Friday, May 31, 2013

My Favorite Things, Volume VI

How would it be possible to take advantage of all the tools and gadgets so necessary to a successful mobile life without tried-and-true luggage to schlep it all around?  For a "road warrior", nothing is as discomfiting as an enroute luggage malfunction:  wobbly wheels, broken handles and stuck zippers are unwelcome examples.

Several national, retail brands claim rugged construction and guaranteed durability.  Their names are as recognizable as "Kleenex" is to facial tissue:  Samsonite, TravelPro, etc.  But all luggage is NOT created (or supported) equally and some of those brands that claim durability and anxiety-soothing product warranties don't deliver in the end.  In my own experience, the two most reliable mainstream retail brands, both in terms of wear and warranty, are TUMI and Briggs & Riley.  Both brands are at the higher end in terms of acquisition cost, with good reason.  Their dependable functionality and rugged construction deliver much better than average wear.  When something does go wrong, both brands stand behind their products with some of the best after-the-sale customer service available for any product, not just luggage.  

If you want the best-of-the-best without the premium price tag, search for these brands online at or other auction sites.  Both retailers also offer seasonal discounts (usually no more than 20%) which might help ease you into what can be a major purchase.  (TUMI is currently [6/1/2013] having an end-of-season promotion:)

When traveling for leisure, I tend to favor TUMI products.  While on duty, working for my airline employer, I go a more practical route with hyper-ruggedized, crew-optimized luggage by LuggageWorks.  You may have seen crews pulling their famous "Stealth" rollaboard:  it looks like a black metal rectangle covered with fabric.  And that's essentially what it is!  The metal frame and box help to support the tremendous weight of the pilots' manual and chart bag without being crushed by it.     (They have recently introduced the same bag with an ABS plastic "box" which is almost as ruged but lighter in weight and lower in cost.)   The "Stealth" comes in various sizes but the most popular is the 22" standard allowed in the cabin of most commercial aircraft.  Again, these bags aren't cheap but have built-in dependability and construction methods that allow simple user "change out" of defective or malfunctioning parts.  You can find LuggageWorks bags online at or at crew-oriented retailers like

I don't want to leave you without a "healthy habit of the week", so let's look at something for the mind this time.  Admittedly, I have a bit of an obssessive-compulsive personality.  Like all traits, OCD has its benefits and its detriments.  The detriment is that most waking hours are spent feeling the need to do something.  The benefit is one tends to be rather productive.

Whether or not you have OCD, one great use for your extra time and energy while traveling is to maintain a blog or journal.  Though I've made several furtive attempts at journaling in the past, I always found some practical impediment to maintaining the habit.  With the advent of some of the technical tools I've discussed here, blogging has become almost second nature.  It's a great way to vent, to express yourself, to virtually take others along for the ride and to leave a trail behind you to be retraced, often with fascination, at a later time.  

Our lives are like meandering paths.  It's always fun to revisit the interesting sights you encountered along the way and, for a moment, remember what was...

Monday, May 27, 2013


Show honor today for all who have served, reverent remembrance for those who died serving.

It seems to me that the further we drift from the concept of "shame" in our society, the less we understand the meaning of "HONOR".

Shame and honor are two of life's boundaries.  When we blur them, we will surely lose our way!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Favorite Things, Volume V

Anything Apple!  Need I say more?

There's a certain elegance to the way one interacts with Apple products which, in my opinion, sets them HIGH above the competition.  Their interfaces are intuitive, their operation smooth and virtually fault-free, they are more-or-less impervious to viruses and malware, and they perform many functions away from the prying eyes of the user (which unnerves many).  The Apple "cloud" is peerless when it comes to distributing data to all Apple products in the user's possession.  For example, I take a photo with my iPhone and it is almost instantly available on every connected Apple device I own.  Whenever I add, delete, or update a contact or calendar event, it is synchronized to all my Apple devices through the cloud (and to my PC at home via Google.)

The three tech devices that accompany me on every road trip are my iPhone, my iPad, and my Zagg bluetooth keyboard.  (I PREFER the Apple bluetooth keyboard but its size limits portability.  The Zagg keyboard is exactly the same size as the iPad, so it fits in the same case.  It's the ONLY non-Apple product that I would consider recommending for this purpose.  In fact, Zagg's customer service is on par with Apple's!)

Together with the virutal universality of high-speed internet worldwide, these lightweight, powerful devices provide all of the computing and communications power I need for the mobile life!

After all of my blogging, posting, emailing and Skyping, I'm usually pretty hungry (how's that for a segue?)!  When travelling, I like to sample whatever food is "local".  In the U.S., much of the food in restaurants comes off the back of a SYSCO* (read "Soylent", in my opinion) truck, so it's a genuine treat to consume freshly-prepared, locally-sourced foods in other countries.

This past week, I enjoyed an exquisite meal with friends at a very picturesque biergarten-style restaurant in Mainz, Germany called Goldstein's.  The quality of the preparation was top-notch, the freshness of the components was unquestionable, the presentation was beautiful and the TASTE.....WOW!  I started with a cream of asparagus soup which featured tender, flavorful pieces of locally grown white asparagus and a garnish of whipping cream.  Decadent!  The main was a "schnitzel" of chicken breast, served with boiled potatoes, more fresh white asparagus and hollandaise sauce (the dish was momentarily placed under a broiler to "finish".)  Let your eyes be the judge...

(obviously, the photo was an after-thought!)

I try to enjoy my "international meals" with a sparkling water.  Alcohol causes WAY too many complications (although I've been known to enjoy a glass of red wine, on occasion) and the bubbles help prepare the palate for the next onslaught of flavor.

Food adventure is at least HALF the fun of travel!

(*NOTE:  I don't think my friends at Corkscrew BBQ even know what a SYSCO truck looks like!  BRAVO for them!)

An Apology and a Remembrance

I wish to apologize for my "Reality TV..." posting from yesterday.  I have removed it.

I DO NOT wish to contribute to the notion that the attitudes, personal appearance, or behaviors described in that post are acceptable.  I somehow overlooked the fact that, just by reporting an occurrence, one can give it credence or validity.  Even our mainstream media contribute to outrageousness on a daily basis.  But I will not.

New rule:  No posting on the day after coming in from back-to-back Frankfurt trips!

Let's put this blog back on track......

Remember why we celebrate Memorial Day!  In grateful remembrance of those who gave EVERYTHING so that we may live in freedom...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Little Milestones

Sometimes, when we make it our business to "fly under the radar", we wonder if anyone notices that we work hard to make a difference, do our best everyday whether anyone is watching or not.  This is especially true if, early on, we were on that "fast track" upward and made a conscious decision to jump off and breathe; to live our life instead of just doing what was expected.

Then, one morning, the phone rings:  "Hello.  I'm calling from inflight.  You have been selected to fly the inaugural Dreamliner service from Denver to Tokyo.  Would you be interested?"  

"Umm, sure.  I'd be honored."  Pleasantries are exchanged.  Click.  (Of course, after the click is when you think of all the questions you SHOULD have asked!)  Oh well.  The answers will come whether or not the questions are asked.

In the big scheme of things, it's just a little milestone.  But it's MY little milestone!

And the answer to the unasked questions is, "Yes.  It's noticed."

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Drive-by" blogging

Thought you might enjoy a snapshot of late spring in Mainz-on-Rhine...

Schillerplatz at rainy twilight (8pm). 

Friday, May 17, 2013

MAINE! (Excerpted from "My Friends with Wings")

I am a contributor to another blog geared to a juvenile audience.  More precisely, it's geared to an audience of gravely ill, hospitalized children who have little hope and practically no opportunity to venture outside their antiseptic world.  If you read the post entitled "Do you want to play with me?" from April, you already know their story in large part.  I thought of "translating" the following excerpt from that blog for an adult audience but upon re-reading, I don't think you'll mind if I leave it as-is!

I hope you enjoy reading about my favorite little corner of the world.....

"My mom and I are just returning from our annual trip to Maine to open the small house that our family owns there.  Maine is in the extreme northeast corner of the United States (upper right corner, if you look on a map).  Since it is so far to the north, the winter can be very cold with lots of snow and ice.  But the springs, summers, and falls are beautiful and much milder than in the southern part of the country. 

Our house is called "seasonal".  It was never meant to be lived in during the cold of winter and so, it has no insulation to help keep it warm when the weather is at its worst.  Every autumn, usually in October, we close the house for the year and our plumber drains and prepares our water lines for the cold.  Every spring, he reconnects our water service and we arrive to clean up any winter mess.

We call our small house MooseWalk Cottage because every spring, one or more of the local moose like to hang out in our yard.  Normally, moose are very shy and only rarely come so close to where humans live.  I guess they get "spring fever" like humans do and do things that aren't normal for them. Moose are very large and have huge, funny-shaped antlers.  Actually, they can be much larger than a normal car!  Since our house is in the country, we see a lot of different wildlife in addition to moose.  Turkeys, deer, skunks, guinea fowl, chipmunks, field mice, bats and other animals all share our spot near the woods.  They can be entertaining to watch but you don't want them to come inside!  We once chased a bat out of the house with a broom and a bed sheet.

My mom and I felt a little lonely this week.  One of our neighbors, Ruth Winter, is not here this year.  She died just last November at the age of 99.  Part of our trip each year is to celebrate Ruth's birthday on May 10th.  And even though Ruth wasn't with us, we celebrated her 100th birthday with her family and other friends last Friday.  It was a beautiful warm, sunny day; the kind of day that Ruth would have loved!  It was a sad reason to gather but we all agreed that having had a wonderful friend like Ruth Winter helped with the sadness of losing her.  We had dinner with Ruth's daughter and son-in-law and met several new friends that we didn't know before.

While in Maine, we mowed our lawn, put down mulch in our flower beds, cleaned the inside of the cottage and got the house ready for summer.  In addition to our visits, we sometimes have friends stay at the cottage when we are away.

Maine is famous for seafood.  So we ate fish, oysters, crab and clams while there.  Mom usually likes to have a lobster when she visits but I guess that will wait for her next trip up.  

There's plenty more to tell about visiting MooseWalk Cottage but I want to save some for later.  Right now, I'm looking out the window of our flight back to Atlanta and I see that we are passing over New York City.  It's a beautiful late-spring day and the skies are clear.  Everything looks so small from here.  It's hard to believe that New York is the largest city on Earth!

There's a great big world out there.  And its just waiting for you..."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Favorite Things, Volume IV

Maintaining YOUR routine, your "normal" while traveling is the single best way to manage the mobile life.  Previously, we've looked at different methods and devices that have become some of my favorite things because they support me being able to maintain my "normal."  Another device that I alluded to in my first installment of this series is a tech-tool called the Slingbox.

Essentially, the Slingbox is an IP device (internet protocol) that connects to your existing home TV/cable configuration and home broadband network (wired or wireless).  Your network assigns an IP address to the Slingbox device then, using a unique sign-on code and password from any internet connected device (PC, notebook, iPad, or smartphone) you connect to Slingbox from ANYWHERE ON THE PLANET!  In doing so, you take control of the home TV/cable device connected and can control whatever setup you have at home from basically anywhere.  In my travels, I have used the conventional TV, DVR, and On-Demand functions with no muss or fuss.  I can even program my DVR to record a favorite program if I forgot to do so before leaving.  Even though Amsterdam and Frankfurt are 7 hours ahead of Texas this time of year, I can enjoy the TODAY show at 0700 local time using Slingbox.

Setup and use are simple.  During the setup process, you indicate what type of remote control you use at home and Slingbox duplicates it on your remote screen.  Everything is guessing.  The cost of using Slingbox is all up-front:  you buy the device and install it yourself.  There are no monthly subscription or "per use" fees.  We've had ours for about 5 years and it's still doing the same great job it did on Day 1.

Once your entertainment habits have been fulfilled by Slingbox, finding sleep can often be a challenge when traveling abroad.  While it may seem a controversial recommendation, I STRONGLY recommend the use of a prescription sleep aid on the first night away from home to help regulate your circadian rhythm.  Otherwise, finding a comfortable sleep pattern (where you sleep at night and are awake during the day) can take days or even weeks.  The feared habituating side effects of sleep aids require much more than an occasional regulating dose.  

And don't forget to be kind to your body while getting acclimated:  hydrate, Hydrate, HYDRATE!

Did I mention that you should HYDRATE?!

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Favorite Things, Volume III

In my travels from country to country, there is one device that I consider an absolute essential:  the TALUS international adapter/converter.  All of us have an international adapter in the back of a drawer or on a closet shelf which serves to remind us that, just because the plugs match the outlet doesn't mean the current won't FRY a hairdryer or curling iron!  In addition to distinct plug/blade configurations, the electric current itself differs between countries.  Hence, the importance of the converter function (a 110v appliance does not thrive with 220v flowing through it)!

The TALUS converter/adpater offers a fairly compact, self-contained package for addressing both sides of the electricity issue.  In addition to the traditional Western Hemisphere 3-pronged grounded receptacle, it also offers a USB port for use with all of the current generation of portable electronic "must-haves" like smart phones, tablets, etc.  Just a word of caution:  the converter/adapter is meant for short-term use...hours NOT days!  It is noticeably warm to the touch while in use which is kind of a common sense warning not to leave it for too long.  

For practical packing & space conservation, I place the converter/adapter in a zip-lock bag and it fits perfectly inside the stainless steel tumbler of my Black and Decker Brew N Go Coffeemaker.

I found the TALUS converter adapter for around $50 (including shipping) at  In my research, that is a reasonable price for the device and it is well worth the investment!

Now that you know my secret for plugging in my coffeemaker anywhere in the world, I want to switch gears with another word about healthy habits while traveling.  The single, most important word to remember in your travels is HYDRATION.  Water, water, WATER!  My partner, Philip, is a little bit of a fanatic about it so I will use him as an example:  in a typical 8 hour US to Europe flight, Philip will easily drink 2 x 1 liter bottles of water and take a third for his layover (24 hours).  He may seem an extreme example (he is to me, at any rate) but Philip will likely never suffer the common side-effects of what I call "travel dehydration"; extreme fatigue, dizziness, headache, exacerbated arthritic processes.  Adequate water intake also serves to keep one looking better.  

So many of our body's functions are tied to adequate hydration and 21st century travel serves to do nothing as well as to dehydrate the human body.  As an example, Death Valley in California is only SLIGHTLY more arid than a typical jet aircraft cabin!  Only recently, with the introduction of the Boeing 787, have production methods been developed to allow greater, more natural humidification of the aircraft cabin.  But even in light of this development, adequate personal hydration remains a critical factor to feeling good (and looking good) while traveling.

Interestingly, while in the Atlanta Airport earlier this week, I passed a concourse boutique whose window declared "Hydration Secret Discovered".  I've got your hydration revolution!  It's called:


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

We took to the woods...

It is THAT time of year again!  

The waiting is over, the anticipation of what seemed like an endless winter will conclude with the seasonal opening of our cottage on the midcoast of Maine!  We are the annual population spurt that Mainers  refer to as "rusticators".  But for us, the cottage is more than just a place, it is a state-of-mind.   The many small tasks to be accomplished are less drudgery and more rights of passage.  This time of year always puts me in mind of Louise Dickinson Rich's chronicle of her life in the wilds of northern Maine, WE TOOK TO THE WOODS.  Our "rustic" experience is notably distant from hers but the spirit of the sojourn is so familiar.

In 2013, our "rustic" is defined by no in-home laundry, a septic system plagued by a post-winter high water table, uninsulated walls, no curbside garbage pickup, the family of field mice who somehow found a winter home in my best down jacket hanging in the closet but didn't touch anything else, spotty cellular reception, the absence of high-speed Internet service.  The basics that we take for granted, electricity, hot/cold running water, indoor toilet, etc. would have been unimaginable in the time of Rich.  One thing that Louise had and that we share is the warmth of neighborhood.

Our Maine home is defined at least as much by our friends and neighbors as it is by the natural beauty of the place.  We care for each other in a way that has almost become alien in 21st century America.  And although the last year has wrought so many life-altering changes to our circle, there is a continuity of closeness that binds those of us who remain.  As I write, we are planning to celebrate the 100th birthday of our dear friend Ruth Winter who took her leave of this world and our neighborhood just last fall.  May her soul rest in peace.  Ruth joined my dad, Neal and our dear friend & neighbor Joe Rotondi who also died in 2012.  So, those of us left behind are left to redefine our community...and we will.

Obviously, I am an enthusiastic proponent of this seeming "devolution" and am often asked why.  It almost seems counterintuitive.  How should I respond?  For those who "get it", no explanation is necessary and for those who don't, none would be sufficient.

It is my haven, my sanctuary, my mood-stabilizer, my frequency calibrator, my life barometer, my "factory reset", my True North.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Awakening

In the moment that one first attains consciousness after an incredible night of deep, restful sleep, all is possible. The day ahead is pure, unencumbered potential.

As if unaware that the world beckons, the body still breathes the slow, shallow breath of slumber, the heart dutifully, almost grudgingly, pushes life-sustaining blood out to the frontiers and lazily draws it back again. Too early for any physical afflictions to assert themselves, age is momentarily unacknowledged, a muscle is yet even to flinch.

The mind and the body have not yet rejoined each other...the mind floats free, untethered. This is the ethereal, ephemeral moment when earthly restrictions (physicality, responsibility, society, mortality) simply do NOT apply to one's fleeting, disembodied, euphoric reality. At no other time of life is one's soul more apparent or more available. This is the moment at which the soul communicates its intentions, aspires to its best self and maps its path.

Then, seemingly in reflex, the body "catches up". It hails the mind with that first deep breath; a surfeit of oxygen enriching the fuel, as if to say, "don't leave me behind!". The muscles tense and the blood flows in earnest bringing the fuel to every cell.

Stretch, revive.

Eyes demand focus.

The hibernation is over once more. Life begins anew. The engine hums, ready. The aches and pains of age, the realities of infirmity demand attention and consideration, compromising the ability to achieve.

Once they are rejoined, will the body follow the mind's dreamy vision of the day? Will the soul's aspirations be fulfilled? On those rare, ebullient days when the answer to both questions is "yes", life reveals itself to the fullest.

(NOTE: The struggle to survive and thrive under the veil of a life-threatening diagnosis pushed my father to the boundaries of his being. During his last three years with us, he and I connected in a way I would have never thought possible. It was truly "a miracle". I asked him once if there was ever a time when his mind was free of the awareness of his plight. He replied that sometimes, when he first woke....

In loving memory of my Dad; a great teacher, unaware.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My Favorite Things, Volume II

In my "favorite things" post from last week, I mentioned how important it is to form and maintain good, healthy habits when living the mobile life. Sleeping, eating, and hydrating well will go a long way toward making your travels smoothe and uneventful, health-wise. One of the other fundamental factors to regulating your body is a regular fitness routine, observed whenever or wherever you happen to land. In my case, that fitness regimen involves regular aerobic exercise supplemented by weight training and, more often as I age, yoga to improve and/or maintain flexibility.

As I began my college career at the University of Georgia, it became clear that a certain amount of physical education would be a requirement for graduation. No problem...I was physically fit and amenable to continuing a course of activity that had previously primarily involved playing basketball in high school. But what to do? I liked the sound of a course called "Fitness for Life" that has, so far, lived up to its name! "Fitness for Life" stressed concepts through the academic side of fitness but mostly, it was a variety of aerobic activity, 3-5 times a week for a duration of 30 to 60 minutes. Aerobics were supplemented with flexibility and strength training but the focus was maintaining cardiovascular health. What a great platform for building a lifetime of fitness!

Whether it's 30 minutes on an elliptical machine followed by weight training in Narita, a motivated tourist walkabout in Berlin, "step" class in Buenos Aires, or cardio challenge in Texas, both my body and mind benefit from maintaining a fitness routine, a habit.  It's been just over 35 years since I took that class and I shudder to think how I would look and feel if I hadn't!

Maybe contrary to the idea of "fitness" is another habit that I like to maintain while on the road: caffeination. There's nothing like the aroma and flavor of a truly excellent cup of hot, steaming java to reset your outlook, no matter where you are. European cafe coffee can NOT be beaten but there's something to be said for having a cup of joe in the privacy of your hotel room, too. My personal favorite is a strong brew of Eight O'clock Colombian coffee. I know just the right measures of "drip" grind coffee and fresh, cold water for the perfect cup at home. And thanks to a lucky find at Reny's ("a Maine adventure") while summering at the cottage, I know just the right mechanism to get the same delicious taste anywhere in the world: Black & Decker's "Brew N Go" travel coffeemaker with stainless tumbler. At around $20, the Brew N Go allows me a consistently excellent travel substitute for one of the "comforts of home". But I bought the last one on the shelf at Reny's!

After discovering just how reliably excellent a cup this little marvel produces, I did some research and found the Brew N Go also available at WalMart (online only) for the same price. So I bought 4 of them! (OK, so one was a gift for my partner, Philip who is now also hooked.) When I find a product that works, I like to make sure that I won't have to live without it, if I don't have to.

The Brew N Go fits nicely into just about any hotel laundry bag to prevent "moisture mishaps" and takes no more room in your rollaboard than a pair of sneakers. It has its own wire "filter", making it totally self-contained. I just add a screw top Glad-brand container for my coffee and standard 2 oz. coffee measure and I'm set for coffee-to-go.

Next week, I'll share the perfect solution for plugging in my Brew N Go (and every other rechargeable electronic device) in ANY foreign country.