Ruth's Writing World

July 16, 2019

A Tuscan Cooking Class by Ruth Zavitsanos

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 12:59 pm
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Recently, I took an Italian cookbook off my shelf seeking a Pesto recipe since my basil is flourishing in my garden. When I opened the cookbook I discovered my mother had given it to my daughter for her 16th birthday. In her inscription she wrote, “There is always another way to prepare a new meal. It’s infinite.”

Certainly, my mother was an astounding cook. I’m not bragging, those who were fortunate enough to eat one of her meals can certainly attest to her insightful creativity in the kitchen. This is something she had to self teach in an age when the Galloping Gourmet (Graham Kerr) was the only cooking show on TV and she often missed the show (no DVR) because of her other household duties. However, she’d rave about the dining experiences she had with my father during business engagements that included fancy establishments like Tavern on The Green, The Sign of the Dove, or the latest fine dining restaurant opening. In those days (late 1960s and early 1970s) the chef often came to the table to greet the guests. My mother usually complimented the chef and would say, “I detect…” and go on to mention the herbs she’d identified in her meal. The chef (most likely because of her precision in defining his creation) often shared the recipe that my mother banked in her memory to recreate for her family.

Though I observed and often assisted my mother in the kitchen, I never had that innate ability to decipher a meal’s ingredients. However, I do enjoy cooking and consider myself a fine cook. Granted, one who can always learn more. Hence the reason for booking a Tuscan Cooking Class during a recent trip to Italy.

I chose Fattoria Il Poggia based on the online reviews, the location (thirty minutes from the villa we were staying in), and the options of doing a wine tasting, vineyard and olive oil tours along with the cooking class. Also, I appreciated the prompt and informative replies to my email inquiries. Our picture perfect drive took us through winding roads draped in wildflowers, cypress trees, and pop up villas dotting the Tuscan countryside. Fattoria Il Poggia, is a few miles from the quaint medieval hilltop village of Monte Carlo.

Jen, the business manager, asked that we arrive between 945 and 10 am via an email. Unfortunately, we got a late start and missed a turn along the way. We arrived at 10:15 am, somewhat distressed fearing the class may have started without us. However, Jen, greeted us with a smile and said, “Your timing is fine.” A large friendly dog bounced toward us. “This is Alice. Like Alice in Wonderland, because look where she is,” and Jen spread her arms out at the beauty of the Tuscan hillside featuring acres of vineyards and olive groves. Yes, Alice was one lucky dog. We were given a tour of the vineyard and then taken to an area where the olive oil is produced. She pointed to the olive press and explained the process of making extra virgin olive oil.

After our informative tour, we followed Jen to the inviting Tuscan kitchen that featured an array of fresh herbs, olive oil and wine practically right off the presses. Jen introduced us to, Chef Laura a small woman with a sweet smile. At the sight of three place settings arranged with cooking tools beside bowls of flour with a brown egg in the center, we immediately asked, “Is it just us?”

“Si, yes.” Jen said.

Chef Laura took in our jubilant smiles by raising her hands in the air, as if we were the musicians she’d be conducting. “Lets get to work,” she said in Italian.

“I will interpret for you because Laura speaks very little English.”

“Buon Giorno,” Chef Laura said with a tentative smile.

We all replied, “Buon Giorno” and Chef Laura raised her head obviously delighted these three American women greeted her in Italian.

After donning our aprons, we stood before our place settings listening intently as Jen described the traditional Tuscan dishes we would be preparing under Chef Laura’s direction. “In typical Italian cuisine” Jen began and went on to explain that we’d be making; an appetizer, bruschetta with mushrooms, a first course, homemade pasta with ragu, a second course, Balsamic Chicken, and dessert, Tiramasu. Chef Laura busied herself, pulling out a pan and pointing to the olive oil. “Questo,” she began. We were eager students and our teacher took all of our inquisitive questions readily sharing her professional knowledge that spans for decades. The cooking class far exceeded my expectations. Chef Laura generously shared her expertise in the kitchen, a place she effortlessly maneuvered and full heartedly embraced.

While making homemade pasta, my technique was off and Chef Laura came to my aide along with an encouraging pat that dusted me with flour. We both giggled. I was delighted to learn and create with my good friends, smiling under her praise. It should’ve come as no surprise that the time, over three hours, flew by. Our hard work was rewarded with a delicious lunch that we had created, along with a wine tasting in the ideal Grotto setting.

My friends and I all agreed that we learned a great deal from Chef Laura.

The Tuscan Cooking Class was most definitely a highlight of our time in Tuscany. Certainly, I’d highly recommend it since we walked away feeling inspired to bring home the recipes and recreate them in our own kitchens for our families. For me the only thing lacking was my mother’s creative hand assisting Chef Laura.

Three things I learned from Chef Laura’s direction: 1.Cooking is an art of distinction. For Chef Laura, living in a place that produces the best wine, olives, tomatoes, and other vegetables is key to keeping it all fresh 2. Have fun when pouring, pinching, rolling and dusting. 3. Be generous. Those fresh ingredients offer an explosion of tantalizing tastes, so why not be generous when adding them to your dish? “Un poco” Chef Laura said while generously pouring the extra virgin olive oil in the pan.

My mother’s thoughtful inscription is fitting, “The kitchen is the heart of the home and the dining room where you receive praises and rewards.”

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May 18, 2019

Seven Travel Tips that Will Save You Money, Time and Despair

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 1:01 pm

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After returning from two weeks abroad (France and Italy) I realized that there is never enough preparation when travelling. That said, these tips may help prevent costly and confusing setbacks. Gathering information in advance is the best you can do to avoid stressful situations. Of course, there will likely be some “mishaps” along the way, but it’s all a learning experience. Strategizing and seeking assistance will come into play. In the end hopefully you’ll return with advice for others and some fun stories to share, too.

 

 

  1. When you see something you like and want to purchase it, take the time and buy it. Do not think, “Oh I’ll buy it on the way back.” More often than not the way back is never the same.

 

  1. Read the warning signs at the airport and be alert. No matter the research and preparation for safe guarding money, there will always be crooks ready to pounce. And tourists coming off of a long flight from a different time zone are easy prey. If there is not a taxi sign or a meter in the taxi do not buckle up. Instead, take your luggage and get out. Or you will find yourself paying a far more exorbitant amount.

 

  1. When changing money inquire about the fees. Do not consider the exchange rate the only difference. It doesn’t matter that these CHANGE places are well marked and in various locations throughout foreign cities. Read the information first and consider any additional service fees.

 

  1. Since cell phone WiFi can be activated at any time, when leaving a hotel or place that offers free WiFi be sure to adjust the settings. Know your phone carrier rates for traveling overseas. Do they charge for roaming? Data? Wifi? I kept mine on airplane setting or turned it off completely when I knew I didn’t need it to avoid being charged for the day. Bottom line, take the time to get it right.

 

  1. It’s advisable to always have a backup for technology that can be both spotty and frustrating in a foreign country. We used the AAA provided Trip Tik for directions. We also noted landmarks along the way to make returning to our villa easier. Be sure to have your (hotel, air bnb, etc) address available.

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  1. The car rental places provide maps and information for driving in the foreign country. Review the road sign interpretations. Also, take a photo of where you park your car (including streets signs) and any receipts/garage tickets you receive.

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  1. Note the metric system conversion in advance. Though we all were subject to learning it in school, do we ever really use it in the United States? It’s good to know how many meters make a mile, how fast one is going miles per hour in the car, and how many kilos one’s suitcase weighs in pounds in advance.

 

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Keep in mind this vacation took savings, time from work, and planning. Don’t allow setbacks to take you off course. Regroup, breathe, and take in the view. Most likely, a smiling face and a glass of wine are just around the bend awaiting your arrival.

October 16, 2018

How to Travel While Sick and Still Have fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 6:00 pm

It happened as it often does, unexpectedly and poorly timed, when I woke up with a sore throat and nasal drip prior to going away. In less than twenty-four hours I was scheduled to accompany my husband on his trade show in Las Vegas. I gargled with a very potent (germ-killing) mouthwash and took a pain reliever but the nasal drip persisted and less than an hour later the sore throat did, too.

 

Panic stricken at the thought of traveling on a plane for nearly five hours with a sore throat and whatever else was brewing in my body I went to the doctor. Though it was after lunchtime, which meant post walk-in hours, the receptionist took pity on my predicament and said there was an appointment available with one of the doctors at 1:30. I looked at the clock hanging over her head and sighed, “Ten minutes from now. Yes, I’ll take it.” Things were looking up I thought as I swallowed with pain and my head continued to throb. I’d refrained from taking another pain reliever so that the doctor could get an accurate reading.

 

With my doctor’s notes in hand I purchased the over the counter medicine she recommended. The good news was that I wasn’t prescribed an antibiotic. I hoped it might be a bad attack of allergies with the weather change and my recent travels taking their toll on me. Nonetheless, I packed the OTC items and told myself I’d be better by the time I got to Vegas. At least, that’s the favorable odds that played out in my mind.

That night I didn’t sleep very well. I blamed it on the three-hour time change from Eastern Standard to Pacific Time. In the morning I suggested to my husband that we walk to breakfast. The cigarette smoke in the casino (since it is the gambling mecca of the world it’s impossible to skirt around the casinos in the hotels) did not help my symptoms. Instead it felt like a sea of jelly fish attacking an open wound seeking to drown me in their clutches.

We walked to a fabulous diner, The Pepper Mill. My taste buds were not up to their high caliber so I told my husband, “We must come back again before we leave. Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll be better.” While he was setting up for the trade show I had the luxury of spending the day with my college roommate who lives in Las Vegas. We caught up, though I concede she did most of the talking since my voice was raspy. I chose the Asian restaurant in the hotel for dinner because when I was a kid the spicy hot and sour soup always seemed to cure a sore throat. I ate all of my soup (it went down relatively easy and did temporarily clear my stuffed nose) and should’ve stopped there since I barely touched my main course.

My life long friend bowed out early, “You look and sound like you should be in bed.” After we made plans to have dinner two nights later at Giada’s Restaurant on the strip, she marched me to the hotel store and recommended a nighttime cold medicine. I took the nighttime medicine and slept twelve hours. Feeling somewhat better that morning, I decided to try and have some fun. The windy chilly day was not the pool weather I’d hoped for that weekend, so I went to the casino and tried my luck on the slots. I won $202 on a $20 bill. Suddenly I was invigorated and rather than quitting I played more. I didn’t lose any money, but my throat began to hurt and my nose stuffed up again. Perhaps the smokers at the penny slots I’d been playing should’ve snuffed out their cigarettes so I might enjoy the winning streak I had without getting sick again.

I went outside for some fresh air and took a twenty-minute walk that included a stop at the nearby convenience store for some much needed fluids. Feeling better, I went back to my room for some quiet time. Yes, that’s the distinct opposite of what is found at the vibrant casinos with bells, music, and bright lights thrown about. At least I had an astounding view from my room.

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Later I received a text and joined several wives at the hotel bar. I had not one but two cocktails before returning to my room and dozing off.

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I woke up took a hot shower and got ready for Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson One show at 7 pm followed by dinner plans. Half way through the show I started coughing. Thankfully I had bought and packed throat lozenges (not on the doctor’s list) and they helped. (I highly recommend this show that is filled with top-notch talent and extremely entertaining acrobatic fetes performed to the hit music of the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson.)

 

At dinner I was fading fast. After dinner we returned to our hotel, where the Vegas nightlife beat more vigorously than Ricky Ricardo with his Conga drum. Instead of joining the pulsating casino, I went straight to bed.

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The following day I woke up feeling less congested and eager to use my scheduled spa day. My massage felt great and the steam/sauna rooms even better. I relaxed at the inviting rooftop pool on the sun filled 80-degree day.

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Finally this cold, taking up residency in my body, might be seeing it’s final days. That night I went to dinner with my husband and his clients. We ate at a highly rated Japanese restaurant. My taste buds had returned to enjoy the various seasonings found in the cuisine. Unfortunately, the Sake went down easy and once again the alcohol brought down my resistance. I did not sleep well, but went directly to the spa for a repeat of the steam/sauna experience before finding comfort at the pool under the bright warm desert sun. Eventually, I felt better and met my college roommate for the dinner we had planned. We took the convenient and inexpensive tram to the strip on the breezy evening.

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We enjoyed our meal and said our goodbyes at a relatively early hour for Las Vegas. That’s when I should’ve pretended I was at Disney instead of Vegas. Remember, I had that winning voucher. I played the slots again hoping to double or even triple my winnings. Instead I lost that amount and then some. Oh and the cigarettes also drained me.

 

 

On our final day I still had the remnants of a cold to take home with me. Had I been more considerate of my rundown body I might’ve left the cold behind. Luckily I’d been to Vegas five times before, or I would’ve been annoyed and upset at not going to the strip with the other wives in our group. I followed my doctor’s advice and both flights did not cause any ear pain or nasal congestion.

Did I have fun traveling with a cold? I had fun in spurts. A reminder that being sick while traveling doesn’t have to defeat one’s enjoyment entirely.

Five things to do while traveling sick

  1. Get the rest needed.
  2. Refrain from alcohol
  3. Bring temporary relief, lozenges, pain relievers, soft tissues, etc.
  4. Breathe in fresh air and drink plenty of fluids
  5. Stay away from pollutants, i.e. cigarettes, smog, etc.

And as the saying goes, quit while you’re ahead, losing while sick is debilitating.

October 5, 2018

New Orleans Bursts with the Blues, Beignets, Booze and Beads

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 1:20 pm

 

When I think of New Orleans, I’m reminded of Elvis Presley’s first movie, King Creole. Walking down Bourbon Street I felt as though I might see his swaying hips and hear his smooth voice rocking the French Quarter. As depicted in King Creole (released in 1958), New Orleans remains sultry.

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Though a colorful city with plenty to see and do, it also appears to be in need of a facelift. Just think of what you might look like if you hosted a party every night, one that begins early in the afternoon and goes until the wee hours of the morning. That’s not to say New Orleans doesn’t get a much needed clean up and wash down daily. I witnessed first hand the sanitation crews out early in the morning thoroughly cleaning the streets that had been abused by a throng of mostly drunken tourists just a few hours prior. Not everyone who goes to New Orleans needs to join in on the outrageous drinking and late night party. We certainly enjoyed our early mornings before the oppressive heat and dense humidity set in. We also beat out the lines at popular breakfast places, my favorite being the Ruby Slipper.

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After spending a weekend in New Orleans I can say, without hesitation, I will be back. In the two full days I had there, I experienced the sights and sounds of the southern port city along with the deliciously unique food and graciousness of the locals. NOLA is a top tourist destination breaking records in the number of visitors. Though I must concede Bourbon Street is brimming with tourists and somewhat offensive odors Mother Nature refuses to move out. It is a city set four to six feet below sea level up against the Mississippi River with thick layers of humidity and a heavy heat that lasts until late October to early November. Therefore, be prepared to sweat as part of the NOLA experience.

Of course, there is more to experience that is smile worthy, especially if you are a food or music connoisseur. If there’s a certain restaurant you’ve had your heart set on imbibing in while there, be sure to plan ahead and make reservations. We booked our reservations for the famed K-Paul’s and NOLA (owned by Emeril Lagasse) restaurants a month ahead of time. Both did not disappoint and were uniquely different with a good variety of local fare on their menus.

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Music can be found in many of the bars that range from jazz, blues, and hillbilly country. I mention the latter since during our first stop for a Hurricane (rum, passion fruit syrup and orange juice) we listened to a band that featured a very proficient and high-energy washboard (added as a percussion instrument) performance.

 

 

 

New Orleans is on a grid and therefore a fairly easy walking city. If you want to see more or avoid all the walking I recommend the on/off bus and or streetcar. Locals were quick to correct me, “It’s not a trolley car. It’s a streetcar here in New Orleans.” Think Marlon Brando and S-T-E-L-L-A, I told myself, because this is where Ernest Hemingway set his famed book, A Streetcar Named Desire.

 

 

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One of my friends scheduled an early afternoon walking tour. I highly recommend the food walking tour with Renee available through Free Tours by Foot. It’s a free tour (advisable to tip) with tastings and samplings offered throughout the two hours that begins at the French Market. I walked away with knowledge of the various foods indicative to New Orleans. Renee aptly explained the difference between Creole and Cajun styles. Both styles use what is known as The Holy Trinity (celery, onion and red peppers) as a base for many of the dishes prepared. Perhaps a favorite quote from our knowledgeable and proud guide was “there’s nothing lean about us” when explaining how to pronounce New Orleans. Later that night I ordered jambalaya Creole style with a sense of assertion. The guide, born and raised in the area, also helped with the pronunciations of pralines and pecans (prawleans and paycahns). It’s a unique diction with an African/French flare, much like the various cuisines.

For those seeking a quick snack along the way, Lucky Dog is the only food truck allowed in New Orleans. It was established in 1948 and the hot dog size is not available grocery stores or anywhere else, except the New Orleans airport. If you want to soak in the Oyster culture our guide recommended ACME Oyster House in the French Quarter known for their fresh and flavorful hand shucked oysters. “To be a mother shucker you have to shuck 6,000 oysters in eight hours.”

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In 1880 the Sicilians settled in to New Orleans and created the crusted bread deli meat and cheese sandwich with an olive oil and olives spread muffuletta sold in the sandwich shops they established along the riverfront of the French Market. You must have one, you and four other friends, that is. Like the word itself, the sandwich is a mouthful and definitely made for sharing. Renee recommended going to Napoleon’s Restaurant for their signature muffuletta. And so we did. It was delicious, especially the leftover half on the plane ride back later that day.

Another European nationality that settled in to New Orleans and brought their own distinctive food dish, are the Germans. Though the word is French, the Andouile sausage is a German creation, Renee explained.

If you enjoy seafood and deeply seasoned (not spicy, though my taste buds might say otherwise) food you’ll be overjoyed while eating your way through New Orleans. Keep in mind, Tabasco sauce hails from New Orleans and there are 7 types in NOLA to experience. Do you have a sweet tooth? That too will be pleasantly comforted with the variety of pralines and mouthwatering beignets. There are an array of praline shops that make the sweet caramelized nut based confections on premise. For beignets, there are two places worth noting, Café du Monde and Café Beignet. Both are different and to me both outstanding, too. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee be sure to have a café au lait with the generous serving of powdered beignets.

 

 

Near Café du Monde be sure to walk to the nearby riverfront to take in the mystical and fast flowing Mississippi River. Though the Gulf of Mexico is just 90 miles away, it can take nearly eight hours to get there because of the strong and rapid current, according to Renee. At times a steamboat ambles along the lazy river, affectionately referred to as Big Muddy.

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A word you’ll see on menus and in stores is Acadia, derived from the people who settled the land after being deported from a French colony (now Nova Scotia, Canada) in 1763 known as Acadians, also considered Cajuns. Creoles are of mixed European and black descent origin. The difference in food, as explained during the tour, is one is of the swamp (some consider it country) and the other of the land (considered to be city). That’s not to say seafood v non-seafood. It’s more the type of sauce that is used. If you order Jambalaya Creole it will have a tomato sauce. On the other hand Jambalaya Cajun will not have any tomatoes in the sauce. “Tomatoes don’t grow in a swamp,” Renee pointed out.

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New Orleans showcases exquisite architectural designs reflective of the history (dating back to the 18th century) and multicultural heritage with attractive balconies, Creole cottages, and Victorian homes. They add as much flavor to the city as the Gumbo File does to rice. We soon discovered that the French Quarter Galleries (overhangs that are as wide as the street) make for a great protection when an unexpected downpour happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While shopping I advise bargaining. If you‘ve done a fair job of it, you’ll get several layers of colorful beads from the sales clerk, at least that was my experience. I enjoyed looking in the shops with an array of high quality and fun masks that bring to mind Mardi Gras festival. There are also voodoo (spiritual folkways) shops to remind one of the African influence. Everywhere we went we received great service with a smile full of jubilant pride.

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Is it a safe city? There are homeless and beggars, some pushy in need of a fast fix, so therefore, I did not and would not advise going out alone. Signs in establishments also advise to, “Watch your belongings.”

 

NOLA is a top tourist destination breaking records in the number of visitors. It is a mixture of strong cultures that blended their fine cuisines and love of music and dance to attract tourists from all over the world. It is a place that is as vibrant as Oz and perhaps as animated, too.

 

5 Things to Experience in New Orleans

 

  1. A Hurricane drink, especially if you enjoy a fruit punch. This is by no means just a sweet drink, there is potent rum in it, so don’t let the big glass fool you.
  2. Beignets, fried dough with a generous amount of powdered sugar on top. Café Du Monde and Café Beignet.
  3. The food. It’s a variety of seasonings that will tantalize the taste buds and satisfy your stomach.
  4. The music. You don’t have to go far because much of it can be heard walking down the streets. These local performers are talented and passionate about their craft.
  5. A walking tour to get a better understanding of the lifestyle and history of New Orleans.

 

If you have the time, take a swamp tour and visit the World War II museum. I hear both are a must do.

 

Bring comfortable shoes, an appetite, and a carefree attitude to be swept away by this energetic, colorful, sultry and evocative southern city commonly known as NOLA.

September 19, 2018

Red Tide Dusk to Dawn Disenchants Captiva Island

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 1:42 pm

 

I recently returned from my first visit to Captiva Island, located in the Gulf coast an hour from Ft. Meyers, Florida. Upon arrival on the island, I was greeted with the faint sound of birds in the distance and an offensive odor. My first question at check in was, “Which way to the beach?” The front desk clerk did not hesitate to answer, “Oh, it’s just past the tennis courts.”

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Once I donned my bathing suit, I was off to swim in the somewhat calm Gulf. It was a bright sunny day and although there were only a few people on the beach most of them were cooling down in the ocean. The water was at a comfortable coolness and clearer near the shoreline where I quickly discovered an array of shells. My plan was to bring a few home for Chuck, our resident goldfish.

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Later that night, I went to dinner and the waitress offered a look of horror when I told her I’d been in the ocean. “Not long and I didn’t go far out.” I replied as though I was nine and it was my mother’s face looking at me.

 

“Didn’t they tell you about red tide?” I shook my head no and she went on to explain that it was a microorganism that was killing the fish and some other wildlife in the ocean. She must of read my horrified face, “Oh you’ll be fine as long as you didn’t ingest the sea water or don’t have an open wound.” I shook my head “no” to both. Still, I reconsidered bringing those shells home to Chuck and left them back at the resort, my way of saying, thanks but no thanks for not telling me about Red Tide.

 

Anytime I went out to eat or took a taxi someplace the locals were very candid about Red Tide and what it had done to the island’s economy. Honestly, the restaurants were sparsely filled and the island was very quiet. Eerily, so. No birds or crickets chirping, no dolphins to be seen, instead dead fish at the shore and flies, lots of flies.

 

 

Not wanting to allow this to mar my first visit to what is usually a pristine and beautiful island, I sought out other things to do. “No wave runners and no fishing due to red tide,” I’d been told. It was disheartening. Still I managed to find the beauty in an island being disturbed by a bacterial wave that persisted for months. Our taxi driver said in all his thirty years on the island he’d never seen it go on for so long. He said, “People are canceling their reservations.”

 

At the reception area on the day of my departure I picked up the New York Times and an article, “A Red Tide Stifles Tourism on Florida’s Gulf Coast”, informed me that although “conditions are improving” as I’d discovered first hand, locals are concerned it may be too late to recover from the economic setback of the past year. It’s heartbreaking to see the dead fish and lack of wildlife normally frolicking in the sun-drenched ocean and soaring in the bright blue sky above. What can be done? There are many thoughts on this, but in the end, one must concede that this is nothing new. It is a flaw perhaps of Mother Nature and this time it refuses to let go.

Much like meeting someone for the first time who, though sick, is kind, giving and gentle, I’d like to return when Captiva island is back to her captivating self, filled with crystal clear waters and content wildlife glowing in her glory. Speaking of friends, I made quite a few at the pool. When I convinced several of them to go down the windy and swift waterslide with me, we all rejoiced in finding our inner child had come out to play.

I still encourage tourists to visit Captiva Island. Just go with caution and understanding of more pool time rather than the ocean if red tide persists. It’s a beautiful, serene place that will allow one to kick back and sway to the island beat like the palm trees in the sea breeze. Once you’re there you’ll find that Island time is best experienced amongst the locals, in lovely shops, dining the fine culinary restaurants, listening to live festive music, and with a Piña Colada poolside.

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Six things I found fascinating on Captiva Island

 

  1. A desire to submerge oneself in a calm and serene pace, aka Island time.
  2. Honesty and generosity of the locals. They are proud of their island and share the good and the unsettling pitfalls of red tide.
  3. Shopping and dining experience is delightful and delicious.
  4. I escaped five days of rain at home for the bright sunny skies that occasionally let way to a refreshing early morning shower.
  5. Quiet and casual. I arrived at the start of off-season and people were delaying their plans, but I’m told off-season is usually great weather, no lines, and always a comfortable time on the island.
  6. An abundance of geckos, rabbits, butterflies, flowers, a few grasshoppers, and a variety of interesting birds.

Finally, be sure to pack binoculars and a double digit SPF tanning lotion to filter out the strong sun’s rays.

August 24, 2018

Castles, Haggis, The A9, Scotch, Kilts and Bagpipes

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 3:00 am

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, my best advice is start planning early on. In July of 2017 while lounging at my friend’s pool, another friend sparked a conversation, “What’s the one place you really want to visit, Ruthie?”

“Scotland,” I replied without hesitation. “Do you want to go with me?” I asked after telling her that my husband and daughter had gone a few years earlier for a high school rugby program. “Oh, yes,” she replied. Another friend asked, “What are we saying ‘yes’ to?” And thus began the planning stages for our (five of us in all, friends for more than fifteen years) Scotland Girls Trip for July 2018.

Why Scotland? None of us had been there. We had heard from others how wonderful it is and were all attracted to the idea of seeing where Outlander and Game of Thrones are filmed. On a personal note, I’d always been infatuated with the Scottish accent since age five, when Isabel, who had just arrived in our area from Glasgow, was hired by my mother to babysit for my sister and me. Isabel was very kind and caring. In my tender young eyes she appeared before me as an offshoot of her British cousin, Mary Poppins.

In the planning stages of the trip we discussed what we most wanted to do and see during our week in Scotland. Here’s our initial list:

  1. Castles. Of course, we had to tour castles. However we soon realized that there are a plethora of castles in Scotland and we only had six touring days. Therefore, we decided to tour three castles on our route. This is when the domino effect took place and we diligently mapped out the locations we stayed and places accessible given our schedule.
  2. Harry Potter tours. We quickly located the Jacobite Train Experience and booked the Harry Potter Compartment.
  3. Loch Ness and the Highlands.

After establishing a week of travel that fit our schedules, we took advantage of an inexpensive airfare from Newark, NJ to Glasgow, Scotland. We found several Scotland Travel Facebook pages to be great sources of information when it came to deciding where to stay and places to see. We then booked a car rental and two Airbnbs, one in Pitlochry and the other on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

On our first day we drove directly from Glasgow Airport (an hour) to Stirling Castle. We arrived in Stirling on a sunny afternoon. This charming village confirmed that, after a long day into night travel (6.5 hours to London and another 1.5 hours to Glasgow, along with a five hour time difference), we truly had arrived in Scotland. Stirling is filled with cobblestone streets, adorable cottages, shops and restaurants along with a stunning castle that dates back to the 11th century.

Stirling Castle

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After a delicious lunch near the castle, (I highly recommend soup served with fresh bread and/or a toastie sandwich), and touring the historic castle that was pivotal for Scotland’s reign of becoming an independent country in 1314, we moved on to our Airbnb.

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Our next stop was Pitlochry, a little more than an hour away, where we had reserved a lovely cottage within a few minutes walking distance of the enticing town with a handful of variety stores, gift shops, sweet shops and restaurants, along with several area whiskey distilleries. From Pitlochry we did three other side excursions that we had booked ahead of time.

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On our second day a local tour guide took us to Inverness, Loch Ness, and the Highlands. I highly recommend Around Loch Ness Tours/Private Hire with George Polwath. George met us at a parking area outside of Inverness with his mini van that comfortably seated all five of us. He gave us the history, folklore and newsworthy information we had been craving. It was nice to sit back and let someone else do the driving and navigation while all of us thoroughly enjoyed his narration. When he pointed out the Highland cows in a pasture we passed, my heart skipped a beat. I had hoped to see these comical cows known to this area of Scotland.

 

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Highland Cows

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George was very obliging with photos, shopping, and stops along the way, too. Uruquat Castle, a ruin with picturesque views brought us up to four castles that we readily embraced. I found all the castles to be very different with their own intriguing history and amazing views.

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The beauty of Loch Ness appeared to glisten under the sun’s bright rays. Can you see Nessie?

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On Day Three we drove to Fort William and took the Jacobite Express or Harry Potter train experience to Mallaig, located on the west coast of the Highlands. Before boarding the train, I captured a photo of a young man playing the bagpipes on the platform.

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Seeing the country by train was a fun experience that offered beautiful views with a Harry Potter flare to it, including the famous viaduct filmed in the movie.

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The fishing village of Mallaig had fun shops and plenty of restaurants along with colorful fishing boats lining the harbor that my friend aptly described as, “looking like one of those puzzles, so pretty.”

 

 

 

 

 

Day four we visited the medieval castle built in the 14th century, Doune Castle, famous in modern days for the filming of Monty Python, Outlander and Game of Thrones. I highly recommend taking the audio tour through this castle that offers various chambers to discover. While the narrator described a time from very long ago, I found myself looking out one of the centuries old stone walled windows. I closed my eyes and opened them to a field of horses in the distance where a white one stood out, no doubt ridden by the prince himself. Yes, it’s easy to let one’s imagination take them back to the time of kingdoms and knights.

Doune Castle

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Edinburgh Castle

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Though none of us were proclaimed whiskey drinkers, we wanted to tour a whiskey distillery and learn first hand the craftsmanship of the caramel colored liquor. This is one of the tours we did not book ahead of time because we feared it might put us on too tight of a schedule. When we discovered a distillery practically outside of our front door in Pitlochry, we easily found the time to take in the last tour of the day on our last night there. Since it had been unseasonably warm and dry, we were more than willing to assist the industry with our best rain dances in hopes of filling up the slowly babbling brook that supplies the water for the whiskey.

For our final two days, we drove what should have been an hour and 45 minutes to stay at our Airbnb on the outskirts of Edinburgh. That estimated driving time soon grew to nearly three hours because we went around ‘the roundabout’ four times.

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“Look kids it’s Big Ben,” the scene from European Vacation quickly came to mind.

We arrived at the Airbnb and the rain came down after the last suitcase was taken out of the trunk. As mentioned in the Airbnb write up, the pantry was full of great snacks, wine, and beverages making it easy to settle in for the night.

Since parking is difficult in Edinburgh we took the advice of the Airbnb owner and took taxis and Ubers. None of us missed driving having our fill of experiencing it by this point of our trip.

As a writer I had goosebumps while walking in to the café where JK Rawlings began writing Harry Potter in the Grassmarket section, a historic market place in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Nearby is a statue honoring Greyfriar’s Bobby dog. Our taxi driver shared with us the story of the local legendary dog known in the 19th century Edinburgh for guarding the grave of his owner for 14 years, until his own death.

 

 

 

 

 

Our group had discussed our concerns about what to eat in Scotland before arriving there. We had heard about some of the food being, well shall I say, more of the organs of the grazing sheep. But we were game (pun intended) to try the haggis. First we eased ourselves into the experience by delving into a bag of haggis crisps. We quickly determined a certain taste that did not offend our taste buds. Next we tried the haggis nachos and readily moved on to the haggis neeps and tatties (Scots: swede, yellow turnip or rutabaga and potatoes, boiled and mashed separately) or haggis burger. All of us agreed that haggis had a similar taste to that of scrapple from our neighboring state of Delaware.

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We had successfully consumed the food of the rugged Scotts and imbibed in the intensely potent Scotch, but the real challenge had nothing to do with food or drink. Three of us signed up (literally and figuratively) to drive and the other two non-drivers were put to the very important and nearly as draining task of navigator/co-pilot.

 

 

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Driving in Scotland is nothing to take lightly. Truth be told, I did so with white knuckles firmly gripping the steering wheel, focusing entirely on the road. Roads that included fast motorways with unforeseen ramps, narrow lanes and roundabouts that punched me in the gut. Often my heart leaped from my chest when a car from the “wrong side” came toward us. There are two things one must have before sitting behind the wheel, a good map (we chose several methods) and an even better co-pilot. Which reminds me of my friend’s thought she shared aloud after her stint at driving, “They don’t fly their planes like this why do they have to drive their cars this way?” Anytime we reached our destination, the back seat roared with a cheer adding to the sense of accomplishment. This was greatly appreciated by both driver and co-pilot because the plight of driving on the left side and those often sudden roundabouts can be daunting and make one feel beaten down, especially if a wrong turn was taken and the driver has to go back ‘into the ring’ known as the roundabout.

 

 

 

 

We had somewhat of a foolproof plan for not getting lost. We followed the car rental GPS, smart phone GPS and AAA TripTik for directions. I advise using all of these sources. At times the car rental GPS did not work and smart phone reception was sporadic, so resorting to a 20th century resource proved to be extremely beneficial. Getting from one place to another by driving on the left side and staying “left, stay left,” took a great deal of fortitude and discipline. It is best to focus on the drive as indicated by clever signs along the roads: “Are your eyes fixed on the road”, “Drive with consideration”, and “Frustration causes accidents”. There are distractions that include the breathtaking scenery, cyclists, and the oncoming traffic that appears to be on the wrong side of the road. Since retraining the brain can be quite the challenge it’s best to drive with diligence and set one’s sights on getting to the destination without time being a factor. That said, those driving did not converse with anyone except for their navigator, all eyes and hands on the road, no radio, strictly focus on the drive. Still one can’t avoid the captivating landscape filled with green valleys, rolling hills, colorful wildflowers and sheep, lots of sheep. “Do the sheep belong to anyone? They are just grazing everywhere,” my friend noted. Our tour guide informed us that there are more sheep than people in Scotland. I enjoyed seeing the black face sheep, lambs and Rams. Of course, I preferred when they were fenced in, sometimes they can get in the way, a sheep crossing . During the few times we did get lost the locals were extremely kind (i.e. driving the “pathway” through a field did not offend the kind farmer who opened his gate so we could get back to the main road.)

The Heather was nearly in bloom in late July

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Be sure to open your car windows and breathe in the fresh cool air. It was also a nice benefit to fill our water bottles along our way since the water is fresh and clean.

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The Scottish people were quick to assist the often baffled and somewhat confused American tourists attempting to use the British money, especially the coins that needed to be put under a magnifying glass. One young waiter lined up the coins and explained the value of each one. Our eyes widened, it was as though he not only gave us a magnifying glass but he put the coins under a search light for us, too.

As a dog lover, I would be remiss not to mention how dog-friendly Scotland is and how excited I was to see their known breeds: Border Collies, Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Scottish Deerhound, Skye Terrier, Golden Retriever, and the Shetland Sheepdog.

 

 

 

 

If you’re going to Scotland:

  1. Pack in layers because although we had a mild few days the end of the trip did get chilly and rainy much like one might expect it to be there.
  2. Driving is an experience. Though it was quite the challenge we all agree it was a great way to get around. Get a Triptik. If you’re a triple AAA member they are free and extremely resourceful.
  3. Mingle with the locals. We found a wonderful pub to eat in thanks to a man on line at the bank who lived in Edinburgh. “If that one doesn’t suit your fancy, try The Whiskey Bar a few doors down,” he said. We ate at one (The Mitre) and had a whiskey at the latter one, we all left very grateful and pleased.
  4. Get your tickets for castles and the Harry Potter Train ahead of time. We didn’t have to wait on any lines or risk a sold out event.
  5. Plan to go back. Unless you go for more than a week, you’ll most likely return. Though Scotland is a relatively small country there is plenty to do and see. I plan to go back and take in the left side of the country; Isle of Skye along with a few of the smaller island and towns of Glencoe and Oban.

 

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July 8, 2018

America’s Alluring West Provides a Showcase of Wildlife and Astounding Vistas

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 3:16 am

After spending the past week traveling through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming my take on AMERICA, THE BEAUTIFUL has grown to monumental heights (pun intended).

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Bison often cause delays

Traveling from Salt Lake City, Utah to Idaho Falls gave cause to volunteer to drive. With no smart phone distractions or the possibility of catching a quick nap after a long flight (I’d napped on the plane shortly after departing from Philadelphia) kept my eyes on the road that offered captivating views of bright green grass, colorful wildflowers, tumbleweeds, and astounding mountains.

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The drive is mostly open highway of 80 mph speed (a vast difference from my recent trip to Costa Rica where heavy traffic turns going 4.8 miles a nearly thirty- minute drive) making the 216 miles less than three hours away.

 

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Arriving in Idaho Falls on a breezy summer evening added to the ambience of the city set against the Snake River. The expansive falls supply 50 percent of the hydropower energy source for the city’s residents. Just over the bridge, historic Idaho Falls includes several blocks of small shops, a variety store filled with memorabilia, and wine bars. Along the riverfront are restaurants offering a view and the sound of the powerful flowing waters. Beyond the town in the distance is the striking temple of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints completed one month after World War II ended in September of 1945.

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Idaho Falls–powerful and invigorating

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Snake River, Idaho Falls

 

 

 

After spending the night and an invigorating walk along the river the following morning we drove (less than two hours away) to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. We entered our nation’s first park for a mere $35 per car for the week. Once inside, we saw Elk, Bison, Bears, Wolves and lots of snapping cameras, both smart phones and those super lens kind from the past that most definitely are not extinct. Within ten minutes of arriving in the park we came to realize that cars on the side of the road meant wildlife was not far off. Sometimes visitors pulled over for a closer look adding to an abundance of cars. Often a park ranger scrambled to direct traffic, which usually meant a grizzly and her cubs or a herd of bison were holding things up.

 

My advice for enjoying the Park is to get out of your car and hike a trail or horseback ride through the backcountry. It is highly recommended to hike in groups of three or more because of the wildlife. Seeing a bison out in the open grazing on grass is a quick reminder that we are in their “home on the range”. Certainly one does not want to have a close encounter with a black or grizzly Bear. It seems to me that stuffed animals with their sweet faces and soft fur have deceived the human mind into thinking the animals replicated are warm and fuzzy, too. During an introductory movie with footage of tourists being attacked by wildlife makes it all too clear the dangers of being too close to the wildlife or compromising “their” comfort zone. Certainly, the park is a photographer’s haven and a hiker’s dream with the beautiful vistas and numerous trails.

 

Here again, I advise taking precaution, especially if you are not used to the 7k+ feet of elevation. I’ve never smoked and pride myself on walking my dogs or hiking three to five miles a day. Yet during my hikes out in the high elevation I had to stop as I reached a peak, under somewhat of a pretense for taking in the view, while catching my breath. It felt like I swam under water without taking a breath and gave me trepidation for climbing peaks. One quick remedy during the respite is to stay hydrated. The air is so dry that one tends to forget to drink water. There’s an abundance of refreshing, natural water that comes from the snow-capped mountains year round running through the rocks filled with minerals. Nothing quite compares to drinking the refreshing water (I filled my bottle each morning from the water fountain or sink) and taking in the cool fresh air with a mesmerizing view of waterfalls, wildlife and mountains set against a wide open blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.

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Another dimension to Yellowstone is that it boasts having the most geysers in the world including the mighty Old Faithful Geyser. This cone shaped geyser has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes since 2000. Though raining heavily just a few minutes prior to the “big show” the day we visited everyone waited with anticipation at witnessing nature’s most predictable eruption. It’s definitely a sight to behold as the water shoots into the air at an average height of 145 feet, yet to the human eye it appears to be, as one little boy in front of me proclaimed, “Touching the cloud.” There are other smaller geysers and areas of ground near the once active volcanic areas that are bubbling at the surface, often creating a hotbed of kaleidoscope colors and the sight of a half dozen hats forever gone with the wind because of the sulfur and heat index.

 

 

Not far from the exit of the park heading toward Jackson, WY is the Grand Teton National Park. This park has the most magnificent views of the 40-mile Teton Range of mountains. The Grand Teton dates back 11,000 years when the first nomadic hunter-gatherer Paleo-Indians roamed the region in search of food. Inside this park are over 200 miles of mountain trails. Since we had plans to eat lunch in Jackson Hole, we hiked five miles at Jenny Lake. This was by far my favorite with five pristinely beautiful miles forever etched in my memory as being the most gratifying hike highlighted by the Hidden Falls with views of majestic mountains.

 

Our drive to Jackson Hole, WY added to the magnificent splendor of the day since our GPS gave us an alternate route through parts of Idaho where cows instead of bison grazed along the roadside. We found ourselves driving along the Oregon Trail on the dusty hot day making me wonder how the pioneers survived the treacherous trek in the days of horse driven wagons. (What no air conditioning or jamming of QUEEN tunes?” Seriously, these are our true heroes, the ones who have expanded our nation and discovered places that brought us the resources to grow and advance.

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We entered Jackson Hole with quite the appetite. This well-preserved old western town attracts the growing number of tourists thanks to the beautiful setting and the many shops, restaurants and step back in time offerings, such as dressing up like a Pioneer or taking a stagecoach ride.

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Jackson Hole, WY

Since the town is at the crevice of the mountains in a low lying valley the trappers, cowboys, and mountain men had to travel down steep slopes to get there, they referred to it as entering a “hole.” One fur trapper, David E. Jackson, proclaimed the area to be his favorite trapping ground. Not long after, the area was named for him. It came as no surprise that one of my favorite movies, “Dances with Wolves” was filmed in Jackson Hole.

 

 

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View from the charming Lake Hotel of the captivating full moon

 

 

If you travel West:

  1. Pack layers. One day I started out with a raincoat, flannel shirt and t-shirt. That afternoon I was wearing my tee shirt while on horseback but by evening I put my flannel back on.
  2. Wear comfortable hiking boots. The terrain is rough and at times steep. As I told my husband, “I would’ve twisted my ankle three times over in sneakers.”
  3. Water bottles are a must. Remember to hydrate.
  4. Bring binoculars. I saw a pack of wolves (truly a thrill for this canine lover), four black and one white, thanks to my father’s high powered binoculars.
  5. Be respectful. Not just to other humans but to the wildlife, too. They are unpredictable and though used to the many tourists they can still be startled. No need to enter their territory and risk being attacked.
  6. No internet. I only mention this because if that’s something you can’t do without then forego visiting this beautiful part of our nation. One can text at times but leave Facebook and social media behind. Enjoy the astounding views instead. You’ll be glad you did.
  7. There’s so much to see and do that it can be physically taxing at times. The lodges provide lots of rocking chairs for good reason-kick back with a huckleberry ice cream and relax.
  8. Recommended Music. Though I highly recommend opening your car windows and breathing in the fresh air, if it’s too hot, a great musical accompaniment for driving through America’s West is One Republic, especially their Native album.

 

 

June 8, 2018

My First On Screen Chat

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 10:32 pm

Last night when I put my head to the pillow I vividly recalled my first on screen chat. Lately, this has been the typical time of profound thoughts reflecting on my past. And usually if I write it down, as I did last night, I can connect the timing. In this case, it’s been 35 years since that first message came to me via a computer. Yes, 35 years! My daughters (in their early twenties) like most of today’s younger generation might believe the computer onset happened once they were born, but in reflecting on that initial screen chat I realized it happened in early June 1983.

As a journalism major, I had acquired a summer internship working for a daily newspaper. I recall logging either a high school graduation or an obituary that morning. My “cub reporter” assignments were speeches of young enthusiastic people discussing the ever popular “Color of My Parachute”, what they learned during high school, what they’d hoped to gain in the years to come, and how they planned to better the world. Or, the phone call from a somber-toned stranger sharing details of a loved one and their contributions to everything ranging from church, military service, domestic reign to the rotary club during their lifetime. Certainly the newsroom was as one might imagine for a daily newspaper, very active during the morning hours leading up to deadline. And it was at deadline that I received that first text computer chat. It popped up out of what seemed to be nowhere on my computer screen.

“Hey,” it simply said.

I remember looking at it somewhat perplexed. My editor was deep in edits and the other reporters were discussing lunch plans and their afternoon assignments. All but one, he’d been staring at his screen. Ron was tall and lanky with a full head of black curls, the only thing that set him apart from Ichabod Crane (the neighboring town was Sleepy Hollow so comparing him to this eerie Washington Irving character came easily.)

Back at my screen another word popped up. “Lunch?”

“Hey. Who is this?” I asked my fingers trembling. This was both freaky and scary. Instantly a reply, “It’s Ron,” I looked up from the screen and his long skinny fingers waved at me. Another reporter, Phyllis, stopped at my desk to see if I wanted to join her for lunch and I shared this “chat” with her.

“Say no.”

“I’m going with Phyllis,” I typed thinking simply saying “no” might cause my computer to blow up.

She rolled her eyes. “You do know he’s sitting right there.”

Another text, “Want to go to a movie tonight?”

“He’s asking you on a date!” she said louder than I appreciated. And with that, Phyllis turned my computer off.

I followed her out the door and she told me all about the on screen chat I’d been subject to that still had my heart pounding.

“I don’t think I like it,” I remember telling her.

“Well who would the way Ron went about asking you out is ridiculous. Nobody is ever going to get a date that way,” she said. I had agreed. Insert, “If I knew then what I know now.” Followed by loud laughter, or rather LOL!

I have no idea where Phyllis is these days. I don’t recall her last name and never kept up with her. My guess is she, too, is caught up in the flurry of emails, texts and never ending scrolls along social media.

Dare I say Ron was on to something that decades later would be a popular means of dating? It didn’t work in the 20th century, certainly not for me. To his credit, at that time it was the only way to chat on line. There weren’t any smart phones and our computers were very limited, mostly used for logging stories. Oddly the number one song playing on the radio that summer was “Every Breath you Take” by the Police. Phyllis, in her somewhat warped sense of humor, often sang that when Ron approached my desk, “I’ll be watching you…” At times he’d text me (and after the realization that my computer would not blow up) I sent him one-word replies back. Eventually, he got bored with the one-sided chat. Looking back, I can’t help but think that if I was the guinea pig for his “online dating” attempt, it blew up in his face.

May 2, 2018

Raise the Bar with Cycling

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 11:49 am

For the past six weeks my daughter has been doing a cycling class at a CycleBar that recently opened in our area. Her class is at night and to her credit she went throughout the cold, rainy weather we’ve been experiencing this year. Once, while I was complaining about the weather and how it’s so hard to keep weight off because of it, she invited me to go with her. I hemmed and hawed, which for me means, I considered it but really didn’t have the interest. I’d heard it’s a rigorous workout. I believe in staying fit, but not at the expense of beating my body to a pulp and then walking around like a ninety year old in need of a cane for days on end.

I must’ve needed something more to prompt me and take away my fears. After seeing the Amy Schumer movie, I Feel Pretty, with an opening scene that takes place at a CycleBar, I thought, ‘that looks like fun.” I told my daughter. Again, she invited me to attend her class as her guest. At the end of next month, she’ll be going to Florida for a summer internship. “I can do it,” and it’ll be a fun mother daughter memory when I do get through the class, I told myself.

In preparation for the class, I bought cycling pants and a loose running top that were on sale at Macy’s.

“Do I look like I’m ready for tonight’s cycling class?” I asked her.

She smiled. “Definitely.”

When we got there I was impressed that everything had been prepared for our arrival.

“I did it all online,” my daughter said as we retrieved our shoes that were in the bin assigned to a cycle number.

We shared a locker and after looking at the other women attending class, I realized most of them, like my daughter, were in their 20s. Suddenly, I turned chicken.

“Maybe this isn’t for me,” I whispered.

“Mom, remember I said to do it at your own pace. You’ll be fine.”

So many times I felt younger than my actual age. This was definitely not one of those times. It was like being on a beach with a bunch of sorority girls and I was the lone parent, or in my eyes, the whale amongst minnows. Three decades this body had on their young and energetic ones. I banished the thought and took my place on the bike next to my daughter.

An assistant placed my feet in the special pedals that my daughter later told me keep “Your feet from flying off since you’re going like 20 miles per hour.” Good thing she saved that little nugget of information for after the class. That might sound slow to some, but that’s five times faster than my four mile an hour walk I do with my dogs.

When my daughter signed me up for the class her sales pitch included, “It’s going to be a Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears sing off night. And the trainer is so nice. She’s very encouraging, you’ll really like her.”

My daughter grew up listening to the two former Mouseketeers and I took her to her first concert at 7 to see Britney Spears. She loved every minute of it.

Hearing, “She’s so Lucky,” while getting comfortable in my bike seat, I thought, I am pretty lucky that my 23 year old wants to do this with me.

Once situated on the bike, the assistant showed me how to adjust the tension and watch my speed to increase and decrease momentum. At first I felt like the bike had been propelling my legs to spin rather than the other way around.

“I got this,” I told myself as the lights dimmed and the trainer said, “We ready?”

I put both thumbs in the air and looked around realizing everyone else looked quite intense. I guess I should’ve taken their cue. Next thing I knew their butts were off the seats and the ride no longer felt like I didn’t have to work at it. I quickly went from “I got this” to “I can do this.” And I did for the first seventeen minutes. I know this because that was the point when I thought, “This class has to be over in a few minutes. I’m sweaty and spent.” No, 7:17 wasn’t even the halfway point. That’s when I sat down while the others were still pressing hard, butts in air doing ‘push ups’ no less. I felt bad for the girl to my right. She went at a hard pace and there I was the slacker just inches away. I stood back up then lowered my butt and worked it again. By it, I mean this body that definitely felt it’s age. I kept going somewhat strong, breathing, listening to the prompts of the trainer, pleased when the lights dimmed because I was certain others in the class must’ve identified the weak link.

“MY thighs are burning,” I yelled and my daughter, knowing I’ve never been one for hiding my feelings, laughed. She later told me the girl next to me, the amazingly athletic one, seemed to enjoy my presence. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Mom you were trying hard. You did it.”

 

When the lights came on, I looked at the others and realized, they could care less about me and my pace. This class was for their personal achievement. With that in mind, I kept forging forward, following the trainer’s lead and picked up the bar weight. My brain liked the idea of adding something else to the bike ride. My brain also reprimanded me for doing yard work that day since my arms felt it during the weight workout. Again, I looked at my watch, 730. I’d made it through ¾ of the class and hadn’t stopped. Yay for me! Though I’d wished class were over, I looked over at my daughter who smiled at me. I dug deep down for more energy to continue cycling to what now seemed like the bitter end. My pace was slowing down then I sped up, I felt like a yo-yo, but I was moving and trying to keep up.

“Ruth give yourself an A for effort,” I thought.

Again, I looked at my watch, 7:37 and the sweat is pouring off of me. I never should’ve declined a tie back my daughter had offered me before the class started. My wet hair stuck to my skin, blurring my view. Of course, since I hadn’t worn my glasses my already blurred vision made it impossible to see the pace I’d been going, which may have been a good thing.

The instructor announced, “We’re nearly finished. When you go out be like these song lyrics, strong and beautiful,” She encourages the group, sweat pouring down our faces, yet I feel certain the pounding hearts embrace her words.

A Britney Spears video plays for the final minutes of class, she is scantily clad revealing her very toned body everyone in the class is after during this 45 minute kick butt, sweat it out class.

At the end everyone gets off the bikes for the wind down stretch portion of class. Everyone except the newbie, me, that is. “How do I get my feet out of the pedals?” I ask my daughter louder than I thought since the music had died down and the lights were turned up. Nobody cared. They were stretching to preventing their bodies from soreness. I need to do that, I realize. My daughter informs me, “Twist it off.” I do and one foot is out, free. The next foot does the same with little prompting and I’m part of the stretch class now. “Great class, have a fabulous weekend. I hope to see you next week.”

“That’s it!” I’m thrilled I got through the class and surprisingly I can walk out in the same way I walked in. No discomfort. I thought I’d feel sore, especially in the buttocks. I sat down next to a woman who appeared to be my age and asked, “Do you do this class a lot?” I took my shoes off.

“I do. I like it.”

“Will I regret it tomorrow?”

“No. But you have to do something. And you have to take a break from this,” she informed me.

“I was planning to come back next week. I made the mistake of doing yard work today and really felt it during the weight workout.”

She nodded, “Oh yeah. When you do this class, you shouldn’t do anything else that day.”

I smiled.
“See ya next week,” she said.

“Definitely,” I replied.

“You liked it then?” my daughter asked.

“Yes.”

“Great I’ll sign us up for four more classes.” I forced a smile. That’s all we get until she departs for her internship, I realized. Then I told my dubious body, ‘Even more reason to ‘bring it on.’”

Later that night, my CycleBar results were sent to my email. I’d burned nearly 400 calories and placed 25/25 in class. The latter is no surprise. I might always be at the bottom of the class results, (until the next newbie comes along) but at least I’m there.

This morning I woke up with a little soreness in my upper thighs, but nothing compared to what I had expected. I’ll take that woman’s advice and get in a vigorous walk today to avoid any other achiness. I’m going to the second class with my tie back, eye glasses, and that much more determination to sweat, burn, and keep the class pace. I’ll also be less concerned about what others think knowing they aren’t there to grade, judge or mock me. The initial achievement of getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new melted my fears and concerns away.

CycleBars are growing more and more popular for good reason. It’s a highly energized, fast-paced workout that offers fast results and is rewarding for both the mind and body. It’s not easy, you will sweat, you might be sore, but like most, you’ll probably return the following week, ready to commit yourself to a vigorous 45 minutes that will push your body to raise the bar.

 

December 17, 2015

A Christmas Tail

Filed under: Uncategorized — ruthz621 @ 4:27 pm

A Christmas Tail-based on a true story

Since I was feeling spiffy in my Santa Sweater, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for this festive time of year with my sweetheart. Don’t tell her I said that, she thinks she’s too old for this young pup. The moment I felt a cool breeze, I snuck out and trotted down the street to my best girl’s home. First, being the friendly pup I am, I greeted the woman I often encounter running toward me. We practically knock each other over, but she does stop to greet me when I’m with my humans. This time she greeted me and took hold of my collar. At first I resisted but then she took me right to my girl, Pebbles’ home. I can see her confusion since; to be honest I was near Pebbles’ driveway when we bumped into to one another.

 

I was let in by a woman smelling of Windex. They use that a lot at Pebbles’ house. It’s a unique, clean scent that I sometimes smell on Pebbles. She brings a certain Pepe Le Pew aroma to it that brings me to rolling over with excitement. Once inside, I was hoping Pebbles and her pesky little brother, Rocky, would greet me. I ran upstairs and one of Pebbles’ humans at first looked surprised then gave me a sweet hug. “Oh, it’s you Chance. I love your Santa sweater.” I barked with joy before running around the house in search of Pebbles. Instead, I discovered those wrapped gifts that go under that pine-smelling tree this time of year. Santa is coming soon. My tail wagged and I sought out something I might enjoy that the elves wrapped. Instead perfumes and sweet candles hit my nostrils. I guess Pebbles and Rocky will have to wait for Christmas morning, like me! I licked my chops at the thought of a savory treat.

 

I trotted downstairs to the tree and the kind human stopped to snap a photo of me in my spiffy Santa Sweater. I hope she shares it with my best girl, Pebbles. We can see photos, and if we don’t we can feel the joy they give. I barked and she patted my head and said, “They’ll be back soon.”

Chance Christmas

 

I waited for Pebbles and Rocky to return.

What to do? I’ve been left all alone for Christmas and it’s not my family! I began to whine. I ran to look out the door where Pebbles, Rocky and I freely play on a big field of green with a fence keeping out those not invited to our playdates. The green balls we play with lay waiting for Rocky and me to chase. Pebbles only has to leap my way and I drop the ball at her paws. I looked around and sniffed hoping they’d come trotting my way.

Silence.

My throat grew dry. I drank some water and sniffed at their empty bowls. That’s when I thought I heard my name being called. I ran to the front door. It was one of my humans. They were looking for me! My tail wagged and I barked. They rang the doorbell. I ran around the empty house. Then I ran toward the place where that woman who runs toward me dropped me off. My human came to that door, opened it and I nearly knocked her down. Though I kept looking back, hoping to see Pebbles, I never stopped from walking back home. I’ll be home for Christmas. My tail wagged non-stop.

Later, while begging for scraps during dinner, I heard my humans say Pebbles and Rocky were at the groomers all day. I dozed off. In my mind I chased Pebbles, her scent of Windex and Pine conditioner filling the air. Rocky chased after that green ball as moist soft snowflakes fell on our snouts.

“Chance is sleeping after his exciting day,” I heard one of my humans say.

“He looks pleased. I wonder what he’s thinking.”

Thanks for the White Christmas with my family and friends, Santa.

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