Sunrise Over Tucson

If you have been following my blog, you know I have been away for the last 2 weeks (actually I was only gone for 12 days, but I needed at least 2 days to get caught up on things). So without further delay, I will tell you about the most exciting part of my vacation- the hot air balloon ride- since I had suggested this would happen in my last post.

My family has been visiting my mother in Tucson for many years. Usually we hike the trails in Catalina State Park, tour the Reid Park Zoo or the Desert Museum and hang out at the pool. This year we decided to try something new- a hot air balloon ride. I’m not sure why we chose that activity, especially since I am afraid of heights and don’t like standing near the rail of my mother-in-law’s high-rise balcony. Maybe it has something to do with the peaceful image of colorful balloons floating in the sky, or the song about the beautiful balloon. Either way, I was determined to do this and not let my psychological hang-ups hold me back.

We arrived at the launch site by 6:30. The sky was still dark, but a sliver of the moon was hovering on the horizon near a rim of red light which gradually brightened.

Eager to get involved, my son and I each grabbed a side of the balloon and held it open while the high-powered fan blew air inside. It was fun to peer into the mouth and watch how quickly the balloon inflated.

Once it was full, Kevin- our pilot and owner of Tucson Balloon Rides (  – added hot air from his fuel supply. The sound coming from the blasts, as well as the flames shooting out, were extraordinary! 

While we waited for instructions to board, we posed for a family photo, appreciating how lucky we were to be able to do this adventure together. Even though it was an early wake-up, we got no complaints from our teenagers. My daughter and I were willing to put aside our fears and trust our instincts that this would be an experience to remember.

There were 4 other passengers accompanying us on our flight, only one of whom had ever done this before. She was taking her 80 year old mother on this adventure. Her mother seemed very relaxed and ready for the ride. The woman joked with me that if her sisters found out she was doing this, she would be in big trouble. I had to laugh because the night before, I had made one more invitation to my mother to join us, but was also thinking what my sisters would do to me if they found out.

On the ride to the launch site, Kevin had gone over the safety instructions and prepared us for what to expect. Once he gave us our cue, we quickly climbed into the basket. It was a little gusty on our take-off, but we easily rose up with the current which gave us the most serene feeling as we watched the beauty of the sunrise over the mountains.

As we rose up, high over the Saguaro National Park we felt no wind in our face. Even though we were above the mountains, I was not afraid. There was something so relaxing and peaceful about soaring over the desert and mountains, watching the shadows decrease on the sides of the cliffs as we coasted through the pass.

There was something comforting about the sight of our shadow on the ground, as well as the view of other balloons in the vicinity.


Kevin skillfully took us up and down or rotated the balloon so we could get different shots of the landscape. I was thrilled to have a bird’s eye view of the saguaros. My son kept his eyes open for wildlife. We saw dozens of rabbits and a few coyotes. I made my husband take my picture as proof that I actually did this.

The thing about a hot air balloon ride is that you never know where it is going to take you. For someone who always wants to know exactly what is going to happen, this means letting go of a planned destination and literally “going with the flow” of the current. We never reached some of the landmarks that Kevin pointed out as the possible landing sites. Instead we ended up crossing the CAP and landing in a field just beyond the aquifer.

Of course, Kevin had his crew following us on the ground and used radio contact to tell them his plan. He had us all brace for landing, which was much smoother than I expected after his warning. Once we came down, he asked several people to climb out and help hold the basket. My husband and daughter helped drag it back away from the fence so the balloon wouldn’t get tangled. Then the rest of us climbed out and the crew set about deflating the balloon.

         And just like that, everything was packed up. Our beautiful balloon ride was over and we were headed to a municipal park for a champagne brunch to celebrate. Kevin gave everyone a flight certificate with our stats. According to this I was airborne for 1 hour 37 minutes, travelling 8.03 miles at a maximum speed of 17mph (which includes vertical as well as horizontal speed combined) and reaching an altitude of 2800 feet above ground level!

But even more than these facts on paper, I overcame my fear of heights (although I’m sure I’ll still be nervous on that balcony) and did something I really wanted to do and will never forget. We had a wonderful family experience together and are already talking about doing it again.  The 80 yr-old woman loved it. She and her daughter had a great adventure together and were already discussing their next trip. Maybe next time I’ll be able to convince my mom to go up.

Getting Ready

English: A hot air balloon in flight at the Mi...

Image via Wikipedia

I have spent most of the day packing, doing last minute laundry and putting holds on my mail and newspaper. Now I am cleaning out the refrigerator and watering the plants. So many things to think of when planning a trip. I always get a bit stressed out. My husband knows better than to argue with me when I am in that phase of packing. He just does what I ask him to do; as well as pack up the car and set up the automatic feeders for our fish and guinea pig. He is in charge of the tickets and directions. So, once we climb in the car, half asleep tomorrow morning, I can let go. After that the control I have is gone. It is hard to not be in control, but I have learned how to be a good traveller and go with the flow. By this time tomorrow, I will be able to relax for the next week. I am taking my family to my mom’s house in Tucson. I think it will be a well-deserved break for all. When I get back, I am sure I will have many posts for you, including photos from my hot air balloon ride! [ Hey, it’s on my bucket list. Might as well knock one off when I can.] Have a great week. I’ll be in touch before you know it.



Happy Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day- proclaimed by Hallmark, Hershey’s and Kay Jewelers as the holiday for lovers. While I agree it is thoughtful to give a gift to someone you love, why do we need to feel guilty if we don’t show up with a gift on cue? I am happier when my husband spontaneously shows up with a bouquet of carnations, or brings back a pair of earrings for me after a business trip. No one likes to feel compelled to do things, especially not something as personal as expressing our affection.

When my children were younger, they were “encouraged” to participate in a valentine exchange at school. They were given a list of classmates and, even though the teachers said cards could be homemade, my children had neither the time nor the interest to make 25 individual cards. Thus, I ended up buying a big pack of cards at CVS, often with candy to attach to them. Fortunately I was not on a tight budget; but what if I had been? My children would have been embarrassed to not participate or, worse, be forced to make their own valentines.

Once they reached middle school the practice became voluntary. My daughter gave cards and gifts to her close friends for another year and then stopped altogether. I think she saw the marketing strategy behind it and decided to no longer play that game (btw- I never discouraged her from continuing, regardless of what my personal thoughts were).

My husband and I have a mutual agreement to not exchange gifts on Valentine’s Day. I think that if you are happily married, there are 364 other days of the year to express your affection for each other. The most we will do on Valentine’s Day is to have a special dessert as a family. Making some chocolate-dipped strawberries while sitting around our fondue pot will give us some “sweet” family time, an excuse to enjoy each other’s company and actually converse.

For anyone reading this who is still in the dating phase of a relationship, or has a partner with high expectations on Valentine’s Day, my heart goes out to you. Good luck. I hope your efforts are appreciated.


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Family Jewels: Something New for a Change

While the jewelry I have shown previously is old by family standards, last summer I was given a brand new piece for my collection. My family had taken a Mediterranean cruise during July (you can read more about it under the category Family Cruise 2011). One of the favorite places we stopped was the Greek island of Santorini.

My husband had arranged for a private boat to take us around the island. Santorini is part of an atoll- an exploded volcano. This explained the ragged black cliffs of igneous rock we passed on our excursion.

The captain was wonderful and knew where to find some private hot springs. We loved swimming in the effervescent water, which grew hotter as we approached the mouth of the inlet.

Captain took us to a snorkelling spot where we could approach a 600 ft drop off and peer down into the crater.

Afterwards we ate a delicious lunch he had prepared onboard: falafel, tomato salad, bread with olive oil, spinach, mushrooms and a plate of olives. Everything was fabulous! He dropped us off at the opposite end of the island, near Ia, where his taxi friend took us up top. The views were spectacular- even better than we see in the Jamie Lee Curtis commercials for Greek yogurt.

While we wandered around the numerous art galleries, we spotted a souvenir shop.

My mother had the clairvoyant idea to commemorate the day by purchasing choker necklaces made of lava beads- the same igneous rock we had motored up to in the morning. She bought one for each of us, so we could always remember the special time we shared.

This is the one she gave to me. It is made very simply out of rough pieces of rock. I love the symmetric placement of the blue glass beads and silver rings. It is great to wear with a t-shirt for a little extra pizzazz. Best of all, when I touch the lava beads, I can instantly take myself back to the sulfur hot springs and the tasty luncheon we all shared in Santorini.

Family Jewels: My Aunt’s Favorite Ring

One of the most special people in my life was my Aunt. She taught music to school children and always seemed full of energy and humor. I was born on her birthday and she and I shared a special bond. When I was just learning to speak, I pronounced my name “Audi”. That name stuck with her and, once I had outgrown it, she was the only person I allowed to still use it. I was old enough to be the flower girl at her wedding and many years later she was overjoyed to celebrate mine.

Aunt and Uncle had no children of their own; so whenever we saw them, we always made sure to have some special time together. With Aunt, this often included singing some songs. She had a lovely voice and knew plenty of kid friendly music.

She and my uncle had classic taste. Their house was full of antiques which they collected at weekend auctions or estate sales. Her wardrobe consisted of turtlenecks and sweaters ordered through the LL Bean catalog- nothing flashy or fancy. Her jewelry, on the other hand, was where she made her statement. Sapphire was her birthstone, but she also loved rubies and emeralds. Uncle was pleased to surprise her with beautiful pieces he had found at some of the sales they attended.

She would walk into the house wearing a navy turtleneck with dark pants and a sweater, but she would sport pearl earrings and a sapphire and diamond ring on her hand. As a kid, her cheery smile and warm hug as I rushed into her arms was what really mattered to me.

Sadly, her life was cut short by lung cancer. By that time I had children of my own and their memories of her are as an ill person who tried to be friendly  between coughing fits. I have tried to pass on some of the songs she sang to me and create  a different picture of her for my kids.

A few years ago, my uncle decided it was time to pass along some of Aunt’s jewelry. I have two sisters who were equally close to her. Uncle sent us a package to go through together. Some things were for us to sort out ourselves, others were specifically earmarked by him for one or another of us. This sparkling sapphire and diamond ring was one of her favorites and Uncle thought I should have it since Aunt and I shared a birthday.

It means a lot to me. Whenever I look at it, I think of her. I remember her bright smile and optimistic outlook on life. At Christmas, I sing one of the school children songs she taught.  I miss her on our birthday and often shed a tear. I would gladly give her ring back in exchange for another cheery hug. As beautiful as this ring is, it could never replace her.

Family Jewels: Grandma’s Flamboyant Turquoise Pendant

As Valentine’s Day approaches, there seem to be jewelry ads everywhere: newspapers, tv , radio. They all emphasize the value of a brand new piece for your sweetheart. I’ll save my thoughts on the holiday for another time; for now I want to share my family jewels.

As most of my friends could tell you, I love jewelry. In fact, I feel naked without a pair of earrings or a ring on my finger. However, I do not have an expensive collection. The pieces range from $10 earrings up to $2,000 rings, but most fall in the $25- $200 range. Nothing is worth enough to not wear for fear of losing it. My favorite color is blue, which explains my attraction to my birthstone, sapphire;  I also have a large percentage of turquoise jewelry.

My attraction to jewelry goes back to my childhood. One of the first sets I remember receiving was a matching necklace, bracelet and ring. To my recollection the necklace was a gold chain with a red coral bead, encased in a golden heart. The matching bracelet had 3-4 of the same red beads evenly spaced around the chain and the ring was a solitary bead inside a flower-shaped setting. It seemed very fancy to a six or seven year old. I was only allowed to wear it for special occasions, such as church or parties, which is probably why it remained intact long enough to pass on to my daughter.

I remember my Tante who gave it to me fairly well. She was an endearing older woman who spoke very little English but with whom I could communicate through smiles and the few German or English words we each knew. I probably only met her half a dozen times in my life, but the post cards she sent regularly which my mother would translate, reinforced the warm feelings she had for me. Thus the jewelry set reminded me of her and made me feel very special. I tried to convey this connection to my daughter, but I think she was too young to understand its symbolic value. I am not sure to where the set has vanished.

Fortunately not all is lost, as most of the jewelry I have in my collection has a story and/or a person connected to it. Over the next few posts I hope you will bear with me as I describe the meaning of my family jewels. I will begin with:

Grandma’s Flamboyant Turquoise Pendant

Costume jewelry became very popular in the 1920’s. People saw it as an artistic expression rather than a show of wealth. After the Second World War, penny-pinching women who still wanted to dress up collected colorful brooches, necklaces and clip-on earrings. They could still look fancy without spending a fortune. Both of my grandmothers fell into this economic class. They collected their Betty Crocker points in exchange for cutlery, they would not allow food to go to waste, often canning or freezing extras and, when they could afford it, they bought or received a new piece of costume jewelry.

By the time I was born, they each had an eclectic collection of pins, pendants and chains. When I was a girl, I loved to sit at my grandmother’s vanity and look through her jewelry box. Sometimes she would let me try pieces on. I would parade in front of the mirror admiring how I looked in what I thought was the fanciest jewelry in the world.

One piece in particular caught my eye. It had a bright turquoise stone in the center, bordered by a gold collar inlaid with a ring of colorful stones. I do not know how or where she acquired the necklace, but somehow I imagine it could have been given to her by my grandfather when they celebrated their anniversary in Hawaii. The pendant cries for attention, “Take me dancing, with a lei around your neck!” It gives me a picture of my grandmother as a younger, more outgoing woman with a lot of confidence in herself.

It is totally fun to wear any day, even with a sweater and jeans. A simple outfit can make a statement with this flamboyant necklace dangling across my chest. I especially love to pair it with a turquoise bracelet and earrings. When I wear it, everyone notices. If it is the first time they have seen it, I always receive a compliment. I thank them and proudly tell them it once belonged to my grandmother.  As a piece of costume jewelry it is not worth much, but to me it is a priceless piece of my family.

The Importance of Staying Connected

Friendship 7

Friendship 7 (Photo credit: NASA on The Commons)

In this age of Twitter and Facebook, we tend to have a false sense of how connected we are to other people. I don’t care how many “friends” or followers you have. Do you have a friend who will help you when you have a problem? Is there someone readily accessible to you, who will jump in and come to your aid? An unfortunate incident happened to my neighbor and friend yesterday which brought this discrepancy to my attention. It served as a wake up call that we should all take an inventory of our real friends, not just our online connections.

Yesterday evening, she was driving to pick her child up from school. En route, a deer crossed her path and collided with her windshield. Twenty minutes later, my husband discovered her voicemail on our phone. Not knowing what had happened or why she said she needed help, he immediately called back. By then the police had arrived and she had been able to reach another friend for assistance. Her child’s teacher had kindly offered to stay after school until she arrived and my husband went next door to check on her older children. Everything turned out as well as could be expected. Her car was drivable so she was able to retrieve her kid and return home safely. Today her insurance company is coming to replace her windshield and I have offered to run errands for her and pick up dinner.

She is fortunate to have the support of people she can count on- those who could be there to help her if needed. Are we all so lucky? As the Latin proverb tells us: “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. In these times, we all think we can handle it ourselves. We don’t want to burden others with our problem, or we have too much pride to admit we need help. I tried thinking back to the times I have needed help and to whom I have turned.  (I am not including family members, who often live far away, but can offer emotional support on the phone.)

There was the time when my husband was out of town and we received over a foot of snow. I called a friend to assist me in clearing the driveway. He graciously offered to come as soon as he got plowed out and spent over an hour helping we shovel.  Another time, my car battery died in the school parking lot. My child’s teacher spotted us and asked the gym teacher if he had jumper cables. When that didn’t work, she drove us home in her car.  One evening we had to take our son to the ER. I called the mom of my daughter’s best friend. Even though it was a school night, she was more than willing to help by having my daughter sleepover.

On the other side of the coin, neighbors and friends have called us for help. My husband has a knack with repairing things, so he regularly gets asked for advice. He has fixed cabinets or light fixtures and assisted with flooding or car troubles. I have checked on people’s pets when they have been delayed getting home. When my neighbors or I are away, we take turns bringing in trash cans or newspapers for each other.

Over time, relationships change. People move away. Bonds strengthen or weaken, depending on how much they mean to you. It is important to not take friends for granted. Don’t assume that they think about you if you think about them. You have to reach out and connect, at least a few times a year. And you can’t expect to count on someone, if you would not do the same for them. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

So let’s all do a self-assessment of our friendships. Are we being good friends? Have we given clear messages about our willingness to help someone else? Among all the levels of relationships- co-workers, club members, neighbors- do we have an elite group of true friends? If not, it is time to find someone whom you can count on when your need arises. You can’t rely on a tweet from someone in another state or country. You need someone who can pat you on your back and hold your hand. It is not a sign of weakness; it means you are human. You don’t have to handle things alone. Take your cell phones out and make sure you have at least two numbers programmed in, just in case…

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”  – John Lennon

Superbowl Sunday

Last night my family, like so many others across the U.S., sat down together to watch the Superbowl. My husband has always been a Patriot’s fan and was routing for Tom Brady all night. My son has a friendly rivalry with him by going against the Patriots- so last night he was pulling for Eli Manning and the Giants.

My daughter and I are not big football fans and still rely on an explanation of plays or calls we don’t understand. However, she was content to plan the family menu for the evening while I anticipated the half-time show. Normally I look forward to the commercials, but with this new policy of pre-viewing the ads in the days leading up to the game, I really didn’t think there would be many surprises.

I braved the crowds at the grocery store to get the ingredients we needed for our menu. We kept it simple so I didn’t start prepping until 5pm. Just before the kickoff, we each claimed our boxes on the score chart and then drew numbers. My son was in charge of letting us know who had a chance of winning each quarter, often breaking it down for me- explaining that if a field goal or a touchdown was scored who held the appropriate box. That certainly had me paying attention to the game. Since I had no preference for either team,  I could cheer for whoever would make the score a winner for me.

During the first quarter, we munched on our raw veggies with chips and dip as well as our mini pigs in a blanket.

By the time the loaded potato skins and wings came out it was almost half-time.


We laughed together at some of the commercials and my kids rolled their eyes when I sang along with Madonna to Like a Prayer.

We all were riveted to the game until the end, as it could have gone either way in a blink of an eye. When the Giants claimed victory, my son gave my husband a good ribbing. So whether we watched for the action, the entertainment or the food,  it was a fun family night.

Mud Season

We are now in the month of February. Pawxatauney Phil has seen his shadow and 6 more weeks of winter are predicted. Given the way the climate seems to have shifted this year, I fear that means we will have a longer mud season rather than snow. Yesterday the temperature reached 60 here, 25 degrees above normal. The hard frozen turf had started to thaw, becoming squishy under my feet. The little piles of snow and ice had melted, forming murky puddles everywhere.

By this afternoon, the ice should have melted.

There are only two things to do- walk on the road and avoid them, or don your boots and old jeans and embrace them.

When I taught preschool, I always took my students outside, even if it was muddy. I knew that most parents would prefer not to deal with muddy children at home, but would not object to washing snowpants or boots off as long as the kids were clean and well-exercised by the time they went home. My own son often spent hours roaming the wooded area behind the house, tramping through muddy puddles in search of frogs.     Much to my annoyance, he could care less if his pants and shoes were caked in mud. At least I was able to train him to strip down in the narrow entryway we call our  “mud hall”, leaving his shoes, socks, pants and coat on the rack or tray.     

I never had to worry about my daughter getting muddy. She would hold the frogs in her hand if he brought them back to the yard, but she would not chase them into the mud if they got away.      She preferred to let her brother do the dirty work.

Everyone has their own level of tolerance for such things.  When I looked up other posts about mud, I found two that caught my eye (see related links below). They both have pictures of people frolicking in the mud. I certainly enjoy the cool nourishing feeling of a mud mask from time to time, but mud wrestling does not appeal to me.

Unfortunately, my dogs have no concerns about splashing through the puddles or digging in the mud. They don’t consider the consequence that they will need a bath, which they hate. So that leaves me with the dilemma. Do I let them run off leash, sniffing and enjoying the thrill of the mud;       

or do I keep them on the road where the best they can do is follow the mailbox trail?   

I better stock up on some doggie shampoo. It’s gonna be a long mud season.

Check out these sites for a laugh: