Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gone Fishing

There once was a writer of a blog
She went on hiatus to sip eggnog
She needed a break
So one she did take
She'll be back in January
(Ok, that doesn't rhyme.
Must be the eggnog talking.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

BARCELONA



Variety is the spice of life, and love makes the world go round. That's why I love exploring the diverse cultures that are abundant in this world.

Take Barcelona, for instance, Number 76 on my Bucket List. We visited The Catalans with our favorite travel partners, the Diva and the Doc.

We stayed at the Grand Havana Hotel, and explored the city on our own; no guided tour for us brave souls! We started with the Plaza de Catalunya, a boulevard that is the city centre of activity with a variety of shops, stalls, performance artists, museums, eateries, the works. We stopped in Bilbao Berria, one of the many restaurants that serve only Tapas. Tapas are little meals served on tiny toasts. In America, we call them appetizers, but in Spain, they make a meal of them. FYI, there's no such thing as cocktails. Mixed drinks are for you foo-foo Americanas. It's either hard liquor or beer in Barcelona, and if you order scotch, they'll bring you whiskey. Scotch is for sissies. You have been warned.

I wish someone had warned us about the Salvador Dali Museum. That man was obsessed with vaginas. Every painting, every sculpture, every drawing had the shape of a vagina lurking somewhere in it. See me point to one of his paintings in pic above.

Spain is not uptight about sexuality, I must say. We ventured out to a nightclub one night where nearly naked women and men danced on top of the bar, and then served your drinks. It was the highlight of Sarge's trip.

The highlight of my trip was Salamanca, a restaurant right on the beach. The seafood paella es mui fantastico! It's like a seafood jumbalaya. We even had the pleasure of having the Diva serve us. Now, that's variety for you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Three years, Two birds, One stone


I had the chance of a lifetime to combine two items on my Bucket List in one fell swoop: tracing my family tree, Number 75; and doing a PowerPoint Presentation, Number 18.

My extended family gets together every couple of years simply to honor the lives of those family members who have passed on before us, both my parents, all my grandparents, et al. It is a real celebration of life.

But this past year, I wanted to go beyond those that we knew in our lifetime and talk about ancestors from hundreds of years ago. Now, being African-American, one can only trace back so far because you hit a brick wall at the Civil War, as no records on slaves were kept prior to that.
However, in 1870, the first U.S. census after slavery ended, we were listed by full name, age, marital status, birthplace, occupation, and whether you had the ability to read and write.

With a lot of hard work and even more determination, I discovered my Great-Great-Grandmother Nancy was born a slave in 1844, and was owned by Cherokee Indians. Yes! Indians owned slaves. And because the government kept detailed records on the Indian Nations (with the intent of ultimately taking their land) I was able to find out not only who Nancy's parents were, but also her grandparents, and great-grandparents. They had all been passed down this same Cherokee family through various last wills and testaments.

After several years of wading through the U.S. Archives, I uncovered 234 of my ancestors. There were 4 civil War veterans (on both sides of the war), 3 ministers, 3 millionaires (on the white side, of course), 8 murders, 1 death on the Trail of Tears, 1 suicide, 1 death by fire (maybe a lynching?) 1 arrest for assault with a deadly weapon (a marital dispute) and several arrests for illegal possession of moonshine.

I rented a projector and screen, hooked it up to my laptop, and presented all this information to my entire family in the form of a PowerPoint Presentation.
Isn't God great?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SWIG AND SPIT

I'm a traveler, not a wine drinker, but that didn't stop the Diva and I from taking a girl's getaway to Northern California, all the way up to wine country. Sarge knew that we'd be drinking -- too much, he said -- so he hired a limo for the trip.

Just to get us in a relaxed mood, we booked a couple nights at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. The first thing I did was get a synchronized treatment; that's a rhythmic massage performed in tandem by not one, but two therapists. Heaven. That's all I can say.

The next day, our driver was waiting to take us to the only Black-owned winery in California, Rideau Vineyard. Iris Rideau, the owner, is of Creole heritage and her decor really captured that New Orleans feel. They even gave us Mardi Gras beads.

Now, the rules for wine-tasting are: see, swirl, sip, sniff and swallow; however, we did not know that, so we created our own rules of swig and spit in the pretty brass bucket they provide. The Diva is so creative. The staff at Rideau, though, were very patient with us novices. After they cleaned out the brass bucket, they explained that in order to not get drunk, you swirl, sip, sniff, swallow and then pour the remainder of your wine out. Live and learn . . . isn't that what life's all about?

Anyway, long story short, by the 6th or 7th winery that day, we were swiffing, snirling, nipping and wallowing in our wine. You get the picture.

Our driver, who also drives for Oprah when she's on the west coast (Boy, did he have stories), drove us past Oprah's home in Montecito. Couldn't see a thing but the gate to her mansion. She is well-hidden by the shrubbery, and well-liked by the townspeople.

On our final day, the limo took us back home, but not before we stopped at the Camarillo outlets for a little shopping, then stopped for lunch on the beach in Ventura.

The pic above is post-swig and spit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Let a Prostitute be your Guide . . .


. . . because it's legal in Amsterdam, Number 98 on my Bucket List.

We flew to Amsterdam with -- you guessed it -- The Diva and the Doc. We wanted to see, among other things, how a country with such seemingly liberal mores operates; you know, with legalized prostitution and marijuana.

Well, the first thing I discovered was that marijuana is not really legal, but only decriminalized. There's a difference. You can smoke in certain confined areas of Amsterdam, but the transportation of it will get you sent to the pokey, the pen, the slammer, the big house, up da river. So bringing it to Amsterdam is a crime, but if you somehow get it past the police, you're allowed to blaze up the chronic. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, so to speak.

The next thing I learned was that prostitution is an industry. It is taxed, and you need a license to practice it. Although I'm sure the hookers are probably good at it and don't need to practice. You would think the government would have mandatory HIV testing, but they say it would be discriminatory to test the girls and not the "johns" because that would be perceived as the girls being the problem. I agree with that ideology. The "johns" are half the equation, aren't they?

How did I learn all of this? We took the Prostitution Tour led by a real live hooker! She took us down the many streets where girls dance in storefront windows, kind of like Macy's or Saks. The men can just choose which one they want. When they close the curtains, you know what they're doing right there in the window . . . don't you? The windows are rented from the various owners of the buildings, a big part of this money-making industry. Rarely does a girl own her own window; however, the money they earn is theirs.

There is also segregation amongst the prostitutes. The Africans are on one street, Asian on another, Latinas on yet another. Interestingly, though, there was no street for lesbians.

Our guide to the hookers ended the walking tour at Casa Rossa, a theater with a live sex show. While Sarge did not want to even go near the marijuana clubs, he did want to see this show, although he professes to anyone who will listen that he would much rather have gone to a museum. Yeah, right.

Museum or no, Amsterdam is a most interesting place.
(Above is a pic of us eating french fries with mayonnaise. Yuk!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

HOT ROCKS & WARM SAND


When you don't want to see pyramids, monuments or hula girls . . . when you just need to get away to eat, sleep and vegetate, I have just the place for you to go. (Although hula girls will always be on Sarge's bucket list, this is not his blog.)

South Beach in Miami, Florida is the ideal place for that, Number 74 on my Bucket List. Sarge and I put on the Ritz (Carlton, that is) and had ourselves a rejuvenating respite. I started off our vacation with a Hot Rock and Warm Sand massage. It set the tone for the rest of the week. If you ever get a chance to have one, it is simply invigorating! It gets the kinks out and the dead skin off all at the same time. What more could a woman ask for? (Don't answer that, Sarge.)

Then it was down to the beach with the two other couples we were traveling with. We laid and lounged and slept and tanned. The bartender there insisted (I swear he threatened to kill my firstborn) that we try a Miami staple, The Mojito. Believe me, it deserves the capital letters.

After repeating that scenario for a few days, we decided to take the Duck Tours. No, it's not a trip to sightsee mallards and gadwalls, because I don't even know what those are. The Duck Tours is an amphibious vehicle that drives on land, and when it hits water it becomes a boat. Incredible, huh? It took us to Star Island where P. Diddy, Gloria Estafan, Rosie O'donnell all have homes.

The real hot spot of South Beach, though, is Ocean Avenue. It's very picturesque with a lot of Art Deco boutique-type hotels. That's where the night comes alive. We danced our last night away there, then headed back to the hotel for an Epsom Salt bath.

All in all, it was a very vegetative vacation that Sarge and I enjoyed, even without the hula girls.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

WE ARE FAMILY


Sing it with me now, "We are family, I got the OBAMAs with me!"

Well we did it! Americans have their first African-American President, and I lived to see it, Number 99 on my Bucket List.

Together, we've taken a huge step towards closing the racial divide. We used our power for good instead of divisiveness.

Imagine what else we can do together, maybe even get Sarge to take me to the shooting range?

Friday, October 31, 2008

WHO KNEW?


There was one thing I was shocked to learn about Europe: They have graffiti just like we do. NONE of it was on historic buildings, mind you. They respect themselves too much for that. These are some pics of European graffiti. I wonder what it says.




Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A PORTUGUESE CATASTROPHE




Lisbon, Portugal is a city marred by catastrophes. In one day, it was hit by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake that lasted six minutes. If you live in L.A., you know that's more than twice as long as our worst earthquake. Since Lisbon is a city by the sea, 45 minutes after that earthquake, a tsunami hit. In the areas unaffected by the tsunami, fires broke out, and flames raged for five days. These events were studied, and led to the birth of seismology.

In effect, the City of Lisbon, Number 66 on my Bucket List, was destroyed in a single day. (Maybe it should have been number 666?) But that was back in 1755, and today it is all well and good. We toured it by tram and noticed the reconstructed buildings were now covered with ceramic tile, very beautiful, very sturdy. They are known for their tile-making, so I bought a couple tiles to use as trivets.

The first photo is a home in a residential district, the second one is me in front of a tiled building, the third is a pic of a monastery where I should have signed Sarge up for monkhood. The real catastrophe is that I didn't.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

THE SHACK (and I don't mean Shaquille O'Neal)

POP QUIZ: What if you got a note, purportedly from God, inviting you to a lunch meeting? Would you think it's a joke? Or would you step out on faith and go without question? Because what if it really was Him? Granted, written invitations to dine with The Lord don't come every day, but who are we to question Him? Maybe He gets hungry sometimes.

If He wanted to meet me at 3:47 on the third Wednesday of the seventh month in the middle of an ice floe off the shores of Finland, I'd make a beeline to get there, but that's because I love Him. Even if you aren't religious, though, wouldn't you want to ask God a few questions about the state of the world today, if given a chance?

Well, one of my almighty friends gave me this wondrous piece of fiction that posits that scenario. It's entitled The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (that's not her real name, but it is her personality), shoved the book in my hand and said, "Read this."

Fearful of her wrath, and knowing that it's her way or no way, I dutifully complied. Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop. I laughed and I cried. Don't you just love when that happens?
I guess it's just me then.

Anyway, the story is about a man who has tragically lost his youngest daughter. Evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack in the Oregon wilderness. Fast forward to four grief-stricken years later, he receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to the shack for a weekend. Against his bitter judgment, (typo intended) he arrives there on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. I promise you what he finds there will shock and amaze you.

While reading amazing books is not on my Bucket List, it is the ever present backdrop against which my life is set. So I thank She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed for giving me The Shack at such a timely moment, and I thank God for giving me a friend like her.

Friday, October 17, 2008

GIRLS GONE WILD


Every now and then, it's good to get away from the men (and children) in your life, let them miss you a bit, and enjoy yourself at the same time.

One weekend, the Diva and I decided to trek up to San Francisco and paint the town Diva Red, number 63 on my Bucket List.

Crustaceans is my favorite Beverly Hills restaurant, but the original one is in San Francisco, so we made a beeline to it after we dropped our luggage off at the hotel. Now, the Crustaceans back home is very chi-chi, and has a river-like koi pond that wafts through the restaurant beneath a plexiglass floor, and will surely throw you off balance if you try to look at it while walking to your table. The Crustaceans in S.F. is a small cramped room with not even a 5-gallon aquarium, and the food isn't as tasty, either.

Across the street, though, we spotted a thrift store that boasted an affiliation with Magic Johnson called Out of the Closet. (Now, now. Quiet in the peanut gallery.) I bought a hat, as it had been raining ever since we got there.

We did a lot of shopping that weekend, but we also partook of the nightlife, strictly for educational purposes, of course.

Armed with fabulosity that evening, the first club we went to was a no-go. No music after 11 p.m., so we had to go. We walked around the corner to a great little jazz club where they had a Billie Holiday tribute trio. Loved it! Next stop was a club at the top of the Hyatt that had a 360 degree view of the city . . . AWEsome.

We woke up the next day to sunshine. WooHooooooo. We went to Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, and found an antique shop where I spent way too much money, but the Diva spent more. That is always my saving grace. I tell Sarge, "But the Diva spent more than I did." Somehow, he has no trouble believing that.

We ended our escapade at the best seafood restaurant in Frisco called Farallon. The decor was underwater city of Atlantis theme, and the food was out of this world, as well.

A befitting end to our fabulous weekend, and I thank God for a good -- no, a GREAT friend to share those memories with.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TOO MUCH INFORMATION

In the days of my youth, which now seem like another dimension of time, I saw Natalie Woods go skinny dipping in a movie called This Property is Condemned, also starring Robert Redford. I thought, ooh, that must be SO refreshing! And ever since then, I've wanted to go skinny dipping, Number 38 on my Bucket list. When I had the opportunity, I didn't have the nerve; when I had the nerve, I didn't have the opportunity. Now, the twain has met. The kids no longer live at home, so I have no excuse, except that the neighbors on EVERY side have a view of our pool.

So one night, we felt spontaneous, (and when I say "we" I mean Sarge), and we drove down to our home in Palm Springs. Even though we have neighbors on all sides there, too, we have the high drama of tall shrubbery to seclude the pool. Of course, I still had trouble gathering my nerves together, so while I undressed and put my robe on, Sarge turned off all the lights in the house as well as those in the yard and in the pool. He made it so dark I had to yell "Marco Polo" for him to find me.

I quickly disrobed and jumped in the pool naked as the day I was born, and Sarge splashed in behind me.

"Exhilarating, isn't it?" I said, giddy with delight.

"No," he corrected me, "energizing." He swam off with his famous butterfly stroke.

"Un-uhn . . . invigorating," I shot back as I shimmied the cold water off, and laid back and began doing the backstroke.

"No," said Sarge watching me pass by, "Stimulating."

And now, when my friends read this, they'll never want to swim in my pool again, because I've given them too much information.

The skinny-dipping occurs about six minutes into this video.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hola, chicas y hombres!!!!

My espanole is not very good because, well, I'm not Hispanic. Of the many ethnicities swimming around in my DNA, Spanish is not one of them.

However, in my travels, I realize that every foreign country we visit, the people there speak English as a second language. Americans are far behind in that respect, so I decided when in Rome, speak Romish . . . or Italian; whatever floats your gondola. Actually, I've chosen Spanish as my second language, #21 on my Bucket List, and it has nothing to do with California being 60% Hispanic. (I'm lying; it has a lot to do with it.)

You'd be surprised how many Spanish words you already know that you didn't know you knew because you didn't know they were Spanish words. Who knew?

Salsa = the dance AND the dip
Fiesta = party
Margarita = margarita (Hmmm.....I see a pattern developing)
Bicycletta = bicycle
La Economia esta fallando = ..........You guessed it! The Economy is failing.

And if that's not enough Spanish for you, check out Rosetta Stone software. It teaches you using the immersion method, so there are NO English translations to fall back on. You must learn the language.

Well, hasta la vista, Bambinos!
(Okay, I mixed Spanish with Italian, but you figured it out, didn't you?)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

HILTON HEAD


Ever since my mother's death in 2000, my birthdays have not been the same. It's not because she died anywhere near my birthday, she didn't. I can't explain it; it is what it is. But because of that, I always make it a point to be distracted by new and different surroundings on that day.

So one birthday, Sarge and I used our timeshare to take the Diva and the Doc to Hilton Head Island, #64 on my Bucket List. None of us had ever been there before, but had heard a lot about it. We decided to check it out for ourselves.

The first thing we learned at our inaugural dinner was that Hilton Head is a dry place. I said to Sarge, "How can a place surrounded by water be dry?"

Our waitress explained that they do not sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays, and on the other days of the week, they only sell those tiny miniature bottles of spirits that they serve on airplanes. Oh, well.

The next day, our mission was to buy the Diva a swimsuit because somehow, in six pieces of luggage, she forgot to pack a swimsuit, although she did remember to bring a bottle of Patron Tequila. All was not lost, after all.

Diva bought her swimsuit; I shopped at the Piggly-Wiggly, something I'd been wanting to do ever since I saw Driving Miss Daisy. My needs are simple. Sarge disagrees.

That week, the guys grilled dinner for the ladies a couple of times. We took long walks on the beach behind our timeshare, visited quaint little shops, had she-crab soup, and climbed 114 steps to the top of a lighthouse. Whew, hard work.

Hilton Head has a work program where they allow Jamaicans to earn their way to U.S. citizenship. They are too busy to chat with tourists. But I noticed that the original inhabitants of the island, the Gullah people, were very standoff-ish, too. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Surprisingly, the Gullah's are outnumbered by the Yuppies.

Not much nightlife to speak of on this island, either. I don't think I saw a club the whole time we were there. This is a low key, laid back kind of place, so if that's what you like, Hilton Head is the place for you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Diva's Garden of Evil


Picture a square block park. Homes line each side of the park, and everyone can see everyone else's front door from their own front porch. That's how Savannah, Georgia was designed, #65 on my Bucket List.

History, traveling and movies are but three of my passions, and our trip to Savannah offered me the chance to combine all three.

I used the internet (research is another passion) and found a boutique hotel called The Marshall House. It was built in 1851, and was originally owned by a colonel in the Confederate Army. It sits in the Historic District of Savannah, and whoever restored it did an excellent job in keeping the details within the Civil War timeframe (Civil War, yet another passion). There are no mirrors in the rooms, all the fixtures are period pieces, the cherry wood floors are uneven at best, and creak with every footstep. Even with all that, they still had Wi-fi. Ah, well, a sign of the times.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
was filmed at a house right here in downtown Savannah. The Diva and I love that movie, so we dragged Sarge and Doc all over town one day on a quest to find it. The bellman said it was within walking distance, but we must have travelled through hundreds of those squares before we actually found Mercer House.

It was fabulous, immaculate, and open to the public. It was sort of like a museum in that no pictures were allowed inside. No matter, we really got a kick out of it, especially the antiques and the original pieces of art.

If you are ever in Savannah yourself, you must visit Mercer House, and if you're hungry, you must eat at Clary's. It's a down home country backwoods-type cafe, but it has the best homemade maple syrup you could ever sop your biscuits in. Thank God for small favors.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sardines in Spain



Sometimes, when you go on a cruise, they have what I consider to be "filler" stops; little known places in between two major ports just to fill out the itinerary. Like the one time we cruised the Mexican Riviera, we stopped at Cabo San Lucas for three hours. What, pray tell, can you do in three hours?

Well, on our European cruise, we had one such stop at Vigo, Spain, world reknown as being the sardine capitol of the world. What, you didn't know? Me, either. Unfortunately, it is known for little else. Three hours was way too much time.

The only memorable thing happened as I disembarked the cruise ship. I was accosted by reporters from the local newspapaer, Faro de Vigo. They wanted my views on why an American tourista would choose to come to their little town instead of all the more famous places in Spain. "Why, for the sardines, of course," is what I told them, but really it was because the captain stopped the ship there.

Now, where's the shooting range, Sarge?

MONKEY BUSINESS


Next stop on our European cruise was Gibralter, as in the rock of? It is a peninsula that separates Europe from Africa, and the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea. It is still governed by the British, and monkeys run wild and free there as if they own the place. We were warned ahead of time not to get too close to them, nor look them in the eye. And don't wear any shiny jewelry, either; it attracts them. Please be aware that they tend to snatch and grab purses because they think the tourists may have food in them.

Well, I was like, why are we stopping here again? This sounds too much like Southcentral L.A.

Having grown up in the projects, I learned when not to monkey around. We went to the only place the monkeys weren't, and that was in the shopping center. Good thing, too, because when we got back to the ship, we heard that an 86-year old woman wanted to see the cute little monkeys up close. They grabbed her shiny buckled purse. She wouldn't let go, so they knocked her down and broke her arm. Still she held on. They dragged her and scarred the whole left side of her face. She got a beat-down from some monkeys, and the monkeys won.

What I learned from that excursion? Stay out of monkey business.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

African-Americans in Paris




As part of our week in London, Sarge and I took the Eurostar, the fastest train in Europe, over to Paris for three days, two of which were spent in the Louvre, but I get ahead of myself.

The Eurostar runs like clockwork, I have to say, and they don't play with security. At the train station, they announce "Do not leave your bags unattended" just like they do in the U.S., but Europe goes further than that. They add, "If you do, your bags will be detonated."

So, clutching our bags, we boarded the Eurostar on time and arrived in Paris on time down to the minute. I still haven't figured out how they're able to run such a tight ship. Fear probably.

Anyway, as soon as we checked into our hotel, I asked the concierge if he could procure dinner reservations at the Jules Verne restaurant, as I had been unable to do so via the internet. He was, and we went that night. This was not our first trip to the Eiffel Tower, but it was the first time we saw it at night all lit up.

Dinner was prix-fixe and fabulous. It was seven courses, and I swear it seemed like we had seven waiters. Every time a crumb dropped, someone that wasn't me brushed it away. Thank God the crumbs never landed on my chest. Tres expensive, but the memories of that night are priceless.

The next day, we got up and walked over to Le Louvre, #62 on my Bucket List. It's true what they say, it takes more than a day to see everything; that's why we went back the next day. I loved seeing Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. She is only 12 x 15 inches, but she is the crown jewel of the museum. We saw many other famous paintings, but what I found most interesting were the apartment rooms of Napoleon Bonaparte. His furniture was moved to the Louvre and set up exactly as it was in his apartments.

Leave it to us to go all the way to Paris and end up in an Irish pub. That night was great, because the bartender drank right along with us (it's allowed) and ended up giving us our drinks on the house. Was he that drunk? I just know it was a good thing we could walk back to our hotel instead of driving.

I thank God for blessing me to see Paris again. Maybe now Sarge will take me to the shooting range?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

POOL PARTY PALOOZA



Moonshine, a watering hole, and squirrels on a spit might be the way some folks would have celebrated the Labor Day Weekend, but not me, and not my girls.

Instead, my SistahFriends and I got together for a leisurely Saturday afternoon without our men, and lounged around the pool in our bikinis sipping cosmopolitans and eating BBQ. Throw in one jacuzzi, add a dash of music, mix in a professional masseuse and that equals fun for all. What a way to celebrate the beginning of the end of summer with an all-girls pool party, #61 on my Bucket List.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ONE GIANT STEP FOR AMERICA



I was but a wee first-grader when President Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was, though, when I heard the news. My teacher stopped teaching and went into the hallway where other teachers were starting to come together. We students knew something sober and somber had happened, we just didn't know what yet. And when I found out, I maybe didn't understand the ramifications of it, but I certainly felt the magnitude of that moment.

I felt that same way today, that something significant had happened, but this time it was something great. I saw Hillary Clinton come forward with awe-inspiring grace to cut short the floor vote at the Democratic National Convention to nominate her former opponent, Barack Obama, as the next President of the United States of America.

This is one giant step for America. It's larger than life, and we should be proud of ourselves. True, our work is not done yet, but let us bask in this historical moment.

Today, I celebrated #99 on my Bucket List: I lived to see an African-American become the Democratic Presidential Nominee. I never thought I would. Thank you, America, and God bless you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

OF ALL THE MIDNIGHTS IN THE WORLD


Of all the midnights in the world, I had to stroll into this one at high noon. I didn't actually have to, but I've always wanted to go to the Griffith Park Observatory where they magically create a view of the universe at night in the middle of the day. Today, my first born, (a self-proclaimed Mama's boy undisputed) used his day off to take me there to fulfill #56 on my Bucket List.

The Observatory sits at the top of Mount Hollywood. If you look real hard at the photo above, you can see the "Hollywood" sign behind us. Exhibits abound with interesting facts about the sun and the moon. Inside the Planetarium, the show "Centered in the Universe" talks about the fact that there are more than the nine planets I grew up learning about. They even show the origin of the universe (if you don't believe in Creationism).

Many movies were filmed here, too, the most famous of which was Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. He died in 1955, the same year it was filmed, and his presence is still felt there. There's even a small bust of him out front.

Now, back to the universe. Did you know the North Star never moves? I didn't, but that's why you can use it if you're driving across town looking for that big sale, and you've gotten lost. Just look for the North Star to get your directional bearings.

And just how do you know which star is the North Star, iStarWoman? Well, first you have to be able to recognize the Big Dipper. You follow the Big Dipper down the handle to the end of the basin, and there are two stars. Follow those up, and there you'll find the North Star. How the Three Wise Men knew all of that, I'll never know. Thankfully, they weren't in Los Angeles with its polluted air. They'd never have found baby Jesus. Obviously, we aren't as smart as them, and that's why God gave the rest of us GPS devices. I don't leave home without it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Nirvana


Everyone's idea of heaven is a little different, and we're all probably right. Paradise is a place of great happiness and great beauty, a Garden of Eden. It's perfect bliss reached by the absorption of oneself into the spirit, where the soul becomes one with the universe, and you can eat all the Nutter Butter cookies you want without gaining a pound.

None of us have witnessed it firsthand, but there is a place that's close to my ideal, except for the gaining weight part.

It's a place where Sarge and I went with a couple who shall remain nameless (or else they'd have to kill you . . . or me.) This paradise has the largest outdoor aquarium in the world, featuring six lagoons with lush plant life surrounding it, 40 waterfalls, five swimming pools, at least 19 restaurants, one giant pyramid waterslide, a dolphin cay, and underwater walkways for viewing the sharks. It was a teeth-gnashing experience watching the diver clean the shark tank. And did I mention they have a casino? Where is this oasis, you might ask? Atlantis, Paradise Island, Nassau, The Bahamas, #73 on my Bucket List.

It's a luxury resort where the likes of Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey stay (not together, silly). It's a bit on the expensive side, but better if you get the all-inclusive package that includes meals, a massage, and two beach towels that you don't have to steal. It was just a relaxing vacation where you eat, sleep, relax, then eat and sleep some more. We were so comfortable at the resort we never left the premises to see the rest of Nassau. Oh, well, just another excuse to go back some day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NEGRESCO, not NEGRO



The beach in the seaside town of Nice, France is aptly named. It's nice, really nice if you like laying out on . . . ROCKS! Yes, instead of sand on the beach, it's rocks. Apparently, that doesn't deter topless women from sunbathing there. Some were laying not on their towels, but bare-back on the black pebbles.

The Diva, the Doc and I had to drag Sarge away from the half nude sun worshippers. Since it was the end of summer and not stiflingly hot, we decided to walk along the Promenade, which is a boardwalk that parallels the beach. Off in the distance, we spotted a seven-foot-high statue of a black man holding a trumpet. We all like jazz, and the Doc plays sax in his spare time, so we walked a little closer and saw that it was a place called Hotel Negresco. Something about that name -- and the big black statue out front -- made us think it might be a place where the Blacks in Nice (if there were any besides us) hang out. We felt compelled to investigate further.

We wandered inside, and it was decorated Art Deco style, rich and elegant. The lobby had red velvet sofas on top of black & white marble floors. Tres chic, as the French would say. It was probably "the spot" in its day. It had an art museum and, of course, stores for the Diva to shop in.

Alas, other than the iron behemoth out front, we could not find one black person -- employee or guest. We still wanted answers, though. So using our CSI-like skills, we sought out the one person who would know all the goings-on at a hotel . . . the bellman. We took him downtown for questioning and he sang like a canary and ratted his employers out. Naturally, he spoke English as does everyone else in Europe, and he confessed that Negresco was the name of the family who owned the hotel, and no, they were not black, but they did like jazz.

Well, crime solved, another case closed. Stay tuned for the next episode. Maybe Sarge will finally take me to the shooting range?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The MOOR the Merrier


Sailing through the Mediterranean aboard the Celebrity X cruise ship, I was struck by how many European countries still had Moor castles, which means they had a black history, as in a history of black folks, and I ain't talking slavery.

My curiosity about them was piqued, so I did a little digging when I got home. The Moors were "black as ink" north Africans who crossed over into Spain, Italy, Portugal and of course, Greece. They were Muslims world renown for their soldiering skills. They built impenetrable seaside fortresses in many countries, and held high ranks in the Roman Empire. Many historians believe the Moors could have conquered the world had they not suffered internal strife. Isn't that always the case?

Blackamoors, as they are sometimes called (an oxymoron if ever I heard one), were a most feared army, hence the phrase, "There are no Moors on the coast," which over the years evolved into "The coast is clear." Black Africans were recruited for soldierly duty by many other countries, too, including but not limited to Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and even Britain.

In fact, Shakespeare wrote a play whose main character Othello was a Moor. Othello was a general in the army of Venice, and when he failed to promote his ensign Iago to a higher rank, Iago launched a smear campaign in order to gain revenge. He called Othello crude racial metaphors like "vile black man." I guess the "N" word wasn't out then. Suffice it to say Iago played the race card, and it all ended tragically, as did most of Shakespeare's plays, but forgiveth me my digression.

As I shake off Shakespeare, I dig out my photos of all the Moor castles I've seen. They are all now either museums or monasteries, or some other kind of tourst attraction. I'm just thankful they didn't demolish them for new condos.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Prada For Men?


We were off to a flying start when we arrived in London (#2 on my Bucket List), and the bumpy eight-hour plane ride was just the beginning. We made haste through the infamous fog to our hotel via one of those boxy black cabs. There was a plasma TV in the back for our commercial viewing, or to distract us from noticing the steering wheel was on the wrong side.

Our hotel was smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. From there, we could and did walk to Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace where the Queen was in residence that week, and Westminster Abbey where Lady Di's funeral was held. One rainy day, we rode on the top deck of the Big Red Bus over to Kensington Palace, once the home of Princess Diana. We went to the West End another night to see Wicked, and no, I didn't notice the actors had accents. It was lovely, as the Britons say.

Sarge made me promise not to ever mention our shopping trip to Harrods. I didn't even know Prada made shoes for men!

It was no charge, though, to walk down to Whitehall where the Houses of Parliament were. We found a cute little pub (#42 on my Bucket List) just like on TV! You know I had the beer (warm, of course) and I wanted to order the Shepherd's Pie (also #42 on my Bucket List), but I couldn't bring myself to eat the poor little lamb baked inside.

The British will slaughter a little lamb and slice it up for cooking, but they are so bloody polite when they argue. Take the couple at the table next to us, for example.
"Are you an idiot?" the wife asked her husband as she took the baby from his arms.

"I'm not really an idiot, no," he answered in a monotone.

"Brilliant," she retorted as if he'd asked her how bright she wanted her teeth. But then that's another thing, the British in general don't see the value of a dentist, and it shows.

"Wanker," he said.

"Tosser," she threw back. "Bullocks. I shall put the baby in the pram, and leave your arse."

"Oh, no, you shant," he cried as he rose from the table. "Not the perambulator."

Now, I had no idea what a perambulator was, but the name evoked pictures of some type of machinery that chops wood or eats little children, so that was the point at which I turned and gave them my full attention, only to find her placing the baby in a stroller.
Oh, bloody hell, I thought and laughed at myself. Tally ho, you cheeky dodgers!

And that was how we spent our 30th anniversary, doing what we love to do, traveling. I thank Great Britain for their hospitality, and I thank God He blessed the world with vinegar to give their fish and chips some flavor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Murder on the Down Low

While murder is definitely not on my Bucket List, I must tell you about this book.

What would happen if married men committed adultery with other men, and someone killed them off one by one? You'd have Murder on the Down Low by Pamela Samuels-Young. It's her third murder mystery with protagonist Vernetta Henderson, attorney-at-law, but you don't have to read the first two to follow this story.

Vernetta and her friends Nichelle Ayers, J.C. Sparks and Special Moore have all lost their friend Maya to AIDS given to her by her down low fiance, Eugene. Vernetta and Nichelle, also an attorney, want to make Eugene pay for his transgression through legal avenues. J.C., a homicide detective, seconds that motion, but Special Moore wants vengeance by any means necessary. "We should just kill his ass ourselves," is her sentiment. The one good thing I can say about Special is she is true to herself, and has the courage of her convictions. It is her blind rage that fuels the engine that drives this action-packed thriller forward.

The setting is Los Angeles, but no, the murders are not drive-bys. All of the victims are members of the Black elite who are consummate professionals, but also closet bisexuals, or just plain "freaky" as they like to think of themselves. As a native Angeleno, kudos to the author for her accurate protrayal of all the local L.A. haunts, which I've frequented myself.

Not to give too much of the plot away, the journey of twists and turns creates circumstantial evidence that points to many culprits for the murders, and one surprise suspect, but the larger theme is that of tolerance. If society were more tolerant of alternative lifestyles, we wouldn't have the issues associated with being on the down low because, well, there would be no down low. That's where I think it gets a little preachy. The author's take on AIDS awareness, though, is right on target.

All in all, I loved the book. It's a thrilling ride and a riveting read. If you want to find out who's on the down low and who's doing the killing, click on this link and pick up Murder on the Down Low.

Monday, July 28, 2008

PISSING GOD OFF



"Write!" Celie cried as Mister tore her and her sister apart from each other's arms, finger by finger.

"Nothing but death can keep me from it," Nettie yelled back through a torrent of tears.

Nettie's promise to her sister reflects my own promise to myself to fly to New York City one day just to see The Color Purple on Broadway, #72 on my Bucket List. My sister-friends all around me were making their own journeys to the Great White Way for the same reason, so why not me and the Diva?

The Diva went online and found second-row-center tickets to the Broadway Theater on 53rd. We used our frequent flier miles and flew to JFK International Airport where Sarge's friend sent a driver to pick us up in a Town Car.

We had a couple days to kill before watching Celie put a curse on Mister, so we shopped on 5th Ave where the Diva got scent of a sale at Saks: 70% off all coats! Of course, she bought the red eyelash mink because, well, that's her signature color. She made me buy a red shearling. Against my will. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, another friend of mine who'd made her own trek to see the play, highly recommended B. Smith's restaurant, so we followed orders and ate there one night, Chez Josephine's the next. Both had exquisite fare beyond compare. B. Smith has her own TV show, and Chez Josephine is owned and operated by one of Josephine Baker's 12 children. Another night we ate at a place (that I refuse to name) where a plate of spaghetti cost $110, and it was just an appetizer. Live and learn from my mistakes, people.

But the piece de resistance was, of course The Color Purple. That play was like a Grey Goose Vodka martini with a little twist on the ending, smooth yet intoxicating. While I am not usually given over to sentiment, I cried right there in the middle of the play when Celie said, "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it." Truer words were never spoken.
Since then, The Color Purple has closed on Broadway, and come and gone to Los Angeles, so I am glad the Diva and I seized the day.
Weekend in New York: $$$
Fun with a fabulous friend: Priceless
There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Sarge's Mastercard.

Friday, July 25, 2008

FLORIDA KEYS to LIFE


Sometimes life shoots challenges your way, and if you don't have an outlet, you may just spontaneously combust, sending shrapnel in every direction. Writing is one of the outlets in my arsenal, and traveling is another.

Sometimes we just need to unwind, and that's what Sarge and I did in the Florida Keys, #60 on my Bucket List. We made time to explore a part of the country we'd never been before. We checked into a beachside hotel in Key Largo, and ate and slept for the first couple of days. We lounged by the pool at our leisure, (that's a pic of my toes lounging) and made sure we found a different happy hour every night. I always wondered why they call it happy "hour" because it makes me happy much, much longer than that.

We got up about the third morning and drove over the 7-mile bridge, the one in Schwarzenegger's movie True Lies. It is completely over water, no land and kind of scary. I think we hurried across that part. We passed through all the other keys, Marathon, Islamorada (where we stopped for lunch), all the little lower keys, and finally arrived at the famous Key West.

Key West is a quaint little seaside town 90 miles off the coast of Cuba (#63 on my Bucket List).
Bed and Breakfasts are everywhere, and none of them are cheap. It's very touristy. Of course the writer in me had to stop at Hog's Breath Saloon where Ernest Hemmingway did some hard boozing. Drinks are super strong, and make your breath smell like a hog's, and my guess is that's how the place got its name.

It was a very relaxing trip, no formal tours, no schedule and no limits on life. That's how we like to do it. I thank God for the opportunities He has given me. I thank Him for Sarge, and I thank Him for Key Lime Pie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good night, DARK KNIGHT


As I venture far, far away from my Bucket List, I'd like to share my thoughts on a movie I viewed recently, Dark Knight.

It's a movie replete with unpredictable twists of evil and vicious violence, not suitable for the kiddies. Christian Bale (without passing judgment on his recent shoving match with his mom) is formidable as Batman, and real easy on the eyes. There are lots of secondary characters, each with their own philosophical storyline, but the real gem of the movie is Heath Ledger's evilicious interpretation of The Joker. He is wickedly sinister (even his facial tics are scary) and does his devilment not for monetary gain, but for the pure enjoyment of the chaos it brings. Batman is his foil, and polar opposite representing truth, justice and the American way . . . but wait; that's Superman's motif.

Anyway, as you can see, I'm not a big comic book fan, and they wouldn't dare allow me entry into Comic-Con in San Diego this weekend, but I know a good movie when I see one. It's just too bad and sad that we won't see Heath reprise this role, but thanks to him, Dark Knight can provide a good night for us all. He is the definitive Joker against which all future Jokers will be measured. Thank you, Heath Ledger.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gelato or fellatio?


Sarge and I were sitting in a tiny French restaurant on the French Riviera with our favorite traveling partners, the Diva and the Doc. We were in Monaco, to be exact, Monte Carlo, #59 on my Bucket List. It is situated right on the shore with the mountains as its backdrop.

We had already toured the city, which is very small, but very rich. The tiniest apartment costs one million American dollars, but they pay low to no income tax, and cableTV is free. That's why I was flabbergasted that such a rich principality would charge for amenities that we take for granted in America. I went to a bathroom and there was a lady just inside the door selling toilet paper. I looked at her like she was crazy and confused, and proceeded into a stall when I noticed there was not even a toilet paper holder. Then I looked crazy and confused, but doubled back and dropped just a few coins in her cup. Consequently, she handed me just a few panels of Charmin. I thought to myself, I'd better use these wisely.

Anyway, we wanted to try out the few French phrases that we knew. We stumbled upon this quaint little bistro where we ordered a bottle of vin (wine) first. Then we used the French pronunciations on the menu to order our food because, well, English translations were conspicuously absent. We weren't in Kansas, anymore, Toto.

After a lovely meal and the entire bottle of vin, the Diva asked the waitress to bring desert for her brother-by-choice, my husband. She said sweetly, "Could you bring him a bowl of fellatio, please?"
Well, our wisp of a waitress, who spoke only broken English, looked appalled and perplexed, but then, I think, the universality of that word started dawning on her face. We all laughed uncontrollably, but through my laughter and tears, I was able to explain that what she meant to ask for was gelato, which is an Italian ice cream.

The Diva had the wrong country and the wrong desert. And why didn't she ask for a cup of cunnilingus for me?
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

SISTINE CHAPEL


The "Sixteen Chapel" as my husband, Sarge, calls it, is a small building tucked in the corner of the Vatican in Rome, Italy. It is five centuries old, but really doesn't look a day over three hundred years. It was originally a private chapel for the pope, so we're lucky they let anyone in. I don't think the Catholic Church needs the money, but they want to share what really belongs to all of humanity.

The pews have been removed so more people can crowd inside, and I mean wall to wall people. The few bench seats that remain are scattered against the walls and are a valuable commodity. When someone gets up, another takes his place within a micro-nanosecond.

There's absolutely no talking allowed inside the chapel, but you hear in hushed library tones how awestruck people are by its beauty . No photos are permitted, either, but I did see a guy sneaking a picture. One of the guards standing on a platform overlooking the crowd -- like we were criminals herded in a prison yard -- spotted him and quietly escorted him out, I suppose, to the death chamber, for we never saw him again.

If you crane your neck, you see Michelangelo's ceiling painted with nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, but contrary to popular belief, he was not the only artist to have worked magic here with the stroke of his hand. There are frescoes on the walls painted by various other artists, including Botticelli, one of my favorites. All of their works come together to create a solemn sense of grace and salvation.

My ever vigilant Sarge spots a seat and and quickly whisks me into it. I sit there with head bowed, and silently pray in the Sistine Chapel, #55 on my Bucket List.

Friday, July 18, 2008

BOOK-A-LICIOUS


Books are simply delicious. They can make you laugh, cry, and excite all your senses, or merely teach you how the silencer on a gun reduces the pressurized gas behind the bullet, thereby muffling the popping sound without effecting the trajectory. Well, maybe that's just something I would read about, but reading is the point, whether for knowledge or for pure enjoyment.

Pure enjoyment is why I wanted to start a book club. So I got together with two of my best friends and we formed the Book-a-licious Book Club.

Another of my best friends suggested our first selection, Every Reasonable Doubt, by Pamela Samuels-Young. It's a legal thriller and she's a local author. So I Emailed her on the chance she would come to our inaugural meeting, but not really expecting her to. Well, she emailed me right back and accepted our invitation. And thus was born Book-a-licious Book Club, #10 on my Bucket List.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Adventure in Arkansas



My life whistled and skipped at an easy pace last week, acting like it didn't have a care in the world. It threw a stone across a pond, then sat and watched the ripples jiggle. Sometimes you have to slow down and dance under the occasional blue moon. That's what I did when I embarked on #31 of my Bucket List.

I had the opportunity to hop on a plane and fly down to Sarge's folks' hometown of Hampton, Arkansas to see the ancestral home which sits on 110 acres in a one-horse town that doesn't have a horse now, but does have one stoplight.

To say it's the simple life doesn't do justice to the pace of the south. It lulls you into stopping to smell the roses and the papershell pecan trees. As we drove the dirt roads, I got a real feel for country living. The more wide open spaces I saw, the more my breathing slowed until my heart beat in sync with the unhurried rhythm of the town. At the same time, though, my mind was alert and ponderous. The schools are integrated, but the churches are not. Most of the businesses are white-owned. In 2008, there's still a white cemetery and a black one. But the people are polite to one another. I get the sense that everyone knows their place, and they stay in it, so they all just get along.

We visited elderly relatives, (it seems all the young folk leave for big city life) and ate at Mama's Kitchen where everything is fried in lard, even my salad. We visited two family cemeteries and one County Courthouse so I could do the research to finish their family tree.

All that in just a couple of days. You see, Sarge spent the better half of his youthful summers in Calhoun County, and hasn't looked back in over 30 years, by choice. He would only devote two days to this endeavor of mine, so I had to pack a whollop into 48 hours.

Still in all, I'm thankful to God for the chance to enjoy myself while I learn new things and cross another escapade off my Bucket List all in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

THE DIVA and THE DOC


He's an orthopedic surgeon, she's a Diva. Together we call them the Diva and the Doc, and they are our best friends and favorite couple to date (as in go out with). They helped me check off #1 on my Bucket List.

I love awards shows, and every year when she's not on the red carpet herself, (yes, she's attended), she gives a party in honor of the biggest award night of the season: Academy Awards. Movie buffs get together at her house to see which actors take home the Oscar. It had been my bad fortune that every time she gave this party, something always came up to keep me away.

This year, the universe shifted off its axis and the stars aligned (pun intended), and I was free to go to the Diva's for Oscar Night. That is, until a meteor came crashing down blasting my hopes and dreams to bits and pieces. She had decided not to give it this year.

But being the Diva that she is, she saw how disheartened I was and she regrouped. She cooked a prize-winning meal and served up her infamous Diva-tini's just for little old me. She even had gold medals to give to whoever predicted a category correctly. The one with the most medals at the end of the evening would receive a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

And the winner was . . . Sarge! whose attitude is, "If it doesn't have sex and violence, then it's not a realistic movie." So I wonder why he won't take me to the shooting range. Hmmm.

Anyway, I feel like I won, too, the minute I stepped up to the Diva and the Doc's door. Their graciousness made me feel like a champion. I thank God they are in our lives.
That's a pic of the Diva with her co-host this year, Jon Stewart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

GREEN LITE

I saved the planet today. Single-handedly. Scratch number 58 off my list.

I am woman, see me pampered. Some might call me a spoiled brat, but I object. That's hearsay, Your Honor.

I hear from PlanetGreenTV that my carbon footprint is probably larger than my actual footprint, so that's why today, I did my part for the greening of America: I actually walked to Starbucks to get my tall-decaf-sugar-free-hazelnut-soy latte in a biodegradable paper cup. Mmmm . . . extra delish since I worked so hard to get it. You should try it. Walking, that is. And the latte, too. Nowadays, if you use a registered Starbucks gift card, all your extras like hazelnut and soy are free. Maybe I should have gotten a grande.
But back to saving the world one day at a time.

Feeling really pepped up after 3% caffeine, I walked around the corner from Starbucks to get a pedicure. That's my contribution to the beautification of America.

While drying my toes (and to show off my pedi) I decided to walk another block to the bank. I made a withdrawal just to further fuel the economy, and for no other reason. Seriously.

Saving an entire planet takes a lot out of a girl, I thought, as I started back home. That's when it hit me: now I have to walk the 7 blocks back home! Ah well, at least I'm not contributing carbon emission to an already smoggy Southern California.

When I arrived home drenched in sweat, I plopped down on the leather sofa in the man-cave and reported to Sarge (that's his occupation, not his name) what I did to go green.

"Well, it's not like you switched out all our old light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones like I did," he said quite dismissively. "Sounds like you only went lite green, honey. Try again." Then he quickly returned his attention to ESPN.

"Bonehead," I muttered under my breath.
"What's that?"
"I said I'm gon' head to the kitchen. Want something?"

I made my way to the kitchen thanking God that I am able to walk; some people can't. I have learned to take nothing for granted.

Will I walk to Starbucks tomorrow? Probably not. Will I ever walk there again? Definitely yes, and next time I'll bring a reusable cup with me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hot-air Ballooning

Number 50 on my Bucket List, which is in no particular order, is hot-air ballooning. How exhilarating it must be to feel the wind on your face as you float through air. At least that's what I thought upon arriving at California Dreamin for my balloon ride. That is, until we got to the launch site and I saw the bible verse John 3:8 plastered underneath their logo. I thought, what, are we going to need Jesus up there? But then Sarge reminded me what the verse said: "The wind blows where it will, and you hear the voice thereof, but know not from whence it came." A beautiful sentiment really. The wind was going to spirit us away.

Hot-air balloons may look like they just float away willy-nilly in the air, but they're really based on a very scientific principle: warmer air rises in cooler air. Given that, I relaxed knowing that Sarge was by my side. He's full of hot air and could float that bad boy all on his own.

They told us beforehand to wear hats because the fire-shooting propane tanks that would hang above our heads radiated heat. When I actually saw the flames, though, I immediately started worrying about my synthetic hair extensions and just how flammable they might be. Damn those braids. Not to worry. I could position myself right next to the parachute cord and end that ride on a whim.

Anyhoo, we climbed into the wicker basket with our two friends plus eight other people, and took off. Slowly. Like about 2 miles per hour, which was good because I suffer from motion sickness. There was no turbulence, sway or keel whatsoever. We floated at a leisurely pace over the Temecula wine country watching their lush vineyards roll by beneath us. Click on the video below to see my friend lose her gum while looking down. We glided as high as 2000 feet. It's funny how you don't feel any breeze at all, but that's because you're moving with the wind instead of against it. It was like sailing through serenity.

We sailed right over our ground crew who trailed our every move in their van. When our pilot was ready to land, he scouted out a suitable landing site with the fewest bumps and grinds to minimize the impact. He set us down oh, so gently amidst sagebrush that was teeming with cheery yellow flowers. The scent of sage reminded me of my mother's kitchen. I had a fleeting urge to call her and tell her about this latest adventure, and then I remembered. . .she passed away seven years and ten months ago. But I digress, as I am wont do to.

I was seeking to do something different, something I'd never done before, something I was maybe a little afraid of doing, and hot-air ballooning did not disappoint.

I'm thankful to God, well, for everything in my life. I'm thankful to our friends (who shall remain nameless) for inviting us along for this balloon ride celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. I'm also thankful to my husband, Sarge, for going along with my sometimes kooky, off-the-wall, eccentric (his words) crazy ideas. I love him for that. Maybe next time he'll take me to the shooting range.