The magic of a sunrise

12 08 2015

When stuck in the grip of jet-lag, I often wonder if humans are really fit for transcontinental air travel. Sitting in a large shiny metal tube for up to 10 or 12 or 15 hours, moving at close to the speed of sound, traversing vast distances at 6 miles above the earth’s surface with no regard for the landscapes, peoples and cultures below. I suppose it’s the most efficient way of getting from point A to point B, when point B happens to be about 5,000 miles away. But it’s tough on the body and the soul.

There are days and trips when jet-lag has no power over me. Exhausted by the emotions and the anticipation of the trip alone, I arrive home, sink into my own bed, thankful for the peace and quiet of not having a carpet of noise produced by four CFM56-5C4/P engines thrusting the metal tube across the sky. I sleep the sleep of the dead.

This morning, though, I didn’t do so well. Shifting one’s internal clock by nine time zones is truly brutal. My night was over at 430am and my brain went into overdrive, as it usually does when I have about 5 million things on my never-ending to-do list.  It was still dark outside, but a light sheen was starting to illuminate the sky just above the hills beyond my back terrace. And so after about an hour of lying in bed, tormenting myself with problems that need immediate solving, I thought I’d go outside and watch the sun rise.

Night turns into day.

Night turns into day.

There is no sense of urgency at 545am. Mist slowly rises from the meadows below and the crisp, fresh air sits still as time creeps from indigo to light. The slightest crescent of a moon climbs into the sky before disappearing as the sun prepares to burst over the horizon. I sit on my back terrace in the half-light, my cup of tea cools before I can drink it all. A curious grey fox trots up to the fence that separates me from the wilderness, we look at each other for a moment before he loses interest, turns around and trots away.

A solitary single-engine aircraft crosses the clear light blue canvas above me from east to west. Its pilot is probably thinking the same thing that I am or she wouldn’t have made the effort to get up in the middle of the night, prep her airplane and take off at dawn to watch the night turn into day. (Or maybe she has jet-lag too.)

Jet-lag is a tedious by-product of travel. But a sunrise is simply magic.

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First Earthquake

23 07 2015

When we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a few months ago, all our non-Bay-Area friends talked about was the earthquakes. We laughed it off…. Yes, the earth moves and shifts all around us all the time and no, we are not overly concerned about this. Somehow a couple of million people seem to live here and go about their usual daily business like normal human beings all over the world.

I did take, shall we say, a new interest in this natural phenomenon, as any new resident would take an interest in something that is unique to the region to which she has recently moved. I installed a free app on my cell phone called, appropriately, “Earthquake Alert!” and I look at it at least once a day. As one does.

Then two nights ago at 2:40 am the earth literally shook under me, ripping me out of sleep. It was very freaky. It felt like someone had grabbed onto our solid wood headboard for dear life and was shaking it violently. There was little noise, just some creaking and the movement. I was wide awake in half an instant, sat upright, grabbed my cell phone and tapped on “Earthquake Alert!”. Turns out it was a 4.0 magnitude tremor on the Hayward Fault, and the epicenter was 7 miles / 11km  south of us. Nothing super-huge in the great big world order, but enough to unnerve me. I am, after all, a Yankee, and they don’t really have earthquakes on the East Coast.

First earthquake.

First earthquake.

My husband, about half a mile away in our king-sized bed, stirred a bit and I asked, “Did you feel that?”

“Mropohghllrr….unh-huh.”

“I think that was an earthquake.”

“Mmm-hmm…”

Next thing I hear him peacefully snoring away again.

Eyes wide open, adrenaline spiking at a moment I was supposed to be deep in my REM phase (and jealous of my husband who was able turn around and pretend it never happened), I lay there totally awake, wondering what would come next. Sirens? Evacuation orders? Gas main fires? People running into the streets? About a half hour after the first jolt there was another, weaker, shorter tremor, that, turns out, was a 2.7 aftershock. According to my smart app there were a few more, but they didn’t reach me.

I was still wide awake an hour later but it seemed the rest of the world, like my husband, had gone back to sleep. There was no panic, the coyotes went back to howling in the dark, our neighbor’s chimes continued to tinkle in the wind. Just everyone going about their usual business.

Then this afternoon someone at the US Geological Survey used the words “Hayward Fault”, “major quake” and “any day now” (or something similar) in the same sentence.

I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.





Moving into the suburbs

5 06 2015

We moved into our new home last week and every morning I am waking up completely achy. It feels like I ran some kind of long-distance race with the flu. But I know for a fact that haven’t run in… in… at least a month, probably more. I don’t remember.

My task for the week (other than unpacking boxes, making sure the new washer and dryer are working, replacing light bulbs and toilet seats) was to put together our brand new grill. It came in a box from Home Depot, that Nirvana of DIY projects, and like most things that come in a box it required some constructing.

This is what the box contained.

Many, many pieces, large and small

Many, many pieces, large and small.

And after about two hours working with a screwdriver, this is what the box revealed.

Wow, look at that.

My father would be so proud.

And for those of you wondering what dinner looked like that evening, here is a closer look.

Can you smell it cookin'?

Can you smell it cookin’?

In my next post I will regale you on how I have started making raspberry-apple smoothies with my brand new blender.

(No, I won’t, I promise…)





Opening Day at Fenway Park

5 04 2014

My employer has four season tickets to home games of the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. And one of the perks is that employees of all levels on the food chain get to use these tickets (for free), most of the time all you have to do is ask nicely. Of course, sometimes some client entertaining has to be done, so on game day one might discover that one’s planned afternoon or evening at the ballpark has fallen through at the last moment. That’s fair, though. The seats are in the 12th row just behind 3rd base. I can see why clients would want to go.

But sometimes, regular old staff like me gets lucky.

Yesterday was Opening Day. The 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox came home to begin another season. It was an afternoon game, with the official celebration and “ring ceremony” – where the players from last year’s team pick up their official championship bling, beginning at 1pm.

Famous Fenway Park.

What more American thing is there to do than go to a ballgame at one of the oldest and most storied ballparks in the country? And what more American of American things to do than go to a ballgame at one of the oldest and most storied ballparks in the country on Opening Day? Lest we forget, last year’s Opening Day at Fenway happened just hours before the Marathon bombings. And of course everyone here in Boston can tell you where they were during the fairytale worst-to-first World Series run last October that made the city whole again.

So Friday morning, as part of a planned office meeting, leadership held a raffle, with the four coveted tickets going to four lucky winners. And… I won a ticket to Opening Day.

The pregame festivities were emotionally-laden and full of symbolism; they included bombing victims and first responders, as well as a salute to the city’s firefighters, after two of them died in a blaze not far from Fenway last week. A Coast Guard helicopter buzzed the 36,000 fans in a very-low-altitude flyover. The pennant was raised to great fanfare. The Boston Pops teamed up with the Dropkick Murphys for the national anthem. The old mayor tossed the ball to the new mayor, who threw the first pitch. The game was not exactly an afterthought, but it was a bit of an anticlimax, with the players and the fans fairly spent. The Sox lost to the Brewers 6-2.

How totally cool is this?

How totally cool is this?

So what did I make of it? Without getting too slushy or overly patriotic – it was an unforgettable day I was absolutely thrilled to experience. And I’m not sure that any of my friends overseas can understand the bond that links me to all of this. This is a small part of why I came back to the States after all these years.

An old dear friend needed just two words to sum up everything I felt, reducing me to tears. She said, simply: “Welcome home.”





Sun, fun and law enforcement in Florida

27 02 2014

So last weekend I went to Florida to escape this unbelievable winter here in the Northeast. The endless weeks of cold and the series of snow dumps has certainly toughened me up, but my, it does get tedious after a while.

9836_10152155992572698_1410575740_n

Boston.

The first half of our flight to Florida was uneventful, my mother was happily watching CNN on the seat-back television while I closed my eyes to get some rest. It was a late flight, and I’d had a long week.

About an hour and a half from Boston, the two young adults in the row behind me (siblings, it seems) were getting louder as the flight wore on. Their voices carried far naturally, both wore earbuds and talked and laughed over the volume. This grated on me so I turned around to ask them to please tone it down. The girl just looked at me, clueless and pretty liquored up. For the next 15 minutes or so, she and her brother discussed whether or not they were being too loud (in their typically loud voices). During this conversation, expletives began to fly in my direction in, I will assume, an attempt to provoke me. I pretended not to hear. I generally am not easily provoked by immature strangers.

Numerous alcoholic beverages later (that they seemed not to have to pay for) and shortly before landing, they turned aggressive. During the tirade, once again directed at me, “stupid f***ing blond b**ch” was the nicest thing I heard. The flight attendants repeatedly told them to simmer down. When the chick reached over the seat back and slapped me in the head, the party was definitely over. Other passengers called over the head flight attendant, who told them that the were now in very serious trouble.

Mom, just turning off the TV, was like, “Huh? Whats going on? What’s all this about?”

And the girl still wouldn’t stop. She repeatedly pushed the seat-back, and began threatening me (“I’m gonna  get you, you f***ing c**t”), while her only slightly less inebriated brother repeatedly told her to put a lid on it. After landing, her parting shot: “I know what you look like. I’ve got you out on the street. Just wait till we get out on the street. I’ve got you, you dumb b**ch.” This is when the flight attendants finally took them to the back of the plane for a time out.

Still on the taxiway, the captain told the passengers to remain in their seats once we arrived at the gate. There was “a situation on board that needs to be sorted out.” Mom & I were told separately that law enforcement officials were coming, that we would be the first to disembark and that police wanted a statement from me.

When the door opened in FLL, three of the biggest and scariest-looking Sheriff’s department dudes I have ever seen headed straight to where the flight attendants had corralled the foul-mouthed little ones. Mom and I grabbed our bags and headed out of row 21, while a planeload of still-seated passengers stared at us, most of whom wondering what on earth was going on.

Officer Jackson, though scary-looking, turned out to be a very nice guy. Well, to us at least. Mom and I were still reeling from the experience, and the airline’s station manager came to apologize profusely. I have no idea what happened to the girl but I did see her sitting in handcuffs as we left the building.

Ah yes. Florida, LIVE! As we know and love the place.

That plus the 84 degrees F (29 degrees C) and the sunshine is why we keep going back.

Florida.

Florida.





Seeing “home” through a different lens

5 07 2012

It was Independence Day this week, the day when all red-blooded ‘Mericans – at home and abroad – celebrate with fireworks and barbecues and the red-white-and-blue. On July 4th 236 years ago a bunch of smart guys in wigs and knickerbockers told the Brits to go stuff it, and founded their own country.

Recycled t-shirt.

I am also one of those who celebrated with a slab of seared beef and a fine bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. But I live overseas. No fireworks show on TV or outside my window, not even a sparkler within reach. But that makes me no less American. The U.S. is my home, Europe is where I am currently living.

Why? It just kind of happened that way. I finished my Master’s degree in 1992, just as the first George Bush was wreaking havoc on the economy. I couldn’t find a job at home so I took off and found a career elsewhere. But I have every intention of returning someday.

So for the past 20 years I have observed life in America from across the pond, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with disillusionment. Sometimes with envy and sometimes with sadness. Often, I wonder just how much it has changed in these years I have lived abroad, and if I will ever feel at home there again.

An squabble on Facebook overnight prompted me to think about this once again, intensely. A FB friend of mine, surely blinded by the sudden rediscovered patriotism that hits every American squarely in the gut as s/he watches fireworks over the Washington Mall and hears emotional renditions of the Star Spangled Banner, posted this comment:

Watching the DC July 4 show on TV. Every year it overwhelms me. I am honored and proud to be an American. Can someone explain to me why we are now trying to become Europe? We have fought long and hard for the freedoms and privileges of this beautiful, free country!

A wise woman friend of hers responded a short time later:

I don’t think I follow you. I think we’re just trying to secure an equal opportunity for a happy and healthy future for ALL our citizens, not just the wealthy ones.

It was July 5th by the time I saw these and added my own two cents:

Not quite following either… Last time I looked, Europe was also beautiful and free… Wouldn’t be living here if it wasn’t!

Upon which I got this slap in the face from the original poster:

The economics don’t work. And the resulting entitlement is disastrous. My immigrant grandparents would be disappointed.

And I’m thinking … “Lady, have you ever even been to Europe? Do you even know what the hell you are talking about? Could you locate Europe on a map? And your immigrant grandparents – they probably had really good reasons for leaving Europe during the Second World War… sooooo… what’s your point, exactly?”

This same FB friend already reproached me last week for celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, writing something to the effect of: “Those of us who have to pay aren’t happy about this at all.”

Of course, this could just be a single slanted opinion from a single self-centered person. But I get the sneaky feeling that there are a whole bunch of folks in the U.S. who think this way.

So I am asking myself today – what happened to the solidarity and the kindness and the helpful, open, optimistic and accepting attitude I always remember Americans by? What happened to the mutual support, the looking out for one another, the spontaneous neighborliness and the caring for strangers that I remember from growing up in a small community in the Northeast? What happened to them? Where did they go?

Maybe I just need to de-friend this person on FB. But when I finally do find a way to live and exist in the United States again, with some kind of financial security, when I find a job I can live off of, with guaranteed health insurance and a pension that I will work hard for, that will still be there when I retire, whenever and wherever that may be: is this the kind of selfishness and ignorance I’m going to have to deal with? Is everyone like this? Will I even recognize this place anymore? This place I’ve always called “home”?





Gigathlon 2012 by the numbers

2 07 2012

Our mountain-biker said it best, just after he crossed the finish line covered from head to toe in mud: “All you have to do is shut off your brain.”

Of course, he was talking about the biking leg of Gigathlon 2012, this past weekend’s athletic extravaganza in the Swiss midlands, and about how torrential downpours and impending darkness turned his route into a rather messy and slippery lottery.

Our mud-splattered mountain-biking hero after crossing the finish line.

(The second part of the sentence was: “Let go of the brakes, point the bike downhill and hope there is no tree in front of you.” Our swimmer responded: “That bit about the brain – that’s the crucial difference between men and women.”)

But what he said really was valid for all of us who made up the “Flying Five,” a rag-tag group of over-39 amateurs, tossed together by fate, self-discipline and the ambition to overcome physical and psychological limits. Our goal: to swim, cycle, skate, mountain-bike and run to the point of exhaustion, to complete the two-day endurance race 1) uninjured and 2) within the allotted time frame.

And we did both, crossing the finish line together at 11pm on Sunday evening, 40 1/2 hours after the starters’ gun went off. We had spent two days competing in extreme weather conditions – day one was hot and humid, day two blessed us with fog, rain and hail – and sleeping in a tent whipped by one of Switzerland’s most destructive overnight thunderstorms in years.

There were many times in the past couple of days when we all just shut off our brains.

Sunday morning, 730am: wet, wet, wet.

You read about my preparation for this year’s race a few weeks ago, and now I could give you a play-by-play like I did last year, with the highlights and low-lights, the dramatic moments of pain and agony and the equally dramatic moments of indescribable adrenaline-induced euphoria. Gigathlon 2012 had all that too, trust me. But this time I will just stick to the numbers; they also tell the story of our exceptionally active, life-affirming weekend.

First the team:

Hours, minutes and seconds the five of us were underway in competition:  30:27:37

Hours, minutes and seconds the winning team beat us by: 11:24:00

Rank at the end of day one (out of 1,000 “teams of five”): 756

Final rank after two days of competition: 723

Distance skated, swam, mountain-biked, run and cycled: 460km/287.5mi

Temperature on Saturday: 34 C/93.2 F

Thunderstorms experienced on Sunday: 3

Beers consumed on Saturday: 2

Beers consumed on Sunday: 8

Accidents: 0

And I know you people also want to hear about my personal statistics for the weekend, so here goes:

Distance skated: 92km/57.5mi

Hours slept on the campground (two nights): 6

Times I felt like quitting on Saturday: 4

Times I felt like quitting on Sunday: 0

Ball bearings trashed: 16

Accidents witnessed: 5

Pasta meals consumed: 3

Sports energy gel tubes consumed while skating: 3

Blisters: 4

Toenails lost: 1

Hours slept after getting home (one night): 11

**********************

Team Flying Five….. before…..

…. and after.

A HUGE, HUGE thank you to: Martina – our team captain and tough-as-nails cyclist, Raphaela – our running goddess, Beat – our meerkat-like mountain-biker, and Reto – our swimmer who rescued the team’s ranking on both days. You guys were a whole lot of fun to be around, even when the things got really, really tough. You were the reason I kept on going.

(Anyone up for Gigathlon 2013?)