K. Ford K.’s Blog

‘Belong Anywhere’, My Experience with Airbnb

September 3, 2015 | no comments

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I remember when I first learned the meaning of the word community. My grade school teacher instructed the class to draw a circle on a piece of paper. Then she told us that our neighborhood was our community, our circle. We each belonged to our own community, while other people belonged to different ones. When I asked the teacher if I could belong to more than one community, she said no, I could not. My friends and I looked at each other sadly. Not one of us lived in the same neighborhood and according to our teacher that meant we didn’t belong to the same community.

Today, I doubt if anyone would define the word community in such narrow terms. We may have a community that looks much more like a Jackson Pollock painting, with dots and splashes of color all over the globe rather than a simple, isolated circle on a child’s paper.

So when I set out with my daughter on a European trip, I wanted her to experience what dedicated, globetrotters already know: our community is as big as we want it to be, and we really can belong anywhere. Staying at airbnb’s seemed like a natural fit.

“Aren’t you nervous about staying with strangers?” my friends asked me. I had to admit that I was and I scoured the airbnb website looking for places that came highly recommended by others who had already been there. I chose locations that were close to the sights we wanted to see. I also looked for amenities like kitchens, washing machines and WiFi.

When I finally made my choices and requested bookings, the hosts and I emailed back and forth several times. Some of them asked me questions about who I was and why I was traveling and I had lots of questions for them too.

Our first stop was Vancouver and we spent one night in Chan’s Richmond home with its immaculate en suite rooms. Chan was a charming host and we enjoyed several conversations with him at his kitchen table. Pleasant encounters like this one were repeated many times with other hosts.

In Dubrovnik, our host, Maro came to meet us at the Pile gate and helped us carry our luggage. We stayed in his ‘sweet, modern studio’ in what had been his grandmother’s home in the center of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. It turned out to be a perfect location to explore the city and Maro and his sister, Kate were the perfect hosts, giving us great advice on restaurants and sightseeing.

In Venice we stayed at ‘BnB Vale’. This bnb is one of my favorites as it is located in a Venetian palace right on the Grand Canal and is close to all the sights. The palace is an elegant building with marble staircases and fresco paintings on the walls. We even had our own terrace and boat landing right on the canal. Valeria, our host was a wonderful person with a generous, lovely spirit. She served us a delicious breakfast each morning and when we lost a passport she helped us fill out the police report. We couldn’t have done it without her!

Our pleasant, two-bedroom apartment in Verona was the largest bnb we stayed in. Our host, Andrea calls his bnb, ‘Maria Callas’ in honor of the opera festival where Maria Callas made her debut. It’s a five-minute walk to the Roman arena where the festival is held each summer. It’s also an easy walk to Juliet’s House and other sights in Verona.

Next we stayed in Marco’s ‘comfy flat in the center of Milan’. Marco even came to get us at the subway stop when we got lost and he helped us with our bags. The apartment was very comfortable and within walking distance of Milan’s Gothic Cathedral and city center. It also had something that I quickly learned was a novelty, an elevator!

Silvia’s ‘Da Baranin BnB’ in Cinque Terre was worth the climb, but then everything in Cinque Terre is uphill! Da Baranin BnB has lovely views, private patios, nice rooms and a fantastic breakfast with homemade cakes and excellent coffee. Top it all off with a helpful staff and it made for a wonderful stay.

The most adventurous place we rented was in Florence. It was Noel’s artist studio with a beautiful, rooftop view of the Duomo. The studio is in a five-hundred-year-old building that must have been newly constructed when Leonardo was painting his masterpieces. This bnb is not for the faint-hearted, (think camping in the middle of Florence). The studio is up six flights of stairs, the floors are dusty from the plaster walls and the bathroom is tiny. It is however, very charming and historic (the kitchen sink is a roughed-out stone slab) and the view is breathtaking. Oh yes, remember to bring your own towels.

In Paris we stayed in Gilles’ ‘flat in the heart of Le Marais’. This location could not be more picturesque and convenient. We loved Gilles’ compact and efficient studio with its exposed beams and winding staircase. Our window looked down on the cobblestone courtyard with its wide doors leading out to the street. Originally the doors were built large enough to allow for the carriages of the aristocratic noblemen who lived in this neighborhood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In London we stayed in two different places and the experiences were completely different. Manthe’s Chelsea studio was much nicer but Glenn’s private room with a shared bath in Soho was a better location. The Book of Mormon was at the Prince of Wales Theater just around the corner and it was a two-minute walk to Piccadilly Station. I was initially nervous about sharing a bathroom with strangers but it turned out fine. Be forewarned, the water didn’t always work well in the mornings.

At the end of the day, did we have any negative experiences or safety issues with airbnb? Not one. Would I stay with airbnb again? Absolutely. What I learned was that while the locations and amenities of airbnbs are important, the most important thing by far are the people, the hosts who made us feel right at home. We experienced firsthand that we weren’t just renting a room. We were making local connections, making true friends and expanding our community one bnb at a time.

How Travel Makes Us Richer

August 22, 2015 | no comments

After many years of dreaming about it, my daughter and I finally take a summer trip to Europe together. For months, this trip has been all I could think about. Along with trying to stuff as many things as possible into a tiny suitcase, I try to cram as many cities and events into our schedule as possible. At some point though, I did stop and wonder, ‘Why are we doing this? Why do we travel? Why pull ourselves away from the comforts of home and familiar habits and allow ourselves to be thrown happily and sometimes recklessly into the unknown?’ On this trip, I hope to find an answer.

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In Italy we are charmed by romantic Venice and we spend a lazy morning feeding the pigeons in the Piazza San Marcos. As I watch the birds surround my daughter, I can’t help but wonder how much history the thousands of generations of pigeons have witnessed. Maybe they saw Casanova escape through the roof of his prison cell or witnessed Lord Byron swim the length of the Grand Canal. They must have seen Marco Polo’s ship sail into the harbor, bringing his exotic tales from the east. Maybe they witnessed Michelangelo’s disappointment as he lost the contest to design the famous Rialto Bridge. They may have even caught a glimpse of Hemingway as he sat writing or drinking whiskey at one of the glossy, walnut tables in Harry’s Bar.

In Verona, the city that inspired Romeo and Juliet, stands a Roman Arena once used for gladiator fights and for throwing Christians to the lions. Walking down the darkened stone corridors into the belly of the Arena we can still feel the overwhelming power that was Rome. We enter the Arena in our finest clothes, just as the Romans must have done to watch their entertainments, but instead of bloody combat, we are here to watch a lavish production of the opera, Aida. Everything is larger than life here: massive, glistening, gold pyramids, blue and gold sphinxes and giant pharaohs tower over the stage with the arches of the arena lit up against the night sky. Despite the sweltering heat of summer, the emotion-filled voices singing of love and despair give me chills and bring me to tears.

Milan is a peaceful, pleasant city. Here, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is housed in what was once the Dominican monk’s dining hall of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. The price of our ticket allows us fifteen minutes. I envy the monks who saw Leonardo’s masterpiece at every meal. The painting is serene and resilient but doesn’t give up its secrets easily. As we are leaving, we learn that Leonardo da Vinci had a house and garden just next door and he lived there for twenty-three years. Now on the site of his garden, they are cultivating the variety of grapes he grew five hundred years ago. They hope to produce the very wine Leonardo drank. ‘A good reason to return to Milan,’ I think.

On our way to Florence, we find the five tiny, fishing villages known as Cinque Terre. The houses are built into the sheer rocks and cliffs with thousands of terraces of grapes and olives beyond. It’s a magical, colorful place, a good place to rest.

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Finally in Florence, the rooftop terrace of our five hundred year old building, now an airbnb, offers an incredible view of Brunelleschi’s dome. The seven flights of stairs are worth the climb and I sit on the terrace at night with a bottle of wine. I’m even serenaded from the street below. One night it was carnival music, another night it was classical from a nearby concert, and on the last night it was drunken love songs sung in Italian accompanied by an equally drunk accordion player. Beyond Florence, we love Tuscany with its fields of sunflowers, rolling hills, wine tasting and food. Despite being certain that we will tire of pasta, we never do.

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We take a side trip to visit beautiful Dubrovnik in Croatia. How surprised the medieval builders would be to learn that the city with its massive, sea wall and splendid views has been turned into a giant stage for the filming of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. From the battles of Blackwater Bay to Queen Cersei’s walk of atonement, the fantasies of today and the historical events of the city sometimes mirror each other. At the end of the day, there’s even a chance to sit on the Iron Throne.

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From this point on our trip is mostly about art (and occasionally shopping).
We try to see it all: from Leonardo’s lovely faces to Botticelli’s fantasies, from Monet’s gardens to Cezanne’s oranges, and from Picasso’s experiments to street artists hoping someone will discover them.

In Paris we visit the rock star of the art world, Mona Lisa. After hurrying down a long corridor of ignored masterpieces, we find her surrounded by an international mob. Some tourists stand and stare at her. Others push and shove to get to the front of the crowd and take obnoxious selfies. A few pull back and look at the painting from afar. I work my way through the crowd and have a brief moment at the front before the overworked security guards, who look more like bouncers at a posh, European nightclub than museum guards, make everyone move. Some visitors refuse to budge. I can’t blame them. After all, Mona Lisa is Leonardo’s beloved creation with a thousand secrets and he carried her with him until the day he died. My daughter and I give up fighting the crowd and move to the side. Reluctantly, after an hour in her benevolent gaze, we leave.

Our trip is nearing an end and I’m beginning to understand why we travel. After five weeks on the road, we are not the same people we were when we left. Travel allows us to fill our lives with adventure. It gives us unlimited opportunities to experience a dream. We have a chance to reap the world’s riches for inspiration and return home to create something wildly different and new. We take the kindness, charm and humor of the people we meet along the way and bring the memories home with us. We leave some of ourselves behind too. And despite the money we spend, we are far richer towards the end of our travels than we were at the beginning.

We still have a few days left, so after leaving Paris, we head to London. We take in everything we can, from a five-hundred-year-old comedy at Shakespeare’s Globe to Sherlock’s fictional haunts, from the gold-encrusted gates of Buckingham Palace to Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs. And London serves to remind us that sometimes, travel is just about having as much fun as possible.
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The Zen of Mad Men

May 23, 2015 | no comments

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The finale of Mad Men was not what I expected. The day before the finale aired I was hoping Don Draper would change his name to Dick Whitman and turn his back on the advertising world. I hoped he would buy a ranch in Wyoming and fall in love with the perfect woman (a woman he would never even consider being unfaithful to). Then Don would become the perfect father and teach his children how to ride horses and appreciate life. Most of all, I hoped that Don Draper would find inner peace and happiness. But wait a minute, maybe he did. And maybe he did it in typical Don Draper fashion.

 

In the final scene, while meditating on retreat, Don seems to have an epiphany. What I love most about his enigmatic smile is that it leaves so much up to the imagination. What is Don thinking? Is he experiencing true inner peace and happiness for the first time in his life? Or did he just have the idea for the iconic Coke ad, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke?” Does he rush back to Manhattan, and take the advertising world by storm? Or does he phone the idea to Peggy, letting her take the credit for it? Or is it possible for him to have it all? Somehow I think that is exactly what Don Draper would do.

 

In 1971, I was just a little girl. Every night while we ate dinner, we listened to the news. My father kept the television around a corner so that he was the only one who could see the screen. We could still hear the newscast and somehow this made it worse. Our nightly dinner was filled with the sounds of machine gun fire from the Vietnam War, reports of race riots, assassinations and the mass murders of Charles Mansion.

 

Then the Coke, hilltop ad came out. Every time it was on television, I ran to the screen and watched that ad intently. I wanted to forget about the machine gun fire and the mass murders. Instead I wanted the world to be just like that ad. I wanted to live in a multicultural place where diverse people were accepted and everyone got along. I wanted there to be peace and cooperation and happiness. I wanted the world to be a loving home where everyone belonged.

 

It might sound corny to some, but it didn’t sound corny in 1971 when the civil rights movement still had much to accomplish and the Vietnam War was not yet over. It had been only three years since Dianne Carroll stared in the first TV series to feature a non-stereotypical, African American woman, a role for which she received death threats. In contrast, the Coke, hilltop ad had so much hope in it and it may have featured the first authentic, multicultural group every to be broadcast on national television.

 

But what about Don Draper? If he created that iconic ad, then no doubt he became even richer, but since when has Don Draper really cared about that?

 

So what does Don Draper really care about? In his confession to Peggy, he’s ashamed that he “Took another man’s name and made nothing of it.” If Don Draper were to make something of his name, what would it be?

 

No doubt Don Draper is a cheat, a liar, a philanderer and a deserter, yet he’s also generous, kind and caring. He sometimes forgets to help his wives and children. Yet somehow he always manages to help perfect strangers.   He’s painfully aware of his faults but what makes him easy to root for is that Don Draper wants desperately to be a better person.

 

 

He seemed to identify most with Leonard, the man whom nobody notices. Leonard says, “I’ve never been interesting. I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And nobody chooses me.” Then this man named Leonard sobs and Don hugs him and sobs too.

 

Handsome, successful Don Draper is the man whom nobody sees, just like Leonard. And at that moment he is the man whom nobody chooses. But Don wants to be better. And we want the same things that Don wants.

 

 

We want Don to be a better person.

We want the world to be a better place.

We want to be better people too.

 

Advertisers know this and they convince us to buy products by promising that the products will make us richer, prettier, more popular, smarter, thinner, and happier. Advertising works because it convinces us that we will become better people, if we buy their products. They promise the transformation that everyone longs for. The products they sell by and large don’t provide any transformation, but just the mere promise of transformation will make us happy to spend our money.

 

So in the finale of Mad Men, I see the potential for Don Draper to finally become a better person, to finally make something meaningful of the name he stole.

 

Maybe Don continued to practice meditation. In 1971 some of the first meditation centers opened in Manhattan. Maybe Don didn’t just create the iconic ad that gave people hope for a better world. Maybe he continued to help people like Leonard. Maybe he encouraged other businessmen to practice meditation or to find some other way to achieve transformation.

 

With the inevitable death of Betty Draper, I hope Don found a way to be a better father to his children.   I can even imagine him as a faithful husband with a happy home. Whatever we imagine happening for Don Draper, we should remember that advertising is just the promise of a better life. Actual transformation is the real thing, and I like to think that Don Draper found the real thing after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Inexpensive Meals for a Healthier America

August 21, 2014 | no comments

 

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For many Americans missing even one day of work can mean financial disaster. It can mean not being able to pay the phone bill or buy enough groceries. With so many financial worries, it can be easy to forget about maintaining health. All of us need to stay as healthy and as strong as possible on the least amount of money.

Families, Children, Food Ideas

I hear many families talk about eating nothing but rice and beans, but there are many other choices for healthy, inexpensive meals. When you do eat rice and beans, add a few vegetables, tomatoes, cooked potato or egg. In fact, eggs and potatoes can be used inexpensively in many dishes. An omelet filled with sautéed potatoes, onions and fragrant herbs is delicious.

Grow your own vegetables and herbs such as spinach, chard, kale, arugula, lettuces, sweet basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. Then add vegetables and herbs to everything you cook.

One of our favorite salads is a baby green salad with chopped papaya, salmon and avocado. Top with a few walnuts. Another favorite is a tuna salad made with mayonnaise, salt and lots of chopped sweet basil. Place the tuna salad on a bed of greens and top with chopped tomatoes, red peppers, salt and pepper.

Several dinners can be made from one roast chicken. First have chicken and potatoes with vegetables. On the second day, strip the bones to make chicken curry with rice. Lastly boil the bones for broth. Add chopped ginger root, red pepper flakes and any vegetables you like for a spicy, healthy chicken soup.

For a Mexican style dish, cook chicken tenders with olive oil, salt and Tabasco sauce. Serve the chicken with simple quesadillas, sliced avocado or guacamole and beans.

For an easy and inexpensive dish, bake sliced potatoes in a casserole layered with a little chopped, soft-cooked bacon and sliced leeks or onions. Top with black pepper.

For a Japanese-style meal, try baked salmon cooked with chunks of ginger root and teriyaki sauce thinned with a little water. Yoshida’s Sauce is best. Simple fried rice with egg, onion and vegetables is an inexpensive meal. Add a little chopped ham, if you have it. You can flavor the fried rice with just salt and pepper or add soy sauce and a little sesame oil to taste at the end of cooking.

Make a simple marinara sauce by sautéing onions, garlic and herbs from your garden. Add chopped, canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a pinch of brown sugar. Serve with pasta and vegetables or use the sauce for Parmesan chicken. Freeze what you don’t need for another time.

Avoid throwing any food away. Have a leftover eighth of an onion or a little grated cheese? Wrap it well and save it for the next dish you prepare.

I always serve fruit for dessert because it is sweet and far healthier than desserts baked with sugar. There’s only one downside to this. That became clear to me when my five-year-old daughter had dinner at a friend’s house only to return home and yell at me, “They had cake for dessert! I always thought dessert was fruit!” I can attest to the fact that there is no fury like a child who feels they have been deprived of cake for five years.

But the story has a happy ending. My daughter is grown up now and grateful for our fruit-filled desserts. This combined with a moratorium on soda, most breakfast cereals and all high-fructose corn syrup and my daughter has never had a cavity. One of our favorite desserts is sliced apples, bananas and pineapple sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Papaya with a little lime juice or a bowl of mixed berries decorated with orange slices are also favorites. Luckily, where we live avocados, bananas and papayas are often free for the picking.

At every meal, make sure your children have plenty of healthy food to eat. If you are trying to control your weight, eat only half as much as you want. If not, eat as much as you need to stay healthy, but no more. Save what’s left over for another meal or for tomorrow’s lunch.

Old Habits

Cut back on junk food, sugar and anything that provides little nutrition. Give up on purchases that are nonessential so that you can buy the healthiest food you can afford. Eliminate old habits like smoking, drinking and drugs, as well as over-eating. It’s much more important to stay healthy. Many of us can’t afford unhealthy habits. Give up fast food. You can make cheaper, healthy meals at home. What you gain in health, you will also save in money!

Exercise, Entertainment, Socializing and Voting

Exercise when you have time, even if it is only stretches and a walk. Go on walks with your kids. Enjoy nature. It’s free!

Find free entertainment and free socializing. Join a book club at the library or make crafts you can sell with a craft group. Invite friends over to pool DVDs. Enjoy the hobbies you love and if you can, turn them into a money making venture.

Mental health is paramount for those of us who are overworked and overstressed. If you need help, get it. Help each other. There is strength in community. Stay healthy so you don’t need to spend money on over the counter medicine and supplements. The money you save can be used to buy nutrient-rich foods for you and your family. Congratulate yourself on how well you are doing. Your family needs you and they need you to stay healthy.

Lastly don’t forget to vote. Politicians who actually pass legislation will give us a stronger economy and that in turn, will help us all.

All Americans deserve to be healthy, strong and happy. Eat as well as you possibly can. Stay as healthy as you can. Above all, live to fight another day towards a better life for you and your children.

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