outdoor activities, travel

Travel is so Broadening… in 10 ways

I recently returned from three weeks in Turkey. My heart was full, my mind replete with warm memories, and my computer teeming with new photos. The best part, though, was that my travel compatriots now love Turkey as much as I do.

It happens. Traveling to new places broadens who we are.

1. Build and strengthen friendships.

I knew most of the ten people in our tour group, but they didn’t know each other. By the end of our weeks together we were a cohesive, caring clan. Sharing unique experiences is a wonderful way to bond; whether old friends or new, traveling together builds relationships.

We ten--friends forever
You can tell we’re bonded both by our smiles and our “blue clothing” theme. Left to right: Me, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, and Jane Hofkamp (light hair), Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt–friends all!

2. Challenge yourself

Some of us visit the same places year after year because they’re comfortable That’s fine. However, visiting a country with a different language and culture stretches you. It challenges every part of you—your senses, your palate, your ears, and even your sense of self. Waking to the Call to Prayer, so different from the loon calls of my northwoods home, warmed my heart each morning.

a coffee toast to ballooning
Some of our group took the plunge and hopped on an early morning balloon ride in Cappadocia. Jini toasts them with her morning Java.

3. Expand your knowledge

I was bored with history through school, yet when I visit a foreign country as an adult, I’m fascinated with the sequence of events that brought it to where it is. Turkey’s rich history, both political and religious, continues to spur my desire to learn more. After traveling I always come home eager to devour both historical fiction and non-fiction about the places I’ve seen.

ladies in the Turkish bath
A Turkish bath is DEFINITELY a new cultural experience, and we loved sharing the adventure. L to R: Sally Nankivell, me, Jini Danfelt, Jane Johnson, Rondi Olson

4. Experience new cuisines

Ah, the food! There’s something about new tastes that elivens the palate. From the döner of street vendors to the haute cuisine of the world-renowned Mikla Restaurant, my palate was tickled daily in Turkey. Breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, dried fruit, bread, eggs, and olives greeted me each morning, and I blush to confess that I never left my plate with fewer than 20 olive pits. We experienced the unique cuisines of each region, always preceded by mezes (Turkish appetizers). One favorite dish was the testi kabob, a rich stew baked in a pottery jar that’s brought flaming to the table, then broken with a flourish by an enthusiastic waiter. And of course, the fish was not to be missed—grilled head-on, it required a bit of finesse to separate the flesh from the bones, but we were rewarded with the tantalizing flavors of fresh, light trout or sea bass.

fish lunch on the Galata Bridge
We happily indulged in a fabulous sea bass dinner on Istanbul’s Galata Bridge.

5. Learn about yourself

As you traverse a new country, you can’t help but push the limits of your abilities, both physical and emotional. You may find yourself conquering hills you would never have attempted, or foraging into buildings you might not have explored. You’ll be astonished at how well you can communicate with signs and pantomime. Your confidence increases along with your curiosity as you immerse yourself into new experiences.

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We were definitely challenged by the rough terrain as we explored the ruins of Termessos on a mountaintop near Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast).

6. View the world through a new lens

I’m embarrassed that my country is so self-absorbed that we seldom know what’s going on outside our Western World. Shame on us. I love seeing the world through the lens of a different culture, viewing the advances and accomplishments of a smaller country and listening to their perspectives on America.

carpet shop
Nazmi Bey fascinated us all with information about Turkish carpets during our stay at his Bella Hotel in Selçuk.

7. Understand world politics

When I’m overseas I pay much more attention to international politics. Visiting a less-known destination helps dispel the myth that a few countries dominate the world. Each country plays a role, and each faces its own issues. Turkey currently struggles with the ever-increasing power of their president, and they’re beginning to kick back. I loved discussing this issue with the Turks; I have yet to meet anyone happy with the current situation.

Ataturk and me
There’s a major conflict between the liberal Kemalists and the current Islamist government in Turkey. Imagine our surprise at finding this cardboard version of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey’s founder and hero of the liberals) waiting for photo ops in the Antalya Airport. Yup, that’s me beside him.

8. See your position in the world

Travel helps me realize how broad the world is, populated by people with varied lifestyles and experiences. When I volunteered in Ethiopia I was touched by the desperate need of people who still found it in their hearts to smile. In Turkey I was repeatedly helped by people who had no reason to care about my needs. I can’t help but realize my insignificance in this world of 7+ billion people, each one as important as I am. It brings to mind these lyrics from “The Galaxy Song” by Monty Python:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,

‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

9. Spread the word

Because of your experiences, you’ll share insights and stories with friends. Of course you don’t want to bore them with a grocery list of events, but it’s fun to interject an anecdote about your first experience in a Turkish bath or your awe at the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Your stories can open the world to those less apt to tackle the adventures you’ve enjoyed.

fairy chimney cave hotel
Who wouldn’t be amazed at the Fairy Chimney homes of Cappadocia? This one has been converted into the Kelebek Hotel, probably my favorite hotel in the world (complete with resident pooch.)

And, last but not least, travel helps us…

10. Appreciate home!

I’m always glad to return home; being away makes me more thankful for my life in Minnesota. Though I left warm sunny days behind, I was undaunted at the ice still on our lake. I reveled in time with good friends and dove back into local activities. It’s the life I choose, the home I love, and the wilderness I occasionally leave to explore the world beyond.

You can read more about the Turkey tour on Ann Marie’s Istanbul.

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:

Sixtyandmelink

angst, health, life in general

Sleep Tight: 10 Tips to Improve Your Health through Solid Sleep

I’m nearly 70, and I figure I’ve spent over 203,000 hours of my life snoozing. That’s 8,500 24-hour days, 1200 weeks, 300 months, or 25 solid years of sleep. Call me Rip Van Winkle. I’ve loved every minute of it.

But has it been enough?

HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?

When I was teaching I seldom got the “required” eight hours, and I paid the price. When I didn’t sleep well the wrong words would pop out of my mouth, I’d mess up writing on the blackboard, and I’d be short-tempered.

When I retired I decided to toss my alarm and rely on my biological clock. Within a week I fell into a routine of sleeping eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am. It was heaven to wake up on my own, refreshed and eager for the day.

White Ring-bill Alarm Clock

The National Sleep Foundation has recently revised its recommendations for healthy sleep, and for people over 65 they recommend 7-8 hours, with a range of 5-9 hours considered appropriate, depending on individual health and needs.

I’m fortunate to be a good sleeper; the nights I toss and turn are rare, but I have a few close friends who struggle to get even five hours of sleep, and I worry about them. I know good sleep promotes health and long life.

Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine has done extensive research and discovered these consequences:

“In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”

Person Lying on Bed Covering White Blanket

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

The Harvard Medical School offers the following tips for better sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. A consistent pattern of sleeping and waking will become habit, and your body will acclimate to the schedule, allowing you to fall asleep and wake more easily.
  1. Use the bed only for sleep and sex. If you’re still sexually active, what better way to tire yourself out? The experts don’t even recommend reading in bed, but books are my sleeping potion; I seldom manage more than a few pages before dozing off. I guess a page-turner might not be a good idea, though.
  2. Limit your caffeine. We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and for some of us any amount of caffeine can keep us awake at night. My father was able to enjoy a strong cup of coffee before bed, while I have to cut myself off after three in the afternoon. Find your personal tolerance for caffeine and act accordingly.

Six White Ceramic Mugs

  1. Be physically active. Aerobic exercise helps us sleep. If I don’t exercise at all during the day, I usually have trouble sleeping. Whether you do an exercise class, a daily walk, or 10-minute spurts of exercise around the house, exercise will help you sleep.
  1. Limit naps to 30 minutes. Though you can use short naps to catch up on sleep, it’s best to do your sleeping at night. Long naps mess up your sleep schedule, and who likes to wake up groggy?
  1. If you use tobacco in any form, quit. There’s nothing healthy about smoking, and if cancer isn’t enough of a deterrent, the nicotine is a stimulant that makes it harder to fall asleep. Give it up.

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  1. Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. However, this effect disappears after a few hours and may even lead to waking up throughout the night. I’ve found that a second glass of red wine with dinner guarantees me a 3AM wake-up.
  1. Improve your sleep surroundings. You should have a quiet, dark place to sleep. You should also avoid any blue-screen activities for 30-60 minutes before going to bed.  Recent research has shown that the blue light of televisions, computers, tablets and phones suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Turned-on Laptop on Bed

  1. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. You might read, take a warm bath, or drink a cup of warm milk—anything that settles you down. Once you feel tired, head back to bed.
  1. Avoid taking sleeping pills. If you are having ongoing sleep issues, consult with your physician before relying on sleeping pills.

AVOID THE SPECTER OF BLUE LIGHT

I was surprised to learn that blue light, even ambient blue light, is the most intense of all forms of light, the reasons you see blue lights on ambulances. Our bodies produce more melatonin as the day grows dark, and all lights impede its production, though the intense rays of blue light affect it the most. If you struggle with sleep, get rid of all the electronics in your bedroom.

I look forward to sleeping well in the coming years. Let’s see…eight hours a night for 25 years will be 73,000 hours, which is 3,042 days…

sixty&melink

You can also check out my writing website: annmershon.com

health

Think Thin: Not Diet but Behavior

“Thin behavior” has fascinated me for years. I just don’t get it. I don’t mean the kind of behavior where skinny kids squeezed through fence slats in the alley, or where my teen-aged friends stretched thin, nubile bodies on the beach at Shady Oak Lake as I huddled on my towel.

Nope.

I mean the eating kind of thin behaviors:

  • Behaviors like choosing a bowl of vegetable soup over clam chowder.
  • Behaviors like preferring a chef’s salad over a burger and fries, or grilled fish rather than steak.
Norwegian lunch
A fabulous yet low-calorie meal: eggs, tomatoes and smoked salmon over a slice of whole-grain toast with lettuce. YUM!
  • Behaviors like leaving food on your plate (not just the onions you’ve picked out of your salad).
  • Behaviors like nibbling one Rice Krispy bar for a half hour (I actually witnessed this).
  • Behaviors like choosing small portions of only three things at a potluck. (I take small portions, but I end up with twenty heaped on my plate.)
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A slice of toast with Vegemite should curb your hunger. And how about a banana?

 

I’m thin-behavior challenged. Why me?

It all began in my youth. I grew up in the fifties when one of my favorite TV programs was the “Ding-Dong School” which featured the “Do-Bee” song: “Do be a plate cleaner. Don’t be a food shirker.” I took it to heart.

Another influence that pushed me to eat was Mom’s admonition when I left food on my plate. “Think of the hungry children in China.” Like any self-respecting child, I knew better than to say they were welcome to it, although I would have happily wrapped my Swedish meatballs and shipped them to those unfortunates.

Another obstacle to thin behavior was “No dessert until you eat up.” The logic in that escapes me. Eat a lot, then you can eat more. I learned it well, though. I eat a lot, then I have more.

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Healthy eating behaviors start young, as my sweet great-niece and nephew demonstrate. They love fruit and yogurt.

The main reason I’m thin-behavior challenged, though, is that I love food. Lots of it. I love snickerdoodle cookies—hard to stop before twelve. I have a good friend who is aghast if she indulges in a third cookie. I’m sure she’s never eaten a whole bag. That’s why I don’t bake.

One slice of pizza is just a teaser, and I’m nearly certain that heaven is lined with camembert and brie.

So what can you do?

I used to go on crash diets and fast for days, neither of which was wise or healthy. Finally, in desperation, I joined Weight Watchers, which educated me about changing my attitudes and behaviors rather than starving myself. It changed my life. I went from a binge eater to a sensible one. I revere thin behaviors. I must admit they don’t come naturally, but I’m doing better all the time. These are some of the behaviors that help me:

  • I guzzle a glass of water every time I migrate to the kitchen. (It fills me up and deters me from mindless snacking.) That water glass is the first thing I see, waiting by the sink. I try to down least six glasses of water in each day.
  • I avoid red-light foods (foods I can’t resist), which for me are cheese and crackers, especially in the late afternoon. I know some people can’t resist sweets.

 

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Sometimes you have to indulge in a sweet–like this scrumptious Christmas pavlova.
  • I plant myself far from the appetizer table at gatherings once I’ve tasted a few items.
  • I avoid shopping on an empty stomach. Morning works best for me.
  • I use rewards. I don’t allow myself a cup of morning coffee until I’ve done 20 minutes of stretches and exercises.
  • I exercise with friends daily, and when that’s not possible, I listen to audio books while I walk, bike, or hike.
  • Sometimes I treat myself to a long bath when I’m feeling out of control (late afternoon for me). Food doesn’t go in the bathroom, at least not at my house.
  • When I’m hankering for a treat it helps to go brush my teeth. It quells my appetite. Dill pickles and candied ginger work, too.
  • I’m trying to eat five servings of fruit and veggies every day, which continues to be a challenge.
abundance agriculture bananas batch

 

I still love food, and I still lose control sometimes, but these basic behavior changes have made it much easier for me to control my eating, and that helps me feel more in control of every other aspect of my life. 

Think BEHAVIOR!

Jake and a stick
Our pal Jake demonstrates the lowest fat kind of diet, and he’s clearly embarrassed about it. Lots of fiber, though.

 

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:

http://sixtyandme.com/9-behavior-patterns-of-healthy-senior-weight-loss-forget-diets-think-behavior/

health, life in general, travel

SEVEN TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVEL

by Ann Marie Mershon

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I took this selfie on a mountaintop overlooking Bodø after a gorgeous solo hike.

Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?

I lived overseas (alone) for seven years, and though I preferred traveling with friends, I spent a week in Malta by myself and another one alone in Thailand. I managed, but I learned some things along the way. At first I sat with a book at dinner and ate other meals in my room, but once I reached out just a bit, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I need connections.

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Street performers in Bangkok, Thailand

1. Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party. 

If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone who is alone or people who look friendly. Why not?

Last month my husband suffered a back injury and had to wave me off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up. Determined to make the most of things, on my first night in Bodø I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer. It took me a minute to engage them, and they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me ideas for activities in the coming weeks.

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I indulged in this delicious solo lunch at the Underhuset Restaurant in Sakrisoy, Norway. 

2. If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line and ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.

Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.

3. Stay in hostels or bed-and-breakfasts that offer time for socializing.

On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman. She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.

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This was my “cabin” in Chang Mai, Thailand, where I shared meals with other residents.

4. Plan at least one interesting activity each day.

Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords. Å featured two fishing museums,and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours of the museums. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.

One day I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.

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Nothing beats kayaking the Reinefjord with a charming young guide. Really.

5. Join group tours at museums and tourist sites, then engage others in conversation throughout each tour.

It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.

Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve sponsored a few tours of Turkey, and I was amazed at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.

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I met this friendly fellow on a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

6. Engage shop owners in conversation.

Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation. Of course, I always looked at carpets, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me. Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, yet most shopowners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenier or gift to bring home.

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One of the many delightful carpet dealers I’ve met over the years, this one in Cozumel.

7. Choose a safe bar or pub and enjoy a chat over a glass of wine or a beer.

Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers. It’s important to keep your wits about you and avoid being pulled into an uncomfortable situation, but it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.

Efes in Kalkan coffee shop

I grew fond of Efes beer while in Turkey, especially since their wine is, well, not as good.

8. Take a group tour that matches your age, interest, and activity level.

There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options. The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun, and informative guide, Mehmet. There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours, and we’re doing a similar tour with fewer people and more activity—lucky us!

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The fellow waving at me was our wonderful tour guide Mehmet, here at Ephesus in Turkey.

However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~ Mark Twain

 

This article (with different photos) originally appeared on Sixty and Me, a web site for women over sixty: http://sixtyandme.com/8-tips-for-staying-social-when-traveling-solo/

self-publishing, writing

Let me share my tale…

You must only to love them, Ann Marie Mershon, annmariemershon.com, https://www.amazon.com/You-must-only-love-them-ebook/dp/B01DFUGIEI
I’ll send you autographed copies, as many as you’d like!

 

I spent some fascinating (and challenging) years teaching in Turkey, and I’d love to share them with you, your friends, and your family. Contact me if you’d like copies, and I’ll send them off pronto. Write before December 15th, though, as I’ll be off on yet another adventure.

Of course, Amazon can send unsigned copies more quickly at full price: https://www.amazon.com/You-must-only-love-them-ebook/dp/B01DFUGIEI

Either way, I think you’ll enjoy the book. 5 stars on Amazon with 53 reviews. I’m amazed.

Shameless self-promotion, but what’s a writer to do?

Thanks!

Ann Marie