Reaching for words


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It was a rookie mistake. I had no idea that workshopping a very sad personal story would turn out to be such a bad idea. And by “bad idea” I mean there were tears in the workshop. Not from readers, but from me. This workshop was part of the Book Passage Travel Writing and Photography Conference I attended in Corte Madera, California last month and I was all prepared to be encouraged and motivated and receive really inspiring directional feedback. I wasn’t expecting the tissue box to be passed my way.

Workshopping an essay is not for the timid, and while no one would describe me as timid (ever), I hadn’t workshopped any of my writing since I took Creative Writing in college. All those creative juices I thought I was squeezing back in college almost immediately turned into lackluster business writing of emails and PowerPoints over the course of the last 25 years. No one that I know even writes documents in business anymore. We write in 24 pt. font on slides with bullet points where punctuation is optional. There’s no time to workshop a piece at the office and why would we? Most of the time we’re up at midnight throwing together the presentation that was due a few hours earlier and, to be frank, no one cares about the prose. I wish they did, though. I miss striving to write great prose.

GEMO or “good enough, move on” is the mantra, because there’s another assignment brewing. There’s no feedback of a written piece. No one in business brings together a group of people, sitting in a circle to make comments like, “But we want to know more about how you’re feeling—what did you think when you were told to lead the annual United Way fundraising campaign? Can you dig deeper?”

So that’s why I started writing about stuff I care about

It was just three years ago I decided that if I didn’t have an outlet for creative writing I would likely explode into a million tiny pieces. The emails and PowerPoints were never going to help me reach the Self Actualization pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so I opened up a WordPress account and started blogging. Blogs are “rough,” and a bit off the cuff and I could write on my own schedule, which is generally late at night after a long day at the office, or on the weekend while a pile of laundry goes unfolded, and dishes sit in the sink. And I admit it: there’s so much satisfaction with putting words down and hitting Publish.

There. Done. Move on.

I move fast. It’s how I’m wired—I’m impatient with the world and impatient with words. Feedback on my blog? Oh, I’d love it. Really. But I don’t elicit it. That would require time. And waiting. And the responsibility to dig deep. At least I’m one notch better than business writing, but not much, which is why I really needed feedback.

How I ended up workshopping. And crying.

You can’t be in management in business without learning to give feedback and get feedback, which means I have pretty thick skin. So, the desire for feedback led me to the workshop at the Book Passage Travel Writing and Photography Conference. There were seven other brave souls who labored over their own pieces we eventually dissected along with our faculty leader/moderator over three mornings. The feedback was always constructive and gentle and every single piece of advice I received was perfect in making my essay better.

I just didn’t realize that it would, well, make me cry.

The essay recalled the events of finding out my friend’s death the morning after I had exchanged “I love yous” with a man I was rendezvousing with in romantic Bath, England. Revisiting this lovely/awful mashup rubbed me raw like Meryl Streep’s character in Silkwood where she is getting sprayed down with fire hose force while someone is coarsely scrubbing down her skin in the shower after she had been contaminated by radiation. That kind of raw. When you’re that exposed and tender with emotion someone could have suggested that I should have used a different font for my essay and I would have sobbed.

I always want my travel essays to take the reader back and really be there in the location, but I forgot that it takes me there too. It broke my heart all over again, which is probably why I never went that deep in the first place. At first I was okay when the instructor began to talk about what he liked and then questions from the group arose as to why I didn’t write more about the details of my relationship with my friend, how much I knew about her illness and what she knew about this man I was meeting in England. Water in my eyes filled up the more everyone probed about my friend. Was I having a tree allergy, perhaps? Sure, that was it.

The woman to my left saw the puddles of water in my eyes and said, “Can I give you a hug?” and that’s all it took to release the dam holding back my tears. I lowered my head as if to pray and covered my eyes under my glasses, thinking no one could see me cry. Horrified to think that they all thought I was upset over the feedback I stuttered out, “I’m sorry. It’s not the feedback. It’s not the feedback. It’s all great. I just didn’t expect this.”

I had no intention of diving too deep into this mashup of romantic love bursting at the seams with the excruciating pain of the death of my best friend. I lived it once already, wrote about it two years ago and just figured I’d make it better in this workshop. No big deal, right? I supposed I would just casually snorkel near the surface and keep it safe. I didn’t know I’d be strapping on the tank and going deep below the surface to see what was in each cavern or see new creatures and coral I couldn’t see from the top.

Sometimes you need help to reach

Helping you get there—to get deep—is what workshopping groups are supposed to do (and what mine did for me last month at the conference). Each member of our group provided me an outside viewpoint that woke me to new words I couldn’t get to before. For me, reaching for words alone is like sticking my arm in a hole in the ground that’s only three-inches deeper than the length of my arm and my fingers are wriggling and stretching to try to pick up words lying there like a pile of plastic red, blue and yellow Pick Up Monkeys I played with as a kid—monkeys with their arms curved like hooks so they can link one to another in a long monkey chain. But my arm isn’t long enough and I can’t reach the monkeys. I know they’re there but they’re just out of reach. If I could just get one of them I could grab the rest of the pile. So I lie there on the ground with my arm stretched out as long as I can muster and wriggle and wriggle my fingers in hopes of grasping a word that will link to another and another in a long chain. I usually give up and just move on. But a workshopping group doesn’t let you  move on.

Words are often unreachable and for me, it takes others to help me reach a little further even if it’s painful. That’s the joy of workshopping—you get to where you need to be, even if it does make you cry a little. Just because time has passed doesn’t make visiting the past any easier. Getting to the right words takes time, patience, a long arm, some great folks to provide feedback to point you in the right direction, and maybe some tissues.

But next year I’m not going to make such a rookie mistake. Maybe I’ll save the deeply emotional pieces for one-on-one feedback, so if I cry it won’t feel the need to be so apologetic about my tears.

I think next time I’ll just bring an essay about birds.

Do you ever struggle for words when you write? How do you break through that? And have you ever workshopped a piece that brought you to tears? (Because if you have, that would make me feel a whole lot better.)


Why, thank you for the festival, Troy


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Welcome to Troy“Let me know if you think it’s a really good farmer’s market or if it’s lame.”

That’s what the woman said to me who had suggested I spend my Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market in Troy, New York. She works at the office of the company we acquired, and she was helping me figure out how I was going to spend my Saturday morning before I caught my plane to return home, and while she thought the Troy Farmer’s Market was the bomb, she wasn’t sure how it compared to others. I was instructed to report back so she could brag with confidence (or not brag at all).

It was my second time in Troy, and this time I was going to have to stay over another night due to the airline schedule, giving me a little time to explore this city I knew little of. So, I had my cousin from Montrose, Pennsylvania—a 2.5 hour drive away—meet me for dinner, and we figured we could find something to do the next morning. And that something ended up being the Farmer’s Market.

We arrived early as fellas were unwinding ropes of cords to plug into giant speakers on several bandstands throughout the street. Turns out, not only was it a Farmer’s Market, but that Saturday it turned into the Troy River Street Festival on River Street from Fulton to Congress Streets. The streets were filled with over 100 artisan craft vendors from Troy, nearby Albany and other outskirt towns, and doors of the whimsical and quirky River Street shops were flung wide open to invite you in to try on their tie-died pants, custom-make a t-shirt, or smell their homemade soaps. Want to create some art on the sidewalk? No problem. There were big fat colorful chalks lying around and anyone could pick it up and create some art, including a 4-year old who was intently focused on drawing circles within circles. His work, I’m sure, will fill many an art gallery. Just you wait and see.

Street chalk Troy New York


Troy River Street Festival 2

If you’re in need of some therapy there is the Jacki the Fudge Therapist from the Insane Fudge Company who had an insane amount of fudge laid out on a table. Of course I walked away with the peanut butter fudge. My cousin, Cathy, was smart and got an order of the Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel and when I bit into it (she was kind enough to share), just as the big chunks of sea salt hit my tongue my mouth immediately filled with saliva to counterbalance the salty surprise. The tangled mixture of chocolate, salt and caramel made me swoon. The peanut butter fudge was even more extraordinary. It’s tan appearance told you exactly what to expect—a dive into creamy peanut butter that was smooth as satin. Yes, this was therapy and I was happy to schedule a lifetime of appointments.

Insane Fudge Company

“They’ve got waffles with Nutella on them,” the woman at work had pointed out to me the day before. She had leaned in when she mentioned it as though she was sharing State secrets.

She had me at waffles. And Nutella.

We nearly walked the entire Festival before I finally found it. Not sure I walked enough to burn the equivalent calories, but let’s just say I did. Hello, lover.

Waffle with Nutella

We grabbed some food (yes, waffles and Nutella is a lunch) and sat next to the Hudson River while we took in the sun that finally made an appearance after two days of pouring rain. I’ll have to go back to see what the Farmer’s Market is like without the big Festival, but from what I could tell, the folks in Troy are proud of their wares, their goat cheese, their peanut butter and all the gorgeous fruits and vegetables that laid out for us to inspect. My guess is this is what you get with or without the festival part.

Strawberries at Troy Farmers Market Vegetables at Troy Farmers Market Hudson River Troy River Street

So yes, pretty good Farmer’s Market in Troy, I’d say. Sure, it was combined with the Street Festival, but it won my heart and filled my tummy with that waffle blanketed with Nutella. How can you go wrong with that? Thank you, Troy. Your Festival was a perfect way for this out-of-towner to spend her morning and your people are so wonderful, kind and terrific to chat with. I think I just might like visiting your city more often.

Do you have a favorite Farmer’s Market or Festival you like to attend? Let me know in the comments. I just might be there on business one day.





Hotel Love Affair


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It felt a little like the book series, Griffin and Sabine. We exchanged little notes here and there as I traveled around Panama. We had met only once, but I had left for just a little while. So until my return I was going to be traipsing around the jungle looking for birds with my husband.

My new suitor was the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Panama City. I met the Waldorf Astoria upon our very late arrival in Panama City where it had just opened its doors six months earlier. Our holiday in Panama was going to be primarily in the jungles and forests of Panama, and because we’re birders, we don’t typically look for triple-sheeted beds or accommodations with room service. Birders mostly go to lodges in the jungle and endure bugs. I’m okay with that, mostly because people I work with think I have great adventures and it makes birding seem pretty bad ass. Yet, I like to book-end our trips with a little luxury and this time I selected the Waldorf Astoria to get me just that kind of toque especial I needed.

So when we arrived on our first night in Panama I got a little giddy about the robes in our hotel room, because I knew there’d be no more little luxuries for the next 9 days—and like any social media addict, I posted it on Instagram.


And that’s where it all began.

An Extraordinary Correspondence

I had tweeted out my Instagram photo above and wrote, “We’re being fancy for one night and then it’s jungle all the way.” The Waldorf has a very savvy person handling their social channels and two days later started engaging me in a genuine conversation.

Waldorf Astoria 1

I had a new admirer.

I thank my lucky stars every day that I’m able to live in the era of social media. I love Twitter because I’m a news junkie, Instagram because it’s a window into a lot of beautiful places in the world and Facebook for keeping up with news of family and close friends. But most of all I love engagement. I love learning from others and sharing. Essentially it’s what communication is all about and while social media gets a bad rap about taking the human connection out of communication it’s because people are doing it wrong. Social media has connected us in ways unimaginable 10 years ago.

Essentially, social media engagement has allowed the people who are doing it right to connect to people and businesses they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach. And once they reach each other wonderful connections happen.

So having a luxury hotel become completely interested in my birding adventures was a marvel to me (mostly because people I work with have grown weary of my bird tales and simply just walk away scratching their heads). And to be quite honest, made me feel pretty damn special.

Waldorf Astoria 2

Waldorf Astoria 3

Waldorf Astoria 4

Little engagements have their rewards

At the end of our stint in the lush jungles of Panama we returned to the Waldorf Astoria for our last night where they handed us our room keys and escorted us to a special bank of elevators that took us to one of the highest floors. We followed our porter down to the end of a long hall where he directed us into a large suite with floor to ceiling windows that looked over the ocean dotted with ships waiting their turns into the Panama Canal. “You have a very good room,” he said.

Yes, he was right. The room was extraordinary—a full kitchen, dining room, a sectional sofa facing the view and the big ass flat screen TV. A deliciously adorned king size bed in another room, a walk-in shower that could fit the Brady Bunch (if they were into that sort of thing) and a walk-in closet.

And this tasty treat was waiting for us on the granite countertop.

Macarons from Waldorf Panama

I was lying on the leather sectional, looking at the million dollar view when the doorbell rang. Yes, the doorbell.

Holy cow, this place is huge, I thought.

I opened our door to a young woman who handed me a book. “This is a gift from the hotel,” she said. “We thought you would like it.”

“Oh, wow,” I gushed. “Thank you so much!”

“No, thank you,” she insisted.

Well, there was no better gift than this book.

Birds of Panama checklist

A customized experience

Tourism is extraordinarily competitive. Just look at what makes Trip Advisor tick. Fake reviews aside, when I look for a accommodations I’m looking for service, whether it’s in the jungle or a 4-star hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s beyond the free breakfast and, dare I say, the free wifi. The type of service I’m looking for nowadays is if the hotel remembers me. When I’m rewarded with a customized experience I feel like I just unwrapped the golden ticket that covered my chocolate bar. As loyalty point programs have become more complicated and diminish in value from year to year, it’s come down to the personal touch. And the Waldorf Astoria in Panama City has this figured out.

Look, that book probably cost less than $20, and all it took was some obvious connecting of the dots for the person running the Panama City Waldorf Astoria social channels to be imaginative about what would make me happy. Sure, I was promoting them in my Instagram feed and on Twitter. They probably checked out who some of my followers were (a lot of birders and a lot of people in the travel industry, including some media). My guess (and it’s not a stretch) is that it was a small token of appreciation for the shout outs in a very competitive hotel market in Panama City. All of those obvious points notwithstanding, the book is a treasure to me.

Waldorf Astoria 5

Of all the fabulous birds we searched out and found on that trip, it’s this experience that was the most memorable. Well, that and the robe. I bought one to bring home, since it’s the robe that started our whole affair.

Waldorf Astoria 6

Musical Tales


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The interview recording studio at Classical 89.

Of course I’m not going to pass up an invitation to be interviewed on our local classical music station and talk about my favorite classical pieces, so when they asked I jumped at the chance. And when they invited my husband to be interviewed as well, I didn’t have to do much arm twisting there. We’re both classical music nerds, I’m afraid.

Classical 89 in Provo, Utah is our favorite radio station. It’s what I wake up to every morning at 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. (in case I missed that first alarm.) The publicly-funded radio station invites listeners to become part of Friday Favorites and share with interviewer, Mark Wait, their favorite piece of music and why and so I didn’t hesitate when they invited me via Facebook.

Easy peasy, I thought at first. I love music, especially the classical stuff. But then I had to narrow it down to just two. Not so easy peasy. Yet, I did find my top two that I shared with Classical 89’s listeners and I thought I’d share it with you too. Plus you get to hear what we sound like and I promise you, we’re not classical music snobs.


Listen to my interview as I explain why I’m so in love with this piece. We talk a little about jazz and I confessed that it took me awhile to appreciate Miles Davis, but I do now and in a very big way. I want you all to know that.

So back to Ravel. If there ever was a soundtrack for my romance with my husband it’s this piece and I explain it in the interview below. (Click on the play button next in the black bar below and you’ll hear the 2 1/2 minute interview.)


So, the Bolero masterpiece is 15 minutes long and there are always the snickers from those who’ve seen the movie 10, but you must go and give it a play. Especially the version by Cincinnati Symphony and Orchestra. I have not heard another recording as stirring as that one.


There is something a little jazzy about Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies.  They’re jazzy because Satie took the melodies and stretched them out into what seems like the atmosphere and then they come back to you contained as a unit. It’s all so indicative of the impressionistic movement going on at that time. I’m rather fond of Gymnopédie 1, particularly the Claude Debussy orchestration, which doesn’t lose its simplicity going from Satie’s original piano work to orchestration.

When I contacted Classical 89’s studio to get a copy of my interview they couldn’t find it. (I know! Bummer!) Somehow it may have gotten deleted, so I’ll tell you here my Satie story. As you recall from the interview above about Bolero, I had met my husband online and we were corresponding long distance from two continents. We would see each other about every six weeks and during one of our rendezvous he suggested we go on a road trip. As I was putting my bags in the back seat of his car I noticed a plastic shoe box full of CDs and right there on the top was an Erik Satie album.

“I’m going to marry that man,” I thought to myself.

Rhapsody in Blue

There was a bit of a squabble between Steve and I as to who was going to use Rhapsody in Blue in the interviews. It’s one of my favorites, but Steve called “dibs” on it and so I let him have it to share in his interview. (Besides, I had so much trouble narrowing down my own choices.) Steve talks a little about jazz and Woody Allen, which continues to endear me to my husband. Here is Steve’s interview (Click on the play button in the black bar. The interview is just shy of a minute)


Ride of the Valkyries

I have a love/hate relationship with Ride of the Valkyries. It’s so not the piece of music I want to hear before 10:00 a.m.  (Remember, my alarm is set to Classical 89 and there’s been twice that they’ve played Ride of the Valkyries right as the wake-to-music alarm went off. Jolting, I tell ya.) I think Steve loves this piece because he loves war movies. And he’s right, as he and the interviewer explain in the recording below—it was so fitting for the movie Apocalypse Now. I’ve always wondered how Wagner felt about that. (Click on the play button in the black bar. The interview is only 2 mins 2 seconds.)


Is there a piece of music that you just adore? Tell me in the comments below.

A life of work or travel?


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I was floating in the Tiffany blue waters of the Galapagos off of San Cristobal, letting the swells rock me teasingly toward the sandy beach. I want to do this forever, I thought. What if I just don’t return back to life?  I would just float. Yes, float for the rest of my life.

Being buoyant among the sea lions was clearly better than working on PowerPoint back in the office or managing interoffice squabbles like a guidance counselor. Everyday I read blog posts and tweets from people who travel the world, claiming the rest of us are part of the rat race. It’s as if they’re heroes or people who have reached the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, waving down to us poor, downtrodden corporate slaves with shackles on our ankles, rowing like the prisoners in Les Miserables, singing, “Look down, look down / Don’t look ’em in the eye / Look down, look down / You’re here until you die.”

Yes, being held up by water in the Galapagos is way better than copyediting corporate fact sheets or taking mandatory online legal compliance courses. I imagined the ridiculous—texting my boss with a picture of the the turquoise water with the words: “Not coming back. Thanks for everything,” and proceeded to work out in my mind how I would have a little shop selling Panama hats to tourists, customizing each hat with a different color grosgrain ribbon. My husband, Steve, could also chuck away his career and become a bird guide on the islands and we’d eat banana chips by the bagful and my mayonnaise-white skin would turn a lovely cocoa brown and that knot in my right shoulder that I get from working at a desk job would go away forever.

Floating in water like a little piece of jagged driftwood makes you think crazy things.

But I do that every time I travel. In Belize I was going to have a bed & breakfast. In Panama I was going to be a writer. And in the Yucatan I was going to sell tickets for boat rides. Steve, of course was going to be the bird guide in all those places. I can see why those who make their place in another corner of the world, away from office politics and the daily structure at a desk are in a state of bliss, but by no means am I an unhappy occasional traveler who happens to have a demanding job in the corporate world. Full disclosure here: I really like working.

Is traveling more noble than working? 

I certainly regret not traveling more when I was younger–especially international travel. I had neither the resources or the chutzpah to do it sans resources. I’m certain it would have changed a lot of who I am in a positive way, particularly in the areas of confidence and empowerment, and at times I do regret missing out of the romance of making mistakes that make for great story telling as a more mature adult at dinner parties. But I chose a career working for large corporations as my path and took advantage of having my graduate degree paid by my employer. It was a sacrifice, indeed, but I chose the $40,000 free education over backpacking across Europe. Yes, a Master’s degree instead of some wild stories at dinner parties. I’m okay with that.

For me, it was financial security first and travel second. I know nothing is 100% secure. We all watched our hard-earned savings unravel like an old sweater right before our eyes in 2008 and 2009. I admit, it squeezes my heart when I open up statements that show significant losses and I catapult immediately to those daydreams of just walking out of the office and heading right to the airport to fly off to sandy beaches and a hat shop waiting for me.

But I remain committed to working in my career. I remain because I look at long-term advantages and have come to realize that the glamorous life portrayed in travel blogs is truly an edited life of showing the ups and rarely the downs. We all can’t be traipsing around the world with a backpack. Someone has to be back holding down the fort. Who is making the stock market operate and keeping the economies of the world in tact so that there are places to see, vessels to take you there and roads to be maintained and order created in the world? Should we all just up and leave our jobs and wander the earth? Is that the essence of nobility? I’m suggesting that it’s not. There are noble acts both as a traveler and as a financial supporter. Both are doable and it’s not a race of who’s the awesomest.

The economy of travel

For many countries the primary contributor to their GNP is tourism. These countries have tremendous reliance on those of us willing to spend a portion of our salaries in their countries. There are also so many places in the world that need funding and support–the Galapagos Islands is one of them. It takes people with money to do that. Corporations and economies with means to keep forests, jungles and archipelagos in tact. While progress and humans have negatively impacted a lot in the world, funding is helping to restore some of what we have tampered with. If we were all backpacking the world, who would fund the research? Who would be able to financially support change?

The economies of the world are indeed complicated and society as a whole is not mature enough to kindly hold hands and contribute in an orderly manner (nor be able to agree upon structure) to preserve endangered areas and keep National Parks pristine.

It’s okay to travel the world and make that your life. But it’s also okay—actually necessary—to be a part of the world from a desk. It’s not a rat race to help keep the lights on. I’m happy to participate in the process, not just for my sake and my future, but to keep the cogs and wheels moving. Sure, there are days I feel shackled, but it’s not all the time. It’s not even most of the time. You don’t feel shackled if you take a break and travel. We all need breaks. Even travelers, I suppose, need a break from traveling. I’m a big believer in the need for opposition. Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Work versus play.  It would be impossible for me to understand—to appreciate—one without the other.

Maneuvering re-entry

I’ve played for the past 15 days and it’s changed me forever, just like all my travels do. My normally mayonnaise skin is now a light cocoa. I snorkeled and played with sea lions, swam with a penguin, ate more banana chips than I should have, and I didn’t answer a single work email and I didn’t get fired. By the way, that knot in my shoulder? Gone.

I walked into the office after the 15 glorious days abroad and everyone commented on my tan and my big smile. How do I get back to work after these fantastic 15 days? I wondered. I shared my stories around the water cooler and as people dropped in my office to welcome me back. But I had a long, scrolling list of emails to hammer through. And meetings to get to. And problems to solve. It was time to get back to work.

I uploaded the photo of the Tiffany-blue waters to my computer for the desktop wallpaper. Yes, that will help me remember that there are beautiful places in this world that I can support all the way from my office. That, and I’ve already got our next adventure booked.

Lessons from a Grand Canyon Helicopter Ride


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Grand Canyon 2I’ve never wanted to get into a helicopter because there’s this thing about the helicopter people needing to know how much I weigh. Something about making sure the weight is distributed evenly in the helicopter. That, or just the plain joy they must get in humiliating people.

Oh, and there’s also that thing about helicopter crashes.

People don’t talk much about the helicopter crashes, but I know about them because on some Saturdays I might get sucked into some cable channel TV show about helicopter crashes in between binging on episodes of “Locked up Abroad,” which, to be honest, freaks me out just a little bit more than hearing about helicopter crashes.

But when husband, Steve, suggested we take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon during our weekend stay in Las Vegas part of me thought it was cool and the other part of me was frightened to death—mostly about the being weighed thing. You see, I adore my husband and he can suggest pretty much anything and I’ll go for it. After nearly six years of marriage I’m still like the smitten gal he first met who wanted to impress the socks off of him.

Yet, there was no way I was going to discuss my weight with him or anyone else. I don’t care how official they were and how it impacted a helicopter ride.

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

All the way to the little helicopter airport, I went over in my head how I was going to address the weight issue. It’s not like my driver license where the weight listed there is a complete lie. You see, I wrote that down years ago and never really corrected it. But to tell someone at the little helicopter airport? Out loud? If I lied about my weight, I’m certain the airport person would survey me up and down with her eyes and I’d get that “oh, you’ve got to be kidding” look. I couldn’t face that.

I was wringing my hands in the airport in Boulder City, Nevada—which was smaller than my local DMV—and I was still trying to plot out this whole thing. If I just said it super speedy, maybe husband and others would never hear how much I weigh. Or I could write it down on a Post-it Note and give it to the gal behind the counter after I folded it up into a tiny piece the size of a dime. Yeah, that’s what I would do.

Astonishingly, I didn’t have to do any of that. I didn’t have to lean over the check-in counter at the little airport and whisper my weight into the ear of the lady. No, I just had to stand on the magic tile on the floor in front of the counter—a tile that looked like all the other tiles on the floor—and it weighed me and secretly put my weight number into her computer. Not on a big, flashing display for all to see, or shouted out to the whole airport, like I feared. My weight number just magically slipped through some tiny wire or cable into the lady’s computer. It’s like I didn’t weigh anything AT ALL. The number was imaginary. I could pretend I was 30 pounds lighter if I wished. And the lady didn’t look at me in a judgy way either.

It was our secret.

It’s actually possible to feel lighter than air

Riding in a helicopter

When it was our time to go, we loaded into the helicopter by assigned seats, which I’m told had something to do with our weight. I couldn’t figure out the rhyme or reason as to who sat where and the math of it. I was just happy they didn’t make me wear my weight number around my neck or on a shirt. After a brief instruction and snapping into the seat belts, the helicopter lifted straight up as if we were pulled by a string. No barreling forward at high speeds like a jet to race up to the sky. Some skilled (and giant) puppeteer had us by a string and was taking us for a ride on a beautiful day with cyan skies above the reddish-brown landscape. I felt light! I was up in the sky and apparently wasn’t so heavy that I kept the helicopter from rising.

I followed our helicopter’s shadow over the dusty desert of Nevada as we headed toward Arizona. This desolate area was free from the shiny, glittery loud Las Vegas we just left. In the headphones our pilot narrated where we were, but mostly I heard the whirring engine of the helicopter and felt like a baby who was comforted by the vibrations of a car. The only reason I wasn’t lulled to sleep was I couldn’t keep from looking out the window at the tiny rocks, mountains that looked more like hills, and itty bitty cars on what few roads there were.

Of course, I’d been in a gazaillion airplanes and have looked out the window at tiny Monopoly-sized homes and streets and baseball diamonds, but being in a helicopter provides a certain intimacy with the ground. Airplanes are so high maintenance and complicated to get up off the ground and back onto it. Helicopters, on the other hand could take off and land in a jiffy. No matter how much I weigh. (Actually, that’s not true. I’m sure there are limits.)

We hovered over the Hoover Dam and took a peak at the wall of concrete with its arms wrapped around it’s little section of the great Lake Mead reservoir. Having just stumbled upon birding over the last seven years, I wondered if this was what it was like to be a bird, soaring over the earth. I know being in a helicopter is not exactly soaring, but it’s not a jetliner either. To be above the earth and feeling weightless was startling to me. Startling that I ever cared about the weight thing.

The 30-minute highlight

picnic at Grand Canyon

After a 40-minute flight, we landed at a part of the Grand Canyon, not in the National Park area, but at an Indian Reservation. This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip, according the tour’s brochure. We had 30 minutes on the ground at the bottom of the canyon, so we snapped a few photos, had a picnic lunch of a sandwich, Lays potato chips and a little brownie bite in a plastic cup. Not the meal of a dieter and certainly no one was weighing us to get back on the helicopter, so I didn’t care.

Our time at the bottom of the canyon felt cut short. We couldn’t hike and explore. Being in the air was what took my breath away. Peering into the canyon from the South Rim a few years earlier was heart stopping. However, being on the floor of the Grand Canyon was more about looking up and around. There just wasn’t enough time to absorb it. No time to stoop on a rock and rest my chin on my fist and do some contemplating. None of that. Just time to gobble down the cute little picnic and look quickly at my surroundings.

Grand Canyon 1


Grand Canyon 4

Lessons learned from helicopters.

Our pilot called for us to get back to the helicopter and the propellers began to spin and we were lifted up in the air again. We didn’t take the same route back over the Hoover Dam, but headed straight toward Boulder City. I peered down at the ground, looking for Mule Deer or Mountain Sheep, but they were out of site. Unlike dramatic Saturday television shows, we didn’t crash our helicopter and, really, no one cares how much I weigh except for me. It made me think of how many other things I’ve avoided because of what I feared and that maybe I cared too much about what people might think of me or how I look or how much I might weigh. I mean, really—no one cares.

None of that matters, of course. None of it, except this:

Grand Canyon 3


Kind of almost sort of dying.

A clear day of Alberta Canada. Not this flight.

I was listening to the soundtrack of Love in the Time of Cholera when I heard the pilot come on the intercom. I pulled back my turquoise Beats by Dr. Dre headphones off one ear, enough to hear the pilot say something about a serious storm we’re heading into and to make sure we stayed seated and had our seat belts buckled. I honestly couldn’t understand much more than that, but this wasn’t just the ho-hum stay-in-your-seats-while-we-head-into-a-little-system instruction. This pilot seemed a little more parental with a dash of “or else you may die” tone.

I’ve never heard that tone come from the cockpit before.

The guy in the middle seat next to me asked me to open the shade on the window just as I was lifting it.

“Whoa,” he said. I don’t know much about clouds, but these looked dark. Heavy. Ugly.

“Yeah,” I responded as though I knew what I was talking about.

Back to Shakira lamenting in her sad, sad way on the soundtrack. The music feels gloomy, but it’s a pretty kind of gloom and that’s why I like the soundtrack. It helps to relax me on flights because I hate flying. I have my go-to music whenever I fly, which is this soundtrack and the soundtrack from Pride and Prejudice—the Kiera Knightly one. I also go to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis if I remember to download it from the cloud before I travel, but I mostly forget to do that.

Speaking of clouds

The first series of bumps came and I almost grabbed the leg of middle-seat guy because that’s what I do when I fly with my husband—I grab his leg and dig hard into his quadricep, leaving finger impressions if there’s even the slightest bump or shift. I think he hates that but probably not more than I hate turbulence.

The bumping was turning more into a roller coaster ride and the plane wasn’t just going up and down but left and right. Oh please, oh please, oh please, don’t let this plane break in two.

I won’t lie. A few expletives left my mouth. There’d be jerks (forward and backward, then left and right) and then there’d be a sudden jolt that would make me catch my breath (followed by a whispered expletive), like someone had just sneaked up on me. This went on for a good 10 minutes and then we dropped.


Down, down, down the plane dropped. Not nose first or like a dive, but a drop like the floor just dropped from beneath our feet. We were falling from the sky.





Drinks were flying in the air—not just off tables but up and over rows into people’s laps behind them. There was a chorus of WHOA! from the plane and then…


Yes, children were laughing. We had a plane full of children on their way to Orlando and they were giggling and laughing through it all. Their amusement park vacation has begun.

Not for me.

I’m thinking, This is how I’m going. Yet, the children’s laughter actually calmed me. If I’m going to die I think hearing children laugh with utter joy is the way to go. My eyes were watery, but I didn’t cry. The kids helped me get a grip on my emotions and kept me from completely losing it.

Is this how the last seconds go? I’m not sure.

There was not a flash of my life before my eyes. I wasn’t thinking about anyone (I should have) except, Crap, I’m going to die right now. Right over some random place. 

There were more bumps and jolts and a female voice comes on the intercom. “Parents. Keep. Your. Children. Secured. In. Their. Seats!”

And then I felt the plane get ahold of itself. We were flying smoothly again. Our brief moment of terror had ended.

A kid laughs and demands, “Do it again!”

No, let’s not.

But I wasn’t going to die. Not this time.

On being a writer at the 2002 Winter Olympics


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When I moved to Salt Lake City in 1996 I had one thing in mind: Be part of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Look, I’m not a skier. In fact, I kind of hate winter, but when I watched on TV the Olympics in Albertville, France and then Lillehammer, Norway I fell in love with the Winter Games, even more so than the Summer Games. Perhaps it’s the cozy scenes they show with the snow flakes falling as if choreographed, or the layers of furry clothes everyone is wearing. Might even be the nordic sweaters, because I think they’re kind of cool. Or maybe it’s because I love what I can’t do. It’s rather dreamy to watch people do something you can’t possibly do yourself, like ice dancing swizzles, or zig zagging down a mountain on skis, or sporting a speed skating unitard. Nope, can’t do that one at all.

But I can write. So when a friend told me about a job opening for the Main Operations Center as a writer I couldn’t pass it up. It was a part-time contract position and something I could do just during the few weeks of the Olympics. That meant I still had my day job, which required leaving the office around 4:00, catching the light rail to the Olympics Headquarters and working a night shift. (Two shifts were actually all-night shifts.)

Skier, I am not. Writer, yes.

But I wasn’t going to limit myself to just working behind the scenes. I already had purchased tickets a year in advance, so I needed to squeeze in being a spectator as well as meet up with out-of-town friends. It’s no surprise that I got very little sleep for the two weeks I was working.

Like any writer, I kept a journal during my two weeks and as the Sochi Olympics are just getting started, I’ve been going down memory lane. Here are excerpts from my experience:

February 10, 2002

I’m really enjoying my gig with Olympic Radio.  I’m working in what’s called the MOC (Main Operations Center) in the headquarters downtown and it is definitely the nerve center of everything that’s going on.  Of course, you know I’m eating that up, as I like to know EVERYthing that’s going on and always want to be one of the first to know.

Also eating up all the Krispy Kreme donuts they keep bringing in for us. Someone please put a stop to that. Please

Warming up with friends on  Main Street in Park City at the 2002 Olympics.

Warming up with friends on Main Street in Park City at the 2002 Olympics.

February 10, 2002

Oh, my favorite thing to do is to talk to people who are visiting.  This is very exciting for a lot of people.  They’ve been saving their money a long time to come and visit.  For some reason, wearing the uniform makes me more gregarious and makes me want to talk to our guests.  I truly feel like I’m a hostess and this is my dinner party and I want to make sure everyone has a great time.

Look at me! I'm doing the Skeleton!

Look at me! I’m doing the Skeleton! Not really. Right outside the Main Operations Center was a business that photoshops your face on an athlete. So yes, now I’m a winter sports athlete. Ha!

February 12

Okay, the hot thing in town is the USA Team’s blue beret.  I have been on a mad search for it and people are cleaning it off the shelves.  Went to the SLOS (Salt Lake Olympic Square) Superstore on my lunch today and the berets were nowhere to be found. Then I found the store, Roots (the Canadian manufacturer of the USA Team uniforms), and there was a run on them there too.  They said they can’t keep them on their shelves.

Not yet giving up.

Look! We got our berets!

Look! We got our berets!

February 14

I finished my first all-night shift.  Not too bad.  I came home from work yesterday and took a 2-hr. nap.  Was hoping it would end up longer, but that didn’t happen.  But I felt refreshed nonetheless.  I then went to work at the MOC at 11pm and finished 5 a.m. this morning.  I then went straight to the gym and made the 6 a.m. yoga class after about 10 mins. on the treadmill.  Now I’m ready to eat a little breakfast and then go to bed.  I have the day off.

February 25

It’s odd that it’s all over now.  I mean, I’ve been waiting for the Olympics to happen before I even moved here.  I think SLC really surprised itself that it could be pulled off.  And I think people on the outside were really surprised too.  Hopefully a lot of people’s misconceptions have been corrected.  I’ve heard nothing but positive things about the party we put on.  Sure there were judging scandals, and countries getting their feelings hurt, and people having medals yanked for doping, but I think we can all feel a little relieved that the guests enjoyed themselves in SLC.

So I proved that I can still write with only 3 hours of sleep a night. Would I do it again? Even with the lack of sleep? Yes, without hesitation. I may not be athletic but I can spit out words for spectators like no one’s business. And hey, maybe I will have another chance at it, as I believe Salt Lake is bidding again.

I'm all ready for the 2014 games with my new Team USA hat. Go team!

I’m all ready for the 2014 games with my new Team USA hat. Go team!

When the clouds parted


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Zion National Park Rendezvous

You would have never known that 24 hours earlier you couldn’t see but five feet in front of you. But that was Bryce Canyon National Park the day before and this day we were at Zion National Park and it was a bright, warm October day.

Uh, yes.  That's me in front of Bryce Canyon

The day before. What do you mean you can’t see Bryce Canyon?

And the next day there were clear skies.

The next day: Zion National Park’s clear skies show no hint of the neighboring fog.

This was day two of my third rendezvous with Steve. To recap, just six months earlier we met in Scotland, then met up again three months later in London and Bath, England, and three months after that we were rendezvousing in my home state of Utah, discovering National Parks just four hours sound of where I live.

And things were going very well.

So well that I took the clouds parting as a sign. A sign that I was officially in a long-distance relationship, which was something I swore I would never do.

I swore I would never do a lot of things.

Like date online.

Fly across the ocean to another country to meet a guy.

And, yeah, find myself in a long-distance relationship.

A long-distance affair.

A long-distance affair.

Walking the trail, hand in hand with Steve, I couldn’t feel more lucky to have ignored all my “rules.” This is perfect. Absolutely perfect. The trail ended oddly at the bank of a shallow river and as I began to turn around to walk back to the trail head I was being pulled in the opposite direction into the river.

“Wait! We’re going into the water!” I felt the water up to my calves.

“Of course,” Steve said. “Let’s hike it.”

“No we can’t,” I insisted. He still was pulling me along. Do I stop him? Do I follow him? I don’t want him to think I’m not fun.

“Sure we can. Everyone else is,” he assured me.

And that’s when I noticed that there were others hiking the river. (I later learned that this was called “Hiking the Narrows.”

Trying to look cool as I hike the Narrows.

Trying to look cool as I hike the Narrows.

The water was cold but after a few minutes I didn’t notice it any more. The bottom of the river was full of pebbles and rocks and I might as well had been walking on marbles. Everyone else made it look so easy. I was desperate not to look stupid. I wanted Steve to think this was no big deal, like I do it all the time.

Posing in a kettle during our hike.

Posing in a kettle during our hike.

After awhile I began to get the hang of it. Just walk slow and steady. Keep your balance, I kept telling myself. Just pretend you do this all the time. Because normally I would never do something like this. I never thought of myself as an adventurous person.

But getting on a plane to rendezvous with a stranger in Scotland was adventurous.

And so was repeating that in Bath, England.

Plus that whole long-distance relationship thing.

Sometimes people drag you into the river to go on an adventure and experience something new on a warm October day with cobalt blue skies.

Steve takes a break on a rock in the Narrows.

Sure, I’d follow this guy into a river. Anytime.

2014 Resolutions: Ditch the yearly thing and go monthly


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Here we go again. Another year.

Two years ago I mapped out for you my sure-fire way to not just set goals but achieve them. How do I know it works? Well, for starters it’s my own little algorithm of sorts that helped me settle down and find my husband.

Yes, really! I was alone and despondent and quite tired of the loser blind dates, the failed attempts at trying to meet someone and not having anyone to drop me off at the airport. (Do you know what a drag it is to always be begging for a ride to the airport?) And then I did my chart map / goal thing. And it totally worked, because this happened:

A New Year's Resolution led to this.

Not bad for a New Year’s Resolution, eh?

So, let’s mix it up a bit, shall we?

This year, though, I’m doing things different. I’m not bagging the chart map / goal thing, because it does have great value. But what I’m going to do is have monthly goals in 2014.

Why do it monthly? Well, look, if you’re like me, you’re über busy and life is different month to month. I travel a lot for work and I travel a lot in my personal life. That kind of turns things upside down at certain times of the year. For instance, take weight loss or staying fit. I need a different approach when I’m traveling—maybe it’s just to maintain during those times. Or for Pete’s sake, when on vacay I need to be okay about eating ice cream, you know?

Goats Milk Ice Cream

Because if it’s Goat’s milk ice cream you gotta have it.

Plus, what might seem like a worthy goal in January may not be as valuable of a focus come August. Maybe I find myself a little sweary in July (probably because it’s #$%&! hot here in Utah around that time) and so I’ll set a resolution or goal for the next month to zip it.

It just seems like a month-to-month method is achievable and will garner more success than dragging out the pain my goals all year, which eventually become abandoned by June. (Wait, who am I kidding? Probably February.)

Let’s get started with January

Okay, so here’s what I’m doing for January. A shopping fast.

Not shop fast, as in be speedy about buying oodles of clothes, but do without shopping for a whole month.

Grocery shopping is okay. Or if I need deodorant or hair product, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve actually done this before—last October, in fact. Not a single one on my staff at work thought I could do it, so they each put money into a pool and if I succeeded (total honor system, you know), the money was donated to our United Way drive that was going on at the time.

And you know what, guys? I totally did it. And the community benefitted.

But I need to do it again, mostly because this last month I went a little crazy with the shopping (the holidays, duh) and to be honest, I felt like I learned a lesson last October that needs to be re-learned: I found that I actually didn’t need a lot of stuff. I didn’t need that skirt or that scarf or those shoes I was looking at. I had plenty of stuff already in my closet.

So doing it again is a great way to start off the year and I know I can do it because it is doable. So no more trips to Nordstrom, shopping on QVC, or even online shopping. Sorry all you merchants, I’ll be back in February, okay?

When it gets closer to February I’ll let you know what February’s goal will be. As for this last day before January you must know that I went shopping today in my last few hours because I needed a fancy dress for a work celebration meeting in January and I knew I couldn’t shop after today, and I couldn’t decide between the short skirt or the long skirt so I got both.

Oh geez. I do need help.

Long skirt fancy

Long skirt fancy

Short skirt fancy

Short skirt fancy

I’m not done here

So two questions I have for you. Short skirt or long skirt? And how are you tackling New Year’s Resolutions in 2014 or do you just skip it altogether? (I guess that was three questions.)