Alaska. The Last Frontier.

Fairbanks is the farthest northern city I’ve visited in the U.S, and the starting point of our Alaskan adventure.  We’d spend a week touring on land followed by a 7-day cruise on Princess.  I usually like planning our trips, but I’ve been busy so it seemed like a good idea to let someone else do it.

In Fairbanks I felt like I was traveling back in time to the gold rush, the early 1900’s.  Mainstream downtown had an old-time feeling with dilapidated buildings, weathered men, and empty alleyways. It was drizzly and cold. We searched out a famed ice museum, finding it after circling the block a few times.

“This doesn’t look like the picture on the brochure.”  I said to my husband as we ducked inside the small building.

We sat and listened to a ten minute documentary about ice carvings and then the lights dramatically came on to reveal life-sized carvings behind the screen.   I bundled up and entered the 25° F room.  We took a few pictures, grabbed a sled and slid down an ice slide.  On our way out we met the chatty, very personable owner. We had a good conversation about the lifestyle of modern Alaskans, politics and business.

“Alaska has two seasons,” he said.  “Winter, and preparing for winter.”

We laughed.  I could imagine it as such. We also learned the brochure I was holding in my hand, the Aurora Ice Museum, was a forty minute drive outside of town.  Who knew Fairbanks had two ice museums?  ice barAt the Aurora we sat on ice stools at an ice bar, wearing big parkas while sipping apple martinis.  It was a true piece of art with different carved rooms and statues reflecting a spectrum of light. Designed as an ice hotel, the fire department shut it down because it lacked smoke alarms and other safety requirements.  Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m pretty sure big carved pieces of ice can’t catch on fire.

alaska pipelineOn our scenic drive back we visited a section of the massive Alaska oil pipeline.  The oil flowing through the pipeline is about 140° F.  My husband reached up to touch the pipeline but he couldn’t reach it. “Get on my shoulders and see if it’s hot?” He asked.

I shot him a dismissing look and then climbed on his large shoulders.  I hesitated expecting to get burned, and then touched it with my index finger. “Ouch,” I screamed. “Just kidding, it’s cold.”

Our cottage sat along the Chena River where we spent evenings watching shimmering water flow under blue skies. The sun never really set, remaining light well past our bedtime. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, but it didn’t happen.  I learned that it’s sometimes spotted this time of year, but the cloud coverage and daylight always on the horizon make it difficult from Fairbanks.

006    Along with several hundred other tourists, we went on a large steamboat for a discovery cruise along the Chena River.  Captioned by a fairly young woman and a strong energetic crew, they did an awesome job showing us some highlights of the local culture.  A tour director narrated through a sound system and TV screens throughout the ship. Native demonstrations along the shore highlighted the importance of fishing and hunting for food, shelter and clothing.

seaplane fairbanksWe watched a sea plane take off and then turn around and land.  He narrated from the cockpit and did another fly by after answering several questions from our tour director.

dog musherI enjoyed the sled dog demonstration by David Monson, a famous musher and husband of famed four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher.  He talked from a headset, his voiced echoing through the ship.  He spoke about his dogs and shared his experience in the dog races.  He jumped on an engine-less ATV used as a substitute for a sled. As the dogs pulled they quickly disappeared, reappeared in the background, disappeared and returned in the opposite direction all the while he narrated.

After a few nights in Fairbanks we joined an organized tour to explore Denali and a train ride to Anchorage where we’d board our ship.  Princess owns their own buses, lodges and trains in Alaska. They do pretty well organizing the chaos of massive amounts of tourists on different itineraries, and they employ an interesting mix of young Americans looking to travel and make money in the process.  I talked to quite of few of them and I was happy to see youngsters traveling while gaining experience in the process.  Alaska tourism almost completely shuts down mid-September, so they travel to other tourists destinations in the winter.  They lived in dorm-style housing in a neighboring town called Healy.  I could imagine the drama that existed in that housing.

into wild busWe had passed through Healy on our way to the lodge.  The area gained attention in the early 1990’s when a non-fiction book and accompanying movie called Into the Wild gained popularity.  The infamous bus currently sits on the side of the road, waiting to be moved back to its original location.

Denali parkmoose and Mount Denali, also known as McKinley, was beautiful.  On our afternoon bus tour we spotted a few caribou and
several moose.  One large male was really close to the road.  I’ve always wanted to see a moose in the wild,  such bulky, magnificent creatures with huge antlers.  It reminded me of Bullwinkle.

We muddied through hills, creeks and crevices on an ATV with a local guide.  He pointed out edible and medicinal plants.

He handed us a fresh picked berry.  “Try this.  It our version of watermelon.”

It was juicy, but a stretch to call it watermelon.  He was a true local. A rough, seasoned mountain man with an honest opinion.  When we returned to the lodge Mt. McKinley towered above, revealing its monumental size of 20,320 feet.  Only 30% of travelers in the region get to view the often cloud-veiled mountain.  We were some of the lucky kinley

Every Summer Has Its Own Story

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby  

I’m busy editing this summer,and looking forward to a great novel at the end.  Making memories and great stories in the summertime.

summer flip flops summer


North Georgia Mountains: Always an adventure

mt yonah“We know you want to blow up that deer in your garden.  But it’s not deer hunting season.” Announced a southern accented radio commercial.  I burst out laughing with images of Bambi exploding to pieces.  We had just landed in North Georgia Mountains and the commercial and car rental experience reflected our country location.  We’d reserved an Enterprise car rental, but it was not delivered.  Instead the lovely airport manager decided to rent his car to us for $300 for the week.  It would do with 160,000 miles, dirty floors, and a CD combo cassette player.

Spring was in full bloom.  Mountain-laurel blossoming pink flowers, lush green trees, bear tracks, geese meandering, and a red-tailed fox wandering around our house.  The fox looked like my dog, and for a moment I wondered if she was outside.  It was the same size with a cute button nose just sniffing grass in our yard.  It probably smelled our pet, since the sniff ratio is much higher in animals than humans. A trait I admired.  I was often in awe over my dog’s ability to smell something miles away, including unfamiliar wildlife and her favorite food, bacon.  While hiking she’d regularly become fixated on a patch of grass.  “It can’t smell that good,” I’d tease her.

On Saturday night we visited our favorite biker bar hangout, Mondays.  Walking in alone, I felt like an alien, all eyes on me while my husband parked.  Seats cleared, whispers flowed, girls gossiped.  Yes, I was an out-of-towner, but really. I confidently waved down the bartender.  “A white wine spritzer and Bud Lite please.”

She wore a number, not name on her badge. Number 197, and I called her such. “Hey number 197 can I get…” throughout the night.  She carded me, laughed with me and we hugged at the end of the night. I got a job offer starting at 4 p.m. the following day.  “You can make a ton of money here,” she said as I departed, declining her offer.

I recognized some of the same people from my last visit six months prior.  The tattooed girl who started a brawl last time, a bearded guy on her arm with his tongue down her throat.  Two girls flitting eyes toward me while whispering.

The following day, I noticed one of the eyeing gossipmongers working at a tourist shop.  “Hey you were at Monday’s.” I said. Followed by a smile and a cheerful, “Happy Mother’s day.”

“Yes I was there with my daughter.”  The one with the ponytail.”  She was cordial, her rosy face and shy smile reflecting embarrassment.  “Happy Mother’s day to you honey.  God bless.”

I got to hike and enjoy the town during our one week stay, but it was also a working vacation. Editing my novel, cleaning up our rental home for the season, and we bought a 1977 Cessna 150 to put in a flight school for profit. I would fly it back solo since hubby was flying the faster six-seater.  Yikes.  I had to learn the plane.  Nothing happens fast in the Northern Georgia mountains, especially commuting.  I only had about 45 minutes to familiarize myself with the two-seater. I felt overwhelmed and anxious about the long journey in an unfamiliar plane, named the Rita Rae from a past owner.

To my relief, a pilot friend offered his help getting the Cessna back to south Florida.
“You can’t fly that distance in a 150 alone. It takes all day, and you’ve never flown a 150.”

Whew.  I agreed.  I didn’t have the time to properly get to know the plane for a solo cross-country flight
Although I was up at the crack of dawn, we departed at 10:00 due to airport distance and pre-flight preparations.


  • Ipad with flight-aware for navigation and first destination loaded. Check.
  • Full tanks at 24 gallons. Check.
  • Test fuel for water contamination and drain a half cup of water in tank. Check
  •  Oil at six quarts.Check.
  •  Exterior normal and tires inflated. Check.
  • Radios frequencies and backup VOR frequencies written down. Check
  • Backup batteries, water and anything else I could throw in my purse. Check.
  • A healthy amount of adrenaline pumping through my heart. Check.

I rotated at 45 knots, staying in ground effect building to a 60 knot climb speed. Rita Rae seemed sturdy and powerful despite her size and simplicity.  My heart calmed as I settled at cruise altitude of 3,500, getting comfortable in the left seat with one hand on the yoke correcting for heading and altitude as needed.  Two and a half hours later we were in Alma, GA where my husband was waiting with our Piper Lance and a packed lunch.  The sandwiches he ordered was incorrect.  Not a problem for the guys, but I’m a vegetarian.

“It’s going to be a long day,” I sighed.  I was fine with peanut butter filled crackers.

After take-off for our next leg we realized we lost communication.  We could hear Air Traffic Control and other pilots, but they couldn’t hear us.  My co-pilot really came in handy at this moment.  I focused on flying the plane not allowing too much distraction, while he assessed the situation,  switching around all kinds of wires and frequencies.

“We need to find the nearest airport,” He said.

I put the lost comm code 7600 into the transponder “Let’s try to make Jacksonville.” I said while looking at our location on the GPS.  “JAX is only 80 miles.  There’s nothing out here, just small airports with no service.”

“I think I saw a handheld mic back here.” He fussed around behind his seat finally pulling out a small oblong mic, appearing ancient and tobacco stained.  He plugged it in and called Atlanta Center.”

“Loud and clear 704CX.”  It was music to my ears. Although we both remained calm during the 40 minutes since takeoff, not communicating with ATC for traffic advisories and flight following around active military restricted areas was a bit of a risk.

We had a brief fuel and bathroom stop along the space coast around 6:30. We were both tired and mentally drained, but we pushed on to our destination, Fort Lauderdale.  The sun set as bright lights shined from below. My eyes adjusted to the light change in the cockpit.  I had an emergency back up light on my lap for our final landing in Rita Rae.  It was 9:30 I was starving, exhausted, and desperately in need of a glass of wine.

Easter: Spring Rebirth

yellow treeMy favorite season in south Florida is spring, especially the month of April with longer days and somewhat cooler air, in this tropical environment that means 70-80 degrees and less humidity.  Baby chicks float in canals learning how to be duck-like from mama, one of them having a whopping ten chicks following. Lime green iguanas litter docks and yards, a nuisance to many I suppose. Fuchsia bushes, purple vines, bright pink and Yellow trees vividly blooming. Spring is definitely in the air with procreation abound as nature brilliantly displays its awe-inspiring beauty.  Even the grass seems more lush and the sky radiant flowers purple bush

Everyone is outside this week, as if we were in a deep freeze the prior months.  It’s Florida, winter wasn’t so bad.  But recently I’ve seen more people walking, jogging, landscaping and boating.  I applaud any outdoor activity, engaging in the open-air environment daily myself.  This past week, the change of season brought me inside for a bit of spring cleaning.  Dusting, washing cabinets, throwing away ragged rugs, tossing Christmas candles and out-of-season scented soaps.  All to make room for fresh fragrances and colors associated with Spring, combined with a true need to purify the house. Replaced by aromas such as Peach Bellini, Caribbean Escape, Coconut Lime, and Mango Maui.

bunny egg 2Easter, the oldest Christian holiday and perhaps the oldest celebration in human culture, symbolizes fertility and rebirth.  Observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern hemisphere’s spring equinox, occurring anytime between March 21 and April 25.  The concept of spring and rebirth is not unique to Christians.

Easter’s earliest reference comes from Babylon around 2400 BCE, with festivities honoring the moon and the spring equinox.  The holiday and many of its non-religious traditions have Pagan roots.  Easter is likely named after the Anglo-Saxon mother goddess, Eostre.  Her symbol was a rabbit and an egg, because of fertility and new life, although some say the ancients saw a Hare in the full moon.  Anglo- Saxons ate hot cross buns to honor their estrogen goddess during spring celebrations.  Some say the bun represented the moon and the cross the moon’s quarters.  For Christians it symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus, the son of God.

bunny egg chickMany cultures throughout history have celebrated spring equinox, when light is equal to darkness.  After a long dismal winter, they incorporate themes of decent into darkness, renewal, fertility, and the ultimate triumph of light over darkness or good over evil.  A celebration I consider worthy as the oldest and most celebrated tradition in human history.  Whatever your belief or reason to embrace this life-giving season, do so wholeheartedly.

If you ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it…  But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.

– Frank Lloyd Wright

book cover summery review and feedback

I’m in the process of editing my new novel and decided to write the back cover draft.  I’m looking for feedback, critique and suggestions.  I’m also not committed to the main character’s names if you have suggestions or preferences.  Any comments are welcomed, appreciated and encouraged.  I have two slightly different versions below, let me know if one resonates more that the other with a first or second version.  Thanks. Sierra

1.    Raven and Lucas embark upon a personal cruise around the Bahamas for an adventure of a lifetime, but things go terribly wrong after finding an artifact on the beach in Bimini. In the process of denying its supernatural power and fixing all their misfortunes, they form stronger bonds with friends, strangers and ultimately each other. Is it all in Raves’ overactive archaeological scientific mind, or does the artifact truly have bad ju ju?

A wooden idol is discovered by Raven just three hours into their two-week journey. Her curiosity and background entices her to keep the artifact with the intention of researching its background and story. Where did this unique, seemingly non-Bahamian statue originate and how did it land in Bimini?

Breakfast in Bimini follows this couple’s journey through paradise and beyond, perhaps even to another dimension.

2.     Raven and Lucas embark upon a personal cruise around the Bahamas for an adventure of a lifetime. Raves discovers a wooden idol on a secluded beach, just three hours into their two-week journey. Her curiosity and archaeological scientific mind entices her to keep the artifact with the intention of researching its background and story. Where did this unique, seemingly non-Bahamian statue originate and how did it land in Bimini?

Things go terribly wrong after finding the artifact. In the process of denying its supernatural power and fixing all their misfortunes, they form stronger bonds with friends, strangers and ultimately each other. Is it all in Raves’ overactive imagination, or does the idol truly have bad ju ju?

Breakfast in Bimini follows this couple’s journey through paradise and beyond, perhaps even to another dimension.

New Orleans: Marathon, Music and Musings

fritzelsI signed up for the New Orleans Rock and Roll half marathon three months ago, taking advantage of the travel opportunity to make a fun weekend out of it. I booked three nights at the Royal Sonesta in the heart of the French Quarter, on Bourbon street, with its five-star ratings and an inner courtyard facing room, allowing for peace among the chaos. Upon arrival the street buzzed with performers, tourists, hobos and bead throwers. After all Mardi Gras was only a few weeks away, but it seemed like the party had already started.  Our chosen restaurant for the night, Grapevine Bistro, was a short walk with a few drink and entertainment stops along the way.  A crowd gathered around two break dancers jumping around to “I got a feeling“, a song by Maroon 5 that always gets my hips moving.  The next crowd was standing below a balcony of men and woman throwing beads for flashes of boobs.  A pair landed at my feet, so I looked up with a wide smile. Not this trip, maybe ten years ago.

At the Grapevine, I savored baked Brie, artesian salad and my favorite dessert creme brûlée, while my husband was in seafood heaven. Afterwards, we sauntered over to the oldest jazz club in the French Quarter, Fritzel’s, finishing our evening listening to live traditional jazz in a casual atmosphere. The walk back to the hotel was even more crazy with larger, drunker, louder crowds.  Oh, the French Quarter, how do I love thee?  The food, jazz, people, town… even if only for a few days.

marathon signSaturday centered around marathon preparation.  Finding the starting and finishing line, picking up my race packet at one of longest the convention centers spanning over six blocks, the running expo was in the last hall. Since a cold front left the city around 40 degrees in the morning and evening, I picked up a hat and gloves for my 13.1 mile run. I also acquired free samples of mostly energy boosters. Who knew they made energy jelly bellies.

After prepping my clothes, gear and caffeine for the following morning we headed out for an extremely well-behaved early evening around Bourbon Street. Well almost.  Music continued blaring and drinks flowed as we visited a few bars, for me that was white wine mixed with ice and soda water as a safe pre-race night drink.  At a close-by Italian restaurant, a small plate of linguine pesto soaked up the alcohol while providing a scrumptious carb-loading meal for the following day. The crowd outside was just beginning their debauchery as we ended a perfect evening at Irvin Mayfield’s jazz playhouse in the quiet comfort of our hotel.

By 6:30 a.m. I was bouncing off the walls from the energy drinks I sipped while getting ready, mostly a giant Monster green tea tasting like medicine. That combined with pure adrenaline and anticipation for the race had me acting like a caged lion pacing for freedom.  My hubby and pup slept through the madness.

Bourbon street was eerie in the early morning, the way I pictured the fictional Gotham City to be right before Batman’s arrival. Spotting a group of runners ahead, I swiftly caught up with them.  The street smelled of stale alcohol mixed with fresh-baked bread. The wind was blowing with an occasional strong gust.  My long running pants, three layers of shirts and  running beanie complete with a pony tail gap provided enough warmth.  A few young drifters slept in sleeping bags against the buildings.  Who would choose that lifestyle, I wondered.burbon 4 The starting line overflowed with runners prepping for the half and full marathon, like a skinny healthy version of Fat Tuesday kicking off Mardi Gras.  They had corrals instead of pace groups, and they seemed endless, winding around corners and streets. “How do I know what corral I’m in?”  I asked a stranger.

“It’s based on the first number on your race bib,” She said, and added, “They’re not that strict.”

marathonMine was seven, towards the front.  I was relived not to be in back of the 30,000 runners.  It was about ten minutes from the official start when my corral was up for release.  A thin yellow rope held us at the starting line until countdown and then we were set free as if bulls running in Pamplona, Spain.  I started my marathon playlist with my chosen first song, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys.  Every few miles a band played above my music, and then my earphones went silent after about mile five. I was also getting extremely hot.  After trying to talk myself out of it I stopped and removed one of my shirts, tossing it to the side entangling my earphones in the process. The music came and went intermittently as I tried not to let it bother me.  Around mile ten my left foot went from numb to shooting an intense pain.  All the little nerves in my foot protesting, I ignored it.  Many observers with creative signs lined the marathon course.

                    I thought you said rum, not run.  Do you still have your toenails.  Look alive you’re about to pass a cemetery. We’re looking at your ass, keep running. Run, Zombies are chasing you.  It sounded like a great idea a few months ago. 

Some bystanders offered jello shots, mimosa and even a slice of pizza.  I smiled, waved and looked forward to the near end of 13.1 miles.

I found my husband and dog at the finish line, took a nice long hot shower and then met up with an old friend for a quick museum visit and Jazz brunch. The small Voodoo museum I went to years ago was interesting, but this time I was looking for information to include in my upcoming book, Breakfast in Bimini.  The attendant was very helpful suggesting a few possibilities and resources to check out.  Brunch was simply amazing and I was famished.  Made to order omelets, eggs benedict and pancakes.  A traditional pirogue, a flat boat-shaped serving vessel, held salads, meats, seafood and specialities.  Dessert pies and king cake tempted at the stern of the pirogue.  It was my first time trying the purple, green and gold doughy cake, and my little sliver didn’t hold the hidden plastic baby, meaning I didn’t have to buy the next king cake. Mimosa and Bloody Mary’s were constantly refreshed.

Afterwards we roamed the streets of the French Quarter, leisurely checking out boutiques, street art and pop up jazz bands. The music continued to delight with the rhythm, creativity and talent.  Young hobos still abundant, I gazed into one young girl’s blue eyes, probably about 18 years old.  She looked pretty, clean and lost sitting next to her sleeping bag on the street with a bowl holding coins.  I understand rebellion, wanting to travel and experience life, but at what cost?  Would she be lost forever in an unrealistic quest?  I hoped not, but the French quarter draws people to its culture and some just get sucked into a romantic abyss.burbon jazz

The Year of Transportation disasters

It’s hard to forget the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 on March 8th, 2014.  The first in a series of unusual tragic disasters around the world, hitting Malaysia the hardest.  The routine flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China disappeared less than an hour after takeoff while over the South China Sea.  A multinational search began immediately for the Boeing 777 and it’s 227 passengers and 12 crew members.  The media was relentless in its coverage and in some cases aided in propagating numberous conspiracy theories.  The plane was hijacked and sitting in Pakistan or Afghanistan to be used against the U.S. or Israel for a nuclear attack by a terrorist mastermind, was a popular one that I briefly considered.  Another viewpoint indicated one or both of the pilots on a Jihadist mission.  Perhaps a bomb on board or the plane broke apart in flight, even though weather was not a factor.  The flight deviated from its scheduled route and after much analysis of various sources of data, experts concluded that the flight met its fatal track into the South Indian Ocean, just west of Australia.  We followed daily, questioning the resources and evidence until the public tired of the endless search and mass media frenzy.  Australia?  No wreckage even until this day at the end of 2014?  Will we ever know what happened?  It goes into the history books as being the largest and most expensive search in aviation history.

Four months later Malaysia flight 17 was shot down on July 17th over the Ukraine.  The television and web again buzzed with its own opinions and interpretations about the downed plane, and what was wrong with Malaysia Air for all its misfortune.  Russia and Ukraine pointed fingers at each other, in the mean time families mourned the tragic deaths of their loved ones, many from Amsterdam where the plane originated. It was most likely pro-Russian separatists using a Buk Surface-to-air missile, but nobody is willing to take responsibility for this needless destruction.  Casualties of an unnecessary war, 15 crew members and 283 innocent passengers murdered, travelling on another Boeing 777 with ties to Kuala Lumpur, its intended destination . Was Putin involved?  Bad Putin.

December 27th, 2014, the end of an already fatal year in aviation, Air Asia Flight 8501 disappeared.  Departing from Indonesia travelling to Singapore, the plane carrying 162 people vanished from the radar indicating turbulent weather along their path.  Two days later, wreckage and bodies were found just six miles southeast of the last known position, going in the opposite direction from the plane’s path. Is this another mystery flight catastrophe?  The black box is yet to be discovered, but given the fact that the crew asked for higher altitude and deviation for weather, severe thunderstorms probably played an important role.

The Sewol ferry sunk on April 16 off the coast of South Korea taking 304 lives, mostly young high school students on a field trip.  Abiding the captain’s command they remained in their positions to “stay put,” despite water entering the ship after the vessel capsized.  Meanwhile the captain and crew abandoned ship.  The inexperienced co-captain at the helm made a sharp turn and that combined with improper and overloading caused the ferry to list and sink port side.  Although with a prompt full force emergency response most lives could have been saved, they were not.  The Korean government was slow to respond and the crew unhelpful in such a dire situation.  Private companies and foreign governments came to the rescue before the Korean Coast Guard showed up at the scene.

On the same day the Air Asia flight disappeared,  an Italian ferry called the Norman Atlantic, carrying close to 500 people caught on fire. Almost all the passengers survived, one by one, being rescued by helicopter three at a time. Ten died in the disaster, but it could have been much more of a tragedy.

Am I still going to travel? Absolutely.  Staying at home, driving, or really doing anything exciting can be risky.  Life is worth the adventure and I look forward to plenty of it in 2015!