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.

A rare journey to Walmart

Español: Un Wal-Mart remodelado en la Ciudad d...

Image via Wikipedia

Unlike most Americans, I despise a visit to Wal-Mart.  I’ve shopped at the store less than five times in my lifetime and that was only when necessary.  Such as, it’s the only store in town or after much research for a unique product I discovered it’s only available at Wal-Mart.  Take marzipan for example, only at Wal-Mart in my neck of the woods or the  dinosaur card deck I needed for the education department at the Natural History museum.  I remember each time I had to shop at the megastore.  In certain parts of the Carolinas it’s the only store within hours.  Recently, with the urging of my mom, I embarked upon a journey into Wal-Mart along the Treasure Coast of Florida.  She needed shorts and a few other things and I needed socks since my dog stole and hid all of mine.  My little Snorkie has a sock fetish. It was a bonding opportunity between mother and daughter I convinced myself, otherwise I would have stayed in the car. 

We grabbed a cart and meandered through the isles.  I followed as she leisurely lead the way.  After quickly grabbing some socks she rummaged around the clothing section.  I continued  perusing bags of athletic socks looking for some made in the USA.  Fruit-of-the-Loom black socks, made in the USA.  Fruit-of-the-Loom white socks, made in China and Mexico.  I kept looking and found two bags of basic white socks made in the USA.  I snagged both and gloated back to my mother with our cart.  I picked up her sack of socks and replaced them with the ones I discovered.

“I found some made in the US, would you like to buy those instead,” I asked, not giving her a choice.

“Sure,” she smiled.

After finding some acceptable mother shorts for her Florida visit I  deliberately herded her towards the check-out counter.  Otherwise, we would have been there all day.  For the most part I shop with an agenda, quickly in-and-out with intended items in hand.  On the other hand, my mom is a browser.  She likes to roam every aisle looking for deals and cute things she’ll never use.  Wal-Mart is designed for this type of shopper.  “But it’s so cheap.  I need it for something.”  Like what flashes through my mind.  Do you really need lighted slippers or a Shake Weight?  The “As seen on TV,” commercial is funny, but really.

I made it through Wal-Mart with a fairly decent experience, unlike past stressful visits to the superstore. Back at our rental home my mom informed me that she needed to return a pair of shorts that didn’t fit.  Wal-Mart twice in one year was not going to happen in my world.

The next day I drove her back, parked and waited in the car. Not such a good decision on my part since I relinquished my herding capacity.  “Oh, you’re not coming in?  I feel guilty making you wait in the car.  I’ll be quick.  Call me on my cell if you need anything.”

I nodded my head and failed to tell her that I forgot my phone.  Since I was phoneless, I killed time people-watching. Who knew the parking lot of Wal-Mart could be so entertaining?  Two scruffy men in a beat-up white Toyota truck advertising Tree Cutting Services parked in front of me. Lunch at Wal-Mart, classy.  The passenger took a swing from a gallon size orange jug leading me to believe something stronger than water occupied his personal container.  I wouldn’t want this crew cutting my trees. They were in and out of the store in no time as my attention shifted to a nice cream color vintage MG convertible.  The older gentleman strolled in and returned to his car with a solitary bag. On my left side three cars came and went all with just a single bag. One disheveled middle-aged cracked-up couple driving a Jag came out with just a case of water. Who goes into a megastore for a single item or two, especially when every store imaginable is within a few miles?  Are these people Wal-Martaholics?  Is this a daily ritual for them? 

Forty-five agitated minutes later and a few false sightings of my mother she returned with a few bags in hand.  I grunted and smiled and vowed to never become a Wal-Martaholic.

Pumpkin Season

For me the first sign of fall is not a change in the weather, especially here in Florida, but the sudden ubiquitous appearance of pumpkin flavored and scented goods.  I had a pumpkin smash from Jamba Juice today and it was like drinking a pumpkin pie.  It was delicious, but far from the healthy drink I intended to buy for lunch.  Sure the orange squash itself  is full of vitamins, but the amount of sugar in their yogurt flavored smoothy outweighs any health benefit.   Oh, but the pure pleasure of drinking sweet pumpkin for lunch was blissful.

So why does the pumpkin represent the onset of fall?  And is pumpkin an all American vegetable?  It did originate in the “New World” and according to Archeologists variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along rivers and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans. This took place long before the emergence of maize.  Native Americans used the sweet flesh in numerous ways: roasted, baked, parched, boiled and dried. They ate pumpkin seeds and these seeds were also used for medicine. The blossoms were added to stews. Dried pumpkin could be stored and ground into flour.

But the use of the pumpkin didn’t stop there.  The hard shells were cleaned and dried then used for bowls and storage containers.

Native Americans introduced this important food source to the Pilgrims since pumpkins stored well and lasted through the winter months.  The Pilgrims cut the top off  scooped the seeds out, and filled the cavity with honey, cream, eggs and spices. They then placed the top back on and buried it in the cooking fire. When it was blackened they lifted it from earth then scooped the contents out along with the cooked flesh of the shell.  It was like a custard and not too far off from my pumpkin smash from Jamba Juice, minus the extra sugar.

The pumpkin season seemed to arrive earlier this year along with new innovations in incorporating pumpkin into awkward places.  Take pumpkin peanuts for example.  Should a peanut taste like pumpkin or a peanut. What about pumpkin beer or coffee.  And the traditional pumpkin pancakes, bread, muffins,scones, ice cream, cookies and cheesecake.  Pumpkin shower gel and candles are abound at Bath & Body Works. I could get “pumpkined out ” before Thanksgiving even arrives.

Pumpkin pie is and always will be my favorite pie.  I’ll have another seasonal Jamba pumpkin smash, but I’ll skip all the other innovations and patiently wait for the pie on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

blame the running girl

I’ve had many comments, beeps and stares while jogging through my neighborhood and around the world.  I listen to my audiobooks and don’t really pay attention except for my relation to the traffic and drivers.  Safety first.  I rarely let the outside world ruffle my feathers.  Except for twice, and today was one of those days. 

I run in the street, on the side against traffic so I can jump out-of-the-way if a driver isn’t paying attention while texting or talking on the phone.  Why do I run in the road and not the sidewalk?  As any runner knows, cement is the worst surface to run on since it doesn’t give way it ultimately has a negative effect on the knees and other parts of the body.  Asphalt is a little better and dirt and sand is the best for preserving  cartilage and joints. 

Running  in the road tends to make people angry and cause road rage. Oh no, what should I do!  How about nothing.  I take up a few feet of property and if the oncoming driver just stays cool, then all is kosher.  Sometimes I’ll jump on the grass lining the road if I happen to glance into the face of the disturbed driver, but other times I just stay on the white line, or just to the left of it.  Some people purposely give me lots of room.  It’s a nice gesture and I’ll give a  cursory wave, but it’s not necessary. On the other end of the spectrum is someone yelling at me or flipping me off.  A driver did both today.  The anger, the flipping the bird.  I laughed and decided to raise my finger in return as I kept running.  She was a rather large woman and I wondered if she was outraged because I was in the street exercising as she shoved a jelly donut into her mouth.  I half expected her to back-up and try to run me over because that’s what happened a few months ago when a similar scenario occurred during my morning jog.

In that incident I was running through a neighborhood that had wide roads and no sidewalk.  The furious redneck in the truck started yelling at me to “get out of the road.” 

In return I raised my finger as he glanced in his rearview mirror.  This really pissed him off as he threw his truck in reverse and tried to run me over. I jumped into a stranger’s yard and started yelling back at him.  “Why do you have a problem with me running in the road.  What. We can’t share the road, or do you have a bigger problem?”  I half expected him to pull out a shotgun so I stepped back.

A young woman with her baby in a stroller witnessed the exchange from a half block away.  I glanced at her in amazement as she looked at me with concern for my life and her’s.  Thank God for a witness, I thought as I continued to shout back at the plump man while gaining courage to approach his truck.  “You’re obviously not a runner,” shot out of my mouth. He screamed something back and peeled out of the neighborhood.  I glimpsed at the witness again. She shrugged as I continued on.

As Americans have we grown so intolerant of one another that we can’t share the road and give way?  In many countries a gym or treadmill isn’t an option and exercise is performed outside.  Some of the best runners from Kenya run barefoot in the roads and mountains of their homeland.  I bet they don’t get yelled at or run over.  I’ll continue to share the road if you will.

christmas is near

Ahh. It’s that time of year again for holiday cheer and fun.  Parties, presents, the smell of pine in the home, eggnog, shopping and expressing our love for those whom touch our lives throughout the year. 

In my youth the Christmas buzz began for me on St. Nicolas day, December 6th.  My siblings and I would eagerly awake to a stocking filled with candy.  A tradition  I let go wayside, but my brother still continues.  Every December 6th, his wife fills his stocking with goodies.  Nowadays, more gift cards than candy but his boyish excitement still lingers.  Jealous I am.  So what is St. Nick’s day, and who is St. Nick?

It’s largely a Catholic holiday and gives tribute to Nicholas of Myra (now in Turkey), a Greek saint that was the patron saint of Russia.  But I’m not Greek or Russian, so why did my family celebrate this holiday?  According to Wikipedia,  the tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to the surviving legends of the saint. More specifically his reputation as a bringer of gifts.  He is also the patron saint of seafarers. The American Santa Claus, as well as the Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas, derive from these legends.  Dutch Immigrants are largely responsible for bringing the tale and image of St. Nickolas, Sinter Klaas in Dutch, to New York.  In 1823, one notable Dutch-American, Clement Clarke Moore, furthered the image of St. Nick  in his poem “The Night Before Christmas.”  Sinter Klaas now had an elf like appearance, named reindeer, jolly laughs, and delivered gifts through the chimney.

So is St. Nick the pre-Santa Claus, the Father Christmas, good old Kris Kringle ?  And how did the image of the jolly old Santa come to be?  While Saint Nicholas is portrayed as thin man wearing bishop’s robes, today Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, white- bearded man wearing a red coat with a white-collar and cuffs, red trousers, a black  belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the influence of caricaturist  Thomas Nast.  During the Civil War, Nast, a political cartoonist, drew Santa Claus for Harper’s WeeklySanta was shown as a small elf-like figure who supported the Union. Nast continued to draw Santa for 30 years and along the way changed the color of his coat from tan to red with white trim, from his interpretation of St. Nick.  Coca-Cola picked up on these drawings and adopted the jolly old Santa for its advertising in the 1930’s.  “Thirst Knows No Season,”  Coke claimed and the image of Santa was set.  Humm.  The modern Santa is an advertising ploy?

Another marketing addition to our Christmas iconography was the invention of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer by Robert May of the Montgomery Ward CompanyHe created a poem about Rudolph and handed it out to all the company’s customers.  Prior to 1939 there were only eight reindeer.

Of course Santa can’t live at the North Pole alone, he needed a compassionate partner.  Mrs. Claus doesn’t have roots in European folklore, she was originally the creation of American authors.    A  poem called “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” written by Katharine Lee Bates popularized the image of Mrs. Claus.

December 6th flew by this year as in last, but next year I’ll make a point to put a little something in my family’s Christmas stockings to signal the beginning of the season.

Have a happy healthy Christmas, and always a safe one.  I’ll blog again after the holidays.

giving thanks

One day out of the year we dedicate to giving thanks for our family, friends, food on the table and numerous other things that grace our life.  I recently took up yoga again after a five-year hiatus.  In my practice, Hot Yoga, we give thanks at the end of each class to each other and ourselves.  As individuals we don’t always acknowledge our own achievements and thank ourselves enough.  I’ve benefitted physically from yoga, but more importantly spiritually and mentally.

At the start of class I set an intention.  My intention is usually a mental or emotional one, but it can be anything.  It is what my thoughts will come back to when doing a pose.  The mind tends to wander, the intention is to help me focus.  Child’s pose and a few basic stretches warm the body as the room heats up to an uncomfortable 100 degrees.  We do poses to detoxify the body and increase circulation.  My legs and arms shake as sweat pores off my body.  Warrior pose, tree pose and lots of down dogs, up dogs and chaturangas.  Sweat is a constant dribble from my forehead to my yoga towel.  Focus.  Intention.  I’m reminded by my teacher to breath.  Nice concept.

Finally the floor poses arrive as I lay down and stretch out my soaked sore body.  The stretches go deep, my muscles thank me.  We try a few inversions and after 90 minutes end with shavashana, the resting pose.

Every instructor is different, every class unique.  One of my yogi master’s likes to end the class in silence. 

“No thoughts,” he whispers.  “Silence is natural.  Listen to the silence in nature.” 

His teachings get my thoughts going.  No thoughts, I reminded myself.  It’s hard for me to not have any thoughts.  Try it.

I decided to concentrate on the space between my eyes, the third eye.  I had thoughtlessness for a brief moment.

We thank each other for the wonderful energy in the room and mutter Namaste as we bow our heads.

Running in Venice Beach

I almost always rise early in California.  I woke at 7 am, something I rarely do on the east coast. Well rested and restless at the same time.  Fog engulfed Venice Beach and the air was refreshingly cool.  It would be my first run here in over eight years, and I was loving it.  My legs started bouncing down the boardwalk to the tunes of  Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.

Muscle Beach was the first familiar sight with shirtless iron chested men lifting weights at the famous outside gym.  The shops were starting to open.  You can still get your name on a grain of rice and the tacky t-shirts are still ubiquitous.  “I put ketchup on my ketchup,” and “I’m considered very large in Japan.” With a drawing of a well endowed stick-man. We all know the man wearing that shirt has been short-changed.  Or how about two pictures of the men’s restroom sign, one says “you” with a small penis, the other “me” with one twice the size.  Do men actually buy these?

The artists were setting up booths as they hauled their art to tables or simply placed them on the ground.  The sidewalks are now marked with numbers for the assigned artist, something that didn’t exist years ago.  Homeless men and woman wandered about and socialized.  It was difficult to distinguish between the homeless and the artists, perhaps they were one in the same.  Did it matter?  Why do starving artists always have the best looking jackets?  Long black leather seemed to be the popular style this year. 

The smell of marijuana clouded the refreshing scent of the Pacific Ocean.   It is the Venice Beach I remember.

Venice Beach clearly ended and as I crossed over to Santa Monica I had a perpetual smile on my face.  It must have shown because everyone smiled back at me. Every step, every curve held a memory for me.  Every building seemed familiar.  I stepped back in time and I was going for my morning run.  One so recognizable, enjoyable, and so me.

I turned around and headed back.  The boardwalk was quickly filling in with locals and tourists.  Almost everyone had a dog, even the homeless. Large dogs, small dogs, pampered and weathered, side by side.  A reflection of the boardwalk in many ways. I didn’t recall that many dogs when I lived here, but then again I wasn’t a dog person until recently.  I pictured my little diva on Venice.  Memories of her horrible New York experience entered my mind, reminding me that she’s a country dog. 

 There are many famous boardwalks in this great country of ours.  Many hold the same souvenirs, unhealthy food and characters.  But nothing compares to Venice Beach.  It is all of that and so much more.  A great place to people watch, browse shops and have a few drinks with no agenda.  My husband and I were lucky enough to find a great apartment for a few nights that allowed us to do this.