Catching up….

Ever feel like you’re constantly playing catch up? I certainly do, especially these past six months since I’ve gone back to grad school to study Crisis Management.

It’s left little time for writing and even less for blogging, which I’ve come to enjoy since I began “The Far Places” blog. I apologize for being absent, but we do sometimes have to sacrifice hobbies for educational opportunities and other life-changing events. I’m glad I’m going to school again: in a strange way it has helped me fight the migraines and the allure of pain killers. I have to be mentally sharp to cope with the class load (reading those hundreds of pages of textbooks; writing research paper after research paper). I don’t want to use the migraines as an excuse to not turn in an assignment on time. I don’t want my mind to be too fuzzy and doped up that it can’t comprehend what I’m reading. The forced mental exercise is helping to re-awaken my brain.

Even if school has robbed me of spare time to write new stories, my brain’s enlivened neurons are spitting out ideas. I am once again accumulating scraps of paper filled with scribbled plot concepts, creepy visions, new interpretations of old legends, warped characters, and interesting little tidbits I come across. I’ll be starting a new class in a few days, but I’m determined to get at least an outline written for a couple of short stories.

I’ll also be sure to take a break from classes here and there. After all, there are more things to do than study and more places to see besides the local library. I’m hoping to get in a nice vacation this year, and hang out with friends. Dawn_BLogNot sure I can top last year which held a family wedding and a chance to reunite with childhood friends, Lisa and Dawn, who I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years. Lisa_BlogBut I’m sure 2015 will offer something exciting…I just have to be not so busy catching up with 2014 that I miss it.

Speaking of catch up…it would seem I’ve missed a couple episodes of “Sleepy Hollow” because I’m feeling lost in tonight’s episode. How did they kill Henry? How did Frank get his soul back? DID he get his soul back? And……I’m thinking a certain writer(s) got really drunk, watched “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and then wrote this episode while hungover. Still, I must scour on-demand for more drool-worthy Tom Mison/Ichabod Crane and those missed episodes.

The Best Christmas Ever

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Presents under the tree, turkey in the oven, friends and family gathered ‘round, phone calls from loved ones far away. These are the kinds of things which make a perfect Christmas.

But the perfect Christmas isn’t always the best Christmas – that one Christmas which remains in the forefront of your memory.

I usually spend my holidays with good friends who ‘adopted’ me into their family years ago. And it’s usually a rollicking good time: food, laughter, some liquor, playing with the kids, playing games ranging from Fluxx, to Munchkin, to Chez Geek, to Battle Cattle, to Give Me The Brain.

But last year, those four “disease vectors” (otherwise known as my friends’ four young children) had brought home a nasty flu bug which was making its rounds through the family. They didn’t want to infect anyone else. Christmas got cancelled.

I thought about making other plans, but I knew that 2012 would be the last Christmas for my beloved cat, Turtle. She was 16 and her kidneys were failing. And she was painfully thin. I decided to stay home and devote my holiday to her.

I tried to get her interested in the cat toys I opened, but it was the other three kitties who pounced on the fluffy mice and wrapping paper. Turtle only wanted to climb into my lap. laptime So after all the gifts were opened, and my hot chocolate all gone, I put on a DVD and we cuddled in the big chair. She was never much for curling up into a ball on my lap except on occasion. So she took her usual position: stretched out across my torso, her head resting on my right shoulder.

(As a kitten, Turtle would plant her face in the side of my neck while kneading it with her paws and sucking on my skin. [I’m told that’s a sign she was weened too early.] Ever since, she’s been most comfortable when she’s as close as possible to my face. We would often sleep cheek to cheek.)

So we spent Christmas like that, her face next to mine, my arms wrapped around her, keeping her warm. It was the last day I heard her purr. And it was the best, most rewarding, Christmas I’ve ever spent, for she would be gone eleven days later.

Sometimes you don’t need to do anything for Christmas except spend some time with a loved one: person or pet. And you don’t need to give anything except some love. Image

Friends: Old, New…and Lost

Traveling isn’t just about the local people you meet, the tour guides, the shop keepers, taxi drivers, the woman on the street corner selling you baskets, or the kind shop owner who serves you tea. If’s about your fellow countrymen whom you may encounter along the way or, if you’re traveling in a tour group, your fellow group members. It’s about the things you share: curiosity about the world, appreciation for learning new things, or excitement upon jointly experiencing a unique event.

From the small moments of “Hey – I’m from that city too!” when the girls behind me in line at the Heathrow airport overhear the Customs agent remark upon the birthplace listed on my passport, to the camaraderie which develops after many days of togetherness.

There were the palpable feelings of satisfaction and happiness emanating from every person standing on the deck of the National Geographic Endeavor as a wild polar bear trundled away after spending an hour studying us from the Norwegian ice floes surrounding our ship.  Or the admiration showered upon the lucky photographers who captured the moments of our only Orca encounter in Antarctica, and their willingness to share their photos and videos. And, speaking of photos, there are those thoughtful individuals who don’t miss the opportunity to snap some shots of others because they know that everyone appreciates pictures of themselves, especially ones they can use to re-create that experience back home for their friends and family.

Then there are the “it’s a small world moments” (like the Heathrow encounter): the time I walked into my veterinarian’s office two months after returning from the Galapagos Islands only to recognize the man standing next to me at the reception desk as a fellow passenger on that cruise. Or traveling all the way to the Seychelles Islands (in the Indian Ocean, 1400 miles off the coast of Tanzania) and learning that the woman I’m eating dinner with lives in my city, only a mile away.

But most importantly, it’s the aggregate of moments which make you realize how much you like the person trudging next to you across a glacier or lava field, how much you admire them, or simply how interesting you find them. Maybe they have a really cool job back home, maybe they’ve been to places you’ve only dreamed of going, maybe they’re really skilled at something you hope to learn yourself. Heck, maybe they not only surprise you, but put you to shame (though not a bad way), like Skip, who, at the age of 80, was the only group member walking up the stairs in the Dubai airport while the rest of us – all younger – were exhaustedly drooping over the railings of the escalator.

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Or maybe they’re just really nice, like Corrie, a warm, welcoming 70-year-old retired music teacher I met in Antarctica. I couldn’t help but like Corrie, who could? Despite being on crutches due to what she believed to be a sprained hip, and missing out on many ship activities, the smile never left her face and she never complained, even when she was obviously in pain. She was just happy to be there. She had an energy, an enthusiasm, which was contagious.

It was those qualities that Corrie exuded which made it so disappointing, so upsetting, despite having known her for only twenty days, to learn that it was not a sprain which plagued her, but a tumor in her hip joint, and myeloma eating away at her bone marrow.

The doctors said they could heal her. It would take time, of course, but they had confidence she would be back on her feet in a year or so, and able to continue her world travels. Until late summer, that is. The myeloma returned, much more aggressive than before, and a prognosis of complete recovery changed to six to nine months survival, to – heartbreakingly – six to nine days when she took a sudden turn for the worse. Corrie passed away on August 25th.

As sad as that made me, I’m glad I met her. I’m glad I took the opportunity to snap some “action” shots of Corrie in one of her rare outings on a zodiac ride to share with her and her sister (who had accompanied her on the trip) and, ultimately, with those who attended her memorial service. I was flattered to hear that one of the photos I had taken was chosen for the slideshow played for the attendees. She will remain one of my lasting memories of the Frozen Continent.

I hope that I will meet more people like her, whether it’s complete strangers I’m encountering for the first time, or friends and relatives I’m traveling with for the umpteenth time while learning new things about them, meeting them all over again.