SMILE!

Since my last post in May, I had seen a few painted rocks around my Sun City Peachtree community; however, nothing that really inspired me.  Today, while out enjoying the beautiful evening, I noticed this cutie resting on a bench:

I smiled on command. How could I not? Sure, there is plenty to not smile about and plenty that brings me to tears these days. Thanks to this bright-eyed smilie, I had just a little more spring to my step.

SEPARATED MASKED TWIN BROTHERS DISCOVERED!

It’s been a few weeks now that I have been on the search during my morning and evening walks for prowling “Uga,” the University of Georgia bulldog mascot.  I’ve searched high and low, and I always search the fire hydrants.  But, it appears as if our collegiate rivalry remains between just the Clemson Tiger and Georgia Tech Yellowjackets.

Since my last post, I spotted a couple of painted rocks with a complimentary “You Rock” on one, and “Rock On” on the other.  I also found “Hope”—something badly needed, since my usual half-full glass seems to have a slow leak in it.

All three rocks were left in other areas of the community to be discovered by unsuspecting walkers.  Since those rocks have all disappeared, perhaps somebody else has found “hope,” too.  Perhaps they have a half-empty glass and need hope even more than I do.

Well, off I went on my continued search for Uga, when a couple of days ago, I came across what I thought was the triplet of those two blue-eyed masked cuties I wrote about in my first post, and again in my last post.  This guy even had eye brows and hair that matches his stylish bow tie!  I brought him home to keep me company at my computer.

But wait!  There’s more!!  Today, I came across his twin with matching hair and bow ties, separated at birth!  So, the twins have twin brothers!  Two sets of twins!!  Here they are, reunited once again:

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Will their family grow?  Do they have sisters?  Will they ever get to remove their masks so we can see their handsome smiles?  We can only

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THE PLOT THICKENS

The masked man has a twin!  A quite dapper one, I should say, because he is wearing a rather stylish bow tie.  Now, these questions remain:  Do they have a triplet?  Will he be as dapper as the twin?  Will he also have blue eyes like his brothers?  Will there be a sister?  The plot thickens…

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Meanwhile, today, May 4, 2020, after kidnapping the bow-tied twin (and visiting his brother still in yesterday’s resting place, more discoveries were made. A college football rivalry seems to be brewing here at Sun City Peachtree.  A Clemson Tiger prowled his way south to Griffin, Georgia.  Not to be outdone, TWO Yellowjackets buzzed there way south from Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, to sting The Tiger.  So, where’s Uga?  It seems as if UGA’s Uga has yet to drool his way down from Athens and mark his territory.  I fully expected to find him on one of the fire hydrants.  Perhaps the Yellowjackets scared him off.

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Who (or what) will we find on tomorrow’s walk?  We will release today’s kidnapped gang and be on the lookout!

WHO IS THIS MASKED MAN?

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Ever since COVID-19 forced the closure of Club Peachtree, the recreation center in my active adult community, my husband and I have been going on morning walks, taking turns choosing a different route.  One day, along the way, we discovered this masked blue-eyed cutie sitting atop a stone wall.  I picked him up, complimented him on his stylish “SC” (Sun City) mask, and let him rest in the shade to be discovered once again.

Several days passed, and then, today, while enjoying the gorgeous spring weather, we were walking a different route in the community.  There he was again!  Basking in the sun on a stone retaining wall, he looked quite content.  This time, though, I kidnapped him, and took him home to capture this mug shot.  He’s resting comfortably next to my computer as I type this story.

I thought about taking him swimming with me, but the pool is still closed.  I also thought about taking him on our Scandinavian & Baltic cruise for some sightseeing, but it was canceled.  Since he is properly attired in his mask, I guess it is safe to turn him loose in our Sun City community.

So, who is this masked man?  When was he born?  Who set him free into the community?  Does he have a twin?  Does he have several siblings?  Are they all blue-eyed cuties?

The mystery remains…

 

iFLY: I FLEW AGAIN

If you haven’t read my first post on iFly, this won’t make a whole lot of sense, so you might want to check that out if you are curious.

This time at iFly, Sani was my instructor; and, after quickly assessing my skills, he wasted no time in teaching me new ones.  I was taught how to move forward by bringing my forearms in towards my shoulders, and then moving backward by bending my legs and straightening my arms.

I was also taught how to move up, which entailed pushing down on my arms.  To go back down, I had to lift my arms and legs.

Turning involved a slight shift of my hands, turning the back of my hands towards the left to go counterclockwise, and right to go clockwise.  To stop, I had to flatten them back out and keep my palms facing the floor.

All of these maneuvers require subtle moves to keep from going out of control.  When I lifted my arms too far up, I landed on the floor of the tunnel.  And, when I pushed down too far, Sani had to grab me to keep me from heading to the top of the tunnel.

Throughout my flights, another instructor was in the booth outside of the tunnel flashing me signals.  At one point, he motioned to turn all the way in a circle, and then stop in front of him.  I managed to nail my 360’s a lot better than my ups and downs!  He flashed this on the computer screen:  I’M PROUD OF YOU.  That made me laugh!  I was having such a great time!

Here is one of the videos Bruce shot of my flights.

For my last flight, Sani took me for spins up and down the tunnel that were a lot faster than last time.  I screamed the entire time!  Although it was exhilarating, I was glad he stopped when he did, because I was starting to lose my sense of direction, thanks to having Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder.  My ears had reached their limit.  Next time, I’ll have to ask him to stop in one place periodically, so I can regain my sense of where I am in the tunnel.

Next time?  Yes, I’m going back!

 

iFLY: I FLEW!

Long before the movie Bucket List hit the screen and got everybody thinking about what they would want to do before they died, I had been living my personal bucket list.

My list began with a goal I had set as a school kid to travel throughout the South Pacific on my own for one year after graduating from college.  I squirreled away gift money, saved up my bartending and waitressing tips, and embarked on that adventure on August 28, 1984, following the L.A. Olympics.  (The Olympics also took place in my home city of Long Beach, so I went to watch volleyball and hang out at the yachting village with my friends from the Australian sailing team.)

That trip down under would have been THE trip of a lifetime for most people; however, it lit a fire in me that has been burning for travel ever since.  My priority in life has been about acquiring experiences rather than things, so I opted for a less expensive gold band rather than a diamond ring when my fiancé wanted me to pick out my own wedding ring.  “Let’s travel instead!” I suggested to Bruce about how to spend that money, and we have been traveling together ever since.

It wasn’t until last year that we finally got around to watching the 2008 movie, Bucket List.  It sparked a conversation that I am guessing many people had after they watched the movie.  “What’s on your bucket list?” we asked each other.

Having been regular goal-setters and travel planners, we knew where each other wanted to travel.  As a matter of fact, we already had our 2020 and 2021 trips booked!  What we hadn’t discussed, however, was what other types of experiences we wanted to have before we died.

I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about indoor skydiving, but when I learned about iFly (www.iflyworld.com), I had immediately added that to my mental bucket list.  So, when Bruce asked me what (besides travel!) I would put on my bucket list, “Indoor skydiving!” was my reply.  I explained that it was skydiving without all the risks:  No small planes, no fear of a parachute malfunction, and no broken bones on a potentially rough landing.  Besides, I hate that feeling of my stomach coming up through my throat!  I could handle brief periods of that when I used to kayak surf, but that’s about it.  I also have Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder, so how would my ears respond to jumping out of a plane?  The thought of it makes me dizzy.

After writing up our bucket lists, I learned that iFly has a location in Atlanta, very close to Costco.  Perfect!  Even more perfect was when Costco started selling iFly gift certificates last Fall.  Bruce snatched one up, and that is how I spent my birthday.

As iFly describes the experience, “When you go skydiving, you jump and then fall several thousand feet.  At iFly, you don’t jump or fall, you fly gently on a cushion of controlled air.”  I couldn’t wait to experience that feeling.

Before getting suited up, our group was given instruction by our flight instructor, Austin, on how to enter the wind tunnel, hold our “flying” position, and exit the tunnel.  We were also shown a set of hand signals that he would be using, so we could make adjustments to our body position.   One finger held up meant, “Lift your chin up.”  Two straight fingers meant, “Keep your legs straight.”  If he bent those fingers, he wanted us to bend our legs.  If he flashed us the “ok” sign, that meant to hold our position.

Our group, which included a group of cute little girls celebrating a 10th birthday, a family, and me, got suited up in a flight suit, head sock, and helmet.  We entered the tunnel and lined up on a bench to wait our turn.  I purposely positioned myself last, so I could watch the other flyers and learn the ideal body position.  As a result, I learned from everybody’s mistakes and nailed my position fast.  (You only get one minute in the tunnel for each of your two flights, so there was no time to waste!)

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This was the perfect body position, because Austin flashed me an “Ok!”

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For the first flight, Austin kept us low in the tunnel and hung on to us while he stood up.  The second flight was the “High Flight,” where he took us up high, and then low, and then back up high again throughout the one-minute flight.  This is what you will see in the video that was included in my package.  (Doing a high flight rather than a low one for your second flight costs an additional $14; however, it was well worth the added expense.)

How was the experience?  IT WAS A BLAST!  The first flight was exhilarating and a lot of fun, as you can see by the grin on my face; but I let out a loud, “Woo HOO!” and a non-stop giggle throughout the high flight.  Austin couldn’t hear me because of the wind noise and ear plugs we were wearing, but he said he could feel the vibration from my laugh when he was holding onto me!

Would I do it again?  Absolutely!  Bruce convinced me to go ahead and take advantage of the $139 offer they made to return for ten more flights, which sure beats the $219.95 it would cost to book the same thing online.  No, iFly is not necessarily inexpensive, but it sure beats the high cost of skydiving, and it’s a heck of a lot safer!

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FESTIVE HOLIDAYS IN NAPLES, LONG BEACH

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Although I was raised Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, the highlight of every holiday season was going out with my family to see Christmas lights.  In Long Beach, California, where I grew up, the most beautiful light displays were always in the community of Naples, named after Naples, Italy.  The community is built on three islands divided by canals which open into Alamitos Bay.

Naples is an affluent community with large homes and accompanying private boat docks that line the canals.  Each Christmas, the community sponsors a themed competition for the best house decorations and light display.  This year, the theme was, “Under the Sea.”

Until I returned home to SoCal last holiday season to see family and friends, it had been several years since I had visited Naples.  I had forgotten just how beautiful it was, and I was in awe of the beauty of all the colorful lights reflected in the still water of the canal.  It was early in December on a weeknight, so it was uncrowded—perfect for doing photography with my brother and sister.  We had fun experimenting with our cameras and trying out different creative techniques to capture the colorful lights.

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Amazed at how completely over-the-top some of the light and decoration displays were, we gawked and laughed as we hunted for the next photo opportunity.  That time with my siblings was special; a lot of fun, much laughter, and some fun photos to remember it by.

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This year, we returned on Sunday, just a couple of days before Christmas.  As it gets closer to the big day, the crowds get larger, and the atmosphere gets more festive.  None of my pictures could possibly convey the joyous mood and energy that flowed all around me.  I found myself spending more time with my camera by my side rather than in front of my eye, so I could soak it all in.

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“Under the Sea” Sweepstakes Winner

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This was just a small section of the display by the winner of the Humor Award

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This swimming pig was one of many displayed by the owner of the Naples Rib Company, a local restaurant.

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There is nothing I had ever experienced during the holiday season that ever compared to the scene I was immersed in with my brother and sister that evening.  Although the crowds grew as we meandered through the canals, everybody was laughing, gawking, and so pleasant to each other.  Joy was in the air!  Musicians were playing Christmas carols, a youth group sang, some kids were selling hot chocolate, and a man passed out candy canes to all who passed by.  Meanwhile as decorated Long Beach Transit trolleys filled with spectators passed over the canal bridges, singing gondoliers below navigated through the canals as their passengers enjoyed the views up above.  There were SUP paddlers with lit up hats, decorated Duffy boats full of partiers, and all sorts of other watercraft passing under the bridges as we looked on at the spectacle.  My brother and I just stood and stared, remarking how beautiful the reflection of the lights was on the rippled water below.

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During this most divisive time in our country I have ever experienced, it was such a delightful reprieve from the anger and hostility that has permeated our lives all around us.  Joy to you all, dear readers!

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ITALY: DIAMANTE, THE CITY OF MURALS

For my final post on Italy, we visit the historic town of Diamante, a small tourist town in the province of Cosenza that dates back thousands of years.  Strategically located between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas, it was an important trade point through history.

Today, the town of less than 6,000 people relies on fishing and agriculture as well as their main industry: tourism.  The big tourist event of the year is the Chili Pepper Festival that takes place in early September each year and celebrates the locally-grown pepperoncino.

In addition to the Chili Pepper Festival, Diamante is known as the “City of Murals,” thanks to painter Nanni Razzetti who pitched his “Operazione Murales” idea to the city’s mayor in 1981 and won approval.  That paved the way for established and emerging artists from all over to come to the town and paint murals on the city’s buildings.  Each year, more murals are added, and there now more than 150 of them.  I would have loved spending more time there and seeing them all, but we did discover several of the murals as we walked up and down the charming streets with narrow cobblestone walkways.

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CLEVER!!!  By the way, “Diamante” translates to “Diamond.”

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Our journey home was much like our trip over to Italy, but in reverse. Instead of planes, trains, and automobiles, it began with returning our rental cars, and then taking a train back to Rome.  The next day, we took a flight home.

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Some of our group on the train ride back to Rome.

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Ciao!

ITALY: SCALEA

Located near San Nicola Arcella (where we were staying) and along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, the resort town of Scalea is a big draw for tourists.  The old part of town on the hill has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the lower business district dates back to World War II.  As a result, it’s a strange mix.

I didn’t particularly care for the business district, which I found to be quite drab and nondescript.  It didn’t have the charm of Maratea, and the shops weren’t particularly interesting.  Just one block up the hill; however, was another story.  More on that later…

At the far end of the beach, past the lidos, was a nice wading area in between the rocks in the shallow water that was perfect for those who wanted to play or take a dip and cool off.  I opted, instead, to go for a swim along the sandy area of the beach.  It was beautiful!  At about 79 degrees with no current, it was a perfect beach to get in a good open-water swim.

There were also plenty of lidos along the beach of Scalea from which to choose for sunbathing or a beach side lunch.  We followed our swim with a delicious lunch at a lido owned by friends of our friend.

On another day in Scalea, our group split up.  The other gals went shopping, the guys took a drive to check out the view of old Scalea from other vantage points, and I went for a hike in the old town to explore and do photography.

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The old town of Scalea is behind Bruce.  Over his right shoulder are ruins dating back 1,000 years.

I was delighted (and excited!) that just one block up from the business district, the feel of Scalea completely changed as I climbed the hill.  Asphalt and concrete gave way to ancient cobblestones.  I was in my element, and I could feel my somewhat apathetic mood towards Scalea lift as I explored the narrow, winding walkways filled with homes that were built hundreds of years ago.  Everywhere I turned, there was something unique to admire and photograph.

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At the very top of the hill, there were ancient ruins that were just begging to be explored.  I found a very narrow and steep pathway that required careful footing, but I was determined to hike up and take in the spectacular views of the old town and coastline below.

Other than the disappointment and disgust I felt at the sight of graffiti that had been carelessly painted on the ruins, the hike up was well worth the effort.

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Soon, it was time to meet back up at Jeni’s, a restaurant owned by the good friend of our friend we were traveling with who had once lived in Scalea.  Making my way back down the winding walkways, I realized I had put in a pretty good workout and was craving the chocolate gelato I would soon be enjoying.

Jeni makes the best gelato!  She sources the best ingredients, including a high-quality single origin chocolate from Ecuador.  Her gelato was dairy-free, but it still had a very creamy texture.  It was pure heaven!

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That’s Jeni, between me and Bruce.

If you are curious to see more of Scalea, the new James Bond movie is being filmed there.

My final post on Italy will be about Diamante.  Stay tuned!

 

ITALY: THE ANCIENT TOWN OF MARATEA

During our stay in San Nicola Arcella, the seven of us in our group hopped in our two rental cars (we were unable to get a hold of a rental van) and headed up to the old town of Maratea, in the province of Potenza, which is in the Basilicata region of Italy, along the Tyrrhenian coast.

Known as the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian,” Maratea dates back to 15th – 14th century BC (based on archeological findings). That’s old!

It is old towns like Maratea that keep us returning to Europe, time and time again.  There are always so many interesting things to see and photograph, and fun places to explore.

While the rest of the group relaxed in the plaza at a café with their coffee drinks and gelato, Bruce and I hiked up and down and all around, poking in and out of the twisting, narrow walkways.  It was exhilarating!

Here, then, are scenes from the old town of Maratea:

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Hey, Delta Airlines gang, how’s this for “Passport Plum”?

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Or, how about this?  David, your shorts are so well-coordinated!