January 14, 2017
Proposed Cut of Planned Parenthood Funding by New Administration
As I listened to the discussion over the new Administration’s (can’t even say his name) proposed $250 million cut of Planned Parenthood on NPR this week, I thought "is this a throw-back Thursday joke of some kind?
This de-funding proposal, as all listeners of the latest developments know, is for standard women’s reproductive health services since federal funding doesn’t fund PP abortion. As someone who has lived in Africa twice and helped to bring on TEDx speakers to address the importance of birth control and empowering women in Africa and other developing regions of the world, I find it astounding that in the supposedly most developed country in the world, we’re having this conversation in 2017. Apparently most Americans still support Roe v. Wade (most recent numbers from Pew Research say 69%) and we've come so far with women's equality and rights or have we?
I was raised by my grandparents which means that my conditioning came from people born in 1915. Think about it. When I went on the pill for the first time after returning to the U.S. from living abroad, it came from Planned Parenthood – I wasn’t in an at risk category but felt safe going there when there were few people I could talk to about birth control. The grandmother who raised me died when I was 16 and I wasn’t about to turn to my grandfather. Yet, an interesting thing happened after I finally disclosed it to him. He said, “smart move – I’m glad you took the initiative, especially without your mother here to guide you.” Then we started talking.
He told me about a hospital scene when my grandmother was giving birth to my dad and the doctor asked him if there were any issues, what his decision was: to save my grandmother or the baby? I asked him with my wide open 21 year old eyes, “What did you say?” “Of course, I told him to save your mother. What kind of question is that?” as if I was a fool for not knowing the answer. My eyes watered up. Pro-lifers will likely say that the baby’s life is equal to the mother’s and sure, it is – after all, in an ethical argument, all lives are equal. After all, if there were labor issues in this scenario, I wouldn’t be here to write this heartfelt stream of consciousness or whatever it is turning into. Moments after his response, it occurred to me that the doctor asked my grandfather to make that decision. “Didn’t mom have the right to make that call herself?” I asked him. “No,” he responded. “It was the man’s decision.”
My grandfather was about as Republican as it gets, conservative about a lot of things and born in 1915, was an adult during times like this and yet he was pro-choice. Here we are having this conversation over a hundred years later as to WHY any government has a right to decide for a woman about her reproductive health? To decide for or in any way, impact a woman’s constitutional rights? Oh United States of America in all of your intellectual, financial, military and world power glory, haven’t you become smarter? Don't you know that women and diversity are the pulse of this powerful land?
How and where did this country get so lost? To a place of putting other desires above honor, truth and dignity. We have charted into a new world and definition of what it means to be an American or at a minimum, what American will now project to and come to be defined by the rest of the world.
Let’s not be so complacent or remotely okay with a new status quo, one which has begun to suggest that a man or woman’s honor, word, integrity, or conduct means nothing. How do we explain that words, conduct, and honor are not fundamental to America's ideology to our children who are watching and listening every single day? Words can’t describe how I feel as a woman listening to what is happening to this country and knowing what is yet to come in the next four years. The PP cut is just the beginning of many decisions that will take us far far back in time.
Meryl Streep summed it up in 5 powerful sentences in a response to the President’s Elect’s distasteful mocking of a reporter’s disability: “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a move. It was real life. It was the moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. Because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing”.
12 Travel Instagrammers Who Inspired Me in 2016!Truth be told, I tend to hate lists but readers seem to love them. The reason I hate them is because it requires me (or one) to choose. As a parent, if someone asked you if you had a favorite child, it's like asking whether you have more love for one or the other, not necessarily who you align with the most. As a traveler, when someone asks you what your favorite country is, dang....it's hard, at least it is for me. I have my least favorites but even in the gloom of some treacherous experiences I had in China when the doors first opened up to westerners so many moons ago, when our room was broken into in Naples or when we were scammed in India, there were insightful outcomes from all of these incidents. And, as all travelers know, one isn't like the other and as easy as it is to stereotype (and I do at times based on a myriad of similar experiences in one place), one STILL isn't like the other. It's important for us to be open and to constantly yearn to learn, for it is in that openness that magic happens, on the road...or not. Above is a shot I posted on my feed towards the end of 2016 which we took near my home along the northern California coast. There's a little distortion from it when I blew it up to nearly 2,000 pixels, but I love how I felt that day and so here it is. Taken on my iPhone 6. I curate this list with trepidation because there were so many feeds that inspired me this past year and 2016 marked a shift for me with Instagram; I became more addicted to the platform and therefore more engaged. As time consuming as it is, I have begun to think about Instagrammers I have met through my travel world and my foodie one through my food Instagram account @LuxuryFoodies, and their lives on a regular basis. This is building community at its essence, at least in an online world. Unlike other platforms, I learn more about their inner worlds and perspective on life -- it's the combination of carefully thought out language, creative descriptors and powerful photography that even long form blog posts like this one can't capture. Note that I didn't select these because they necessarily have the best photos but because I "felt" something powerful through their posts over time, which included their engagement with me and with others. Taking the time to inspire AND be inspired by others is hard and time consuming and deserves applause. Photo credit: @dotzsoh, taken of Singapore, where she says in her description: Never let a little stumble be the end of your journey! (Hear Hear) As a nature lover, there's no doubt that I have had more photography aha moments from folks like @earth.pro (198K followers), @jacob (443K followers), @nature.geography (1.4m followers), @tree_magic (111K followers), @earthpix (10.3m followers), @destinationfervor (389K followers) and one of the earliest feeds I discovered @dotzsoh (@742K followers) whose tagline is: Live the Life you Love and Love the Life you Live. There's plenty others who have truly inspired and touched me this year (and where I felt 'understood' because they resonated with what I wrote or posted), so this Top 12 List could easily be 100 if I had more time. There's a rawness and authenticity to those on this list however and I love that aspect of their feeds. Note: I have listed them alphabetically to keep things simple.
@ConciergeCoupleAmrita and Rich are Canadian-based and it shows through their authenticity. They share their own shots but occasionally of friends they meet on the road; I love the sharing and pro-community piece of this, which is a gift to us as followers of their feed. Their account is genuine and raw and weaves in questions for us to ponder with real-live shots of both their urban and natural experiences. Their tagline: they want to help inspire the traveler inside everyone.
@DbtravelphotographyShe's more of a new discovery for me. Danielle Ashley calls herself a photographer first, not a traveler and while she doesn't have a lot of posts yet, I love the dreaminess and colors she chooses in her editing process. There's plenty of beach shots and sunsets, something that calms my mind in the flurry of stressful moments when I'm not on the road. Her tagline: This is the incredible world we live in. She hopes that her photography will inspire others to travel.
@EstherJuleeEsther makes me laugh -- she provides insights, asks questions and makes us think. Based in Portland Oregon, her tagline has her moving to a new city every year, which will undoubtedly give her a very unique perspective on the U.S. and the world around her. Bravo!
@JSFTravelSarah and Kris call themselves JetSettingFools, so there's a bit of humor in their perspective and feed, which I love. Their tagline: One Life, One World -- we want to experience it, not just exist in it. How can you not love that mantra and way of looking at the world? Experiential travel (and I'd argue life), is what truly transforms us.
@MakeTravelCountJanie and Scott are independent travelers based in San Francisco and yet we still haven't met. No tagline, but all photos are theirs and I find them everywhere -- in other words, they seem to really take the time to engage with their community with words that go a little deeper than I often have time for, even though I almost always feel more moved than perhaps the words "Fabulous shot" invoke. I should create a glossary of what's going on in my head when I say fabulous versus nice versus awesome versus wow moment versus incredible versus you had me at hello. Who doesn't want to feel seen and heard? They make you feel that way by adding more texture to their shares on a regular basis.
@Must.TravelI love nature and dreamy skies and it shows in my posts, so it should be no surprise that I connect to photos that bring color to life in unique and creative ways or simply happy and joyous ones. This feed is more realistic in that its not full of pinks and oranges that I often gravitate to in nature or cloud porn that makes me reflect. Colors do pop in this feed however which I love -- it's hard to believe that I have shot so many black and white shots in my life given how much I connect to dreamy colors in my life today. Their tagline? There are on foreign lands, it's the traveler who is foreign. I love this and it's so spot on.
@TangoTraciTraci shares a lot of street and urban shots as well as nature, posting her own and occasionally highlighting others on her feed. She seems to be present; it's what I feel through her feed although we've never met. Her tagline? Dance me to the end of love -- Leonard Cohen. I so so LOVE this! Let's go on a hike together someday Traci.
@TravelKiwisCould I be biased because they're kiwis and I absolutely fell in love with the authenticity and generosity I experienced in New Zealand? Who knows, but I do love the energy of Terry and Maura's feed. How brave is this? They sold their home to travel. I do feel like I'm browsing through a photo album of sorts but it just works and they draw me in for reasons I can't explain. Perhaps it reminds me of my first world trip or perhaps its their genuineness that just shines through again and again.
@TheWonderlustBlogAnthea seems like someone I could travel with and well, she's from South Africa, one of my top countries, so we'd likely share a lot of "favorite spots." Remember I lived there twice and my ex-hubby is South African. Now based in Heidelberg, also a gem destination for photography, her tagline is: Photographer, Traveler, Dreamer and Light Chaser. Simple but beautiful, right? Light is so critical to all that we capture, whether it shows up in reality in our photography or remains just in our mind's eye.
@TravelTalesofLifeI discovered this traveling couple a little more recently. Their tagline is: Travelers. Adventurers. Storytellers. AND, they want to prove that you are never too old to explore. Often, I hear people who say they're too old for adventure travel or to change the way they travel or even live their life. You're never too old for a new perspective or a new routine in your life and let's face it, life truly begins just outside your comfort zone. I love that they seem to be big believers and advocates of this viewpoint and are living their dream with new remarkable views each and every day.
@TravlinmadLori seems like she'd be a blast to travel with -- she covers food, culture and experiential travel around the world according to her tagline and this is reflected in the photos she shares. I think food is such a big part of my travels and always used to incorporate food shots into my @weblogtheworld feed and only separated it out over to @LuxuryFoodies in 2016, but I applaud people who can weave both into their feed and make it work. She shares a bit more culture than nature, but she does a great job at both. Two thumbs up! I'd love to explore a village or two with her one day.
@WorldTravelBugMichaela posts a lot of photos from Asia, especially dreamy sunsets, whether that be traditional beach ones or those from a magical experience like a balloon ride. Words that she uses to define her? Cultural, Stylish and Luxury. Bucharest based, her tagline says she loves Asia, sunsets and sunrises and rooftops. I resonated with rooftops since my grandfather was a roofer and I spent most of my childhood looking at the world from the top of them.....and, I'd argue that it has changed my life. One of these days, I have a feeling our paths will cross.
May 08, 2016
In Honor of Mother's Around the World & My Own
The truth is, I used to reflect about Mother's Day every year and even write about it occasionally. My mother who was actually my grandmother -- Irene was her lovely name -- was one of the most inspirational woman I've ever known and I've encountered a lot of amazing female souls over my lifetime. It wasn't until later in life that I learned that Irene was the English name for Renee and the French name came from my mother's side who apparently came from several generations of French heritage, although we rarely talked about that.
I always assumed I was much more English than anything else until Ancestry.com told me otherwise and I realized just how dominantly French my background really was. In fact, my nearly 30% Italian genetic make-up was even more prominent than the English side of the family -- their DNA seemed to have passed over me somehow. When I think of her, I think of roses. I think of tulips too, since we planted them together and without fail, they sprouted from our upstate New York garden every spring.
What set her apart was her ability to be raw and truthful, raising issues people were uncomfortable hearing, but doing so in the most genuine and diplomatic of ways -- her English mother Ida taught her well perhaps although given what I knew about my great grandmother, my guess is that it was simply unique to Irene. I've never been able to live up to the level of dignity and elegance that she showed everyone around her simply by walking into a room.
I learned so much about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and what it was like to be a woman growing up in the 1920's and 3o's simply by being a good listener in my mother's kitchen, one which was never modernized. Its retro white cupboards remain until this day even under new ownership.
I wrote about the connection between My Mother's Kitchen and blogging on my personal blog 12 years ago (yes, I've been blogging for a long time) and that wasn't even an early entry. Her sassiness and loveliness will always be remembered and while it is no doubt tragic that she never witnessed my wedding day nor has she seen me as an adult woman facing so many of the same challenges she did over forty years later, her voice and the decisions she made never leave me.
She was one to take the high road, which I've had to do on more than one occasion, especially in business when those who you encounter are not as ethical and honorable as you had hoped.
I wasn't planning to write about Mother's Day this year -- honoring her memory is a wonderful thing to do, but often so painful that it derails me from a forward march, which is more and more necessary every day as I see myself age as she had and for many of the same reasons. Given how much I've traveled and where I've lived (ten countries), a part of my life she also never witnessed, I have been fortunate to discover other incredible women who while may have never replaced her, were integral to shaping how I see the world....through sad and nurturing and yet still innocent and deliciously loving female eyes. While most of these women are no longer with us, kudos and hats off to Josephine Blodgett, Betty Cummings, Donna Blodgett Ambrosino, Bertha Blodgett Herkel, Audrey Farnum, Bernie Daggett, Shirley Lockwood, Dona Badman, Callie Marcellus, Adelaide Sachs, Maryjane Fredericks, Nila Edwards and Charlotte Lawton. Seeing each and every one of them in my mind's eye brings a smile and a comforting imaginary hand I can somehow hold onto during tougher times. As for the others, one of these days, I will write about all of them, but for today in honor of mothers around the world, the Clinton Foundation came up with a great list of six moms they want to honor this year, who share an unyielding desire to support their families and give their children better lives. As they so beautifully portrayed, "regardless of their starting point, it’s the upward mobility these moms are working to enable that’s important. This Mother’s Day, and every day, we’re honored to help empower moms to build better lives for themselves and for generations beyond." I chose three of the women they honor today who are part of the Clinton Foundation's initiatives - for the others, please read the original piece on Mom's That Inspire Us. CHRISTINA MWALE, SMALLHOLDER FARMER, MALAWI Christina Mwale, a smallholder farmer with the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI), lives with her son on a small farm in Malawi. With each harvest, Christina hoped that she would finally grow enough crops to support her family and earn an income. But more often than not, the harvests would yield less than before. With the help of CDI, Christina was able to learn new farming techniques that have helped her improve the quality and quantity of her crops, and increase her earnings. Her new income has enabled her to move her family into a new house. And she is also using her money to purchase land so she can generate a higher profit from her harvests in future seasons. Christina has become a leader in her community. She finds being able to support her son and share her knowledge with other smallholder farmers in the community to be the most rewarding parts of her work. SHARON BOYD-STRUTHERS, ART TEACHER AT ROCKEFELLER ELEMENTARY, ARKANSAS Sharon Boyd-Struthers, a mother and grandmother, is an art teacher at Rockefeller Elementary in the Little Rock School District. She epitomizes the wonderful relationship that the Clinton Center staff has with educators across the community. Sharon is a regular attendee of the Clinton Center’s annual professional development workshop held in partnership with the Arkansas Arts Educators Association, which supports teachers in continuing their education. During the Clinton Center’s temporary exhibit, Chihuly, Sharon lead a summer-long program, where she taught children the art and creativity of glass fusion. Upon completion of the Chihuly exhibit, the Clinton Center was able to support Sharon and her students with the addition of a second kiln for her classroom. She understands the important role a teacher plays in a child's life, and whether it's with her students, her children, or her grandchildren, Sharon goes out of her way to provide young people with enriching opportunities. (PHOTO CREDIT: ST. BERNARD PROJECT) EVELYN STEVENS, NEW YORK Evelyn Stevens lived with her son Khepera in a home in Far Rockaway when Hurricane Sandy hit. The storm badly damaged the first floor of their home, forcing Khepera to move out. The loss of her home and Khepera moving out was devastating to Evelyn. Evelyn quickly began to take the necessary steps to repair and rebuild her home. She received assistance from FEMA and Flood Insurance and then used that money to hire a contractor to start the reconstruction. Unfortunately, the contractor ended up being fraudulent and never started the work. Determined to rebuild a home for her and her son, Evelyn applied for aid from various nonprofit organizations. The St. Bernard Project, a CGI commitment maker and Clinton Foundation partner, answered her request to assist with the rebuilding of her home.
November 26, 2015
Turn Back To The Land That Shaped You This Thanksgiving
Happy Thanksgiving! On the morning of another Turkey Day, I reflect on the things I am grateful for, and there are plenty despite it being a rocky year.
I salute this day to the people in my life who stood by me during the rocky and the joyous and to a place which shaped who I am today – the Adirondacks.
In a world where we look at miniature screens more than we talk to or perhaps even touch people or a tree, I think we all too often forget about the importance of nature – the land that originally fed Americans when they first landed in New England so many moons ago…..my and your ancestors. It was about Communion. Harvest. Sharing. Being Thankful. Joyous for making it to a New Land, a land which was so ripe for harvesting and planting, they did.
When I was a child, our nourishment still came from this land. In our home, we didn’t eat chemically modified food. I was lucky to be raised by my grandparents who held values from the turn of the last century, led by a misfit grandfather who showed me how to tend a garden and even more importantly why knowing how had so much value. Some of the things we grew in that garden we ate on the holidays. My grandmother canned everything, from jams and jellies to blueberries to make pies and tomatoes, which we used for sauce in the winter.
I challenge you to two things on this Thanksgiving day as we gear up for a month long holiday season of commercialism and even more technology being thrown our way as an important “must have” in our lives.
First, return to the land that raised you….the hood you call home and really look at the earth where you played, first learned how to ride a bike and perhaps where you first swam in a natural body of water such as a lake, pond or ocean. Be with it. Understand it. Feel it. Be grateful for it in a way you may never have. Teach your kids how to be with it and feel it.
Secondly, think about everything you put in your body and…your children’s bodies. If it’s modified and not natural, don’t do it. Really think twice about supporting a horribly “gone-wrong” food system in this country that can only change if everyone stands tall and says NO MORE to fructose corn syrup, GMOs and processed boxes of crap.
Eat healthy and wisely today and every day moving forward. Be thankful for the earth that raised you and the fact that you can make choices every day about how you treat people and what you eat.
If we don’t give time and energy to our land (and to how food is planted on our land), there may be a time where that choice is no longer ours!
November 19, 2015
A Toast to Silence Along the Jamaican Coast...
For the second night in a row, I hadn’t bolted the door. When I woke up, I had that dizzying feeling you get when you’ve passed through too many airports in a short period of time, wondering where you were and what day it was.
There wasn’t a sound to be heard except for a distant bird’s call that didn’t remotely sound familiar. I tried to put my attention on it so my mind didn’t race off into the land of thought, the ever land of thought that never seems to shut down. What hadn’t I done the day before that still needed my attention and all the things that so often steals precious time away from the serenity that this precious island had to offer.
I was on the very same Caribbean island that I read about for the first time when I was ten, and while I hadn’t heard of Reggae or the Blues yet, the novel painted such a rich picture that I knew the rhythm and beat by heart, so much so that I imagined drums on the ceiling of my bedroom and if anyone ever asked me, I would swear they were real, as if a helicopter dropped them by night and parachuted them away the moment daylight hit.
My imagination couldn’t have been more vivid at the time and dancing colors of multiple rainbows were part of the canvas of life I painted for myself each and every day; it was a beautiful innocent time where stormy grays and dark blacks didn’t exist, not even in my mind’s eye. It was the start of my exploration of music and I so wanted to be the character in that mystery novel I can’t recall the name of, just so I could dance all night and write music all day.
I wanted braids in my hair with bright purple ribbons and to see the sun set so far south of a coast I only knew as bitter and cold. I had finally gotten to Jamaica and while I was far away from that ten year old self, I couldn’t help but wonder where the character in the book had lived and what they were doing now. After all, the character must have been based on someone’s experience a long long time ago and to this day, I’m convinced of it.
The story shaped my musical path and the kinds of destinations I gravitated to for so many years and while part of me longed to dance the night away with purple ribbons woven through soft brunette braids, this journey was to experience a different side of Jamaica….the silent side.
The breeze began to move the wooden shutters in the French doors of my room which led out onto a stone patio which faced a windy Atlantic sea. As they moved, I could see the flickering light of early morning, the sun so much brighter and warmer than what greeted me at home.
Still fatigued by a long year of travel and transition, my groggy state stumbled towards the flickering light and slowly opened the door I forgot to bolt and as I did, the wind grabbed it away from me, blowing it wide open and with it, the other side.
I stood there in my black knickers and turquoise sleeveless top with the lace v-neck top that barely showed a tan line from the day before feeling the warmth on my face, completely aware of how healing it felt. Wiping my eyes, I heard the silence within the silence as I suddenly noticed a flock of tiny little yellowish white butterflies dancing in the sky, eye level between me and the bushes in front of my cottage.
I smiled as wide as a child does every minute of the day. No more racing, I thought. No more activities, I begged. No more to-do’s, asks, demands and bills I wished. Just butterflies, the here and now butterflies before me that were as precious as an unaware newborn.
Like a newborn would, I watched them buzz around the sky as if it were the most magical fairy tale ever seen. I breathed in the sun, gazing from left to right, taking in the lush green tree to my right, the crashing waves up against the rocks ahead of me and the bright pink bourgainvillea flowers that lay scattered around the gardens. They were everywhere in Jamaica and I never grew tired of seeing them.
The beach area to my right and left was known as Treasure Beach in the St. Elizabeth Parrish, one of 14 on the island. It is called the "Bread Basket" of Jamaica in that it is most known for its farming and fishing, and provides 80% of the agriculture in Jamaica. The grass and trees were lush and green for unlike the dry arid California that continued to face a drought, rain wasn’t a stranger to this land.
The rains often hit during the afternoons in the Fall and so mornings were typically glorious, loaded with sunshine, happy birds and dancing butterflies.
Not in the mood to open a laptop or cell phone, I looked around the room for something to bring with me to the Adirondack chair on the patio since I was oh so not ready to face other people’s voices just yet.
There were two fashion magazines on my bedside table and a Holy Bible underneath the night stand, something provided by the property. I realized at that moment that I hadn’t picked up a bible in at least a couple of decades and so with a curious but wry smile on my face, I grabbed it and slowly made my way outside.
While I do believe in God, I'm equally able to connect with atheists and agnostics for the simple reason that I believe that religion and religious dogma is the root of so much pain and destruction in the world, which has resulted in more division than unity. I probably subscribe to more of a Buddhist’s view of the world than anything else perhaps and within that context, I now see the bible as a fascinating book with poetic writing that can provide masterful insights into the mind of mankind and the instincts that drive his or her ego.
I read a few passages from Matthew and while beautifully written, I felt they didn’t provide as much guidance to someone lost or in need as Pema Chodron or Ken Wilbur does, at least for me. Lost in pure reflection, I closed my eyes as I felt the sun quickly heat up as early morning made its journey to mid-morning.
The sounds began to change, as simple as the pace of the wind and the waves which continued to crash upon the shore. Jamaica is the kind of place that makes it easy to believe in God or if you really can't go there, then a Universe that will provide exactly what you need when your heart is open to receive.
As I opened my eyes, fearful if I didn’t my mind would start racing on all the things that made me a slave to life rather than me creating one, I saw once again the dancing butterflies buzzing around, unaware of time and likely unaware of thought itself. I wanted to be that butterfly, full of so much energy and beauty, knowing that it brings the same pure smile to a baby as it would a 90 year old man, and even more importantly, for the same reason.
I wondered if butterflies knew that when they finally blossomed from their caterpillar state that they had such a short life to live and in that knowing, they focused on happiness and joy through the only ways they knew how…. by dancing lightly and freely through the air. Or, like the character in my Jamaican novel, did the butterfly not realize how short its life would be but simply decided to focus on painting a new canvas of life each and every day, one that would bring them and others around them pure joy?
For my Jamaican character, it was writing music and playing drums and for the Jamaican butterflies before my eyes on that beautiful morning, it was dancing through the sky as if thought didn’t exist and never would.
Perhaps my two Jamaican experiences would overlap after all, the fictional fairytale I had only known as a child and the real one that was as memorable and precious as the story, but rather than a life filled with music, it was also filled with silence. Both were equally perfect and both swept me away into a different land, where there was no time or space for thought, but only smiles, laughter and peace.
"The World Surrenders to a Silent Mind" -- Lao Tzu
That’s what life is like when you’re truly present I reminded myself, whether it’s a storybook character or a butterfly or you shedding your own wings, ready to fly away.
I nodded in gratitude to the Jamaica before me, the silent one, the one full of soft ocean breezes, dancing butterflies and Caribbean trees. I raised my hand to the sky, as if holding a glass of wine to make a toast.
“To Silence,” I said to the swarm of Jamaican-born butterflies, so unaware of the impact they had on me on one morning in their short lives. In return, they continued to dance before me as my smile got wider and wider. And then, I went back to that innocent and precious dream where butterflies, clouds, skies, fields of grass and music were all one.
Photo credit for butterfly dream image: www.photoshopcreative.co.uk.
September 17, 2015
The Magic of Mirror Lake's Reflections at Dawn
The loons are echoing in the background and I can hear their call much louder than I can on Caroga Lake’s waters for some reason, my old stomping ground.
I’m not sure if part of it is the fact that I’m a hundred feet higher than I normally am when the loons call to me or the fact that we’re further north in the Adirondacks – either way, as I sit here reflecting on Mirror Lake’s serenity and magic, the loons are part of it all and its a beautiful thing.
Small as it is, Mirror Lake is large enough to tire your arms as you paddle from one end to the other. The loons are in the middle and along the edge. Frogs too.
I never tire of lily pads and their slimy underpinnings that keep them connected to the lake’s murky black bottom. As I slide by them in my canoe, I hear nothing but the soft sound of the paddle jolting the still waters. I bring my paddle inside the canoe and then the real magic starts….I wait a moment or two and then....nothing but silence.
Silence gives more to humanity than almost anything else I know and yet so few of us have ever been shown the beauty that lies within its oh so solo echo chamber. Within that echo chamber is a kind of fearfulness; it’s about as tangible as it gets. When all the sound and clutter disappears, we are left with nothing but ourselves and that can be a frightening thing at times.
I bring my hand under the lily pad so I can scoop one up as I did as a child and in doing so, it brings a smile. It flops down onto the bottom of the canoe as I scoop up one more. As I do, I can’t help but notice that the sky is changing.
The sun isn't quite up yet but it is fighting to make its way through the mist, through the fog, through the clouds, through the murk of dusk before the sun finally breaks. As the minutes go by, the skylight changes, and as I look around, no one has yet joined me on this mysterious and blissful journey that brings in the tranquil Adirondack dawn.
Finally, the sun emerges as naturally as water flows down a river, falling into its rightful place at 6:25 am, and then to its new rightful place at 6:45 am, 7 am, 7:21 am and so on until the lake slowly but surely wakes up to a new day. Gratitude sweeps over my body for I realize there's simply nothing more perfect than this -- and, more importantly, no time and no other place I'd rather be.
On the other side of the lake, there's no color in the sky at all. Pure mist flows left to right evenly as I spot another couple on the lake paddling as quietly as I had been doing for the past hour. It's clear that morning has broken however and I think about what the afternoon will have in store.
Even when it's a clear day, the clouds are not as bouncy and fluffy as they are in America’s mid-west, the mountains are not as luminous as they are in the Rockies or as blue as they are in the Carolina's, but they are genuinely calm in that knowing sort of way that only natives truly appreciate and understand.
We all have a knowing of the soil that enriched our earliest days on this earth and for me, it was the Adirondacks. While my hood is further south than Mirror Lake and Lake Placid, which almost border each other, and were apparently even connected 5,000 years ago, I know them both as if there were my own native waters.
The lakes on the Adirondacks share so many of the same nuances, including the crunchiness of empty snail and clam shells below your feet as you walk in shallow waters, the endless lily pads, the glow that hits the lake as dusk approaches 7 pm on a late summer evening and of course, the magic of early morning dawn on the lake when you alone take her in and she you.
If you haven’t grown up on a lake or spent a significant amount of time on one, you may not realize that every voice echoes and you can hear conversations across the water. It was one of the ways we learned about our neighbor's lives and their neighbor's lives, just as we did on the Timberlane Blueberry Farm where our family picked cans of berries religiously every late August.
It is here where you learn not just about the community around you (your brethren) but nature’s wonders, which is what ultimately opens you up to life’s happiest moments. The key is to listen carefully and be present when the paddle is moving and more importantly to the silence when it’s not. And of course, the textures beneath that silence...
The dog’s fastidious bark.
The loon’s melodious call.
The eagle’s rustling nest.
The purring motor in the fisherman’s cove.
The child’s precious and innocent laugh.
The waves crashing upon shore after a boat passes.
The woman’s call to her loved ones as dinner is near.
The snore of the old woman who fell asleep in the chair across the way.
The hum in the background that becomes so familiar, we never question what is….
The little girl who asks ‘where’s Peter?’ curious about her brother’s whereabouts five minutes after he pokes fun of her for nothing at all.
The chatter of the boys at the fire with beers in their hands before the family arrives.
The sound of a soft splash as a small child jumps off a float nearby.
It’s the sound of pure Adirondacks but if you listen to what isn't being "played", you begin to experience the sound of silence for it is here where nature rules. Nature is honored. Nature is adorned. And, nature dictates the order of the day. It is a smooth order, like following the tune of a river and the direction it is naturally designed to flow. No fighting, no conflict, no friction…..just going. Just being. Just silence.
Then, a stirring. I was becoming aware that morning was emerging and faster than I wanted it to. The sky was beginning to grace us with her precious blues and the sun was shining upon the trees so their green could truly be seen as green.
Reflections on the lake remained as perfect as they were, but the mist had given way to a bright sun that would warm our bodies while we splashed and played on the lake for the day.
I turned the boat around, back to civilization, back to where camps, a couple of hotels and homes lie scattered around her edge.
Ducks, Adirondack chairs, canoes, the transition of trees, lily pads, loons echoing off in the distance and the soft sound of waves crashing upon the shore. Pure Adirondacks.
Dusk...another muted time of day worth observing - mist turns to a soft Victorian blue, but never luminous, always calming, at least to those who know these mountains and embrace these waters.
And, just when you think that the Adirondacks is all about pine trees and furs, you're blessed with the vibrancy of local summer flowers along the side of the road or in front of someone's camp and remember that nature is not just an integral part of her glory, it IS her glory!
Dear Mirror Lake, don't forget that you are an incredible part of an Adirondack treasure. In gratitude to the luscious days you gave us.
Be sure to read some of my other articles on the Adirondacks, including a loop we took last fall (Fall of 2014), a reflective piece on Caroga Lake, a trip to Lake George, the lure of an Adirondack summer, the heart of the Adirondacks (farmlands), the Adirondacks Trap Dike Hike, Timberlane Blueberry Farm, this year's Lake Placid to reference a few.
June 09, 2015
Soaring Fees & Declining Airline Service Do More Than Disempower Customers
While I’m not a 100,000 mile gal, I spend a lot of time on planes throughout the course of a year. When it comes to flying these days, I think we can all agree -- it's a far cry from fun. Barely tolerable is what comes to mind.
Photo credit: Outsidethebeltway.com.
The saddening reality is that airlines worldwide brought in $31.5 billion in non-ticket revenue in 2013 -- including passenger fees -- which is MORE than 11 times their non-ticket revenue six years prior, adjusted for inflation according to CNN Money. Unfortunately, there's little that we can do about it. There's no plea here and our voices go unnoticed....otherwise, the price increases wouldn't continue to soar year after year, not to mention new fees being added for incredulous things.
Photo credit: Dave Granlund.com.
Customer feedback no longer matters since it's become an industry that treats people more like helpless cattle in tow than worthful customers they care about "serving." Truth be told, I haven't had a memorable and rewarding experience flying coach in about 8 or 9 years and it's getting worse.
The smile comes on the video screen welcoming you prior to take off and if a video isn't enough to make the whole experience feel less personal, I saw a recent clip where an unnamed airline actually replaced people with avatars.
During that "happy" video, you're reminded that if you didn't bring your own headset, you can get one from them for a mere $5 and that's before you have to pay for the in-flight entertainment, no longer free. I'm old enough to remember when all of the "now" perks were just part of your normal travel experience -- the headsets, the meals, the movie, changing your flight date or time and hell, American used to give away pens and decks of cards.
Meals in coach used real napkins laid out on the side of your plate and silverware -- I'm not sure how I'm going to take a pilot down with a butter knife and silver fork, but hey, clearly they're still worried about it. If it’s domestic, I oscillate between my two favorite U.S. carriers – Delta and American and if it’s international, I try to use one of their partners for the mileage points although frankly, it's becoming less compelling by the day since it's a helluva lot of work to get "status" points and once you've killed yourself on god awful flights to get them, your perks and benefits get set back to zero before you have an opportunity to relish in boarding ten minutes early and that one bag free perk.
I avoid United as they remain as anti-customer as Comcast does on the corporate brand list....the two companies should do joint seminars on how to piss off a customer the most in a one hour period.
Photo credit: www.thefinancialbrand.com
If I don't have a choice to go with a preferred airline partner for international flights, I choose an airline that is known for its service and simplifies traveling for me at a minimum, or in the rare case, doesn't penny pinch me for everything. Virgin of course is the best known in this category stateside and they just came out with a credit card deal that allows you to change your flights for no fee. Remember those days? How bliss: "Customer-driven" decisions like that make me not want to ever fly another airline. When you purchase a car, design, color and safety matter a whole lot, but at the end of the day, the emotional reason for the purpose is how great you feel when you’re driving it.
Does it add to your experience and do you enjoy getting to your destination? The same applies to an airline experience. Too many airlines think they’re in the transportation business when they're in the hospitality, service and customer experience industry, even more than a 5 star resort is and frankly, I'd argue than any other business.
That might surprise you but in a 5 star resort, I’m not counting on service non-stop for anywhere from 3 to 24 hours like I am on a flight. From movies, wine, blankets, headsets, your bag, to a fee for the privilege of sitting in a middle seat towards the front of plane or boarding a few minutes early in a line that is now longer than the regular one. I've even heard rumors that American is going to charge extra if you want to sit next to someone else, even if there are plenty of empty seats available. WTF?
In 2012, airlines raked in around $6 billion according to USA Today, and airlines made over $20 BILLION with my least favorite airline leading the way - United ($5.4 Billion) according to CNN Money. Australia's Qantas Airways made $56.21 per customer -- the highest amount in that particular survey. Apparently the revenue came mostly through selling frequent flier points to partners such as hotel chains and car rental companies.
Airlines that made the most from baggage fees in order of milking you dry (from a 2014 Marketwatch article), include Delta, United, US Air, America and Spirit. Airline fees have risen from $2.8 BILLION in 2007 to over $30 BILLION in 2013 according to CNN Money. Below is a chart pulled from the same piece - original link below the image.
Photo credit: From CNNMoney.
Years later, I still hear arguments that they have to continue to rake us through the coals because of 9/11 and they'll also argue that gas prices have gone up so they need to compensate for that too.
While that may be true, gas has also oscillated and while it was extremely high a couple of years ago, we paid $1.77 a gallon in America's Midwest this past January. And, let's be honest, ticket prices have also gone up and flights are fuller than they've ever been before - it's very rare that I have an empty seat next to me and usually I'm sharing my paid seat with someone else when they can't fit that comfortably in their own. (this happens a lot btw)
It takes the fun and the pleasure out of traveling. Travelaholics or business travelers who hang their hat on airlines frequently will admit that if we could skip the airline process to get to their destination, they would. In other words, it's the worse part of the travel process -- getting from A to B is NOT about transportation, it's about the experience you have on the way.
This is why people smile when you mention the word Virgin -- it's because Richard Branson gets it. I also had the opportunity to meet Richard's CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts at Idea Festival last year and he is one of the most down-to-earth souls you'll meet sitting that high at the helm -- authentic and fun! His persona and energy gives you the feeling that he actually "cares" about their customers and I'll take it a step further, their experience of the world -- inside Virgin and out.
When I fly coach, it's such an uncomfortable experience that it's often difficult to imagine the joy I'll have when I finally get Italy, South Africa, Japan or wherever my journey might be taking me. Who doesn’t want to feel great on the journey there?
The problem is that most of us haven’t felt “great” on a journey to their destination in….well, years. We've all become accustomed to airline mediocrity, being treated as cattle (harsh, but true) and nickeling and diming every object we want to use and every move we want to make. As one woman put it who was standing in the security line before me at JFK recently, “now, it’s cattle in, cattle out, and no extra brownie points for being nice to the agent even when they were rude to you."
Most airlines have lost the essence of what matters to customers and forgotten what business they’re in. Virgin gets it right most of the time even though they were forced by competition to follow suit with with some of those ridiculous charges. That said, Richard Branson understands that he’s in the “travel experience” business -- my tagline, not theirs. It makes more sense for entrepreneurs who have successfully run high end theme parks or "high touch" resorts to run an airline since their approach to service and delivering an extraordinary experience are both so far beyond the mentality of most airlines, that their airline would likely very quickly stand out as the "Purple Cow".
Branson realized he had to build in “aha” moments into the Virgin flying experience, from check in to behind the doors of the Virgin lounge and ultimately the on-board service.
There are a few airlines who can get away with being in the transportation business like Ryan Air, where service and quality matters a whole lot less since you're paying so little for such a short flight. In a short flight scenario where the best deal is the order of the day, that free cushioned blanket and not paying for that tasteless processed meal isn't your top priority.
Travel is all about the emotions and memories you have during your journey, whether it's the journey of getting to a destination or an activity at a destination itself. Think about it. The Eiffel Tower is just a structure – a very large and beautiful structure, but a structure in the middle of a city nevertheless. People have come to associate romance with this structure and as a result, there have been hundreds of proposals in front of it. The emotion that is associated with this structure is significant for many. Paris exudes romance and restaurants and hotels embrace it - it's part of the French culture.
Exceptional service and including standards like a checked bag and more than just peanuts and pretzels on longer flights MUST BE the airline industry’s romance. Service and over the top customer care is to airlines what that memorable romantic experience is to Paris and why so many people flock to this popular European city.
While 9/11 was used as the primary reason airlines started tacking on additional charges, let's face it -- that was a long time ago and business & finance sites have reported how just how well the industry is doing. The additional charges have gone from annoying to ridiculous in some cases, outlandishly absurd in others. Rather than look for ways to innovate around customer service, they have looked for more ways to nickel and dime without creating more value and "high touch" moments for the customer.
Airline service used to be amazing however frequent flyers can attest that the "lack of caring” started before 9/11. And, it's not as if airlines have been at the forefront of innovation. The same inflight magazines and barf bags line the back of the seats together with the traditional safety cards we had so many moons ago. And let’s be honest, the tray tables are cheap and flimsy and really not suitable for drinks. I remember useful cup holders on the back of some airline seats but haven't seen those in years. There's no place to put that cuppa coffee while you’re working on your laptop or even reading a book.
Rather than provide a memorable experience, what I’m left with today is a series of inconveniences, thanks to a direction that some operations head at one of the airlines started and others followed. Let’s look at a series of pissy moments I didn’t have to endure two decades ago, most of which defy logic and are nothing short of infuriating for a customer. That said, they have become so common that outlandish fees have become the status quo and we now live in a world where each trip is more painful than the last.
Photo credit: FareCompare.com.
Booking a ticket: booking through an airline rep or agent on the phone now cost a fee - not the case 20 years ago. Since when did charging for a phone call to SPEND money with a company become okay? Imagine Macy’s charging you extra to make a purchase with a live person.
Booking a ticket online: while in theory, booking online has made things easier since you can jump online at 2 in the morning and purchase a ticket which I've done often, you incur fees and all sorts of cancellation policies that now get applied to the booking site as well as the airline.
Case in point is a ticket I booked through Expedia with Delta last year. When an emergency came up, I needed to change the ticket date and time from a flight from JFK to San Francisco. Expedia informed me that I needed to pay a fee to them as well as a fee to Delta for the change fee, on top of whatever the difference in fare was. After a whole lotta digging, I learned that the very same flight at the very same time 5 days later had many more seats than the original flight I was on, however the change fee for my $318 flight was slated to be $298.
When I looked at booking a new flight for that same route, there was only $14 difference in fare, and yet what I would be faced with was cost of a brand new ticket.
Blankets: Seriously? I once had a stewardess on United slip me a blanket saying she couldn’t bear to charge me because she found it so insidious. While I’m not a United fan, be assured that I have never forgotten that magic moment. Even though I still won’t choose to fly United because of so many previous bad experiences, she was a standout and her "out-of-the-box" attitude should be applauded, a rarity in the airline business today. Imagine a hotel charging for blanket and pillow use?
Headphone Charges: See above. Are you kidding? It is any wonder that there's hundreds of articles out there begging the question, “what’s next on the nickel and dime me menu? Toilet paper or the privilege to use the bathroom?” Oh yeah, lest not forget I can keep them, like I need 25 flimsy plastic headsets at home. At the very least, they don't charge you for using your own though it's probably on someone's list.
Change Fees: In the “we still care about customer service” days, we never had to pay for standby for same day flights if a seat was available in your class. Today, regardless of availability or the situation (see bullet 2 for an example of defying logic), you pay a change fee plus the difference in fare – same day, different day or anything in between. Bravo to Virgin for nuking that rule if you sign up for their latest credit card - oh so very smart! Doesn't it just warm your heart to hear that?
Additional Leg Room Charges: Remember the days when you could move to a better seat if space was available on the plane? Even if something is open in the emergency row or a preferred section (which it never is anymore), you can no longer sit there without incurring an additional $50 fee. Shouldn't seat leg room (and chair room) be ample to sit comfortably for a long haul?
Seats Are Getting Smaller And Yet: See above. It’s so politically incorrect to ask, but have the seats gotten smaller or are too many of us getting larger and larger? When I've raised this issue to other travelers and travel writers, they all agree that I shouldn't publicly bring this up because of the sensitivity around it.
Even if that's the case, if we don't discuss it openly, how can we come to a politically correct resolution? If someone is so large that I have to share part of my space with them in a way that is uncomfortable, then I no longer have a full seat even if I paid extra for that seat in Economy Plus. If I should be forced to pay more for a seat that is simply closer to the front of the plane, shouldn’t I pay less for less than a full seat? It may sound insensitive, but we need to figure out politically correct ways to handle this moving forward, sensitive or not.
More $$$ To Sit Closer to the Front: See above. Beyond absurd, they have created a "class" that applies to sitting closer to the front of the plane even if it's a middle seat – yes a middle seat with no additional leg room.
Paying More for a So Called Better Seat -- What About Paying Less For A Lousy One? If the airline thinks that sitting in a middle seat closer to the front should cost more, what about charging less for the aisle seat right next to the toilet or galley?
Let’s be honest - these are lousy seats, from dealing with the foul smell from the bathroom to the noise and chaos around the bathroom from the door constantly opening and closing. If they’re so hell bent on charging more for a middle seat closer to the front with no added leg space, why not charge less for a crappy seat where you can’t sleep or get any work done or if you get stuck in the back?
Wifi: Seriously, $30 for a flight? For those of you have used the various services know, wifi is rarely reliable for the entire flight. I have had so many touch and go issues with GoGo that I've been too frustrated to write about it yet. The codes either don't work or when they do work, I'm connected but then thrown off 15 minutes or an hour later.
Meals: The worse thing about meals on airlines today isn't even the extra charges even though we never paid for food 20 years ago either. Most of the food is processed or junk food (chips, nuts, processed meat and cheese and candy bars) and they charge a lot of money for the privilege of eating packaged food infused with sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and too many other unmentionables not worth naming.
For those who eat healthy and eating healthy is an important and integral part of your life, eating on airplanes today is a non-starter unless you're in First Class or bring your own meal on board. Europe still “gets it” and hasn’t dropped to American airline food “flight” standards, at least not yet….
Drinks: Most airlines now charge more for a beer or glass of wine than at a pub or bar, even from an expensive city. And, the prices for the cheap labels they serve keep going up.
Baggage Fees: Fees, fees and more fees. Now of course, you can often get your first bag for free if you gladly hand $100 or more a year for the privilege of spending money on their credit card.
Inflight Entertainment: Now, not only do we have to pay to see movies, but we often have to pay for each movie. The same applies to television. I was on a recent flight whose airline name I’ll omit, and on the TV menu, I had to pay $4-6 per episode.
TV used to be free for unlimited viewing and you never had to pay for a movie or the fee for a cheap plastic headset. In some cases, you can buy a bundle deal for a longer flight, but it's not cheap, especially if you have fidgety children at your side.
Arguing with Airline Staff About Why X is Wrong or Some Hidden Fee: while we may have add to endure a frustrating moment when our flight was cancelled, delayed or we were re-routed, airlines used to sort it out and even apologize profusely for the inconvenience.
Even when it wasn’t a technical issue, you were sent to a nearby hotel and given a meal voucher – in other words, you felt understood and cared for, and that they felt sorry for the situation, which can sometimes result in missing a family reunion, an important birthday gathering, wedding, business meeting or worse. I chatted with about a dozen people on a recent flight who were over 35 but under 60 (it was a long delay) and I was disheartened by their countless horror airline stories.
Perhaps there should be an "Airline Stress Tax" that gets reimbursed to the flyer? The toxic stress you often endure from flying is significant and has a price and yet airlines don’t seem to put a value on it. Trust me, frequent flyers do and, they are, but sadly there are few options today if any that make flyers feel empowered as a customer.
As extreme as you might think my bullets are, I’m simply trying to prove a point. These insidious add-ons have become so commonplace that we forget how emotional taxing each and every one is and how the combination of all of them has moved us out of an era of great service, something America was once notorious for, and into an era which focuses solely on increasing corporate profits over customer joy. A couple of exceptions are worth noting, something that would have been a normal airline customer experience in the past.
Sometime in the last six months, I ended a business meeting early in New York and wanted to get back to the west coast early. The thought of enduring the “fee” process or even calling to find out how ridiculous the additional charge would be, I decided not to make the call because of the stress involved in doing so, so simply headed to the airport instead. An odd thing happened. I was interjected in the queue by an overly friendly Delta representative who asked what flight I was waiting to check in for and when I explained that I had hoped to get on an earlier flight but wasn’t optimistic for all the reasons outlined above, he opened up a closed gate which led me immediately to a private area.
When I reached the service agent, I was checked into the earlier flight (4 hours before my original one) without getting out my wallet. A new boarding pass printed out with an aisle seat (my preferred choice) very close to the front on the 1 pm. No fee or some saga story about "it's our policy, I don't make the rules." What happened? I pinched myself not believing it was real and that I had somehow been transported back in time to a more formidable time.
Getting home earlier that day transformed my week given the grueling schedule I had gone through the previous ten days. I remember a time when it was simply a standard protocol for how an airline took care of their customers, an era where we weren’t nickeled and dimed for every transaction and every move, an era where we felt as if we mattered and our repeat business mattered.
A similar situation happened with American Airlines a week later when my baggage was 5 pounds overweight and the gleeful service agent let it slide. I was stressed about it for two days before my flight knowing that my bag for that trip would be heavier than most since I was heading to Vermont to review a ski resort and the temperatures were slated to be in the teens.
Most of the time, my bag weighs in at between 35 and 42 pounds, so why shouldn’t that one trip with a slightly heavier bag slide? In the above two cases, both service reps decided to let "policy" slide which resulted in memorable airline moments and a more loyal customer.
Maybe the Delta rep saw how exhausted I was and maybe the American Airline ticket counter agent liked my smile or saw that I had just taken an American flight three days prior, OR maybe they are just rare individuals who don’t think of their roles as airline employees but as vehicles for customer happiness. (Note my current frequent flyer status on Delta is significantly higher than American)
There is a huge value to be placed on a happy customer, a loyal one who will not just come back again and again but sing their praises when they're not flying. Most airlines have lost sight of who and what they represent as a business. When brands have been around for awhile, they can become complacent. Look at how god awful United’s brand was for years and while avid travelers still complain about them, their image has somewhat improved, but only marginally so.
Most people know the story of Canadian musician David Carroll whose guitar was broken by United -- on YouTube as of writing this, his protest song has received nearly 15 million views.
As for soaring fees and service going down the drain, it appears that customers are powerless at changing the current status quo. The first shot in the war over bag fees came in May of 2008, when American Airlines announced it would be the first legacy carrier to impose a “first checked-bag” fee (Spirit and Allegiant had such a fee at least as early as 2007 from the research I've dug up).
According to a useful article on airline fees from Christopher Elliott (link below under useful resources), the North American airline industry collected an estimated $8.2 billion last year for just fees for items such as checked baggage, premium seat assignments and early boarding privileges — a $700 million increase from 2013.
Isn't it time that these rules got reversed?
A question to the airlines heads making these “fee” decisions at home base: do you want to be seen as a transportation company that gets a customer painfully from A to B or would you like to be in the “ultimate experience” business, creating memorable moments for your customers in the way that Zappos has done so successfully over the years? The airline who truly figures this out will transform the travel experience forever.
Useful Articles on Airline Fees
- How Refundable Are Airline Fees from Elliot.org: http://elliott.org/the-navigator/refundable-airline-fees-not-much/#more-35966
- Airline Fees Are Out of Control But Who Can Stop Them: http://elliott.org/blog/airline-fees-are-out-of-control-but-who-can-stop-them/
- Are Airline Fees Being Properly Disclosed? http://elliott.org/blog/are-airline-fees-being-fairly-disclosed/
- Are Airline Fees Anti-Family? http://elliott.org/blog/are-new-airline-fees-anti-family/
- Maybe we should stop calling them Airline Tickets: http://elliott.org/is-this-a-scam/maybe-we-should-stop-calling-them-airline-tickets/
- 2010: Spirit Airlines breaks a new bag barrier by imposing a carry on bag fee (something Rick Seaney predicted one of the airlines might do, nearly a year before it happened)
- 2008: In August, JetBlue announces it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket (but you can keep them, like I really want 25 of these at home after a year's tally of flights)
- 2008: US Airways begins a highly criticized practice: charging for all drinks (including water, coffee, and soda)
- 2009: US Airways stops charging for all drinks (mainly because no other airline dared join them)
- 2009: Airlines began adding surcharges to tickets for “peak travel days” in September of ’09; originally this surcharge was imposed on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.
- A great article on airline fees across most airlines from AirFareWatchDog: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/3801087/airline-fee-chart.html
- Airline Fees Ultimate Guide (another great resource from SMARTER TRAVEL -- you can even download as a PDF): http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/airline-fees-the-ultimate-guide.html?id=2623262
June 03, 2015
What Can You Find Out About Yourself on Ancestry.com?
I've always been fascinated by ancestry for as long as I can remember, but probably moreso because as a child, I knew very little about my blood mother, who we used to all refer to as my "real" mother. In fact, story has it that she simply disappeared when I was around 2 and that little was known about her except that she was living in Florida and from French descent. I always probed - what do you mean by French descent? The response was always the same -- "her mother spoke French, her father was French, they lived in Canada for awhile, dunno."
So I was left wondering whether they were French Canadian or French European, but always thought the latter and later learned that her parents and grandparents were more old school French that I originally imagined and that on my father's side, my great grandmother who I knew personally until my teenage years when she died a ripe old age, had an ancestral past with the French Huguenots. No wonder I was so taken by the French Huguenot history and culture when I roamed through Europe like a bohemian nomad in my early twenties.
Photo credit: Reddit.com
Sometimes I wish that they had blogging tools (and the Internet for that matter) when I was that bohemian nomad, so many of those stories could have been captured online. The truth is that my travel was so bohemian, it may not have worked for a blog -- I crashed with people and camped more often than not and often did swaps of sorts to make my way around the world, doing everything and anything you can imagine for my "keep", from washing dishes, waiting on tables and smashing olives to selling art, milking cows, packing foam in a factory and picking greengages.
Through that entire era, I came across French Huguenot references several times without actually knowing it was part of my heritage. I've always believed that we're creatures of knowing more than unknowing and that we naturally tap into the source of what makes us purr or light up when we listen to our own body rhythms.
Then, and only then, will we synergistically migrate towards what we crave and inherently know, and life will flow like a well moving river, processing only major obstacles, not absorbing the small ones, the kind that hinder our progress in the world.
They also tend to be the ones that get in the way of what could so easily be our best days otherwise. Being connected to the earth and letting the earth guide us while listening to our body along the way (which includes our breath btw), is as close to the perfect way to live as it gets and connects us to our ancestry in ways we don't even realize in real-time.
That brings me to something I've thought a lot about, which is whether our heritage and ancestral roots are connected to what we naturally crave, whether that be people and places, or food, which I wrote about a few years ago.
In that article, I refer to my grandfather's typical lunch diet, which consisted of cold meats, pickles and onions. He loved sauerkraut and we made it in one of those old fashioned wooden machines my Uncle Ed had several times over the years.
Pate was also commonplace as were stews, homemade soups, and plenty of cheese. Some of this perfectly ties into my so called French Huguenot past and my suspicion that some of my family came from East Germany or at least somewhere in the former Eastern Bloc.
It turns out that as Jewish as my father's grandmother looked at the time, if French Huguenot was indeed part of her ancestry, even if only 50%, it's no wonder that she was so adamant about keeping Protestant alive in our family, creating more than just a mild disturbance when I was sent off to catholic school for a few years.
Historically, Huguenots were French Protestants inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530's and they were mostly concentrated in the southern and central parts of France. A series of religious conflicts followed, known as the Wars of Religion, which resulted in something referred to as the Edict of Nantes which granted Huguenots substantial religious, political and military autonomy.
The fugitives depicted above are French Huguenots - Photo from FineArtAmerica.com
So, in all the countries I've explored, which now exceeds 85 if I recall at last count, it's no wonder I feel so comfortable in France, but as all Americans know, we're muts of sorts and rarely is our ancestry from one or even two countries if we travel far enough back in time. So, where else have I felt like I "belonged" in a country you ask?
Truth be told, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and parts of Eastern European culture all resonate with me at a level I can't quite understand at the oddest of times. Having some Irish and English heritage always made sense to me since my grandmother's parents on my father's side hailed from England.
As far as I could tell from the laborious stories over the years, they were "oh so particular," according to my grandfather and he'd always add "oh so English," whatever that meant to a man with likely French Huguenot and Eastern European roots.
Alas, when I ran into the founder of Ancestry.com in Dublin Ireland late last year and we started chatting about the roots of his business (pun definitely intended), I realized I had to find out my ancestral background. What surprised me the most when I got the results was the fact that English roots were extremely far down on the list when for so long, I assumed I was only one generation removed from being all things British and whatever comes with that label. I did, after all, feel pretty comfortable when I lived in England for all those years after college, even though it seemed to take a minimum of a year before I truly understood their wit, banter and subtle candor.
So if English heritage was so far down the food chain so to speak, what was at the top? Nearly 60% fell into France and parts of Germany, something that didn't surprise me. What DID surprise me is that nearly 20% of my make-up is Italian! Bravo I say except that my skin is far more nordic than it is Mediterranean although I tend to crave Italian food often. And, my first encounter with a Brunello stopped me in my tracks.
Screen grab blown up from Ancestry.com results and shown in miniature here The rest of my genetic make up was scattered, from Northwest Russia and Finland to Greece, England to Ireland. What about the American Indian who bore children with one of my great uncles I thought? I'm not quite sure where that would fall, but let's see where Ancestry.com does the breakout across the globe.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
How does Ancestry.com determine your ethnicity estimates? They get the percentages and breakdown for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions (above).
They build a reference panel from a larger reference collection of 4,245 DNA samples collected from people whose genealogy suggests they are native to one region. Each panel member’s genealogy is documented to determine whether they are indeed representative of people with a long history (hundreds of years) in that region.
Then, each DNA sample from a given region is tested and compared to all others to construct the AncestryDNA reference panel. In the end, 3,000 of 4,245 individuals are chosen for the Ancestry DNA reference panel and then then compare your DNA to the DNA in the reference panel to see which regions your DNA is most like.
When they calculate your estimate for each ethnicity region, they run 40 separate analyses and your genetic ethnicity estimates and likely ranges for these estimates come from these 40 analyses.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
The process shows the average estimate as the given percent for each region and the general spread of the 40 estimates is shown as the probable range. Ancestry.com's analysis suggests that your actual ethnicity for this region lies somewhere in this range.
Courtesy of Ancestry.com
Going through the process is easy. You simply spit into a tube, send it off and wait for your results which you'll receive by email.
Once they arrive, you have an activation code they match with your DNA and voila, you're given your genetic breakdown via an online account you create at Ancestry.com.
What's more interesting however, is what you can then do with Ancestry.com as it doesn't stop with your sample. You can create a family tree on their site and as soon as you begin a tree, they automatically look through billions of historical records, photos, and other Ancestry trees for information about your family.
When they find something, a green leaf appears on your family tree. Another cool thing about the site is the ability to dig deeper through advanced filters and downloadable research guides. Because their community is growing, you can also get tips from other members and even from fourth and fifth cousins you never knew you had. A few of my matches below....
As more members join, the likelihood of more matches increase over time. If U.S.-based, you can get a US Discovery membership, which allows you to search their 8 billion records, and build, grow and share your family tree online, attaching photos and documents.
You can find distant relatives, connect with the world's largest online family history community, record video and audio stories of your family directly from your family tree and share access to your family history so your own family and friends can join and add to the data.
It's a cool process and definitely worth doing. I still have a boat load to do on the search side, so discovery for me is just beginning. Over time, perhaps I'll do an update with even more exciting insights and finds. More information can be found at www.ancestry.com.
April 29, 2015
Melding of Minds on the Future of Humanity Over an Arc Fusion Jeffersonian Dinner
Ever heard of a Jeffersonian dinner? I've been invited to one or two over the last few years, one of which was being held in Washington DC, where it was birthed in the 1800's by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. Because of those invitations, I had some vague idea of what they were, but never actually participated in one until the Arc Fusion folks hosted one recently in San Francisco.
Photo credit: www.smithsonianmag.com
Rewind the clock to 1819 and visualize yourself at a long and decadently adorned table with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, his elegant Virginia home. Around the table, you're seated with a group of people steeped deep in culture, philosophy, education, history, politics, art, literature, science and theology.
The idea behind a Jeffersonian Dinner is to bring people together from different disciplines, creating a new cause-centered community around a topic of importance or significance you might want to discuss for whatever reason. This can be done to tap into new resources, raise funds for a non profit or important issue, or simply to expand the group's thinking about a variety of topics.
It's important that it be somewhat intimate so 12-15 people at a table is a good size and I'd argue that while someone's home isn't a requirement, it makes it more personal -- a private dining room could also work.
The purpose of the Jeffersonian Dinner is to build a sense of community and partnership around a shared interest or theme. One of the rules is that everyone participates in a single conversation and are not encouraged to engage in one-on-one dialogues with their partners on either side.
Photo credit: blog.asana.com.
How fitting that the San Francisco Arc Dinner be held at the 1880's Payne Mansion on Sutter Street and also how intriguing that the topic at hand was not about the past, but about our fears and concerns for the future, say in 100 years.
David Ewing Duncan kicked off the event. A historian, author, journalist and also CEO of Arc Fusion, which celebrates the conversion of IT, healthcare and biotech, David decided to take us down memory lane before dinner.
Photo credit: Arc Fusion Website.
We went back to 1915 and recalled some of the provocative insights, inventions and historical moments of the time. Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Stress was out at the time (surprising I know), the first EKG was used in 1913 and OMG was first used in 1917 (yes really).
The industries David and his team at Arc are most interested in exploring are at the intersection of what is happening in health, IT and biotech. It's not hard to see why, with nearly $800 billion being spent on health and wellness and $1.1 trillion on IT services with $50 billion on Health IT alone.
He asked attendees before they came to the dinner whether they felt they'd be alive 100 years from now. 18% said yes whereas 82% voted no. In case you think that even 18% is insanely overly optimistic, remember that the audience is highly vested in technology and some are actually working on the most important research in the fields on longevity/aging, science, technology and medicine.
The same audience voted on what will be most important to humanity's fate in 100 years -- 40% voted for politics whereas it was no surprise to see technology lead that vote at 60%. As far as the impact on humans in the next 100 years, 36% felt it would be in gene editing and a whopping 70% went for stem cells. Pharma only came in at 11% which tied with health and wellness and bionics took last place at 9%.
Other things on people's minds included mood manipulation, synthetic biology, longevity tech, next generation deep learning and renewable energy.
James Canton asked the audience to imagine a future where embedded devices and technology automate the work, resolving issues that need to be addressed in our bodies. The truth is that nano and quantum technologies are expanding so rapidly that we are now in a game changing time for our health. Innovative ecosystems will start to do disease detection for us, hopefully before it turns into disease.
Drew Endy asserted that learning "how to" solve problems is the secret to sustaining life over the long haul. His deepest wishes include a future where biology will have distributed manufacturing and distributed systems and that humans will start to think of a world outside of themselves. Hear hear.
Casey Lynett addressed where we are going with Alzheimer's pointing to some important finds for this disheartening disease that seems to be soaring not reversing.
Artist and molecular biologist Una Ryan showed us her work, reminding us of the beauty inside our bodies through our cells, our protein and our blood. She refers to the image below as the Tree of Life since it contains everything that makes our bodies operate.
The food they served at the dinner was not surprisingly farm-to-table and organic. It was also very purposely selected based on a fascinating premise -- each ingredient was chosen to serve every vital organ of the body. Dishes ranged from salads and nori rolls to fresh fish and wine for the heart -- two thumbs up for the Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon that showed up on our table.
The most riveting part of the evening, at least for me since it touched on some of the most controversial conversations happening around healthcare today, was the fireside chat between venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Vinod Khosla and renowned doctor Dean Ornish.
Both visionaries took the stage to share their take on the future of healthcare. Vinod formed Khosla Ventures to focus on both for-profit and social impact investments and as a big believer in the importance raw data can have the future of health, he invests in both healthcare and biotechnology.
Says Vinod, "almost nothing that is relevant in medicine today will be relevant in 20-30 years. Even though some of it may still be true, it will be too imprecise to be that useful so no one will use it." He asserts that medicine will be mostly science and data driven over the next 10-15 years.
He added, "we will have more research opportunities but we won't use them because we won't have the causality which is most important."
He also went on to say that we won't use doctors that much in the future to get a diagnosis and what we may pay more credence to is the doctor or (non-MD) who has the highest EQ not the highest IQ. Hear hear Vinod! I couldn't agree more. Bedside manner, using common sense and logic and listening between the lines to a patient is something that so many traditional doctors so sadly "don't get."
Dean takes a slightly different approach although they agreed more than disagreed. While he agrees that data gives us a lot of useful information we may not have had access to twenty years ago, if all we are is a set of algorithms, then humans can simply be replaced by an app. The reality says Dean is that we are so much more.
What I love about Dean's approach and always have ever since I first met him now over a decade ago, is that while he's far from a luddite, he tries to get people (and the industry) to look at the underlying cause of an issue. He believes that lifestyle and diet shifts are fundamental game changers, pivotal to reversing symptoms and in many cases, the disease itself.
He's interested in lifestyle medicine which is very low tech, but the power of low-tech interventions is very very real and something that techies sadly discount all too readily, focusing most of their time on connected devices, data and the Internet of Things.
Personally I lose sleep at night thinking about how so many brilliant scientific and medical minds can be so misguided, overlooking the raw fundamentals of what can keep us healthy and happy, holistically so.
Bottom line, we need to treat the underlying cause and also look at the mind, body and spirit, NOT just the body alone.
This integrated approach is what the techies and scientists keep missing and a sad reason why insurance companies put holistic care like acupuncture and body work, organic food, diet modifications and supplements last on the priority list.
It's the same broken record when it comes to addressing the disgusting impact that processed foods are having on Americans today. (Note: processed food ingestion is increasing globally of course, but the yanks still sadly take the cake when it comes to fast food and boxed processed ingredients as their go-to- diet). I digress but the whole thing sickens me so much that I can't help but vent at times like this.
Truth be told, as Dean took the provocative and controversial low-tech stance amidst so many tech-centered entrepreneurs in the room that night, I wanted to stand on my chair and boldly blurt out - "GO DEAN and oh btw, don't stop here!"
He is a big advocate of lifestyle and diet changes and given recent research findings, they're finding that the same lifestyle interventions that deter heart disease are the same ones that can keep prostrate and breast cancer at bay and even in some cases, Alzheimer's.
You can apparently see a positive and reversing effects to 500 genes over the course of 3 months through lifestyle changes. For most chronic diseases, which account for 86% of issues, we can reverse their onslaught through shifts in our lifestyle and diet.
Dean thinks that we'll see a future where the placebo effect will be more important not less. Why? Because, it works.
Vinod doesn't disagree with Dean although he wants to see data behind it, proving that it's real. In his view, the math is the math of networks, but agrees with Dean that diet is important and that symptoms are the wrong way to look at a disease.
Given that we live in an information age and are drowning in so much data we don't know what to do with it, I agree with Dean that while data may be important and there's no doubt having access to what our bodies are doing and why is useful, its only part of the equation. Plenty of people have data but even if you know that smoking cigarettes can kill you, if you're suffering from deep anxiety and depression, you're not going to quit smoking anytime soon.
Anxiety and depression are very real, particularly in the states. The stats are going up and pharma companies are making millions on drugs, some of which cover up the real issues that lay behind what is making them depressed in the first place.
Dean asserts that what is even more vital is the mantra I keep beating people over the head with every day: the more so called connected we are, the more disconnected we are....I mean physically and emotionally disconnected, not the fact that we can now communicate with people instantaneously on Facebook or Skype from our cell phones in real time.
What's really missing is the deeper sense of meaning you get from being physically and emotionally connected to others. There's no doubt that people need to rediscover inner peace, joy and purpose in their lives.
Bottom line, it's all about changing the raw materials we give to people and place as a priority. I'll end with this note and thought to reflect on: if we can take this "ground level" low-tech approach seriously by beginning with the things that provide deeper purpose and meaning, then we can really begin to accelerate healing. While data can continue to feed the bigger picture, if we don't get back to the fundamental basics of what feeds the soul, we'll remain a far cry from a truly sustainable solution to holistic health, happiness and well-being. A big high five to Dean Ornish!
For more information on Arc Fusion, check out their site at http://arcprograms.net/ where you'll also learn about their upcoming Arc Fusion Summit being held in southern California September 1-2, 2015. What David has created is a truly innovative, future thinking and leading-edge organization and he has managed to bring together some of the smartest minds to address what both plagues and interests us most today.
April 29, 2015 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Health, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 20, 2015
Reflections on the East Coast West Coast Thing...
Preparing oneself mentally for leaving America's East Coast and its way of viewing the world is something I've done six times now, the first transition was to America's south, followed by Arizona and southern California and then, a few overseas stints where I lived in a variety of luxury, shacks and working class suburbs. In between, I hung my hat in villages, on a kibbutz, along the coast and amidst urban decay and sprawl.....I did it all.
Above, rural Virginia in all its glory, on a cold and brisk winter day.
Then, after many years doing what I was told in the Boston corporate world, I stored a three bedroom house in some warehouse in New Jersey and drove west in a silver Honda Accord named Hamilton with a kayak rack on its top. That was a decade ago. He's still with me btw and purring along.
Above, Boston's Charles River at dusk in the days when I lived there, not long before I moved west.
When you're born and bred in New England, East Coast roots are what you understand, what you know and connect to and the soil you want to touch when the tides are down, at least that's how it is for most people. I cried as I drove north on Route 128, for what I thought would be the last time, in a very long time. The car was packed, oozing with stuff I later would never need but couldn't part with at the time, and I looked like a young and modern version of a Beverly Hillbilly daughter, except with more miles under her belt.
I was bound for Canada since I was always one for choosing the path less taken and certainly zigzagging north and south over borders was one such way to do just that.
I could have taken Route 66 of course but I figured I had decades to tackle that one. Perhaps when I was old and gray and could whiz across in a slick purple aerodynamic RV just because I could?
En route, I was open to landing somewhere else other than San Francisco if another place spoke to me with more clarity, Portland and Seattle being on the top of my list, mainly for its access to some of the most beautiful mountains and scenery on America's west coast. My alternative route brought me into Canada, where I lost my radar detector during a police stop (who knew they were no no's in the Maple Leaf country?), before I then ventured south again through Wisconsin and Minnesota, both of which I loved.
It was summer, so fishing and camping were the order of the day, all of which I resonated with growing up in the Adirondack Mountains. (below a shot taken from this past fall of a trip through the Adirondacks - sunset at Caroga Lake).
I headed north again before making a central b-line through parts of Kansas, both Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. There I spent time in the land of the free where I discovered the solitude of America's western lands -- the nothingness of the plains where you could hear a pin drop and the air was quiet one minute and menacing the next. Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
I was younger then. I had visions of wearing a cowboy hat and boots with faded torn jean shorts and a stylish checked shirt that fit tightly but appropriately across my chest. Silver cuffs hung from my right wrist and a funky leather watch with an antiquated plate hung from my left. My visions included sitting at the counter of some $1 a coffee midwest diner with a girlfriend who was similarly dressed so we didn't look too out of place in a town we knew nothing about.
Later, we'd tackle some dive bar where Harley Davidson addicts would play pool around us while we drank $3 tequila shots and listened to Rock from our time on some worn out juke box. All of this, in a place where no one knew our names. Pure bliss.
I was alone for part of this trip and with random friends on other parts - they'd fly into a designated city and I'd pick them up until I dropped them off at an airport in a different state and continue on my journey. I learned oddball things about the country all the way across this big vast land.
I drank wine in Idaho by night and hiked by day, chowed down on hamburgers in small towns, tried local brew beer, picked blueberries, and wrote poetry with Craters of the Moon as my backdrop. I sat on haystacks in Wisconsin and laid my head among tall grass while one hung between my teeth as I looked up to a clear blue sky. I had a solo picnic behind a church steeple in a deserted ghost town that has barely changed a wink since it was first built in 1880.
I dreamed of a movie script I'd write one day as I laid my eyes on the magical never-ending Badlands for the first time.
I pissed on South Dakota soil, listened to youthful rock bands play in pubs till 2, tried karaoke against my better judgment, sampled whiskey during a bowling match in a place I can't remember the name of, and went bareback horseback riding in Washington State. I discovered Blodgett Oregon and sat in its library doing family research before landing in Portland where my first stop was the city's finest chocolate shop. Clearly, I had my priorities in tow on that trip.
This trip would surely be different. Not only was it winter this time around, but my perspective on life had changed after spending so many years on the untamed risk-taking west coast. That trip so many moons ago, felt more youthful somehow, but the fact that I was ten years younger was only part of the equation. The goal was to move states and to one about as far as I could go to from Massachusetts. As a crow flies, it was roughly 2,700 miles although I took so many detours, I probably added another 1,000 to the trip in the end.
Portland or Seattle didn't call loud enough and San Francisco was where I ultimately landed. Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
Over the past year and a half, I spent more time on the East Coast than not and my heritage and all of the memories that go with it, wrapped its way around me like a little girl's arms do to an adult leg during the shyest of moments. It wasn't a bad thing. It's not as if it called me back for good, but in all the most beautiful ways, my time there reminded me of the things I love about the Atlantic side of this Yankee land and just how different its people are from those I've been working and playing with for so many years of late.
Truth be told, I love the East Coast. I love the way people talk, their philosophical canter, their humor and wit, their directness, the way they look into your eyes rather than past them when they talk to you and their authentic honesty when you need it most. Some of you will disagree with the last one since New Englanders are known for being more discreet and conservative than West Coasters.
But, somehow I always managed to draw the truth out of my East Coast friends and when I needed raw honesty and perspective, I asked for it - hard and direct, the way we do in New York. And so, on a very cold but clear day in mid-January of this year, I set off on another drive across country to help another "life" move. We had a small apartment to clear out and despite its size, it still involved packing dozens of boxes and stacking a car full of more, not to mention loading up a large Yakima cargo box that sat on the top of a five year old gray Chevy Pontiac we named Vinny that was set to make the long journey.
Oddly enough, I felt somewhat melancholy about the departure, not unlike I did a decade ago even though my place was still on the west coast. There was something nostaglic about it and familiar - I had gone through this before and while last time, it was leaving a home behind, this time, it was leaving months of a different life behind, a life filled with diners who proudly served homemade chicken noodle and matzo ball soup, bagel and pizza shops on every corner and crisp cool evenings where we'd take late afternoon walks past the Long Island Sound.
The sunsets at times were even glorious. The below shot was taken in the Bronx, crossing the bridge to City Island at sunset this past fall.
Yet, it's a much harder life in New York, something I had forgotten since living in San Francisco for a myriad of reasons those who have left it behind, well know.
People tend to harder. There's always an edge. Traffic is busier. Prices are higher. The pace is faster. Houses are smaller. Jobs are more hectic. The demand is more intense. Schools are more crowded. Climate is harsher. Getting things done takes longer. And so on. But...it was a way of life I knew so well because it was part of my DNA - after all, I first learned how to walk on New York soil.
Nostalgic as it was, we were eager to drive towards warmer pastures, calmer waters, gentler voices....and skies where serenity is the order of the day. To a place where priorities are not about doing but about being. With that frame of mind, we made our way out of the Bronx after one final stop that had to be made -- Dunkin Donuts on Bruckner Boulevard. Sipping our piping hot coffees quietly, we made our way across the George Washington Bridge for the last time in our as unpretentious as they get Pontiac.
It was a bitter cold, but clear day. Snow, sleet or rain didn't get in our way and we missed a New York City blizzard by less than a week. 104.3 played on the radio in the background and we stirred gently as we made our way across the New Jersey border - moving in the car was a bit of a challenge given how packed it was and it wasn't until we hit Virginia that we were able to shuffle things around to make for more comfortable living quarters, for that is precisely what Vinny would become for the next month on the road.
We passed smokestacks in Newark, and made our way south to Pennsylvania taking in its like-winter skies along the way.
Covington Virginia too had smokestacks, a not-so-common sight in the industrial East Coast where manufacturing plants still thrive.
When we reached Maryland, we were greeted with yellow and soft peach skies set against bare winter trees.
West Virginia skies at dusk were similar, as were its trees and hills. Misty. Dreamy. Cold. Clear. Soft.
Through the car window en route.
The skies would get even more dramatic before night's end.
Our first stop was the Omni Homestead in Hot Springs Virginia and yes, it was rural and yes, it was surrounded by thermal hot springs, a perfect healing remedy after a long tiring drive from an urban sprawl. Read my extensive write-up on We Blog the World on the oh so traditional Omni property, the stunning wildlife and acreage surrounding it and the infamous Warm Springs Baths and Pools where Thomas Jefferson himself soaked to heal his aching body.
While still brisk in the evening, arriving in Virginia was a lovely reality check that the Bronx was no longer in our rear view mirror and the bitter cold New York winter was behind us. Alas, we hadn't seen a Dunkin Donuts since morning. Our drive from Virginia would mostly be rural. It was the first of many rural drives to come on our long journey through middle America.
The eastern part of the country with its wide open spaces and hills, would soon open up to glorious trees and peaks when we hit the edge of the renowned Shenandoah mountain range.
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of greeting Virginia's stunning Shenandoah mountains, it spans 73 miles long across Virginia and West Virginia. The steep, narrow, sandstone-capped ridge extends from northern Bath County in Virginia to southern Hardy County in West Virginia.
The stretch serves as a haven for both family vacations and romantic getaways alike. There's plenty of hiking as you'd expect, but what you may not expect to find are vineyards, breweries and of course the nearby hot springs. The Blue Ridge Whiskey-Wine Loop is a self-guided tour of some of the loveliest vineyards in several counties in Virginia's central Valley. And, of course, the drive is breathtaking with plenty of views along Route 40 as well as numerous side roads you can take for a variation to the main road.
Reflections aside, we were well on our way to a month long journey that would forever transform our lives, as all trips of this nature tend to do. And, most importantly, we were ready. It was time and we couldn't wait to embrace the wide open road ahead of us.
This is the first post of many that covers our cross country trip -- while we crossed 15 states, our coverage can be found on the following We Blog the World state pages where we spent time: Virginia, Tennessee (Nashville, Memphis), Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico (Santa Fe) Arizona and California. The coverage will span from late March through June 2015. Also be sure to read our extensive write-up on Massachusetts from last summer which includes the North Coast, Boston and Cape Cod. Don't ask us for our favorite state because they were all truly magical and each place has its own known -- and unknown -- gems.
Photos: Renee Blodgett