About Grace

Lennie with Pencil - Rotated

Hi, I’m Grace. I live in Apache Junction, Arizona, about thirty miles east of Tempe, where ASU is located. The main city in our Valley is Phoenix.

I’m sixty-eight years old, married thirty-nine years.  My husband and I have three wonderful children, who  all in their early 30’s.
My Working Life

I worked for twenty years for the Apache Jct. Unified School District as an aide.  I retired a couple years early and have been attending Mesa Community College, to get the AA degree I never got. My plan is to to transfer to ASU and work on a degree in Middle Eastern Studies.

II Love Travel!  A few years ago I started a casual, unstructured travel club through Meetup.com. Our group is small, companionable. From the other members I have found the courage to venture out into solo travel, including staying at hostels.

Travel is not my only interest, no way! I also love gardening, writing, Middle Eastern dancing,  reading (mostly about the Middle East and European history) learning Spanish and Arabic (the latter is slow going!) and writing about my travels (the link to my personal travel account site is on the “Grace’s Other Links” page). During the spring and fall, I volunteer as a drama coach for some really fun kids at the Apache Junction Boys and Girls Club.

During the months of February and March,  I perform out at the Arizona Renaissance Festival as “Iliana the Gypsy Singer” mostly doing Arabic songs, which I am learning from Gaby Tawil, the well-known percussionist, who we are lucky to have living in this area.

Before getting interested in Middle Eastern Music, I used to sing “great American songbag” songs, folk songs, sixties and seventies, sixties soul, etc. etc. Lately I find I really want to get back into that genre of music, have started pulling out the guitar again and singing and strumming my heart out, and am attempting to start a music jam through meetup.com

So that’s me. I hope you enjoy the site. Eventually this site will have a “community” section, and I hope that you and the other viewers contribute stories and photos by joining!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you want to why I decided to set up this website, read further!


How the Heck Did I Get Here?

Sometimes when you are searching for possible solutions to a problem, you end up finding something which gives you more than you ever thought it would. This website was started because of a mid-life crisis, but several friends have commented that I may have something here which has the potential to become rather unique.

So, what the heck caused me to embark on trying to make this particular dream a reality? Well, I was taking an internet marketing course and my instructor thought that having this site would help me to find a larger base of people to invite to my travel club. But let’s go back further, why the travel club?

Okay, I admit it.  It started with my retirement. Only twenty years left, more or less, to do what I want to do!

Somebody I worked with who had been to one of those self-exploration groups told me to write “visualizations” of my goals and look at them every night before I fell asleep.

So what were my goals?
Let me go get the list!  To have a clean, interesting home and an Italian style garden, to entertain more often, to be a better cook, to lose fifty pounds, to find a group of people to play music with, to become as fluent in Arabic as I am in Spanish, and oh yeah, the last one: to have a wider circle of interesting friends. (I do have wonderful friends now, and my schedule is pretty full.)  But there are activities that I am interested in doing, which the friends I have now aren’t that interested in. What I would like to find new friends who are interested in those activities.

I am actually making gradual progress on most of those goals I listed: the house is neater and cleaner (it was already filled with interesting things), I have started having more people over and I have learned to cook some cool stuff, I’ve lost thirty of the fifty pounds, my Arabic lessons continue as does my strumming and singing practice.

And for the last goal, meeting a wider circle of people, I thought I’d a good beginning would be to start a travel club for people who share a love for the kind of travel that I like,  down-to-earth travel which Rick Steves TV shows and guide book epitomizes. So I went on Meetup.com and started “Valley Fans of Rick Steves Travel Meetup”.

Naively, I thought my travel Meetup would be an immediate success. But  the first two years were dismal, that’s the only word for it. I don’t know why I kept it going, I really don’t. What happened usually was that one person would show up each month, and they didn’t come back.  Occasionally more showed up than that, and they didn’t come back either.

I did learn some really interesting things: one woman had been to China to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a Chinese family.  A sculptor had spent a summer in Florence studying art.  One woman not that much younger than I was, traveled alone extremely light and stayed in hostels, even as far as South America.

It was probably just inertia that kept me from letting the whole idea die an honorable death.
Inertia, plus the fact that I just was still so sure that having a Phoenix-area gathering of Rick Steves fans was a great idea.  (I just began to wonder if I was the one who had the personality to do it!)

I tried attending another local travel meetup which was much more of a “success” than mine. They averaged around ten people at their meetings, which were held at different restaurants.  But most of the traveling they were doing was going on cruises.  And it seemed that much of the conversation going on wasn’t even about travel.

The lowest point came when one month I was so discouraged about my Meetup that I forgot about it. Even with the week-before reminder they always send, and the day-before reminder, I clean forgot about it.  One hour before the scheduled time, I was on-line and saw the reminder in my “inbox”.  Horrified that I’d forgotten, I clicked on  to the Meetup Page almost hoping that no one had rsvp’d because I felt like I would rather cancel than have one more conversation with someone who wouldn’t come back anyway. It was so sad!

With delight I saw that one of the people I had enjoyed most has rsvp’d yes!
She had been out of town, traveling. Joyfully I drove to the meeting location and we had another fascinating conversation.  After that, she started attending regularly, and thus started what I call the “second phase” of this Meetup. It made all the difference to find one other person who was committed to the idea.

One of my assignments for my English 101 class at Mesa Community College was to write an “informative” paper, which meant we were to research a subject and write a paper on it.  I decided that my subject would be “Public Relations”.  Maybe I could learn something that would help me get the word out about my club.

While I was sitting in the MCC library writing the paper, I got a call from someone in the Rick Steves office! They were in town for Rick’s Phoenix lecture, as part of the fundraising he does for PBS.  Apparently they liked the idea of local gatherings of Rick Steves fans, and they thought that the Meetup.com organization was a good way to do it.  It was good to know that it was okay with them to use the Rick Steves name, because I had just kind of done it without asking. I did follow one of the ideas I had learned while researching my paper…

I started a group Facebook page called “Rick Steves Fans, Phoenix Area”. Eight or so people have joined, and it’s a fun way to have interaction with people between meetings.

Recently I have embarked on what I hope will be the “third phase” of this travel club.
Why? Well, I always told myself that I won’t quit on the idea until I have really given all of the PR ideas I learned a good try.  Recently I met a guy who teaches an on-line course on how to use social media for internet marketing.  (I’m not intending to do any internet marketing, but I thought that some of the same ideas would help me get the word out.)

It looks like it’s going to be a lot of work; he wants me to set up an interactive website (this one) which seems to demand a great deal of content.   At first I was terrified. What if I put in all that effort and no one reads it or registers? But as I work on the site, I find that I’m loving the process of doing it.  And I have looked at other travel sites, and I have to admit that maybe this one, even in its beginning stages, might be rather unique…not only about the “how-to” but about the whys and the nuances and….who knows…

There is a line in a Bob Dylan song which says, “No one shoud be where they do not belong.”  When I first started learning to do this site-management thing, I thought, “Maybe I don’t belong here, I mean maybe this is not the sort of thing I have what it takes to succeed at.  But in the course of my life I have ended up doing many things I thought I would never be capable of.  So at least I’ll give it a try for one year……”

A couple of months into the project, I find that I’m hooked! I do hope that you and others will join and make of this project much more than I could ever hope to accomplish on my own…