travel

Staying in Focus: Focus On: Spending my Summer in Virtual Reality

If someone should ask me how I spent the summer of 2017, I’ll say well, I sat atop the London Eye (a giant Ferris Wheel) and gazed out over the city of London, where the glass of the Shard sparkled in the sunlight; I stood before the Eiffel tower in Paris in the same spot where we stood on our visit there in 2013; I re-visited the mansions of the royal family of Denmark in Copenhagen, Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway and I sat behind the  huge metal letters of the “Hollywood” sign in Los Angeles. Thanks to Google Earth VR, I did all this without leaving my home. And that’s just for starters…

Welcome to the future!

This all began when our sons, Kevin and Steven, both computer artists, were assigned to work on a virtual reality (VR) video game based on the sci-fi series, Star Trek.  As we are long time Star Trek fans, we were excited to see what this new technology could do.

Kevin, always on the cutting edge of anything computer-related, bought the necessary equipment needed to enter this strange new world, so while we awaited the publication of the Star Trek Bridge Crew game, we tried a few of the sample experiences available in virtual reality.

My son has an extra room in his house that he now uses for the VR games. It is important not to have furniture or obstacles strewn about, as once you don the VR headset, your brain forgets where your body is, and wanders off on an adventure all its own.

Donning the VR headset, my first “adventure” in VR found me standing on the ledge at the top of a skyscraper. At first, I felt frozen, certain I was in danger of falling off. Now get this – I shuffled my feet back a little (hence the reason not to have obstacles lying around). I knew, of course, that I was in a room, my feet planted firmly on the carpet, but it didn’t feel that way. Once I acclimated to the sensation, however, I was able look around. When wearing the VR headset, the experience wraps around you in 3-D, meaning that if I looked up, down, behind me, overhead or in front, I was surrounded by buildings, streets with cars moving about, and pedestrians strolling along on the sidewalks. As I gaze, (careful not to fall off) sounds of city drift up from far below…

Suddenly, I am in a museum, and from around the corner a T-Rex dinosaur appears. As it approaches, it raises its head and lets out a thundering roar and I can almost feel the droplets of saliva spray over me from its open mouth. As it turns to pass me, the dinosaur swings its head closer, its bright orange eye staring right at me. It glides past and I hunch down as its tail swings by barely missing me…

Another fun experience in VR is a ride on a rollercoaster. In the program we have, the coaster runs up, over and between city skyscrapers. Donning the headset, I take a seat, and as we start to climb, I hear that familiar click -click noise of the chains, and feel a sense of acceleration (really!), as it slowly climbs upward and reaches the top. Then the rollercoaster zooms downward, and I hear the whoosh of the air as I fly by. I tend to lean right or left as if I am really moving around the curves and loops of the track (I guess, I am – virtually moving – that is.)

It is incredible how realistic these experiences are, and how easily our brains can be influenced by this effect on our visual senses. I have no doubt these are the precursors of the future holodecks of Star Trek.

Speaking of Star Trek, the Bridge Crew game is amazing. Unlike the regular video games, this one immerses the player in the game. The player sits in the captain’s chair, looks out at objects or other ships on the view screen (hopefully, not photon torpedoes, though that is a possibility), give commands and talks to the crew.

Touch controllers (you hold these in your hands) allow the player to push buttons on the control panels with virtual hands. Various missions are provided for the player and bridge crew to complete. One can play alone or with others both as a group in the home or over the internet.

Of course, I am not suggesting virtual reality as a replacement for travel and adventure. Not yet, anyway. But with the airlines beating up on people, terrorists driving into people, and gun battles in the streets, it does offer a safer alternative.

I do check on my husband occasionally when he is off planet on a mission, to make sure he remembers to return home to Starbase 1 to eat and sleep and, if he should find a better reality out there, to be sure to come back and beam us up!

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Here I am sitting atop of the London Eye. (lol)

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Here I am viewing the Eiffel Tower.

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Here is Bill defending the Earth aboard the USS Aegis

 

 

Photo 101: Day 14: Scale and Observation

This was a fun exercise. In a travel photography course I’ve taken, the teacher suggested we bring something small to slip unobtrusively into the photo, to connect the pictures. I took the idea a step further and invited my “frog”, Marley, on our cruise around the British Isles. Here is Marley scaled with the Atlantic Ocean in the background, and Marley and my husband, Bill, resting after a long day of touring Glasgow, Scotland. It was easier to make Marley look small in scale.

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I took these photos of Marley today:

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Staying in Focus: Dancing in the Rain

Daily Prompt: Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
-Vivian Greene

I was about to choose another quote for this daily post, when I came across this one in a book I was reading and I immediately felt a connection to the message it conveys. So many of us waste time waiting for the storm to pass, for everything to be in place and perfect before we are ready to make the move to actually live our lives. Instead, we should be learning to deal with things the way they are, make the best of what we have. We are not perfect, and there is no such thing as the perfect time for anything. What we have is now, and we may miss out on many experiences if we choose to wait and see.

This is especially Important for someone like me, who suffers from a degenerative disease. I have a choice – sit back and wait for a cure to be found (wait for the storm to pass), or make the best of what I have now, what I can do rather than what I am no longer able to do. I can, in fact, dance in the rain. I can walk in the rain, too, or dance in the sunlight. I may not be able to smell a flower’s scent, but I can perceive its beauty with my eyes. I can keep up with my exercises to encourage that storm to pass more quickly. I can do even more to that end by supporting the people searching for a cure, or by participating in clinical trials. My husband and I travel as much as we are able. We recognize the fact that we are getting older and will not be mobile enough to travel with ease like we do now. So we could, literally, have danced in the rain in a downpour in Dublin, Ireland. Had we waited for the storm to pass, we would not have seen the snow covered mountains of Alaska or had a close encounter with a humpback whale. I would never had seen the remnants of the Berlin Wall, the lovely town of Kristiansand, Norway, nor gazed at the ancient mystery that is Stonehenge.

The same day I came across this quote, my son showed me a You Tube video that inspired me as nothing has in a long while. Take a minute to view this video. Go to You Tube and search for Paul Smith Typewriter Artist. Mr. Smith had no choice in his life because the storm would not pass for him, but he learned to dance in the rain with the only things available to him – his typewriter and as he says, “my finger.”

Dancing in the rain is about celebrating life, no matter what challenges we may have to face or overcome. Dancing in the rain is about finding the silver lining in that cloud and grabbing on with both hands. And when the first raindrops fall from that cloud, be ready to dance.

Staying in Focus: Better if by Sea

One of the best things about taking a cruise is arriving at a new country or city by water, which is so more interesting and scenic than arriving at an airport. I’ve been in several international airports and they all look the same. But each city looks entirely different when seen from the ocean’s eye view.

Sometimes the ship arrives in port overnight and when I open my drapes and look out, I see an entirely different view than the day before. Sure beats opening my blinds at home and seeing my backyard every day. It took four hours for us to traverse the islands of the Stockholm archipelago before reaching port. What a beautiful way to view Sweden for the first time! All of these photos were shot from my balcony aboard the Eurodam.

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Stockholm Sweden

Here are a few harbor views:

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Kristiansand, Norway

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Stockholm

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Stockholm

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Stockholm

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Stockholm

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Island in the Stockholm Archipelago

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Oslo, Norway

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Oslo, Norway

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Helsinki, Finland

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Stockholm Harbor at sunset

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Gothenburg, Sweden

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Kristiansand, Norway

Staying in Focus: A First Glimpse of Copenhagen

Well, we have returned from broadening our horizons, this year, in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Germany. We had a wonderful time, and learned a lot about the history and culture of the people living there, sampled their cultural cuisines and visited the capitals of each country, as well as taking excursions out into the countryside.

This trip further convinced me of my findings on previous visits to  England, France, Ireland and Scotland and that is that although they may celebrate different holidays, have different customs and political systems, different architectural styles in their buildings, homes and apartment and different languages, people are just people wherever you go. They are busy with their careers and families, they look forward to the weekends, with plans to shop, go to a park, launch their sailboat or go to an amusement park like the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is where our adventure began, on the good cruise ship, the ms Eurodam. IMG_5994

But before we can board the cruise ship, we have to fly the not so friendly skies, in an airplane. We are, of course flying coach. I love how they make you walk past the first class seats where the flight attendants are tucking the people in and singing lullabies to them. Next, we trundle past business class, where they at least acknowledge that people have legs and finally into coach, or economy class, where we are packed together like a roll of peppermints.

My first question is, how many more seats can you pack into an airplane and still leave your customers the ability to walk off the plane at the end of the voyage? And my second question is, why have seats that recline if doing so puts the person sitting behind you squashed for 8 hours between your reclined seatback and his upright one?

This happens to my husband a few minutes into the flight. Sleeping Beauty, and I use that term lightly, must have downed a handful of valium or something prior to boarding the plane.  Just as my husband is handed his dinner tray, she flips her seatback into total recline, pushing his dinner into his lap, and there she remains for the remainder of the flight, sound asleep. My husband is about 6 feet tall, and I see the panic in his eyes at the thought of being squished in like that for 7 hours. So we manage to trade places, so he can at least feel a measure of freedom by sitting on the aisle.

The time slowly passes and we finally hobble out of plane. We arrive in the baggage claim section just as I hear my name called out.  It is the Holland America representative, and after some totally confused and contradicting instructions, we find ourselves on a bus, with our baggage stowed beneath us, the recipients of a free tour of Copenhagen (thank you, Holland America), to keep us busy until it was time to board ship. So here is our first glimpse of Copenhagen. IMG_4887IMG_4842IMG_4870

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Staying in Focus: An Autumn Wedding, Autumn Colors and a Look Back

Well, we are back from our next to last trip of 2013, and what a summer of travel and fun with family and friends we have had! We visited Atlanta in late May with our friends, Kathi and Don.We were exploring the Gone With the Wind Trail and highlights there were a bus tour of historic Jonesboro and  a tour of the Margaret Mitchell house where she wrote GWTW. We also took in a Braves game, where once we had hope for an exciting postseason. But that is a subject for my other blog, Focus on the Atlanta Braves. We also celebrated Mom’s 90th birthday on May 20, with a party at my sister’s house. She had a rough time this summer battling back a second attack of breast cancer, but her strength and positive outlook is getting her through.

My Mom at 90: So strong in her battle with cancer

My Mom at 90: So strong in her battle with cancer

Later in June we drove to Washington, DC to attend the wedding of our niece, Jeanette and Jarred Tafaro.  A week later found us flying to Heathrow airport in England to board the Caribbean Princess for a cruise around the British Isles. IMG_1375We toured St. Peter Port on the Isle of Guernsey and made ports of call in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, France and England. We covered everything from Stonehenge to The Beatles, sampled the local cuisine and searched for Nessie on a boat ride across Loch Ness. Bill saw the church in which his great grandparents married, and we visited The Cavern, a launching pad pub for the Beatles. We learned much about each place we visited, and the people in each country were delightful!

We returned home and attended a Monkees concert with our boys (what fun!) and then enjoyed a week with our house guests, Denise and Geoff, and dogs  Buddy and Bailey. Although there were some stressful moments as Denise and Geoff negotiated the closing on their house and the delivery of appliances and furniture (quite a nightmare at times) we really enjoyed having them stay with us. They moved out into their new home just before our family from NJ arrived. We enjoyed the usual shopping forays and looking at new houses, not to mention the traditional goodbye at Goodberry’s.  A few weeks later and we drove up to NJ to see our other niece, Becky, marry her new husband, Ally Randazzo.  As they took off for a honeymoon in Fiji, Bill and I headed to our haven in the Poconos for a few days of rest and relaxation. Here is a look back:

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And now we look ahead to the holidays, my favorite time of year. I love the fall, the changing leaves and that glorious blue sky free of the heavy, humid air of summer. That first nip in the air speaks to me of warm sweaters,  long nights, firelight, the crackle of leaves under my feet, hot apple cider and bowls of chili.  With all the holiday festivities and preparations, it will be time to pack those suitcases again for our annual Christmas visit to New Jersey before we know it!

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are a bit ahead of us in the autumn color display, so here is a sneak peek:

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Staying in Focus: Final Thoughts and What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Some final thoughts and musings on the best vacation ever. And what I learned on my summer vacation this year.

1. One of the things I enjoy the most about cruises is the escape. Just for a little while,  I am transported into a different world. A world where food is prepared for me, served elegantly,  and I don’t have to clean up afterward.  A world where my bed is made in the morning,  turned down at night, with a chocolate resting on my pillow. I can be pampered  at the spa, or relax  in the hot tub after a long day of sightseeing while I watch movies under the stars. In the theatre, talented singers and dancers entertain me. Numerous clubs offer after dinner drinks, trivia games, karaoke, dancing and entertainment.  A little TLC is welcome every now and then and the cruise lines have this down to a science.

2. I love waking up each morning somewhere else!

3. And the ships themselves, tastefully decorated and impeccably clean. I applaud the Princess and Holland America Lines for their excellence in this regard. Until I saw one up close , I had no idea how big these ships are and my admiration also goes to the captain and the crew who manage to steer these floating hotels.4

4. On this cruise I had the opportunity to complete a  “Walk on the Deck for the Cure,” in honor of my mother and my friend, Debbi, who are fighting breast cancer. I applaud the social director who set this up  and gave us  a chance to be socially involved while on the high seas. We had to complete 6 circuits of the ship to make the 5K goal. I was proud of myself, at 60 and with Parkinson’s disease , to have completed the walk. Below is a picture of me, still standing! A wonderful opportunity to take part in such a worthy cause.

5. In addition to making each moment of our cruise one to remember, the cruise line was so helpful in transporting us to our hotel in London, and two days later driving us out to the airport  for our flight home.

6. One of the nicest advantages of taking a cruise is the fellowship we quickly develop with the other passengers and the crew as well. A few dinners in the dining room, playing trivia in the lounges and taking excursions, and the faces begin to look familiar and  a camaraderie soon develops.

On our cruise last year , our social director, John, pointed out how, during the cruise, for a week people from all over the world spent time together aboard ship, shared a dinner table and conversation and  were considerate of  each other.   In other words, we all got along and if we could do it for a week, certainly  the rest of the world could do it , too, if they reall.y tried. This year our cruise lasted 12 days and again, people got along. Perhaps the answer is putting everyone on a cruise ship – wouldn’t that be fun! But we  can’t stay on vacation forever, and we need to find ways to be tolerant and accepting of others in the everyday world.

And what I learned on my summer vacation this year is just how similar we all are, no matter where we call home I was sitting in the Edinburgh Castle in Scotland,  finishing my soft drink and just watching the people walk by, and I thought, you know, I can’t tell if this group walking by is English, or Canadian or Australian. They are just  people enjoying  a tour of the castle on a sunny afternoon in Scotland. Mothers pushed their babies in strollers, backpacks were slung over shoulders, young people wore jeans and T-shirts, most of them with some sort of “smart” electronic device in their hands.

I realized, then, that what seemed most different about the countries we visited was not the people, but the scenery. Basically, people are just people wherever you go. Our similarities are far more numerous than our differences. I didn’t feel like  a stranger in a strange land, I felt a part of the people gathered here at the castle . Later in the trip, on a walk through Green Park in London, there were people playing frisbee, and soccer, people sitting on lawn chairs and resting on blankets spread on the ground just enjoying  a warm summer night in England, a scene I’m sure was repeated all over the globe that day.

I wonder why it is so hard for us to  celebrate our shared humanity,? Why not build on those things we share – families, home, life, love and watch the differences shrink away? As my friend from Liverpool once wrote “You may say I’m a dreamer..”  Maybe one  day dreams like this will become  reality.  But until then, I’ll remember , with fondness, the people I had a chance to meet and share a wonderful experience with, once upon a time, on a cruise. Here are some pictures of the beautiful Caribbean Princess, which carried us away and brought us together, if only for a little while.

Still standing after the 5K walk the deck for the cure

Still standing after the 5K walk the deck for the cure

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Staying in Focus: The Green of Ireland

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I can understand now, how Ireland became to be known as “The Emerald Isle“. The countryside is covered in various colors of green. In some places,  the green groundcover shines brilliantly in the afternoon sun. There’s nothing more appealing than the sparkle of freshly washed grass, or shrubs, following an afternoon shower. Sheep and cattle graze lazily in the warm sun. The following pictures were taken in the rolling hills of Killarney, Ireland.  We visited the Muckross House and took a tour through it. They have weavers there who weave beautiful hats and scarves. And anyone who knows me knows I can’t pass up a good hat. I decided, in honor of the green  of Ireland and Scotland, to buy my hat in a green tweed. (see above).

I invite you to take a ride  through the beautiful Irish countryside.

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Focus On: Flying

Here we are flying high among the clouds. Excuse any spelling errors. We arrived at the airport. early and the flight to Nashville went fast. Now we are headed for Seattle. Doby is excited to be on the plane.I’ve taken some pictures of him on the plane and will publish when I get back.We’re having a bit of turbulence. Getting tricky to write. Bill thinks we may be over Missouri now. Well l’ll send this off. Will be in touch.
I’m back. We are now over Omaha. Still a bit bumpy. They will shut us down soon. Be in touch later.

Focus On: Anticipation

One of the best coping strategies I’ve discovered is anticipation.  Having something to look forward to is the best medicine for the depression often experienced after a diagnosis of a disease like Parkinson’s.  It also works for other causes of sadness and depression, everything from losing your job to losing a loved one.

At first, after receiving life changing news, our inclination is to get home as fast as we can, go to our room,or our snuggery and try to shut out the world, the challenge we must face.and our fear of a future now changed forever.  Slowly we go through the stages of grief, finally arriving at acceptance.  Through this process we  come to realize that we can’t go back, all we can do is go forward.  Not a lot of options here.  But we have a big choice to make.  Do we go forward depressed, dragging through each day, or do we try to live a life filled with  promise and anticipation?

After I spent some time wallowing in self-pity, I decided that if I had to go forward anyway, I might as well make the best of it. So, carefully following my exercise and pill regime, I otherwise pushed the disease to the back of my mind and took that first step forward.

Now here is where anticipation comes  in.  There’s only one way to move forward and find some joy ahead and that is to find things that build anticipation – something to look forward to.  It can be anything from anticipating a trip to the bookstore to buy the latest novel by your favorite writer, to planning a trip or a visit with old friends.  I have done all of these in the five years since my diagnosis and so far I have held my own, managing the disease and  experiencing happiness at the same time.

Just recently I decided to give up driving due to the side effects of my medication.  This was a big decision, but one I felt I had to make.  Talk about a blow to my independence!  But guess what?  A door closed and windows opened, brightening my life in many ways.  My daughter-in-law immediately said not to worry, she and the little ones would be my “wheels”.  And so she has been, taking me to doctor appointments, and as a result, I have had more time to spend with her and my grandchildren.  My husband and I now spend more time with each other – we’re back to grocery shopping together just like we did years ago when we were first married.  I learned about a service my town has for door to door pickups  and drop offs for people with disabilities and I have signed up with them as  a back-up plan. If I decide a trip outside the house is needed, I just give them a 24 hour heads up and I’m good to go.  My friends, too, have offered to give me a lift when needed, and I am grateful to them all.  One important thing I’ve learned is to let people help me.  As much as I appreciate their efforts, they get to feel they are doing something good for someone else – it works both ways.

my mobiles

I have a good friend who also needed to get out more and have some fun, and needed a buddy to share it with.  She has the wheels and I have the time.  We choose a couple of books to read then discuss them over lunch when we get together.  We also take ‘field trips”.  We’ve visited the new wing of our Natural Science museum, we’ve gone to the movies to see Warhorse, and most recently toured an exhibit of the intricate mobiles of Alexander Calder. We learned that the term mobile was coined to give a name to his art..I purchased a book of mobile patterns and have  enjoyed making them with my granddaughter and  by myself, too.  Always something new to learn.  My friend and I share many of the same interests, and we enjoy the conversation and companionship.  I make jewelry and am going to teach her the ropes.  As I said, there’s always something new to learn and I look forward with anticipation to our outings.

A pretty sunset on our way to Alabama

I have a very dear friend (we’ve been friends since 1967) who now lives in Alabama .  She has wanted me to visit for years, but time and distance always seemed to intervene. Until I got my wake up call and decided I’d better get out there and visit her while I was still relatively mobile.  So we have spent the last two Labor Day Weekends visiting her in Alabama, and this year she is coming out to visit us the week of the fourth of July.

Anticipating a trip is always a lot of fun.  My husband and I go up north to visit his family a few times each year, and often we will combine that with a visit to a favorite resort in the mountains, often meeting our friends there.  We always have a great time with this couple, and despite the distances that separate us, we manage to connect whenever we can. As we get older, these tried and true friendships mean a lot.  They are the people who share our past, back when we were young and raising our children, and now we have pictures and stories of our grandchildren to share..  We love sharing memories, but enjoy making new ones. And  so we are anticipating our biggest adventure together  – a cruise to Alaska– only a little over a month to go. We’ve got our passports (for stops in Canada) and if we can figure out how to get that kitchen sink packed, we’ll be all set! We usually travel in a Honda Odyssey, packed to the max.  Meeting the packing requirements for air travel is going to be tough!

But before we embark in Alaska, we have family visiting in June and my friend from Alabama in July.   So much to look forward to in the next few months! So much to add sparkle to my days and joy to my years.  Try a little anticipation – it’s good for the soul.

                 I was cruising right along
                 when this rocky path appeared
                 and I have been its prisoner now
                 for nearly five long years
                 and still it leads me onward
                 toward a future tinged with fear
                 but despite this situation
                 I have no time for tears;
                 each day, despite the path we take,
                 is a precious gift to be treasured
                  and I for one intend to make
                 the best of it I can.
                 so moment by moment
                 mindfully
                 I take a step most carefully
                 along this steep and rocky road
                 trying not to stumble
                 I strive to reach the end
                 where from that weary load I’m free
                 I look to hope, my heart is certain
                  a brighter future waits for me
                 – pc 2012