Projectionist

We signed up for a Mediterranean cruise last November, at the urging of my friend, Dee. Single, 40-something, with a great sense of fun and adventure, she asked us to join up with a larger group of friends. “You and Studley need to go on this cruise! I really want to get back to SCUBA diving, and I’m terrified of going it alone!”

So we did.

The cruise organizer is a former colleague, Ted. Ten years ago, he beat the odds against aggressive brain cancer. Every year, he arranges a cruise holiday with friends and family to celebrate another year of remission. Yet another great reason to sign up…

Studley and i decided to hit Rome early and spend a few days there before boarding the ship. We weren’t sure we could get off the ship and to the airport in time for a same-day departure, so we also booked a night at an airport hotel before our return flight. It was pricey, so i used some of my banked hotel points for a free room.

Dee was making her own arrangements. She pinged along the way, finally telling Studley that she was too scared to go it alone, and asked if she could connect up with us for the days in Rome. He shared our hotel info, and flight arrangements with her. She decided to also spend the extra night in Rome on the return, but found out our hotel was way out of her price range – and didn’t have points to burn. Since she knew many others on the trip, she emphasized that she didn’t expect to tag along with us for the entire trip, and said she’d figure something out.

We got to Rome and hopped the train to Termini station. Dee has not traveled much, and we made sure to share the process with her – coaching along the way*. Tracking train schedules, buying tickets, map navigation, avoiding touts and pickpockets. We had booked a sweet little place in Rome, and had a blast farting around for a couple of days. At breakfast, on the morning of our departure for the cruise terminal…

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daisyfae: Have you figured out where you’re going to stay on that last night in Rome?

Dee: Not yet. I need to get on that…

daisyfae: This hotel is terrific – maybe ask to see if they’ve got a room available?

Dee: I don’t know if I can get back to the train station by myself…

daisyfae: You’ve done it six times since we’ve been here! You’re a ninja! You got this!

Dee: I don’t know…

The cruise was fun – we are not particularly fond of big cruise ships, but it is nice to unpack once and then wake up every day in a different port… Sometimes a different country. Florence, Cannes, Mallorca, Barcelona, Naples… It was a grand trip!

Periodically, i’d ask Dee if she’d figured out what she would be doing for that last night… Suggested talking to the Guest Services staff on board, stopping in the internet café to get online and do some checking. She continued to procrastinate. It was frustrating for Studley and me – we are not over-planners, but having a place to stay is one of those things you really need to take care of when traveling! Trying to help her learn to travel independently, i got a little agitated that the student wasn’t taking initiative!

Studley had arranged a few adventures on shore for the two of us. We rented Vespas in Cannes – managing to get lost a few times, but still finding some gorgeous spots on the French Riviera! He also arranged our dive trip near Naples – Roman ruins, dating back to Emperor Claudius! Not the “warm water, pretty reefs and colored fishies” dives that we’re used to, but absolutely fascinating!

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The last night on board, Dee still hadn’t made her hotel arrangements. i insisted that she go to the guest services desk.

daisyfae (to Studley): It’s like she’s not even trying! She is fully capable of taking care of this! i just don’t get it!

Studley: You know, not everyone aspires to be an independent traveler. I think she just wants someone else to deal with it…

daisyfae : …

Studley: Some people want to be taken care of… and there’s nothing wrong with that!

daisyfae [lightbulb over head]: You’re absolutely right. Holy shit! i’ve been projecting MY need to be independent onto her. That’s not what she wants…

In the end it was Eddie, the internet café manager, who hooked her up with lodgings. The hotel was a short taxi ride from the train station. When we got to our hotel near the airport, i sent Dee a text…Checking to see if she’d gotten to her hotel…

daisyfae: We made it! Are you settled? Best option for a train from Termini is the Leonardo Express – look for the separate ticket kiosk at the station.

Dee: Made it ok! I’m just going to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow.

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*”Adventure shared is adventure squared!” Encouraging others to “Get off the sofa” is absolute joy!

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As the Dust Settles…

Coming up for air as things settle into transient equilibrium in my inconsequential corner of the universe… Sharing a few observations, lessons, and a glimpse of ‘scores and highlights’ from the past few weeks… Not writing. Just reporting.

Wedding: My sister T’s wedding earlier this month went off with only one hitch – and that ‘hitch’ was to her partner! i was anxious regarding the coalescence of family around an emotionally charged event. Whether they all buried their respective shit out of respect for my sister, or because of my pointed directive prior to travel simply doesn’t matter – all went well, and it was a celebration!

My anxiety was driven by a series of messages and e-mails the week prior to the wedding. My brother couldn’t understand why my niece was invited, and he couldn’t stand being in the same room with her. My niece, and sister S, were both barking because my brother would be there. In a group e-mail to the clan sharing logistics and plans for the weekend, i added the following line: “There will be no drama.  i will drown the first person to be rude.” Regardless of the reason, everyone was cordial and nobody got drunk and stupid… Well, i might have had a few too many once i got on a plane toward home…

And then there was the suggested dress for the wedding – “Nautical Chic”… Us ‘Trailer Park People’ had to request clarification on this one. In southern Ohio, “Nautical Chic” means “Dress for a day of boatin’ on the Ohio River”, and would lead us toward cut off blue jeans and flip flops. i suggested Khaki trousers, polo shirt, or if going more “yacht club”, wearing the khaki’s with a light blue oxford and a blue blazer. Boat shoes for the gents, of course. My sister S’s husband J won the prize by asking if his old pair of disco shoes would be ok…

disco shoes

Kitchen Remodel: Today is the ninth day with skilled laborers in my home. Tear out began on 27 April, and there has been a tremendous amount of work done – making my new space look like a real kitchen again. A dream kitchen, in fact. Fortunately, my boss and the nature of my work has allowed me to work from home while construction is underway.

i sit in my home office, dog at my feet, bashing through e-mail, documents, presentations and conference calls. They tear out walls, install wiring, plumb gas lines, place flooring and trim, make all things perfectly flush and level, and haul a 10′ 6″ long slab of manufactured quartz that weighs 830 pounds into place on top of the new kitchen island.

In awe of their knowledge and skill, I’ve tried to stay out of the way – but have bootlegged the chance to learn something. What have i learned? We need to send fewer people to universities and instead develop more skilled tradesmen. They don’t need to leave at lunch to go to the gym to get exercise – they use their lunch breaks to rest.

Working with my designer, and lead contractor, i’ve also had to do some juggling and dancing to keep the project on track as various components were damaged or delayed. This morning? Flooring contractors were finishing up as the plumbers arrived. They were mostly finished by the time the refrigerator was delivered and installed. i really need to have the kitchen operational soon, because…

Adventure: There is a cruise in my immediate future. Not the type of holiday we usually take, this one is special for two reasons. The first? A former boss organizes an annual family and friends cruise to celebrate remission from brain cancer. Seven years ago he was given a 20% chance of getting on the other side of an aggressive tumor.  He did it.

The second reason? A friend, who has attached to us because she wants to be more adventurous, invited us along – with a request: “Please come on this cruise – I want to go diving with you guys in the Mediterranean!”  So we plan to be diving ruins in Naples along with a few other adventures – a bit more aggressive than typical shore excursions.

Studley had to carry the football on this trip because i handled travel logistics for the wedding, and am working logistics on a late summer trip to see The Girl in Turkey. So much to look forward to… but i am a bit overwhelmed.

This arrived today – i have a luggage fetish and am smitten with Samsonite Fiero. A new mid-sized piece for the collection. Time to get the kitchen re-organized and start loading this baby…

packing

Life is short. Don’t postpone joy…

Road hard

Three weeks of nearly continuous business travel. Given the run of frigid weather in February, i did gain some time in sunny, relatively warm California. Sure, i got to enjoy it a bit, walking to and from the rental car, and a few days spent dining al fresco for conference luncheons… but mostly, i was in meetings from 7am until 7pm or later.

Jacked up flights, due to weather.  i missed a connection at O’Hare by fivefuckingminutes, which led to a complete re-route to an airport near my destination, requiring a rental car and about six extra hours of travel time.  Missed a half day of work as a result, but made it. And didn’t get particularly stressed out.

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Similar jackage the next trip. i was halfway through a cardio workout in a hotel fitness center, when my phone lit up – 800 number.  i knew immediately that it was from the airline, likely delivering shitty news regarding my scheduled flight home the next afternoon. Rather than take the call, i finished my workout, then hauled my sweaty arse back to my room to deal with it.

As expected, my Wednesday afternoon flight was bagged, due to ice in Dallas, but they had conveniently re-booked me on the same flight for Thursday. “Well, that’s not gonna work!” A rookie traveler might have lost her shit at this point.

i dialed up my travel agent on one phone, and dialed the airline on my business mobile, while peeling off my sweaty gear. “Due to inclement weather, we are experiencing delays in customer service…” on both lines. Plugged in the phones, set both to speaker, and proceeded to call room service to order dinner…

i knew i’d have to bag the morning meetings and hook an early flight toward the east coast.  i set up my laptop, finished up the work that was required for the next morning. Room service arrived, bringing me a marginally edible flat bread pizza and a glass of wine.

As i emptied the wine glass, my travel office came back on line. Agent was able to wade through a pile of options and get me re-booked for a 6am flight. i finished the pizza. Once confirmed, it was about 9pm local time, meaning i had about 6 hours before my 3am wake up call.

Packed my clothes, sent my work off into the ether, set three alarms and was in bed within fifteen minutes. Was on the road to an airport an hour away by 4am, on a plane at half past five, and headed east around 6am.

Looking out the window. Thinking back on all the years i’ve been doing this. There was a  time when i loved it! Exciting, glamorous and chubb-inducing business action – i was a cog in my small corner of the technology world, and i enjoyed mixing it up with others in the field.

Now? It’s nice to bank all those airline miles and hotel points, but it’s just a longer commute. i try to be good at what i’m doing, but it is no longer my passion. Looking out the window of a plane, i just wanted to get home to my own bed, and my manimals.

And looking forward to the day – not that far away – when i will travel for only for recreation! Retirement lurks, and those airline miles are going to fuel a lot of roadtrips. Dive trips. Backpacking trips abroad – open ended, with no return flights booked.

Studley and i are in the midst of planning three trips between now and September. Uncharted territory – emotionally, mentally and geographically. i will continue to hop planes as a commuter, but i can assure you when i board those planes for uncharted territory, i am going to be one delighted adventurer…

i genuinely believe that a key element to happiness is having things to look forward to… i may be exhausted, but i am incredibly happy at this moment in life!

Bubbles

In 9th grade, i won the “Klutz of the Year” award at the High School Band Awards dinner.  i tripped over a music stand on my way to receive the trophy.

i have never been graceful.

In 2006 i got my SCUBA certification.  The same year i got divorced, became an empty-nester, and got cancer.  It wasn’t until 2009, when Studley became a certified diver, that i had a chance to put more than my toe in the water.

And it was life-changing…  We had quite an adventure in Cozumel!  Weighing myself down with far too much lead, unable to find neutral buoyancy, and being terrified during a night dive with a five mile per hour current did not dampen my enthusiasm for diving.

i wanted needed more. i’ve gotten it.

Not a cheap hobby by any stretch, so dive trips to sunny, warm-water locales with pretty colored fish have been a bit of a luxury.  Even so, we’ve managed some extraordinary excursions over the past five years.

The most recent adventure last week to The Cayman Islands is now tucked under my weight belt.  On this trip?  i hit the milestone “100th Dive”.  Celebrated with the dive boat crew, and my fellow divers.  It was a good thing that i was still dripping with sea water, or they might have noticed that i was crying…

How did i get here?

100

It wasn’t just the milestone dive that triggered tears.  That was just a number.  It was more than that…

No longer struggling to manage my air, i was returning to the boat with almost a third of my tank untouched after an hour underwater.  Buoyancy isn’t such an issue.  i can get in a very Zen-like trance floating alongside a coral wall at 100’… a wall that has no bottom for another 6,000 feet.  The gear doesn’t confuse me – i can easily rig my own stuff, and get in and out of the water without assistance — even perfecting the James Bond Backroll from the side of the boat!

It’s not really all of that.

Moving effortlessly underwater with a school of fish.  Face to face with a friendly grouper.  While most divers use a standard kick, or frog kick, to move along, i’ve adopted the double fin kick…

In the water, i move like a motherfucking mermaid.  For the first time in my life?  i am graceful. It feels good.

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That’s me, doing the inverted photo-bomb as Studley and i explore a wrecked Russian frigate.  For once in my life, i am not clumsy.

It feels wonderful…

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

As The Girl boarded a bus in San Diego, headed for Mexico, it washed over me like a cold shower – “The next time i see her, she will be changed.”  A day later, she started her Semester at Sea, sailing around the world on a ship with 700 undergraduate students.  Six weeks later, i watched her disembark from that ship as it docked in Saigon Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  We spent a week knocking around Vietnam and Cambodia together – and seeing her confidence, i realized that i had been right.

We spent our last night there drinking beer in a cowboy bar, listening to a Vietnamese country and western band knock out respectable covers, including a memorable version of “Stand By Your Man”.  Her adventures continued the next day, and i began my journey home.  At 20 years old, she was well on her way to becoming an engaged, contributing citizen of Planet Earth.

She was changed.  She was broader, and deeper, and stronger, and smarter…

Six weeks ago, i watched as The Boy boarded a plane for basic training.  The exact same feeling – “The next time i see him, he will be changed.”  He’d signed an eight year commitment.  All in.  A very challenging, and unknown path ahead of him.  Much like the Semester at Sea, i also knew that he would have very limited opportunities to communicate – adding to the parental anxiety.

Yesterday, i stood at the airport awaiting his arrival.  Two weeks of leave for Christmas break.  Happy holiday travelers filled the exit chute.  i hopped around in the coffee shop, nervously scanning the crowd, looking for military uniforms.  A few soldiers came by, but not mine…

“Oh, I just want to hug them all, don’t you?” said the sweet woman standing next to me.  She told me she was waiting for her mother to arrive for the holidays, but she just loved seeing the young soldiers in uniform.  i agreed, and continued to bop around nervously, waiting for the next pack to walk down the hallway.

i saw him.  Not breaking his bearing, he spotted me and cracked a tiny smile.  i bounced around the coffee bar and gave him a hug. “How did you get taller?  And what did they do with the rest of your hair?”  

“It’s the boots”.

As we turned to head for the exit, i spotted my coffee bar companion.

“And by the way, this lovely lady wants to hug you, too!”

We headed for the car, where i had secured his ‘welcome basket’ – a good India Pale Ale and a pack of smokes.  Non-stop conversation on the drive home.  Tales of bureaucracy, head games, physical challenges and “Shit My Drill Sergeant Said”.  Sick Bay and Hand Grenades.  Running his first seven minute mile (he was at nine minutes just a few weeks back).  And leaning forward into what lies ahead.

He is changed.  He is broader, and deeper, and stronger, and smarter…

Coming Home

Sea Leveled

Dive Leader Caroline swam up to us in the dark. She did a roll call to make sure all five missing divers were within range.  We’d gotten caught in a current during the safety stop on a night dive, and were surprised to find ourselves at least a quarter of a mile from the boat when we surfaced.

Once she was assured that we were all there, she said: “Everyone ok?  Do you need assistance?  That’s what I’m here for, so let me know if you need anything!”

A few feet away in the dark, there was a laugh, followed by “How about a couple of legs?”

His were blown off in December, 2011.  An Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) specialist for the Marines, Dusty ran to assist a fellow soldier who had just stepped on an improvised explosive device, and tripped a secondary device – bombs designed to kill those aiding victims of the primary bomb.

About the last thing i expected on my trip last week was a double amputee diver in our group.  When you have a dozen divers living in very close quarters for a week on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, connections happen with lightning speed.  i quickly learned that there was more to him than his disability. 

The sun came up Saturday morning, and we put our dive gear out for collection by the crew by 0730.  Dusty brought out his “sea legs” – designed for use in salt water – and put them with the flippers and vests alongside the hotel.

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Saba is a tiny island – only five square miles of volcanic rock.  The airport hosts the world’s shortest commercial runway.  The harbor isn’t much bigger.  Getting on the damn boat, as it rocked and rolled against the dock, presented a challenge.  i was a bit tentative as i grabbed the boat rail, timed my step to match the pitch of the boat and held onto a member of the crew for stability.  Dusty passed his gear to the crew, and stepped on board.  Crew and divers looked on quietly.  No one complained about the difficult entry.

Getting on the boat

He was nervous about the diving because it had been about two years since his last dive – not because of the prosthetics.  One leg was a bit heavy, so he rigged a ‘water wing’ to see if it would help with buoyancy.  It was worth a try, but didn’t really help.

water wings

The final day of the trip was spent farting around on the island.  We hosted a ‘happy hour’ by the hotel pool, and invited our dive boat crew to join us.  Reuben, one of our crew, told me how amazed he was by Dusty.  “We noticed that NO ONE on the boat, crew or divers, complained about anything all week long!  And it was because of THAT guy!”

Dusty diving

We did the night dive on Tuesday.  As the sun set, ten of us dropped into the water.  i’m not overly fond of night dives – one friend describes them as “underwater drug raids” as you see floodlights carried by your dive mates sweep wildly through the dark waters. i decided to go along since the reefs of Saba are loaded with amazing coral and a metric shit-ton of fish.

The dive went as briefed – down to about 40-50’, standard night signals at ‘half tank’, watch for the strobes on the boat, keep dive time to about 45 minutes.  We chased one octopus around for five minutes, found a gargantuan lobster and then went off to look for other critters.

When it was time to ascend, Studley and i caught up with three others – Dusty, his father-in-law Ron, and Rick (our dive instructor).  Even at the relatively shallow depth for the dive, a three minute ‘safety stop’ at 15-18 feet is required.  The current had picked up a bit, so we stayed in a close group as we hovered in the dark water.

Studley and i had lost the boat while concentrating on our depth gauges, but figured one of the others knew the location.  When we bobbed to the surface, we realized that none of us had any damn idea where the boat was. We saw some lights a good distance away.  If not our boat, a boat.  Good enough.

Low on air, we filled our buoyancy control devices (BCDs) and prepared for a long surface swim – roll on your back and start kicking.  Maintain verbal contact with your buddies.  Periodic roll call and heading check.  After about five minutes, i turned to look for the boat.  Didn’t seem to have made much progress, but we could now see two sets of lights – our boat and another.

Good enough.  Roll and kick.  Repeat every few minutes.

Eventually, we heard Caroline’s voice from the dark.  Relieved that we’d been located, we continued to kick toward the boat.  Another heading check?  The current was too strong, even when we tried cutting directly toward shore.

Caroline suggested we circle up, and wait for the boat to come to us.  Within a few minutes, we could see the boat turn and move toward us.  Snagging the current line behind as it came alongside, we all waited to climb up the ladder.

Relaxing a bit, i felt my thighs screaming from 30 minutes of surface swim against an unyielding current.  i watched Dusty leave the water first – climbing the dive ladder, his prosthetic sea legs outlined sharply by the floodlights on the boat.

Once we’d shed our gear, and the boat was headed back to the dock, we did post-dive forensics to sort out what went wrong – and how the situation could have been avoided.  No finger-pointing, just an ‘after-action report’. The subject soon changed to the barbecue and chilled keg of beer awaiting us at the hotel.

No one complained.  Everything we did?  Dusty had done without his fucking legs.

nice kicks

This young man – without saying a single word – collected my license to bitch.  i may let him keep it…

The Unspoiled Queen*

Where have i been?  On a very strange rock in the Atlantic Ocean for the past week.  After an arrival at the homestead in the very wee hours of the morning, i’ve been in the throes of post-travel excavations.

Some short, random neural firings:

– The retirement countdown clock ticks loudly. Even the most intrepid, hard-working employees are simply cogs in a giant bureaucratic corporate monkey-spank.  We try to do a good job, and earn the paycheck, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter…

– It has become apparent that my lack of fitness is getting in the way of living the life i want to lead.  This simply won’t do…

– Adventure travel can be exhausting.  Especially when one is out of shape.  (see previous random neural firing).

– Adventurous people will press on through exhaustion.  Naps are for cupcakes!

– “Bravery” takes many forms.  It can appear as a soldier rushing to aid his fallen comrade despite obvious peril.  It can manifest itself as the same soldier fighting back from near-mortal wounds.  Or it can take the form of a woman who walks away from a comfortable life behind a desk to follow her heart to a small rock in the ocean.

That’s all i’ve got for now.  i’m off to de-skunk my SCUBA gear.  It’s been stowed in my closet for almost a year.  i’m pretty sure i don’t want to let it get that lonely again…

i’ve been short on time to read blogs – will try to catch up over the next few days. Between naps, of course…

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* What is the meaning of the title of this post?  That is left as an exercise for the reader…

No Passing

My business trip to Lyon, France in 2003 was at the height of the politically driven “Freedom Fries” shit-storm. This led to my first attempt to pass for a Canadian abroad. i stopped just short of sewing a maple leaf on my backpack.

i was embarrassed that many of my country-mates – led by members of the U.S. Congress – thought that we could punish those poor, misguided French people by changing the name of a food item they don’t actually claim.  A food item which is the greatest contributor to our collective obesity.

As we navigated the tourist gauntlets of Istanbul earlier this month, we got pretty tired of the touts – men trying to fill seats in cafes or sell us all manner of goods. Practiced in the art of commerce, they’d try to strike up conversation in English as we rushed past.

“We have the best rugs in Turkey! We ship to the United States!”

“Are you from Texas? I’m from Texas, too!”

i went back to a half-hearted attempt to pass for Canadian. Not for any political reasons, just to amuse myself…

“We’re from Ontario! Oot and aboot on holiday!”

When an overly aggressive restaurateur tackled Studley, he joined in the fun, making an attempt to pass for German.

Tout [with menu]: “You American? You won’t find a better meal! Here…”

Studley: Nein…

Tout [in fluent German]: Sumptink sumptink der sumptink sumptink!

We don’t speak German, but it sounded pretty good…

Having been schooled by a linguistically skilled restaurant promoter, we’d given it up by the time we got to Ürgüp for our adventures in Cappadocia. Rather than rent a car and drive off the side of a mountain, or join an organized tour and risk actually LEARNING something, we opted to hire a driver for our time there.  Başar spoke very good English, and with The Girl’s Turkish skills, we were good to go.

The first morning, Başar took us to a nearby mosque. The Girl wanted to buy water and went across the street to small store. Studley and i wandered in the shaded courtyard, waiting for her to return.

We watched a crowd gather around her – if you can call three older gentlemen a crowd. When she returned with the water, she was laughing.

The Girl: I asked for water, and the guy at the shop was surprised that I was speaking in Turkish. The other guys gathered around wondering where I was from, and how I learned it. The older guy offered me a cracker as I was leaving – I tried to refuse it, but he was very insistent!

daisyfae: Seems you made quite an impression! You could have been a unicorn!

The Girl: And THIS is why you guys should stop trying to pass yourselves off as travelers from other countries. I always let people know where I’m from – without apology.  You’re polite travelers, and you make an attempt to speak the language! It’s a perfect chance to let people in other countries know that not all Americans are assholes!

ambassador

A word from a broad…

One word? Magic.

Delightful company*, delicious adventures, and decadent relaxation.

Declared a ‘down day’ while staying with The Girl in Izmir, Turkey. This, after four days in Istanbul, three in Capadoccia, and a weekend by the sea in Bodrum.

Several epiphanies – large and small. Mostly enjoying spending time with the woman i birthed almost 27 years ago. Trying to figure out how i can be just like her when i grow up.

Not my photo...

* Studley has accompanied me on this trip, as The Boy is working. We have become “Turkish Toddlers, 2.0”, since The Girl has had to keep us from bickering, make sure we have enough beer, and keep us from walking out into traffic.

Please Stand By

Please Stand By

Having successfully completed the “Shit My Daughter Needs” scavenger hunt, and the subsequent game of “Suitcase Tetris”, i’ve reached the phase of travel preparation where i touch my passport a thousand times, and make sure i’ve got a credit card.

Summer roadtrip, part deux.

Once again reminded that i am a very lucky woman… A woman who continues to wonder how she got here…  Best not to waste too much time on that, however, because i’m circling the drain at an ever-increasing speed.

It’s only for now…