Quarantined in the North Georgia Mountains

flyingAfter several weeks of shelter in place in South Florida, my husband and I decided to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at our mountain home in Helen,Georgia, as numbers of confirmed cases grew in Broward County.  The mountains are less crowded, with beautiful spring weather  and opportunities to spend time in nature abound. We loaded up our plane and waited for a good flying day. It turns out our timing was perfect, any other day may have left us stranded due to weather, a situation we needed to avoid.

When we arrived at our home, I immediately felt less anxiety and more relaxed. I felt like myself again as the situation in South Florida worried and stressed me out. I listened to birds sing off our back deck instead of helicopters flying overhead.  Squirrels crunching on decomposing leaves  replaced sirens screaming in the distance.  I breathed fresh oxygen rich air, cool and crisp, rather than the thick humidity of the south.

I wanted to cry.  I had been so emotionally on edge for what seemed like forever.  Instead I said.  “I feel better already.  We are so lucky to have options.”

“Yes we are.”  He agreed.

I found my new normal over the next few weeks.  Running in the morning through our desolate little town center, side roads and nature trails.  Yoga in the afternoon on the back deck, surrounded by nature.  I use my iPhone to guide me through my practice, with videos posted by the studio I attend.  Fighter jets from a nearby military training area even flew overhead one day, adding a bit of excitement to my flow.  I spotted a red fox in the distance while in tree pose.

My husband has home improvement projects to keep him busy.  We just built our house last year, leaving several tasks unfinished.  He cut and fertilized the grass, planted more trees, stained wood, built shelves for his tools and a framed our fireplace.  It’s an ongoing list but  now has the time to complete them.

One day he called me out back.  “Come here.”

A large bird attacked a tree off our deck.  “What is that?  A woodpecker?”

“Yeah.  The largest one I’ve seen.”

I found new recipes and dinners to make.  We went to grocery store to stock up, a first for me in a month.  We both had masks and gloves and followed the arrows of which way to go up and down.  It felt good to pick out food, although I think many items were overpriced, especially the produce. I had a list for most things, then a random note to buy drinks and frozen food.

In the evening my husband noticed something through a side window.  “Bears.”

“They’re so quiet.”  I whispered.

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They looked in the trash can, picked through it. Then checked out our golf cart, sniffed around and left.  Three of them, a momma and two cubs I imagined.  Although they all looked pretty big.  Our dog didn’t even know they were outside, she usually  hears and smells everything, then barks like crazy.helen15

We are fortunate to have access to hiking trails and golf.  We learned that federal trails are closed but state parks open.  I personally think all outdoor activities should be accessible.  It’s a great way to escape and find tranquility and peace in our current world.  Something we all need.  Please find nature, love, compassion, health and hope during this difficult time, and reach out to those that need the same.

 

 

Coronavirus. Remain Calm and Carry On.

coronavirusSo far 2020 has been full of hype and hysteria over the Coronavirus.  First in Asia, then Europe and now the United States. I’m doing my part and I’ve been self quarantined for almost a week now. I am not infected, and I want to keep myself and our elderly population safe.  That being said, let’s look at some facts.

Influenza, the flu, in the U.S. alone, has caused an estimated 34 million illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC predicts that at least 12,000 Americans will die from the flu in any given year. As many as 61,000 people died in the 2017-2018 flu season, and 45 million were infected.

Cornavirus world count is 216,700 cases with 8,908 deaths.  Not a small number, but not nearly as bad and the flu this year, certainly not as deadly as the 2017-2018 season. I understand the count is still rising, and as a new virus it has many uncertainties.

But still, countries have been brought to their knees.  Airports are ghost towns, schools closed, businesses closed, borders closed,the stock market plummeted and people are scared and uncertain.

We can learn from countries like Taiwan who’s had just one death and 100 cases, they have the lowest incidence rate per capita at about 1 in every 500,000.  They were proactive in testing for the virus and put temperature monitors in public places.  They also increased mask production and banned the export of them.

South Korea implemented drive through testing stations, the first of it’s kind in the world. They also have GPS tracking for those confirmed with COVID-19 and it’s easily available on an app. so people can avoid those areas.

Americans are resilient and creative. Let’s remain calm and demand better from our leaders and the media. Test everyone if able, and protect those at risk.  There has to be a better way to do this, together.

Building a new house. The excitement, and endless decision making.

foundationThree years ago Brad and I bought land in a gated community in the North Georgia Mountains, with the intention of building a summer home of our dreams.    Last fall we bought architectural plans, hired a contractor, and received building permits to start construction at the beginning of this year.  Upon clearing the land and building a foundation our one level, two bedroom cottage turned into three levels.  There went our small house!   The lot is sloped, so it needed a large deep foundation.  Our high ceilings begged for a loft so that space wouldn’t be wasted.  It made sense, and the second bedroom was relocated upstairs as we made room for a larger master bedroom.  We also added an office in the loft overlooking the great room. This was all decided from our house in Florida with numerous phone calls and video chats with our contractor, Duane.

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When framing neared completion we flew in for a walk through.  The kitchen was too small, but we had a random room behind it where we could expand.  We changed some windows, and added a door in the bedroom leading out to a spacious deck.  The three of us figured out the placement of appliances, what made the most sense for an easy flow,  marking accordingly for electric and plumbing lines.

buliding1Before we headed back to Florida we picked out windows, roofing, outside paint colors and other immediate issues.  We continued daily chats and photo updates with Duane as he got things done.  Construction was moving along, until we didn’t hear from  him.  A week or two passed, we finally got word that he was in the hospital from a massive heart attack. We’d become friends with Duane, this tragic news affected us and our community.

My husband decided he could take over the completion of our house.  We loaded up our plane, dog and necessities for the long haul. Already owning a rental duplex we stayed there, getting kicked out on weekends to keep our rental agreements intact.  The evening of our arrival we checked on construction progress.  Much needed to be done, but I knew Brad could make it happen and I’d help anyway I could. 

He looked at his phone a bit teary-eyed.   “I just got a text.  Duane passed away at 7:45.  That’s about the time we walked in here.”

“Wow.  So sorry, but it didn’t sound very promising the past few days.”

Brad got busy organizing specialists for the upcoming weeks. Electric, A/C, flooring, painters, trim, plumbers, and cabinets.  There were no shows, high quotes, phone calls not returned and others too busy to take on new projects.  In the mean time we had my handy nephew drive up from Florida to help with some minor stuff.  We kept him busy with the outside fencing and cleaning.   We found dependable hard-working painters who started right away on the exterior.

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We had to decide on fixtures, starting on the door handles.

“I’d like a statement piece on the front door.”  I said.

“What about the rest of the doors?” he asked.

“Just normal door handles.” I responded.

“What’s normal?  They have different colors, types, locks?”  He asked.

“Just the normal round knobs in nickel.”

“You don’t like the hooked door handles?”

“I don’t care, its a just a round knob with a lock right?”  I said in frustration.  “You pick the rest of the handles, and I’ll find the statement one for the front door.”

This is pretty much how we chose the details at first, until we sat down for a day or two searching and comparing our individual styles on Amazon and similar sites.  Fans, lights, sconces, sinks, faucets, fencing, appliances, indoor paint colors, trim colors, flooring and tiles. I missed Duane’s opinion as he was helpful with decisions. We made daily trips to Lowes, an hour and a half round trip. I noticed the details in these things everywhere I went in restaurants, stores and houses.  They were in my nightly dreams when I wasn’t running around trying to save my pup from strange creatures chasing us… a topic for another blog or a psychologist.

cincy1We visited my family in Cincinnati for a weekend, allowing occupancy for renters who had booked months prior.  We had to pack up everything  into storage or take it with us. A heat wave engulfed the east coast which made flying around or above the cumulus clouds and weather a bit harrowing.flying

hikingBack in the mountains I made a point to go hiking when possible and occasionally relax at a winery for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with an amazing view.  Amazon packages arrived regularly, and on some days the construction site looked like a beehive with everyone working.

We’re leaving the basement unfinished for now.  It’s framed out with space for two bedrooms plus a storage area, and a sauna/hot yoga room wired for the required 220-240 voltage.  We have to leave again this weekend for our rentals and we’ll either camp out at our new house, or visit a nearby town such as Asheville. I’ve been slacking on  blogging, but it’s been a busy yearsmile nature1

Caribbean Cruise

My husband and I decided to forgo a holiday gift exchange, and instead book a cruise as our gift to each other.  We travel often for work and adventure, but rarely do we completely let go with no calculated schedule.  At least not me since I research and plan our itineraries.  A seven-day Caribbean cruise in March aboard the Norwegian Dawn seemed perfect. Although our home state, Florida has many cruise departures, we chose Puerto Rico as our starting point.  Less time at sea and more time on the islands.

In San Juan, we rented a car and drove to the Serafina, a boutique beach hotel.  It’s located in Condado, the resort area of the city and perfect for staying close to the hotel at night with easy access to our car for day trips.  Since Hurricane Maria crime in the city had increased, but this area seemed safe with attractive restaurants.

“Let’s drive to the west coast,” my husband said the next morning. “It’s only an hour and forty minutes.”

I looked out our beach view and then down at the sunbathers by the pool.

“We have a two and a half days.  I’d like to spend one of those days in old town, but if you want to do a drive today, that’s fine.”  I secretly wanted to hang by the pool, something I rarely did.  “Why the west coast?”

“They have whales, and the waves and surf should be pretty big.”

“I’m game.” I said, knowing whale spotting wouldn’t happen so randomly.  “We can have lunch there.”

riconWell over three hours later of stop and go traffic we arrived in Ricon, a small but cute surfer hangout.  I was starving, irritated and ready to get out of the car. We stopped at a hilltop restaurant, luckily the food and drink amazing.

“Did you spot any whales?”  I asked after a while.  “Tomorrow, we stay closer to home.”

I got to know old town from my morning jogs.  We explored the fort and surrounding shops, had a leisurely pace and enjoyed the rest of our stay in Puerto Rico prior to boarding our ship.

biminibarOn the ship, we discovered the Bimini Bar on the top deck, aft overlooking the pool. Ironically, we were on the cruise to get away from some drama we have at our island house in Bimini.  It became our favorite bar where we could drink, smoke and meet new friends.  On our first day at sea, I sun bathed below it as I read, listened to live bands and swam in the pool.

At our first port of call, Barbados, we had no plans except possibly exploring the island by scooter. We walked through Bridgetown, an unattractive, busy port with our google map set on scooters for hire.  It led us to a questionable part of town, so we hailed a taxi.  After finding out the place closed our taxi driver, quite outspoken about deplorable conditions of Barbados economy, offered to drive us wherever we wanted to go.

“I’d like to see monkey’s,” I said.  “Or some history.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee monkeys since they’re wild.  But I recommend Gun Hill Signal Station for the views and history.”  He said with elegance.

It was worth the visit, so peaceful and full of information.  Next he suggested a good place for lunch only a 40 minute drive to the east coast, the wild coast.  The vegetarian choices were abundant, something I didn’t expect on the islands.  The scenery equally impressive.  Our driver pointed out a monkey crossing the road on our return drive, and he made it clear they were considered pests among the locals.  He was full of facts and opinions, and I liked his honesty.  Over lunch we learned he lived in Connecticut for a decade, but he’s truly Barbadian and loves his beloved island.

The following day, Antigua was a warm welcome.  An adorable port with plenty of shops, and friendly faces.  We found a scooter rental from a nice Canadian couple, turned local.  With map in hand, we set off sightseeing.  Up and down hills from St. Johns to historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour.  The marina was full of mega yachts and sailboats from around the world, admiring the view we sat for a beer.  Afterwards, we meandered through the rainforest along scenic Fig Tree road.  I felt free.  Our scooter hugged the coastline as I glimpsed at views of the turquoise sea, eventually finding our way back to the busy port.  It was a fine day indeed, and Antigua became my favorite port of call.

In St. Kitts I ran on shore, taking a break from the monotonous treadmill.  I’d been to the island previously, so I didn’t feel a need to see or do anything.  We took a taxi to a fort with a great view of the island, shopped at the port and chatted with others at the Bimini Bar.  Some never left the ship, while others ran to meet the last boarding call.  We fell in between the two extremes.

“So what are you doing tomorrow?” Someone asked.

“The airport beach.”  I said without hesitation.  “It’s a must see, they have YouTube video’s if you haven’t heard of it.”

“You’re the second one to say that,” she said.  “I guess I’ll get off the ship and check it out.”

I looked forward to our stop in St. Maarten with its famous airport at Maho Beach.  Jets arriving and departing so close, its wake sandblasting tourists below.  From the tiki bar we watched some tumble in the sand.  We spent hours observing, sipping and eating while checking arrival times for the larger jets. It was fun.  Prior to our afternoon stop we’d rented a car and drove a good portion of the island.  The damage from hurricane Maria was noticeable at the north tip, and traffic gridlocked leading up to Maho Bay.

stthomasOur last island St. Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands, did not disappoint.  I sipped coffee while watching boats scoot about from our balcony.  Some sailboats seemed permanently anchored, and I felt in full vacation mode.  I wondered if the sailboats had to relocate from time to time to avoid fees.  After all they’re on prime property with a marvelous view.  We disembarked before noon and took a shuttle downtown, a short ten minute ride.  So many jewelry stores, but I didn’t need gems or diamonds.

“Free gift.” Several vendors called out as I passed.

I browsed a few, looking for a watch I’d seen with a certain brand and style in mind.  I didn’t find it.  We did stumble onto a quaint lunch spot.

“I’m craving a veggie burger.”  I told my husband prior to looking at the menu.

“Ha, you’re in luck.” He gloated.

Afterwards, we checked out a local art market and found our way back to the port.  We took a skyride to the top of a mountain for a good view.  A great way to overcome my fear of heights.  My hands sweated. The wind blew our hanging cage, but the view was priceless.cruiseship

Departure day was a full day of travel from the San Juan port to the airport with lots of waiting in between for our flight to Miami. We flew on a 737 Max, the same day and type of the one that crashed in Ethiopia.  My heart goes out to those on the plane and their family members.  It could have been anyone of those planes and I understand why they’re currently grounded.

New year, new beginnings.

new year10After watching the year in review on several TV channels, I can’t help but think it’s been a crappy year for the world.  Lately, natural disasters, mass shootings and political turmoil are normal, but this year it seemed even more extreme.  I had several people tell me the past few weeks that it’s been a rough year, for some their worst, and they are waiting to begin anew in 2019.  It has nothing to do with the economy, since that is thriving.  Just personal unrelated hardships and frustrations in today’s fast paced life.  I feel we need to slow down, tolerate others, think before acting, be calm and be nice to one another.

For me, I’ve had challenges, setbacks and hurdles to overcome.  But I’ve also had some amazing adventures, experiences and personal growth.  I’m putting 2018 behind me, remembering the good times and letting go of the rest.

I’m starting fresh and positive, aiming for the betterment of our communities, society, America and our planet.  Let’s help each other in this sometimes complicated nation.  Put down our phones, and think twice about constantly checking social media.  Take moments to enjoy the natural landscape and gatherings with family and friends.  Consider what’s important in life and pursue that, because at the end of the day it is  what really matters. Together let’s make 2019 the best year ever.

“Be always at war with your vices,
at peace with your neighbors and
let each new year find you a better person.
Happy New Year”

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Let’s give a warm welcome to the year that starts a new, appreciate each moment that the year shall behold, so let’s come together and celebrate a wonderful start to the New Year. Happy New Year.

new year12new year 5

 

And always find a reason to laugh.  It may not add years to your life, but it will surely add life to your years.

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The Best Gift: Love

yoda5I had a major scare this month with one of the loves of my life, my pup, Yoda.  She is a sensitive girl with quite a few unknown allergies, as I learned each time the hard way.

I dropped her off at her veterinarian for a routine teeth cleaning, a first time for my nine-year old Snorkie (schnauzer-yorkie) breed.  I was worried about putting her under anesthesia for a painless deep clean, but her vet and groomer assured me she’d be fine, and she needed it to keep her teeth into old age.  She loves food, so I considered her future.  For the procedure I couldn’t feed her in the morning, so I planned on picking her up late afternoon with a junior burger.

Upon arriving she gave me concern looks, Why am I here getting poked and prodded while I’m hungry?

The doctor said he’d call after the procedure to let me know how she’s doing.

I got the call early afternoon.  “She’s stable,” he said in a shaky,  stressful tone.

He then explained that she made it through the cleaning and woke up with a cough, so he gave her penicillin and she went into anaphylactic shock. She needed three epi pens to come around, an iv, and she’s now on oxygen.

I paced as tears flowed down my cheeks.

He continued.  “I want to keep her on oxygen, and monitor her closely.  She will need to go to a 24 hour care facility around 5:00.  I’ll call and let you know in a few hours.”

“I want to see her before she goes into intensive care,” I managed to say without a sob.

“Yes, I’ll need you to pick her up for the transfer.”

After hanging up I paced some more, made a few phone calls to those who could listen and just floated around not knowing what to do.  There was nothing I could do but hope for the best outcome, her survival.  I was at home waiting for the air-conditioning repairman to finish his work.

He looked at me with concern. “Is everything okay?”

“No, my dog.”  I sobbed.   “Hospital.”

He was compassionate and showed it, although his English was limited he understood and kept saying “sorry.”  I’m sure it’s hard for a stranger to watch a woman cry, but he was gracious and fixed my AC.

I lingered and wandered around the house, and then my office building around the corner until I got the phone call to transfer her to ER.

When I arrived to pick her up, the vet emerged holding Yoda perched in his arms.  It looked like they both went to hell and back.  He gave me the address and let me know they are expecting her and fully aware of the situation.

What should have been a 10 minute drive turned into a harrowing half hour.  My right hand was on her tummy making sure she breathed.  We sat in holiday traffic as I had to remember to stay calm despite her struggle for steady breath.  She flashed me, What the hell looks.”  I glanced back with love, although my nerves and mind seemed uncertain and scared.

“We got this,” I whispered to her.  “Hang in there punky.”

The facility and staff were welcoming and amazing.  She’d be in the best care, level one, which is like intensive care with constant checking in on her well being.  If necessary, they’d notify me with updates and I could call anytime to check on her.

I called in the evening.  They told me she’s fine but still on oxygen, and she’d been through a lot.  My heart dropped and worried.  She had to pull through because she loves life and is loved dearly by many.

In the evening I learned from my groomer friend that she had more machines on her than her body size.  The scene was pretty chaotic and tense from what she said.  They were determined to keep her alive, and I’d be forever thankful.

It was a difficult night for both of us.  With my husband out-of-town and dog in the hospital I watched a feel good movie.  Throughout the night, I sent good vibes to both of them, and the universe knowing she had to pull through.  Our time together was not over, not yet.  We have too much love to share, and lessons to teach each other.

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The next day I picked her up, bought her that Wendy’s hamburger, fed her meds she spit out and just enjoyed each others company.  I got the evil eye, followed by looks of unconditional love.  That to me is the best present I could have.

 

 

My Love, my first and forever dog.

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Prague, Gotham City.

prague1Also known as the city of a hundred spirals, Prague’s architecture, history and energy has awed me since my first visit in 1991, and it certainly didn’t disappoint during my recent visit.

 

In December 1989 Czechoslovakia gained independence from the soviet union. Previously under communist rule since 1948, citizens feared persecution.  They were intimidated, interrogated, and imprisoned at the will of the secret police.  I toured Russia and many Eastern European cities after the dissolution of the USSR,  when a renewed independence seemed to prevail, albeit a slow and desolate one.  My most vivid memory was enjoying local musicians playing the Doors and other American classics along the iconic Charles Bridge. At a nearby cafe a friend and I sipped a cocktail while taking in the surrounding music, statues and spirals.  Not many tourists or tour buses existed then, in fact even though the vibe seemed good, the streets were fairly empty.  I bought a Bohemia T-shirt and cherished my limited visit, vowing to return in the future.p5

p1Our quaint hotel was located near the popular Wenceslas Square, lined with restaurants, shops, and hotels. We had a view of the Prague National Museum which unfortunately was closed for a few months of renovation.  We dined at a traditional Czech restaurant and booked a guided bus and walking tour for the following day.

My morning run through the city and along Charles Bridge ranks among the top ten.  The bridge was not crowded at that hour, but strangely Asian brides and grooms posed with professional photographers all around old town, the castle and the bridge.  I wondered what marketing they did in Asia for wedding photos in Prague.  My run became longer than I’d planned when I found myself lost while trying to find our hotel.  I have jogged cities around the world but this was a first, the trapezoid layout seemed a bit off of the normal grid.  Complicating the matter, I had forgotten the name of our hotel.  I had to call my husband and put it into my phone for GPS tracking.  I made it back for a quick shower before our 10:00 tour.

prague3Our excursion took us through town with a fifteen-minute van ride followed by a two-hour walking tour.  Awesome for me, not so much for my husband with an arthritic foot.  We started at the impressive Prague Castle, where many tour groups gathered.  Luckily we were a small group.  The castle complex is quite large, our guide covered the history and architecture while not venturing inside for a more in-depth view.  This was perfect for our first full day in Prague as a good general overview.  After the castle we landed at Charles Bridge, my favorite I cannot get enough of landmark.

 

It was so crowded we lost our tour guide until the other side where we randomly ran into our group again near the famous astronomical clock.  From my past visit, I clearly remembered the medieval clock located in old town square.  On the hour a mechanical parade the twelve apostles sets in motion other events such as a skeleton striking time, a rotating calendar and astronomical dial.  Considering when it was built, it was impressive to watch.  Myth has it that if the clock is neglected the city would suffer.  I hoped the myth was not true since the clock was not working and under renovation during our recent visit.

p8Our tour ended in old town square, a great place to end a tour with open air restaurants great for people watching which we did while dining.  Afterwards, we walked meandering streets full of quaint shops, churches and museums. We visited an interesting sex museum followed by a church visit to admire the architecture, alters and paintings.

The following day we opted for a hop on/off bus to just sit and listen while admiring the view, not getting off until we had the full loop, stopping just shy of our hop on point. My mom texted me the previous night to ask if I visited the infant of Prague.

“No, what’s that?”

“I remember saying prayers to the infant of Prague when I was little.”  She said.  “Your grandma used to tell us about it.”

p6I adored and loved my grandma dearly, so I decided I must visit, although I’m not religious myself.  I also wanted to get a photo for my mother who prayed to the infant.  It happened to be within walking distance to our hop off point.  The church holding the statue wasn’t overrun with tourists, in fact it seemed rather quiet and humble.  Inside, devout Christians prayed, and a small line lead to a passage in front of the statue for a prayer or picture.  Although its origins are unknown, the miniature statue has survived many wars and has become symbol for devotees worldwide.  Many who have prayed to infant Jesus claim miraculous healings and blessings as a result.  His clothes are changed seasonally according to liturgical tradition.

The neighborhood was off the beaten path and we decided to walk around and explore.  My husband, Brad, and I happened upon a pilot bar, and as pilots we had to check it out.  It was a bar designed like a 737, complete with a simulator.  My husband sat in the cockpit with his co-pilot/instructor, as a flight attendant brought me a drink to watch from the front row.  After a briefing, he took off and flew the virtual reality-based simulator.  Through the windows, I watched the control tower and ramps pass by, and then we were in the clouds.  His landing was great and then he did a night flight, and a few more flights in different environments.  The instructor, a captain of a 737, shared stories of flying into difficult countries and complex scenarios.  It was entertaining and educational.

Once outside I recognized where we were and it seemed easier to walk back to our hotel, instead of waiting for the bus.  Later that evening, an Indian restaurant near our hotel was excellent dinner choice.

We realized at the airport that we’d be flying back to New York on the 787 Dreamliner, the newest plane in the Polish Airlines fleet.  In first class we had plenty of room, were well fed, and each seat folded down into a twin bed.  A perfect end to our brief visit to Gotham City.p2