Thursday, June 30, 2016

Don't Tell Her

Aeronautical engineers have speculated over the years that a bumble-bee is incapable of flight.  We are unable to figure out how bumble-bees generate enough lift, their bodies are too large for the wingspan.  Yet we know that bumble-bees can and do fly.  While we have struggled with the physics of it, the bumble-bees have just gotten on with doing what they do.  Do you suppose if they understood that they should have difficulty flying, that they would? Please don't tell them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Off The Beaten Path Again

A couple of people recently asked me about traveling to Europe on organized tours versus traveling with just airline tickets and hotel reservations.  Both approaches have there merits.

Organized tours:
See the key highlights on the itinerary - they are planned and organized so you see the key sights.  The planners work out the logistics of travel times, tickets, security, even meals so that you don't miss things in the book of things to see before you die.  They work out all of the hotel reservations, ground transportation and tour arrangements.  In exchange for this, you see things at the pace of the tour, in the order the tour goes, and you have limited time to see anything else. There are a handful of places and things in the world that I would defiantely do an organized tour for (Egypt or Russia for examples.)  Organized tours will get you into see and do some things that are hard to do on your own, they know what has to be booked far ahead of time, or you simply won't get in.

Independent Travel:
This is leaving home with an airline ticket, hotel reservations that you have made, maybe ground transportation from city to city, and maybe a few reservations for sites or activities; but all things that you have booked yourself.  Most of my travel has been done this way.  Independent travel gives me the ability to see what I want to see, at my own pace and to change plans when I want to.  I can decide after I am there if I want to spend 5 hours or 5 minutes in a museum (yes, I have paid to get in a museum and after 5 minutes decided I didn't like it and was leaving and going to lunch.) In exchange, I sometimes find things are closed or booked full when I get there - there have only been a couple of times when this was a disappointment, most of the time I am happy to change directions and see what is around the corner to see.  I have a lot of time to explore, to see things that are not on any tour itinerary.  And I like getting off the beaten path.  On the most recent adventure, I took great joy in finding restaurants we were the only table not speaking Italian. I like to wander off down the side street and truly get off the beaten path.

So which is better?  It depends on the destination and how you like to travel.  I am fairly fearless about going it on my own and really enjoy the flexibility to see things on my own, but if truly felt uncomfortable or found it difficult making travel arrangements for a location, and organized tour would overcome that issue and empower the adventure.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Working in Translation

On Thursday I did something I have only done once before, a presentation through a language interpreter.  My office was visited by a delegation from mainland China. They had interesting and relevant questions about our work and the issues we work on.  The interpreter started out as very quiet and soft spoken, at the urging of both sides he become very engaged.  The amazing thing for me was the animated discussions members of the delegation had, debating questions to ask, and discussing the answers we had provided.  It was clear that most of them understood at least some English, I had no clue what they were saying.  

I came back to the office and did a google search for tips for working through an interpreter.  We didn't do too bad.  I was concerned that we were saying too many words before pausing for the interpreter to interpret. The experts urged completing the thought then allowing the interpreter to work, this is interpreting not translating.  A pure translation, well it results in lines like the first dessert on the menu above. The profiteroles were divine.     

Monday, June 27, 2016

Late Night Flights

So last month my 6:30 PM flight became an 8:30 PM flight from Chicago to San Francisco.  It happens, the later in the day you are departing the greater the likelihood your flight will be delayed.  I try to avoid overnight flights, but late night arrivals are a part of my normal flying. I always find flying somewhat magical, I love the moment when the plane lifts from the runway and starts to climb, when it levels off and throttles back at altitude, and when the landing gear catches the runway at landing. There a lot of pleasant associations with my father flying when I was a teenager.  But dad, never flew at night.  He was licensed to, he went out with an instructor and was cleared by the insurance company to fly at night, but he choose not to.  It was outside of his comfort level, he would fly into a rain storm, but not into the darkness.  I enjoy flying at night.

I like looking down and seeing the landscape lit up at night.  I am always amazed at the lights of the cities and at how much of this country has nothing lit up at night.  Seldon over land is the night free from streetlights, or headlights, but they get very sparse over the majority of the landscape.  I look down and I think, who lives there?  How to they live?  What do they do?  What are they doing?  Are they happy?

I get a lot of reading done at night on airplanes.  I have found that the best way for me to sleep on a plane, is for me to not to try to sleep on an airplane.  I read, listen to music and I drift off.  I wake, pull out the computer and work on a couple of pages of text, and I drift off again.  I still avoid overnight flights if I can, but since I quit trying to force myself to sleep on planes, I have found it easier to travel late at night or overnight.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Five Sunday Questions

Mom has been in the hospital this week.  At 89 she is nearing the end of nearly a decade of illness and decline, Parkinson's, dementia, and an inability to walk or transfer are leading to a laundry list of complications. I called for a briefing on her health, and it read like a check-list of the top ten things you are likely to die from at 89, with a few too many boxes checked.  And yet overnight she stabilized and plans were made to send her home. She wants to go home.  

What care we want or don't want at the end of life is a highly personal question, one we all need to think about and assure that our loved ones know what our wishes are.  So here are five questions about the inevitable end of life. 

1: If given the choice of tube feeding only and living an extra 2 months, or eating what you want when you want and maybe dying 2 months earlier, which would you want?  Eating is a sensual pleasure, I'd sooner die sooner and enjoy every bite along the way. 

2: Who do you most trust to make your health care decisions, when you are not able to do so?  My sweet husband, and he better not needlessly prolong my suffering or I will haunt him. 

3: If you had late stage dementia, you were unable to communicate your thoughts, and needed assistance with basic activities of daily living, and you needed open heart surgery, would you want the surgery or not?   When my mind goes, or my ability to communicate my  mind (the research is inconsistent on what works and what does not work inside the mind of a person with dementia,)  don't do anything that delays the death of my body.  As an adult I have the right to decline health care, and under those conditions I would decline, please do so on my behalf.  

4: If you are in serious pain, without pain medication you are aware of who you are, where you are and what you are doing, but with pain medication you are not aware of who, where and what; would you take the pain medication or not?   One of my biggest arguments with the nursing staff last year, was on over medicating me.  There is no reason for pain to keep me awake when I need to sleep, or to make me unable to connect with my environment, beyond that, I will take the pain so I can experience the world.  (It has been over a year since my last pain pill, it only hurts when I breath.)

5: If given the choice between care at home that barely met your care needs and care in a skilled nursing facility that catered to your every need, which would you choose?  I couldn't wait to get home, to get back my freedom and privacy. 

Now go talk to your most trusted family and friends and let them know what you want or don't want when you are unable to speak for yourself, and the end is near. DO IT TODAY!  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Someplace over Nowhere

It is amazing how much nowhere you can fly over in 9 hours.  It took my Grandmother most of a week to cross the Atlantic by ship 100 years ago.  She was very aware of what was there, she could see it, smell it, and feel it.  At 38,000 feet and 550 miles per hour, on top of the clouds, I really have no idea where I am, when I can see the earth below there is nothing.  I am someplace, over nowhere.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Buy That Silly Hat

I don't buy a lot of stuff anymore when I travel.  I collect "Pins" from the places I have visited and try to find one or two, they are small and generally cheap (except for Ferrari.)  When I do buy something it is usually practical, like shirts that I can actually wear (Stonehenge for example.)  But every once in a while, I see something silly and I just have to have it.  I will probably only wear the silly hat a couple of times, and 30 years from now when someone is sorting out the junk I leave behind someone will find it.  Maybe it will remind them, that I was capable of being impractical, and buying the silly hat.  It is Friday, what silly thing are you going to do today?

The picture was taken on one of the water buses in Venice.  Some of them have outdoor seating on the front or the back, here we were on the back of the boat. The white structure with the yellow bands, is one of the floating stations.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

If you could only smell this

We have to be careful about the development of smellavision.  There are some things most would enjoy smelling, some that would make many of us sneeze.  Other smells are strictly a personal taste, or lack there-of.

I like cheese, mostly pretty routine firm cheese like cheddars, Gouda, and Swiss.  I also like some hard cheese, some grated, some not.  In soft cheeses I falter, some them are very good, others I can't get past the smell of.  If you could smell the market display above you would know what I mean, some of them remind me of the unpleasant side of living in farm country growing up.  Be glad you can't smell them, hope you get a chance to smell them,

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Security in Europe

With this year's incidents in Paris and Brussels several people asked me if I felt safe traveling to Europe this summer.  My simple answer is the most dangerous part of the trip is getting to and from the airport.  I also knew that Europe would be serious about security.  

In Italy the step up is Secure Streets and it puts military police in public places, complete with automatic weapons.  Not just at the airport or train station, but at many public places, churches, squares, cultural attractions, museums, not just in major cities like Rome, but also in small towns. Once you get past the armed presence, it does seem to work. 

I had been warned that airport security at Rome had changed, and took "forever."  We arrived nearly 4 hours before flight time.  Security checked our passports before we were allowed into the terminal.  The first step was an interview, a five minute conversation with a specially trained security person.  Mine asked me about my trip, what did I like, what did I not like, what did things cost.  Once you clear that you are given plastic bags to put all electronics into for security screening.  In the next room you check in, get your boarding passes and check your bags.  Then you clear security, metal detectors, body scanners, all bags go through x-ray scanners.  Then you clear passport control.  Then for international departures, you take a bus to the terminal.  All in all, it took about 50 minutes for us to clear.  A neighbor of mine, spent nearly three hours doing the same thing in the same airport a month ago.  It is time consuming and a lot of silly steps, but it works.  

Security is nothing new in Italy, the Swiss Guards have been protecting Vatican City and the Popes for a millennium, and before that the sweetie above was on guard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How Do We Do It

I occasionally hear people whisper, how does he do it, how does he travel so much?  Let me dispel a couple of rumors, I am not a trust fund baby - we don't make a-million dollars a year. We earn a good living, but to do so we have to maintain two modest homes in two states, and only live under the same roof 4 months out of the year.  I don't own a Ferrari, I also don't have a car payment.  The MBAs say we use too little leverage, meaning we have too little debt.  We were both raised to live within our means.  As essentially farmers, my parents were never sure of income from one year to the next, avoided debt, and set a budget each year to live comfortably with what was available.  I learned from this. We have little debt, allowing us to live with the income we have.

So how do we travel so much?

We leverage business travel to take personal trips.  Sometimes, like Germany in 2015 and Italy in 2016, the personal trips are add on's to work travel.  J's work brings opportunities for international conferences and research from time to time. I try to add a night or two onto my work trips, if they are trips to someplace I want to visit.

For the trip to Italy, J's airline ticket, and five of the 14 nights accommodations were covered by his employer and the conference he was participating in. I used frequent flyer miles for my ticket.  Our out of pocket cost for the other 9 nights of hotels, food, rail, ground and water transportation was about $3,000.  Not a bad deal.  $3,000 is not that hard to come up with, $250 a month for 12 months.  Split that between two adults each earning a decent living and we can save it out of pocket money if we try.

I pile up a lot of frequent flyer miles.  One of my goals when I changed professions at mid-life, was to do work that allowed me to take 5-10 business trips per year.  There was something romantic about the idea of traveling for business.  About the second trip, I was passing through Orlando International Airport and someone solicited me for an airline frequent flyer mile credit card, from a company I already had a credit card with.  I called when I got home, and they converted my account.  With the sign up bonus miles and a couple of work trips, I did my first free trip the following summer, San Francisco.  I don't carry credit card debt, but I also don't carry a lot of cash or write checks.  So I use the cards for everyday expenses, and pay the bills in full when they come in.  In doing do I earn 25,000 miles per year, maybe more.

A key to frequent flyer miles is to concentrate all air travel on one or two airlines.  If you fly whatever airline you feel like, you end up with a few miles here and a few miles there, and never enough to do anything.  I have two credit cards tied to airline frequent flyer miles. Needless to say almost all of my travel is on those two airlines. I pay about $90 a year on each in annual fees, but I get extra miles, free checked bags and priority boarding with both of them.  If I travel a couple of trips a year on each airline, the free checked bags more than offset the annual fees.  When booking work travel, I can justify paying $50 more for travel on my preferred airlines, by simply putting in the comments that I get free checked bags with this airline.

I am also a member of about every hotel frequent traveler program out there.  Most of them allow you to designate an airline frequent flyer program to earn miles for hotel stays.  I occasionally earn a free hotel night, but I almost always earn frequent flyer miles for the 30+ hotel nights I spend each year.  I also pick up frequent flyer miles on car rentals.

When I add all of this together, I get to go and explore the adventure of the world.  

Monday, June 20, 2016


We went to Modena Italy on a mission, Modena is known for three things, balsamic vinegar, Pavarotti, and very fast cars.  Modena is the birth place of Ferrari, Pagani, Lamborghini,and Maserati.  Given time I would love to explore all four, having not won the lottery we held ourselves to Ferrari.  Enzo Ferrari was born and raised in Modena, and the museum dedicated to the history of Ferrari is in Modena, just a few blocks from the train station, part of it in the building that once housed Enzo's father's fruit wholesaling business. The collection in Modena concentrated on history and Ferrari in the movies.  It is a very nice collection.

The Ferrari factory, and the second museum are about 10 miles away in Maranello, a shuttle bus is available between the two for 12- Euros per person round trip.  The collection at Maranello focusses on racing, primarily F-1.   The tour was nice, there is a small snack bar at Maranello.  They will let you sit in a Ferrari and they take your picture, if you like it you can buy it (the picture and I assume the car.)

How could I resist, I look so good in it and it fits so well! 

Biggest Surprises in Hotels

Walking through the doors of a hotel, I am never 100% what I will find; there is often a surprise, some good, some not.

I have had some amazing views over the years, the second time I was in San Francisco I booked a bargain deal at a Holiday Inn in the financial district - figuring I'd have a decent place to sleep and a view of the dumpsters, imagine my surprise when I was on the 14th floor with balcony overlooking the Coit Tower with the Golden Gate Bridge off to the far left.  Then there was the $300 a night room in DC with a view of a brick-wall 10 feet away.   One time in Philadelphia I went to check in and housekeeping was running behind.  I said no problem, here is my cell number I will go get some work done call me when it is ready.  A couple of hours went by and I went back to the desk to ask.  The woman was very apologetic, the backlog had been resolved for over an hour, and they had missed the note to ring my phone (leaving the number had been their idea.)  She moved me to an outside corner suite with a spectacular view of City Hall, what a nice surprise.  Last summer in Germany we had two nice surprises to suites.

When I checked into the room above in West Glacier Montana, there was a surprise I never expected to see, a sign that instructed guests to not drink the water.  The water supply was from a stream, it was the end of the spring melt season and the runoff from the winter pastures had exceeded the ability of the local water plant, bottled water was supplied.

I am always surprised by good hotels, that have allowed rooms to become worn and tattered.  I am not surprised by poor maintenance in a cheap motel, but I am disappointed by it in a Hilton, or Marriott.  It is a pleasant surprise to find a hotel that has just completed a really good remodel, doing it right can make a 30 year old hotel look like new.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Bike Questions?

How about five questions on bikes? I learned to ride as a kid, I was ungainly and uncoordinated as a kid and riding a bike was one of the few things I was pretty good at. I have ridden on and off through my adult life.

1: Do you own a bike?  Yes, four of them, my original Schwinn balloon tire, coaster brake bike - it was a birthday present when I was about 12 or 13, a Trek 1200 Aluminum road bike - a professional grade racing bike - I have owned it about 25 years - it is frighteningly fast,  a Fuji Absolute 3.0 street hybrid - I bought it for local fun riding and commuting - it has been two years since I have commuted to the office - I am hopeful that I will be able to start riding to office again this summer, and a little green Schwinn Lupo folding bike - Metro allows folding bikes anytime - I bought it to take advantage of that.
2: What is the fastest you have ever moved on a bike?  29 miles per hour, downhill with a little bit of a tail wind on the Trek.
3: Have you ever ridden an electrically assisted bicycle? I have rented them twice in San Francisco - I will own one some day.
4: When was the last time you rode a bike?  About three weeks ago - I have been on the road too much recently.
5: Many cities now offer "Bikesharing" a system of short term bike rental, with stations spread across the city, have you ever used a bike-share system?  Yes, here in DC, also in Chicago and Boston.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

google is playing with my pictures again

A little video collage

Old Stuff In Rome

The Castle St Angelo will be the subject of future posts.  It is an ancient castle, a fort.  It has served as a refuge for Popes fleeing invaders.  Parts of it area old, very old.  The floor above has been trod on for a long time, a very very long time.  And I complained that the carpet in my office hadn't been replaced since 1990.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Iconic Images


When you see an image of the Colosseum, you think of Rome, when you think of Rome, one of the first images to come to mind is likely to be the Colosseum.  Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben, Washington DC has the Washington Monument.  The Colosseum kind of beats them all, it has been there for a couple-of-thousand years. I had seen the outside of it, but I had never been inside.  It was on my very short list of "must do's" for this trip.  J was tied up in a conference for two days (the conference was the reason for the trip) and he had been there - done that.  So I went solo.) I avoided the tour touts outside and got in line for tickets.  The line moved along well, you clear security with X-ray and metal detectors and then buy tickets.  The base ticket includes the forum and Palatine Hill and is good for two consecutive days.  The line moved along well and took less than 30 minutes.  There was a family of 6 from England in front of me, the teenage daughter started quoting "Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my" from the Wizard of Oz, a mixed reference to the ancient entertainment in the Colosseum, her father muttered something about not wanting to be related to her.  I thought it was funny.  

The Colosseum was packed, maneuvering around the guided tours clogging up the narrow passageways was a bit of a challenge.  I am really good at saying "scuzzee!" and muscling my way through.  There are two levels open, there are very steep steps, and two handicap accessible elevators at one end.  A lot of steep stairs present a significant challenge for me, so I headed for the elevator prepared to argue that yes I needed to use the elevator.  Something I learned a long time ago, is never ask an Italian about their health, unless you want to hear all the details, I was ready to unload the details about my spinal tumor and rebuilding my spine.  I pushed the red button for access to the elevators, and the gate opened.  I was ready for an argument that didn't need to take place.  The upper level is really a mid-level.  It offers a different perspective and was well worth the time.  There are guided tours of a higher level, and another that goes into the labyrinth below the floor level.  If you are interested in those, you should book ahead (online.) 

What did I think, it is a massive icon of world history.  It is a model of sports arenas for decades to come, right down the emperor's box (modern luxury sky boxes.)  I am glad I did it, now I have been there done that, bought the T-shirt.  There are other sights to see the next time (in other words, I wouldn't bother going back for a second visit inside.)    

Oh, and Rome will always find a way to throw a monkey wrench into your plans, Rome has been disrupting visitors plans for centuries.  I had planned to take the subway across town to the Colosseum, the gates were closed and this sign was up.  No problem, a 10-euro taxi ride put me right where I wanted to be.  In Rome, always have a plan B.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Standing on My Head to Please My Readers

If you are itching to see pictures of the trip to see Italy, want to see them faster, or want to see more of them, browse on over to The Adventure Continues.  Less commentary and more pictures.  It will take me a few days to build it out, but it is off to a good start.

Don't put off travel for work

A request for a proposal for a major project hit my desk two days before I left for Italy, a five year million dollar project.  I could have stayed home and worked on the proposal, part of me wanted to do that, and another part of me was reminded that we regret most what we didn't do.  Early in my working career, I had a vacation planned to New Orleans, I was all but packed, when the boss announced the launch of a major project the following week. A project that earned me most of a year's income in a week.  We talked, I told him the project was hopelessly behind schedule, he told me construction management had promised him it would be finished and told me "if I wanted the lead on it, I needed to change my travel plans."  I cancelled the hotel reservations - I never did make that trip.  Two days before the launch date, construction management broke their promise and put the project off a week,  well after I would have been home if I had taken the trip as planned.  I think I had a third gin that night.  I committed that I would not do that again.

And so away I went to Rome, despite competing demands for my time in the office.  The project was still here when I got back, in fact they had made little progress is deciding what they need from me in the two weeks I was gone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Roman Pantheon

The Pantheon in Rome was built about 2,000 years ago.  It is a marvel of design and engineering.  Having been built long before electric lighting, there is a round opening in the top of the dome that lets in wonderful light.  It is definitely worth the visit - and revisit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Monday, June 13, 2016


I am shocked and saddened by the senseless hate crime and act of terrorism in Orlando.  I lived in Orlando from 1980 to 1995, I was not born there, never lived there with my parents, but in many ways I consider Orlando my home town.  I went to college there, grew as an adult there, came to self acceptance there.

News reports are 50 dead and over 50 wounded by a nut with a gun.  A man who should not have had access to guns.  His former wife is reporting that he was violent and "beat her."  If she had reported this, and if Florida cross links databases, he would not have been able to purchase or possess guns legally.  She thought he was mentally ill - very angry - why was he not flagged in the databases as mentally unstable - it would have stopped his access to some guns.  If a health care professional had reported him as unstable, he would not have been able to buy guns through a licensed gun dealer.  His father said that seeing two men kissing a month ago, set the gunman off in a fit of anger.  In simple words his family knew he was angry, violent and unstable and they did nothing.  There are reports that the gunman had a security guard license allowing him to carry weapons.  One report from any of the people who knew he was unsafe, would have called into question his suitability to own and carry guns. We have laws, a lack of reporting and of cross linking databases, allows people who should not have access to guns, to commit this kind of atrocity.

There are questions of religion coming into this.  I can understand practitioners of a religion refraining from a behavior. I have friends who are vegetarian or refrain from sex outside of marriage as part of their religious practice and I am fine with that.  But any religion - and self described clergy person who promotes the idea that non-adherents of a particular faith should be compelled to comply or punished, are not promoting a religion, they are promoting terrorism and promoting hate crimes.  (A lot of "Christians" need to reconsider their views on abortion, homosexuality and same sex marriage.)  I won't object to your religious practices as long as they don't hurt others and you don't impose your religious views or practices on others - let alone kill others in the name of your religion.  It is easy to paint with a broad brush on this, but a more careful examination shows that only a minority of practitioners of any religion try to force their views or punish non-adherents.  A minority that give the rest a bad name.

Pulse is / was a gay club.  It was not there when I lived there, but I spent my fair share of late nights at Southern Nights, the Cactus Club and The Club at Firestone, I never could dance - but that didn't stop me from trying and having fun. The music, the beat, and the crowds were energizing. For several years I ran with the Orlando FrontRunners, I fear that old friends were at Pulse, it is the kind of place many of them would have been on a Saturday night.  If I still lived in Orlando, I probably wouldn't have been at Pulse, my late night clubbing days are long past, I but I have no doubt I would have known people who were there. Look at the helicopter views of the club, those cars left parked in the lot and on the street out front, some of them will never be driven by their owners again.  How sad.

Orlando will be forever changed by this.  Healing will never be total - I grieve for Orlando.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


It is Sunday, so I need five questions.  Let me see, how about five questions about summer?

1: What is your favorite thing about summer? - warm weather

2: What is your least favorite thing about summer? - humidity

3: Do you change the kind of footwear you wear in the summer?  - not really - I would wear my crocks but Sweet-Bear refuses to be seen with me in public if I do.

4: Any special travel plans for this summer? - not really, our vacation is late spring - no plans for summer yet - I need to go visit family in Florida.

5: Have you ever gone surfing?  -No, body image issues got in the way when I was younger.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Simple Things Make Me Happy

A month ago I was on a 4 1/2 hour flight from San Francisco to Dallas - kind of a round about way to get from San Francisco to Washington DC, but that is modern airline flying.  I recently went from DC to Detroit to Philadelphia - it was half the price of flying from DC to Philadelphia on the same airline.
Flying these days, especially flying coach, is an exercise in enduring tight spaces.  Every, or nearly every seat, on every flight is full.  Airlines have cut back the number of seats, until they fill most of them, and the airlines are making significant profits for the first time since deregulation.  It also means that the three and three seating in the back of the bus is packed tighter than a strippers G-string. I just sort of tolerate it, it is part of the adventure.

So the flight from SFO to DFW boards with the usual warnings that it is a fully filled flight, the normal fight over over-head bin space.  They close the door, the aisle clears, and the middle seat in my row is empty.  I take a picture, settle in and a smile comes over my face, I have elbow room for the next four hours.  I watched a movie, some silly Will Smith romantic comedy about pickpockets and confidence tricksters.  It was a very relaxing trip - unlike the one 15 years ago that ended in the lights going out and an emergency landing - but that is another story.

Even a bigger smile, on the flight from Rome to Philadelphia, a 9-hour plus flight, I had an empty seat next to me, so I had an aisle and a window seat.  I napped for 3-4 hours, watched two movies.  It is still a long flight, but so much easier with a little extra room.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pushing My Limits

Most of the time I stay comfortably inside of my comfort zone, easily within my limits.  It is safe, it is comfortable, it is familiar.  It is boring.

I learn most about myself when I stretch my limits.  When I commit to doing something I am not sure I can do.  Over a year ago, I committed to flying solo to Frankfurt Germany and taking a train from there to Stuttgart to meet Jay.  When I made the plans, I was not sure I could do it.  I was not moving well, not sure what was wrong, but I knew something was not right.  It is one of the few times I bought trip cancellation insurance when I booked the trip.  Then I went through last May, June and July.  The doctors asked me what my goal was, and I kept saying in August I am flying to Germany for two weeks vacation - my goal is to be able to do that.  There were times when I doubted I would make it, or how comfortably I would make it, but I pushed on.  Stretching my limits, leaving my comfort zone.  Even in the best of times, flying to a country where I don't speak a word of the language, finding my way to the hotel is a stretch - I did it in Athens a few years ago.  I did it last summer.

The picture above is in the train station in Frankfurt, waiting for my train to Stuttgart.  I made it, I was so happy - I may have shed a tear.

This was not the first time I have stretched my limits, it won't be the last.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Never Leave Home Without it!

If all went as scheduled, I am back home again.  I am checked in at Rome, cleared security even the psychological screening.  Yes, May was a busy travel month, Chicago and San Francisco on work, then Italy for two weeks of vacation.

There are a few things I never leave home without.

My travel vest.  It has pockets for everything I need, wallet, phone, keys, even my Kindle.  I started out with a cheap safari vest I bought at Disney, and a few years ago I bought this one from an online travel specialty shop I found in the Sky Mall catalog. .  It is specifically made for travel out of a modern synthetic fabric.  It has plenty of zippered or velcro pockets.

A phone, I don't make a lot of calls, but having a phone with global service has helped me out of a tight spot when traveling a couple of times.  Of course these days, it is also a camera, music player, file storage, GPS unit, compass, how did we ever leave home without them?

A camera. At one time I owned literally a bag full of professional cameras, four or five cameras, and a dozen lenses.  These days, it is a good, compact digital.  It has a nice lens, wide angle to telephoto and tons of storage - the card will hold about 6,000 images at maximum resolution. I also carry two backup batteries for it.

A messenger style bag.  I almost always check bags when I travel.  And occasionally bags  miss a connection.  So I carry a fresh shirt, undies and a back up toiletries kit in my bag on the plane with me.  In a pinch, it will get me through until my baggage catches up or I have time to shop.

I carry a couple of USB chargers, a couple of sets of earphones, and cable adapters that experience has taught me I may need.

My Kindle, I can carry a dozen books for a few ounces.  Text to speech allows me to listen if I don't feel like reading.

Glasses, a back-up pair of bifocals, and a pair of distance glasses.  I sometimes carry sunglasses, but not often.

A travel document case, with frequent traveler member cards, a backup credit card or two, back-up cash, and my passport card.  The passport card only works for border crossings in North America, I couldn't get into Europe with it, but in a pinch, would likely get me back in the country coming home.  My global entry ID card - another back up ID.

A neck-pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs for airline flights over about 4 hours.

What do you never leave home without?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Italian Trains

Italy knows how to do trains.  Fast trains, slow trains, new trains and old- very old trains.  They run more or less on time, they get you from where you are to where you want to be.  Tickets can now be booked online and printed at home, or from easy self serve vending machines in the stations - if - and only if- you have a pin and chip credit card (I do and it works.)

The high speed lines move up to 300 kph, that is kicking right along.  Yesterday we took a slow local from Modena to Bologna, a high speed from Bologna to Rome (in first class) and then the Leonardo Express from Rome to the Airport.  All in all a very nice experience.

This adventure is nearly over, I have well over 2,200 images on the camera to keep me blogging for a while.

Look Again

Look again, those birds are perched on top of the reflection.  So is the art the giant reflective bean, or the city reflected on the surface?  The shape orb remains the same, but the image is constantly changing, it changes with the light, the weather, and the surroundings.

Am I an observer, or part of the art, or both?  Can you find me in the image?

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Malcolm Forbes Slept Here

A few years ago we were wandering around the back roads and small villages of Normandy one afternoon and I turned the corner and I could see this sitting on the hill.  There was a parking area and signs for tickets so we stopped.  Nice little Chateau.  The building on the left contained the ticket desk, a gift shop and a small museum.  The Chateau was owned by Malcolm Forbes.  He bought it as a base when he was ballooning in the Normandy.  Nice little cottage for weekend getaways.

Monday, June 06, 2016

It is just my size

Surprisingly comfortable, and it has to be red.

An Open Letter to the Donald

Dear Donald,

Everyone seems to agree that you will win the Republican nomination and be a candidate for President of the United States.  To be blunt, if you are elected, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into.  Imagine how ill prepared an average congress person would be to operate your hotel business, that is how unprepared you are for government.  Running a government, is vastly different than running a business.  It is even more difficult if half of the Republicans and nearly all of the Democrats are opposed to you.

You love to get your way, and you usually do one way or another.  The only way to do that in government is to move to the center, focus on the common ground that both sides can agree with.  That probably means the issues you have screamed about on the campaign trail, don't stand a snowball's chance in hell in DC.

You are not a lawyer, you need to surround yourself with very good ones, not ones that agree with you and will dig for a way to stretch the law to fit your needs, you need the kind of lawyers that will tell you what you can and cannot do, and you need to pay attention to them.

The Constitution is a complicated law.  Reading it alone, will not tell you what it means.  Even Scalia looked beyond the words to the intent in attempting to interpret it.  Others view it as a living document, changing over time with changes in society, after all many of the men who wrote it owned slaves and denied their wives the right to own property - let alone vote.  Barack Obama is a good Constitutional lawyer - hire him to advise you.

Governing is not a popularity contest.  Getting elected is, but doing a good job once you have been elected is not.  To be effective you have to stand firm, explain why, and do what needs to be done.  To quote a past President, " if you want a friend in Washington, DC, get a dog."

Leave your kids behind to run the business - don't bring them along.  The pictures of you son's on safari killing big game, will haunt them and you in office.  Don't bring the baggage along.

Study the separation of powers.  It is tempting to meddle in other branches of government - you can lead or encourage, but not interfere.  Leave the Judiciary alone.

Please don't count on my vote.
Take care,


Sunday, June 05, 2016

Unexpected Questions

Life sometimes surprises us, how about five questions about surprises?

1:  What was the most surprising thing your grandparents ever did?  My mother's mother was a very quiet, conservative women.  I was driving the grandmothers from Michigan to Florida one fall shortly after I finished high school. We stopped for gas in Tennessee and Grandmother Harp bought a bag full of firecrackers.  She loved them.  I locked them in the trunk so she wouldn't light them and throw them out of the car window as I was driving down I-75.

2: Have you ever turned the corner in a museum and come face to face with a surprise?  A couple of times, American Gothic in a museum in Chicago, we have all seen the posters, there was the original in the flesh.  And in the British Museum in London, I turned the corner and nearly walked in the Rosetta Stone.  I always assumed it would be in a museum in Egypt, but, there it was - in the stone so to speak.

3: Have you ever been totally surprised by a guest at the door of your home?  No, my life is pretty predictable and boring

4: Have you ever left on vacation not knowing where you were going?  Yes, I did this to my X one time. I had refused to tell her where we were going to keep her from obsessing about it for weeks - I had narrowed it down to two destination and I decided about 100 miles up the road to go to DC rather than Ashville. I had a great time, she - well she wanted to sit in the room and watch TV. I made a major life decision on that trip.

5:  Have you ever told the server in a restaurant to surprise you?  Yes.  I have told them what kinds of things I like and said bring me the best.  Trust and you will receive the good stuff.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Greetings from the Hotel Grande Italia

We have finished two days in Venice, been there, walked that, bought the funny hat.  I rather enjoyed it.  When I was in Florida I worked for developers and builders, we worked on some kind of low and wet sites, okay we paved over some swamps, but nothing like Venice.  Oh myyyy!  The city moves at it's own pace and has for 1,000 years.  It is amazing.  Don't be fooled by that mirage in Las Vegas, Venice is nothing like the Venetian. The winding streets hold a 1,000 surprises, the canals truly are the main - streets of the city.  The Palace and Basilica are spectacular. There will be a few postings over coming months, including a couple of forbidden photos.  In Italy you have to learn the difference between no-flash and no-photo - these were taken in no-photo zones. (Sometimes you just have to break the rules, color outside the lines, take a walk on the wild side.)

We have been staying at the Hotel Grande Italia in Padova, about a 27 minute train ride from Venice.  The name of the hotel and the location - directly across from the railroad station nearly kept me from booking. The name sounds like a movie title, or murder mystery. But it had good reviews, air-conditioning, and an elevator (actually 2 of them.) It is quite nice, it is modern interior in and old building.  The room is spacious even by American standards, neat and modern.  Breakfast is included ( - said it was not.) and is good.  The surrounding neighborhood, is marginal - as areas around train stations often are.   Maybe it will inspire me to write a mystery.  (The apartment in Rome as a #20 Gregoriano - another address that could title a good mystery.)  


The spring bloom reminds me that life is short, like the bloom on the tulips, it is finite and undefined.  You know the blooms will be here only for a while, but you really don't know how long.  Life is like that.  But while the bloom is on, while life is here, it is beauty, glory and fun.  Enjoy while we can.

Nothing dark and sinister, just thinking about life.