as an example to three strong willed girls.

My mother was there when I was going through my divorce and during my struggle as a single mom. She watched when I was sworn in as a police officer. She stood with tears in her eyes years later when I was promoted to Sergeant. She was so proud. I know she was there in spirit when I became a Lieutenant and then a Captain.

My mother was, and continues to be, my inspiration. It seems the women in our family never take what is considered to be the traditional role, but blaze our own trails.

As Robert Frost wrote,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I love you, mom!

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 2

This post is a followup to last Thursday’s travel post. Here’s a link to last week’s article if you missed it.

Making the Most of Your Travel Journal Part 1

Travel Journal 3 web

Now that you have a blank book just waiting for your travels to make their way onto the pages, how do you begin?

The First Entry

My first entry, besides a title page, always includes an overview of my trip. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started.

What are you planning to do?
Where are you planning to go?
Who is going with you?
When are you traveling?
Why are you traveling to this destination, in particular?

Documenting the Journey

There are so many ways to organize your journal. I tend to write my journals in chronological order from the beginning of the day until the end, but there are many ways to capture the moments.

Who are the special people you have met along the way?
What were the highlights of each day?
Where did you eat?

I glue almost everything into my journals. I’ve learned lots of unique ways to fold things so they’ll fit and I can still open them up full size to the most important information.

  • Menus from restaurants I’ve visited- Did you know there’s a BadAss Cafe in Dublin, Ireland? Many restaurants have paper menus they are willing to share, especially when you explain what you are doing. Sometimes I search for restaurants to visit based on their fantastic names.
  • Visitor guides- Stop by the visitor information center. They have great summaries and photos of the places you’re probably planning to visit. I cut some guides apart and some I add to my journal in their full glory. It’s an added bonus that most of these guides are free.
  • Post cards- If writing all the details is just too daunting, grab postcards from the different places you visit. It will spark your memory when you find time to write and adds amazing pictures as well.
  • Travel agency mailings- When I arrange travel through an agency, they always mail me great information, including maps and other trip details. In they go. My journal and maybe a photo album are the only things that remain when I’m finished. I’ll never go back through other trip related documents once I’m back home, so I include the most important papers in my journal. I’ll see them there the next time I want to revisit my trip.
  • Receipts and wrappers- I add in receipts and wrappers from things I’ve eaten. I am very careful about not including too much information on receipts. I don’t want my full credit card number available if my journal is stolen. Make sure you clean off food wrappers so that your journal pages don’t get sticky. I’ve made the mistake of adding the cover from a jelly container without fully cleaning it first. Did you know that grape jelly makes great glue?
  • Other stuff- The sky’s the limit here. All of the “stuff” still tells the story of your travel. If it’s of interest to you, include it. This also helps fill the pages so you don’t have to write a book and miss the most fun parts of your trip.

Travel Journal 7 web

The Writers

Some of my favorite sections of my journals are views of my trip from other people’s perspectives.

  • Fellow Travelers- Are your family members traveling with you? Ask them to add their thoughts at the end of each day. Even if it’s just a sentence, the kids will love going back to the journal to see what they wrote and you’ll eagerly wait for the journal to return to you so you can see their thoughts, too.
  • People You Meet- There are drawings in my Africa journal from several of the guides including that of a kudu and a mopane worm. (I actually ate a mopane worm that was sautéed in garlic.) Numerous people have written in my journals including friendly flight attendants, waiters, pilots and guides. Just ask…many people will be honored to add their thoughts. I show them the journal first so they can see what I’m doing. I usually ask people that have touched me in some way. Were they welcoming and friendly when you sat down for a good meal after a busy day?

Journal Rules

I have a couple key rules that I follow when I write my journals.

  • Perfection is out-  I misspell words. I cross things out. I draw right over my drawings if I made myself too thin or too fat. I glue stuff over things I’ve drawn or written that weren’t quite right. Part of the joy of my journey is not adding pressure to make my journal the most beautiful, perfectly organized book. I’ve written the same thing twice after forgetting I already captured the moment. Who cares? Sometimes I only have a few minutes of downtime to write a quick overview, so my handwriting isn’t the best it can be. A messy page more accurately reflects my journey. So get rid of the need to be perfect and you’ll have more fun.
  • Journaling Isn’t the Most Important Part of the Trip- Don’t spend your whole trip journaling. Just like a photographer who only sees the journey through a camera lens, don’t focus all your time on your journal. Experience the magnificence of the scenery and the joy in spending time with special people.
  • Write each day- If I don’t document each day, I tend to forget the fine details of special moments. Take the final pages in your journal to jot brief notes during the day so you don’t forget. I tend to write in the evening just before I go to bed or on airplanes. I carry my journal with me as I wander around, so I can sit at a sidewalk cafe and catch up after I’ve finished my meal. It’s fun to document what you observe.
  • Don’t make yourself fill all the pages- All my journals have left over pages at the back with nothing on them. I fill as many pages as I need to document my journey.

Your journal is just that, your journal. It may be in a book or online. Make it your own, write your own rules and enjoy the journey. 

If you have tips and tricks you use to document your travel, we’d love to hear them.

 

Let the Writing Begin

Thumbsup

I was early…really early.

Entering the magnificent historic mansion, I turned into a small room with comfortable chairs and sat down. As I took time to look around, I noticed incredible detail in the molding and fixtures. What a perfect warm welcoming place to begin my very first writing class.

Yesterday morning had started with fear. Could I actually write a book? What if my writing sucked? What if I’d been dreaming to write a novel my whole life and I wasn’t up to the task? I shared my fears in my post 50,000 Words or More and the most amazing people appeared with incredible wisdom and support.

“We just need to remember we’re trying to improve our own skills, learn a roadmap to follow as we write through the process, and come from a place of service, ie, that we’re hoping to write something others will enjoy reading. What better gift can you give to the world?” 

“You will LOVE it!! I’ll be thinking of you.”

“You have taken that first step and you are going to be great. Each step will open another door in front of you and another and another until you find yourself one day announcing your first book. I am looking forward to that day!!!”

These are only brief glimpses into the many comments written by people I’ve never met in person. As I read the words again this morning, they still bring tears to my eyes.

After I finished work yesterday, I had time to grab quick bite to eat before heading to the Lighthouse. Thank goodness for wireless internet. I checked in and read all of the comments. Never doubt the power of the written word to inspire and encourage someone. The strength of the writers jumped out of my iPad and into my heart and head. I felt the love and support and it made all the difference. I walked into the class excited, confident and ready to begin.

“A sputter and small flame begins to melt the wax of possibilities, a quickened heart beat. Can I? Dare I dream to be me and speak loudly in a voice that has been hidden? Writing my own rules, playing my own game…”

Let the writing begin.

50,000 Words or More

writing book

Once upon a time…

I searched through the course catalog. A Certificate in Creative Writing? I felt my heart blossom just thinking about it. I’d just finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management and was considering continuing my education in a completely different direction…until I noticed that the classes weren’t always held every semester so I’d need to either fill in with other non-relevant courses or begin paying my student loan while still adding more debt. So, I walked away.

It’s always been a dream of mine to write a book. But I’ve never quite known where to begin. So I haven’t. The thought of writing more than 50,000 words has frozen me in my tracks. I write a blog post several times a week and probably average about 400 words, but more than 100 blog posts put together with a logical and enticing flow?

Despite my fear and doubt, I’m stepping forward. My writing class, Writing 101: Gotta Start Somewhere starts tonight. The course description sealed the deal for me when I signed up last month.

“You want to write, but you have no idea how to begin. Or, you’re not sure what form you’d like to try-fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir. Perhaps you’ve even got a sizzling writing idea, but can’t quite muster up the courage to take a craft workshop. You might even be a highly experienced writer who’s stuck. That’s quite all right: This experiential,
non-critiquing writing workshop is for you.”

It sounds perfect. So why is my heart in my throat? Why am I a bit sick to my stomach? The questions keep flooding my mind. What if I’m not any good? What if I have to share my writing and it sucks compared to other students? What if? What if? What if?

I bought a beautiful journal and some colorful pens just to begin the class on a good note. While I am still afraid to attend, I’m more afraid not to reach out toward a lifelong dream. So, I’m stepping past my fear into a new adventure.

Is there a time in your life where you’ve overcome your fears to realize a dream?

Single Gal’s Guide to Buying a Car

Car keys

As I turned into the parking lot of the dealership, I saw a group of salespeople standing on the curb. My friend and I opened our car doors at the same time and I stepped out anticipating the onslaught. Three sales people rushed over, right past me, to the passenger side of my car to talk to my friend, who happened to be a man.

I shouted, “EXCUSE ME! I’M HERE TO TEST DRIVE A CAR!!” These days my outburst would include the F word and other glorious expletives better reflecting my outrage.

That was twenty years ago. I experienced the same disrespect numerous times as I purchased several different cars on my own. While I was a tough negotiator, I spent hours under intense pressure to purchase each one.

That, ladies, was before the magic of the internet.

I’m thrilled with the new car I purchased five months ago, a 2013 Honda Pilot XLE. And, I got it at a fantastic price. Here are a couple emails I received from another sales manager during and after my buying process.

“I think you have found a very good quote there. While we can match their price, it would not be a significant improvement over what you’ve already been presented. If somehow, their numbers aren’t what they seem or if their approach is in any way “too good to be true”, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

“Congratulations!! You got a great deal! They didn’t make a dime.”

So how did I do it? Here are the steps I took to get a beautiful car for a great price:

  1. Research cars that interest you. Ask friends about how they like their cars, go online to manufacturer and other car-related websites and check out various models. I used AutoTrader and Cars.
  2. Test drive cars several months before you are ready to buy. Make sure the salespeople who assist are knowledgable about the car. Can they show you how to work all the features, including the electronics? Test driving months in advance allows you to easily walk away without all the pressure.
  3. Clearly define what car you want and your required features. I’m a klutz and spill things, so I wanted easy to clean leather seats. Navigation was also a must, because I plan to take plenty of road trips.
  4. When you are ready, search online for the cars that fit your requirements. Car dealerships advertise on AutoTrader, Cars and similar websites. Some of the sites also include sales by private owners. My search began with a used 2011 or 2012 Honda Pilot. I wanted a Certified Car that came with a partial warranty, so I stuck with the dealers. Many car websites link to the Kelly Blue Book site that provides vehicle values. I also searched Truecar.com to see what other buyers were paying. It’s easy to compare asking prices and values for similar cars. Don’t forget to including mileage in your comparisons.
  5. Write your initial inquiry script. Auto Trader and the other car sites have contact forms you can fill out to request further information on specific cars. I sent the same content to each dealership. After getting responses, I discovered I could buy a brand new Pilot for about $1,000 more than the used ones I was considering and they had better financing options. Include information on the car that you will be trading in, if that applies. See Script #1 below.
  6. Buying new gives you more leverage since there are more cars that meet your requirements and it’s easier to create a “bidding war”. Since I’d discovered new was going to work better for me, I contacted every Honda dealership within a reasonable distance from my house, about 50 miles, and sent them a new script. See Script #2 below.
  7. Select the best price that fits your needs and contact other dealerships by email to see if they will match the price. It will be a bit more difficult with a used car because there is so much variation between each vehicle, but it gives you a good place to start.
  8. Contact car buying services. After I received the final best price offer that other dealerships could not match, I contacted AAA Car Buying Services. I’m a AAA member so the service was free. They could not touch the price I had been quoted, so I knew I was close to the best deal I could get. TrueCar.com also had a price higher than what I was quoted.
  9. Select at least two dealerships and test drive the cars. Make sure to take a copy of the best offer email. Dealerships will want to see that the quote is valid. I wanted a dealership close to my house since that’s where I’ll take my car in for service, so I gave them an opportunity to match the price, which they did.
  10. Don’t take the kids with you. A dealership is not a fun place to be, especially for kids. It’s also tougher for you to take a strong stance when you are distracted.
  11. Let them play dealer games without you. After I drove the car, I let the salesperson know I wanted the model in blue. Since the dealership didn’t have a blue one in stock, they were going to call other dealerships. To show I was serious, I filled out a loan application since the manufacturer’s financing was better than my credit union offered. After I asked them not to run my credit until we came to a final resolution, I left for a family picnic. I had several calls that afternoon…yes they could match the price but I’d have to settle for a silver one they had on the lot. I told them I wasn’t interested in silver and was still waiting for another dealership who was looking for a blue one for me (that was true). Then they found the blue one, but couldn’t match the price…okay, I don’t need to buy now so I’ll wait until I can get the price I want. Finally, the call came. The blue one was confirmed at the right price. It was so much easier to play while my salesperson worked.
  12. Be prepared to walk away. Many buyers get emotionally invested in purchasing a specific car and the salesperson may take advantage of the situation.   If they don’t satisfy your needs and you are offering a reasonable price based on your research, walk away. There are other dealerships and cars out there.
  13. Read the sales documents and double check all the figures.  Dealerships charge dealer prep and handling and I was prepared to pay that, as long as the final total cost to me was the best price. The dealership will add taxes to the price based on where you live, so these costs will be additional.
  14. Pick up your car. 

I spent more than eight hours doing my homework, negotiating and completing paperwork, but it was so much easier than past car buying experiences. I’m thrilled with my new car. I can’t guarantee that your results will be the same, but it sure worked for me.

What happened the last time you bought a car? Any tips to share?

 

Sample Scripts

Sample Script #1 (Initial inquiry regarding purchasing a used car that met my requirements)

“I will be purchasing a car in the next two weeks. Please provide me with information on the best price you can offer for this vehicle and any other vehicles you have in stock that are similar. My plan includes selecting three-five cars to test drive in the next week and finalizing my purchase shortly thereafter. Please include any additional fees that would be included in the purchase, like dealer prep and handling. Thank you.”

Sample Script #2 (Initial contact for a new car. Fill in your car selection and required equipment or colors.)

“I will be purchasing a new 2013 Honda Pilot XLE in the next two weeks. Please provide me with the best price you can offer, along with details about any additional fees including dealer prep and handling. I am not interested in purchasing the vehicle in white or black. Once I’ve gathered all the information, I will be visiting two-three dealerships to test drive the cars and will make my final selection. Thank you.”

Patience is a Four Letter Word

Impatient Woman in Traffic

I found myself growling as I drove to work yesterday.

“GRRRRRRRR!”

(There were a few choice words to supplement the growling, but I’ll leave them to your imagination.)

Traffic was backed up on the busy street. Construction workers had blocked off several lanes during rush hour traffic. There were drivers, as always, passing every car and forcing their way into the only available lane just in the nick of time.

I was seriously annoyed as I waited for people to get through the bottleneck. Couldn’t the construction workers delay the lane closure until after rush hour?

I’m not a very patient person. In fact, I believe that patience should be a four letter word. It was probably very clear in the post I wrote a few weeks ago, Some Things Are Best Left Unsaid. Does my impatience make anything better? No. It ties my stomach up in knots and I allow it to negatively impact my attitude for hours after. Clearly, this is an area I need to work on.

After thinking about it for a few hours, I realized that it wasn’t so bad. I wasn’t late to work, a few extra cars in front of me didn’t make much of a difference, I had time to pause (isn’t that what this blog is about) and I’m excited about the Trader Joe’s opening on the corner next month.

Now if I can just remember to push the pause button when my blood pressure starts climbing, life should be easier.

I do, however, still plan to growl. Yesterday’s growl needed a little work. Kind of like Simba’s first growl in Lion King. Or, maybe a roar? Aren’t women supposed to roar? It’s just too much fun not to.

“GROOWLLLLLLL!”