Total Eclipse from North Georgia

Like many others I eagerly awaited August 21, 2017 for a chance to see a total eclipse. In Helen, Georgia that meant 1 minute and 41 seconds of complete darkness. People flocked to our town and others within the path of totality. Many events took place in the surrounding wineries, parks, schools and communities.  Wanting to avoid gridlock, we chose to have our own celebration at the Innsbruck Club house overlooking the golf course, and a regular meeting place for local residents.

About 50 people showed up with side dishes to compliment the burgers my husband cooked on the grill.  Moonshine cake and moon pies sat among the salads while the bartenders served up Tequila Sunrise cocktails.  The sky was clear, a telescope for viewing sat on the veranda porch alongside golf clubs, balls and corn hole games. Everyone brought their viewing glasses and excitement, the eclipse had just begun with the moon slowly casting a shadow over the sun.

eclipse8eclipse5eclipse3

I’d glance up at different stages, taking a few photos with my iPhone.  We milled about, socialized, ate, drank and looked up again.  An amateur photographer with a professional camera rigged a solar filter by duck tapping part of the eclipse glasses to his lens.  After an hour and a half the sky became grey. Everyone spread out on the porch, parking lot and even the golf range for the moment of totality.  It was easy to spot through the cardboard glasses since everything including the sliver of light went black, then it was safe to look directly at the sun.  I stared in awe, mesmerized for almost two minutes until the sun, known as the diamond ring, peeked through the other side.

golf eclipse

Afterwards, about half of the crowd left, not really interested in the waning of the moon passing over the sun.  The rest of us shot golf balls off the deck with the goal of hitting the 9th hole about 100 yards in the distance.  A young lady in her early 20’s hit her ball closest to the flag, as professional golfers competed against her shot to no avail. Drinks and some new age conversation flowed until the sun and heat returned full force and the party dwindled.

I had witnessed partial eclipses in the past, but it doesn’t compare to a total eclipse. During the brief moment of totality the world seemed so different and so small in comparison to the universe.  I later learned that this phenomenon occurs every two years in different parts of our world.  I found it so memorizing that I’d consider myself a total eclipse chaser.  Here I come South America in 2019.

total eclipse

Photos by Josh Garrison

 

 

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July sale and audiobook production

BreakfastInBimini-AmazonI have two exciting promotions going on this summer.  For a limited time I’m offering my novel, Breakfast In Bimini,  for sale at half price. The perfect fun, bring on the sun and water beach read with a bit of a twist.  You can find the digital version and discount at:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/649848

 

I’m also producing an audiobook of Breakfast In Bimini to be released at summer’s end. This is a project I’ve been considering for the past year, but a bit uncertain of how to tackle it.  Originally, I wanted to read and record it myself at a local professional studio until I realized that maybe an experienced actress would do a better job.  I put up an audition request on ACX, the audiobook giant and I received several readings.  I found a match and I’ll have a sample by weeks end and the full book version shortly after.  I’d have to say, listening to the readings I felt impressed at times and uncertain at others. After all this is my creation and I have expectations about voice, inflections, and interpretation.  I have high standards, but I think she’ll do an excellent job.  I’ll let you know when it’s available on audible.com and other audiobook venues.

Any authors out there want to share their experience with producing their audiobook?  I’d love to hear about it in the comment section!

Bikini Season. Helpful Fitness Tips

With summer here, especially in the humid tropics, that means Bikini season.  I pretty much live, eat, and work in my swim suit daily with quick swims and long walks along the beach.  I’m able to run and do some yoga poses daily, but finding time to exercise and eat healthy it not always easy.  Guest blogger, Paige Johnson offers this advice.

4 Nutrition and Fitness Tips for Busy People

Being a hardworking professional and busy parent often means that you put your nutrition and fitness last. While it can be difficult to find ways to be healthy while you’re trying to squeeze everything you have to do into 24 hours, there are some ways to fit healthy habits into your busy lifestyle. We share four nutrition and fitness tips for busy people below so that you can work on your health throughout the year.

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Image via Pixabay by skeeze

  1. Prepare Breakfast Smoothies Ahead of Time

Most busy people skip breakfast because there is so much to do in the morning before you head out the door to drop off kids at school or make it to the office on time. The problem is, skipping breakfast is an unhealthy habit that you should break as soon as possible. Research shows that skipping breakfast can increase women’s risk of diabetes, cause hypertension and insulin resistance, elevate blood sugar, increase the risk of heart disease in men, and impair cognitive function related to memory.

If you want to eat breakfast but don’t because you don’t think you have time to make something, try preparing smoothies for your morning meal ahead of time. Begin by cleaning and freezing fruit such as berries and bananas that you can pop into your blender in the morning with Greek yogurt and whichever liquid you prefer. Some people opt for milk, juice, coconut water, or almond milk. If you don’t think you’ll have time to blend your smoothie in the morning, you can make it the night before, freeze it, and allow it to thaw on your commute so you’ll have a cold smoothie to enjoy throughout the morning.

  1. Find a Workout Buddy

If you work in an office, find a co-worker to be your workout buddy who will walk with you during a break or your lunch time. It’s worth noting that walking during lunch does not mean that you should skip eating lunch; rather, you should use your lunch time to go for a walk and then eat a healthy lunch at your desk. If you work from home or are a busy parent, find a neighbor or fellow stay-at-home parent who will walk with you while your child sleeps in the stroller or who will work out with you in your living room while your children play or nap together. You’ll stay more accountable if you know someone else is counting on you for workout time.

  1. Schedule Your Workout Time

If you cannot stick to a lunchtime walking routine or have trouble making a workout a habit, pencil it into your schedule just as you would a meeting or appointment. You need to make your health a priority, so put yourself on your schedule by blocking out at least four 30-minute exercise times per week. You may have to find a schedule that works best for you and be flexible, but commit to penciling in workout sessions for a month to help develop fitness habits. You may find more time on the weekend or in the early evening. You also may realize that you can jog laps around a baseball field while your kid has practice or that you can climb the stairs in your building or do lunges while checking email.

  1. Audit Your Time to Find a Few Extra Minutes Each Day

You may find that you actually have more time than you thought for preparing healthy meals and working out when you audit your time. When you look at your day, you may discover that you are wasting time checking email frequently throughout the day instead of taking care of it in a few large chunks. Or, you may be losing more minutes to social media and web surfing than you realized. When you truly audit your time, you will identify time sinks that you can schedule at another time or avoid altogether. Be as productive as possible during timed segments of your day to free up some time for healthy behaviors.

Even the busiest of people need to make time to develop and maintain healthy habits. You can do so throughout the year by preparing breakfast smoothies ahead of time, finding a workout buddy, scheduling workout time, and auditing your time to find a few extra minutes each day for healthy activities. Nutrition can help you overcome all kinds of obstacles, including those related to mental health.

Paige Johnson loves offering her advice on weight lifting and strength training on learnfit.org

 

 

Familiar scenes in La La Land

lala landI recently watched the award-winning musical movie La La Land. In my 20’s I lived and played in the heart of  L.A., and embraced every moment including the jazz and Hollywood scene.  I was young, rebellious and passionate about the city, as I still am today at a distance.  The movie includes Universal Studios, Jazz and Griffith Park, as do these memories I share.

I somehow wandered into Universal Studios through a back gate with my BFF, my Asian twin.   I think the gate was unattended, or we simply smiled and walked through.  Tourists on trams were pointing at us and we seemed to be the only ones roaming the fake studios unattended.  I think we were walking through the set of Back to the Future, among others. The tram slowed and we hopped on the back as people took photos.  The driver was confused and pretended not to notice, or maybe he really didn’t.  After disembarking and spending the afternoon exploring, we asked one of the directors to give us a ride back to my car parked at the other end of the studio.

“How did you get here?”  He asked.

“We walked though the back gate, and jumped on the tram.  I think it’s a few miles that way, ” I said pointing.

“Without I.D?”

“Um, yes.  Nobody said anything.”

He grinned and told us not to try that again and then he had a conversation with the gate guard.

jax2My love of Jazz began in Los Angeles, with my first date night at JAX in Glendale. I think it’s one of the filming places in La La Land, or very close to it in ambience and location.  It was during the L.A. riots, 1992 and a curfew was enforced.

“Are you still up for getting together?” My future boyfriend asked.

“I’m game.  I need to get out for a while.”

The streets were smoky, eerie and strangely silent.  Live jazz at the close-by club reflected the mood.  We had a private booth, life altering conversations, and the beginning of a love affair that lasted until his sudden death.  Memories made but not forgotten.

griffithI considered Griffith Park my other love. It integrated nature and hiking, biking, the observatory, stargazing, drinking, and the famous Hollywood sign.  I’d hike or bike the trails and solve many of my problems.  Minor issues that seemed larger than life back then.  A breakup, head to the park.  A bad day at school, an intense bike ride through Griffith.  An hour at the planetarium watching projected stars on the ceiling while listening to Pink Floyd was a complete escape or sometimes a bonding experience with a friend as we sipped concealed cocktails.  I even watched a full solar eclipse with hundreds of others picnicking for popular the event.  A friend and I climbed the Hollywood sign and even met and flirted with the two Matt’s, young actors from the TV series Friends.  griffith 3

I was blessed enough to live close to the park.  When I moved near UCLA campus I found other places to enjoy the outdoors and jazz, but these moments will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’m visiting L.A. later this summer and I might visit Griffith Park, but not Universal Studios.  It’s too touristy and nothing can top my visit through the back gate.  I recently learned JAX jazz club and grill closed last year, such a shame since it was truly a unique local jazz club.

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.