Getting Older, Apparently it’s Unavoidable

Age is a sticky subject for me.  I don’t like to admit that I’m getting older but the reality of life is that getting older is better than the alternative.

I guess when you admit that you are getting older you also become more accepting of the reality of your own mortality.  And that is something I’m not ready for.

Maybe one of the positive things about age and maturity is that your perspective changes.  Now I don’t worry about what people think about me.  Gone are the days of insecurity.  You can like me if you want, but it’s not something that I crave any longer.  I am not afraid to give people my honest opinion.

Knowing that life is precious and fleeting, I really want to experience everything I can.  I do try to live my dreams.  Going to Australia and seeing the Great Barrier Reef last month was something I wanted to do since I was a kid.   I fell in love with the spectacular pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, and the idea of visiting a far away place.  My brother Neal, who keeps EVERYTHING  from our childhood (and archives it  )recently sent me the National Geographic School Bulletin from 1968.  This was the magazine that ignited my desire to to see Australia.   On the cover was Australia’s Barrier Reef.   As a nine year old,  I saw those pictures and knew I had to go there.   It was on my Bucket List.   It may have taken me almost fifty years, but I got there.  It no longer looks like it did in 1968, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

 

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Captivating article about Great Barrier Reef “one of the most awesome spots on earth.”

I was finding Nemo inside the magazine in ’68, thirty five years  before Pixar even dreamed of the movie.

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Clownfish from 1968 magazine

Right now I’m dealing with the realization that my body doesn’t always do what I want it to.   I fractured my foot a couple of weeks ago, climbing the stairs.  No, it didn’t happen when I bungee jumped off a building, or when I was snorkeling , or hiking or riding a speed boat.  It happened when I was just climbing the stairs!

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My new “boot”

I’m in a walking boot now  and it is very uncomfortable to walk in.  When I went to the store yesterday I sat in a cart scooter, acknowledging my disability .  I drove around Costco and knocked over a couple of displays, but no people.  Those things are really slow, and loud when you back up.  It took me twice as long to shop as it usually does.  I felt vulnerable and old.  Two things I wish to avoid.

I may accept the realization that my body isn’t as strong as it once was, but I am not giving up.  I realize this is my new reality. It’s probably time to give away my roller blades.  But I refuse to let it slow me down.                                                                                Age is only a number.

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My rollerblades, not for sale……. yet

 

 

 

 

Exploring Down Under

When our cruise ship arrived in Sydney at sunrise I was awed by the absolute beauty of the city.  The Sydney Opera House, Harbor Bridge and gorgeous downtown were all so spectacular.

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Harbor Bridge, Sydney
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Downtown Sydney at sunrise

We had only one day to spend in Sydney before we headed to Auckland, New Zealand so we wanted to make the best of it.  We checked  into our hotel and because it was a Sunday we headed over to the Market at The Rocks.  The Rocks are located on the site of Sydney’s historic city center.  We shopped some of the stalls of hand made and recently imported items then ate a terrific lunch along the way at playfair cafe.  They offered sandwiches and salads but we also decided to order the berry crumble, which was the better than you could ever imagine.  The owner, Sean told us it was worth the wait and was going to change our lives.  It was and it did.  We ate it so quickly I forgot to take a photo of it in all of it’s deliciousness.

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Home of the life changing “crumble”

We walked along the ferry terminal to the  Opera House.  It is spectacular up close as well .  I had no idea that the surface was covered with tiles.

 

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A bit of a different view of the Sydney Opera House

We have some friends from Phoenix who now live in Sydney so after our shopping we met them for dinner at Ripples.  It is located outside a community pool and has a beautiful view of both the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.  The food and wine were so delicious and it was so very nice to spend time with our expat friends.  After dinner they suggested we walk the bridge.  It was a short walk and the evening views did not disappoint.  It was also free, not the  $250 charged by the company that escorts walkers slowly across the highest point of bridge.

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Seafood salad from Ripples

 

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My friend Brooks and I outside Ripples Restaurant in Sydney

 

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Beautiful bridge architecture
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View of the Sydney Opera House from the bridge

The next morning we were at the airport headed to Auckland, New Zealand for a few days.  We arrived in Auckland and recognized the SkyTower before we even hit downtown.  We checked into our Airbnb in the center of town and were ready to explore the city.  Since we only had four days in New Zealand, we decided to explore Auckland and the surrounding area by foot and by ferry.

We went to the ferry terminal and took Fuller’s  Harbor tour, which provided us with a nice narrated cruise with view of Auckland’s downtown from the water, Bean Rock Lighthouse, the Auckland Harbor bridge and stops in Rangitoto, an island created by volcanic rock, and Davenport.

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Downtown Auckland from the harbor
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Bean Rock Lighthouse
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A seagull perched on top of a roof in Rangitoto

I may get scared easily, but ultimately I am an adrenaline junkie.  I like to be scared.  As soon as I saw people bungee jumping off of the Sky Tower, I knew I had to do it.  A thrill, with very little risk in my estimation.  After you sign your life away, participants are weighed, placed in jumpsuits and harnesses and sent up to the top of the tower to free fall for about twelve seconds.  It was terrifying and exhilarating. I screamed the entire way down and loved it.

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Freefalling from the 630 foot Auckland Sky Tower

We celebrated after the jump by enjoying a New Zealand delicacy, Green Lipped mussels.  They were gigantic and fabulous.

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Green lipped mussels, order the small portion

For our final day in Auckland we booked a day long wine tasting tour with Waiheke Island Wine Tours. We were met by our driver Wayne, a life long resident of this picturesque island, who explained the history of winemaking on the island as well as information about native Maori culture.  We visited three wineries and finished with a gourmet lunch at The Shed at Dunleavy Vineyards.

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A view of the small marina from Waiheke Island
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One of the many vineyard in Waiheke Island
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Wine tasting at Miro Winery
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Luggage for the trip home

The next morning we woke up early for a very long travel day back to America.  We were able to keep our baggage down to two suitcases and two backpacks. For our return We did check our luggage since they were now heavy and expanded to maximum capacity, also we needed to put our wine somewhere..

We have completed our journey of thirty one days visiting the other side of the world.  We tried new foods, met new friends and experienced things that we will never forget.  There is no one else in this world that I enjoy traveling with more than my husband.  As we waited for our Uber to arrive a bus passed us by and on that bus was the message of our travel.

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A Great Cruise: What Azamara Cruiseline Does Right

We enjoy cruising.  Really, what’s not to like?  You are provided with food, lodging, maid service, entertainment and alcohol and get to visit beautiful spots in the world.

When my children were very young we embarked on several low cost cruises that allowed the five of us stay in the same 120 square foot room.  What the heck were we thinking?  What parent doesn’t want to get into a closet size room with their spouse and three active children?  My kids loved cruising because there was 24 hour pizza, ice cream and a family vacation all rolled into one.  But once we went to bed,  NO ONE could get up, unless everybody got up.  Since there were bunks on top of bunks, I’m pretty sure at least one of my three kids needed to step on another to get in or out of bed.

Things have changed.  We’re retired now and our adult children don’t usually cruise with us.  When we choose a cruise we look for great itineraries .  We found a fabulous itinerary on the Azamara Journey eighteen nights from Singapore to Sydney with stops in Bali, Komodo Northern Australia and The Great Barrier Reef.  We had never heard of Azamara before but after some researching, we decided to try this cruiseline owned by Celebrity.  Customer ratings were positive so we booked our cruise.

Things Azamara does differently

1. The food was exceptional.  Because the kitchen staff is only preparing meals for 600 or so passengers the quality and preparation of the food was spot on.  At every meal you can eat at either the Windows Cafe or Discovery dining room.  There is not assigned, fixed seating so you have an opportunity to either enjoy your meal as a couple or ask to be placed at a group table.

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Lobster tail from specialty restaurant

2.  The entertainment was diverse.  Guests can enjoy dance lessons, card games, painting, trivia, destination lecturers as well as small and larger scale musical shows.  One interesting note about the entertainment was that the Cruise Director, Eric was also an amazing performer. He sang, danced, skated, told jokes and performed in drag on our eighteen day cruise. There is really nothing quite like watching a six foot six performer skate, sing and dance in drag.

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Cruise director Eric with my friend Pat

3.  On every cruise Azamara hosts a White Party where guests and employees alike all dress in white and enjoy a sumptuous lobster barbecue on the deck, complete with drinks, entertainment, line dancing and also a few people in the pool at the end of the night (myself included). The night was a brilliant seventy degrees with clear skies and a full moon.

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Enjoying White Party with new friends Jeff, Jennifer, Gail and Marilyn
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The ladies decided to take a dip in the pool at The White Party
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Dancing in the pool at the end of the White Party

4.  The people that work at Azamara are friendly.  Not the fake smile and nod friendly, they are really friendly.  From the room steward to the captain everyone greets you on the ship and they will engage you in a conversation.  You can’t fake that.

5.   Azamara also hosts an AZAMAZING EVENING at one of the ports where locals provide a night of culture and entertainment for the guest. On our night in Cairns we were treated to  face painting, dance and music as we learned more of the natives aboriginal culture.

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Face paint courtesy of the performers

6.  Azamara has only two ships, each hold approximately 600 passengers. They are often able to get into much smaller ports than the mega ships. The ships were refurbished recently and are decorated in warm gray hues. They change the itineraries frequently and often stay at a port late or remain overnight. This really allows the opportunity for passengers to spend time enjoying the destinations. For my husband and I, really IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DESTINATIONS.

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Bali 

7.  I may be new to Azamara but we are not new to cruising. Azamara does things differently.  They use technology throughout their ship, from the USB plugs by the bed lamp to photos from the ship’s photographer that can be viewed on your stateroom television.  The same was true for your bill.

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A nightly treat with our fresh fruit and flowers

8.   Azamara Includes the price of your basic alcohol and tipping with the price of your cruise. It makes it so much easier to budget cruise costs this way. You do have the option to buy premium alcohol packages, internet packages as well as dining in the two specialty restaurants.
9.  We usually choose an inside stateroom.  Basically we would rather spend our travel dollar on more travel rather than on a more expensive cabin.  We also were very pleased with our room, the comfortable bedding, linens and the fruit and fresh flowers in our state room daily. Who else does that?  Especially for an inside stateroom.  Azamara has some terrific common space that made it easier to spend time getting to know new friends.

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The “Living Room” offered a place to enjoy conversation, drinks and tapas with friends

9.  Timing is everything. Our ship, The Journey arrived at our final port of Sydney at sunrise.  Passengers were all informed that we would be sailing by the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge as the sun was rising.  We were met on the top deck to greet the new day in beautiful Sydney with mimossas and pastries.

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Sydney’s iconic Harbor Bridge and Opera House at sunrise

 

We know that we will sail with Azamara again.  They are not the cheapest, the largest, the newest, but for our money they are the best.  They are a cruiseline with heart.

Singapore: (Where Today is Tomorrow and I Have No Idea What Happened to Yesterday)

We had been traveling for over twenty nine hours to get from LA to Singapore.  But all of the Ubers, taxis, TSA security pat downs and planes were completely worth the effort to get here.  Singapore simply put, is spectacular.  It is a beautiful clean, metropolitan city that honors its history and diverse cultures.

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Singapore at night

The journey was relatively painless on Qatar Airlines. We left LA on a Wednesday and arrived Friday morning.  Somehow we lost a day but no worries.  We’ve never flown with Qatar before but would happily fly them again.  The courteous staff, tasty food and extras such as socks, headphones and entertainment system made for a comfortable journey.   We flew coach but had isle seats, a quiet plane and no annoying captain announcements about where we were flying over.  On the second leg of our flight I was sitting with a mom, her five year old and the most adorable six month old.  I held the little one to help her out and they were the best behaved children anyone could ask for.  I slept well on both flights.

By the time we arrived in Singapore I was well rested and ready to explore this beautiful city.  My poor husband had not slept but after a brief nap in our AirBnB he was ready to go out and show me the city.  The weather reminds me of Florida, hot and muggy with frequent afternoon rains.  We bought an umbrella that doubles as a walking stick.

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Chinese New Year The Year of the Rooster

We arrived on the eve of Chinese New Year.  We explored Chinatown did some shopping and had some delicious food from the hawker stands.  The area was packed with people anxious to celebrate the new year.  Stands were selling Chinese herbs, mandarin oranges, decorations and many items to celebrate The Year of The Rooster.  The streets were brightly decorated with colorful orchid lights, lanterns and giant roosters.  On the stage there was music, dancing and at midnight fireworks.  When visiting family and friends the Chinese custom is to bring an even number of mandarin oranges to wish one another an auspicious new year.  At the visitors center we were given oranges and welcomed.

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Streets in Chinatown decorated for the new year

We had some delicious dinner at the hawker stands, but chose not to have the dishes that included live frogs since we are not really adventurous eaters.  We left Chinatown at about two in the morning and the streets were still bustling.  As we walked back to our flat from Chinatown, we noticed even at this hour men were cleaning the streets from the celebration making Singapore a very clean city.

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City view from the marina

This week we have visited Orchard Road, where high end shopping is at its finest. Because we love to travel I spend my money more on experiences than on things.  We did stop for some snacks and drinks.  Apparently its a good idea to check prices before you order or you end up paying $20 for a glass of pear cider.  But it WAS really good cider.

We had the opportunity to enjoy a neighborhood dragon parade.  All of the kids had a chance to try on the costume and witness the dragon dance.  The best part of the parade was when they handed out confetti rocket launchers to everybody, including the three year olds.  Nothing says celebration better than an explosive in the hands of the three year old.  The neighbors were so friendly we really felt like we were part of the community.

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Dancing dragons and children playing with explosives, so much fun to celebrate
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Who doesn’t love a confetti rocket launcher?
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Colorful confetti exploded all around
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The best part of any parade is how much the children enjoy it

Must Do Activities

We went to the Gardens by the Bay and enjoyed the beautiful flowers and visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Shopping Plaza and the Float at Marina Bay.  There was a carnival like atmosphere.  Lots of families waiting for fireworks, and enjoying various “Fair Foods” like deep fried Oreo cookies, ice cream and squid on a stick.

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View of the Maria Sands Hotel

 

We love Chinatown for its food, shopping and overall active vibe.  They offer a Fish Spa treatment, where you place your feet in a tank and a bunch of fishies nibble on your skin.  The experience is worth the $30 and feels pretty good.

For dinner one night we went to Mama Chong’s to enjoy a Singapore specialty, Chili Crabs.  They are a pricey item,  about 40 bucks a serving, but well worth it.  The local beer here is Tiger and it is delicious, a nice combination of a mild yet slightly sweet beer.

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Singapore’s specialty chili crab

We rode the Singapore Flyer, a giant enclosed ferris wheel.  The views of the city, the bay and the night sky were phenomenal.  It cost 33 bucks each but the pictures and experience were unforgettable.

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Inside view of the Singapore Flyer

Get a MRT Pass to ride the incredibly clean and efficient subways to almost anywhere in Singapore.  It is well laid out and all of the signs are also in English.

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The clean and comfortable Singapore subway system MRT

I can not leave out the body and foot massages we treated ourselves to.  I had a sixty minute body massage followed by a thirty minute foot massage at Joneling Chi Spa.  My Fred Flinstone feet always hurt, but following my foot massage they were feeling fine.  During the body massage I was pretty sure that the ninety pound girl was accompanied by a three hundred pound suma wrestler.  All I know was that at some point she was straddling me and somebody was doing handstands on my back!  I was being massaged by her hands AND her feet.  I consider a massage a wrestling match, where I am loathe to “tap out” no matter how uncomfortable I might feel.  When our massages were complete both Greg and I had smiles on our faces and said we had never experienced anything like that before.

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View from the Singapore Flyer

 

 

 

 

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Rambling Las Ramblas

 

We arrived in Barcelona ready to walk Las Ramblas, (the  pedestrian center for shopping, sightseeing and people watching)  Barcelona is packed with visitors, shopping opportunities, restaurants and really interesting neighborhoods. On our first morning we took part in a walking tour of the old city.  We saw Roman ruins of the old wall that surrounded Barcelona, ancient churches and learned much of the history of Barcelona.  We have been warned by many about pickpockets and it is apparent that you must be aware and vigilant with your purse, wallet and cellphone.  But this is a spectacular city with so much to do and see.

This week we have had some wonderful experiences.  The weather has been fantastic.  We have loved walking and dining outside in the cafes along the plazas. Often  buskers (street musicians who rely on tips) surround the area with the lovely sound of their music. Barcelona is an extremely walkable city and we have walked nearly everywhere.  We visited the beach which turned out to be a crowded, urban beach. A young  guy was passed out  the sand in front of me for quite a while.  I thought he might be a bum, but later his friend came and gave his something to eat and drink.   He went into the ocean and didn’t even have a towel.  Apparently he and his buddy went to the beach from the last party. They were foreign exchange students from Australia.  When we left the beach I gave him my unused towel.  The guy was so sweet and grateful.

We also visited La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished basilica designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.  The inside was spectacular with changing colors as the sun moved in the sky.  We were relieved that the visitors were limited, which afforded us time in the church so we could appreciate it’s beauty and simplicity.  It is definitely a good idea to purchase tickets online to reserve a specific time so you don’t have to wait in line.

We went to Tibadado mountain up a funicular to see the view of Barcelona from the mountain to the sea.  At the top of the mountain is a beautiful church, Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We climbed around a bit and had an early dinner at Mirablau, with a view of all of Barcelona.

It’s fun to visit several local markets.  I loved seeing all of the unique local fresh produce, fish and meats available. We both enjoy cooking and we love paella so we jumped at the chance to book Marta’s Private Paella Cooking Class which we found on TripAdvisor.  After a bit of a difficult time finding her building (we will blame Mapquest and not my husband) Marta warmly greeted us to her home.  We met six other people from around the globe who shared our interest in cooking. Marta, a former teacher explained the fundamentals of paella with patience and charm.  We learned about the importance of quality ingredients and the order in which they must be cooked.  Everyone took part in the preparation of the meats, fish and vegetables.  Marta has a large propane powered paella pan on her patio that easily held enough food for a dozen people. Within a few hours we learned all of the elements of paella typical of  Catalonia.  It was great fun to be part of this diverse group of people who worked together and produced a truly delicious meal! We sat down at the table toasted one another and enjoyed the best paella ever.  If you are interested in joining Marta’s class you can contact her at:ambtucuinem@gmail.com

Flying Freakin’Forever

imageWe have been in airports, airplanes and sandwiched into seats forever.  At the airport I see older couples, going on trips, knowing this may be the last time they will independently travel.  The wheelchair bound travelers, relying  on the muscle and humanity of others. Also, there are children whining, crying and trying to hide their excitement. At different airports you notice different things, in Berlin the characters seem to be the backdrop of a zombie appocolypse movie. In Chicago, I noticed the professional travelers, the ones that look the part,  they roll a tiny suitcase, dress impeccably and wear stilettos like they mean business. They are neither harried nor excited. I belong to the group of pleasure travelers, we travel because we seek excitement, relaxation and especially a change in scenery.

I am sitting in the middle of an exit row. The big guy next to me does not care, he is taking over the armrest and I have no  recourse. I try to get a partial elbow on there, but he bullies his way to complete domination. I am sitting crooked, with my right arm inexplicably twisted behind me.  I intend to win this battle by waiting him out when he uses the restroom. The guy never gets up, he figured he was not going to lose his territory.

It’s interesting to me how intimately the passengers in steerage sit atop one another, but rarely speak. On the flight to Berlin I was pretty sure the lady in front of me was resting IN MY LAP yet we never spoke. Luckily, there was no offensive BO issues on this flight. That can be really tricky. Once, I was alone on a flight with really horrendous turbulence. Drinks went flying and people screamed. I am happy to report that I merely grabbed the hand of the stranger next to me and said “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”   I figured that I would cover the entire holy family in that one desperate prayer.  I apologized profusely afterwards but never did get her name.

We wait in the Berlin airport. A mere three hour layover in a airport bereft of charm, personality or comfortable seating. When  we arrived at the airport, it was 8am Berlin time. Since it was 11pm Phoenix time it seemed appropriate to have a beer and a soft pretzel for breakfast.

You know that point in a trip when you are ready to come home, to come back to something that is familiar and warm? Well, I reached that point about four hours ago.   We boarded the plane to Rome from Berlin. We were on the runway and getting ready to take off. I was busy reading my book.  But Greg was paying attention. He is one who always pays attention. He told me the brakes were bad on the plane and we would need to get off.  I was sure he was mistaken, but a few minutes later we were all told in German that the brakes were “kaput”.   Next, we were deplaning and getting on a bus for a thirty second trip to the terminal (now I know why they call it terminal).   Once everyone was off the plane, mayhem ensued.  We were told to collect our luggage. Yes, even our carefully packed “American” carry-on luggage miraculously became “too heavy” for the EU and was banished to the belly of the plane. I only hope we do not face the same fate when we return to America. We waited for luggage, complained and then waited in yet another line.  But luckily our named was called, either because we were flying international or because my bubbly personality had charmed the ticket agent.  I’m pretty sure that I explained my last name translated to “horror” in German. Now we were scheduled for another plane to Rome.  We of course ordered anther beer and wine and waited for the next flight.  After two delicious German wines I was less concerned with making it to our destination.  The one thing that became painfully obvious to me was that there were no gate agents and the only moving of passengers we observed was in buses. Where the hell was the plane?

Have I mentioned that I have had a headache since Tuesday and its freaking Wednesday. Greg has gone to investigate.  Hopefully he will rangel up a plane and pilot willing to deliver us to Rone.  I am now praying that we get there today…..

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The Power of a Positive Perspective

I have always looked at the world with rose-colored glasses. I can’t help but see the bright side of everything. I believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and in the future. I know in my heart tomorrow, it will be better. When I hear bad news I try to reframe it in my mind to better news.   Rain today means the lovely smell of creosote bushes and flowers tomorrow. I consider myself lucky, I have won numerous raffles, and even online contests. The reason I win is because I always buy the ticket! As Steve Forbert said, “You can not win if you do not play.”

When my youngest child was in the hospital, scheduled for open heart surgery I was sure that he was going to be alright. Thirty minutes before the surgery they discovered that he did not have the heart abnormality they had originally diagnosed, he went home that day.  I am grateful. I know I live a wonderful life with a man I love and three healthy, happy adult children. I think a positive outlook  can can alleviate so many worries. The glass is always half full to me.image

In contrast, my parents were children of The Great Depression. They both grew up without their mothers. My dad was definitely a glass half empty kind of guy. He not only believed that the glass was half empty, it was also teetering on the edge of the table ready to shatter in a million pieces and slice open a vein.  My mom had a rosier view of the world.  They loved traveling however, after a couple of plane crashes a friend asked my mom if she was afraid. “Why would I be afraid? If the plane crashed we would both die together, doing something we love.”  When she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the tears and there were lots of tears she said, “Well, you have to die of something.”

Today the State Department announced an advisory on travel to Europe due to concern  about terrorism.  I am not worried. I will not think twice about our two month long trip to Europe.  This is our dream trip. I look forward to the sights, the people, the food and the adventures we will have. I will not be dissuaded by warnings and fear. We intend to immerse ourselves in the cultures, to learn about our fellow human beings and to make some new friends.

We leave in four days. My thoughts are not of dying, they are of plane connections, new sights, shopping and the anticipation of something new.  Right now all I’m thinking about is comfortable shoes and how many things I can fit into a plastic bag for my allowed liquids. It is amazing the number of things you need to include: toothpaste, sunscreen, moisturizer, eye drops, hair products etc. I really don’t think it will all fit.

Greg has the travel spreadsheet which includes all the necessary information for the accommodations, passports, flights, tours and EVERYTHING we might need for the trip. I no longer need to worry about tickets or anything related to the “travel documents.” That is because about fifteen years ago when we were driving to LA for a  family cruise, I picked up a large manilla envelope labeled “TRAVEL DOCUMENTS” and threw it in the garage. My only thought was that it was on my seat and in the way. Four hours after we left the house Greg asked for the envelope.  I told him I didn’t think it was important so I left it in the garage. At that point, I was pretty sure Greg considered leaving me at the border of Arizona and California. Yes there was screaming. But the point of the story is, it has become a favorite family anecdote and we made the cruise. I do not dwell on the fact that he drove an extra eight hours, because I no longer have the burden of travel documents. My only concerns are about connecting to WIFI , snagging a blanket on the plane and keeping up with the Line Leader.

My biggest worry is whether or not my headphones will keep out the noise of the adorable crying baby that will likely be sitting next to me.