Books that change our lives

I recently read two amazing books, although they are not self-help books I found they challenge me both physically and spiritually. I’ve learned about self discovery and evolving new potential on a personal level.

kill usThe first book is, What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney.  The author, an anthropologist and reporter, truly takes experimental journalism to a new level. Carney initially and skeptically investigated a Dutch mountain climber, Wim Hof for his ability to control his body with breathing techniques and by exposing himself to harsh conditions. When we subject ourselves to extreme cold, heat and meditation our bodies can evolve and survive beyond the ordinary.  He backs it up with case studies and science.

I decided to dabble in this method myself.  As a yogi, I already practice meditation and expose myself to extreme heat in hot yoga.  So I decided to add cold therapy to my routine.  Since I can’t run naked in the snow in Florida, I found a cryotherapy chamber within a ten-mile drive. I despise the cold, so I was nervous.

It’s only two minutes at minus 200° fahrenheit, I reminded myself over and over during the drive.

It was a very low-key place attached to a gym.  A single girl sitting behind a desk handed me paperwork explaining the risks and in case of death, it’s not their fault. My palms sweated.  She took me to the chamber.  It looked cold.

I glanced at the petite girl and thought, you’re running the chamber?  What if something goes wrong?  Luckily I brought my Herculean husband to rescue me in case of a malfunction.  

cryotherapy.jpgWearing only socks and gloves I entered the chamber.  It was chilly and a lift raised my head above the cold air.  Every 15 seconds she asked me to turn a quarter of a turn.

“So, how’s your day going?”  She asked.  “Any big plans.”

What you want small talk?  I answered my day plans to the best of my ability while turning and analyzing my condition.

“Right now your legs should begin to shake and your extremities will lose feeling.  This is normal and your core should be hot.”

My legs shook, I felt as if they would collapse. I was surprised by the amount of heat my stomach radiated.   I figured I could only handle another few seconds.

“And you’re done.”

She released the door and warm air immediately rushed in.  I felt my thighs, they were frozen.  My core, on fire.  I dressed and stood on a board that shook my body for a few minutes and then I was done.

For the next few days I had increased energy levels and less muscle ache.  I felt great and added cold showers followed by another cryotherapy session a month later.  I’ll continue to include cold therapy into my physical evolution, but for now onto my inner evolution.

book of joyThe Book of Joy, is a journey into the minds of two spiritual leaders, a meeting and discussion between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Their interaction is funny, inspirational, and for me a life altering experience to examine my own thoughts, perspectives, actions and beliefs.  It is not preachy. They simply share their stories, and they are both amazing at that alone.  But in the process I learned quite a bit by just listening without judgement. They seem like best friends from completely different cultures, but they get it and just relate to being human. Even when faced with the most difficult times, they both have compassion, respect, enjoyment, fascination, love, peace and forgiveness.  These are the people who change the world.  A must read, over and over in sometimes disconnected universe.

If I’m asked the common question,”If you had a chance to have lunch with anyone dead or alive who would it be?”  Hands down, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama together.  What fun we’d have.

 

Changing habits and thoughts

positive-2For the new year I decided to change several habits and unproductive thoughts, so my future self would thank me. I set in place a process of observations, restrictions, daily mantras and just simply paying attention to my thoughts, feelings and actions. This I found entertaining and enlightening, and I recommend it for everyone.

meditate-1Keep in mind this is a year-long process of changing behaviors that no longer serve me.  Eliminate tobacco dependence, meditate daily, get rid of prejudgment or expectations and establish an open positive mindset in every situation.

The other day I went out for my daily run, and my iPhone was broken which meant no music or audiobook for the duration.  I took it as an opportunity to listen to my inner voice.  I blocked out any to-do lists, background noise, day-dreaming or musings.  I just paid attention to my surroundings.

I’ve always known people stare at me while running, and I usually ignore it or get a bit defensive.  But on this day I decided to look back and smile at any gazers.  Maybe it’s just admiration, I thought.

An older man slowed down and leaned out the window.  “How far do you run.” he asked.

“Oh, five miles.  Give or take.”

“Damn, that’s impressive. I see you running all over town.”

I smiled, “See you around.” and then continued jogging.

Check your filter, I reminded myself.  I think of it as a lens we look through daily.  If my lens is open and clear, then the experience will be as well.  If my lens is jaded or skeptical, then it affects my perception of the incident.

Back in my neighborhood, I heard a continuous hum and looked up to a drone hovering above.  Oh, just a kid playing with his toy, I thought.  Until it followed me down the street, and over to the next.  Oh, hell no.

Start with an open clear lens, but always use other clues if it could lead to a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Intuition, common sense, visual clues and awareness help complete the picture.

positive-2Changing habits is not an easy task, I’ve heard it takes three months for a bad habit to be broken or a new habit to develop. With over a third of the way to developing better habits, I’m doing pretty good. The best way to tackle the task is one day at a time. For me I like thinking positive sayings such as:

 

  • You can’t accomplish anything until you try.
  • Trust the process
  • If you fall, get back up and try again.
  • Get rid of what no longer serves you.
  • You can’t and can’t until you can.

Do you have a favorite positive phrase to keep you focused?positive

Cuba after Castro’s death: Nine days of mourning.

A few days prior to a second visit to Cuba, I turned on the TV and Fidel Castro’s death headlined the news.

“Holy Shit,” I shouted to my husband.  “Our trip just got more interesting.”

His funeral would take place during the end of our brief five-day visit.  I figured it was an opportunity to see Cuba in a different light, in a positive way.  Until I learned of the mandatory nine-day grieving period.  No celebrating, no music, no alcohol.

Mixed news and comments came from the online news regarding how these rules applied to tourists.  Absolutely no alcohol, from a few sources.  Plenty of drinks available reported others.  How appropriate, typical conflicting news coming from Cuba.

I suggested we buy a bottle or two of alcohol from the duty-free shop at the airport, just in case.  After all, the four of us traveling together to Cuba enjoy our evening cocktails.  A complementary food buffet awaited at our gate.cuba1

“This is nice, do they offer this on every flight?” A friend asked?

“This is the inaugural flight for Jet Blue from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.”

We also enjoyed a special bag full of goodies, including a special t-shirt marking the occasion.

Waiting for our luggage and rental car in Havana took three times as long as the flight itself.  But we easily found our way to our base for the next few nights, the famous Hotel Nacional’.  At the hotel there was no music, but conversation and drinks flowed. It hummed with energy. We ran into Jesse Jackson in the lobby.  I smiled and he naturally extended his hand, I shook it and turned around for a photo opportunity with our friends.cubajessejackson

We took to the town for dinner, a short walk to a recommended restaurant.

“What do you mean no wine?”  I expected it, but we still asked.  The food was excellent but the place was eerily quiet, not even music played overhead. This seemed true everywhere we went, including the rooftop bar at a neighboring hotel.

cuba5Starting my day with a run along the Malecon always brings a smile to my face and sets a positive attitude for the rest of the afternoon. We waited for the red hop on/off bus a little too long, and ended up taking a tok tok style wagon powered by a man on a bike.   He decided to give us a tour along the way, the ghetto tour as we later referenced it.  Everyday living up close in personal along streets and alleys.  Everyone stared and we wondered what kind of sign was plastered on the cart as they all gazed from us down towards the tires.  Although interesting, when we finally arrived at the artisan market I was ready to disembark.

 

havana3We shopped, found the historic old quarters and stumbled upon the only lunch spot in town serving beer.  It was crowded but we scored a table and people watched while waiting for food. I even bought a copy of Granma, the official communist newspaper covering the life and death of Castro.  I got it for its historical value.

We did take the red bus around town and back to the Hotel Nacional.  Along the way we passed revolution square where they disassembled the stands and speakers left over from the previous days of speeches, honoring and remembering Fidel prior to their southern march to his final resting place in Santiago De Cuba.  I wanted to witness the large masses of people in the square, but as my husband pointed out the traffic would have been a nightmare.

The following morning I ran into the vice president of China in the lobby. His security forces swept though the hallway just as I passed in the opposite direction.  I noticed one of the security guard’s eyes widen, so I stepped back as he passed straight through to his limo awaiting outside.  Li Yuanchao and his men wore small pins of Mao and the Chinese flag.  He was short and walked with determination.  I smiled at the thought of almost completely blocking his path by accident.

We left Havana for the next portion of our stay in Varadero, a beach side resort described as having beautiful water and beaches.  For lunch we stopped at a crowded roadside grill along the way. It was one of the best meals we had in Cuba and as a bonus they served cold beer.  Our all-inclusive resort seemed charming at first until we realized we had to walk a half mile to our room.  Not a big deal, if it’s a once a day stroll. But all the action, restaurants and bars revolved around the lobby.  Overall, I wasn’t impressed by Varadaro. The beaches were marginal, food bland, rooms unattractive and activities lacking.  We made the best of it and explored some nearby caves and went shopping in town.  We even ventured into another dilapidated town to see “the real Cuba” with many horse-drawn carriages one last time.

Our last evening we finally heard music, the mandatory ban was lifted the following day. Cuba without music is like sunbathing on a beautiful beach without the sun or sand.  It is a large part of their culture and when music and dance is taken away, the people seem disheartened.

Were they sorrowful because of Fidel’s death?  I’m sure some were since he was the only leader they knew.  He is portrayed as a hero in all Cuban media.  But the ban came about because people were openly celebrating in the streets.  Imagine all the income lost from tourists due to the ban.  Perhaps they should have had nine mornings of mourning.

 

Hurricane Matthew’s Destruction in Andros

On October 5th, the eye of a category 4 hit the northwest tip of Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas.  For weeks, no news came from this part of the island and we couldn’t reach a friend who lived there.  When we finally heard from Diane, she had been living without power, no generator and everything she owned was destroyed.  She was thankful to be alive with her pup, but she sounded exhausted.

We arranged to fly to Andros with some basic relief items they couldn’t get on the island: Tools, giant garbage bags, tarps to cover leaking roofs, a generator, and three of us to help as needed with a positive attitude.  Basic supplies such as food, water and gas were being delivered from Nassau to the ports.  But moral, with such a loss and no electric were low.  We wanted to help as needed and assess the situation for the afternoon with a bigger plan on how to help.  Communication up until this point was limited with spotty cell service and no internet.

20161020_133040_resizedA 15 minute drive from a small airport called San Andros took us to the center of Nicolas Town. A cell phone tower built to withstand winds of 140 MPH was cut in half.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Holy crap, this is bad.” I said.

Most of the homes looked fine from the outside, just tarps covering some roofs. We placed supplies we brought at a temporary house, a safe house where our friend withstood the hurricane.  The roof had a huge hole in it, and water damage although evident especially on the wooden floors seemed minor in comparison to the larger picture. The place was organized and clean thanks to Diane’s adopted kids.

20161020_120145_resizedWe set out to assess the damage at Knoll’s Landing, Diane’s quaint B&B on a lagoon.  A bulldozer paved the way through the trees and around dislocated boats as we followed to her unrecognizable resort.  Her remaining personal belongings scattered the landscape.

“I have nothing left of my 25 years here.” She confessed.

Together we felt two of her three buildings were structurally sound.

“Do you want to rebuild?” I asked.

“This is my home.”

“O.K. Let’s come up with a plan, and we will return for a few days to help.”

andros-planeMy husband and I returned to Florida, gathered more supplies and headed back to Andros. The power was still out, and the town seemed desperate but strong and connected to one another.  No help from the Bahamian Government or other relief organizations since the news didn’t cover their loss.  Haiti, Freeport and Nassau were also hit, so North Andros was forgotten.  Also, the political debate in the states controlled and dominated the media.

This time we stayed for two days, the most we could do with our schedule. We brought supplies from our previous visit list:  chain saws, flashlights, batteries, generator, roof tiles, more tarps, more garbage bags, and some food for dinner. Our plane loaded to the maximum capacity.

20161024_144120_resizedI helped clean up the yard. One section at a time, one day at a time, one large bag at a time. My husband and an adopted local kid secured her one surviving room with power via a generator, a makeshift water pump to provide fresh water, flood lights and enough security to live and feel andros-water-pumpsafe until power is restored, perhaps months from now.  At the bottom of this bungalow sat another cottage with a 1000 lb tree trunk in the center. Oh, the power of storm surge.  Only water could move this into her home.  It tore though the storm shutters, sliding doors and sat there among the debris.

“How am I going to move this tree stump?” Diane said.

“Make it a coffee table with a story.” I responded.

She has much work to do, and much-needed help and funding.  But I hope some day to see Knoll’s Landing up and running with the wonderful and welcoming host.  Diane has a go fund me page and every bit helps.

Check out and please share the link below:

 

 

Hurricane Matthew and South Florida

Most of the United States has four seasons, while south Florida has three. A dry pleasant winter and spring, a hot humid summer and a windy season when most are experiencing the turn between summer and fall. Currently, we are at the height of hurricane season. The recent threat of hurricane Matthew awakened many Floridians to our susceptibility of location, the sub-tropics.  We keep our eye on the weather channel daily and plan accordingly.  A disturbance off of Africa or in the Caribbean may soon become a category 1 to 5 in our neighborhood.

When Matthew formed we were in the Bahamas, keeping our eye on the storm and dismissing any real threat until it arrived at our door.  We boarded up and left the small Bahamian island known as Bimini, and flew 50 miles west to Fort Lauderdale.  Within a few days the tropical disturbance turned into a category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour. Bimini and South Florida were in the cone of death, or more politely the cone of concern according to the local news channel.

hurricane-matthew-pic3As it tore though Haiti and the outer Bahamas we realized within 24 hours we were still in its direct path.

“Are we boarding up? Tomorrow should we bring out the shutters?” I asked as we analyzed the path of Matthew.

“Yes.”  My husband answered, “It doesn’t look good.”

hurricane_matthewA full day of preparations inside and outside as we gathered our crew for a safe haven during the hurricane.  It continued its path right towards Fort Lauderdale for a direct hit from the eye of the storm.  I started to doubt if we should stay for a cat 4, and they were forecasting it might increase to a category 5 by landfall.  I imagined our roof might blow off and our lives in danger in such high winds.  I was anxious.  I envisioned my small dog getting sucked out of a window and I made a mental note of where my snorkel, helmet and dive gear were located, just in case.

We watched constantly on the weather channel.  Then the hurricane jogged north as the cone of death followed its projected path.  Two hours out from a direct hit and it turned. Relief and cabin fever followed. We were lucky enough to have electric and movies available.  Our young helpers, twenty-somethings, entertained themselves by camping in an empty bedroom, playing board games by candle-light even though we never lost power.

The morning after seemed like a hurricane hangover.  No visible daylight through the hurricane shutters, no idea of time, exhaustion from the preparations, but we were spared from devastation. I’ll take that any day.  We again watched the weather channel.  The Space Coast and Jacksonville were now in the death cone.  Still a category 4, it was just cruising north, 30 miles off the coast of Florida.

hurricane-freeportMatthew came closest to Cape Canaveral, Jacksonville and eventually hit land just south of Charleston.  Many people were effected by this strong hurricane in Haiti, Cuba, Florida and the Bahamas.  Freeport, Nassau and Andros were the worst hit islands with no word yet from Andros.  I only hope for the best for our neighbors to the north and east.  I respect weather and I’ll never mess with mother nature, she is the ultimate one in charge.

Beauty and the Beast

mt yonahThe North Georgia mountains have a lot to offer during the summer, so my husband and I decided to spend a month at our cabin in Helen, Georgia.  This quaint Bavarian themed town is nestled near the Chattahoochee River and National Forest in the northeast corner of the state.  It is also close to the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT), so we decided to hike to the peak of Tray Mountain, described as an easy AT day hike with magnificent views.

It seemed like a harrowing feat driving the winding, bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain. Steep cliffs dropping off on my side made my heart race and hands sweat. After an hour of this I was ready to hit the trail, but I was surprised we were the only ones in the parking area.  It’s supposed to be a popular day hike.

I recognized the white lines on the trees indicating the AT. It was all uphill and I welcomed the challenge, although my husband wasn’t as eager.  We discussed what we’d do if we encountered bears or wild boar, since they roam the area.  In less than an easy-paced hour we reached the top. I took pictures of the amazing view, and suddenly my husband jumped back and shouted “Holy Shit.”

timber rattler2A fat six-foot snake sun bathed on a rock, its tongue flicking next to his leg.  He moved closer to me.  “I almost stepped on it.”

My eyes widened, “I must have walked right pass it while taking pictures.”

“What is it?”  He asked.  “Do you think it’s poisonous?”

“That’s the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.  It looks dangerous.”

We were in a jam.  It blocked our path back down to our car, we had cliffs on both sides and in the opposite direction the AT trail continued for another 6 miles to a gap, but we didn’t know if a town existed at that junction.  Besides, I knew we weren’t prepared for a longer trek and we didn’t see another single hiker on the trail.

“Does your book mention anything about snakes?” He asked.

I took the trail guide out of my pack and paged through.  “No, but it has phone numbers to the park service.  They’d know about snakes in the area.” I hoped.

We finally reached someone at the forest service and described the snake.  We couldn’t see it’s tail, but it looked like a rattle snake to me. I’ve never seen one that large during my hiking days in California, and I didn’t hear a rattle.  Its size resembled a python.

She told us to treat it as poisonous.  “Don’t point any sticks at it and don’t cross it’s path.  Gather small pebbles and rocks and throw them towards the snake.  Stomp your feet because they don’t like the vibration. You want it to retreat.  But don’t get aggressive.”

I walked in the opposite direction down the other side of the mountain and found some small rocks.  A few pebbles hit its head and the snake didn’t budge.  We discussed our options, should we try to find a way down and around the cliffs, climbing through scrub brush?  timber rattler

“It’s too dangerous, you risk falling off the cliff.” Hubby said, before walking off to gather some more rocks.  The moment he disappeared from the snakes view, it started to slowly turn away.

“It’s retreating.”  I whispered loudly.

We watched it slither off, lastly revealing a large rattle.  I shuttered and carefully walked down the rocks and then more hurriedly down the trail.  Believing we were safe, I stopped and breathed.

“That could have turned into a deadly situation.” I said, still freaked out by the encounter.

When we got home, I started researching Georgia snakes.  It was a Timber Rattlesnake described as a heavy bodied pit viper.  It is one of the most dangerous snakes on the east coast due to its long fangs, high venom and impressive size.  The females often bask in the sun before giving birth and they prefer not to strike, but will if threatened.  In fact, a man in this area recently died from its venomous bite.

At the end of the day I had a cocktail, embraced life and relaxed on our back patio.  I heard a large bang and my husband ran out.  “Bear out front.”

bearsThe bear had knocked over our garbage can and proudly walked down our empty street.  It too was large and beautiful.  We often found our bear-proofed trash can sideways, but this was the first time I’d seen one in the area. I smiled and welcomed a bear over a snake any day.

The next day we watched mama bear and her cubs lunching on our trash.  With four locks, I was shocked they opened it. Although I don’t think its a good idea for bears to eat human food, I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. She knew we were watching from the porch, along with a stray cat that adopted us.

After my wild life encounters the friendly cat scared the crap out of me the next morning with his warm greeting.  I really didn’t want strange creatures jumping at me before my morning coffee.  Maybe I was just a little sensitive.

 

 

Breakfast In Bimini book launch

book signingThis past weekend I published Breakfast in Bimini, and had a booth at the West Palm Beach Boat Show.  I ordered twenty paperbacks and designed bookmarks for distribution during the event. A few days prior to the show, I learned the books weren’t scheduled for delivery until the following week, and the printer didn’t get my final email approving the promo handouts.  To top off this wonderful day, my computer was hacked and a virus took over.  After many hours troubleshooting, I  reverted back to a previous version of Windows 8.

The night prior to the show opening, both the books and bookmarks arrived at my door. Luck switched in my favor.  I went strong for two days, selling some books and passing out plenty of info on my novel and website.  I received a mention on our local county station who also re-tweeted my book signing booth photo and links.  I met plenty of valuable contacts, but received dubious stares from others.  I always smiled and invited them to take my card.  The third day, I took a more relaxed approach, disappearing from my booth a bit more than desirable.

“You’re a bad exhibitor,”  the show promoter said at my lack of presence on the final day.

This promoter also happened to be my husband, so I took it with a grain of salt.

“I have a better understanding of what exhibitors go through,” I admitted.  “The ups and downs of a three-day show.  Slow at times, busy at others.  And dealing with people all day.  Some are super nice, some what to chat too long, and others just simply ignored me when I greeted them.”

BreakfastInBimini-AmazonMy book is now available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback and also on my website sierramichaels.com

Breakfast In Bimini shows up immediately during a search as the only book followed by products offered for breakfast in a bikini. These are mostly detox products.  I had to laugh.