Cross-country Flying Adventure

flying14With overseas travel cancelled, and us unemployed due to the pandemic, my husband and I decided to explore this great country of ours, the U.S.A.  We purchased our current plane in June, a Centurion turbo, better known as a Cessna 210.  We would familiarize ourselves with the plane and some different instruments enroute to Cincinnati, Dakotas, and our farthest west destination Montana.  

Our flight to Cincinnati took us above the Appalachians at 9,500 for terrain and weather, dropping down through a hole 20 miles prior to landing, pretty much diving towards the short runway.  We visited my family, staying with mom and dad.  My husband kept himself busy doing much needed handyman work, with my nephew and dad helping when needed.  We dined with my brother, sister-in-law and three-year old niece.  It was a short visit, as we had to depart a few days later due a front moving through.  We didn’t need a delay so early in our trip.

We traveled over 900 nautical miles from Cincinnati to Spearfish, SD, with a lunch stop in Fort Dodge, and a change of pilots.  The Pilot in Command (PIC) flies from the left seat and makes the ultimate decisions while the right seat pilot’s duties include talking to air traffic control, navigating with the iPad and VOR’s, weather checking along the route and finding alternative airports. We switched each stop when possible to give each other a change of responsibilities.  We encountered hazy, almost IFR conditions from west coast fires, turbulence and 40+ MPH winds upon both landings.

A beautiful cabin near historic Deadwood awaited us.  

“Can you google liquor stores?” My husband asked, as we neared our accommodations.

“The nearest is 25 miles in Sturgis.”

“Don’t tell me it’s a dry county?”

“No, just none in Deadwood.”

We stocked up on drinks, and some food, then later found out that all gas stations carry liquor and wine. We had plenty of those within five miles.

We got an early start to Mount Rushmore the following day.  I was in awe upon first glance at the national monument.  A very easy visit, and I snapped pictures from many angles.  We had a full day in the area, checking out Crazy Horse, Custer State Park where the buffalo roam, and scenic, winding Needles Hwy.  I got a kick out of our dog whining at the intimidating animals blocking our car.  

I welcomed a more leisurely pace the next day exploring Deadwood, a step back in time to the Wild West.  The small town offered plenty as we browsed shops, lunched, and had a beer at historic Saloon 10 while checking out memorabilia.  With old pictures, newspaper articles, and plaques displayed on the wall, it seemed more like a museum with a bar and slots.  The pedestrian streets outside bustled with tourists drinking and dancing to live music.  Nobody wore masks, so we kept our distance, returning in the evening for dinner.  We met our friends from Bimini who took us up to a rooftop bar, where we viewed the crowds from above.  A vintage car show and competition gathered for the weekend, adding to the old town ambiance and experience.

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We decided to visit Devils Tower in Wyoming the following day, and it didn’t disappoint.  The monument visible 50 miles out, looked otherworldly.  I see why Spielberg chose it as a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  We hiked around the rim, getting glimpses up close from many angles while taking in the natural pine forest habitat.  It formed from cooled magma and slowly eroded from wind and water to create its current façade.  The Great Plains tribes has considered it sacred for thousands of years and still do today.  As we drove back down towards the exit, I noticed several signs warning not to feed prairie dogs.

“Look at the squirrels.”  Hubby said while pointing.

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I noticed a field full of little furry creatures popping in and out of holes, and others standing up while nibbling nuts.

“Those are prairie dogs.  Pull over.”

We stopped by our plane to prepare it for an early departure and drove back to the cabin via the scenic Spearfish Canyon.  Our flight plan involved a direct flight to Great Falls, Montana then a hop over the mountains to Glacier Park. 

Our flight over the Black Hills and beyond was turbulent, so we made an unexpected stop at Sheridan for a break before continuing onwards. The winds blew over 50 mph upon landing at Great Falls. We spoke to some local pilots familiar with the area and our conversation went something like this.

“If you cross the ridges, enter at a 45 degree angle for less turbulence.  You will still get bounced around and it’s not unusual to hit your head on the ceiling.”

“We’d like to fly the valleys, and follow the roads.” I said.  “We have a small dog and prefer not to put her on oxygen.”

“If you do that and you’re on one side of the valley with strong updrafts move to the other side for the downdrafts. There’s a 90 degree turn towards the end.  Just when you think you’re trapped between the mountains it opens up.  But you have to be tight on that turn.”

My husband and I looked at each other, wide-eyed.  He said, “We’ll rent a car.”

“Good choice, we’re not even flying today with these winds.”         

The drive to my Sister-In Law’s ranch took us around Glacier Park, but not through it since the east entrance was closed due to Covid. Still a beautiful drive we arrived at the ranch in less than three hours. After Annie and Tom showed us around their place, they left as they had previous commitments out of town for the night.  It was a much needed chill evening and an easy pace the following day.

As our tour guide and driver, Annie took us on an amazing tour of Glacier with its majestic cliffs, glaciers, meadows and serene lakes. While driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, I felt like she was speeding. My hands sweated, and heart raced as I peeked over the cliffs off my right shoulder.  I didn’t remember it being so terrifying when I visited over ten years ago.

My husband glanced back at me.  “I think she wants you to slow down.” He said.

Annie glimpsed at me through her mirror.

“I’m okay, just keep your eyes on the road.”

“At least you’re not gasping for air, like one of my relatives did on this drive.”  She said.

I’d look up, take a few photographic shots then turn away.  It should be better on the drive down as I’ll be away from the cliffs, I hoped.  After reaching the peak we drove a bit further for a short hike. The stunning walk took us through an array of colors with mountains in the background and a waterfall at our turnaround point.  In the evening we met Tom and his colleagues at a beautiful lodge for dinner and drinks.

On our last full day we lunched in the town center, and visited two lakes.  The first was one small but picturesque, I imaged swimming in it on a warm day.  At the other lake we packed drinks and sandwiches for a sunset cruise on their friend’s boat. 

The next morning Tom treated us to a homemade Sunday brunch.  He made eggs, tater tots, and my favorite huckleberry pancakes with fresh fruit and syrup.  We said our goodbyes and drove back to Great Falls for the evening.  We knew wherever we ended up the following night we’d have to stay a few days due to a cold front pushing through the region.

Cody, WY just to our south seemed like a great place to stay for a few nights since it’s one of the gateways to Yellowstone.  We stayed at a cute lodge near the park’s entrance, but still close to town.  Millstone Brewery became our choice restaurant for dinner, although they were understaffed and usually crowded.

A full day in Yellowstone awaited us at dawn, cramming in as much as possible along the loop.  Lake Butte overlook, Hayden Valley where we were stopped by bison again.  People were even taking selfies with them, and I realized why yearly somebody gets mauled in the park.  Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Cauldron were active and we did a short hike in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  We cut across to the Midway Geyser Basin and viewed several hot springs with my favorite Grand Prismatic Spring.  By then the cold front came through and the steam from the spring warmed me.  By the time we arrived at Old Faithful it was snowing.  The snow continued as we worked our way back to Cody, and the park closed to traffic just after our exit.  Temperature in the high seventies in the morning turned into a cold windy twenties in the eve.

We stayed another two nights waiting for the front to move.  Our flight plans were to get back to Helen, GA in a southeasterly direction, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  We flew to Rapid City for a night, then Souix Falls for a few nights.  A cute town with amazing restaurants, but by now were wanting to get home.  Hubby called weather brief daily, I checked online weather resources. The front didn’t want to move south, just east as we followed behind.  Tired of hotels, we stopped by Cincinnati again to stay with my family a night then finally back to Helen.  It was an amazing adventure, and I’d like to do it again after some training for mountain flying.

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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.

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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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.

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Captain Nemo’s “Message In A Bottle.”

I love this story by fellow blogger Joseph E. Rathjen, so I’m reblogging it, especially since I’m currently writting a novel taking place in the Bermuda Triangle. Enjoy.

The Political and Social Chaos Blog

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For The Daily Prompt:SOS

I will never forget the day that I found, on a beach by my home, a bottle containing a handwritten note signed by Captain Nemo of the legendary submarine the Nautilus. At first, I thought it was a joke. After all, there was never a real Captain Nemo who built a submarine named the Nautilus and navigated the oceans 20,00 leagues under the sea.

At least, I never thought there was one – until I found that bottle and note that was rolled up inside and sealed with a gold, wax seal emblazoned with a big black “N ” in its center.

“What an odd object to find,” I thought to myself.

“It’s genuine!” said Max, the eccentric, and scruffy, antiques dealer who operated a shop by my oceanside home, and who I had brought it to for examination. “And from the…

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White Nights along the Baltic Sea- Part One.

Copenhagen, Denmark was our departure point for a ten-day journey on the Baltic Sea aboard the Holland America, Eurodam.  We arrived in Copenhagen after a long  flight from Miami to Düsseldorf, Germany, and since we had an eleven hour layover we decided to explore the city along the Rhine river.  The quiet town in the morning turned bustling mid-day just about the time jet leg and lack of sleep overcame us.  The solution… a few beers and a cruise along the Rhine with the hopes of snuggling on a bench or even better a couch without interruption.  While most visitors sat on the deck above listening to the history surrounding us, we quietly slept below.  An hour later we were rudely awaked by engine noise and a solid bang against the dock.  Dazed and bewildered we wandered around town exploring shops along Rheinuferpromenade and Altstadt then returned to the airport for our quick one hour flight.

Eagerly greeting Copenhagen the following day we had no agenda and a basic knowledge of popular sites.  Map in hand we walked around the city.  Our hotel was directly across from Tivoli gardens so we paid the pricy entrance fee, strolled around the beautiful grounds and had lunch.  Pretty, yes. Worth the $40 per person fee without the overpriced lunch, no.  We soldiered on, stumbling upon open markets, the changing of the guards at the royal palace, historic churches, sand castles, town hall, the little mermaid, and my favorite Nyhaven street.  We hit up the famous Andersen’s bakery where I procured a delicious Danish and my husband splurged on a devilish fudge filled chocolate.  Simply divine.  The streets were bustling with pedestrians, tourists and bikers. Bike cycles as a form of transportation in Copenhagen is more popular than cars and both exist in harmony.  We scheduled a bike tour for the following morning and had an easy dinner and evening adapting to the late sunsets of 11 p.m.

In the morning I ran with the locals on a popular trail along the lakes, just minutes from our hotel.  As always I ran with a smile and received the same in return.  We met our guide, Mike, at  his bike shop joining a handful of  tourists for our three-hour tour.  We covered some of the spots we’d seen the previous day and quite a few more, all with an excellent and sometimes humorous commentary.  After a late lunch we bought a few bottles of wine and vodka, collected our bags from our hotel and hailed a taxi to board our ship around 4 p.m.  I was a bit nervous about our late arrival since the ship would set sail within an hour.

A few staff members surrounded the gangway taking our luggage and passports in exchange for our boarding cards.  Only a handful of cards remained in the young gentleman’s palm.  “Are we the last one’s to check in?” my husband asked.

“Probably, the last ones to make it at this port,” he responded.  “Check-in ends in 10 minutes.”

“Holy shit,” I mumbled.  “Leave it to us,” I nudged my husband.  He grinned with satisfaction not having to endure long check-in lines.

Our first day was one of the few full days at sea so we explored the ship and settled into our Verandah suite.  The vessel was a good size without being a floating mall.  Perfect for my taste.  Someone on board had a medical emergency, so we had a quick diversion and drop off in Sweden.  At one point the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than a few feet below the balcony.  A bit eerie as the fog horn blasted every few minutes.

“Have you seen fog like this often?” I asked the bartender.

“Never,” he replied.

 The following morning we arrived at our first port Tallinn, Estonia.  A city I was excited to explore, it being the only port during this trip that I hadn’t visited in my youth.  I had pre-scheduled a walking tour of the old mid-evil fortified city later dominated by the Soviet Union in the 20th Century.

Our guide was a young bright-eyed vivacious Estonian with a gift for story telling and communicating history.  Only eight years old when the soviets left she remembered playing with the food stamps needed to purchase necessities.  Her grandparent’s, like many families in Estonia, were relocated to Siberia.  Under Soviet rule it was an attempt to silence the educated and one out of every five families in Estonia have been affected by the exile.

Walking along cobble streets and alleys we got a good feel for the quaint historic yet lively atmosphere of Tallinn.  After the tour we had a late lunch then made our way back to the ship for our 5 p.m. departure.  In the evening we hung out at the casino and neighboring bar, retiring to bed past midnight when the sun was still looming on the horizon.

St. Petersburg welcomed us in the morning.  We passed through immigration finding our tour bus among a sea of others and hopped on board to listen to Olga tell us about Peterhoff Palace, our first stop.  The crowds were already immense at 9 a.m., but we were pre-warned.  Equipped with an audio-guide that would allow us to hear Olga throughout the tour we set off in our group of 25.  The palace was built for the first Czar’s daughter, Elizabeth, and improved upon and taken over by Catherine II. It was every bit spectacular and grand including the canals and fountains that alone attracts thousands.  Afterwards we walked through the royal park booming with locals picnicking for the weekend.  A hydrofoil transported us back to the city and our bus driver for a tour of the St. Petersburg.

The city had changed from my first visit in 1991 with dilapidated  buildings and empty streets.  Now it’s a lively, vibrant metropolis and the tenth most expensive city to live in the world.  The “Temple of Spilt Blood” was especially rewarding as we explored the inside with all its art, history and grandeur. We were able to hear Olga in our audio-guide while accidentally getting separated from the group, so we decided to do a bit of self exploration by sneaking away to the black market for a quick ten minute shopping spree prior to re-boarding the bus.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat on the ship then joined our next tour, “An Evening at the Hermitage.”  A great way to visit this world-class museum nearly unoccupied at night and offered exclusively for our ship. We examined famous works by Picasso, Cezanne, Monet, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo to name a few of my favorites.

The following day we did an easy river cruise followed by a visit to Yusupov Palace made famous by the murder of Rasputin.  Seeing this beautiful city by boat was exquisite and relaxing.  In an area plagued with cold weather we were blessed with a 90 degree day.  My husband and I again slipped away with our rubles to buy a local bottle of Vodka prior to setting sail.

East coast flying

Weather can often be a problem flying  in Florida, especially during the summer.  So my husband and I patiently waited for afternoon thunderstorms to dissipate prior to departing for our 10 day trip across the eastern US coast in our Cessna 182.  A trip that would take us to the Carolina’s, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, and everywhere in-between and above these states.  As dangerous weather cleared and our deadline hour approached we decided it was a go for our first stop at Oak Island, a random destination.

As expected we were in the clouds in instrument conditions for about a half hour then a clear blue sky exposed its calm beauty and smooth air as a welcomed relief.  With hubby navigating with his new iPad and aviation applications and me flying, we decided to land in Hilton Head, North Carolina for the evening instead of  pressing on to Oak Island.  The sun was quickly setting and we didn’t want to risk landing at an unknown airport at night without prior arrangements.

Well rested, I eagerly set out for my morning run along a level hard sand beach that didn’t tilt or slide into the ocean.  My ankles and body thanked me.  I passed horseshoe crabs that screamed prehistoric ancestry as they drifted onshore lifeless and archaic looking.  What do these things look like when they’re  energetically exploring the ocean I wondered.  Are they ever really full of life or do they just look like colossal  roaches that scour the sea.  When I returned to my hotel ninety minutes later the beach swarmed with pale-colored mid-western teens and families celebrating  Memorial Day weekend, the beginning of summer in the U.S.

After a quick shower and chiding from my husband for my blissful long run we waved down a passing taxi to escape the mass migration into Hilton Head.  Heading in the opposite direction to Washington D.C. we stopped a small airport on the border of North Carolina and Virgina known as South Boston County or William Tuck where reasonable fuel prices endured. 

Upon landing I immediately sought out a  bathroom where I encountered the only structure at the airstrip, a worn down trailer flanking a self-service fuel tank. Hurrying into the dilapidated structure,  four older men stared at me. 

I pointed to the bathroom, “is this the ladies room?”

With widened eyes they answered in unison, “yes ma’am.”

Without touching anything  I swiftly relieved myself and returned to the entrance. 

“You fly in alone?” one of them asked.

“Nope. Me, my husband and dog.  We’re just stopping for fuel.”

After some small talk a lovely elderly pilot handed me a bowl of water for my pup.  I took pictures of the quaint landing strip and off we went to the D.C. area.  Weather was excellent and the controllers were amicable for once.  Upon landing I realized I’d left my cell phone at our last stop, Tuck airport.  I frequently called my phone and the listed number for the rural airport all weekend to no avail.  I knew it was sitting on the wooden porch attached to the trailer. In fact I had a picture of it on our iPad that my husband took of me and my pup in the country, it sat in the corner of the deck.  If only someone would answer my phone, I was lost without it.

A familiar Maryland countryside greeted us with winding roads, endless acres of farmland spotted with mansions, horses in the distance and an occasional deer crossed our path.  The lowering sun danced through Maple and Oak trees and I heard riffle shots in the distance that made me cringe.  In no time we were relaxing at the farm with family and canines, sipping wine and catching up.

Since it was Memorial Day weekend we decided to visit Gettysburg the following day.  At the ticket counter an Abe Lincoln look-alike described various tours. Choosing the self-guided auto tour we popped in a CD and followed marked signs and numbers.   

At the first stop a lady knocked on my window, “Are you doing the auto tour?”  she asked bending down to my level as I rolled down the window.

“Yes,” I answered while turning down the CD.

“Can we follow you, we’re sort of lost?”

“OK, but I’m not sure if we know what we’re doing,”  I answered, not wanting to be responsible for someone else’s historical experience.

“It’s got to better than our attempt,” she quickly muttered.

I smiled, increased the CD volume and listened to stop number one’s narration that lasted about ten minutes.  Within this time the family wanting to follow us left. I was slightly insulted and didn’t understand my unwelcome feeling.  Arriving at the second stop we realized that we unknowingly listened to the first stop at the entrance. The stranger must have concluded that we were more screwed up than her family’s auto tour venture.

The rest of the two-hour history lesson went as planned with an occasional error playing  the CD at the wrong stop.  We viewed ridges, valleys, thousands of statues and learned an important part of American history.  A well spent Memorial Day, although half the population in the vicinity evidently shared our unique idea.

Our trip included two high school graduations where my husband and I were the best dressed.  Apparently, jeans and shorts are the norm at graduations nowadays.  I still like dressing up for important events so in my mind everyone else was wrong in their too casual approach to such an unparelled achievement.  My phone was also found by another pilot and sent back to me during our stop in Ohio.

Our flight back to Florida included a harrowing yet rewarding flight over the Appalachian Mountains as we were squished between a low cloud layer and  mountain tops. I felt like a marshmallow in a S’more crammed between two graham crackers. We couldn’t climb above the clouds due to known icing conditions and a decent below our average altitude of 6,000 would’ve left us dangerously kissing terrain.  A bit of moderate turbulence enlivened our ride and over three hours later we arrived at a quaint island named, Oak.

New York Half Marathon

This past Sunday morning about 10,000 estrogen infused bodies raced through Central Park for a 13.1 mile run known as the More Fitness Women’s Half Marathon.  I walked  from my hotel to the starting line with a  triple skinny latte in hand.  After stretching and finishing  my Starbucks “wake up call,” I found my 10 minute per mile pace group and then confidently decided to advance to the 9 minute mile crowd in an attempt to improve my race time. Pace is overrated. I convinced myself that I became faster since the application process.

As typical during marathons the National Anthem signaled commencement, but I was slightly disappointed not seeing the American Flag flying high on a crane, building or a fire truck would have been perfect.  It gives us as Americans something to salute, focus on and motivate as in other prominant marathons.  I got over it realizing that each race is unique. Moving with the crowd I started my marathon playlist on my Ipod nano as I trotted over the official starting line triggering the race chip tied to my right shoe.

As I jogged I noticed most runners had the chip attached to their right shoe with the occasional lefty thrown into the mix. Odd, I thought.  Are more runners left-hemisphere dominant?    This would be an interesting study I concluded after observing the shoes of my fellow athletes.

Sunbeams danced through giant American Elm trees shadowing statues of famous poets in an area known as “Literary Walk.”  Soon after, I passed an Egyptian obelisk and pondered the many obelisks I’ve ran past in my youth.  Egypt, Rome, London, and the Washington Monument, although my husband cringes at the mention of me calling it an oblisk, it is in fact derived from an ancient Egyptian tradition.  I also passed a random panther statue perched on a rock outcrop overlooking our running path. I have no clue to its history but it inspired me as did many other scenes along the way.

Endless fields of grass with hues of key lime and Kentucky Bluegrass reflected the morning sunlight as shadows peppered the landscape.  Colorful flowers and trees covered Central Park like a Monet masterpiece.  Bubble gum tinted trees in full bloom.  Candy apple, tangerine, berry and lemon colored Tulips emerged as hearty patches.  Stocky cotton like trees screamed spring.

The flora in full glory during spring is translucent enough to see endless massive structures hugging the park.  Skyscrapers, apartments and hotels tower above nature dominating the city in only a fashion New York could pull off.  It’s the perfect marriage of the natural and built environment.  Each one superior in its own right but together a masterpiece, a work of art unlike any other.

A  never-ending wave of neon, pastel and crayon colored females snaked through a downhill asphalt path only to rise again to a challenging spot known as Harlem’s Hill.  Twice I had to endure this incline and at mile 11 it was quite the challenge on my legs.  Almost unnoticeable the first time  due to the curves in the landscape and adrenaline, the second round I felt the burn in my shins, thighs and hamstrings. I overcame the pain and pushed on for another 2 miles.

I didn’t achieve my “personal best” during this race nor did I find my husband at the finish line due to the overwhelming amount of runners and supporters.  However, this race was a divine experience leaving me with a new appreciation for Manhattan and the treasure she holds.  The “City That Never Sleeps” is cleaner, more beautiful and more rewarding than I had imagined and experienced in the past.  I will be back and I hope others will appreciate the beauty she holds….and yes, the city is a she to me.

St. Patrick’s snakes

St. Patrick’s day brings back fond memories of my first visit to Ireland as a graduate student.  A handful of students were chosen to work at Navan Fort, an ancient archaeological site located in County Armagh, Northern Ireland.  Four students and one professor would travel across the globe with a magnetometer, archaeological tools and a hunger for adventure. 

During our flight we had small talk and a distinct question from our professor.  “What are the most dangerous snakes in Ireland?” We all thought about the question and took guesses.  Rattle Snake, Coral, Cotton Mouth, King snake.  Our professor grinned like the Cheshire Cat, “There are no snakes in Ireland.  Have you ever heard of St. Patrick.” 

Upon arrival we picked up our bags and Mercedes-Benz rental and drove to a quaint B&B which became our adopted home and family for the next few weeks complete with about five house kittens.  No jeeps or excavation tents for us, we were traveling in style. 

Mornings began with coffee or tea, Weetabix cereal or toast, and juice.  It was Buffet style but a warm motherly face always greeted us with a sparkling smile.  “Off to work, eh.”  She knew our professor’s research at Navan Fort, and by the way we were dressed it was obvious we were not tourists.  Jeans or sweatpants, fleece shirts with rain coats covering us and plastic rain boots.  We had to be prepared for fog, mist, downpours and mud given our working conditions and even in June Ireland could be cold.

Days were spent pinpointing excavation units based on our Magnetometer readings.  Once digging began we found the charred remains of wooden post holes used in prehistoric buildings dating to about 100 BC.  Enough reason to celebrate for this group of U.S. and Ireland based archaeologists.  In Ireland this meant pubs, random live music and plenty of Guinness beer.  Some of my best memories of Ireland involved just hanging out in a smokey pub as locals randomly broke out in song, reciting beautiful Irish ballads to the wee hours of the morning.

On weekends we took side trips to Belfast, the North Coast, the Giant’s Causeway, Dublin, Aran Islands, the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, Donegal and my favorite Leslie Castle.  All the above mentioned were far more beautiful than Leslie Castle, but the castle was quite the cultural experience. We were invited have a private dinner and meet the eccentric owner of the castle.  Just the five of us had an elite meal complete with a servant for each,  making sure our wine glasses were full at all times.  As soon as I took a sip from my glass it was refilled.  The same was true for my co-workers and their own servant lingering over them.  We couldn’t help but giggle.  I don’t remember what we ate but I’m sure it was good.  Afterwards, we glided into the family room where Leslie himself was smoking a cigar.  He showed us around his castle finally settling into a living room full of  historic artifacts, such as Winston Churchill’s Baptismal gown.  He had a story for each one of them and he was a great storyteller.  The wine continued to flow as we listened to Leslie play the piano.  It was a divine evening.

The following day on our way to Navan Fort our youngest grad student muttered, “pull over, now please.”

He ran to the bushes and vomited for a good five minutes then climbed back into the Mercedes next to me.

“Looking for butterflies,” I said.

He grunted and remained silent for the rest of the ride to our excavation site. 

Since it was the summer solstice we were treated to a special ritual performed by the Armagh Rymers.  With their straw masks and costumes they carried on the ancient tradition of masked “mumming” mentioned in the Celtic “Táin Bó Cuailgne”.  It was quite the scene with a white horse,and the Rymers performing folk music at such an ancient site.  Truly a magical performance made comical when the lead Rymer pulled out his cell phone at the end of the ritual.  Tradition meets technology.

So why are their no snakes in Ireland?  Legend has it that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from the island and chased them into the sea after a forty-day fast.  But as archaeology and paleontology suggest at no time have snakes ever existed in Ireland.  The island is surrounded by freezing water and therefore too cold for snake migrations from Britain.  

The snake represents evil in mythology so when Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland more than likely it symbolically said he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland bringing in a new age, the age of Christianity.