Croatia and its fortified cities along the Adriatic.

croatia12We landed in Dubrovnik around noon after an evening stop in Dublin to break up the long flight from Florida.  Dublin was fun as we pub hopped in the afternoon and evening with an early awaking for a three-hour flight to Croatia.  Upon landing I immediately felt the Mediterranean climate, and the dry scrub brush mountains reminded me of California. We rented a car and drove to a sea-side town for a lovely lunch at a gastropub. A small citrus arugula salad and a local beer was the perfect choice after hitting the pubs in Dublin the night prior.

first view of dbrovnikWinding roads along the Adriatic and through the mountains led us to a scenic view above old town Dubrovnik.  We parked on the side of the road as my heart raced seeing the fort from above.  We ran across the busy highway for a better glimpse, the first impression which would become minuscule compared to the following days of amazing panoramas from all angles of hiking, trams and exploring.

Another spectacular scene awaited us at the Hotel More overlooking the sea.  We strolled the promenade of sunbathers, restaurants and shops in the village below old town and then had a cocktail in the hotel’s cave bar.

We spent a full day exploring the fortified historic city, entering through the pile gate. We climbed the walls enclosing the fort spending a good hour above, looking into the ocean on one side and the buildings and people below on the other. Clothes hung out to dry as it was still a functioning city with permanent residents among the dominant tourist industry.  The ancient pathway was quite narrow and I could imagine during season, July and August, they’d have to limit the amount of visitors doing the wall walk.

We worked up an appetite for lunch below, settling in the town square at the bottom of a set of stairs.  As it turns out the stairs were famous from the hit series, Game of Thrones.  As many of the scenes from Kings Landing, the fictional city from the TV show, were filmed in Dubrovnik and the stairs were famous for the walk of shame scene.  “Shame, Shame, Shame,” the nuns repeated to Cersei as part of her atonement.  As we enjoyed our lunch I heard people shouting “shame”.  Afterwards, I couldn’t refuse to  walk the stairs myself, and I’m sure I deserved it from something I’d done in my youth.

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We popped into a few museums to gain a deeper understanding of Croatia’s history including a photo history of its most recent wars in the 1990’s.  Strolling down alleys and into churches, I admired the character of old town.  We watched tourists line up for gelato, as dogs and cats strolled by.  We decided to have a local beer prior to climbing the hundred stairs leading back to our car.

In the evenings we stayed close to the hotel, with plenty of good restaurants nearby. The waves, dim lights and ambiance reminded me of Positano, Italy only less busy.

The following day we decided on a different view of the city, one from the mountain above where within minutes the tram hauled people from the old town to the sky.  Initially we skipped the tram ride and drove to the top of the mountain, and it was the most terrifying drive of my life.  To start with it should have been a one way street, it was to narrow for two cars,  but a taxi coming down confirmed it was the only way up.  We attempted three times to ascend, only to be met head on by a car where we had to reverse down the mountain to let them through.  We let a van behind us pass so we had someone to follow, a bully to push through.  We drove on cliffs with no room for mistakes.  My hands sweated and I tried not to look over the edge of death, a real possibility with one miscalculated inch.

Once I saw the view up top I decided the heart palpitating ride was worth it.  We rented an ATV for an hour tour of the mountains where we sped though the dusty hills to arrive at a fort which played an important role holding off the Serbs during the 1990’s war, defending the city from occupation.  Goats, cows and a donkey roamed as we took photos of the bay from above. We then hiked down a rocky path for about an hour to arrive in old town for a late lunch.  My husbands feet were done and we took the tram back up to our car for the equally nail-biting ride back down to our hotel.croatia17

 

The following day we drove to Split.  We parked our car below Hotel More via a car lift which we had no problems until our departure day.  It was rush hour on the lift and about a half hour wait.  I was eager to get on the road, so I felt helpless during this time.  I practiced patience, a trait I’ve been trying to master the past few years.  The drive along the Adriatic simply breathtaking with the mountains on one side and quaint villages on the other.  We stopped at Ston, a small fortified town along our route famous for its shellfish farming.

Along our route we passed through the Bosnia Herzegovina border and enjoyed lunch by the sea.  Although a different county and one with a recent war-torn past, it seemed just as lovely as Croatia. While planning this trip I had considered going to Sarajevo for a night, but time didn’t really allow for it and I chose a few nights in Prague instead.  I  read many books about the war and had a fabulous lunch there, so maybe next trip.  I do love history including conflicts, religion and ever changing borders.  The former Yugoslavia is a classic and recent example of all elements.

IMG_2263Split was bigger than I imagined, but where we stayed among the red tiled roofs with a view of the harbor and within walking distance to the must see Diocletian’s Palace was ideal.  From our fifth floor balcony I watched pedestrian traffic below and ferry’s arriving an departing just beyond to the islands visible  in the distance.  I’d watch the lady hanging her laundry on the adjacent rooftop, and another resident cooking her dinner in an apartment below.  As in all of Croatia, olive trees and herbs in gardens and rooftops seemed abundant.

We toured the palace, the only Roman Emperor to ever retire did so in Split and he built a spectacular fortified residence with three entry gates, the silver, iron and gold surrounded by a moat.  He also had a lions den to use at will. It was expanded upon in medieval times and today houses museums, churches, shops, and restaurants.  We meandered through the narrow streets, ate traditional Croatian cuisine of goulash and spinach pie for this vegetarian.  Evening involved a random concert, dancing and just simply hanging out on the promenade.

After a morning visit to the mediocre archaeology museum, (as an archaeologist I’m picky) we headed to the ferry for our crossing to the island of Hvar, a playground for Europeans and celebrities.  I expected nothing and just wanted to relax by the sea.  Our hotel was again in a prime spot with a cool pool, lounge chairs on the Adriatic, and a promenade close to the town center.

We managed to find a fort and a winery to visit prior to relaxing by the salty sea. It was a pebble beach and quite cool, but a nice change from the Atlantic beaches of Florida and the Bahamas. Our trip to Croatia came to an end but continued to Prague for a few days which is a near future blog.

 

 

 

 

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Happy August! It’s a great time of year to listen to an audiobook

Hello fellow readers and writers.  It’s a great time of the year to listen to a novel. Learn and discover something new while working out, driving, passing time on a train or plane, or simply sitting on the couch and letting someone else read to you.  I’ve been a fan of audible.com since its inception.  First thing in the morning I go for a morning run while listening to a book.  I feed my mind and body, what a great way to start the day.  Hours of driving? No problem, time for a new story. Don’t get me wrong I love reading, but sometimes I just want to give my eyes a break.  Other times, I just don’t have time to read, but I can certainly listen.

Audible.com has a free listen for new members.  I encourage you to join and download my novel, Breakfast In Bimini, as your first listen. You won’t be disappointed with this fun, adventuresome story.  Simply click on a highlighted link to get started.  If you decide not to continue with membership, they make it easy to stop anytime with no further commitment.

 Breakfast In Bimini

If you’re already a member of audible and you’d like to listen and write a review of my novel then leave me your email address in the comments section and I’ll send you a code for a free review copy.

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The gloved life

blonde gloves - CopyAbout a year ago I noticed red dots on my right hand which would come and go over the course of a few months.  Then they showed up my other hand, bigger and redder, so I decided to see a dermatologist.

“You have atopic dermatitis.”   She said.

“Okay.  What’s that,” I asked.

“It’s chronic eczema.  I see it all the time.”

She explained that for the next two weeks, I’d apply a steroid cream to my hands and cover them with plastic gloves each night.  My hands cleared.  The rash came back and I did the same treatment.  This went on for months as the rash kept getting worst.  I felt like something I touched caused it, especially on my right hand, my dominant hand.

Researching my diagnosis, I eventually came across a website called, eczema exposed.  My perpetual rash could be an allergy, I convinced myself.  Contact dermatitis sounded more realistic, and I had to take matters into my own hands.  The rash continued to get worse and more painful.  I needed a cure.

“You’re allergic to your phone.”  My husband teased me.

“I think it’s nickel. We’re going to have to replace all doorknobs, appliances, and fixtures.”  I told him, believing it to be true.

A panel of thirty-seven common irritants were uncomfortably taped to my back for 48 hours.

“Wow.” The doctor’s assistant said over and over while removing my panels.  “This one blistered, one of the worse I’ve seen. And number ten is just as bad.”

She gathered up the number’s, printed out the results and additional information as I waited.  The doctor came in and asked to see my back.  “Well, what’s the results?” I asked.

“I don’t know, or care.  My assistant will bring you the info.”  She left in her sparkling red high heels and white coat.  I was shocked. She was the rudest doctor I’ve ever met.

The blistered result was bacitracin which I already knew about. I was surprised they tested me for it since it appeared on my past medical history. I guess the doctor just wanted me to suffer.  I concentrated on the second one, a product used in the processing of rubber.  The assistant handed me all the paperwork and suggested this is where the detective work begins.  She sent me out the door with no other guidance.

Okay, that was pleasant.  I didn’t know much about rubber, but I didn’t think it played a big part in my life. Over the next few weeks, I’d learn how much it does.

cord bundleI called a friend to share my results. My husband was right, my phone cover had a rubber rim.  I removed it and went to the nearest best buy for a plastic one.  All electric and iPhone cords are possible culprits, so I started taping parts of those with body tape to shield me.  I bought a clear nail polish for protection from my headphones and ear buds I use daily.  I tossed the rubber wristband I wore. The gloves I used to treat my allergy, yes latex.  I replaced those with vinyl.  Bike handles, pens, golf clubs, tires and buttons on the remote, golf cart steering wheel all contain partial rubber products.

I climbed inside our small single engine plane and stared at the cockpit.  I was flying in a rubber nightmare.  I decided to deal with it for the ride and when I arrived at our destination I became proactive.  I’d order gloves.  Silk gloves, lacy gloves, leather gloves, in all colors.  I’d have fun with it. The gloved life, until I figure it out.  I’m not sure if I look like Micky Mouse or My Fair Lady wearing my white gloves.  I’d like to think the latter.

micky mouse handsMy Fair Lady dance

The chemical I’m allergic to relates to rubber, latex, neoprene, elastic, spandex, lycra and things I’m still learning.  Latex allergies are becoming more common and life changing.  My allergy may get worse if not dealt with in a timely manner. In fact the Association of Latex Allergy suggest I get an EpiPen and a medical I.D. warning of my allergy.  I’ll be rubber free before I allow that to happen.

It’s a tedious process of finding out what products have these ingredients and I wish manufacturers  were more forthcoming.  Until then it’s a matter of acting as a detective, with research and trial and error. I’d like to see a chemical free environment going forward because this growing problem is not going away.

Being proactive I’ve changed all under garments to 100% cotton, except my running bras.  As a “C” cup it’s impossible to have a supportive high intensity workout bra made of cotton.  So my solution was to run to Wal-Mart and find a few cheap cotton ones to wear under my spandex’s bras.  Problem solved and they are so much more comfortable.

If you are diagnosed with eczema, get an allergy test just in case it’s something you can eventually control.  I respect most doctors, but I don’t always trust their judgement.  Ultimately, you are responsible for your own health.  Do research, ask questions, and talk to others who have been through similar experiences.  Please share your comments, experiences or questions below.

micky mouse

 

Berry Islands, Bahamas

harbor2

The Berry Islands are just 70 miles east north-east of Bimini and 120 miles from Miami, but it seemed like a world away.  In part because we work in Bimini and Florida and we’re always on the fly, where Great Harbor Cay allowed total relaxation and exploration.  Our one hour flight landed us for a weekend getaway on a fairly unknown island.  A marina townhouse, boat and car rental awaited.  The locals were very accommodating, friendly and helpful from the time we landed in our single-engine plane.

harborbeach2Our first day driving the seven-mile island took us to secluded untouched beaches.  We got a glimpse of the cruise ships offshore.  We hung out at a local beach club for drinks and conversation.  I felt like wild boar or elephants should be roaming.  It was a bit of an expedition without the wildlife, although I did see dead snakes in the road when I ran the following morning.

An abandoned golf course, beach resort and pool littered the landscape.  Not necessarily in a bad way as time stood still, the remnants of a glamorous era forgotten.  I longed for the clubs and golfing, although I wasn’t into the sport.  A random dilapidated bridge, and a once happening lodge sat as a skeleton.

But the island had a vibe, a strong one of resilience.  It brought out the explorer in me, and shall I say a pirate in a good sense.

Saturday we explored by land while Sunday was reserved for sea.  We rented a boat, conveniently docked under our rental townhouse.  We set out with our iPad for navigation, Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches for lunch, and then quickly stopped by government dock to grab a six-pack of beer. I jumped off our small boat, passed a church holding Sunday service, and found my way to a local bar selling beer on Sunday.  “Wasted Time,” was its name and empty except for a few local young men skipping mass.

As I passed back I heard singing.  A man of a cloth preached and sang loud from the open door, it made me smile.  I loved Sunday’s I remembered from my past, my young church-going youth attending mass with my grandmother.

We ran the boat to the cruise ship islands, Coco and Stirrup Cay.  They are private but the large ships drew our attention.  A dolphin swam off our bow.  The water temped us with its colophon hue, but we knew the recent cold front left behind freezing water for our tropical blood.  We pulled into Coco Cay, hoping to dock for some shopping and a picnic stop.  We were turned away with a “What the hell,” look from a harbor master.  I think he hollered and gave a few signals that only my husband recognized.  We left the harbor and continued onward.

mermaid2cococay

Strirrup Cay seemed much more relaxed.  No customs agents monitoring, cruise ship employees paying attention, or anyone tending the docks.  We figured we’d circle around eating lunch, and then docked when we realized nobody noticed us.

I went onshore to use the restrooms where staff greeted me and asked, “How do you like the cruise so far?”

“Oh, it’s been lovely,” I fibbed.  “I’m glad the sun decided to come out.”    This I knew because it was cloudy until about an hour prior.

I decided to check out some temporary shops set up in the sand.  I peeked over at my husband on the boat, he seemed fine.  I bought a Stirrup Cay shirt as a souvenir. I passed by an empty taco bar, and found myself in line for cocktails.

“Anyone else for a strawberry daiquiri?”  The bartender called out.

I raised my hand at the back of the line, passing ten or so others waiting for different drinks, and was handed a daiquiri.

“Do you have your ship card?” He asked.

“No, I have cash.  My husband has my card,” I feigned again.

“Only ship cards.  Take the drink and bring your card when you come back.”  With his busy schedule he waved me on.

I would have ordered a Miami Vice, but considering I got a free drink on an island where I wasn’t supposed to be… I fully enjoyed it.

“Honey, I could have gotten you a taco or a drink.”  I teased my husband as we pulled away from the dock.

He was a good captain staying with our rental boat somewhat satisfied with his PB&J and beer, although he showed interest in a taco.

cococay3We passed back by the lifeguard on the rock, watching over tourists.  Perhaps one of the most boring jobs in the world. But as my husband pointed out, “He’s probably making sure no sharks swim from the deep water just beyond the rock into the shallow waters to feast on tourists.”

 

It was a fun stop, a brief adventure before continuing on for our own private cruise in the shallow waters around the islands.  Not quite fifty-shades of blue, but pretty close.  We left the Berry Islands the following day to head to Nassau. SUNSET BAHAMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A look back at 2017

As a new year approaches, I’d like to look back at highlights in the news and my personal life this past year.

Natural disasters battered the United States this year with record-setting hurricanes hitting the east coast and fires blazing though the west.

hurricane2Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, leaving 82 dead and many homeless.  Total rainfall from a single storm set a record at 51.88 inches and total damage costing $180 billion.  A few weeks later Irma threatened the entire state of Florida, pushing Harvey out of the spotlight.  As a category 5, it was the largest Atlantic storm in history, reaching winds of 185 mph for 37 continuous hours. The cone of death affected the most populated cities of the east and then shifted to the west coast of Florida. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations caused the largest evacuation irmaof any state.  Massive traffic jams ensued.  I left the east coast, as did many of my friends.  Hotels were sold out and people just started heading north, out of the state.  In the end we got very lucky as far as deaths, we had widespread damage, but not devastating as predicted. Irma initially hit landfall in the Keys and then the west coast near Marco Island.  Hurricane Marie formed as Irma left.  After causing catastrophic damage across the northeast Caribbean, it hit Puerto Rico knocking out its power grid, three months later over half are still without power.  The death toll is reported as 64, although many believe this number is higher.

ca fire 1The 2017 California wildfire season is the most destructive one on record.  I visited southern California a month or so prior to the  fires, and the dryness was evident everywhere. In October a series of fires broke out in the north’s scenic wine country. It killed 44 people and destroyed about 9000 structures. Southern California had its outbreak in December.  High priced land in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles county got hit the worst with the Santa Ana winds exasperating the situation.  The Thomas fire, the largest blaze in California’s history destroyed over a 1000 structures and over 50,000 had to evacuate, causing gridlock in an already congested area.

rabbit fire 2Good news came from all these disasters and people came together helping each other, and especially close to my heart our furry friends.  Dogs and Cats were flown from Puerto Rico rescue centers to Florida.  One of my friends adopted one of these dogs who went from extremely skinny to a loving pet.  Wildlife officials rescued a mountain lion with burnt paws during the Thomas fire.  A video of a man rescuing a rabbit on the side of the road while evacuating, went viral.

With all the natural, social and political disasters, sometimes it feels like the world is coming to an end.  Mass shootings, vehicular homicides, nuclear escalation, sexual abuse, an opioid epidemic, increasing homelessness, and ongoing wars.  Yes, it’s there, but in the new year let’s make it a priority to focus on commonalities and solutions.

On a personal level it’s been a great year. My travels took me to Helen, Georgia to witness a total eclipse, Southern California for a father-daughter bonding, various Florida cities, Andros, Bahamas to visit a dear friend, and mostly Bimini, Bahamas where I live part-time.

I  continue my pursuit in physical, spiritual and mindful growth.  Yoga keeps me on track with daily mantras and challenges.  I can recognize my emotions easier and think before reacting.  Running gives me the cardio I love while listening to audiobooks to fulfill my craving for knowledge.  I put my own novel, Breakfast In Bimini, into audible format.  Sales for my paperback and kindle edition have done well this year.  All three formats can be found at:  https://www.amazon.com/Breakfast-Bimini-Sierra-Michaels/dp/1533699062/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1514674744&sr=8-2&keywords=breakfast+in+bimini

What is your word for 2018?  What are you hopeful for and what are you doing to make it happen?  Be the change you want to see in the world.  My word is Love.heart

 

 

Guest blogger Paige Johnson shares her guide to staying healthy over the holidays.  As a single parent it’s a priority for her, but we can all follow her advice.

holiday tablePhoto courtesy of Unsplash by Mel Turner

“I need to take better care of myself.” Be honest,  how many times have you had the exact same thought? This time of year means balancing your parental responsibilities with budgeting money for gifts and time for shopping. In addition, you probably have commitments with your family, friends and co-workers at various holiday events.

It’s no wonder why so many people become overwhelmed or even tempted to overindulge around the holidays. How can you stay healthy while still enjoying your holiday season? Luckily, it’s possible to find the time, energy, and money to stay healthy and in shape throughout the holidays.

Here’s what to do – and not do…

What to do:

Meal Prep

Preparing your meals ahead of time can help you avoid temptation so you can stay on the healthy track. Pick a specific day and time (such as a Sunday evening) when you know that you’ll be at home and will have time to devote to meal preparation. This is a great strategy for avoiding overeating at holiday parties. Of course, it can certainly be something you do each week in order to stay on track.

Combat Food Cravings

Of course, if you’re too busy to prep your meals, there are still plenty of ways you can be more mindful of your holiday eating habits. To avoid slipping into unhealthy food and beverage choices this holiday, Harvard’s School of Public Health recommends avoiding salt and sugar, especially in processed foods.

When food cravings kick in, especially if you’re an emotional eater, try replacing candy with fruits and try replacing salty foods with low-sodium options like unsalted nuts. If you’re stressed, try going for a walk or doing some mindful breathing rather than reaching for food to calm your nerves.

Practice Self-Care

Recent studies have linked stress eating, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and mood changes to weight gain during the holiday season. In each of these situations, proper self-care can help you resist the urge to overeat. As mentioned above, mindful activities such as breath work, meditation, a walk in nature, or doing yoga can all help you care for yourself, in turn reducing stress without adding extra calories, salt, or sugar.

Schedule Workouts

Block off a time slot on your busy schedule for exercise and fitness – and don’t allow yourself to schedule any other appointments during this time. For instance, you might work out first thing in the morning while your little ones are still asleep – or during the afternoon while they are still at daycare. Having trouble staying motivated? Find a workout buddy or partner with a co-worker (preferably another parent) for a monthly weight loss challenge.

What to avoid:

Drugs and Alcohol

It can be difficult to resist temptations during the holidays. Many people feel stressed and triggered during this time of year. It doesn’t help that alcohol plays a prominent role in so many holiday parties.  Enjoy in moderation, unless you’re in a recovery program.  In that case,  continue to stay focused and remain on track, including attending AA meetings, throughout the holidays. If you feel triggered, soothe yourself using coping methods such as yoga, meditation, taking a hot bath, or even spending some time in nature (weather permitting). These proven methods will help you resist cravings and overcome triggers so you can have a safe, healthy and sober holiday.

Food FOMO

As strength coach, Molly Galbraith, says, “Eating past full is not fun.” Although it can be tempting to feast upon all of the delicious seasonal or holiday-themed foods and beverages that you can only consume this time of the year, avoid overeating. Instead of getting caught in the trap of food FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), try to limit yourself. Eat slowly so you can savor each bite.

Your health should be a priority year-round. By following the advice listed above, we can all make healthier choices this holiday season – and every day of the year.

For more fitness and healthy lifestyle tips from Paige Johnson check out her website at: learnfit.org  

The homeless problem: From condemnation to compassion

homeless-cart2.jpgMy recent visit to southern California left me frustrated by the rampant homeless  problem seizing the golden state.  I lived in the heart of L.A for over a decade, and homelessness existed, but it didn’t seem permanent or ubiquitous.  Mostly confined to Venice Beach, downtown at Skid Row, and the freeway ramps with beggars holding honest or creative signs.  This time I noticed them everywhere, even in the out-of-the-way, senior living town of Sun City.  This desert town was once only occupied by the 55 and over crowd, retirees looking for cheap living in a safe community.  The youths were watched closely, and vagabonds non-existent.  This visit I watched backpackers and cart pushers wandering though town with all their belongings.  A few were passed out in bushes, homeless man 2others displayed burnt hard faces of the street life, and some lived in their car.  I felt disheartened, and disappointed that this seemed to be the new norm.

 

On the evening news, they showed permanent homeless camps along the L.A. river.  What in the hell is going on in this state, I thought.  Do people seriously want to live a homeless life?  Why can’t they get a job, or move to where they can live a better life?  The trash they leave behind is unbelievable!

I visited Santa Monica for a few memorable days to enjoy my old playground on the beach and in the mountains.  My morning runs took me though Venice Beach, where the homeless have always migrated. Again, it was out of control. Camps with tents, personal belongings, bikes and stoves.  They’d wake, use the public toilets and drink their lattes.  An ambulance was called for a dispute or injury between two of them.  Great, your tax dollars at work for those that don’t contribute.

Later that evening as I walked to dinner they hung out on main street, and I didn’t feel safe turning some dark corners.  Why let these people invade prime property?  Why do locals accept and support people who do nothing  to better society?

Back in Florida we also have a homeless problem as do many towns.  Sometimes they harass me, other times I smile at them.   I’m trying my best to hold compassion for everyone, including the destitute.  After all, I don’t know their story.  Many jobs have gone overseas, and the cost of living is increasing, especially in California.  I have since opened my mind and heart and compassion is my new word of the month.  With the holidays upon us, I hope to keep my eyes and heart open to those in trouble and need.homeless familycompassion jpeg

-Compassion-is-an-action-word-with-no-boundaries