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When Any One Thing Makes You Crazy

Sunflowers are hearty survivors...I love them!

Sunflowers are hearty survivors…I love them!

This blog, links, and information is designed to reach out to those among us who just don’t fit the “traditional” one passion, one career, one area of interest mold.

To be honest, most of us wish we did.

Nonetheless, we need to make a living like everyone else.  Many of us spend entire careers in jobs we are thoroughly bored doing, or lost interest in eons ago, because our culture doesn’t support our constant need for learning and varied inputs. What I’ve done is identify my few consistent areas of interest and build around that.  Sometimes it takes me YEARS to get a situation where I want it, and then something changes and it doesn’t work anymore.

So, I keep at it.  Studying, transforming, figuring out how to get what I need to both pay the bills and not go crazy.  Sometimes it all comes together, sometimes not.  I’m very much a fan and student of Barbara Sher, and I credit her with the idea of the “good enough job” to serve as an anchor.  In my case, that job is in commercial aviation.  It’s good enough pay and benefit wise, and fabulous from a travel and varied environment standpoint.

I’m now building onto that with paid article writing, and a playful, fun side business selling custom scented and labeled bath and body products.   Three separate streams of income, all in areas that either interest me, or fill a need in my life.  The idea is a blend of control of my time, doing things that I enjoy, and having time to keep learning and doing new things.

To the right, you will see several links on articles I’ve written to help you figure out WHAT it is you really want, and ideas to help you get there.  I’ll continue to blog on with travel related pieces, as well as fiction with my character Bliss Universe.

Please also visit my MiA Bath and Body link – most fun evah with a group of gals and some adult beverages!

 

Short Story #1 Vicky Meets Her Bliss

I’m doing this because it is National Novel Writing Month, and since I struggle with a whole big novel, thought I’d work at just one short story a day instead.  Writer’s wicked self-criticism:  It’s pretty obvious that I haven’t written a short story since 8th grade!  While I hit all five criteria (Setting, Theme, Characterization, Conflict, Plot) and it has a basic structure, it clearly reads like a scene rather than a wholly complete story.  I will keep at it! 

Vicky Summers knew she shouldn’t have had that second martini when she saw herself floating across the room.

Well, someone or something who looked a great deal like her, but taller. And thinner.  With long soft curly hair that actually bounced.

She blinked quickly, then squeezed her eyes shut tight before easing them open to look again.

Yep, that was something that greatly resembled her actually sitting on the bar at The Olive Jar Martini Dive between two investment banker suits talking with their whole bodies and sipping scotch on the rocks lowballs, oblivious to her presence.

Then it smiled at her and waved, one of those cutsie little hand-next-to-the-face “I’ve got a secret” waves from third grade.  Raising a martini glass and nodding at her, it took a sip.  The contents of Vicky’s own glass, conveniently situated on the table between she and the…the…thing, shrank.  She picked it up and stared, right through the dirty vodka toward the bar, as the creature took another sip and a bit more of her drink disappeared.

“I think I better stop now,” she murmured under her breath just as Perfect Lil and Jenny guffawed like a couple of good old boys beside her.  She stared at them, her face frozen with a fake smile.   Perfect Lil, every strand of the exquisite blonde wedge haircut lining her wrinkle-free face, reached over and smacked Vicky in the back of the head.  “What daydream have you been on Miss Vicky?”

Grin fixed, she watched both of them look at her again and burst out laughing.  “What?” She looked down to make sure she wasn’t havng a blouse malfunction.

Lil slowed her giggling and pointed at Vicky, circling her flawlessly manicured index finger. “Jenny just told the best ever totally embarrassing sex experience, and you were off in lala land again, daydreaming about something.”  She patted Vicky on the shoulder.  “Thirty years since pledge class and some things never change, Dreamsicle.”

Vicky broke into a genuine grin at the mention of her sorority nickname from college.  Dreamsicle.  Yep, head in the clouds, nose in a romance novel or physics book.  She had been missing the joke most of her life.

“Sorry ya’ll…” she glanced over at the bar, relieved to see the two must be thirtysomething guys still waving arms and heads in a heated discussion, with no one between them this time. She scanned the room quickly before coming back to see Lil and Jenny watching her, eyebrows raised.   “I swear I saw someone I know, but I don’t see her now.  So tell me the story JenJen.”

“I would, but first I gotta visit ‘la toilette’,” she batted her eyes.  Jen had studied in Paris and loved to drop French into her conversation, even after all these years.  In confirmation of the law of nature that dictates that women must visit restrooms together, Lil got up too.  “Moi aussi! We’ll be right back Dreamsicle, try not to wander off again.”

Vicky watched them laughing again as they pushed through the crowd toward the two-stall ladies restroom, sure to be knee deep with a waiting line at this time of night.  What had possessed them to stay out past “mom” hours anyway?  The crowd was definitely younger and louder now than it had been at happy hour when they arrived.

“Hi.”

Vicky froze and slammed her eyes shut.  The voice sounded just like her.

“Don’t worry, you can talk to me and no one will know.  I’m invisible to them.”

Vicky opened her left eye, winced, and scrunched both eyes shut tight.  It was back, and sitting next to her in Lil’s chair.  And it looked a lot like her, just better…everywhere.

“Go away.”

“Sorry, can’t do that.  It’s high time we met since you’ve pretty much been making me miserable since you were around 13.   Puberty sucks for us.”

“Us?” Vicky turned and faced the image.  “There are more of you?”

It laughed, sipping the martini again.  The one on the table was almost empty at this point.  “Not for you silly, I am just yours.  But everyone has one.”

“One.  One what?”

“Heart’s Desire, Inner Kindergartner, Muse…” she paused extending her shimmering see-through hand toward Vicky.  “In your case, it’s ‘Bliss’,” she tilted her head and smiled the way a mother might to a grown child.

“My name is Bliss Universe, and I’m everything you want to be and could be if only you’d stop trying to be someone else.”

Vicky realized her mouth was open when Bliss reached over and pushed up on her chin.  She couldn’t actually feel the touch, yet clearly she felt an upward pressure.  She swallowed and looked around to see if anyone was watching her.

“Always worried about what someone thinks about you.”  Bliss tapped her on the nose.  “Like Lil said, some things never change.   Which is part of the reason I’m here now.   Puberty was awful, that’s for sure.  You stopped drawing, and writing.   Spent all your time worrying about your butt and whether or not Tom Orston knew you were alive.  But that was nothing compared to menopause.   Girl, you are killing us right now.   I couldn’t take it anymore.   We call this a come-to-you intervention, girlfriend.  Homage a the big guy upstairs.” Bliss looked heavenward and closed her eyes in silent acknowledgement.

“And Vicky, my outer partner in life, it’s high time you got your shit together and started honoring your gifts.   My job today is to get your attention.”

Vicky weaved on her bar stool a bit, dazed.  “Umm….I’m talking to an apparition, so it looks like something is working.”

Bliss smirked.   “I don’t think so.  Tell me something.  Who do I look like?”

“Me.  Except better.  Taller, thinner, prettier.”

“Umhmmmm….girl, I AM you.  This is how the universes sees you.  Full of light and love, smiling, pretty, happy.   What you see in the mirror, that’s what you’ve created.  Dull. Melancholy.  Unaccomplished.”

“So, then what?” Vicky gestured to Bliss, “Do you have some sort of magical makeover you plan to do?  Or am I just going to wake up with a raging headache thinking I had one hell of a crazy dream?”  she stopped and closed her eyes while shaking her head.  “Please tell me we aren’t going Charles Dickens or Frank Capra, because I’m really just not in the mood.”

Bliss floated around the table so that she was on Vicky’s other side.  Still all glittering, ethereal, translucent light with great hair, and white teeth.   She tapped Vicky on the head, that definite sensation, yet lacking the warmth of touch.  “Nope, no movies or books for you.   I’m going to tell you how to get what you want.   And if you don’t do it, I’m going to pester the living daylights out of you until you do.”

“Well gee, that sounds easy,” Vicky blew out a breath. “Because I couldn’t possibly be almost fifty and have any idea how to get what I want.”

“Well, if you know, then why aren’t you doing it?”

“Because, hell, there’s a lot of people who need me to be what they think I am, not what I want to be, that’s why!”

Bliss tilted her head, not replying.

“And the things that make me happy cost money, and I don’t have any.   And how come my hair looks like crap and yours is so gorgeous, huh?”

“I use better soap.”

“Oh well, that’s it then, the secret to happiness,” Vicky rolled her eyes.   “Better soap.  Okay, that’s great, you can go now.  I’ll just waste some money on expensive shampoo and my life is sure to be what I want from now on.”

“It’s so much simpler than that,” Bliss whispered into her ear.  “Just honor your gifts.  Draw and write and make people laugh. Be happy.  Smile.  Choose.  It’s easy really. You just have to decide and do.  Decide. Do.   That’s all there is to it.”

Vicky stopped short, whirling around, but Bliss vanished just as Lil and Jenny returned to the table and reached for their purses.  “C’mon Dreamsicle, time to get you back to the condo and into bed”

“What?  Why?”  Vicky found her legs felt like jello when she tried to stand.

“Because you fell asleep on the table!”  Lil laughed, tilting her head sideways and pretending to be asleep.   “And you must have had some good dreams, girlfriend, because you had a silly smile on your face and you kept muttering something over and over.”

Vicky reached into her purse and grabbed a compact, dismayed sure enough to find an imprint of the buttons on the cuff of her blazer imprinted on her forehead.   Crap.   For a minute there Bliss sure had her going.   “What was I saying?”

“Sounded like “Doodoo” to me,” Jenny laughed, pushing her dark shoulder length hair behind her ears as she picked up her bag and grabbed Vicky’s upper arm to steady her.  “You looked really happy and kept saying, “Doodoo.”

“I had a crazy dream about my fairy godmother…she looked like me but she was prettier and she told me I was a mess.”

Lil and Jenny burst out laughing.  “No more martinis for you!” they chorused. “Some fairy godmother. What did she want?” Jenny asked.

Vicky shook her head.  Damned dreams…if you don’t write em down the instant you wake up they’re gone.  “I don’t know…she wanted me to do something.”

“Right. Doodoo!”  Lil took her other arm.  “Come on Twinkletoes…time for bed.”

As they were leaving the bar Vicky couldn’t resist looking up at the Olive Jar Martini Dive neon sign.    She stopped and squinted against the glare, thinking she saw something move on top of the sign, but then when she took another step there was nothing there.

As they drove away, Bliss Universe sighed from where she said atop the sign, swinging her legs and filing her nails.   Some great source of inner inspiration she was.   She finally gets an opportunity to get her message out, to make a difference in Vicky’s life.  To get past all the cobwebs that clouded her choices for 37 years.   And what does Vicky take away from it?

Doodoo.

“Well, Vicky Summers,” Bliss watched the taillights disappear into the night.  “I tried.”

Cross the Bridge

Footbridge across the Animas

Footbridge across the Animas

So, for the first time in almost exactly a year, I am in a place I just love – Durango, Colorado.

Rain or shine, I always go for a long walk along the paved bike/walking path beside the rushing Animas River.    Lucky for me our crew hotel back door practically opens onto it!  In previous visits, I have been drawn to the various footbridges that cross the river at several points, encouraging the baby-strollers, and bike riders, and moseying sibling spirits that populate this southwest Colorado gem of a city.

I have often gazed at this particular one and wondered “what is up those stairs that I need to see?”  Today, I took the path not traveled, and am blessed for it.   Over the bridge and up a steep twenty steps, to the right the street whose homes front the river.   While appearing modest from the front, most of these homes are built in multi-levels down the hillside toward the river and are gilded with large decks and picture windows with which to savor both the river and historic downtown.   There are a few for sale, but be sure to buy that winning lottery ticket first.   You’ll need it.

I decided to skip up a block and just meander down what soon became apparent was, quite simply, neighborhood Durango.   From tear-down rebuilds designed to mimic the early century homes, to narrow shotgun style cottages, to stucco, to homes which had been added to and expanded so many times and ways they resembled a child’s Lego home, this neighborhood beckoned me with nature’s brand of peace and quiet.

Make no mistake, while not the high rent district of downtown’s 3rd Avenue historic Gingerbread and Victorian turn-of-the-century crossbreeds, I am fairly certain this area ain’t cheap.   But it felt lived-in, not tourist or snowbird driven.  As though those who are fortunate enough to call this place “home” live there.

Lucky indeed are they.  And me grateful, for being able to safely explore their sidewalks and admire the clever homes on itty bitty lots.   This is why I love it here.  It fills me, and the words start to churn again.    Sigh.   Blessed.

Hot Air and Happy Kids

by Kimberly Damon

(Editor’s Note – FYI, this is one of the best pieces I’ve written.  Shame on me for never submitting it anywhere.  Also, yes, I am posting pieces long ago written.  Need to write some new stuff as I’m almost out!)

“Hold still!”  I bellow above the roar of the air thrusters as my kids roll on the ground below the black and white Holstein cow.  “I can’t get the shot.”  They freeze, Cheshire grins aimed at the camera while one of Airabelle’s sixteen handlers lowers a hoof on top of
them.  “Help us!”  They squeal between giggles, disappearing up to their shoulders under ten feet and nine hundred pounds of silk and hot air.  

Click.

Got it – another incredible image from the Night Magic Balloon Glow at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival.

 I’d always imagined spending my time at a hot air balloon event with eyes and neck
craned up watching colorful balloons float by. But on this crisp New Mexico evening, the fun will be on the ground and in the dark. .  At eight days duration and over 500 total balloon entrants, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the world’s largest several times over. While the sunset cast a pink and orange tint over the nearby Sandia Mountains, we meandered the exhibit and educational booths for trinkets and souvenirs.

Once the breeze settled, the Glow began as one by one hundreds of balloons were inflated and tied to the ground creating swaying avenues of color up to ten stories high. With free rein to walk among the giants, festival visitors come close enough to the furnace blasts to warm chilled noses and hands and speak to the various handlers and pilots about their balloons. In addition to the traditional light bulb shaped balloons are an amazing
collection of specialty ones in shapes and images that dazzle the imagination.   Which is how we came to be rolling around under Airabelle, the biggest crowd-pleaser so far.

The kids scramble out from under her hoof, firing questions to the handler. “How big is
she? How old is she? What’s she made of?” Carol patiently answers their questions (80 feet tall, 120 feet long, coming up on 20 years, silk and nylon), while handing them a collectible card bearing all Airabelle’s vital statistics. It’s easy to see why she’s been voted
the most popular balloon five of the past ten years.  Who wouldn’t be charmed by a flying cow with a cartoon grin and two-foot eyelashes?

Behind us, an air blaster whooshes, and another shape begins to rise like a camel – lumbering rear end up first, then the front.  One last burst of air and it morphs into a three-story stagecoach. We walk over to where it hovers about ten feet off the ground, gathering another card.  Collecting cards from all the “cool” balloons quickly becomes our project for the evening. Like baseball cards, these are information rich mementos, with a photo of the balloon on one side and all the specifications, media details, and ownership data on the reverse.  Many balloons have some type of business sponsorship, and the most unique designs are often representative of the product or services offered.   Like most flying, hot-air ballooning is an expensive hobby.  We move on, stopping to admire cell phone, beer stein, and motorcycle entries before the boys see a traditional shaped balloon in red, white, and blue they want to photograph.

The speakers crackle as the announcer begins the countdown to a mass lighting.  It’s completely dark now, the only light on the field provided by the flames from the hot-air blasters.   A mass lighting occurs approximately every twenty minutes.  “Ten, nine, eight…”
everyone stops in place, readying cameras to capture the moment.  “Three, two, one.  Light up!” The operators pull their hot air generators, lighting all the balloons from the inside in the same instant. Against the night sky, the kaleidoscope brightens the entire field for
about ten seconds, and we spin around trying to take it all in before the lighting ends.

“Look Mom, it’s your favorite color!”  My oldest son grabs my hand, pointing to a big pink blob just being inflated.   We stand off to the side, debating what it might be as the balloon rises from a pile of fabric on the ground and begins to take shape.  A fairy princess?  A flamingo? A wad of bubblegum?  Finally, we see four little pink feet and a pink curly tail.   “It’s a pig!” The boys gleefully rush over to get a card, while I grin.

At the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival, even pigs fly.

Want to Go?

http://www.balloonfiesta.com

 

High Tea

by Kimberly Damon

Mother-Daughter Hike in 1995

“I don’t know you.”  My expertly outfitted mother frowned down at me from twenty feet ahead on the snow packed trail.   “Because I certainly couldn’t have a daughter who can’t hike a mile…”

Bent over, hands on my knees, I smiled through the mist of  my heaving breath.   Who knew climbing at altitude in freezing weather could take so much out of gal?   Me, the white-collar thirty-something career girl, and my Mom, twenty-five years my senior and the female equivalent of Marlon Perkins.  It was April of 1995 and we’d set out late morning from the fortress-like Chateau Lake Louise, intent on making the 1.2 mile, 1200 foot uphill hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House.   We knew it was closed, but being out of the country when the nation suffered the bombing tragedy at Oklahoma City had us both needing fresh air and vigorous exercise.

“S’okay Mom,” I grinned. “At least you know you can outrun me if we see a grizzly.”

She grinned back. “They better still be hibernating…I’m kind of attached to you, after
all.”

As adults, mom and I had traveled together a good bit.   We couldn’t be more different – she all artist and outdoorsy, and me all career and indoor luxuries.   One thing we shared easily, though, was the love of a cup of afternoon tea.   It had started several years earlier during an auto trek through the Scottish Highlands, and now we rarely got together without celebrating over tea.   We figured to have today’s cup in the cozy dark wood paneled pub at the hotel once we completed our excursion, since our teahouse goal wouldn’t open until summer.

Using ski poles as walking sticks, and following the well-marked trail, we got to the final fifty-plus steps leading up to the cottage.   Treacherous, with hardened ice under snow, we picked and climbed our way up to valley and frozen lake.     In the still frigid Canadian spring, the view back down to the Chateau was a miracle – the sand-colored building façade a beacon surrounded by the white ice-locked lake and snow covered pines.     The quiet was deafening; that stillness created by snow and sleeping wildlife.
We rested for a while, and savored the goodness.

Lake Agnes Teahouse 1995

Just before we began our walk back, I clambered up onto the deck of the structure, and mom snapped a photograph for my scrapbook.   “We should come back someday,” she mused.  “And have tea.”

Flash forward to late August of 2008.  In the intervening years, I had a couple kids, left the corporate world, and got a job working for an airline so we could travel.  I suffered a severe back injury on the job, though, so I’m careful not to aggravate the condition.  Mom’s still the nature lover, but sticks mostly to leading walks in the flat Carleton Preserve near her home.   She’s seventy-three now and I worry time is running out for an ambitious hike in the Canadian Rockies.   With a free week on my calendar, I call.   “Hi Mom…how ‘bout a cup of tea?”

Four days later, rigged with panchos and hats for the heavy mist, layers of clothing for the bouncing temperatures, good shoes, and walking sticks, we pause at the foot of the path as it heads up the mountainside.   It’s shoulder season in Banff National Park, so the crowds are minimal, but the weather is already getting a bit dicey.

There are actually two teahouses and we may try to visit both.   Built at the turn of the 19th century as posts for workers on the Canadian National Railroad, the teahouses are only open from late spring until the first snow of fall.   All supplies are brought in via pack horses or helicopter and the workers camp in rustic huts on the property.  On their days off, they have to hike down to the Chateau if they want modern amenities or just a pizza.

The Beehive September 2008

We follow the same route we took in 1995, this time enjoying the wafting pine and moss and earth aroma from ground that isn’t covered in snow and ice.  The climb is modest but steady, with switchbacks and small signs to keep hikers on track.  We come around a corner and see the “beehive,” a rock formation that sits across from Lake Agnes and we know we’re getting close.  The last quarter mile of this approach is the toughest, involving mostly stairs.  Finally we reach the top and the tiny Lake Agnes shimmers flat splendor before us.

The teahouse is to our right and bustling with hikers.  We head up to the deck, opting to sit outside for now and share a table with some college students from New Zealand.   The menu is simple – tea, of course, several sandwiches, a soup of the day, and quiet a few tempting muffins and breads. We decide to share a pot of breakfast tea and a sweetbread and mostly sit conversation-free just admiring the view.

Lake Agnes Teahouse 2008

Entertainment is provided by fearless chipmunks which don’t hesitate to climb onto our table and attempt to make off with pieces of bread.   The waiter tells us just to shoo them away, and they retire to a wooden railing to watch and wait for us to leave some crumbs when we move.

After moving inside the teahouse to warm up a bit, we converse for a few minutes with two elderly couples from France and England.   The inside is charming, log cabin style with tables and chairs.  The wait staff serves both inside and outside from a menu written on a chalkboard. All of the staff are foreign students here for the months while the teahouses are open.

Fortified, we decide we are up for heading to the second teahouse, on the Plain of Six Glaciers.  It will add several miles to the hike, but it’s early and we aren’t ready to stop moving yet.

Here’s where we made our one mistake of the day.  Rather than hike slightly more uphill then level to reach the second teahouse, we opted to descend from Lake Agnes by a
second path that met up with the original one heading toward the Plain.  Unfortunately, this path was not nearly as well managed as the first and we found ourselves hanging onto trees and treading very carefully down earthen steps loaded with slippery stones and shifting pebbles.

Once we joined back up with the main path, we continued up a steady slow incline toward the second teahouse.    About halfway this became mind over matter.   As we headed up, other hikers were descending and always told us, “you’re almost there!”   We sang a bit, pausing a few times to just breathe, or rest.

Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

Finally, we reached the second teahouse.   This one has both and upstairs and downstairs and is festooned with prayer flags like those seen on hikes in the Himalayas.   Hungry, we order a sandwich and soup to share, and more tea.     We are just savoring the rest and relaxation, when manager of the tea house announces that we’ll all have to stay a while as there’s a mama grizzly and two cubs making their way on the path at the moment.

Grizzlies?  Seriously?   Well, yes, it is a national park after all.

All the guests immediately gather on the side of the deck facing the area where the bears are spotted, and several are rewarded with a very distant view of them doing their level best not to come anywhere near us either.  My small camera captures only a blob on the hillside, but I know it’s a bear!

Gentle Descent to Lake Louise in the Rain

Sated, we start back, with firm instructions to talk loudly, preferably sing, all the way back to the Chateau.   Where there’s one bear….and these wild animals really aren’t interested in us.  But, a mother bear will defend her cubs if she feels threatened, so speaking at high volumes and singing alerts them to OUR presence so they can move away without being startled.  It’s a system that works, as teahouse trekkers very rarely encounter bears on the trail.    Still we happily advise those we now pass on our descent, that they are “almost there! And should be singing or talking as there was bear sighting.”

It’s around 4PM when we make it back to the free parking area next to the Chateau designated for day-hikers and we’re exhausted.     The entire hike is 9.2 miles long.

In retrospect, I’d take a different route, especially with an older person.   My recommendation is to head first to the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse staying on the path that curves around Lake Louise then gently rises to the Plain.   From there, take the over the hill path around Lake Agnes to the second teahouse.  Then, descend via the stairs and switchback path to lakeside.

It’s a splendid experience.  For High Tea, you can’t get any higher or better than this in North America.

When to Go:

The teahouse opens late spring when the snow stops.  Sometimes as early as May, most years it’s June.  It closes when the snow starts in the fall.   They’ve been open as late as
early October, but that is rare.  To find out if they are open, contact either the Lake Louise Tourism Office or the Chateau Lake Louise.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/contact.aspx

http://www.fairmont.com/lake-louise/

Where to stay:   Summer is peak season, so all the options are more crowded and expensive.  Shoulder season in May and September do see significantly less traffic and better rates.

The Chateau is wonderful, with restaurants and many luxuries.  It’s also very convenient.

If you are on a tighter budget there are several chain hotels in the village of Lake Louise, as well as an excellent hostel that takes all ages.  The hostel has a particularly noteworthy and affordable restaurant.   If you are staying there, the hotel across the street will let you use their pool and/or hot tub for a very small fee.

You’ll need it!

London with Kids

London with Kids: Behind the Scenes is Much More Fun!

By Kimberly Damon

“When I shout ‘MAWCH’,” our Harry Potter bespectacled tour guide Rebecca bellows to us. “What do we do?”

“We MAWCH!” our voices chorus, making a feeble attempt to match her lovely British accent.

“Right!” She laughs, holding up her flag, our pennant to follow should we lose sight of her when the Official Changing of the Guard Walking Tour ramps up to full speed. Instead of crowded against the wrought iron gates outside Buckingham Palace waiting to watch the Beefeater clad guards stare at each other for an hour, we’re lined up on the sidewalk across from St James Palace, about a quarter mile away. This is where the Changing of the Guard actually begins, and we’re about to have the experience of our lives marching next to Britain’s Royal Guard right up the Mall toward Buckingham Palace.

Okay, we’ll be on the sidewalk walking, or jogging along next to them while they process. But, no question, this looks like much more fun than standing around at Buckingham Palace waiting for them to arrive.

On cue, the red coat clad guards parade into the courtyard of St James and stop in formation. Instruments poised, they launch into a rousing version of…Downtown? Those of us in the crowd who were around in the sixties hum along. With a great finale, the guards snap into step and head straight for us.

“Now!” Rebecca hollers, leading the way on the sidewalk as we march, right next to the soldiers, around the corner onto the Mall and head straight for the Palace. The kids are laughing and running alongside, careful not to step into the street where the horse-mounted police Bobbies most certainly are toting guns. The pace is brisk, but the marching, music playing guards are just feet away from us.

We parade up the Mall about a quarter mile, just before it ends in a large barricaded traffic circle with Queen Victoria’s statue in the center. “Follow Me, and everybody hurry!” Rebecca veers off the sidewalk to take another path, as we cut across the edge of St. James and Green Parks. It’s amazing how fast she can move backwards, lecturing the whole time at the top of her lungs.

She explains that the Guard Unit we marched up the Mall alongside will now process into the courtyard of the Palace and stand and stare at the retiring guard for the next thirty minutes. All those poor souls pressed against the iron fence to watch the changing are really missing the action.

Just then to our left a second group of soldiers depart their barracks, and march right in front of us toward the palace. Rebecca explains these are the guards taking over for the current ones. We are treated to a visiting guard from Scotland today, in their regal parade uniforms, some bearing modern weapons, other ancient ones such as axes and spiked clubs.

Once they pass, Rebecca gathers us into a group and ushers us toward the center of the traffic circle in front of the palace, where we have an excellent view of the formalities until they conclude. We feel like we got a secret pass in a back door and reserved spot in the wings.

If you are going to London for any reason, but especially with kids, skip the crowds at the Palace and take the walking tour. It’s fun, fast-paced, and educational (but, don’t tell the kids that part!).

The tour lasts one-and-a-half hours and departs from the tour visit center at 17 – 19 Cockspur Street at Trafagar Square promptly at 10:30AM each day. You do not have to reserve a spot, but get there thirty minutes early to pay so you don’t miss the beginning.

The best deal is The Original Tour, which includes 24 Hours of access to the hop on/hop off London Double Deck Bus Tours, the Walking Tour, and a Thames River Boat Tour. Summer prices are 22 Pounds Sterling for Adults, 10 for children ages five to fifteen.

http://www.theoriginaltour.com

 

 

A Little Fiction for You…

Last fall, a story popped into my head that involved an imaginary friend character.   I put her first visit on to paper immediately and published it on my FB page.    I’ll put it here again for those of you who haven’t met Bliss.  (Scroll down to the end of the first section of italics if you’ve met Bliss before.)

“See, THAT’s the problem,” Bliss Universe sighed, blowing
on her fingernails and then holding her hand up and away to examine it for
chipped polish.  “You don’t LISTEN.”   All gossamer twinkling little lights and
ethereal breeze, she gazed at me over the top of the open car door.

I crouched and continued picking impossibly small bits and pieces of dried fried
breading off the floorboard.  My first clue should have been when the corner of the french fry container poked a hole in the styrofoam cup, and diet lemonade started streaming out like a firehouse.  Improvising the little dutch  boy, I had the composure to pull into the nearest shopping center and drop the  fatally damaged cup, along with most of its contents, into a trash bin.   I should have known I was on the wrong track.

Pulling back onto Golf Road, I approached the next light just at the speed limit.  It turned yellow in that precise spot where the driver has to decide whether to threshold brake, thus sending all the contents of the passenger seat onto the floor, or carry on through the light just as it turns red.  I braked of course.  I’m such a goody two-shoes that way.

“Really?” Bliss started in again.  “The whole cup thing was for ordering fried food and a drink with artificial sweetener.   You know, because they are BAD for you,
numbskull.  The stoplight?  Well, that was for trying to eat while you
were in your car.  How many times do I need to say it?” She paused, eyes narrowing, “do not eat and drive.”

I pushed off my knees and threw the remnants of the offending lunch into the
nearest container.  “And by the way,” the breeze rustled by my ear as the shimmering evaporated to just her voice in the wind. “Expect the runs later.   Just saying.  Quit pissing me off, will ya?”

I started the car at the same moment my gut gurgled.  Great.  
This messing with what the universe wants for you stuff, it ain’t for
kids.

So, that was my introduction to Bliss.   A few months later, she formed a bit more in my mind.  See that’s how MY fiction appears to me – in bits and pieces.  I have NO IDEA at this point where the character of  Bliss, or her presently unknown narrator, are going.  Maybe they belong in another story?  Maybe it’s “their” book.  Don’t know.

(And just a reminder.  This is FICTION.  Despite some obvious correlations to my personal life with this particular character, I don’t see visions of a fairy godsister.   You get that, right?  See, this is why I hesitate to publish fiction.)  

Okay, so here’s Bliss scene number two.

I have an angel.

 She’s a pain in the ass.

 Well, technically, she’s not an angel.   She claims to be my “personal representative for the Universe” which seems to involve making me sick, miserable, or confused whenever I’ve got a brilliant idea that she doesn’t like.   She keeps telling me it’s for my own good, and if I’d just LISTEN we wouldn’t be having so much drama.

 Seriously.

 Did I mention she keeps drinking my martini?

 Like I said, not an angel.

 She’s actually not floating around at the moment, which makes me wonder what she’s up  to.   Because, usually she’s sitting on my dresser or something, with a glass of wine or a nice filthy vodka, yapping away.

 She’s like me that way.

 But she’s nowhere to be found right this moment.   I must be doing something right.  Oh, of course, I’m WRITING.  

 I didn’t pick up on the clues at first.  The pens I’d find in my purse, on tabletops, underfoot.   Books suddenly scattered through the house. 

 The first time I actually SAW her was in a drawing I did.  It just came to me, and I realized she was the embodiment  of “the voice.”  No, not like the TV show, the voice in my head.  The one that does NOT sound like me.   I talk to myself.   Single people do that because we get lonely and also because no one talks back.  So, I talk to myself in my head if I don’t feel like actually hearing my own voice.  And most of the time, my head answers back.  In my voice.   

 Every now and then, I get an answer in a different voice.   If it’s a male voice, I figure it’s
God.   When it’s female, I’ve learned it’s her.  My own personal Pollyanna, determined that I’ll find that purpose in life that has eluded me to this point.  A passion, a purpose, or whatever it is I’m supposed to be when I grow up. 

In the perfect words of Barbara Sher, I could do anything if I knew what it was.

 So I keep trying things, you know, so that I can find it.  THE thing that excites me so much I can’t WAIT to get to work.  So far, my enthusiasm record for any single thing is 3 days.  And no, it’s not ADHD.  I just get bored.  Really bored.  Really fast.

Then, I try something else.  And I’ve had careers.  Just lots of them, that’s all.

But, my little secret friend is here to help me find the way.   She told me she’s always been around, but as a rule they never actually intervene until we’re old enough to take it and it’s  patently obvious we aren’t going to find our way without some clear direction.

 Her direction involves making me sick when I’m off on the wrong tangent.  

 Yeah, I know.  A real gem, isn’t she?

 She swears it’s all about me and finding my true heart’s desire.   Oh did I mention she has a name?

 Bliss.

Bliss Universe.

God help me.

Taking the Waters at Ojo Caliente, NM

Savoring the Mindful, Masterful Renovation of a Natural Treasure

by Kimberly Damon

World Class Spa….Not the first thing that crosses the mind when turning off US Highway 285 onto the aged two lane drive by the peeling painted sign announcing “Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs.”  A few small adobe houses and a trailer or two along the quarter mile to the resort entrance hardly seem a fitting pathway to serenity and improved health.

Don’t let it fool you.

Ojo Caliente, literally “warm eye” but often interpreted as “hot spring,” is actually the name of the small town located between Taos and Espanola in northwest New Mexico.  The town was once the central trading post and stopping point for travelers through the old west. Its favorite son, Antonio Joseph, is a significant figure in New Mexico history, having served as the first territorial representative.

November 2003

Joseph also opened the country’s first medicinal spa and sanitarium at the site of an ancient Tewa Indian village where natural warm and hot springs, laden with a variety of different minerals, flow steadily from deep aquifers below the earth’s surface.  Even a century and a half ago, people traveled to this remote location both for tourism and the treatment of illness.

Eight years ago, I spent an afternoon at the spa while on my way from Taos to Albuquerque. My mom recalled her father visiting the area in the 1950s, and I remember an old family photo, faded to sepia, of Grandpa “Red” grinning at the camera, submerged to his shoulders in a pool of water with high desert shrub-covered hills in the background.

I found a peaceful, picturesque oasis loaded with history and southwest spiritualism. Back then, the resort remained much as it had been throughout the 1900s: small, unique, and well maintained. The original bathhouse dates to the 1860s, and by early in the 20th century the hotel and small cottages were built.  The Hotel, Main Bathhouse, and Adobe Round Barn are all on the National Register of Historic Places.

So, I approached my recent visit with both nostalgia and a little trepidation. The website tells the story of  “upgrades and renovations” over the past three years with obvious pride. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is it better?  Does it still have the mystique of the Tewa spirit?  Or, sadly, has it become just another indulgent pretender to enlightenment?”

Main Pool 2012

Much to my delight, the improvements have elevated the spa without sacrificing its historical significance or the atmosphere of tranquility and relaxation.  The new rooms have been constructed in the adobe style, and they blend naturally into the small property. A yurt has been constructed for the thrice-daily yoga classes, slightly away from the pools, to provide sanctuary for both practitioners and other resort guests.

I arrived just before sunrise on a chilly November morning. Prior to the upgrades, business fell dramatically through the off-season. But this morning there are many cars in the lot, and people are beginning to stir throughout the property. The pools don’t open until 8AM, so I headed up one of the hiking trails to take advantage of the views and evaluate the conditions. I was rewarded over the next hour with the sliding wall of morning light creeping across the valley.  When the sun finally crested the peaks to the east, the hillsides began glowing a brilliant orange.  This trail, about half of the Mica Mines route, is wide and gently rising. It is suitable for most walkers.

Mica Mines Trail

 

The resort offers five distinct hiking trails appropriate for various abilities and moods. Four of the five paths rise into the hills behind the resort. The fifth is a flat two-mile walk around the gurgling Ojo River.

Back down the hill, steam rises from the pools while instrumental music selected by the resort’s therapists provides background. At the offices, the staff speaks in hushed tones, honoring the soothing peace of the surroundings. Here you can sign up for the various services as well as rent a locker and robe. You don’t have to stay at the resort to partake of the full range of spa services, and a day pass is available if you just want to soak in the pools.

Each pool is maintained separately, and is labeled with the temperature of the water, the predominant mineral, and its believed medicinal benefits.  Most of the pools are open air. The spa requests guests keep a  “whisper” zone throughout the pool and the treatment areas.  Meticulously maintained, the pools are each drained twice a week for cleaning. Stone bottomed and shallow, they are meant for soaking and rejuvenation, not exercise.

I tried all the pools over the course of two hours, particularly enjoying the Soda and Arsenic ones. Soda is the only enclosed and covered pool and is marked as a “quiet zone” by hand painted signs hanging on the rock walls.  (A fact unfortunately ignored by the chatty older couple who entered the area about ten minutes after I did. I must admit it took immense restraint not to “shush” them while I tried to meditate.)  There are actually two Arsenic pools, but my favorite was the 110-degree hot tub style one located next to the main pool in the courtyard.

The old hotel building is still there and in use. If you prefer the rustic aspect of the spa history, you’ll have a small room retrofitted with a sink. But you’ll still travel down the hall for showers and bathrooms. The old cottages offer similar amenities.

If you want to truly indulge, request one of the new Cliff Rooms. These suites include large ensuite bathrooms, a sitting area with a kiva fireplace, and a partially covered patio with a private multi-person tub that you can fill with hot mineral water whenever you desire.  The high adobe walls face a canyon wall, so your privacy is assured. Well, no one can SEE you, but your voice may carry, as the patio is open to the hillside. Enjoy yourself…quietly!

The restaurant is excellent, with a diverse selection fusing traditional southwestern and spa fare.

Along with the newly constructed rooms, locker, and treatment areas, the resort now offers a variety of deals including Girlfriend’s Getaway, Romance, and Birthday packages as well as treatment combos.  You can come and just enjoy the rejuvenation of the spa or take advantage of the many shopping, dining, and outdoor offerings of nearby Taos or Santa Fe. Other activities available in the area include hot air ballooning, white water rafting, a historic railroad, and numerous outdoor hiking options.

Oh…the peeling sign by the highway?  It’s been kept deliberately in homage to the resort’s history and significance to the area.

A Few Tips:

Day trippers should bring an extra towel or two, flip flops, sunscreen, and a hat.

Call ahead to schedule any massages or treatments to ensure availability.

The Posi Ouinge hike has one steep, stone-filled climb of about 50 yards that I don’t recommend for anyone unsteady on his or her feet or who needs assistance.

Finally, this locale would neither be of interest nor suitable for children or teens.

http://www.ojospa.com

Destination: USA/New Mexico/Ojo Caliente

Special Interests: Spas

Photos by Kimberly Damon

 

 

 

 

Could Creative Thinking Change Your Business Results?

The predominant educational philosophy in the U.S. is to teach “Critical” thinking. Also known as “convergent” thinking, this process uses all available information to arrive, or converge, on one right, correct answer or solution. Divergent or “Creative” thinking is the exact opposite. It surmises that there is no single correct answer, but that many possible solutions exist, all diverging from the initial question.

So, what’s the problem? Well, it turns out that beginning pretty much in first grade, we are no longer taught HOW to think creatively. Critical thinking is so pervasive that by the age of twelve, some 80% of the population can only solve problems this way.

And, why does this matter? Is your business finding all the potential customers and raking in all the potential revenue that you want? What if using creative thinking could help you find more customers?

Funnel

It’s somewhat of an old fashioned concept, but the size of your funnel, your lead list, the breadth of potential customers for your business directly correlates to your sales. You know this, right? This is nothing new. But are you REALLY filling your funnel with ALL the possible future clients?

A more likely scenario is that you aren’t reaching all your true potential clients because you’re not thinking of them. Or, you aren’t thinking of all the ways to find them. Or, they are hiding in places that aren’t occurring to you.

Are your potential customers lurking where you’re not looking?

Funds

The funnel creates the funds, or the sales, to drive your bank account. Plain and simple. More customers equal more sales. If this isn’t the case, then there’s a flaw somewhere in your business plan. What can you do to modify it that and make more money? Do you have enough leads, but not enough closes?

Rather than trying to drill into one answer why this is happening, what if you could approach it from the opposite angle? Convergent thinking asks, “What can I do to increase my close ratio?” Creative thinking asks, “Who are my current sales?” Then, “Why did they buy?” “What other reasons do they buy?” “What other products do they want?”

Bottom line, you want to sell more and make more, right?

Fun

Are you having enough FUN in your business? Are you having fun looking for leads? Are you having fun working with clients? Are you enjoying the process?

Bottom line, if you enjoyed it more, would you DO IT more?

What if Creative Thinking is so easy a kindergartner could do it? Here’s the rub…kindergartners ARE taught that way. So, what did you know in kindergarten that you’ve forgotten now? Join the Inner Kindergarten community and find out!

Let your imagination, AND your bank account, grow.

Turns Out Robert Fulghum Was Right…

…we DID learn everything we really need to know in kindergarten.

Hold hands before you go out in the world. Take naps. Flush.  And, sing, laugh, dance, and draw every day.

The problem is, the educational establishment, our efficiency-driven corporate world, and a number of other interesting factors conspired to make us forget what we knew then.  It turns out that stuff was really important afterall, in ways you may not have imagined.

There’s a fabulous educator and expert named Ken Robinson who wrote a really wonderful book named The Element.  This book was about finding your true passion and then making a living doing it…guy is after my own heart.   He spoke in that book about how the education system has moved away from hands-on art as part of the curriculum starting with first grade.  By the time most children are in middle school, or roughly age 12, they are no longer doing any type of hands-on art of any kind UNLESS they have been deemed a “creative” by teachers and are taking art, music, or dance as an elective.

Now, a subject change.  Or, is it?  It also turns out that by the time school children are 12, they have lost their ability to think divergently.  Divergent thinking is also known as creative thinking and is based on the assumption that there may not be one right answer or solution.   Convergent thinking, which is taught from the first grade, and is almost exclusive by middle school, is that there IS one right answer…in other words, all ideas, solutions, and processes CONVERGE to one correct result

Skeptical?  Go find a kindergartner and ask him or her how to grow a flower. 

Now ask an adult.

Told ya.

So, what to do?  Well, it turns out that we can turn that part of our brains back on with practice.   All we have to do is something kindergartner’s do all the the time.

To be continued…

(Have more fun. Think better.  It’s coming!)