What’s your word for 2016?

I saw an news story last week about a company posting a challenge, pick one word representing your life or the positive changes you want to happen over the next year.  It can only be one word, and this word becomes your focus for the new year.  Their website sells jewelry as a trendy reminder of your commitment and they offer other products for inspiration.

positive 5I like this idea, and it has roots in the older practice of Buddhism and different forms of yoga and meditation.  For the past few years every morning before getting out of bed, I pick a mantra.  A positive word or a phrase to think about daily.  I write it on my apple-shaped chalkboard in the kitchen as a reminder.  I find myself repeating some basic mantras.


gratefulDuring the holidays, grateful comes up often. I am grateful for…,  I insert different things throughout the day.  Thankful and blessed, also flood my mind this time of year.


mindfulBe mindful consistently comes up as one of my mantras throughout the year.  What is mindfulness?  It’s observing your own thoughts, feelings and actions.  We often react without thinking or really knowing why.  In our busy lives, many of us are on autopilot. Mindfulness is the state of being conscious and in the present moment. Without judgement you simply scan your internal monologue, associated feelings, and surrounding environment.

Other words I’ve used this year include: strength, compassion, love, kindness, success, health, peace and various phrases to enrich my life and those around me.  If I had to chose just one word, it would be mindfulness, because it’s such a powerful word and practice. At times it seems almost impossible to achieve full awareness, but I’ve come a long way.  I’ve also experienced the proven physical and mental benefits of positive thinking, and living in the present. That doesn’t mean don’t plan for the future or share memories of the past, just take time for the present moment.

positive 4

So what’s your word or phrase for the new year?  Use that word to guide you over the next year and it’s never too soon to begin. Continue reading

My New Website www.sierramichaels.com

headshot 1Finally, I’m able to create and edit my website.   For years I found my web design host user unfriendly and frustrating, so I procrastinated and ignored it, unwilling to tackle a time-consuming project of changing the content on my site.  I had to write code, struggle to access my password and I was unable to find online help.  After many phone calls and emailing a scan of my driver’s license,I gained back ownership of my domain. Danica Patrick you can have your sponsor.

A friend introduced me to an easy to use website builder. I don’t have to depend on others to update content or design. Right now it’s simple, but I can change it as needed and learn in the process.  I look forward to developing my site along the way as I get my novel Breakfast for Bimini ready for publishing.

I welcome feedback and insight.  Please check out my website at:  www.sierramichaels.com


Alaska Cruise- The Inside Passage

alaska rail I’d heard a cruise is the best way to see the beauty and glory of Alaska, a true adventure in this rugged and often frozen land. From Talkeetna, just outside Denali, we took the Alaska railroad directly to our ship waiting near Anchorage. Our history filled ride included fun facts, games, cocktails, lunch and a spontaneous cigarette break with the train conductor on the side of the tracks. We were waiting for the ship’s customs crew to board, so my husband and I disembarked with him for a quick smoke.  The ride looked pretty, but not breathtaking like I expected.

The first two days at sea we enjoyed a scenic cruise across the Gulf of Alaska to Yakutat Bay and the famed Hubbard Glacier. From a distance the massive Glacier emitted vivid shades of turquoise, but I didn’t feel up close and personal with my first glacier experience.  After admiring the outside beauty we explored our ship, the Star Princess.  The outside decks were windy, cold and drizzly while the inside bars were toasty, lively and jovial.  We found our preferred drinking spot with music and a view.  Spiked apple cider became my Alaska cruise ship drink.

glacierThe following day we cruised Glacier Bay National Park with its scenic natural beauty.  Unlike the previous day, Lamplugh Glacier took my breath away.  Awe inspiring off our stern I could see its height, depth and complexity.  We watched glacier calving several times where chunks of ice plunged into the sea, hearing it splash minutes after.  The glacier’s height towered above our fourteen-floored ship.  The captain performed a slow 360 degree turn as I admired it from the bow, the starboard side and our port side balcony.

The next morning our captain announced. “Attention ladies and gentlemen.  I regret to tell you we are unable to port in Skagway.  Winds are exceeding 50 miles an hour and we made three attempts.  We are now heading to Juneau for a late afternoon arrival.”

Ugh.  I was eager to disembark the ship and explore Skagway.  I even planned an early run in the quaint town.  I later learned from another passenger who was awake at 5:00 am, that the ship was leaning to one side. Later in the afternoon I met a crew member who was aboard the Costa Concordia when it sank.

“At the captain’s last attempt, the boat was listing.” He said, taking a long draw from his cigarette. “I was on the Concordia when it ran aground.”

“Oh, better safe than sorry.”  I said.

“It’s the first time in two years we’ve missed port.  Very unusual.”  His eyes appeared full of grief and regret.

Late afternoon I watched an eagle soar off the stern as we pulled into Juneau.  Our unexpected arrival left us without a dock, so we anchored using tenders to shuffle passengers to port.

Tourist shops littered main street, so my husband and I explored side streets to get away from Princess owned shops. I try to find beauty in everything but the capital had little to offer. We stumbled upon a historic bar resembling a brothel.  It had character so we had a few beers prior to returning to our ship.

whaleThe next day they canceled our anticipated helicopter sled dog expedition , leaving us to scramble for an excursion.   We quickly booked a whale sightseeing tour. We watched  humpbacks play and breach in the Pacific Ocean, majestically waving a fin or flipping a tail.  They were simply amazing, making our stop in Juneau worthwhile. whale 2

katchicanKetchikan was the cutest town we visited, but then again we only had two ports in Alaska.  The town had a nice layout, totem poles decorated the town and it had plenty of excursions.  It seemed like the seaplane capital of the world, so we choose a floatplane, bear sightseeing air adventure. A true bush pilot, our captain flew just above the tree tops, dipped into valleys and avoided fishing nets while landing on a lake where we quietly waited for a bear sighting.  Standing alongside the pilot on one of the floats, I watched an eagle perched in a tree.  We waited as dead salmon floated by, the other four passengers still sitting in the plane.  A mother and cub black bear came to the water’s edge and then quickly disappeared.alaska-seaplane-tours

“We’re stuck on the rocks.” The pilot said attempting to take off.  “We need to wait for the tide to come in.”

“What?  That could take a while.”  My husband said.  “Let’s get out and push, it will also lighten the load.”

The two of them pushed us away from shore and within no time we were airborne, soaring above trees with steep turns and an open window allowing cold air to fill the cockpit.

That evening my husband’s forehead radiated extreme heat, so I called the ship’s doctor.  His temperature read 102 degrees and they tested him for flu.

“You have type A influenza, and we need to quarantine you for 24 hours.  That means you can’t leave you’re room and nobody can enter your room.”

At that moment he was so ill he didn’t seem to care.  But he asked, “How many people are quarantined?

“Over a hundred.”

They gave both of us medicine.  Since I was exposed, but not sick I had to take medicine although I was free to come and go.  I’d be his slave for the next 24 hours.

“It was the cold air that did me in.” He said, referring to the open cockpit window.

His quarantine lasted until the night before disembarkation in Vancouver. By that time he was feeling better and had cabin fever while I made friends with the bartenders.  I checked his progress regularly, bringing him drinks and room service.  It’s no fun being sick on a cruise, unable to leave your room.  Equally as frustrated, I quickly became bored without a partner.

Vancouver was simply amazing and my favorite city along our cruise. We stayed three extra days, a welcomed and lovely part of our adventure.  We rode bikes, visited farmer’s markets, strolled the park and enjoyed our rooftop view of the city.

Would I recommend visiting Alaska?

Absolutely.  It has so much natural beauty and plenty to see, but I think it’s a matter a travel style.  I’m a land lover and I don’t like days at sea without a port on someone else’s agenda.  If you like the cruising lifestyle then it’s a great way to experience Alaska.  I’d prefer to travel this great state by RV or small airplane adventure with plenty of time.

Leaving Vancouver we were singled out for extra inspection in U.S. customs and immigration.  After an hour of waiting and watching the clock in a separate room they called us for questioning.  I realized our plane had left.

“Why do you have so many stamps to the Bahamas?”

“We own a place in Bimini, and as pilots it’s a quick 20 minute flight.”

It was a long two-day flight home due to our flight rescheduling. Once home, I had a comfortable and peaceful night, but knew the hassles of travel would not stop me from planning our next adventure.

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 ones.mt 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 blue.pink 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