A Flashback on an Adventure

Okay, so I’m still sick as a dog. If anyone knows how to do a complete sinus transplant, a cough amputation, or an inner-ear reorganization, call me. In the mean time, I don’t want to break a streak of posting something every single day since December 1, 2012. So consider this Throwback Thursday. Okay. It’s not Thursday. I know. Flashback Friday. Whatever.

I encourage you to check out one of my personal favorite posts, entitled A Real Cliffhanger. It’s about my encounter with a very unique man, and an even more unique dog. I hope they are both still out there in Arizona, living the lives they were meant to live. I think the world would be slightly off-kilter if they weren’t.

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link to read about my adventure, then you could always just buy my book. That particular post is included therein.

Anyway, have a great day! I’m going back to bed. Not that I ever actually left…

 

 

Sightseeing in Your Town

I am in the process of planning a trip to Italy with my husband. I’m very excited. I’m sure we’ll be seeing our fair share of cathedrals and museums and art galleries, and we’ll also be experiencing new culinary delights.

I am ever mindful of how lucky I am to be able to do this. Not everyone gets to travel. They may not have the time or the money, or they may have very valid responsibilities that prevent them from doing so.

As I plan to poke my head into every publicly accessible edifice that I possibly can, and wander through every park, it occurs to me that I haven’t done so in the Seattle area. Not by a long shot.

There’s a botanical garden that I drive past at least once a week that I keep meaning to visit but I never quite get around to it. I have no idea what the largest churches in town look like from the inside. There are great works of art hanging in local galleries that I have yet to gaze upon. And heaven knows there’s a whole host of restaurants that I’ve never patronized.

So here we are, spending a fortune to fly halfway around the world to experience the new and exciting, when there’s plenty of that stuff in our own back yard. And a lot of these things are experiences anyone can have if they make the effort. Often museums have free or discount days. Most parks are free or very affordable. You can wander into pretty much every church, (but I wouldn’t advise doing so if a service is already in progress).

I wonder why so many of us think the only sights worth seeing are those that are far away? Is it because we know the local things will always be within our reach, and we assume we’ll get to them someday? Do we place a higher premium on all things foreign? Or are we simply too invested in our Netflix stream to get up off the couch?

If you’re reading this, I challenge you to get up and go experience something near you that you’ve always been meaning to experience. Go on! You’ll be glad you did.

soos-creek-botanical
A garden near me that I have yet to see.

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A Perfect Mess

I could never live in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses are identical. I could never even live in an area with a homeowner’s association. I’m full of too many quirks and perfect imperfections. That, and I resent authority. Nobody is going to tell me what color to paint my mailbox.

But I must admit that I’ve been fascinated with New Urbanism as a concept ever since I saw the movie The Truman Show, which was filmed in Seaside, Florida. New Urbanism consists of meticulously planned communities that give off this 1950’s vibe of perfection that never actually existed. Spotless, flawless homes with spotless, flawless yards and spotless, flawless streets, restaurants, and shopping areas. Mixed-use buildings with cute little high-end shops and condominiums. A place where all the movies are rated G, and all the neighbors look exactly like you.

I love visiting these places because they are the embodiment of Trump’s idea of what a great America used to look like. It’s like peering into a misguided fantasy. It’s hard to look away.

These places are so immaculate and unblemished that they are disturbing, in the way that robots designed to look like humans are disturbing. You look into their smiling, robotic faces and you know that there’s no “there” there. Beneath the surface, something is extremely not human.

I visited the planned community of Celebration, Florida a few times. It was fun, in a voyeuristic kind of way. I blogged about it and places like it in a post called “Too Perfect.”

When I go to one of these communities, I’m impressed by their beauty, but at the same time I’m constantly on edge. I’m afraid I’ll scuff the sidewalk or something, and these men in white coats will burst from the bushes and carry me away. There’s an underlying tension required to maintain perfection, and that makes it unpleasant.

I can just imagine the neighborly infighting. “The third slat on Mr. Jones’ white picket fence is 1 degree off center. This is not to be borne. We need to report him.”

It’s unsettling to gaze upon perfection and yet be unable to shake the feeling that just below the thin veneer, there’s some kind of moral decay. Or maybe even a physical decay. And so it was that I wasn’t overly shocked to read an article entitled, “Celebration, Florida: How Disney’s ‘Community of Tomorrow’ Became a Total Nightmare”.

It seems that many of the residents of this community have filed a lawsuit, because the place is, in fact, falling apart. Disney sold much of Celebration to a private equity firm in 2004, and ever since then, Celebrationites claim that this firm has been pocketing homeowners dues and not making any repairs whatsoever. There’s so much water and termite damage that some people have had to leave, or put up with swathes of black mold, swaying floors, and unusable stairways. The firm is also threatening to slap the homeowners with fees that are higher than the original price of their residences, all while their property values decline.

It must be awful to think you’re investing in perfection, only to discover that, even in that magical place, human greed and incompetence still rises to the surface to muck everything up. That would be like gazing upon the forbidden fruit, and then realizing that, if not nurtured, it can rot before it’s even harvested, just like all the other produce in the world.

I wish these people good luck with their lawsuit, but I think their dream was inherently flawed in the first place. I’ll take my one of a kind, unregulated home any day.

Celebration_banner_Skyline

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Lightning Stories

I find lightning fascinating. From a distance. And from inside a safely grounded shelter. You don’t see much of it here in the Seattle area, though, and I miss it.

But I also have a healthy respect for lightning. At the age of 10, I moved from Connecticut to Florida, and quickly discovered that Connecticut’s lightning is child’s play by comparison. Florida has epic downpours with thunder that rattles the fillings in your teeth and lightning that can render you speechless. In fact, Florida is the most lightning-prone state in the U.S.

That kind of weather gets magnified tenfold if experiencing it for the first time while living in a tent as I did. Back then, I was terrified by Florida storms, and used those unsettling events as an opportunity to wail and howl out my rage and fear about having been rendered all but homeless at a time in life when I had absolutely no control.

With age and an improved living situation, I learned to take shelter and enjoy nature’s free light shows whenever possible.

Once, a friend of mine was visiting from Holland, so I took her to the beach. She wandered along the shoreline as I sat and enjoyed the Atlantic waves. But storm clouds rushed in from the East, and me and the rest of the savvy Floridians took off for the safety of our cars. I was desperately hopping up and down and motioning to the black, looming clouds and waving at her to come the eff on, and you’d think that that, and the fact that she suddenly had the beach to herself, would have been some sort of a clue. But no. She continued to slowly amble down the shoreline. When she finally came back, I explained to her how much danger she had been in, but she simply got angry with me for rushing her. She rarely took me seriously. For a variety of reasons, we’ve lost touch.

Later in life, when I worked for the State of Florida Department of Transportation, I was friends with the district lighting inspector. One of his tasks was to drive around at night and make sure street lights were functioning, and report them for repair if they were not. One night he drove up to a light pole just after it had been struck by lightning. The pole was in sand, and the sand was still glowing. He came back after it cooled and dug up several chunks of multicolored glass from the ground. He gave me one. I still have it. Somewhere.

Another time he showed me a dead turtle, frozen in place, its legs extended, its neck outstretched. He said that it had been struck by lightning before his very eyes. You never knew what you’d see when you worked in the field.

When I first became a bridgetender in Florida, I quickly got used to lightning striking my bridges. All of our structures came with lightning rods which were attached to copper cables that stretched down to the water, but the fishermen often harvested said copper, so you never knew what was going to happen from one strike to the next. But when the lightning was at a distance, I enjoyed the light show, along with the blue glow of transformers being struck on the horizon, with the accompanying patches of dark city skyline.

Nature, man. It’s awesome.

Recently I learned about something to add to my bucket list. The Maracaibo Beacon, also known as the Catatumbo lightning is a phenomenon that happens in Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River meets Lake Maracaibo. Lightning can strike up to 280 times per hour, 160 days a year, for 9 hours at a stretch. It happens so much that it draws tourists, but it also kills residents, and drastically impacts economic pursuits, so scientists are attempting to predict these storms as much as three months in advance. I wish them luck.

There are several theories about these storms. The most reasonable one is that the warm, moist Caribbean air is forced upward into the cold surrounding mountains, causing electrical storms. Another has to do with the methane in area swamps, while a third mentions the uranium in the ground.

It’s hard to say, but it sounds like it would be a fascinating place to indulge in my lightning fetish! I only wish the politics of that country were a little more stable. Maybe someday. Until then, I’ll have to content myself with watching this amazing video.

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Catatumbo lightning

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A Mini-Break to Ocean Shores

Every once in a while it’s nice to have a change of scenery. It’s like a palate cleanser for the soul. I could definitely use one of those every now and again. And since I had yet to experience the Washington coast, we decided to take a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores, which is only about 2 1/2 hours from Seattle.

I have only seen the Pacific three times in my life, and never toward the end of December, so I was braced for drama, and it didn’t disappoint. Stormy, rough, ice cold, it isn’t a place for sunbathing or swimming. And yet it was beautiful. I always manage to breathe more deeply when embraced by the salty sea air.

What I wasn’t expecting was the town of Ocean Shores itself. It may be clinging to the coast of the Pacific Northwest, but if you subtract the cold rain, it could have just as easily been a Florida beach town. The kitschy little souvenir shops (one of which you entered through the mouth of a shark), and the delightful little restaurants (one of which was in a mini lighthouse), could have easily been overlooking the Atlantic Southeast.

Given the time of year, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, but I could easily close my eyes and imagine it in the height of summer, chock full of guys in board shorts and children wearing water wings and making sand castles. It almost made me homesick for Florida. Almost.

Another weird connection is that Pat Boone lived in Ocean Shores for many years, and he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where I lived for decades. So there’s that, too.

If ever I feel the need to reconnect with Florida, now I know it’s only a few hours away. That’s kind of comforting. I suspect I’ll be back.

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Eighteen Rabbit

As someone with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, I am fascinated by all things Mayan. The Mayans had a very highly developed culture. They understood the concept of zero long before the Europeans did. They had a very accurate calendar. They performed complex surgery, accurately charted the movement of the planets, were very skilled mathematicians and agriculturalists, and possessed a very detailed written language in the form of hieroglyphs.

I would love to visit the Mayan cities of Tikal in Guatemala, Palenque in Mexico, and above all, Copan in Honduras. Copan intrigues me the most because at its height, it produced the most sophisticated art in Mayan history. This was due to the influence of one man, whom we call Eighteen Rabbit.

Eighteen Rabbit’s actual name was Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil. If you can figure out how to pronounce that, you’re most welcome to use it. Personally, I’ll stick with Eighteen Rabbit.

He ruled Copan during its height, from January 2, 695 to May 3, 738. How can we be so exact? The Mayan calendar was just that accurate, and this ruler’s history is detailed in the heiroglyphs of that city. So today is the 1,325th anniversary of the beginning of his reign. Tempus fugit.

The city of Copan really thrived under his rule. He commissioned the construction of great temples, and there was an explosion of art throughout the city. I genuinely believe that when you’ve gone beyond the purely utilitarian and are able to focus on art, you’ve reached a whole new level of advancement. Eighteen Rabbit was the biggest patron of the arts in all of Mayan history.

And speaking of history, he took that quite seriously as well. He constructed the Heiroglyphic Stairway just 15 years after he ascended the throne. The staircase is 63 steps high, and made of 1,250 blocks containing 2,200 hieroglyphs. It the longest Mayan text known to exist, and it describes the history of Copan in great detail.

It is quite evident that Eighteen Rabbit wanted to preserve the story of his people. That, to me, indicates that he believed in education, and took pride in the Mayan culture. That’s impressive.

He’d be horrified to know that many of the steps in the Heiroglyphic Stairway are now out of order. When they were rediscovered, they were a jumbled pile of blocks, due to a landslide, and when reassembled, archeologists didn’t understand the heiroglyphs as well as they do today. A lot has been corrected, but still, we only understand about 71 percent of what these stairs say. I can’t help but feel as though we’ve let Eighteen Rabbit down.

Given that, it’s all the more sad to contemplate how he met his end. While there is evidence of regional wars, ritual sacrifices and bloodletting ceremonies throughout Mayan history, and no doubt Eighteen Rabbit participated in all of the above, it is now believed that he was not waging war at the time of his death. Rather, he was simply traveling in the region.

During those travels, he was abducted by the ruler of a much smaller Mayan outpost, and this man had Eighteen Rabbit beheaded. After that, we see a notable decline in Copan’s art and architecture. It never recovered. I find this tragic.

But it makes me happy to know that, once upon a time, there was an amazing man who wanted to advance his people, and his legacy remains. Thank you, Eighteen Rabbit. You still have much to teach.

Eighteen Rabbit
Eighteen Rabbit

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The Oldest Bridge in the World

It is very unusual for me to direct my readers to blog posts by other authors, but this one really spoke to me. It’s about the oldest known bridge in the world, located in Iraq. As a bridgetender, I have an obvious interest in bridges, but this story also appeals to me as a history lover and a feminist.

Archeologists are working to preserve this 4000 year old bridge in Tello, Iraq. Not only are they learning about the rich history of the area through the many artifacts that are being uncovered, but they are also training several female archeologists in a region that had all but been destroyed by ISIS until quite recently.

Once the preservation is complete, the plan is to create a visitor’s center to encourage tourism and education in the area. This bridge is also a symbol of pride for the Iraqi people, as further evidence of their rich architectural heritage. Even though the waterway that this bridge used to span is long gone, this structure is still bridging a gap, and I find that impressive.

I encourage you to check out this blog post, along with its attached video which was produced by the British Museum. It’s really quite fascinating, in a geeky, historical, bridge-loving kind of way.

oldest bridge

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