First Flight

26 07 2015

In the event of am earthquake, the safest place to be is… in the air. (Right?)

So, it’s about time I went flying again.

A first flight in a new place is always really special. The anticipation of going somewhere you have never been, figuring out airspace particulars (for one’s own safety and to keep the authorities at bay) and to experience what aviators native to this corner of the world also experience. Every place is a little different. The procedures are basically the same wherever you go, but the details are what make flying in a new location a challenging, learning and thrilling experience.

The pledge I made to myself when I earned my pilot’s license 14 years ago was this:

  • I will always fly for fun, and fun only.
  • I will not fly if it is work, or requires more risk-assessment, concentration and thought than chopping an onion.
  • I will only fly for pleasure, and in good weather.
  • I will only fly when the conditions promise something so spectacular that I forget how to describe it in words.

Since then, I have operated small aircraft as pilot-in-command in seven countries. Within the United States I have flown in the Northeast and in Florida. This week I played in the sky on the west coast for the first time.

And whenever I get back into the cockpit after a few weeks away, the tower clears me for takeoff and I line up on the runway, the great big numbers and a clear blue sky in front of me… I always wonder… “What took me so long?”

Bay Bridge.

Bay Bridge.

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Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.

The Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon.

Golden Gate Bridge with a view to the City.

Financial District up close.

Financial District.

The City between spinning propeller blades.

Mission accomplished, pledge fulfilled, again.

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Going places in an electric sports car

19 06 2015

About a million years ago, when I was young, naive, and full of optimism and potential, I was chosen for a prestigious fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in Germany, on someone else’s payroll. My alibi was that I was “working”, learning about and looking to advance the transatlantic relationship when I returned to North America. For the sponsoring foundation, nothing less than five stars was ever good enough, and the group had a standing annual invite to visit with the Chancellor and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I was 23 and boy, was I going places.

Fast forward 20 years. I returned to North America two decades after they expected me to return, with a healthy dose of cynicism and significant life experience. I am no longer the bright-eyed bushy-tailed young upstart that I once was… I am now middle-aged and much wiser, and definitely more realistic about my abilities and my station in this world.

But every year the foundation that sponsored my initial expensive jaunt through Europe throws an alumni weekend party that rivals the fellowship itself. There is always crazy, fun stuff to do, interesting speakers, high-profile guests, fantastic food and appropriate adult beverages.

This year’s party included a tour and a test drive in a Tesla.

The factory in Freemont, CA.

The factory in Fremont, CA.

I won’t go into the background of where, what, when… you can research all that on the internet yourself. But one interesting factoid I would like to add: The brain behind this unbelievably fascinating and disruptive new technology is my alma mater’s most famous non-graduate. After two years of business school there (which actually coincided with my own time on the same campus) he said, “Ahhh…. toss it. I have better things to do with my life.”

And he did. And all I can say is… well… wow.

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Hello there, Beautiful!

As you can tell from the photo, the Tesla Model S is a luxury ELECTRIC sports car, and it can go 0-60 miles per hour in just over 3 seconds. I tested that myself on a road where the speed limit was a paltry 35 mph. It seats seven (including two rear-facing child seats in the back trunk), it has every electronic gadget, bell and whistle you can think of… and many, many more that would never even occur to you. The engine has only 17 moving parts and uses no oil… so it never needs to be serviced. The battery pack is located in the floor of the vehicle so as not lose any interior space.

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The view from inside.

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

Looks pretty good on me, huh?

I posted this photo on my Facebook timeline with the caption: “Test drove my new car the other day.” To my great amusement, a whole slew of my friends actually believed I had purchased a vehicle which costs more to buy than the entire pre-tax salary I earned in 2014.

So I guess I still am going places. Just maybe not the places I thought. Evelynn Starr, 40-something super action heroine and Tesla driver. Nice.

But seriously though, I’m not sure how the esteemed German foundation will top this at next year’s alumni party.





From Mr. Dodge to Durango

21 05 2015

Crossed Colorado from upper right to lower left, from the Midwest to the Southwest, from tornado country to the peaks of the San Juan Mountains. On our coast-to-coast trip, this is the state in which we have spent the most time and seen the most stuff. I love it. I want to move here.

Interesting. "Colorful Colorado."

Interesting. “Colorful Colorado.”

It started on a hopping Friday night in a downtown Denver burger joint with another total blast from the past. My 10th grade history teacher (I date myself… it was 1984) retired to Denver about a year ago after spending more than three decades in Singapore teaching at an international school. I last saw Mr. Dodge in 2006, when I was there myself on business.

Mr. Dodge is a very popular guy and I am thrilled that I got into his agenda with just two days’ notice. He shared my Facebook post about our meeting on his own timeline and that post got more likes than I actually have FB friends.

Stops along our colorful trek across colorful Colorado included Boulder, Vail and Durango, all places I could see myself setting up shop if I had endless resources and did not have to rely on an employer for a regular income. They are charming, eccentric, beautiful and weird in their own ways. We met a blizzard in the Rockies, but as I understand it, that is nothing unusual for this time of year.

Durango and Silverton, a traditional Old West settlement in the mountains, are two of the most adorable towns I have ever seen, with old-style small-town main streets offering everything from saloons to yoga studios. The majestic hotels date back to the days of splendor and riches brought by the mining industry and the railroad, funky boutiques with unique jewellery and fashions, fine restaurants which serve only locally-grown ingredients, and of course the obligatory establishments for your recreational drug-consuming needs (since 2014).

The Grand imperial Hotel in Silverton.

The Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton.

We didn’t leave Colorado till we struck gold ourselves, at the Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel in the far southwestern corner of the state. We walked in expecting to drop about $150 for a room, dinner and blackjack. We walked out the next morning – having slept, eaten and gambled well – $100 richer than the day before. It’s been a while since we made 250 bucks that fast and easy.





“Alperose” in Colorado

19 05 2015

I have never crossed the Rocky Mountains on land, so therefore I have also never actually physically been in the Rocky Mountains prior to this trip. (I have skied in Lake Louise, but that’s in Canada, so it doesn’t count.) But every October I watch the World Cup ski races from Beaver Creek, which is, for all intents and purposes, Vail.

So when we planned an overnight pit stop in Vail, I was thrilled to finally be able to see what a Rocky Mountain ski resort actually looks like. And, well, it kind of looks like… a ski resort in the Alps, just lots bigger. Here we are in the center of the continental United States and I had no idea I had landed back in Europe. We have “Austria House” next door to a hotel called “Sonnenalp”, which houses a restaurant called “Swiss Chalet”. I have not seen this many Swiss flags since I left the Confoederatio Helvetica more than two years ago.

Ode to the Confoederatio Helvetica!

All this alpine glory (and I will be honest, Vail is beautiful… I wish I could afford to come here during ski season) made us truly hungry for the Old Country. So for dinner we stopped in at “Alpenrose” and chowed down on Wiener Schnitzel with Spätzle followed by warm and heavenly Apfelstrudel.

Oh boy... Yum!!!!

Oh boy… Yum!!!!

Many of you may simply associate the word “Alpenrose” with a bucolic high Alpine meadow, and the cute little flowers that are the definition of clean air, water, nature and… wholesomeness.

I, however, having spent 9 years living in Switzerland, tend to associate it with Swiss rock singer Polo Hofer whose 1982 song by the same name (sung in a Bernese Swiss German dialect, understandable only to those who have grown up speaking it, like my husband, who translated it for me) has become a de facto national anthem. It is played/sung/karaoke-ed at pretty much every festival/concert/birthday party/wedding/graduation/funeral in Switzerland.

It tells a fairly simple story, really: A summer love between a hiker and a lady-friend, set on one of those bucolic mountain meadows amid those cute little flowers. When the fall comes, it starts snowing and she takes off. And every time he looks up to those Alps, he remembers her and wishes it wasn’t so.

As we finished up our Apfelstrudel in Vail, I almost half expected to see Polo himself walk out of the kitchen crooning, “Alperooooooose chöme mir i Sinn…..! Alperooooooose sy das gsy denn…. Alperooooooose müesse das gsy sy….. Wo näbe üs im Höi gläge sy!”





Hey Dorothy! We’re in Kansas!

11 05 2015

It’s Monday in the mid-west and today we are another almost 1,100 miles older and wiser. We are in Dorothy’s Kansas, and look, there’s even a rest stop along the side of the Interstate reserved for Toto to go do his business!

"Hydrant non-functional"??? But... what if there's a fire?

“Hydrant non-functional”??? But… what if there’s a fire?

So we arrived safe in Topeka after braving weather phenomena rarely seen in parts east. Indiana, Illinois and Missouri (and probably Kansas and Nebraska and Oklahoma) are weather central for powerful forces of nature that – when experienced – make you actually believe a little girl’s weirdo story about a tornado and a place called Oz.

In fact, driving along US36 westbound yesterday into a wall of black, an automated weather report broke into regular radio programming. It warned of tornadoes in Counties X, Y and Z, and that a “severe and damaging thunderstorm” had just passed the town of A, heading northwestward on a direct path to the town of B. Clueless as I was and having never actually set foot in Missouri before, I picked up our Rand Mcnally 2015 Road Atlas (a.k.a. the bible of all road-trips) and attempted to locate the affected areas.

To my shock I realized that we were headed straight through them.

Wow.

I suppose this should have been a dead giveaway….

What happened next (with the wipers on high speed) looked like this.

Whoa.

Whoa.

So that’s what it feels like when a storm passes through around here. OK, I get it now.

(You know, you sit on your sofa in Boston or Philadelphia or someplace and watch this stuff on the evening TV news and wonder what all the fuss is about. Actually traveling through something like that can be rather unsettling if not downright terrifying.)

But this story has a happy ending. Waiting for us on the other side were….

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… a chilled drink…

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… and a hot grill.

Nothing like a well-earned pit-stop with great old friends, fantastic local grass-fed beef and some strong liquor to take the edge off.

After all she went through, Dorothy probably also could have used a shot or two.





Running from time

19 02 2014

I recently started running again in earnest. By “earnest” I mean distances longer than a mile and a half, more often than once a week. Those who know me well know also that I just hate running. Putting one foot ahead of the other, pounding your joints on asphalt or concrete or whatever, moving forward at a snail’s pace. Who on earth can find fun in that? Seriously.

Last summer, I decided to try to make peace with the sport once and for all, and see if I could actually complete a running (as opposed to skating) race. I had to get this out of my system. After about four weeks of training, increasing my distances and endurance, I promptly broke my leg.

The initial pain was similar to a twisted ankle (ho-hum….been there, done that, like, a dozen times before), so I went home and iced it. The next day it wasn’t much better, so more ice. After a week of this, finding it difficult to walk any distance, I sought a professional opinion. My doctor said it was an “inflamed tendon”, sent me home with anti-inflammatory drugs and an ankle brace. 10 days later it was still excruciatingly painful. Finally, an MRI brought clarity: I had been walking around on a fractured shinbone for the good part of a month. On my 43rd birthday I got a sexy removable boot-cast (size M) and a heparin injection. My party bag was filled with 20 more pre-filled syringes, one a day for the following three weeks, and DIY instructions. Harumph.

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Happy Birthday!

It took a really long time to heal. Really long. It was summer, ideal running / skating / outdoor weather, and I was stuck in a boot-cast. (Of all the indignities!) Not only was it all terribly frustrating, it also put a big dent into my motivation repository. I guess it was the first time that my body told me I was no longer 25.

For surviving this with grace, I rewarded myself by buying a new pair of running shoes. And a few weekends ago (yes, in the middle of a New England winter) I decided to face down those pesky demons again and started on a light running regimen that should get me to about 10K by the time summer rolls around. I will not be running the Boston Marathon this April, but I will certainly go to watch, and to seek guidance and inspiration.

Anyone have any useful advice for me? Or perhaps a few choice words for the aforementioned demons? At 43, I need all the help I can get.

Yeah, that looks better.

Yeah, that looks better.





The THINGS take Switzerland

1 03 2012

A couple of weeks ago, some visitors decided to stop by. The timing wasn’t great because I had just started my new job and am also attending university courses for the first time in 20 years. That double whammy had me going to bed at 9pm every night for the first two weeks because I was simply exhausted.

The THINGS, as they are known, belong to my only good Canadian friend, the lovely and hilarious Ironic Mom. She is sending them around the world in place of her 7-year-old twins. (Though I’m sure that on some days she would have been quite happy to send the twins.) On their Excellent Adventure, which started last summer, they have already criss-crossed the United States and Zurich was the first stop on the European leg of their tour.

In addition to my new job, we were in the middle of an incredible cold snap, with daytime high temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius (3 degrees F for you Fahrenheit types). So flying and rollerblading – my staple activities when the weather cooperates – were simply out of the question. Actually, anything that required leaving a heated building was rather painful and not recommended.

(Maybe they can stop back here in the summer?)

Other hosts have been very creative with their blog entries about the THINGS’ visit – writing in rhymes and singing in harmonies – I’m afraid all I can offer is a few photos of nothing special in the land of cows and chocolate.

"We’re here!"

"Geez. Looks cold out there."

"SH*T. It IS cold out here."

"Want to go for a hike?" "No thanks, not today."

So to escape Switzerland’s harshest winter in three decades (and as a warmer alternative to any outdoor sports activity), we went to the gym. The THINGS hid in my locker until they realized that it was ME that would be working out… that they were just along for the ride.

"Get out of there, you two."

On the rowing machine…

…the bouncy gym ball…

…and the crosstrainer.

We did venture out into the city one day, and made some more friends (animal and human) in the department store’s extensive Switzerland souvenir department.

"Moo."

… as the salespeople wondered what the hell they were doing climbing into the souvenir kiddie mugs.

To end their visit we made one last stop, at the world-famous Spruengli chocolate store. After all, what do Swiss people need all those cows for, anyway? Because they are the world’s largest per capita consumers of chocolate!

The THINGS knew this, but had to wait till their final day here to partake in the experience.

"Yum, look at all those chocolate cakes..."

"...and the pyramids of macaroons."

The THINGS got enough of the “food of the Gods” to last them till they arrive at the next stop on their world tour. (Trust me.) They are off to the UK next, where I’m hoping Spring has sprung and they get to spend more time outdoors. Watch for further installments of their Excellent Adventure on www.ironicmom.com.

Meantime… I have to get back to my new job.

Shoes definitely NOT made for walking.