Living Without You

“I can’t live, if living is without you.”.

The lyrics from the Air Supply Song of the late 1980s sprung to mind last night, as Mom came to me after their return from a Memorial Day Picnic celebration with friends and shared with me her most recent news.

 
Several months ago now, a friend from her Scandinavian social group had died of an aggressive cancer. She left behind her dear husband. Last night, Mom shares with me that this husband had expressed grief recently, stating he didn’t know how he would be able to live without her. It’s an expression, I am sure, often heard in these circles- as friends pass. This group is primarily senior in age, with people mostly in their 70s and 80s.

 
“You did hear about Bjarte didn’t you?” She asks, seemingly certain I should already know the news.

 
“No, Mom- what about Bjarte?”.

 
“He shot himself.”

 

“Mom – oh my, when did it happen? He shot himself?”

 

Mom nods “yes, they found him. The trauma of it put his daughter in law in the hospital. It happens you know, often with men. They can’t handle life when their wives did everything for them.”

 
I think of Mom and how she does every single thing for Dad. He would be lost without her. I would be there of course, if that happened. But it is true in that generation, the women cook, clean, lay out the clothes. It’s fairly common that these men just sit back on retirement and the wife does everything. She takes care of their bills. She now does the driving. She takes care of his pills.

 
She looks at me. “We must make time to go through everything. We just don’t know from day to day how much time we have. I need you to have a full understanding of all of his pills – it’s so important that you know the proper dosage of his blood pressure pills”. She looks away, and then at me again “and mine too, you need to know my list of pills.” I nod. “Yes, Mom- it’s very important, we must make the time”.

 
She continues “you need to know where everything is. Our papers. Everything”. I nod again and look her in the eye and hold her hand “of course, everything” I say.

 
It’s such a tender part of life, those years when friends- one after the other, pass away. Some suddenly, others after years of suffering.

 
“How many were at the party?” I interrupt the bleakness of the moment.

 
“About fifteen or so” she offers.

 
“How did they like your store bought lemon cake?” I ask with a smile.

 
“I don’t know, no one said, but I loved it. It was so delicious. Just like a homemade Blottkake from Norway” she smiled at me. “No one noticed, there were a lot of store bought items”.

I was glad she had opted to buy the cake. She had been stressed about it the day before and had procrastinated and had a headache that morning. It was good that she had given herself permission to buy instead of bake. In this case, anyway.

“The table was full of things and there were several deli containers – people do that you know?” She reflects “they just go to the deli and buy a pasta salad and their done”. “It’s ok to do that from time to time, Mom. No one will fault you for a barbecue or picnic” I offer.

“Hey you” she coos to my sweet Sofie lying next to me on a pillow. “Are you still lounging around?” She reaches for Sofie and Sofie just gazes back at he, her typical luxuriant self. I tap Sofie’s bottom gently to urge her to move closer to Mom. “Come now Sofie, say hi” I tease gently and she responds by moving right up to Mom and allowing herself within range of her caresses. “She is so beautiful” Mom says. She moves her hand up and down her silky fur. She smiles and gets up from the bed. “Well, I better head up” she says. “Goodnight, Mom”. “Goodnight, Katherine- love you.” “I love you too, Mom”.

She retreats and I linger on thoughts of her tonight. Hearing the news about Bjarte. The shock of it all. All of the people she has had to say goodbye to in the past year. Her likely reflection on mortality and the reality of it all. She is nearly eighty years old now. They are both so young in spirit, most of the time. But I see the slower pace. And, her difficulty in climbing the stairs, her right knee troubling her. Her hearing and her memory at times. Signs of age. And, Dad, nearing ninety.

While I will sit with her to go over everything, we will not focus on that inevitable moment in time when I will have to say goodbye to them. Instead, live each moment of each day as a celebration of the day we have today. We must cherish each day. And, I will plan fun outings to make the mundane more exciting. They have stopped traveling, so we must plan outings to celebrate our home city and state. Make life special. Each day.

And I must not focus on those words from Air Supply. I must find joy in moments alone so that I can must the courage to live without them, when the time comes.

All is Clear on the Extremities Front!

It’s amazing what one water pill will do. I can already feel the positive effects of this drug on my body. My legs, ankles and feet are still just a bit swollen, but progress is a foot (pun intended).

I returned from my marvelous adventure in Greece late Saturday night and continued to worry about my legs and ankles. I had traversed many countries via four flights, taking me from Mykonos to Athens, Athens to Munich, Munich to Chicago and finally, Chicago to Minneapolis. My feet and ankles ached from the skin being stretched, and my legs had an overall feeling of having been bruised. Each step hurt. So, I decided to check in with the GP. Better safe than sorry. Doc asked me to describe in detail all of the events of the past week, and he was concerned. While he could offer a water pill and we could see how it goes- he didn’t feel comfortable because of the range of symptoms. So, he ordered the ultrasound of both legs and an MRI of my chest, to rule out clots and pulmonary embolism.

After a few hours at St. Paul Radiology last night, I was given the all clear. With much relief, I headed to the pharmacy to fill the water pill RX which doc suggested would ease the excess water in the legs. “You should notice an improvement within three to four days” he said. “If not, call me”. The odd ash all over my legs and feet itched like a crazy obsession, and he recommended some Benadryl should take care of it.

I slept so much better last night with this diagnosis. No back of the mind fears of a clot traveling to my heart or lungs, or brain. Had it not been for my Factor V Leiden condition, I might have been less over cautious. But, now that I know all is just fine, I will wait for the swelling to reduce and the itching to stop.
It’s back to life as normal. And that certainly feels good. All is clear on the extremities front, and this offers me a chance to redirect my attention onto more energizing matters.

While all this was going on this weekend, we had company on Sunday. It had been shared that I was working on a novel and they asked that I read some of it to them. I read a part of my novel that I had not looked at for over six months. As I read it, it felt good. It felt right. And it gave me another boost of energy to think about focusing my attention back onto the novel. Here is that excerpt:

As a preface- the main character Nina enjoys a visit from her best friend Frederika. The story is set in the late 1930s, just prior to the Nazi occupation of Norway.


It was nearly three o’clock and Nina knew by now that Fredrika would just be arriving at the top of the roadway.  She eagerly finished up with milking Lisbet, tugging for one last draw from her teat and then wiped her hands on the towel laying on her lap before rising and pulling the milking stool out from under her.  She gently patted Lisbet “good girl” she cooed.   She walked back to the refrigeration system to deposit the afternoon’s product making sure to properly seal the container and wipe around it.   She grabbed the large mop that was hung high up on the barn wall and pushed it into the large pail of warm sudsy water and then quickly swished it throughout the milking area to clean up any residue.   She didn’t mind the milking duties.  Half the time she was deep in thought about one of the books she was reading or her next outing with Lilly.   But she always looked forward to a visit from Fred and she quickly made her way out of the barn to Lilly, already saddled and waiting just outside.  She mounted her and gently urged her to trot up the roadway towards the gate.  On her way out she passed Vera who was on her way to the barn “enjoy your painting time” Nina offered.   “Is it already time for Fred’s arrival?” asked Vera.  “Yes, she should be here by now”.    “Say hi and tell her we look forward to seeing her at dinner”.  With that Vera waved her sister on and smiled.  Those two had been inseparable since they were first enrolled in that choir when they were about ten years old.  It was an amazing bond and she wished she had a friend as close to her as Fred was to Nina.       

 

 

It had been over three months already since Fredrika last visited on one of her weekend jaunts and Nina was so excited to hear the news on how things were going for her in Moss.  Although her Far could get some supplies locally and he had regularly scheduled deliveries of provisions, it could be months before they headed in to the bigger town south of them for a resupply of those essentials that only an in person excursion could render.  Nina had written to Fred a few weeks ago asking her to pick up a few things for them; a favorite shampoo and almond hand cream. And, there she was, on time as usual, already dismounted from Nordlys and she was working on the chain that held the gate closed.  The journey by horse from Moss to Hvitsten was likely around two hours and one would think by now that Fred, not to mention Nordlys, would need a rest.  Nordlys was an amazingly beautiful stallion with a coat so black it often had shines of blue and green depending on where he stood relative to the sea, sky and pastures.  His coat reflected the nature surrounding him and Fred thought of the name to describe the ethereal Northern Lights that often danced and played out before them in winter time, depending on the atmospheric conditions.  The colors as well as the lightness of the flowing sky were a wonderful description for this animal that could perform amazing feats in the ring.  Nina was glad that even though they had moved to the city, they could still have a few horses stabled at a nearby farm.   She was sure Fred would have gone crazy without her access to Nordlys.   “Hei Fred, so good to see you, here let me help.”   Fred gave her the famous broad smile and flipped her long thick flaxen braid back over her shoulder “Hi Nina, it’s been too long, so glad we could schedule the weekend… I love our time together and Halvor didn’t mind.  Do you want to head out over the meadow through the marsh? Maybe we could walk along the beach for a while until we get to the bend.”    About a year ago, Fred and Halvor moved to the small city of Moss situated twenty kilometers south to open a restaurant, a dream of Halvor’s for years.  With the opening of Den Minne Kjøkken (The Memory Kitchen), he was finally getting a chance to try his hand at cooking professionally.  Halvor’s concept was to offer food that would take every Norwegian down memory lane, to a time of comfort and gathering with those that were the most important.  The space itself was designed to create atmosphere and warmth, a place where one could come in and spend time with friends and family as if entertaining in one’s own home.   The ingredients that Halvor introduced as well as the changing menu were always fashioned to create moments of joy and connection for people and a reflection back to more secure times.  It was as if Halvor already knew times ahead were going to require this comfort.  As much as Fred enjoyed her life with Halvor in the small city of Moss, whenever she anticipated her visits with Nina, she would long for time spent on her favorite shoreline.   “Sure, that sounds perfect- let’s drop your pack and head out”.  

 

They both mounted their horses and walked up the roadway to the main house.   “Gunnar!” Nina called out, “Hei… come and take Fred’s pack for us”.   Gunnar came running down the dirt road towards them with a big smile.    Gunnar still harbored his childhood feelings for Frederika, and they had not diminished since the first time he set eyes on her when Nina came home with her from choir practice one day all those years ago.  Gunnar had seen her in the hallways at school, but never really had a chance to interact with her since he was a few grades behind them.   So when Nina announced one day that she had become friends with Fred and that she was inviting her to their home, Gunnar couldn’t believe his luck.  “Hi Fred, how are things?”   “Very good, Gunnar.  The business is just beginning to take off and Halvor is getting easier to live with now because of it” she beamed at Gunnar, never knowing that her mention of Halvor resulted in him feeling slighted once again.   




Fred never really knew the depth of Gunnar’s feelings for her.  Sure, she knew there was a slight crush but she had no idea how miserable he was when she was around because of how she played with him as if he were a little brother.  And besides, she was married now.  She felt that Gunnar must be over his childhood feelings by now.    Alas, no- as silly as it was he couldn’t shed his affections and still longed for her to look at him the way girls look at someone with whom they are deeply in love.   Gunnar shrugged knowing it was pointless and he felt embarrassed wondering if she had any inkling of the emotional rumblings going on in his gut.  He grabbed her overnight pack and waved them off “see you at the supper table when you get back!”, and with that he retreated back up the driveway to the house.

 

 

They started off with a slow paced walk down through what they called the boulevard, which was a long straight path bordered by majestic birch trees that formed a privacy fence for several hundred meters before the path curved and opened up into the vast meadow where the sheep grazed in one paddock and the horses were contained just beyond in the other.  Both paddocks faced the ocean and between the two was a lovely alleyway formed by the fences which allowed one to stroll down to the beach. “How is the mill doing these days?  Is Mona getting stocked up enough for the next market? Is she showcasing any new colors this time?”    Mona had been busy for months dying the wools for the next fiber market held in Moss, an annual event in late May.   “Oh, you know Mor, each year she churns out more skeins than the last and the fiber community just loves her for it.  She has a new shade that she is calling Brilliant Amethyst which she is getting from the big crop of heather that she harvested last spring.  But it’s the Tyttebær Red that I think will be the biggest hit this year”.   The markets were an opportunity to help refill part of the farm’s working fund.    




Mona was an expert at harvesting the yarn from her prized Spælsau Sheep.   The fiber they provided was so silky and soft. They made incredibly beautiful sweaters that were prized for their softness and perfect for those that couldn’t handle the itch from other wool yarns.  Mona’s colors all came from the nature that surrounded the property; she mostly used the wild flowers and berries and various wild grasses, but occasionally she would incorporate fallen leaves, twigs – anything from which she could soak and harvest a unique pigment. She generally always had a batch of neutrals and also a colorful splash of brilliant prismatic colors which were great for combining with the neutrals or using on their own for an uplifting shawl or coat.   She had once made a coat out of the dye lot she made from the tart berry: Tyttebær, which not only made the best sauce accompaniment for her roasts and meatballs, but also created a deep blood garnet colored dye which ended up as one of the most beautiful full length wool capes that Fred had ever seen, bordering on the mystical.  




In winter time, Mona wore that cape everywhere she went and in the bleakness of winter, one could always locate her from afar by looking for the red splash of color amongst the dull white of the snow, and the ashen browns of the soggy brush and leafless tree limbs reaching for the sky.  She had recreated the shade once again, but this dye lot had a deeper tinge, an almost black red.  Along with the naturally brilliant colors of Mona’s dye lots, she also offered muted tones as well as natural whites, blacks and grey-blues which were a staple for every knitter and weaver.  Her skeins were sought after throughout the region and on opening day at market, most of her supply would dwindle down to a few dozen skeins.   This time she was working towards an even more substantial supply than the last market which she hoped would take her through at least two full days of the market.    “That’s wonderful, Nina.  I am so glad that Mona still thrives with her wool business.  Her yarns are so amazing”.    “I know what you mean- at market I don’t see anything that compares to it- those Spælsau sheep make all the difference.”        

 

***
So the novel is in progress. Characters are developing. Storylines are evolving. The project continues… I only wish I had more time to dedicate to it each day.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” -Thoreau.

Indeed.

Vascular Alarm in Santorini

Santorini Blue


The last two days in Santorini have been memorable, for sure.
Two nights ago, I had my first encounter with a medical concern while on a group trip. Being that one in the group that ends up demanding special attention from hosts for a condition of bloating legs and a potential circulation crisis is embarrassing and generally makes me very uncomfortable. It leaves me completely mortified.

It all started with the day we left Crete for Santorini. Half way across on the ferry, I noticed my legs were extraordinarily puffy. I jokingly referred to my ankles as cankles. It got a good laugh. At least out of me.

 

 

But then, as the day wore on, those cankles were getting more and more puffy and my sandals were digging into my skin. The back of my calves were aching and pulling and I began to feel nauseous.

 

 

We had a brief break in the afternoon with only an hour to refresh in our rooms before we were scheduled to head off for a tour to the archeological dig: Akrotiri. I was given advice to elevate my legs in the room. I arrived in the room, found an extra pillow and positioned it onto my headboard which was actually a half wall separating the bedroom from the living area. The bed itself faces the window to the vineyards. I position my bottom right up against the pillows on the headboard and place my legs up in the air leaning against another pillow. I begin to search for symptoms on an on-line medical site on my phone – trying to find information on swollen legs and feet, swallowing issues, light headedness… dizziness.

 

 

 

The next thing I know, I wake on the bed and look at my phone and see that I am ten minutes late for the group. Horrified I pull myself off the bed and go the bathroom to comb my hair. I am unsteady on my feet, dizzy. I throw on a sweater and pull out my lipstick. I sit down on the toilet to quickly take care of business. The hotel room phone rings, I am sure it is the group leader. Oh no- I have become that one agent- the one that is holding up the group. I can’t believe it. I am never that agent. I am always working on being the one that no matter what, is there before the rest have gathered. Ten to fifteen minutes early. I see that now I am going on twenty minutes late. I am truly beyond horrified. This is my worst nightmare. I hate being this person. I open the door to my room, and I am greeted by Apostolis, our hotel host. He has come to retrieve me and I am suddenly so grateful that I at least was ready to walk out the door. I try to talk to him and find that my speech is slightly slurred and that I am having trouble with a few words. My cell phone rings… It’s Lynne our group leader. I try telling her that I am with Apostolis but can’t quite come up with his name, so as we walk towards the group bus down the winding streets of the hotel village, I tell her that I am with the Greek God and as soon as that is out of my mouth, I regret it. I am being just goofy now- likely out of embarrassment.

 

 

We reach the bus and I see that everyone is onboard the bus and waiting for me. I mumble an apology as I board. I am feeling nauseous this whole time and my legs are hurting ..aching all the way up the calf into my thighs. Both legs.

 

 

The afternoon progresses, we reach the archeological site. And, as we walk through Akrotini, I start feeling just a little better. The air conditioning is helping. The site is magnificent and I am amazed by the story of this city that was buried by lava and ash. The preservation of the buildings. The possibility that this is the actual Lost City of Atlantis. We learn about this Minoan Civilization that goes back 1700 years BC. My mind is pulled in a different direction from my legs. I feel a light breeze from the AC on my body. I start to feel a little better.

 

 
After Akrotiri, we head out for a visit to Vedema Hotel’s Beach Club – a chance to see what our clients will experience if they take advantage of the shuttle that would transport them from hotel way up in the hills to the beach, complete with beautiful outdoor pool, bar, cabanas and black sand beach oceanfront chairs with the traditional straw umbrellas. Lovely. My legs are puffing up once again and I am having trouble. I can see by the sandal strap that my circulation is once again changing and my calves are aching. It is suggested that I elevate my legs and with guidance from a fellow traveler, I place myself backwards on one of the lounge chairs, with my legs up on the head rest facing the sky. My back and head towards the foot of the lounger. I sit like this for about 10-15 minutes before the group is called once again to move to the next activity- return to hotel to have our wine tasting in the hotel’s wine cave, and dinner in another wine cave.

 

I make it half way through dinner before my legs begin to really throb. I am having a bit of trouble with my throat again, and so uncomfortable. I attempt to move my legs under the table- swirling them around with the exercises one finds suggested for airline flights. As I eat my meal, I try to not make a fuss by I am hurting. People around me are talking. Enjoying themselves. I just don’t want to be the bother. I just want this to end. I say a prayer. Please help my legs – help this not become the problem it could be. Please.

Our group leader pops over to my side of the long table set in a wine cave and invites me to check out for the rest of the night, go get some rest, she says.  And, if you don’t feel like you can join us tomorrow, let me know by text in the morning. It will be a very long 12 hour day tomorrow with lots of steps. I marvel at the invitation. Oh, yes- that would be wise. I can’t imagine climbing the stairs of Santorini under this painful condition. I tell her I will see how I feel in the morning. Perhaps the night will make a difference.

 

Several fellow travelers insist on escorting me back to my room. The group has been lovely. Genuinely caring people and I don’t sense any irritation from them that I have become the problem child in the group. The delicate flower that needs special attention. Again, this whole idea makes me even more nauseous. I just can’t handle being the one in the group that either holds the group back or creates a “special consideration” environment. Can’t tolerate the idea.

 

 

And yet, here I am. Swollen legs. Throat tight. Nausea.

 
On my return to the room, I soak my feet in a cold spray of water from the bathtub. On the bed, I layer pillows vertically, as high as I can make it so that I can elevate my legs above my heart for awhile. I soak towels in cold water to create compresses for my legs. And, I climb into bed, and cover my legs in the cold wet towels. I watch a little CNN to catch up on the day’s news.
The next morning, my ankles and feet are still tight. I feel light headed. My lips are puffy. I text our lovely host to let her know that I am taking her up on her offer to allow myself some time to rest and heal. The day’s hotel site inspections will mean a lot of climbing of steep staircases and then descent as well … Up and Down. And then, a Catamaran Ride followed by Dinner. At least twelve hours away without rest. She agrees it is a wise choice and then suggests I call the hotel front desk to see the doctor. I had been told the night before that the doctor had been called so he is expecting my call if I should need him. I agree to see the doctor. At this point, there is a bit of fear involved as I worry about potential DVT. If it had not been for the throat and lip puffiness, or the pains that shoot up into my lower buttocks as if a sciatica reaction, I would beg off. But then, there is also the group to consider. And, if this is more serious, I need to know.

 

The doctor comes within an hour and listens to my description of symptoms. He does my vitals: oxygen and blood pressure. My oxygen is high, and he explains this is likely due to stress. I am taking in too much air, breathing heavy due to my anxiety over the situation. My blood pressure is high and for me this is very abnormal. I am one of those people who never has high blood pressure; it is 145/85. High for me for sure. Again, likely due to stress. What he is concerned about is my throat symptoms and nausea and dizziness. He feels the veins on the top of my ankles, pressing gently down and waiting- perhaps counting pulse. Not sure entirely but he then shares that he is checking the blood flow through my veins. He tells me that I am having a muscular reaction in my calves. And, a Neurovascular impact. He prescribes an RX of muscle relaxants and advises me to take it easy today, to elevate my legs and to use the cold compresses. The plan was to spend the day taking care of my legs. I am so grateful to have been given this break from the busy schedule to ensure my legs an chance to recover.

 

After a full day of rest, in the early evening, I rejoin the group with another agent who had medical concerns on this journey. Hers is associated with COPD. So, there are two of us who had to deviate for a few hours from the main itinerary planned. In the evening, we are transferred out to a hotel on the cliffs to join the larger group and have a site inspection of that property – built into a cliff. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. I don’t want to be a bother. But, I just spent the day elevating my legs and taking muscle relaxants and now I am about to climb cliff stairs for a hotel site inspection… Oy. Hard to say no to our gracious hosts. The other gal and I do receive a modified version of the inspection, with fewer rooms, and it’s all good.

 

 

During dinner, I begin to feel the swelling start again on my feel, ankles and calves. And, I worry. What will happen if this does not correct itself soon. I try to shift my mind to other thoughts. I drink my water. I avoid salt as best I can and I enjoy our hosts and conversations around the table as we gaze down the cliffs into the ocean and to the horizon before us and enjoy also the vistas of Fira Town opposite us. During dinner, a community across the bay is celebrating something special with tiny bursts of fireworks viewed from this long distance away. So small from our vantage point that a picture would be pointless. So we just enjoy them. And relax. And take in the fresh air.

 

 
At the conclusion of the dinner, we climb back to the top of the resort via one staircase after another, until we find the minibuses awaiting our return to our host resort. I worry on the bus ride back to our hotel, as I feel my feet once again swelling and aching. Upon my return to my hotel room, I repeat the steps to reduce the swelling: cold compresses and elevation.

Today, our departure day from Santorini, I am grateful to wake up with much improvement with my condition. Still slightly swollen but so much better than the day before. I actually experience hope that this may be over. And, I make a mental note to avoid the climbs as much as possible. And this is made possible because the hosts on the group tour insist I let them know if I need to sit out a site inspection or climbing here and there. Later today, another site inspection. Unless the inspection is anything like Fira Town on Santorini, I should be ok.

 
The group has been so gracious. I have not felt any negative repercussion to my special needs these last 48 hours. So perhaps, this time, the group is different. Compassionate. Kind. Understanding and Human. We need to give each other a break in life. One never knows the specific circumstances of another persons drama.

 

 

This was a lesson for me in tolerance of others. Grace and mercy. For other trips ahead of me, when that one agent has to beg off or special concessions are to be made, remember your time at Vedema Resort in Santorini and how gracious and kind they all were, and compassionate and accommodating. And remember the smiles and encouragement of so many on the group who expressed concern and genuine care and not resentment – nor disdain.

 

It’s been such a lovely trip.

Respite in the Bay of Elounda

It’s been over a week since my last entry. I sit facing an island that used to be a Venetian Fortress in Crete before it became the last leper colony in the 1950s. I face this island from my hotel room at the Blue Palace, in Elounda, Crete, Greece. It’s my third day in Greece. Having just come from Athens, And having just finished a stat at the Grand Bretagne, this island haven is a nice respite from the fast paced city life.

 

 

I chill out after our group luncheon of salads and fish. Delicious fare as we gaze at moored boats in the harbor and take om the azure blue ocean. The weather today is a bit gray and threatens with light showers and a cooler breeze.

I sit on my deck listening to a bit of Chopin to take full advantage of my deck, feel the breeze caress My skin and this cherished time carved out for me to write. I can’t waste another moment of writing opportunity. This time is precious to me and I grab it and hold it with great care. Others may wander and explore the resorts offerings, perhaps some at this very moment are taking in a spa treatment. But I, no- not I. I sit on my deck listening to Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op 9 No 1 by Chopin. The breeze has become a bit more volatile. I sit in my nightgown and bathrobe provided by the hotel and enjoy my perch. The blue waters and some local fisherman boats bob before me. My own plunge pool sits unused, the waters are pushed by the winds which provides evidence that to dip my foot or even leg into the waters could prove chilly. So, I sit up here in my director chair and I lean onto the wooden table which overlooks the brilliant blue ocean and the islands beyond.

So much to take in and so much to comprehend. I am sitting in a five star hotel on the island of Crete. Yes. Me. Sitting here listening to the wind, to Chopin, to the sounds of my Logitech keyboard doing it’s thing as my thoughts flow from my mind to my fingertips to the screen.
At lunch, perhaps I indulged just a bit too much on the dry white wine from the region. To the point that I somewhat curse my dopey feeling as I consider the bed and an afternoon nap. It’s about three hours away from dinner with the group, more food, more laughing, more connecting with fellow travel sales consultants that primarily serve the luxury market. Only ten of us selected from around the country to participate in this Familiarization Event. My selection due to my agency’s high volume with the supplier; not my own – since I am fairly new with this agency. But the potential is there, for I have been fortunate to serve quite a few luxury leads passed along from our owner and others within the company that trust my background and my approach. I feel quite fortunate and blessed. I am learning so much already and anticipate the extent to which this knowledge will be used upon my return.
All of this is surface, really. On a personal level, I find the geographic location is ideal for someone seeking respite from the touristy hot spots. The quiet of the bay of Elounda draws me in. I am entranced already. I could spend a significant amount of time in this very place, if I were permitted to do so. The brilliant blue waters are mesmerizing.

 

 

The Rock as it appears in t he distance, strangely comforting in its historic significance. This whole country with its history dating back to well before Christ ..well, it’s enchanting. Even the chirp of the birds and echo of the wind seem different somehow.

 

 

And, now, the heavy water pellets from the rain are dancing on my private balcony plunge pool waters. No different really than any other rain shower on top of a pool in any other part of the world. Yet- here it sounds and feels different to me. The plunge pool has been interrupted from its primary purpose- to sooth and hydrate and offer relaxation to guests. I need not enter the waters myself to receive such nourishment for my soul. I look at the drops bouncing into the pool waters and I rejoice at my own sense of merriment in this moment. Time for me. Time to feel the wind on my calfs, bare as they are under my nightgown as I sit privately drinking in this experience. Just me, my keyboard, the sound of the wind and the rain and the view of the island that at one time provided protection for this people of the bay.

 

 

When I rejoin the group, I will learn of all the activity and accomplishment they have managed in our short three hour window of down time from the group schedule. And, I will secretly rejoice at the time I had to cherish on my own, on my deck, with the privacy of rock walls sheltering me from neighboring eyes. The palms down at the beach offering a metronome sway to the sound of the wind, and yet offering up their own tempo.

 

I am grateful for the roof overhead on my deck which protects me from the now pouring rain. It’s not a burden. The rain soothes.   And, I know, tomorrow will be a different day. Seventies predicted, sunshine and a chance to do some sightseeing. There is plenty of time ahead for that sort of busyness. No. Now, it is time to appreciate the window of quiet I have been afforded. To cherish this silence interrupted only by the sound of rain drops pelting my recliner furnishings on the deck facing the Bay of Elounda.

 

And… the next morning, this:

 

image

See you in Santorini?

Book Group. Walk and Talk and bring your dog along! Sounds like my kind of outing. I had signed up for that book group long ago. But to date, have not attended. I am in their list of members but have not shown up. I have a feeling this will be a good group for me. The books are focused on a global exploration through literature. Well then, what have I been waiting for?

I head for Greece in a few days, another work trip. I am very excited. And, as I prepare my reading list for the trip, what better way to travel than to prepare for the next book group gathering by reading their next selection: Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas. This book is set in Colorado during the Great Depression. In the acknowledgment section of the books, I read a quote from a novelist encouraging the author to pursue her novel: “You’ve really got the bug about doing Breckenridge,” she wrote. “I feel quite sure about you and you have the grace to grow … As you have found out, the stuff out of which such books are made has to seep into a person”.    

It’s that last bit that captured my attention. Is that how it is with my own novel. Is it seeping into me first? I have written so many words for that novel, and each time I go back and read a section, I know that I am doing the right thing. But it is taking time. I feel as though if I am to be successful in capturing the essence of the characters, I need to not rush. What is incredible to me as I reread portions of my own novel is that these characters are no longer characters really, I can actually sense them- they have a life of their own. I never really understood that concept when reading about it from other authors’ experiences. But in my case, all of the main cast so far offers a rich canvas. Nina, Vera, Lars, Vidar, Mona, Sigrid. Each of them and others, should I mention Gunnar, all of them have a bit of me now. And, I can’t let them down. I must press on and finish their stories. I must give them life on the page and hope and purpose and settle certain matters, bring closure to others. It’s magic.    
I am hooked on this writing thing and in many ways wish it was not the ‘hobby’ that it is … I wish it could be my every moment, and my every day. Is that possible?  Could that be my next step in shifting to a life of purpose?

I need to pack up and head to my work desk to add a frequent flyer number to someone’s airline ticket record, process a final payment on an Iceland Self-Drive Itinerary, create final documents for a couple’s romantic escape to Paris. And I will pick up this thread later, perhaps tomorrow… Perhaps in Athens, Greece on Friday. 

 This travel career is not a bad gig, don’t get me wrong. It just seems I never have enough hours in my day to give my writing the time and nurture it deserves.   See you next time- maybe in Santorini?  Mykonos or… might I be in Crete?

Woman.  Childless. Mother’s Day.

Babies have never really been my thing. I was not one of those young girls that enjoyed baby sitting. Young children were an oddity to me. I simply was not exposed to them very much and I had trouble figuring out how to talk to them. This fact has stayed with me for my entire life.

Still, I have a strong nurturing tendency within me and I love to give to others, to my family and friends and to my dogs over the years. It’s not that I don’t have a caring side. And I have been told that just because you are not good with other people’s kids doesn’t mean you won’t be great with your own. And I held on to that.

Except that in my life, time moved forward and the opportunity vanished.

Coming out of my divorce, I had a fairly high debt load. I was unwise in the exit strategy and thus walked away with over $25,000 in debt from various lines of credit that we as a couple had taken out for home improvements which were in my name and which were on the house I was leaving behind. Brand new roof on that house that he was enjoying and for which I was paying. For the first six months of my departure from that home, I paid the mortgage because my name was on the note and he was unemployed. I couldn’t risk losing my good credit rating.

 
When I exited my marriage, I simply had to get out. Plain and simple. I fled from despair. And, I rushed to such an extent that I agreed on holding the debt because truthfully, there were no other choices in my view. He was not working.

In hindsight, perhaps I could have sought counsel to figure out a better way but that would have cost money. And money I had none. So, I carried this debt and was paying it off slowly while accumulating more debt of my own because life as a single person in an apartment on my income was far from easy. And, therefore, the idea of bringing another soul into the picture, of caring for her needs – for I had a sense I would adopt a little girl, never came to pass.

 
And while I was never one to go crazy over other people’s kids, I longed for my own. I truly did. And then, over time, I shut off that emotion. I pushed it down under into a place that I could hide from. A place where I could avoid it and focus on what I had in life.

I watch this weekend as mothers are lauded and celebrate their motherhood. I feel a particular press against my chest as I consider all that I missed out on in not having children. I lavish the love I would give to a young person – into my dog instead.

On Facebook, occasionally, I have seen postings from parents or mothers in my distant circle that suggest that people who treat their dogs as if they were children are silly, or plain stupid. I actually from one person saw a fairly long rant on the subject not too long ago.  I shook my head as I read it.  Obviously in her world, someone pissed her off by suggesting that the relationship that person had with her own dog was the same as a mother and a child. This person is not a personal friend – so I am thankful to say that her beef is likely not with me.
In my world, my dog actually helps me to anchor myself to a place of joy while I walk through life childless. Would it be possible for those that mock others for putting all of the love they have into a pet- would it be feasible even for them to give us childless women a break? To understand the concept of mercy. To allow themselves to reflect on the privilege they have in being a mother, of the gift and the incredible joy that it must bring them. And then looking at their childless sister who may be a bit wacky and realize that perhaps, this wacky friend who treats the dog in her life like the treasure he or she is to her, that this person is doing her best and trying to capture joy in her own life.

 
We know mothers are special. Mothers are the only people in the world who understand that life is not just about themselves. They sacrifice. They put everyone else first. They overlook their own needs. This type of message is fairly frequently blasted in the media and social media. I have been instructed by the popular culture that I will never understand because I have never been a mother. This message is something I endure even from my own mother. When this message is thrown at me so often, I dare say- I grow tired. It’s a presumption and it can feel disrespectful and down right mean. I understand that in birthing a baby, a woman places herself second to her child- for the rest of her life. It’s a privilege and an honor for which I wish so strongly that I could have been a part.

I will praise and laud my mother this weekend. I will lavish her with gifts for she expects it and because she does deserve it. I will take her out for a beautiful meal. I will bring her flowers. I will fill out a card with words of love and praise because I want to but also because she needs it. And, I will not be the recipient of any such praise from anyone. Ever.
And, that’s how it goes when life passes you by and you never had a chance to dive into the reality of womanhood in motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day – all of those of you who have been blessed to either give birth or adopt. God bless.

The Value of My Time

Before entering the shower, I check my work emails. A habit I have formed lately. It can be a good thing. Just as easily it can be a bad thing.

 

Since last week, I have been dealing with a client that because we are a store front travel agency, called and insisted on visiting with an agent the very afternoon of his inquiry. In our world, we have a string of clients to whom we have committed time to work on itinerary planning. We are a very busy office.   Some itineraries are very complex and require a substantial amount of time to research and service. This client was not willing to wait even until the next day to sit with someone – and as a result, it was scheduled that he would meet with me at 4:30pm that afternoon.

 

He arrived with his wife and we sat at my desk.  He and his wife wanted to travel in August to Ireland, England and Scotland- over the course of a three week period and as they are both somewhat aged, they do not want to do their own driving. I share with them that I will gather as much information as possible from them to help me ascertain the best itineraries to meet their needs- primarily sourcing escorted and guided tours. I offer that with escorted tours, the nice aspect is that they do the driving, so much value is included, yes it is a group tour- and this can offer a remarkable array of experiences which otherwise they would not enjoy if they booked a simple air ticket with hotels and train tickets. There is an incredible amount of information one receives on these trips which offer an enrichment not possible on one’s own with a guide book in hand. A tour guide is with the group from start to finish, helping along the way for both the core tour as well as independent time- making helpful suggestions, restaurant reservations and the like. We spend a full hour at my desk discussing their needs and wishes. I promise to get back to them within 24 hours or so, letting them know that we have other client commitments, so will do our best to provide a follow up email with ideas as quickly as possible. The client insists he needs all of this information by morning. I look at him: “Is there a reason that this is so pressed for time?” They reveal that they are expecting out of town company so need to make a quick decision. Ok. I buy it.

 
What they do not realize is that I truly have other client commitments- dozens of them, and many demands on my time. I have pushed my pile of former client requests aside for his benefit this evening, and now he is asking me to push all of my commitments aside for the following morning in order to push his project to the top of my list. It is then that I learn that he has worked with another travel agency, and that this other agency had already suggested a few itineraries through various tour operators (that we of course also represent). He is shopping for tours and he is also shopping agencies. He says this with a half smile- like, you know, I am not committed to you- prove you have value.

 
I grow tired of this type of client. They are completely worthless to me. The time and energy he will suck from me and from my competing travel agency makes his business not worth my time. He is gruff, cranky, is sitting with his arms crossed and his nose up in the air. Wait, wait- I absolutely must serve this arrogant person right now, I must drop everything to please him and suck his toes while I am at it. His business is the most important thing in my life.

 
Oh wait, no. That’s not right.

 
I have value. I have worked in this business for decades and know that when clients trust me, and value my time- they reap dividends.

 
This guy is an arrogant son of a bitch who thinks that my time is of no value, he has not regard. He is cocky and believes that I should lay down flat with my arms outstretched and worship the ground he walks on because- he is a customer.

 

The next day, I put to use a new-hire in our department who wants exposure to research. She invest about one hour of her time searching through every possible tour operator offering to identify which comprehensive escorted tour will offer all of the bullet points the client indicated were of prime ultimate importance to him and his wife. One of the criteria was that since he is tall, he wants a motor coach that will be spacious, offer more legroom- business class type seating.  He prefers smaller groups if possible (not the large 40 group options that are mostly the norm).   He wants unique lodging, not big box hotels.

 

My colleague provides with the results of her research, we have three options to present. I go to work and type up a nice proposal which contains the three options, I explain discount offers and extra values.  I send it to the client within the requested time limit. And then, nothing.

 

Later in the day- he sends a four word text style email to me with no salutation, no thanks for the work, no appreciation. A question that seems stronger in tone that it likely was- but lacking any substance, hard to read. I answer his questions. The deadline for early booking discount is that same Friday- just so happens that the tour operators are offering an early booking discount and it expires April 28. I had conveyed this in the email. As promised in the email, I follow up with a phone call to invite discussion- let me know how I can be of help, would love to talk through the options and learn your feedback so that I can best serve you.
Time invested so far: 3 hours.

Nothing.

Late Monday, I receive a phone call. It is then that I learn that he is now shopping a third agency, and wonders why I did not offer the tour that this third agency offered- through a completely different tour company. Yes, that is also a great tour company. There are dozens of tour companies. I checked on many different companies and the ones I had offered are also excellent choices.  I explain that it is not really a matter of only one company offering the end all and best tour option amongst the dozens.  I offer that there are several companies that are known for doing a great job- the one agency # 3 offered does a good job.  In fact, I sell those tours often. In the case of his needs, I offered some options that promised a more intimate experience with only 18 people maximum on the tour. The experiences in my offered tour are unique and enjoyable.

 
I go on to mention that I am unsure why with the time constraint of identifying a tour quickly has turned into shopping several travel agencies for the tour operator offers. We all work with the same companies and it is a matter of identifying which tour itinerary will best suit.  We are full service, I am glad to check on other tour companies.  I need more concrete details of the competing offers in order to compare- it is important that we are comparing apples to apples.

 

I receive more cynical questions from him which show his lack of confidence in me or maybe for that matter, any agency or even in the concept of being involved in an escorted tour. The truth is what he needs is likely an independent trip which would require that he drive himself- but he does not want to drive.   I can only imagine the rolled eyes from other escorted tour guests when they encounter this dude who is generally contrary and has a frown and growl.  He will be no picnic for other tourists.  On group tours, one encounters nice people- one also encounters know it all people who must prove and reprove their own worth by being high brow on most matters- he strikes me as the type.

 
I spend another half hour with him on the phone going over more questions.
At the conclusion, he begs off saying he will be in touch.

 

I stew on this for awhile. I have spent about 3.5 hours now. The other two agencies have also likely spent the same amount of time. Together, we have spent over ten hours.

 

I send him an email thanking him for his call. I let him know that any further investment of time and effort towards his trip will require a commitment deposit of $100 ($50 per person) for further research and service. It is a more professional and lengthy email than that but it is one we send often to clients who are not committing and wasting our time. While it may seem like a tactic of pushing business away, the truth is in my business- it is not uncommon for there to be a complete lack of regard for our time. After all, what is the big deal? I book on-line all the time- they are not doing that much for me. It’s disrespect.

 

Plain and simple.
Perhaps they consider it as one might consider shopping for an appliance, checking various stores for the best buys. However, ours is a service industry and the sales process is a time consuming endeavor with a lot of time sucked for research on client requests that are not committed requests. Those, in my view, are not always worthy of my time. I have piles and piles of folders on my desk for clients that value my time. Who understand what goes into the process. So when those clients reveal themselves to me showing they don’t care about what I offer, they are going to shop me around to other retail shops… I let them loose. I need to direct my attention to the labor of love that I offer to those clients who get it.
There is a hope with some of those cold calls that they too will turn into a labor of love. But when they show up with a scowl, crossed arms, questions that at the beginning stage are unreasonable (what are the dimensions of the seat cushions on all motor coaches for all tour companies – I want the biggest seat cushion if going on I a bus tour)- well, those I am comfortable saying goodbye to.

 

I think about conversations I have had with friends in the past, proud of themselves for having put a sales person through the paces, only to compare shop and then jump on-line to buy it on-line instead of in person.     We have become a culture that does not value human service.   We are in a hurry.  We are cynical.  We can be gruff and we can discount the value of the human effort.     With my own experiences with unpleasant customers, I must remember this in my own consumer transactions.   Treat people well.   Be courteous and respectful.   Value their time.    Don’t shop around unless it is absolutely necessary.  Give the person who spent the time with you first- the benefit of the doubt.

 

It’s time to wrap this up and head to my desk and invest my time with those souls who value the process.