The Commuters in a319

We may think a daily 30-minute commute to work is too much. And occasionally, depending on traffic,  it may be longer. But everything is relative. I learned that first hand when commuting to work from the Gulf coast to the nation’s capital by plane for over four years. My ride was an Airbus a319. Colleagues, friends and acquaintances would ask me how I could put up with it. Wasn’t such a commute just horrible? So stressful? No it wasn’t. I have to admit that in the long run it was a bit tiring, but definitely some of it was positive as well.

Every Monday (or later Tuesday) morning I would wake up here at the beach, commute directly to my office and stay during the work week in our house up north. And every Thursday or Friday evening I would come back home to the beach. By time, I could work virtually more and more and consequently spend less time physically in the office, often only three days a week, packed with meetings and other engagements.

My typical Sunday (later Monday) evening would include a preparatory ritual: prepare the coffee maker and my breakfast sandwich. Put my work clothes on the guest bed and my work laptop and papers in my tiny carry on, print my boarding pass. And my typical commuter morning would start at 4:45 a.m. I would get up, put on my coffee maker, take a quick shower, have my coffee and  my breakfast sandwich, and make myself in order. Around 5:30 I’d take my small carry-on and drive to the airport in about 30 minutes. Nice drive, hardly anyone on the roads. I’d find my spot in the long-term parking and go through security. Hi how are you today everywhere.  It was all very smooth because I had no luggage, just had to remember to take out my laptop and remove my shoes. Then have an espresso and a yoghurt  in the lounge, watch early news and go to the gate to board at 6:30.

And that’s when I’d meet the commuters. Either the Monday crowd with my friend Eric who was a high-end computer consultant in his early thirties, and whose first child was born while we were in the commuter family. We all loved the pictures of his baby girl and sympathized with him when he had not slept the night before. Or it was the Tuesday crowd with my friend Larry who was an engineer and had commuted to work in the nation’s capital for 17 years when we first met. He was in his early seventies now, still going strong. When you’d greet him at the gate and ask how he was doing, his response was always the same: I’m super! His weekends at home on the beach would be full of fishing adventures, baseball and golfing. He had dozens of grandkids and did a yearly cruise with his large family somewhere exciting.

My granddaughter was born during that time and her pictures on my Blackberry were admired by both the Monday and Tuesday community! It’s funny how we grew together. We’d tell each other of our plans so that no one would get worried if there was a “no-show”. Oh, Larry is on his cruise now, we’d say.

The two hours on the plane went by fast. After the initial gathering of miles they just piled up, and as a result I soon reached the highest pinnacle in the airline’s frequent flyer program. And sat in First for 99% of the time from my second year onwards. It was undisturbed time, so I could do work that I had left “for the plane”. Or doze off for another hour and a half if I had not gotten to bed on time the night before. Or I could read books on my Kindle. Then arrive at my office before 9:30 a.m.

I’d then work hard and long hours in the office for 3-4 days and take care of the house in the evenings. There were a few surprises every now and then when I came back to the house, like the snow storm in 2009 that caused six huge trees to fall around the house over one weekend…but I have to confess that I also enjoyed a bunch of nice dinners with good friends on those week nights I spent in D.C.

After my “week” in the office was done, either on Thursday or Friday night,  I would go to the airport directly from the office for my 7:30 p.m. flight back to the beach. Aah, I could breath the ocean air and relax! Even if I had to work remotely on Friday, arriving at the beach on a Thursday night always felt like starting a mini vacation.

Then, almost two years ago now, I called it quits. Left Eric, Larry and others still commuting. They celebrated my last “regular” commuting flight with me, we had a toast and many hugs. I felt ready to start consulting on my own while enjoying the ocean views on a full-time basis. Looking back at it now, I think that the commute helped me to manage the many times extreme stress in the office.  My staff would often comment on my calm in the middle of the storm. Knowing I could soon relax in a peaceful environment was just very reassuring. Now I still fly for work every now and then, but it’s no longer commuting. And my destinations are now often overseas. More like a window to the world, always something new to discover!

It’s funny how we can adapt to various situations in life. And it’s even more marvellous that we can fine tune our routines to the point that it truly feels smooth. I did not miss my flight once over these years while I was able to minimize the time spent waiting. I believe that if we stay positive, we can find the silver lining in most circumstances.

Dancing to Your Own Tune?

That’s Brilliant! Wouldn’t you like to hear this enthusiastic proclamation? Particularly if it was made about you, lets say after you gave a speech at a reputable non-profit’s fundraising dinner or spoke at your old friend’s wedding? Or perhaps if it was uttered by critics about your first novel or your second exhibition showing acrylics on canvas? Or shouted by the clapping crowd after you sang “stand by me blue suede shoes” at a karaoke bar in Nashville or maybe in the Bahamas?  I bet many of us would. And lucky you if you actually did. Great to be recognized, kind of confirmed as somebody. Brilliant definitely sounds good.

But life can be tough, praise can be hard to come by. We may hear something that sounds a bit like a compliment when our teenager wants to borrow the car or a co-worker needs us to cover for him on a Saturday night, but we may never really get recognized as brilliant. Most of us just have to live with it. Be happy doing half-brilliant things. Wear the half Carat, so to say.

From time to time, some of us may also need to wrestle with our hardest critic, moi (or mwaa). He has become very good at giving a quick punch. Surprise us when we least expect it. Pull us down on the carpet, hard fall, there you go, I told  you! What made you think you could do it? That’s hard speak, difficult to take. But pause. Before we get up for the next round, we need to recall who trained him. At the minimum, we drove him to his practice sessions for years, paid for them! And now what do we get? It’s clear that we need to re-evaluate the situation, rebalance the relationship. Exercise some authority. Moi, you will go to training again, dance lessons. Smooth and close, no more wrestling.

Having moi retrained, it’s likely to be easier to take feedback or criticism from others constructively.  Like if someone in the karaoke crowd shouts “they are two different songs”, we’ll just smile and say “they might be, but that was my version of it”. And we may finally have the courage to write that first book, create that piece of art or give the piano concert we always dreamed of. Once we do get on with it, we may hear a tiny whisper that’s brilliant! I told you! That’s when we know we are finally dancing to our own tune and following the path that’s opening in front of us.

(based on one of my earliest posts, art work courtesy of my hubby)

3-inches of Humor

Turning the page, no longer same age,

but in the mirror still the same face.

But what does it mean? No longer a teen,

only a year-in-the-middle it’s been!

Senior ticket? How do they dare?

Not old enough for seniors’ care!

Have to do something, maybe a lift?

Push some weights, move more swift?

Nevertheless, I will enjoy the day,

gratefully, in my own special way.

Pencil skirt and three-inch heels? 

Fruity drink but fancy with peels?

Signing off now, see you all later!

Hey, here comes my waiter!

A Silent Conversation

Looking out of the window in the late afternoon of a cool autumn day, two birds silently converse.

Do you think the winter is coming early this year?

It certainly looks like that. Snow flakes in the air and it’s only mid October.

It’s cold in here. Do you think our old lady can afford heat this winter?

I heard her talking to herself last night. Something about too many bills to pay.

She’s worked hard her whole life. I wonder why she’s doesn’t have enough now that she’s old?

Maybe she doesn’t have savings, or she’s not entitled. I heard the man on the TV last night.

I am worried about that. And why isn’t anybody visiting her anymore?

I’ve been thinking about that too. She seems to be all alone these days, except for us.

She seems to be forgotten. And she’s getting so thin and frail. Do you think she eats enough?

I don’t know about that. She doesn’t seem to bring much groceries home nowadays.

I’ve noticed that too and it worries me. She must be hungry. But what can we do?

We will learn to fly! Then we go find her children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors.

And the man on the TV too. We tell them to come see her. Do you think they will come?

Of course they will. They have a real heart. A real heart is fair, and it cares about others.

Island Beauty

This morning I was scanning some old photos again and before I knew it, I was reliving one of our most beautiful trips ever. It was a well deserved 10-day vacation many years ago to Mauritius, a small island nation (actually a group of islands) with a population of just under 1,3 million. Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean about 540 miles/870 km east of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. The island’s  history includes influences of Arab, Portuguese and other sailors, and then Dutch, French and British rule before its independence from UK in 1968. Immigration from Africa, China, India and many European countries has added to the fascinating and unique mix of people, cultures and religions on the island.

This multitude of influences is also reflected in the languages spoken on the island: lingua franca or Mauritian Creole,  French, English and Bhojpuri. We managed quite well with our poor French, but many people also speak English, particularly in the areas frequented by visitors.

The island is famous for its white beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. So if you enjoy beautiful beaches, swimming, snorkeling, boating, water sports and sun bathing, this small island paradise is for you!

We were living in a landlocked country in Africa at the time so being on an island was a big attraction for us.

We did not stay in the capital, Port Louis, but drove north passing many sugar cane plantations. Our home away from home was a small villa close to Grand Bay, right on the beach. We spent a lot of time exploring the

beaches from land as well as from the water.  And learning about the local life, nature and the economy, which at the time was mainly focused on fishing and sugar production.

We rented a car for a couple of days and could easily reach any part of the island in few hours. But observing the local traffic, I soon became confused as to what side of the narrow roads I was supposed to drive. So I asked a local driver. His response was quite scary.

He said: “First we had the Dutch and the French who wanted us to drive on the right side of the road, then we had the British who wanted us to drive on the left side of the road, so when we became independent, we decided to drive in the middle of the road”. No kidding! That was exactly what I observed. Coming up each curvy hill, I’d go as far left as I could and tried to be prepared to meet someone trying to move on my right (their left) just before we had to pass each other.

Another way to see the island’s many beaches, mountains, sugar cane fields and tropical forests with rare trees and absolutely gorgeous flowers would have been biking or hiking along  the smaller and less trafficked roads and trails.

A third way to see the island, which soon became our favorite, was taking a boat along the shores and making stops along the way. There were always many boatmen (and tour companies, of course) prepared to take us on a trip along the coast in any direction we desired to go. So we spent several days on the water, mostly on smaller fishing boats. One day we also sailed a large catamaran to one of the nature reserves and some of the tiny uninhabited islands along the west and south-west coast. The beauty of the coast and the small islands, for example Isle Aux Cerfs, was breathtaking, but the one most memorable experience for us during this sail was to see small “flying fish”  jump out of the water! They were literally “flying” beside and in front of the boat. Their jumps were so short and unexpected that unfortunately we couldn’t capture them on film.

Our explorations also brought us to the nature reserves and the few remaining forests. It was quite an experience to try to climb up a liana. I have to admit, I’m no Jane and my hubby is no Tarzan. We didn’t get too far up before having to jump down.

In the evenings we sampled local foods, mostly creole seafood, and entertainment. Creole dancing was a popular and colorful form of entertainment. And of course, we went to see some of the local reggae bands. It was nice to connect with a culture of so many influences.

All in all, our  stay on this beautiful island has remained among the most treasured experiences of all our travels. No dangerous encounters, for a change, just a lot of enjoyment of natural beauty and exciting culture.

Today, this island nation is doing well. It’s economy is much more diversified and not as dependent on sugar production as it used to be. High-end financial services, IT and outsourced services combined with tourism and preservation of the islands unique flora and fauna now complement the traditional industries. If you are looking for natural beauty, this island is truly worth a visit!

A Small Sunday Outing

I love little outings on weekends, provided they are nature bound. One of my favorite destinations is a very small, uninhabited barrier island just off the coast here in the Mexican Gulf. We can reach it in about 30 minutes by boat.  On the boat ride we usually spot a variety of birds, such as pelicans, cranes and fish hawks. Oftentimes a couple of dolphins will swim alongside the boat and we can stop to chat for a while.

For those in the family desiring a more adventurous experience there is always the option to jump on the raft instead of just riding the boat, provided you have strong arms. It’s one wild and bumpy ride on the ocean! I definitely prefer the soft seat on the boat…

Once on the island we usually watch birds and then just walk around on the white sand and pick shells. There is a fantastic collection of them both on the land and in the water. The water is absolutely crystal clear and we always snorkel for a couple of hours picking large sand dollars and other “treasures” from the sand. And admire the many spices of small and occasionally even bigger fish that frequent the shores.

Sometimes the dolphins come there to swim with us. It can be a bit scary when they come from behind and nudge you in the butt, because you may think it’s a shark looking for a meaty piece for lunch. But once we know they are there, it just a wonderful experience. There is something so peaceful about dolphins.

Sometimes there may even be visitors more rarely seen. Playful manatees may come to say hello! And if they take you by surprise while you are in the water, you’re likely to make it to the dry land quickly! These sea cows are huge, but friendly and just a little curious.

After spending a half day on this island I always feel serene and refreshed, and grateful to have this tiny and still a relatively wild sanctuary so close by.

When You Need to Be Delighted

Yesterday was not a very easy day for me due to health issues in the family. To express my gratitude that everything went as well as one could hope, and honestly because I needed to be delighted, I decided to make a nice pasta dinner. There is something hearty, mood-lifting and comforting about pasta. So there I was throwing together ingredients again. If you do the same moves, I promise the end result will be a real feast for pasta lovers.

This is what I had:

1 small pork tenderloin

4 large tomatoes (boil quickly, peel and mash – or you can use a small can of crushed tomatoes)

1/2 pint (little more than 2 dl) whipping cream

1 oz (28g) dried chanterelles, or fresh if you can pick them in your forest 🙂 or buy them (rinse quickly and swell the dried ones in cold water for about 2 hours before you need them, save the water)

4-5 large tbsp of wheat flour

2 garlic gloves

1 beef cube (optional, but I like it)

1 red bell pepper (optional, sliced or cubed)

olive oil

salt, pepper and herb spices to taste.

I browned the pork tenderloin slightly in olive oil before putting it in the oven (350F/180C) for about an hour. In the meantime, I prepared a light pasta sauce by first slightly browning the chanterelles, (bell pepper) and garlic slices in olive oil, adding the flower to brown just a little bit, then adding the cream, mashed tomatoes, (a beef cube) and most of the “chanterelle water” – to achieve the desired consistency. I let it all simmer together for about 15 minutes on low heat.

After the fillet was ready, I sliced it in thin (like 1/3 of an inch/1 cm) slices and mixed them into the pasta sauce. And to be honest, I also took a little bit of the juice from the pan and mixed it into the sauce. While the low carb penne rigate was cooking, I let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Another way to do this is to prepare the sauce and put it into the oven pan over the meat for about 20 minutes at the end of the cooking time. And then slice the meat after it’s all done. If you do it this way, you can serve it nicely and even cut bigger pieces directly onto the plates. A little bit messy though, but equally good.

The result is an easy to love pasta dinner for 2-4 depending on the appetite and the size of the fillet! Enjoy with a side salad and a glass of smooth red. If you love pasta and need to be delighted, here it is, simple but delicious. Bon appetite!