A Woman Alone – Travel Thoughts

Back in July, my father gifted a book titled A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from Around the Globe. I had never heard of the book before but the concept intrigued me for obvious reasons. Thanks to my book project I did not have a chance to read the book until the first week of this month.

As I read the book, I compared my own travels to those of the women in this book. That comparison inspired this post. I gleaned a few nuggets of reflection: technology advancement, writing inspiration, and relationship change.

After reading a significant portion of the book, I wondered when all of these essays had been written. Some aspects of travel remain timeless, but others? Others scream with outdated evidence. The book was published in 2001, 16 years ago. Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Technology, in all my trips enables me to carry out a successful trip in so many ways. I read these accounts of trips carried out before the advent of smartphones, popular travel websites like tripadvisor or portable and reliable GPS technology and concluded that I woul dlikely have never undertaken such a trip, much less undertaken such a trip on my own. I have undertaken two significant solo trips and relied significantly on technology. Although I had yet to purchase a smartphone prior to my 2011 trip to England, I used tripadvisor and viator to find places to see and mapquest to print off specific direction. This past summer, I exploited current travel technology to its fullest: smartphone GPS, tripadvisor, airbnb, and digital camera for frequent and prolific picture taking. Reflection helped me realize just how much I rely on technology while traveling, just how much technology has changed travel.

I also noticed another common theme, writing, specifically writing as a profession. For the most part, the women whose essays appear in this collection make a living putting pen to paper in some fashion or another. They routinely filled their travels with thoughts of writing, inspiration for writing and actual writing. This might be the aspect of travel I enjoy the most even I seem to always run out of time since I spend every moment possible making memories I have often daydreamed of being some sort of travel journalists getting paid to do two things I love – travel and write.

Last, but not least, came the relationship example. Clearly, with the title, “A Woman Alone,” a good portion of the essays would end up focused on relationships. A few mentioned building relationships with strangers they met along the way. Far more described journeys undertaken as a means of catharsis after a messy divorce or as a means to prove one’s worth as a human being despite a perpetual state of singlehood. The vast majority of the essayists declared their unabashed preference for solo travel eschewing the companionship of others for whom they would have to alter or modify their trips. (Lest anyone think my brush too broad, I acknowledge the inclusion of at least five or so essays written by women who found themselves unexpectedly alone of their trip.) This concept gave me the most trouble as I read and tried to engage with each author. I have had both experiences – solo travel and group travel yet I would never totally eschew one for the other, especially group travel. Nothing would incline me to forge ahead with exclusive solo travel. I have done it before and enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed traveling at my pace, seeing destinations of my own choice and all the other things the essayists mentioned. Yet, I have a distinct memory from my life-changing trip to the UK six years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed and savored every moment of the trip yet I felt like something was missing. I realized after I returned home that I was missing someone to share those experiences with; I could not wait to return to the UK, this time with Mom along for the ride.

Unlike many of the essayists in this collection, or at least what they portrayed in their essays, I have no desire to travel to prove anything, to prove my worth. All that has been decided already. I travel for the experience, to trod where history has trod and to share that thrill with others. Sharing such experiences with someone close to you broadens and deepens every moment. It gives you the gift of an additional set of senses and perspectives. That’s the richness I seek.

Next summer, summer 2019, I plan to take off on another adventure, a grander, more expansive trip than I have ever taken. What started as an idea to finally see the Iberian Peninsula РSpain and Portugal Рmorphed into a minimum three week adventure starting with a flight into Frankfurt and a path winding through Alsace, France, Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland, Marseilles, France, Guernica, Barcelona, Toledo, Madrid, and Córdoba, Spain, Gibraltar (technically part of the United Kingdom) and finishing in Lisbon. There also may or may not be a short jaunt over to Lichtenstein as well, which puts the country total at seven if anyone counts.

Of course, as I read this book, I contemplated the aforementioned grand adventure. THe school year permits long blocks of vacation like this; my normal traveling partners have no such flexibility. I thought about the prospect of undertaking this trip on my own, daunting yes, but I know I could handle it. I would prefer, unlike many of the essayists in this compilation, to travel with someone to share and someone who would enrich the experiences. A year and a half line in between. We shall see what the future holds.

The Book Project

Back in spring of this year, I embarked on a project that has taken me months to complete. That project? Downsizing my book collection.

Anyone that knows me would have a hard time figuring out why I embarked on such a project. After all, I am the girl who routinely received stacks of books for birthdays and Christmas. I am also the girl who frequently proclaimed that I was a minimalist in everything except for coffee mugs and books. I sold over half my mugs in April. It was time to look at the books.

One late spring weekend, I jumped off the fence, made the decision. I may take a while to become ready but once I actually choose, I waste no time. I started taking books off the shelf and stacked them on the floor by my two largest bookshelves.

The project worked as follows First, all books I had purchased or received as gifts within the last year stayed in my collection. I began curating my collection with increased vigor around that time. Second, all of my classics, history books, and books in Spanish stayed. I know the value of all of those. Third, a handful of other books stayed on the shelves like everything by Tolkein and Lewis. Fourth, I would read each book in the series and be willing to part with some of a series but not all. (I am just a tad OCD). Fifth, if I did not love a book, regardless of quality, I would set it aside to donate.

With these parameters in mind, I set to work on what I termed the second round of the purge from personal collection. Yes, I did this once before, four years ago. I purged more than five large reusable bags full of books then. By the time May 2017 rolled around my collection surpassed 600 in number. Even though I eliminated many books from my collection in the first round, I approached this round with increased vigor.

Surprisingly, almost every book I reread during that first month ended up back on my shelf. I started to wonder whether I was being harsh enough in my evaluation and even sometimes if I was wasting my reading time since so many of these books found their way back into my collection.

As the weeks progressed, the stacks on the floor grew smaller while the stacks on or under the bench, the donation spot, grew larger. I relocated a couple stacks of children and young adult books to my classroom when the new school year started. I had held onto these books for that “someday” of having a library in my own house for future children. It took years but I was finally ready to relinquish my hold on that “what if” and put the books to actual use. Sometimes the stacks decreased slowly. Other times I cut them in half by donating an entire series. Why waste time on lackluster prose when the first book is so terrible you find yourself questioning the judgment of your past self.

As I write this entry, one tiny stack of four books remain, the last four books in the O’Malley series by Dee Henderson. Of the three bookshelves I cleared (and one shelf from my large book case) only one is filled to capacity again. One stands completely empty. The third holds barely more than one shelf’s worth. I did not count the books as I donated them. If I had to guess, I would estimate that I have donated around two hundred books. I did not read all of them; my total for 2017 stands right now at a mere 163. (Of course, that is stated with the upmost irony.) That rough estimate includes the couple stacks now inhabiting my classroom library as well as other extended series donated after a disappointing reread of the first book.

At the end of the year, while I have lost the status of owning over 600 books, I have gained so much more. At many times in my life I valued my books too much; I valued my goals too much. This process helped me gain a better perspective on what’s really important.

It also reignited my love of reading, which is always nice.

Reviewed and Renewed Intentions

A quick note to address the vocabulary choice in the title and throughout the rest of this entry: from here on out, instead of using the word “goal(s),” I plan to use the word “intention(s).” This is to align my actions this year with my overall focus of intentionality. These “intentions” all serve a specific purpose in helping me advance closer to achieving intentionality overall in my life.

Now to the meat of the post

Running
Right now I am still focusing on rebuilding. I noticed almost right away that once I made the goal of completing the daily exercises at least four days a week, it became even easier to find excuses to postpone or skip. That first week I found myself over at Mom and Ellis’ having forgotten the resistance band that I use for some of the exercises and a bunch of snow outside making me stay put. I ended up skipping five days in a row. Not cool. I started noting on my calendar each time I actually got it done. I’ve been more consistent but there is still considerable room for improvement.

I also learned a lot about just how much I need to do before Chicago but that’s for a soon to come marathon reflection post.

Health and Nutrition
For the month of January I will consider the intention of drinking two water bottles a day a success. I think there may have been a handful of days where I drank only a little over one bottle a day but overall I achieve this intention. I have also successfully made brining my water bottle with me to lunch a habit. I do plan to keep this on as an intention because the habit is not quite ingrained.

February rolled around. I failed to set “official” health and nutrition intentions for the month. I no longer had the water drinking intention hanging over my head. I found myself slipping back into old habits.

Before I get to my February/March intentions, I will briefly mention that I successfully achieved my maximum two Ghiradelli peppermint bark bar per day goal. On only two days with the second falling on the last day of the challenge, did I eat more than two.

I have three intentions for February/March: one old and two new. The old is the two water bottles drunk per day. The first new goal has to do with sugar consumption with an added (marginal) financial benefit. Every Friday I have “retro Friday” with my students. I used to give them bite sized candy every time they used the word of the day in a sentence but to keep myself from going broke I retooled it and made it once a week. That means that there is always candy easy at hand, the delicious kind like Twix and Milky Way. As marathon training ramped up I found myself hungry all the time. For someone with a propensity for a sweet tooth that does not make for a good combination. So, I have made this intention as follows. I will not snack on the bite sized candy I have available; I will make sure to have something else handy. (The financial benefit will come with the fact that I will be able to use that candy for the purpose I intended.)

The second new intention has to do with sleep. A big part of health has to do with being able to get regular sleep. While I think my sleep habits are much healthier than my sweet tooth tendencies, there’s room for improvement. I will admit that I almost made this goal two fold but thought better of it. One step at a time. For years, I have gotten away with letting myself push right up until “bedtime” and ended up getting to bed 15, 20 minutes after the time I said I would go to bed. This specific intention is as follows. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (not finishing a journal entry is not one) I will start the process of getting to bed at 9:55 on “school nights” and 10:55 on weekends so that I’m in bed on the hour.

Reading and Writing
According to goodreads, I am six books ahead of goal pace to read 100 books this year. I want to build a little more of a cushion because I am not bringing books to read on my UK trip and probably won’t bring any on the road trip either. Reading for 15 minutes each weekday is one of the four things I added to my new to do section of my day planner. I think under most circumstances 15 minutes is doable.

The writing intention has been a little more difficult to prioritize. As hard as I tried, life has has gotten in the way a few times and I have not been able to journal every day. When I have been able to write, the quality and quantity far surpasses what I used to write as a general habit. I am still working towards accomplishing this intention.

Photography
So far, so good. When an unexpected snow fall changed plans, I made sure to have my camera with me so I could get out and take a bunch of pictures. I have also posted to Instagram every single day except for one Sunday when it completely slipped my mind.

Teaching
This one is hard to quantify. So far I have said yes to all opportunities that have come my way. That means that even recently I have had to pray for a heart change. I have the opportunity to meet one on one for a coaching cycle with the district Title 1 ELA specialists. I won’t get into the details here but I will summarize my initial feeling, dread. No, that will not be my approach. This is a new opportunity that with God’s help, I will embrace.

Phew! That was a lot but so much fun to dig into. I can’t wait to see what the next 6 weeks will bring.

The Rest of the Goals

I am a goals oriented person. I derive immense satisfaction from making lists and then crossing through each line. I become giddy when I set goals and surpass them handily. (I should remember this for those many times I attempt to shoot for the moon.)

Instead of devoting a separate post to each of these other goals since that would push non-goal oriented posts until some time around my birthday in July, I will lump them together in this post. There are a few categories.

Health and Nutrition
This ties directly to running. However, running is not the only thing that affects my overall fitness.

Overall, I want to clean up my diet. I have been trying to work on this for years. I think that I lacked specificity and staying power. So, I am going to focus on one or two habits each month. Hopefully by the end of each month I will have acquired a new healthy habit that will stick for the long term.

For January, I have been (since this post will be published mid month) focusing on drinking at least two full water bottles each day including weekends and limiting myself to two Ghirardelli peppermint bark squares (or four mini squares) each day.

As to the specificity of the latter goal, I have discovered in recent years a distinct weakness for this deliciousness. Once I open one, I have a hard time not opening three or four more. Since I think I should cut back on sugar overall, this is a specific goal that I will have, hopefully, until the end of February since for Christmas I received three bags of the regular sized squares and two of the minis.

As to the water goal, I noticed very early on when I started back teaching that the water I took to school in my water bottle often came right back home with me as well. Regular water drinking became an early casualty of my resumed teaching career. I used to drink three bottles minimum a day during the work week although my weekend water drinking has always been less than stellar. It’s all about building a habit through. I have started making sure to bring my water bottle down to lunch with me. It’s still a bit challenging on days when I have duty and have to roam the cafeteria but one step at a time. I also now try to make sure to drink another bottle after school while I work. If I do not finish before I leave, I try to finish on the way home.

Reading and Writing
These two things have been loves of mine for as long as I can remember. Once I started teaching the first time back in 2009 they started slipping away. Other newer, shinier things attracted my attention. When things reached a tipping point early this semester God used the pressure to show me what gave me true joy. I never thought that I would give up keeping up with an insane number of TV shows but I have not regretted a thing. Back on topic though.

These two things bring me pure pleasure. Thus, I want to prioritize them. First I will name the goals and then the method I plan to use to achieve them.

I want to read at least a hundred books this year. Those golden years back in 2009 and 2009 when I read over 300 books in a single year may be long in the past but I can still cross that century mark.

This is the plan. First, I want to adopt a habit I learned from my sister’s boyfriend and carry a book with me at all times. I would much rather read a good book when stuck waiting on something (like a meeting to start) than scroll mindlessly through the internet.

Second, I want to set aside fifteen minutes each day, minimum, for reading. Except on very rare occasions, even with the highest work load, fifteen minutes is a reasonably manageable amount of time.

Third, I will read for at least 40 minutes each Saturday and Sunday. I will also do this before I start work so that I don’t get wrapped up in something and run out of time. Priorities. This will also apply to days off and vacation except my international trip on which I will not be taking any books aside from my journal.

Speaking of my journal (and writing)…

I want to journal every day and write at least one blog post a week, two on race weeks. Long term, I hope to get back into fiction writing but for now I am focused on getting the tap repaired and functioning again.

First, I will journal before I settle in to cross stitch at the end of the night. I will also write without any other distractions present like a podcast or TV show. Of course, if I am somewhere other than home, I will do my best in whatever circumstances are present.

Second, I will not time myself. This means I will not, for example, start writing at 8:40pm with the goal of finishing by 9. Instead, as long as the words flow, I will write.

Third, I will keep my composition notebook with me at all times so that passing brilliances can be captured and remembered. I may not be able to expound on all of them but it’s better to have an abundance from which to choose.

Fourth, I will establish a dedicated time on the weekend in which to write a post for the blog. Snow the first weekend of the year has delayed this a little but I need to make this a priority. Ideally, I would like to work up to writing at least two posts, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Depending on the nature of the post, one of those days may be devoted to research and preparation.

Photography
Although this is not quite as much a passion of mine as reading and writing, it is not far behind. While I would love to have more time for all three, I will take what God has given me.

This goal is simple. I want to resume my habit of daily Instagram posting. Just like so many other things, this one quickly fell by the wayside when I resumed teaching. From mid-September until December 31st, I posted nothing.

Part of how I will achieve this goal will depend simply on making the act of publishing the photo a habit. There are, however, a few things that will help me reach this goal.

First, when I have time, I will edit and name the photos in Flickr so that all i have to do on the day of, is download the photo, post and add the appropriate tags.

Second, when I sort anything into the appropriate Flickr album, I will go ahead and name and edit them.

Third, I will seize every available opportunity to take as many photographs as possible. I had the opportunity to do this back at the beginning of January when South Carolina got one of the most beautiful snowfalls. SO often we get a little bit of snow and a lot of ice. This time we got a lot of snow that held off becoming ice until we had time to tramp around and marvel in the beauty while snapping hundreds of photos, 300 to be exact. This will also be very easy to do with my summer of travel upcoming.

Fourth, I need to learn how to operate my camera better to improve the quality. Either that or I need to research a potential purchase of a better camera. This may not happen in the time frame that I would like but if a magical few extra moments materialize, I will make the most of them.

Teaching
My overall goal is very broad: become a better teacher. The how becomes even more important for a goal like this.

First, I want to stay on top of daily maintenance items like the tardy log and behavior log. Since I now use google classroom for the bellringers, I also plan to get them graded right away each day. I have made peace with the fact that this may mean that I stay later than most other teachers but I will arrive home without schoolwork hanging over my head. That is at trade off that I am willing to make.

Second, I want to fully engage with all of the PD (professional development) sessions that we have no matter what I think about their appropriateness or effectiveness. I might learn just one thing but is one thing that I did not know before. Plus, this presents an excellent forum for increasing my writing volume and my skills because the tool I intend to implement is note-taking. I have used it once this year so far and am surprised at how much I remember from that meeting.

Three, I want to incorporate more reflection on my teaching into my daily practice. I am not sure what that will look like quite yet. This might be something that I need to develop over the summer and implement next year as I undergo the ADEPT evaluation process once more.

Fourth, amongst all my travel next summer, I plan to set aside a chunk of time to do some focused reflection on the previous year and make intentions for the coming year. I will return to this goal sometime in the summer to update/adjust the method.

Although this entry turned out to be longer than I expected, it helped clarify my thinking on a few areas. I hope you will continue to join me as I share my thoughts.