A Sip and aTrip Takes You into a Dream

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Travel Memoir

Many Americans have made their peace with the “gotta get ahead” pace of daily life. In fact, often urbanites and sophisticates in the United States wear the burden of their busyness or over commitment as a gold star. Yet, some dream about how life might be in a smaller place with a slower pace. The biggest dreamers imagine themselves abroad – Italy, France, Africa, or China. The speculation touches the part of the soul that whispers, “What is more?”

There is something innately romantic about the idea of going to Provence, a storied region in the southern France that makes most people sigh who yearn for wine, cheese and conviviality, combined with beautiful vistas, and a slower pace of life. Keith Van Sickle’s One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence responds to the hunger like a four course dinner. I had the same positive reaction to Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, and more ever more to former fashion editor Karen Wheeler’s Tout Sweet series.

The author, a tech consultant who made his bones in Silicon Valley, gets a taste of life outside the “run, run” daily pace in the United States during a work assignment in Europe. Van Sickle and wife Val went to Neuchatel in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. “We lived in a village so small that the streets did not have names and the cows outnumbered the people,” he offers. That is a sample of the wit, clarity, insight and personality in the prose that makes the work an even more attractive read.

One of the interesting dimensions of the work is the author’s spirit. He does not glamourize life in Provence, but rather lays out the ups and downs of the adventure in breezy snippets. Most of the chapters are short yet filled with insight. Readers will enjoy the challenge as he and  Val struggle to learn a new language, and find ways to let go of common U.S. practices. For example:

We were in St.-Remy and stopped at one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. I went to the restroom, a one-room affair used by both men and women, and had to wait in line behind four ladies.

When I finally made it to the restroom I was surprised to find the toilet seat up. Even after four ladies! I told Val about this and she said it was common, that even when there was a separate ladies room, women would often leave the seat up after they were done. Apparently it’s a French custom.

Readers will be quickly impressed by the way Van Sickle gives wings to words. His sentences tend to be tight, which allows him to pack a lot of detail, meaning and humor into a small space. Rather than a “and the next day” narrative, the 192-page book is more about “and then there was the time,” which helps to quickly carry the reader through the story. For example, I loved a tale he told from his first days in France in a three-paragraph chapter:

Soon after we arrived, we went for a hike around the Etang de Berre, a bay so large that it’s almost an inland sea. We sat on a bench to eat our lunch and a poodle came up to me, looking for a handout.

I had finished my sandwich and was eating an apple. I figured that since Lucca liked apples this poodle would too, so I tossed him a piece.

Obviously, I had not counted on the refined palates of French dogs. He sniffed the apple and gave me a withering look. Then he turned his back, heisted his leg over the apple, and trotted away.

Van Sickle rolls out the adventure of his adjustment to Provence with a similar candor, which in the end develops a voice that bids the reader to relate to the author more as a friend than an adventurer. Most readers will read the last word in the book and wish they could hear one more tale. One Sip at a Time ends, yet the author offers Francophones, dreamers, travel-lovers, as well as those who might want to try a similar adventure, a chance to continue the relationship through a blog where he share insights into France and the adventure that is life.

One Sip at a Time reminds readers of when travel memoirs were a major entertainment source, and the urge to travel was more tightly tied to discovery. The reader gains insight into how one struggles to fit into another culture. At the same time, Keith and Val show readers that an effort can capture a dream. Readers who might want to move to the French countryside can make it, One Sip at a Time.

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Change is Not just a Six-Letter Word

Change is More than a Six-Letter Word Available in  Kindle Edition and Paperback
Even as one glances at the cover, Mark Reklau’s 30 Days-Change Your Habits, Change Your Life echoes the kind of idle boast even a true expert usually wants to avoid. My first impression was that the book sounds like a bad infomercial. Yet, as is often wisely stated, you can’t judge this book by the cover. Page after page, the review copy provided showed me that  30 Days is more than a boast. The book delivers on its promise for those focused and ready to act on self-improvement, even as they try to keep pace with life’s daily shifts.

More than that, as I read the 204 pages, I began to wish the book had come to my attention sooner. The release date is more than a year ago. Even so, I choose to share the publication because the knowledge it holds remains in constant demand.
“Taking full responsibility for your life includes the risk of making mistakes and leaves you without the common excuses (society, my boss, my family, my age etc…), but it also creates options, space and power,” the author states on his website.  Change can never come too late.
As for tone,  30 Days is easily read, mostly because every chapter is topical. Readers can explore each of the 94 chapters in sequence, or as I, many readers might prefer to jump to the areas of greatest interest. That said I recommend anyone who gets a hold of the book read the Introduction and first chapter to gain a feel for the author’s views.

Reklau is clear from the start – the blame for our lives is on us. “Most people have no idea how they get what they get,” he writes in the Introduction. Some of us just blame it on fate and chance.,,,Everything that happens to you is created by YOU – either consciously by design or unconsciously by default; it’s not a result of fate or circumstances.”

Reklau, who uses the book in his pursuits as a life coach offers advice in a manner that one might expect from improvement gurus. The main difference, which makes this work worthy of a read, is that the book is complete in its message, not a come on. Those who follow the link above can check out his business website and find offers for ongoing consultation, but those who seriously want to redesign their lives will find the book a treasure trove.

He offers blunt advice in a direct, concise prose. “Every day brings with it the opportunity to start a new life!” he writes in the first chapter, Rewrite Your Story.  “You get to choose your identity at each and every moment! … It’s up to you to decide who you are going to be from this day on.”

As stated, the Table of Contents reads like an advice list – Choose Your Thoughts, The Importance of Attitude, Know Your Strengths, Avoid Energy Robbers.  When one steps back from the work, it is clear that part of the book’s attraction is its tight organization and design. Readers who want a quick answer to the life-change question will glean a lot from the browse. Those who take the few moments needed to read a chapter will gain ever more. For example, in Chapter 11, Get Comfortable with Change and Chaos, Reklau writes: ” For personal growth you have to be in a constant state of feeling slightly uncomfortable. Get into the habit of doing things that others don’t want to do. You have to choose to do what needs to be done regardless of the inconvenience!”

Readers who take the thirty days to reflect on their attitudes and behaviors will not be disappointed. In that effort, the book can be a guide and counselor. In the end, 30 Days will be one of those keepers on the shelf that is pulled down once or twice a year to refresh our thoughts on what it takes to achieve the lives we desire. If nothing else, the book will serve as a constant reminder that life we have is the result of our actions. Change will become more than a six-letter word.