Author Archives: flipsbyphipps

# 50 — Owl Prowling

I'm how old????  50??? Isn't that half a century?

I’m how old???? 50??? Isn’t that half a century?

As I went through this year-long challenge I had hoped my # 50 was going to be a big exciting grand finale.  In fact it’s just the opposite, but I think it makes some sense and is some how very poetic.

Two weeks ago I went up to Crane Beach to look for snowy owls.  According those in the know, there were several snowy owls to be found.  I’m not a bird watcher, although I am often amazed by the things they can do, but I think many of us, bird watchers or not, are in awe of the majesty of an owl.  And snowy owls are BE-U-T-FUL!  😉

It was a very cold Sunday morning, not the typical time I would go to the beach, but go I did.  Just walking through the dunes all alone was an experience in itself whether I found the owls or not.  One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to try be more in the moment.  I’m trying hard to let go of thoughts, disappointments, goals of the past and to really enjoy the now, and just BEING.  This was a good time and place to practice that.  It’s not easy but I am trying.

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I didn’t really know where to look, bu I had been told they were usually seen sitting up on the dunes.  Well, there are a lot of dunes at Crane Beach!  I knew there had been an organized outing the day before so logic told me to follow the foot tracks so that’s what I did.  Up and over dunes, down and around frozen streams, and snow covered flora and fauna I went.

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I realized as I was walking, I was noticing and paying a lot of attention to the many misc. tracks both human animal.  What were the misc. creatures that wandered the dunes?  This quickly turned into more than just an owl prowl!

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I can’t tell you how beautiful it was out there that morning.  It was so peaceful and quiet, the only sound was the wind, sea and unfortunately the occasional sound of a small plane flying around.  It was probably another student taking the same lesson I did a few weeks ago, and on the same flight path!

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As I was hiking along I looked to my far left and saw something large-ish sitting up on a distant dune. I could tell there was SOMETHING there, but was it a big seagull or was it an owl?  I couldn’t tell.  So I just aimed my camera, zoomed in as far as far as it could go and hoped for the best.  When I looked at the photos after, it was so bright and sunny I still couldn’t tell, so I still had no idea if I did in fact spot what I’d come looking for.  So I kept walking.  After trekking through the dunes for about 1.5 hours, I realized that I needed to turn around and head back.  I came to the spot where I saw the large creature and it was still there!  So I decided to try and get a little closer to see what it was.  As far off from it as I was, it knew I was coming.  I only got about 15 feet when I saw it fly off, but I could tell, even far off, it was an owl and not a seagull!!  I was disappointed that I didn’t get a good view of him, and that I disturbed him, but I reconciled that by telling myself “someone else got to see him fly.”  When I got home and uploaded the photos here’s what I saw:

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I wish I had a better view and knew what I was looking at when I saw him, but at least I DID see him.  Isn’t he beautiful?  I wish he hadn’t flown away so soon, and that I’d had my camera ready to take a photo when he did fly away.  Oh well, at least I did get this one!

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Off the dunes and back on the beach, the scenery was still beautiful!  Ice ice baby!

While I was out there, I kept thinking about Cheryl Strayed and her book “Wild” which also just came out as a movie.  I have to tell you that her book and her experience of walking the PCT alone had a great effect on me and inspired much of this project.  I wish I could have done something like what she did, but let’s face it, I’m not 26 years old, I’m never going to walk the full Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Coast Trail, but I did one tiny bit as you may know.  Even though I can’t do what she did (my knees won’t let me) she was very inspiring. There I was I was trekking through the dunes by myself in a VERY safe and secure place, but I kept thinking to myself “What if something happened?”  I didn’t carry my phone with me so what if I’d slipped or fell through some ice?  What if I was attacked by some unwelcoming creature? What if there was some creepy guy lurking in the dunes up to no good?  I can’t imagine what she was thinking on her trek where real dangers lurked.  That made me admire her and what she did that much more.  So that afternoon, after my owl prowl, I decided to conclude this project by going to see “Wild” it seemed appropriate and a fitting way to finish.

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So here’s to all the brave and wild ones out there who want to challenge themselves somehow, someway, big or small!! Just do it and embrace getting out of your “norm’ and trying something new or different!

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# 49 — Spoken Word Poetry

49 years old.  Wandering around Waikiki Beach in Salem.  Pondering the future???

49 years old. Wandering around Waikiki Beach in Salem. Pondering the future???

I’ve never been particularly interested in poetry, but recently I have been more curious about spoken word poetry.  From what I know, it’s more of a performance and less abstract and ethereal than the poetry most of us had to learn in school when we were kids.  I don’t mean a “show” but the way it’s delivered is part of the interpretation of the poetry.  I don’t imagine it has as much of an impact on paper as it does being read/or spoken.

My friend Kristen is familiar with some spoken word poets so she said she’d go with me to an open night somewhere.  On a brutally cold night, the first week in the New Year, we ventured out to Walnut Street Coffee Cafe to check it out.

8183626858_30d5094e6e_z (2)Poetry readings were big in the 1950s and 1960s; they were held at coffee houses were hip people came together, young and old, intellectual and not, political and not, to share ideas and experiences.  It seems not much has changed.

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The biggest differences I can see were 1) smoking is no longer allowed in coffee houses, and 2) coffee now comes in paper cups, not ceramic.

Walnut Street Coffee Cafe has what they call their “Speak Up” nights, where anyone can come in, read some poetry, or share some other sort of writing, or even to just talk about something they felt the need to talk about. Everyone who wanted signed up, and was given 5 minutes. There were young spoken word poets, an older Greek gentleman who wanted to talk about morality, a few traditional poets who wanted to read some of their works and a young transgender who, obviously terrified, stood up to share something she had written about the recent loss of someone in her her life.

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Again, not much as changed.

The evening was hosted by a man named Tony, who when I first saw him thought “he needs to get rid of the Little Lord Flaunteroy” hair cut!  But he was so charismatic, gregarious, encouraging to every person who went up to share something and was a wonderful host.  Another lesson reminder for me, not to judge a book by it’s cover.  One of the amazing things Tony does after each person speaks, is he presents them with some sort of coin (it’s a bit of a presentation in itself) along with a few witty sentences about the life and travels of that coin, but he relates it to what the person was just talking about!  What a mind!  He only had a couple of minutes to come up with something, and present it with ease!

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This is Tony scribbling away while listening to the speaker.

About an hour in we took a little break so everyone could get more coffee or another drink.  From what I could see, Tony and I were the only ones drinking alcohol.  I had a glass of wine; I noticed he had a beer.  Everyone else was drinking…coffee.  Even Kristin was drinking tea!  Clearly I’m not a cool and hip as I like to think!

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Me and Kristin getting ready for Regie.

After the break was the headliner, yes, they had a special guest coming in to perform some of his poetry.  His name is Regie Gibson, and all I can say is “Wow.”  Regie’s performance, for lack of a better word, was everything I was expecting and hoping for.  If you’re not familiar with what spoken word is, I guess I’d describe it as poetry with an urban, and or inner city edge.  Poems are not about the sky and running streams, generally.  That’s not to say that all spoken poetry is about being on the streets, but I feel like that’s where it came from.   In thinking about spoken word poetry I couldn’t help but to also make a connection with rap music.  I wondered which came first spoken word or rap.  It was Kristin who reminded of the good old coffee house days.  The person performing their poetry usually gets into a certain rhythm and cadence that emphasizes the passion and power of the words.  It really is powerful when done well.  I wish I’d written down the name of the pieces Regie recited to us because they were beautiful and full of thought, power, and emotion.  He performed three pieces I think, but everyone loved him so that Tony asked to do another.  For the encore he decided to read a piece that’s pretty long so he doesn’t get do read it very often.  My description won’t do it justice, none of what I’m saying about him does, but it seems he is a great fan of Greek history and mythology, so he told a sort of urban interpretation of Agamemnon!   I can’t tell you how fabulous it was!!  Funny, but getting all the points right and telling it in away you’ve never heard it but would want to again and again!!  One quote I remember “If yo mama is showing you her rack, someone is gonna die.”  Hysterical and a fun way to learn your ancient Greek history!!

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There was another break after Regie and by then it was getting late, so Kristen and I decided to leave.  I would HATE to be the people who had to follow Regie!!

It was a wonderful and inspiring way to spend a very cold winter evening.  The cafe is tiny and the room was jam packed, which apparently it isn’t always.  Maybe it was because it was a cold night, maybe because it was the first of a new year.  Who knows, it was standing room only and everyone seemed to really WANT to be there, to listen and share. I think that right there is the most powerful part of the evening.  I want to go back and maybe I’ll even give my hand a try at writing a performing some spoken word poetry.  A question in my mind is “Can prissy white girl have the same effect?”  I don’t know.  I may have it all wrong.  What I do know is I want and need to see more!!  I’ll go back to Walnut Street Cafe and now I want to check out some other places too!

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# 48 — Reiki Healing

48 years old in Havana, Cuba.  This was at our farwell dinner hosted by a local artist.  What a FABULOUS trip!!

48 years old in Havana, Cuba. This was at our farewell dinner hosted by a local artist. What a FABULOUS trip!!

If I could have one wish for my birthday, it would be to have one day, okay maybe two days, or even a week, being completely pain free.  I can’t imagine how that would be.

I have a degenerative disc in my lower back that has given my problems since I was 25 years old.  I remember the first time it started causing me problems because it was when the protests in Tiananmen Square happened in China.  My friend Alicia and went out for Chinese food that night (our sign of support to the Chinese people) and I remember having slump in an awkward way in the booth to relieve the pain.  It’s sent me to the emergency room a few time and caused me to miss an uncles funeral. It took years to finally get a diagnosis of what the problem was.  “No, it’s a deep muscle cramp” I kept telling one doctor!  I deal with chronic pain from it every day.  Some days are better than others, and depending on how active I’ve been or how long I’ve been standing, the pain can be excruciating.  I’m guessing that surgery will be somewhere down the road, but not until I can’t take it anymore, or until I get full medical insurance, whichever comes first.

I also have a lingering frozen shoulder that came up on me in 2006.  If you don’t know what that means, basically the soft tissue solidifies for some reason, limiting mobility and causing extreme pain.  In my case I couldn’t move my arm to do anything. My physical therapist said mine was the worst case he’d ever seen.  Great.  PT was excruciating, but it did help me get better.  Today I have about 90% of the range I should have, but I still have pain, although it’s manageable.

Then there are the regular aches and pains of getting older, knees are stiffer, feet hurt (plantar fasciitis)  and my Achilles tendon gives regular trouble.  These are just the things I deal with daily.

Because I don’t have regular health insurance I’m always on the look out for alternative methods to ease some of my pains.  I’ve tried massage therapy, acupuncture, stretching, steroids and prescription medications, and with none of these really helping too much I thought I’d give Reiki a try, it’s an Asian form of hands on healing using energy.

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I don’t know if it’s me, my awareness, changes in my and my thinking, changes in the world, changes in more people accepting more alternative methods and beliefs, or if it’s Salem, but I’m much more curious and open to more holistic and spiritual ideas when it comes easing pains of all kinds.  Are more people abandoning traditional religious ideas, or is it that I have, and many of my friends have too so it seems like it’s becoming more prevalent?  Salem is an eclectic city where all sorts of alternative religions and aspects of spirituality thrive.  Yes, there are those who practice Wicca, you might call them witches, but there’s more to Salem than witches.  Many people believe in non-traditional ways of thinking, so it was easy to find a place to try Reiki.  Below are some of the things Reiki is supposed to help:

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I actually tried it for the first time earlier this year, I’m not sure why I didn’t consider it one of my 50for50s at that point.  I found a place that offered evening community sessions for $20.  I couldn’t pass it up.  When I say community session, that just means everyone is in one big room, but everyone still gets their own Reiki Master to treat them. ( I hope you realize this is not an experience I could take photos in, so there are few images in this post.)  I figured this is something you need to do more than once to see results, but I didn’t get back sooner because life got in the way and I was taking my Buddhism classes at that time too.   I recently went back and have had 3 sessions, but I’m not 100% how I feel about it.

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This is a stock photo, but the place I go is a large room, low lighting and calming music, just like you’d find in a spa setting for a good massage

There’s no question it’s a relaxing experience.  The Reiki Master spends an hour placing their hands on different areas of the body with the idea of sending their energy to you to help heal misc. ailments. You can actually feel the heat radiating from their hands.

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Last night for me felt a little different and I can’t explain the sensation.  I don’t know what I was feeling but it was intense. Was it the energy surging  through me that made me feel…forgive me…but it was almost an orgasmic feeling throughout my body.  It was so intense it was uncomfortable; I felt squirmy and like I needed to get up and move.  I didn’t though, I just pushed through.

 Honestly, I don’t think Reiki will be able to help my back; I think it’s too far gone.  But I’m hopeful about the frozen shoulder.  As I’m writing it’s hard to say how my shoulder is feeling because I started  a new work out program yesterday and my body is very sore EVERYWHERE!  So I have my regular pain AND sore muscle pain! Where does one end and the other begin? Oiy!   I’m going to give it a few more chances and see what happens.  If nothing else, it is a very relaxing hour; I know because of all the snoring around me!

The bottom line is it’s a positive thing to practice and way to think so it can’t be bad.

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Namaste.

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# 47 — Cooking Class

47 years old, I was playing in a cave dwelling  in NH that is known as Stonehenge of America.

47 years old, I was playing in a 7,000 year old cave dwelling in NH, a place known as Stonehenge of America.

I can cook, and I’d say I’m a pretty good cook. I’ve learned mostly by doing, and have never had a cooking lesson but I have thought about it.    If you’ve watched any of those cooking competitions, isn’t it amazing the things they can come up with off the top of their head?  I don’t know what I would do if given a basket with squid, Capt. Crunch cereal,  a can of rotel tomatoes and bologne and was told to make a gourmet dish!  I use recipes and like to try new things, but I’m also confident enough to just “wing it” on some things.  I don’t do this when and if I’m cooking for company, only for myself.  I’ve never had a kitchen disaster and have never cooked anything that was inedible.  Once did I try to make a corn chowder without out a recipe and it was only “meh.”  I ate some but didn’t keep the leftovers. When I cook I’m pretty good with the meat and potato things, anything with pasta, you know, standard things.  But when it comes to any sort of ethnic foods, other than Italian or Tex-Mex, I’m very intimidated.  I’m not a picky eater, and I’ll try most things…most, but I wouldn’t know where to begin when it comes to cooking anything Asian, Moroccan, Indian, etc.   So I decided a good thing to try was a cooking class for Indian food.  Yum!

I love Indian food, but I don’t know very much about it.  When I do go out for it, I usually order the same thing because I don’t know what else to get.  When I still lived in DC I’d let my friend Karen do most of the ordering because her ex-husband was Indian, so she knew all the good stuff! I do love it when restaurants have buffets because then you can try different things.

Last Friday I went to Eurostoves in Beverly for my class.  I must admit it’s a beautiful place!  They have an adjoining store, which believe it or not, I didn’t venture into!!  How did that happen!

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What a great space to cook in!

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And check out the stove I was cooking on! It’s for the pros.

I realized pretty soon after I got there, this wasn’t going to be a cooking “class,” at least not the kind of class I imagined or assumed it would be.  I expected the instructor and chef would teach us something about the Indian food, preparation, spices, maybe some skills….  No.  There were seven of us, and we each chose a station where there was a recipe printed for us.   No instructions, but the “official” instructor / chef, named Ravi was there to help us, as was John who works at Eurostove.  So no, it wasn’t really a cooking class, it was just a group dinner in which we all prepared something.  If you can read a recipe, you made the dish. I asked Ravi how he chose the menu and he said he didn’t, the director of the place did.  Hmmm, okay.  I spent the first 15 minutes wandering around trying to find utensils, pots, lids etc I needed for my menu item and then searching for the ingredients.  Some of the ingredients were ready for us and at our stations, but not all.  That’s kind of weird.  If they’re going to prep for us, do it all, or do none of it in my opinion.

My menu item was to be dessert, cardamom lemon rice pudding.

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Here’s my work station. Note the glass of wine.  In my book, you can’t cook without a glass of wine!  Right?

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I have minimal knife skills but with a good knife, it does make things easier!

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I’m working on my pudding!   The pudding had to cook for about an hour, so John suggested I make Basmati rice. Sure, why not!

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Cumin, ghee, bay leaf and ginger heating up.

Somehow the timing all worked out really well and all of our dishes were ready about the same time and were ready to be served!

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A lamb dish on the left, my rice pudding dessert on the right.

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Everything was wonderful!!  I wish I knew what it all was!  There was the lamb dish, a vegetable dish, a chicken dish, naan bread, my basmati rice and of course the pudding.

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This is Kathy and Ted (if I remember correctly) they were a very cute couple!

I mentioned I didn’t shop, and it’s probably a good thing.  I think it would be a very dangerous situation! Here are two new fun kitchen utensils I’d love to have!

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A knife sharpener on the left and a salt dish with a rubber closure on the right.

In the end it was a very nice evening/dinner party and I’m glad I participated, but did I learn anything?  Not really.

But Ravi and John were great and I had a great dinner!

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# 46 — Polar Plunge

46 years old, is'nt GROUPON a beautiful thing?  When I started this project many people suggested sky diving, but I'd all ready done it a few months after I moved to MA.  It was GREAT!!!!

46 years old, isn’t GROUPON a beautiful thing? It makes things possible!  When I started this project many people suggested sky diving, but I’d all ready done it a few months after I moved to MA. It was GREAT!!!!

I’m sure many of you took the ALS challenge this summer, the one where you poured a bucket of ice water over yourself.  I did it and yes it was cold.  But it seems I was up for a bigger challenge for my 50for50, and that was doing a Polar Plunge!

Early in the year, I was getting my hair cut by Sarah and I was telling her about my 50for50 project and we started talking about possible things to do.  She suggested a polar plunge and she said she’d do it with me because it was something she’d always wanted to do.  Deal!!  We had to wait almost a year, but finally on January 1 we did!  Polar Plunges are one of those things that when I hear about them or see stories on the news I think “Those people are crazy!  I would never do that!”  Well, never say never!

010 (1024x768)My friend Stephanie said she would meet us there to be our “documentarian” but no way would she be taking the plunge! Here’s a before picture of me and Sarah.  Keep in mind, we live in New England and it’s January.

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At least it was sunny!! According to the organizer and fire department, the water temperature was 40 degrees, so once we got into the water it would be warm, right?  Hmmmm, actually now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if there is something to that thought.

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There’s a big polar plunge event in Boston on New Year’s day too, but we decided to stay local and do the one in Salem instead.  It was a much smaller event, but I’m sure the experience was pretty much the same, minus the party element. But since we didn’t really know what we were getting into, this made perfect sense.  There was maybe 100 or so taking the plunge if I had to guess, maybe less.  Even the mayor was there!  Was she going to take the plunge too?

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Mayor Driscoll checking it all out.

Sarah and I got there and since we were newbies, we really didn’t know what to expect or what we were supposed to be doing.  After standing around a bit and psyching ourselves up, it was time to get ready.  The initial gathering was in a warm building which was really nice because afterwards everyone went back into that warm building!!  I wonder if the Boston event had such accommodations!  Coats were off , and outside we went to wait for instructions.

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That’s me on the right, after I’d checked out situation down by the water.  The plunge was being held at the boat launch dock rather than the beach which surprised me. Maybe it was because there was a building for us to go to, which was something to be grateful for.  The thing I didn’t like about the location was that the concrete had moss on it, making it slippery.  Luckily I didn’t see anyone fall when they were running out to the water, but they could have easily.

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We’re getting ready!

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Ready, set, GO!

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There we are all running into the water, and there’s the mayor on the side, I guess she opted out the plunge part!  Still, she was there to support and cheer us all on, so she gets points for that!  Thank you Mayor Driscoll!

Into the water we went.   I got in about up to my waist then stopped thinking that was good enough, but then I hesitated and thought about going in a little further.  That was my mistake.  With a polar plunge you can’t stop and think about it, you just have to go and do.  When I stopped the coldness started to register and I decided that I really didn’t need to go in any further, so out I went.  Still, waist deep is perfectly respectable, right?  Especially if you consider the fact that even in warm weather I don’t swim in the ocean.  I’ll get in to cool off, but that’s about it.

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Sarah emerged first, I followed after my hesitation.

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We did it!! So now let’s go inside!

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Here’s Stephanie, our photographer feeling warm and dry!  She told me later that she’d be up for it next year!  Yay!  Sarah and I both said we would it again, absolutely, because it really wasn’t that bad!  The thing is, yes, it’s cold.  But the adrenaline is pumping and you just do it.  You can’t think about it as I said.  Once you get in, the water is so cold that you don’t really feel it, OR, as I hinted above does it not feel so bad because the water is still a bit warmer than the air temperature?  I don’t know.  But when you first get in, the cold really isn’t so bad you just don’t notice.  When you get out, you head directly to your towels, robes, blankets, whatever to try and warm up.

Inside I found another friend Jane! She and her husband Josh also took the plunge

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I mentioned my mistake was my stopping and thinking about going further into the water, and yes I shouldn’t have stopped, but I made a bigger mistake than that.  When I was checking out the situation and saw the moss, I decided to not go barefoot as I had planned because I didn’t want to slip, so I decided to keep my shoes on– my fake Ugg like boots.  That seemed like a good idea, until I was coming out of the water and realized I didn’t have another pair of shoes!!  My feet were by far the coldest part of my body at that point, and I couldn’t feel them!  I’m standing there wet, with no coat on in 21 degree temps, but it was my feet that were miserable!  I just didn’t think that through, lesson learned!  But now what was I going to do?  Luckily Sarah was very prepared and brought an extra pair of flip flops so she saved me.  THANK YOU SARAH!

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My poor shoes.  I wore them because they’re really warm and comfy.  I don’t know that they’ll ever be the same.

So yes I did the polar plunge and got the t-shirt too.  I “Froze My Tush Off”, if only that were literally true!

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And yes, I would do it again, but I’ll be better prepared next time.  Try it, you might like it!!

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Happy New Year!!!  Make 2015 FUN!!!!

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#45 — BUTTER!! YUMMMMM!!

45 years old.  I was going through a pretty bad mid-life crisis.  I needed to do something outside of my norm, so I went to South Africa for three weeks to volunteer on two animal reserves.  One day we went to a school, it was one of the best trips and days of my life.

45 years old. I was going through a pretty bad time in my life and was in a mid-life crisis. I needed to do something outside of my norm, to get away from myself, my life, and do something big. So I went to South Africa for three weeks to volunteer on two animal reserves. One day we went to a school; it was one of the best days of my life during one of the best trips of my life.

What goes with home made jam? Butter of course–home made!  About a year ago I had an idea in my head to try and make butter.  How hard could it be?  People have been doing it for hundreds of years without fancy machines so I figured I could do it too!  When I started this activity, my plan wasn’t to make butter, it was to make cheese.  As it turned out, the cloudy drizzly day I decided to do this, I didn’t have everything I needed for cheese, nor the patience, so butter it was!

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Much to my surprise, butter has very few ingredients…two to be exact, cream and salt.  There are a couple of different methods you can use to make the butter; you can do it by shaking a container of cream, or you can use a mixer.  I opted for what seemed to be more authentic–the shaking method.  No, no churns were used or injured in this activity.

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So here I am already to shake rattle and roll!  I shook the container for about 15 minutes then checked to see how things were coming along.

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That sure doesn’t look like butter, it looks like whipped cream.  So I shook some more, with no better results.  The recipe I was using didn’t give too much information so I decided to check online for a video to see if I was doing it right.  I was, but it just wasn’t turning into a ball of butter like it was supposed to.  I’m not sure why, maybe it just needed more time.  Being impatient, I decided to go with plan B.  Rather than using a mixer I decided to use my blender.  The purpose is the same after all!  And my arms thanked me!

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And what do you know?  It starts to thicken up!  I had to keep scraping the sides and then the blades got stuck in the butter, so then I had try and get the butter off the blades, which was a bit of a challenge in itself.  Once that was done, I put the butter in a colander to drain off the buttermilk.  So THAT’S where buttermilk comes from!

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I think I have to make some REAL buttermilk/ranch dressing now.

You have to make sure you get all the milk pressed off the butter, and once you do that, rinse it in cold water.

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And voila! SUCCESS!!

Of course the REAL test was the taste test on some good bread.

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Delicious!!  It was sweet and salty and so fresh tasting.  I was so proud of myself.

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Then I decided to try a little variety, on the left is a small batch of garlic and tarragon butter, on the right is regular.  They WILL be used.

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My kitchen was a mess and I had cream all over the place, but it was worth the effort.  Actually, it wasn’t hard or time consuming, especially if you used a mixer or blender!

My reward was the steak I cooked that night topped with my “gourmet” butter. Of course I removed all the fat and calories in my butter batch!  LOL!

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I think I’ll be repeating this lovely for my New Year’s Eve dinner!!

Happy New Year to you all and  happy buttering!

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The lead picture in this blog….

I just thought I’d mention in light of the news this past week, that the lead picture on the blog is of me in Havana, Cuba in the middle of the Plaza de la Revolucion! It’s my “viva la revolucion” pose!    The famous image of Che Guevara is behind me. I was there last year, 2013 and when I started this blog and adventure I felt unstoppable!

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# 44 – Roller Derby!

44 years old and it was my 3rd Inaugural Ball which again happened to fall on my birthday!  What a party! Cheers to President Obama!

44 years old and it was my 3rd Inaugural Ball which once again, happened to fall on my birthday! What a party! Cheers to President Obama!

Don’t you love it when you have a bad preconceived idea about something and it turns out you’re wrong?  That was the case with my thoughts about roller derby.  I’ve always had an idea that roller derby is a rough, scarey sport and the girls/women who play it are rough and scarey too.  Who remembers “Happy Days”?  Didn’t Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinkie Tuscadero play in a roller derby team?   Mean, scarey delinquents are what my imagination had decided.  Yes, I’m stereotyping but that’s my point.  Okay, so it is rough, but my experience last weekend proved that most of the players seem to be regular fun girls who happen to like to play this particular sport!  Just to clarify, I did not participate in roller derby, I was strictly watching!  I’m not that brave or that good of a skater!

My friends Janice, Gillian, Kristin and Jessie ventured out to the Shriner’s Auditorium in Wilmington, MA to check it out.  It seems like women’s roller derby is becoming popular again so it wasn’t too hard to find an event. I wonder how much the resurgence in it’s popularity has to do with the movie “Whip It” with Ellen Page that came out a few years ago.  A great movie by the way!  This night was a good night to because it was the playoffs for for the league–the Boston Derby Dames and the championship trophy was a Golden Fez!

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I know it’s a blurry shot, but maybe you can make out the fact that it’s golden roller skate with a golden fez!

As I said, we weren’t all sure what to expect.  Was it going to be a bunch of mean tough girls glaring at us?  We jokingly said don’t flirt with any cute guys because we might get beaten up!  Again, we just didn’t know what we were walking into.  But we told ourselves, “how bad could it be?  It’s at the Shriners Auditorium!”  Our first clue was at the entrance, no mean scarey looking people were walking up, there were soccer moms, couples young and old, families with young kids and we even saw one guy in a kilt!  When we got inside kindly Shriners were there to greet us and take our tickets.  Beyond them was a table full of cupcakes and brownies for sale.  Cupcakes!!

We opted for track-side seating thinking we’d have a better view.  It was good, but if we’d been in the stands it would have been just fine so I think we’ll do that next time.   From there we scouted out the bathrooms and of course the bar and then settled in to see what this was all about!   There were two bouts scheduled, the first would determine who would place third and the second for the first and second spots.

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The first bout was between the Wicked Pissahs and the Nutcrackers.  Don’t you love the names? Since I had absolutely no allegiance to any teams, I chose to root for the team name I liked best.  So in the first bout I was cheering on the Wicked Pissahs–although I loved both names!  The second bout was between the Cosmonaughties and the Arkham Horrors (whatever that means) Speaking of names, one of the most entertaining aspect of roller derby is the fabulous personae and names they all take on.  With that in mind I assigned each of us a little homework assignment, which was to come up with our roller derby names.

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From left to right meet:  Jammin’ JB, Vortex Vixen, Ghost Wind, and yours truly Lady Sadie Istic.  Stone Gypsy would join us later.

The bout started and it was really exciting!  None of us knew anything about r.b. but luckily the program provided a sheet with “Derby Basics” explaining the game,  the positions and how points are gained.  The announcer was also good about explaining what was going on if you listened.  After a while we caught on to most of it and could follow it fairly well, although no doubt we missed a lot.  There were signals we weren’t sure about, but others we figured out.   We had a funny encounter in the ladies room, a girl came up to us and told us she’s standing behind us and heard us talking and realized we were newbies so she filled us in on some of the questions we had.

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Casey, our personal question answerer!

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Here’s the action.  As you can imagine I had a very hard time getting any good photos of them because they’re almost always moving!  Hmph!

At the half time they have a game where everyone who wants to, can toss a wheel with the hopes of it landing in the center of the track.

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Stone Gypsy aka Jessie jumped right in to show us how it’s done!  The rest of us did it during the next game.  None of us won, but it was fun.

So the Nutcrackers won, and there was an intermission which gave us a chance to wander.  AND, Vortex Vixen, aka Kristin had found something fun for us to do!

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While we were busy being goofy taking photos, Womaniamal ran up to us and joined in on the fun!  We chatted with her for a while, she couldn’t have been nicer and she told us she’d only been playing for about a year and half.

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It turns out even though there were four different teams and they are  very competitive on the floor, they’re all one league and many are very good friends. No big surprise there, right? We found the bar, of course we did, and the bartenders were very generous!  Gotta love the Shriners!

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Kristin was enthralled with their fezes and was trying to figure out how to get one of the Shriners to allow her to try one on.  We decided that might not be the most appropriate thing but we did start talking to a couple of them and found out some interesting things.  Did you know the all Shriners are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners?  The Shriners is the more social and philanthropic part of the Masons.  The fez as it turns out, has no deep meaning.  When the organization started someone had been to a Moroccan theme party and liked them…at least that’s the story we were told!
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The next best thing to trying on a fez!

Bout two started and the fun continued.  This time I was rooting for the Cosmonaughties because the name was just too good! Plus I have no idea what an Akahm Horror is.  Apparently it’s some sort of mythological creature.  All I know is their mascot is one of the weirdest and sometimes saddest looking creatures I’ve ever seen!

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What is that?  Part squid, party winged creature in a tutu… she gave us candy so whatever she is she was nice!

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The Cosmonaughties had a great robot mascot!  Even if it was a spray painted cardboard box! She looked great!  Okay, so now back to the game.

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When we first got to the auditorium they were bringing in the stretcher…never a good sign, right?  I guess you have to have one just in case.  There were two moments when a bad collision happened and everything came to a stop.

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The interesting thing is that when someone went down and the EMTS come out, everyone takes a knee.  Everyone.  The referees, the officials, the volunteers, the other players.  I asked our new friend Casey and she said it was a sign of respect.  Because they really are all one big family, its just a way to show support.  Nice.  No one was taken away on the stretcher so it will have to wait to be used.

In the end, the Arkham Horrors won, but get this–they won by ONE POINT!!  When I tell you it was a nail biter, I mean it!!  The winning point was at the very end and I was literally biting my nails!!  Now I need a manicure.

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Both teams skate around the track and everyone runs up to the edge to give high fives.  Of course we joined in on the fun! Then there was the presentation of the golden fez.

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I can’t tell you how much fun we had and how surprisingly wholesome it was!  They even had craft table set up in the back so you could make signs and posters if you wanted.  I can’t help but to wonder if this is typical of the roller derby world, or if it’s just this league.  I’m sure like many pro sports, the more professional and competitive they become it might be a litter rougher.  But I don’t know.  This is also a very inclusive and GLBT accepting sport.  We noticed there were a couple of males competing.  Good for them!  It also seems like a sport you can start a bit later in life if you want.  Our friend Womanimal said she’s almost 30 and just started a year and half before.  So size and age aren’t much of a factor either.

I can’t say I’ll ever be one to get out there play, I probably won’t.  But I can say I’ll go back and watch again! In the meantime I think a good old fashioned night of roller skating in store!

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# 43 — Story Telling

43 years old and my first Christmas alone.   It was a very bad year.  My friend Sally, who worked for Laura Bush had been given the Presidential suite at the Kennedy Center for a concert Christmas night.  She was was so sweet to include me.

43 years old and my first Christmas alone. It was a very bad year; I’d lost my mother, my grandmother and one of my cats. My friend Sally, who worked for Laura Bush, had been given the Presidential suite at the Kennedy Center for a concert Christmas night. She was was so sweet to invite me to join her.

Do you know about The Moth?  If not, it’s a great radio program where people get up on stage and tell a true story without any notes to a live audience that is often standing room only.  Participants must tell their own true story, and although there’s usually a theme, the stories vary from sad to sweet to sentimental to funny.  I have a few good stories from my lifetime and have thought it might be fun to try and tell one of them… and I don’t mean after three glasses of wine at a happy hour!  I can be a real Chatty Cathy, especially after a few glasses of wine!  Maybe you already know that!

A couple of weeks ago the Salem Athenæum,  posted an event called “Spinning Yarns for the Holidays: A Story-telling Extravaganza.” It sounded a lot like The Moth so I was intrigued, since I’ve yet to make it to a Moth performance. The Athenæm, which dates from 1810, has a long history and they offer many wonderful programs. According to the website its history actually “begins fifty years earlier with the founding of two earlier institutions: the Social Library in 1760; and the Salem Philosophical Library in 1781.” Currently in addition to having a wonderful collection  and small exhibition space, the institution  offers classes and workshops for writers, as well as lectures where writers can come and talk about their work.

Salem-MA-photos-MFor this “Spinning Yarns” event the public was invited come and listen to and share holiday stories.  It was a free and since I like Christmas stories and was very curious about this sort of event, I figured it was be a nice thing to check out and hopefully get a little more into the holiday spirit.  But not only could you come and just listen, you could also sign up to be one of the story tellers.  Guess what I did?  I signed up!! Our stories had be 10 minutes or less, so I knew exactly what story I would tell.

This past Friday was the event and I was nervous but excited about it too!  I hoped that a friend or two would come and be my cheer leader and thanks to Janice, Gillian, Ann and Gus I did!  You may or may not know that I have a theatre background and I basically work as a tour guide, so I’m not shy about standing up in front of people and talking.  But this would be different because it was my story and would told pretty much off the cuff.  I had written it out beforehand and rehearsed a bit with the hopes that I wouldn’t stammer too much or say “UM” very often.  I think I was successful on those counts, but it’s kind of a blur!

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It was such a great evening! I’m not sure how many attended but all the seats were full and they were standing in the back!   There were 11 story-tellers but it wasn’t just people telling their own tales; there was a real variety of what you could do which I think made the evening that much more interesting and special.  Even if they hadn’t written the story, it was clear that it meant something to them.

I think most of us told our own stories, off the cuff like I did, and there was a 10 minute play performed that was written by a local actor/writer.  For several you could tell they’ve done this before and are writers and/or story-tellers!  A Christmas ghost story kicked off the evening (no not THAT Christmas ghost story), and rest of the evening included a story about how and why one woman learned to believe in angels; another was about a child discovering the joy in finding the perfect gift.  One of the more thought provoking  story was told by an athiest who blamed God when his family was robbed on Christmas Eve, but realized he must also blame the same God for bringing many of the stolen items, and his encounters with some unsavory people who made him look at them in a slightly different way.  Reminiscing about the traditions of family gatherings and the introduction of an unknown cousin made us laugh.  Other tales told the agony and joy involved in giving birth; and the agony and joy of a child when Santa didn’t bring what he wanted for Christmas year after year.

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There was even a celebrity writer there to share a story–Katherine Howe, author of one of the first books I read when I moved to Salem, “THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE” a NY Times bestseller.  My friend in D.C., also named Katherine, gave it to me when I moved up to Salem because she knew I’d enjoy it, and I did!!!  So that was an extra exciting element of the evening.

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I know I’ve forgotten something, but believe me when I say they were ALL fantastic!  I don’t think there was a weak, or disappointing story told.

My turn finally came; I think I held my own!

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My story was about the Christmas I spent in Stuttgart, Germany in 1971 because my father, who was in the army, had been stationed there.  One Saturday night in December, my parents had been invited to a Christmas party but I wasn’t!!  So my father had to try and find a babysitter, which was no easy feat considering there were few babysitters around, and it was a Saturday night in December.  BEWARE!!  SPOILER ALERT:  In the end, I ended up with 5 young GIs spending an evening with me!  And with them emerged a sweet and magical evening from a small Christmas present of an angel chime that one of them brought me.

I think I did well.  Colleen, the MC for evening and fellow story-teller, jumped up and said she couldn’t believe I’d never told that story before and how much she enjoyed it!  At the end of the evening we had refreshments and everyone chatted and congratulated each other.  It was all so nice, friendly and congenial.

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Here I am with fellow story-tellers and writers, Katherine Howe on the left and Colleen Michaels on the right.

All in all it was a fabulous evening full of joy and thought provoking tales!  I don’t know if the Athenæum has done this before, but if not, I hope it becomes a tradition.  What a lovely way to spend a holiday evening, just sitting, relaxing, listening, and enjoying some wonderful and unique stories being shared.  I will absolutely do it again and I highly recommend you watching for more such programs!  So maybe a story on The Moth is next!!

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#42 — Fly An Airplane!

42 years old.  My Bohemian side came out when I started working as an artist's model.  Rumor has it, I was one of the best and favorite models  in D.C.

42 years old. My Bohemian side came out when I worked as an artist’s model for several years. Rumor has it, I was one of the best and favorite models in D.C.  Don’t scoff, it’s not as easy as it looks!

As you may remember, number #28 was me flying a helicopter because it was something I’d always wanted to do (yes, it was a  bucket list item).  If you didn’t see the post, I hope you’ll go and check it out.  I had a great time and was excited to do it and would love to do it again, but my friend Christian flys airplanes and he suggested I give it a try.  Why not? That’s what this is all about!  Besides, it WOULD be a great comparison so I signed up for an introductory class and Christian went along with me and served as my “documentarian!”  Actually, it was also a chance to for him to sit back as a passenger while I had my introductory lesson!  On a recent beautiful, sunny Sunday morning we went out to the Beverly Flight Center, in Beverly, MA to give it a try.

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Here I am all ready to go, and dressed to match my plane!  It’s pretty tight quarters in the cockpit as you might imagine.  I’m on the left, my instructor Mike is on the right and Christian is in the back.  So, I’m not tiny, but I’m not a terribly big person either, so I couldn’t help but to think about how uncomfortable it is when another guy, or ANYONE bigger than me, is in the student seat!  If you’re claustrophobic, or don’t like being accidentally touched or bumped, you may not like this sort of activity.  By the way, on a side  note, I was horrified to realize I didn’t get a picture with Christian while on this adventure!  So here’s a picture I have of him showing off a computer/monitor stand I made for him.

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So I’m in, and one difference between my helicopter and plane lessons is in the helicopter the student sits on the right, but in the plane the student sits on the left.  Not sure why, but there it is.

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Wow, a little intimidating, isn’t it?? This is the control panel for the plane.  Now compare it to the helicopter control panel and number of gauges below.

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I get in, and Mike does all the checking of lights, gauges, switches buttons etc.  Then we’re about ready to take off, but there’s a problem.

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On the left is my view.  I know it’s sort of hard to make out the problem, but I can’t see over the control panel!  Mike finds me a couple of cushions for me to sit on,  which helped, but it wasn’t ideal. (I could have used a real booster seat!)  During the flight I had to lower the nose of the plane a few times just so I could see where we were going!!

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As a comparison, this what I could see in the helicopter!  Nice!

We took off and immediately headed towards Cape Ann.  He knew where I worked so he said that was where we were going!!  If you know where I work, you can imagine why I was excited!

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Down below is Crane Beach which means…. Oh look!  There’s my office!  Hello Castle Hill!

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Too bad I can’t commute to work like this everyday!  Don’t worry, Mike was in control of the yoke while I took the photos!

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Back in control, we then headed towards Gloucester and had more great views.  Unfortunately we didn’t swing by Beauport, the fabulous house on Eastern Point where I used to work.  I did see it, but we weren’t in a position for me to get a photo. Sorry Pilar!!  But there were other things to see.

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Hammond Castle.

As you can see the weather was perfect.  There was a little bit of bumpiness but Mike said it wasn’t from wind, but turbulence because the sun was warming up the cold air.  He said I did very well!  Hmmmm, do they say that to all the students?  Well, I DO think I did well!  Christian said he wasn’t nervous and was enjoying being a passenger in the back and being able to relax and enjoy. So I’d say that’s a sign that I was doing a pretty good job.

Of course I had to make comparisons between the helicopter and the plane experiences.  When I took my helicopter lesson my instructor said many airplane pilots switch over to flying helicopters, but not too many go from helicopters to airplanes.  I assumed I would prefer helicopter flying over the plane, but now I’m not really sure.  As I said after my helicopter lesson, I need to do it again to get a better feel of what it’s like.  One lesson doesn’t give you a sense of what is normal, or what’s good and what’s a bad day. It’s the same with the plane.  I know it was a good day and experience, but I need to do it again.  But that being said, despite the vision problem, I think I liked the plane better, but  I’m not 100% why.  Maybe because it did seem more secure in some ways, and less bumping around. But again was that weather related or something else?  I feel like I had to think about more things in the plane.  Not that I was paying attention to the gauges because Mike was doing that, but for example, I did have to think about the coordination it took to turn–feet and hands are involved! I did feel like I had a little more control with the plane. Hands down, there’s no question I preferred the nearly un-ubstructed views from the helicopter.

It really was great fun and I would do it again for sure. A woman I know who started taking flying lessons a couple of years ago after her husband died, told me that when you’re up there, all your problems disappear.  You just think about what you’re doing, enjoy the view and forget the rest of the world.  I have to agree.

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We all survived!  And I even got my pilot logbook!!  I’m officially on my way to being a pilot!  Not that that will happen anytime soon.  Like the helicopter license, it involves alot of time and MONEY.

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Mike is filling out my flight time to make me official! 🙂

After all that excitement, an appetite was worked up and Christian and I left and had a great breakfast at a cute nearby diner.  Thanks again Christian!  I’m so glad you pushed me to try it!!

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