Effective leaders accelerate their team’s ideas-to-actions flow

“Ideas are easy; doing stuff is hard.” ~ Seth Godin
“Ideas are easy; doing stuff is hard.” ~ Seth Godin

 

In my SmartBrief article “How leaders can teach their teams to become more creative,” I proposed a tune-up of the approaches used in many workplaces to generate ideas. After all, ideas are oxygen for problem-solving. Yet, great ideas aren’t enough. As leaders, we need to complete the process and make sure there’s a robust ideas-to-actions machine operating on our teams and in our organizations.

Here are some approaches to help strengthen the flow of ideas into actions in your workplace.

First, identify the blockers slowing ideas-to-actions flow

For a moment, assume we’ve solved the novel idea-deficit problem that exists in too many organizations. It’s time to focus on what keeps ideas from jumping off the page and into real life.

Lack of a filtering mechanism

A clear strategy and supporting goals are the ultimate filtering mechanisms — allowing individuals and groups to assess what to do and what not to do. When the strategy is vague or goals lofty and not actionable, every idea seems equally good or bad, generating an idea-to-actions paralysis.

Assess: How clear are your strategy and priority goals? Can your team members use these as filtering tools to decide what gets done and what gets ignored?

Project overload

Either due to vague strategy or senior leaders badly out of tune with the realities of workloads in organizations, it’s common to find environments where the priority projects exceed the available resources. This project overload mentally and physically exhausts team members and makes sure other potentially impactful ideas are parked permanently out of sight.

Assess: Is your team exhausted by priority project overload? Is the team not taking on new ideas for fear of making their situation worse?

Misguided measuring systems

The adage “What gets measured gets done” remains relevant and is often strengthened by off-kilter compensation systems that promote unexpected behaviors.

One team was preoccupied with over 60 key performance indicators. They spent so much organizational energy just trying to capture and report on these measures that management ignored fundamental marketplace shifts despite employees’ suggestions and customers’ pleading.

Assess: Are your measures generating data fog? Are they obscuring your team’s view of new ideas and innovations that are critical to strategic success and customer satisfaction?

5 ideas to help power your ideas-to-actions machine

After assessing and addressing the above blockers, it’s time to focus on changing the working environment to support a better ideas-to-actions flow. Not surprisingly, much of the heavy lifting is owned by an organization’s managers and leaders.

1. Accept your responsibility for ideas-to-actions

Leadership must be the catalyst, acknowledging their principal role is to create contextual clarity (strategy/goals) and empower smart people working together in a fear-free environment to drive the right ideas off the whiteboard and into action.

This isn’t a program-of-the-month initiative; it’s a fundamental shift in leading, empowering, sponsoring, rewarding and coaching. And it happens at all levels, from front-line managers to the C-suite.

2. Drive out fear

The late, great management thinker and quality guru W. Edwards Deming is more relevant every passing day with his 14 Points for Management. Point No. 8, “Drive out fear,” is the best three words of advice you’ll receive in your management career. In Deming’s words:

“The problems fear creates result in bad data, ineffective decision-making, and the destruction of joy in work.”

This latter issue, the “destruction of joy in work,” saps the desire of many to strive to make a difference with new initiatives.

Spend time connecting with your team members. Redouble your efforts to create mutually valuable one-on-ones. Flex to meet their communication needs. Listen fiercely, and use questions to draw out their ideas.

While this management guidance is good for every situation, one of the side effects of driving out fear and creating this context-clear, quality working environment is the increase in people’s willingness to try new things. Trying new things is the raw material of a healthy ideas-to-actions environment.

3. Bring your firm’s “experimentation” value to life

Raise your hand if you’ve heard a manager or leader say, “We value experimentation here,” only to later penalize people who led failed experiments.

I consulted for a firm where leaders trumpeted values of innovation and risk-taking, yet when I asked about examples that resulted in successes, no one could not point to any. The firm’s struggles were partially explained by the lack of healthy behaviors promoting ideas-to-actions.

It’s imperative to reinforce a culture that rewards learning through experimentation. Succeeding with this cultural shift involves measuring success differently —evaluating employees for their willingness to try new approaches and translate insights gained through failed experiments into new actions.

4. Cure the “new ideas lead to more work” mindset

A culture rich in ideas is indeed a culture where new work is constantly identified, yet there’s a difference between more work and new work. Good ideas lead to new work.

Everyone, especially managers and organizational leaders, must remain vigilant in killing pet projects and initiatives that don’t have a powerful reason for being. It takes courage to say “No” or hit the “Stop” button on something in motion. It also takes reinforcement of the experimentation value described above. If there’s a penalty for killing initiatives, the ideas-to-actions flow will stop.

5. Use a multiple-horizon approach for your ideas-to-actions portfolio

Not every project has an immediate payback, nor should it. It’s imperative to split initiatives into different time horizons and support them accordingly. An activity that promises short-term gains through process improvement is managed differently than one that is a deep exploration of new technologies or markets.

The former demands fast execution, and the latter nurturing and incubation. The right environment will encourage exploration across multiple time horizons.

4 healthy ideas-to-actions behaviors on display

From the school of “you know it’s working when you see it in action,” here are some healthy behaviors to look for in your ideas-to-actions environment.

1. Successes and failures are treated with equal enthusiasm

Everyone recognizes that the path to success winds through failures and misfires. The premium is on the process of learning on the road to successful outcomes.

2. Managers serve as accountable sponsors for initiatives

I love when managers are on the line for an initiative’s success. Serving as an accountable sponsor challenges the manager to knock down barriers and pave the way for a team’s success. Additionally, for projects that cross boundaries, managers are challenged to build or strengthen relationships in other areas and help ensure the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

3. Advanced problem-solving techniques are on display

Much of the problem-solving that takes place in organizations reflects convergent thinking. Individuals and groups converge on an issue using approaches that are familiar, yet when faced with novel situations, convergent thinking doesn’t work.

In one organization I worked with, individuals spent a good deal of time framing and reframing problems and then challenging each other to generate wild ideas based on the different frames.

In another, the focus was on studying organizations and their customers in faraway markets to learn how others had solved analogous problems.

For your ideas-to-actions machine to yield great results, novel thinking is essential in the process of problem-solving. Coach your teams in this area for maximum effectiveness.

4. Ideas-to-actions flow is measured and monitored

As described above, our measurements breed positive and negative behaviors, so be careful here. Monitoring the flow of ideas to actions and then to impact is essential. Just be careful to not put undue weight on short-term gains and incremental fixes at the expense of inventing the future. Measure learning, and also measure failures that lead to learning and success.

The bottom line

Ultimately, healthy working environments create mechanisms for ideas to be evaluated and turned into actions. The work of managing and leading in today’s world is all about empowering motivated people to create something new, whether it’s a product, service or process.

An organization’s leaders need to work unceasingly on a culture that eliminates fear and promotes creativity that leads to impact. Is it time to tune your ideas-to-actions machine?

How to Be Healthier While Traveling

These tips will help you maintain your wellness routine when on the road.

 

Travel is a tree that bears many fruits. Under the right circumstances, it can be good for your business, your store of experiences, your relationships, your soul… One thing travel isn’t always good for, however, is your body, which can suffer at the hands of jet lag, dehydration and bad airport food, to name just a few of the many health-related challenges travelers face every day.

Here’s the bright side: Many business travelers know that wellness can be elusive when they’re on the road, so they’re committed to being healthier in spite of the many obstacles they face.

So finds new research published this week by travel-management platform CWT. Based on a survey of more than 2,700 frequent business travelers from around the globe, it found that 42 percent of them work hard to adhere to their health and wellness routines when they’re traveling. Likewise, 38 percent of business travelers say they eat healthier while on the road, and 26 percent that they work out more when they travel. Only 7 percent say they do not maintain their health and wellness routines when they’re away from home.

“Maintaining healthy habits while traveling is nearing the top of the priority list for travelers around the world,” Niklas Andréen, CWT’s chief traveler experience officer, said in a statement.

Just because being healthy on the road is important to travelers, however, doesn’t mean that it’s easy for them. In fact, sometimes it’s downright hard. Here are five tips that will make it just a little bit easier:

1. Drink up (water, that is)

The first and most important rule of healthy travel is to stay hydrated — especially when you’re flying. “Staying hydrated is always important, traveling or not. However, it should be the first thing on your mind when you travel, especially if you’re on an airplane, because the humidity inside the cabin is lower than normal. Your body will also be acclimating to a new climate, and between finding your way around and enjoying your trip drinking water can be easily forgotten,” nutritionist Elizabeth Rider notes in a post on her blog, in which she recommends finding a convenience store at your destination and purchasing at least 60 ounces of water for each day that you’re traveling. “Dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue and loads of other issues. It can also cause hunger, so bottoms up!”

Travel writer Shivani Vora also sings water’s praises. “This simple tip helps with everything from dehydration to constipation to overcoming jet lag,” she says in an article for the New York Times. “Since you’re likely to get busier as the day goes on and may forget to drink, try starting your day by drinking 16 ounces.”

2. Premeditate your meals

If you leave your diet to chance while you’re traveling, you’re almost guaranteed to fall off the wagon. If healthy eating is important to you, you should plan as many of your meals as possible — just like you would at home.

Start with road snacks, which you should prepare ahead of time and pack in your luggage, advises Vora. “Since healthy food can be scarce and expensive when you’re away from home, it’s a good idea to pack your own,” she says. “Take a portable, collapsible cooler, and fill it with healthy … meals.”

If that sounds impractical, at least pack a few snacks. “You don’t have to bring your entire pantry, just grab a piece of fruit that keeps well (apple, banana, orange), some almond butter, your own healthy trail mix and/or a good-quality, low-sugar bar,” Rider advises. “These types of healthy snacks will tide you over in a pinch and can prevent you from needing that pastry at the airport.”

Before you get to your destination, Rider continues, research restaurants and their menus so you know ahead of time where you can go for a healthy meal. Also, locate a grocery near your hotel. “Find the nearest market or grocery store to grab some fruit or fresh food,” she says. “Dining out is a wonderful part of the travel experience, but try to have one meal a day from the grocery store. Think whole/real foods like fruits, veggies, nuts and salads.”

Planning should even encompass room service, author Harley Pasternak says in a blog post for fitness-tracker company Fitbit. “Regardless of where in the world you might be visiting, many hotels offer a North American-style breakfast,” Pasternak writes. “In some cases, you can order your breakfast the night before — doing this will ensure that you’re making smarter decisions, and it also acts as a wake-up call. Generally, options like scrambled eggs, or an omelet with veggies and a side of fruit, are available no matter where you are in the world.”

3. Keep it moving

If diet is one side of the healthy-travel equation, exercise is the other. Fortunately, there are many easy ways to get the blood pumping while you’re on the road, according to Vora. For example, she says, try walking up a flight of stairs two steps at a time for a total of 20 repetitions. Or, when you use the toilet, add 10 extra reps of sitting down and standing up — which might feel silly, but will nonetheless make you feel the burn. If you have free time between meetings, she also recommends doing “active sightseeing.”

“A growing number of destinations around the world have bike-share programs that visitors can take advantage of. Bikes are a fantastic way to explore a city … Rely on these two-wheelers as your primary mode of transport and ride yours to drop-off locations that are near sights you want to visit,” advises Vora, who also suggests taking walking tours. “Almost every city around the world offers a range of walking tours, whether you’re interested in history, culture, drinking, food or architecture … You can also look at guidebooks or travel sites for suggested walking tours, and pick a different one for each day.”

Stretching can be just as important as exercise, according to UT Health Austin, a health-care practice that’s administered by the University of Texas at Austin. “Sitting in the same position for hours on end … on the plane stiffens your joints and muscles and can lead to all sorts of aches and pains during your trip,” it says in a post on its blog. “Try to get up and take a walk or stretch out your arms, legs, neck and back at least once every hour to increase blood flow and to feel more refreshed. It’s easy to sneak in some neck and shoulder rolls, back twists and leg stretches while you’re sitting [or] waiting in line.”

4. Choose a healthy hotel

The right accommodations can make a big difference in travelers’ ability to exercise and eat well. For that reason, Rider recommends short-term rentals over hotels when possible “Consider renting a condo or apartment with a kitchen instead of staying at a hotel,” she says. Preparing a few of your own meals in a kitchen, especially breakfast, will help you stay on track.”

Of course, plenty of hotels offer in-room kitchens and kitchenettes. And most have amenities that can help you adhere to your fitness routine. CWT’s survey, for example, found that 49 percent of business travelers use hotels’ fitness centers to maintain their wellness routines, that 40 percent of them use hotels’ swimming pools and that 27 percent of them use in-room fitness equipment that hotels supply. Looking for properties that offer these and other wellness features — a lap pool, a yoga studio, group fitness classes, a spa and/or in-room Peloton bikes, just to name a few — ensures you’ll have ample and convenient access to fitness activities.

5. Get your Zs

At home and on the road, the final piece of the health puzzle is sleep, according to lifestyle blogger Diane Nassy.

“Sleep is essential to our health and well-being,” Nassy writes in a blog post for car-rental company Alamo. “Research has revealed that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as the common cold virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. So, getting proper sleep is very important before and during your travels.”

Nassy recommends packing a travel pillow and earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to help you sleep on the plane. In your hotel room, meanwhile, eliminating light can help, according to Rider. “Just like when you’re at home, a dark sleep space with no extra light will help you get better rest,” she says. “Turn the alarm clock light off or unplug it, and use a towel under the door if light is pouring in from the hallway. Eye masks look funny, but if all else fails use one. Any light in your sleep space can disrupt your good night’s sleep.”

Getting Outside Is Good for Your Mental and Physical Health, According to New Study

Those who spent two hours a week outside reported improved mental and physical health.

In case you needed even more of a reason to get into the Great Outdoors, a study published in Scientific Reports says that spending two hours in nature every week could provide a boost to your health. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this; in July 2018, Science Daily shared another report boasting the same idea. If you read no further, at least take away the moral of this story: Spending time in nature is always a good idea.

This new study took two groups — one that did not spend any time in nature and another that took advantage of residential green spaces (parks, beaches, and the woods) — and monitored them for seven days. Each participant reported back on the state of their mental and physical wellness at the end of the study. According to CNN, the researchers included feedback from more than 20,000 people in the UK. Of those who spent time outside, one in three polled reported that they felt dissatisfied and one in seven shared that they had poor health. Of the group who did not spend time outdoors, nearly half reported “low levels of life satisfaction,” and 25 percent reported they experienced poor health.

The demographics of the two groups spanned all walks of life. Mathew White, leader of the study at University of Exeter Medical School, shared some insight with CNN on the people studied: “We were worried our effect was just that healthier people visited nature but this finding suggested even people with known illnesses who did manage to get two hours a week in nature fared better.”

This isn’t knowledge that’s supposed to surprise you: It makes sense. Pull yourself out of your everyday environment and stresses and experience something bigger than yourself. In a world where forest bathing is a popular and respected activity, it’s never been easier to get out into nature.

The Happiest and Healthiest Beach Towns in America

News flash: Being near the beach is good for you (says science!). But, according to a report, some beach towns might actually be better for your health than others. Gallup-Sharecare polled more than 337,000 people across the country on their life satisfaction—from physical well-being to the amount of time they spend worrying—and it seems saltwater therapy might actually pay off (plus a margarita every now and then—that helps, too!). Of the top 25 cities with the highest well-being, 10 of them are on the coast. See which beach towns made the cut:

10. Crestview – Fort Walton Beach Destin, Florida 

7 Destinations in Europe You Wouldn’t Think to Visit (but Really Should)

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As one of the most accessible and beloved parts of the world, Europe is home to plenty bucket list–worthy places. History will draw you to ancient cities like Rome, Athens, and Lisbon, while culinary feats on nearly every corner call from Paris and London. And we can’t forget the rolling, robust lands of Ireland and Scotland. It could take a lifetime to fully immerse yourself in every destination.

While these iconic stops are definitely worth your attention, there are others that might not have as much search traffic, but can give you a whole new perspective on a place and its people. These little-known wonders — most of which are not-so-far from larger metropolitan areas — will add depth and dimension to your getaway, offering a unique opportunity to see and experience something beyond the usual circuit.

Below, seven underappreciated European gems you need to know about.

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Scotland’s Outer Hebrides

Scotland’s Skye and the Hebrides snagged the seventh spot in this year’s World’s Best Islands in Europe ranking, but the former is arguably the most popular with travelers. Take a ferry ride beyond the Isle of Skye to explore what’s considered to be one of Europe’s last natural habits, the Outer Hebrides. This collection of islands — the largest being the Isles of Lewis, Harris, and North and South Uist — offers a full immersion into Celtic history, heritage, and charm.

You can hear locals speaking or singing in Gaelic, marvel at medieval churches, and see Neolithic standing stones up close. On Harris, where tweed fabric was originally woven, local artisans continue to craft capes, bags, and more traditional goods with the makings of an excellent souvenir. To visit, carve out your own schedule or book one of the many the tours that explore this region. This 11-day, 10-night optionthis link opens in a new tab from CIE Tours International includes whiskey tasting, beach hopping, and more. Depending on the season, you’ll want to pack layers, as summers can be ideal beach weather, but winters are often unforgiving.

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Sardinia, Italy

The expansive island of Sardinia is just an hour-long flight away from Rome. If you’ve ever been to the Algarve on Portugal’s southern coast, you might recognize the jagged — and breathtaking — landscape that defines Sardinia’s 1,200 miles of coastline, blending beaches into mountains. There are two special qualities that set this destination apart from others: its Bronze Age stone ruins that look like beehives and its microclimate. Thanks to the headland behind Santa Margherita di Pula, which shields the coast from cold north winds, this region has 300 days of sunshine. Though it’s lovely to visit from March through December, June and July will give you the warmest ocean temperatures. For a luxe, beachfront stay, book the Forte Village Resortthis link opens in a new tab in Santa Margherita di Pula.

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Thessaloniki, Greece

On your next trip to Greece, hop on an hour-long flight from Athens to spend a few days in the country’s “second city,” Thessaloniki. This Northern port offers plenty for history lovers, but it’s also got a modern liveliness to it. You can wander through ruins from the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans — thanks to its numerous occupations — and then make your way to Valaoritou Street for stylish cocktail bars and plenty of music. Since the heart of the city was entirely rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1917, the 20th-century architecture of this area will feel far away from the traditional Greek vibe. The city is also popular with locals because the beaches are also less crowded than on the islands. Don’t miss White Tower, Roman Forum, and the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, Ano Polithis link opens in a new tab.

Belgrade, Serbia

If you’ve already experienced the bath scene in Budapest, danced ’til dawn at the infamous five-story club in Prague, and ordered just-one-more cocktail while admiring the moonlit sea in Dubrovnik, set your sights on a lesser-known party destination: Belgrade. The capital of Serbia is becoming quite the watering hole for young travelers who, thanks to its many teeming bars and restaurants (and coffee shops to wake you up when morning comes). Here, you can experience splavovi — splav, for short — floating lounges anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers, each featuring a different musical genre. These tend to rage every night of the week, but if you need a break, make sure to see Beogradska Tvrđava, the historical fortress representing the city’s part in the Ottoman, Serbian, Austrian, Byzantine and Roman empires.

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Vicenza, Italy

You’ve heard of Venice and Verona, but a short 30- to 40-minute train ride from either of these known Italian destinations is Vicenza. Within the country’s northeastern Veneto region, you’ll be amazed by how little foot traffic this beautiful town hosts. It’s most known for its unique buildings, specifically those of 16th-century architect Palladio. If you enjoy spending hours winding through halls of art, you’ll find yourself sipping cappuccinos in between visits to the Basilica Palladiana and the Palazzo Chiericati. You might even catch a movie at the Teatro Olimpico, an outdoor theater that’s indoors. As a bonus? You can add “wandered through a UNESCO World Heritage Site” to your checklist, since the longstanding value and importance of the architecture in this town earned it a nod. If your budget allows, consider staying for a long weekend where you can talk about the beauty you’ve witnessed over wine al fresco at the Villa Valmarana Ai Nanithis link opens in a new tab.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

Though small in size, Slovenia is big on personality, led by its diverse and robust capital, Ljubljana. As a college town, you might find a younger crowd here, but they bring plenty of outdoor cafes along the river. Here you can stroll through plenty of green patches, most notably Tivoli Parkthis link opens in a new tab (not to be confused with the amusement park in Copenhagen). As a true melting pot squished between Italy, Croatia, and Austria, the food scene has recently become one of Europe’s most intriguing. Don’t miss the tasting menu at Strelecthis link opens in a new tab and the pastries at Zvezdathis link opens in a new tab. When you’re in town, book your stay at the Intercontinental Ljubljanathis link opens in a new tab and ask for a top floor in this 20-story high hotel, so you can wake up to one of the city’s best views.

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Vence, France

It’s hard not to fall for the refined charisma of France — from the quaint, streetside cafes of Paris to the glittering grape vines of Bordeaux. But if you want to go off the grid? Head 45 minutes east of Cannes to find Vence, a small commune in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes. You might want to speak French, or at least attempt, when you pull into to this town, which is known for its landscape and the luxury destination spa at the Chateau Saint-Martin & Spathis link opens in a new tab. You may also want to pack your watercolor palette, as inspiration struck for many an artist — Picasso and Matisse, namely — in this idyllic Côte D’Azur perch.

9 Cutest Small Towns in America

Every year, America’s small towns draw tourists—and new residents—to their streets in droves. They are, after all, reminders of a simpler way of life, where mom-and-pop shops are the norm, everybody knows your name, and the pace is slower than the speed of tweets. To help you get away from the breakneck tempo of your daily routine, we rounded up nine of the cutest small towns for an easy weekend escape, from a picturesque New England coastal haven to a romantic Southern getaway that feels untouched by time.

 

1 – Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

With its local wineries and Pacific Coast Highway views, the Northern California town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is as idyllic as its name suggests. Come for the beach, a mile-long swath of white sand from which you can view dolphins and sea lions, then wander around town to shop quirky independent boutiques and see whimsical cottages that look like they came straight out of a fairytale. The atmospheric gardens and chapels at Spanish-colonial Carmel Mission, founded in 1770 and designated a National Historic Landmark, offer worthy spots for reflection, though you’ll find just as much tranquility after a stay in one of the intimate suites at L’Auberge Carmel. For dinner, nab a table at Cultura Comida y Bebida, where chef Michelle Estigoy serves standout chicken tinga tacos and epazote quesadillas inspired by her family’s Mexican heritage.

2 – Sitka, AK

Accessible only by air and sea, the fishing village of Sitka is a remote beauty that anyone who has watched the 2009 Sandra Bullock film The Proposal is sure to recognize (filming took place in Rockport, Massachusetts, but sets were built to resemble this port town). Here, you can indulge in the natural pursuits Alaska is known for, from whale watching and kayaking to hiking up a dormant volcano or strolling through towering spruce trees—spotting bald eagles and totem poles along the way—at Sitka National Historic Park.

  

3 – Taos, NM

It’s easy to see why this high-desert town in the Sangre de Christo Mountains has become a haven for artists, writers, and other creative types. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a feast for the senses thanks to its striking adobe architecture, red-rock canyons, and snow-tipped peaks. Feeling inspired? View works by the likes of Agnes Martin and other local painters at the Harwood Museum of Art and more than 80 other galleries. There are also plenty of activities to keep adrenaline junkies engaged year ‘round. Summer brings hiking and hot air ballooning, while winter offers some of the best skiing in the country.

 

 

4 – Marfa, TX

As art meccas go, Marfa is an unlikely one. Founded in 1883, the tiny Texas town—population under 2,000—has served as a railway headquarters and military training base, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when artist Donald Judd moved there, that it became a cultural destination for the aesthetically informed. View some of his most iconic concrete sculptures on a sunrise tour of the Chinati Foundation, or make like the Insta glitterati and take a selfie in front of Elmgreen and Dragset’s now-famous Prada Marfa installation, off Highway 90.

 

5 – Beaufort, SC

If this Lowcountry fishing village looks straight out of a movie set, that’s because it is: Beaufort was the backdrop for such films as Forrest Gump and The Big Chillthanks to its sprawling antebellum mansions, moss-draped oaks, and picturesque downtown streets. Located on Port Royal Island in South Carolina’s Sea Island chain, the town makes an ideal base for enjoying simple pleasures and all manner of aquatic diversions, including paddle boarding, kayaking, dolphin watching, and crabbing.

 

6 – Galena, IL

The romantic ideal of Main Street is alive and well in this mining town on Illinois’s northwestern border—think of it as the Midwest’s version of Stars Hollow. Trolley cars still cruise down the historic lane, which is lined with 19th-century brick buildings and cute galleries, boutiques, and craft shops that give it a distinctly small-town feel. American history fanatics, however, will be more impressed with Galena’s status as the home of Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant, a fact illuminated at the U.S. president’s namesake museum.

7 –Edgartown, MA

On the southeast tip of Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown is the quintessential New England seaside getaway with classic shingle-style buildings, windswept dunes, and a scenic lighthouse. Though the beaches are the draw, the onetime whaling port brims with storybook charm. Tour the 18th-century homes of whaling captains on foot or bike, then try your hand at sailing like a local. All it takes is a short ferry rideto explore neighboring Chappaquiddick Island, where, during the summer, you can play a round of night golf by the light of the full moon.

 

 

8 – Stowe, VT

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak, making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music, as well as a stellar culinary scene. Don’t miss the grilled cauliflower steak with quinoa at our favorite dinner spot, Plate. Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury.

 

  

9 – St. Augustine, FL

The cobblestone streets of St. Augustine are steeped in history. Founded in 1565 by Spanish conquistadors, the northern Atlantic coast town is studded with colonial architecture, from the 17th-century Castillo de San Marcos fortress to the Victorian antiques–filled Lightner Museum, housed in an 1887 Spanish Renaissance Revival building commissioned by Rockefeller business associate and Florida real estate magnate Henry Flagler. If sun and sand is what you seek, there’s plenty of that, too:Anastasia State Park comprises four miles of wildlife-dotted beach and maritime forests.

I Had a Brain Tumor

I Had a Brain Tumor

but I’m fine now.

Everything begins somewhere.

A tremor in the left hand, slight muscle weakness, the inability to paint my own fingernails. I accepted these changes as subjects of fascination — idiosyncrasies particular to my body. When I told my mother, she suggested that I incorporate more vitamin C into my diet.

In winter of 2010, the snow piled up against the windows of my garden apartment while I vomited breakfast, then water, and finally a bitter yellow substance for an entire day until I was too weak to move to the bathroom anymore. I fell asleep on the floor wondering whether I would wake up the following day.

How sick do you have to be to call for an ambulance?’ I had texted my roommate who was away on holiday.

After that episode, I began to experience strange throbbing headaches — little lightning storms that I combated by closing my eyes and standing perfectly still until they receded. I lived alone then, an hour into the depths of Brooklyn, in an Italian neighborhood that I reluctantly cherished. I took dance classes five nights a week, unless I was attending a reading or a lecture or some party somewhere. Those were long days, late nights. I lived off coffee and dollar slices of pizza. My fridge held almost nothing but pickles and condiments.

Soon, the headaches joined forces with crippling vertigo. Little spots formed at the edges of my vision. Nausea overwhelmed me in the mornings. I was thin, but that was fashionable.

Once, when the headaches were frequent and fierce, I told my mother that I felt as though someone were pinching the back of my neck and squeezing my brain. I didn’t know it at the time — I wouldn’t find out for months — but I wasn’t wrong.

Near the end of October 2010, there was an early winter storm that swept through New England.  My co-worker, who had been tracking my complaints over the months, escorted me to a nearby clinic.

From there, things progressed quickly. I was given strict instructions to take a cab directly to the hospital. Do not walk, do not get on the train. I nodded dutifully as I continued throwing up into an H&M shopping bag. In the emergency room at Beth Israel, a nurse took me for a CT scan. I had never been in a hospital before. I waited for the results. A concerned attendant peeked through the door at me, then withdrew again. More concerned faces. Bad news, they intoned, without quite saying what was bad. I was admitted, decorated with IVs, and told to wait again. At one point, a young doctor said to me, “That’s quite the goober you’ve got in your noggin.” Goober? That was the first I’d heard of it. He showed me the scans.

When I think of tumors, I think of metaphors of invasion. Something foreign, forceful, and undesired. The growth of darkness where before there was light. The young doctor pointed to the screen and said, “There.” Therewas a shadow at the back of my mind. A sphere lodged against the cerebellum, a presence that was both alien and of myself. Not a tumor yet, but not not a tumor either. To confirm that either way required a series of MRIs.

From the emergency room, I was moved to the neuro step-down unit. That was serious, a friend informed me by text. An older doctor whose glasses sat at the tip of his nose and whose voice was firm but kindly throughout his explanation of the condition hemangioblastoma agreed that it was indeed serious.

At that age, I thought I had things figured out. I thought I was invincible. I could take another Advil. I could push through the headaches, the vertigo, the nausea. Everything was fine, I’d convinced myself, because everything was supposed to be fine. Sickness, tumors, brain surgery: those things happened to other people. The doctor asked to schedule the surgery immediately. I asked for a moment. For twenty minutes straight, I sobbed aloud at the edge of my hospital bed. I don’t want this, I can’t do it, I don’t want this. How did this happen? Why?

Hemangioblastoma are vascular tumors located in the cerebellum, brain stem, or spinal cord. Accounting for less than 2% of tumors in the central nervous system, hemangioblastoma typically affect middle-aged individuals and can be associated with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome in which tumors recur continuously throughout a person’s lifetime. They are noncancerous, but can cause serious complications over time. As long as surgical excision is possible, prognoses tend to be positive.

To ask why or how,  I was diagnosed with a rare tumor known to affect an age range far beyond my own, is to commit my thoughts to a wheel of irrationality. I could turn the question over and over and never have an answer. From there on out, I moved as though in a dream.

I had to call my mother. Nothing could happen until I’d seen her in person. But when she answered, I couldn’t form the words. Handing the phone over, I asked the doctor to explain the problem. Three thousand miles away, a grown woman pulled over to the side of the road and cried, then purchased a plane ticket so that she could attend the imminent craniotomy of her frightened twenty-something daughter.

My mother kissed my face, told me she loved me, but did not accompany me to the prep room. The walls were white and the hallways went forever. Four hours of surgery turned into eight. There had been some bleeding, they said.

Four hours of surgery turned into eight. There had been some bleeding, they said. I woke panicked and groggy. What time was it? Did my mother know I was okay? In the ICU, the nurses told me I had the healthiest lungs in the ward. My head was so heavy. I remember the morphine made me sick. I thought my stitches would split back open.

Slowly, the physical evidence of trauma faded. I wrote so many pages pondering the dreamless darkness of those eight hours. If I had died, would they have gone on forever? Would I have known myself missed? Had I glimpsed into the after and found it empty? For weeks afterward, I dreamt vivid, terrifying flashes that woke me in the night.

Through a scattered plot of points over a period of years, I can trace a path from the first suggestion of something amiss to the doctor’s final diagnosis. At any number of crossroads, I could have turned another way and arrived at the end more abruptly. I think of the neurology appointment I made in March of 2010, then canceled because the headaches had subsided for awhile. Or the end could have been different, could have been worse, could have been nothing. If I had taken more vitamin C or had eaten better or slept more? If the tumor had been cancerous or inoperable? Or — again — that wheel of irrationality.

It’s many years on now and I can climb mountains as well as stairs. I write stories and keep more in my fridge than condiments. My hair has grown out and most of the feeling has come back to my head, though they severed the nerve there. Whenever I tell anyone that I once had a brain tumor, I qualify the statement by adding: but I’m fine now.

 

At the end, this is the main reason I play the piano, it was my first medicine to come over my pain and the change I had in my life. Please respect my thoughts.

6 Reasons Why a Little Glass of Wine Each Day May Do You Good

By Mihran Kalaydjian, CHA

Consultant, Strategist, and Writer

 

The list of wines benefits is long—and getting more surprising all the time. Already well-known as heart healthy, wine in moderation might help you lose weight, reduce forgetfulness, boost your immunity, and help prevent bone loss.

With America likely to edge out France and Italy in total wine consumption in the near future, according to one analyst, and with women buying more than 6 out of every 10 bottles sold in this country, were happy to report that wine may do all of the following: Continue reading “6 Reasons Why a Little Glass of Wine Each Day May Do You Good”