Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ever-Evolving Bucket List

Bucket Lists
I have always had a keen sense of the brevity of life. I never think of that as morbid, rather, I have been simply, yet acutely aware that our human lives on Earth are precious and short compared to the vastness of our cosmic surroundings. I fully believe God prefers us to live our lives to the fullest rather than to hold back. I feel my own life has alternated between periods of holding back / being conservative and times of going for it, as I am sure many of us feel. In the past twenty years or so, I have mostly tried to pay attention to what fulfills me and what I would like to do with my life - rather than trying to please others to the point that my own objectives are thwarted or my soul squelched. Sure, I am still a people-pleaser in some respects and I desire "approval" from some (we all want to be liked etc.), but I am much more self-reliant and confident in my middle age. Yes, I actually think forties would count as middle aged and THAT, friends, is a wake up call if I ever heard one. Another wake up call is in my inherent belief that life is worth living, fun, full of adventures to be had, and life is not written in stone.
Found in the Marigny neighborhood, New Orleans.
An example of the idea that we all want to
make a lasting impression.

So the bucket list? I was recently talking with someone about wanting to ride horses again and that I had always wanted to go hang-gliding......that I sort of wanted to try skydiving and that I definitely wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. They remarked "where did you get such a spirit of recklessness?" In my opinion, these were all things that were risky, yet people do them every day and they're not as unusual as true daredevils or perhaps as risky as skyscraper window-washers...simply by the fact that these things would probably be done once or twice and not all the time.

Then, I began wondering what it was that gives some of us these wild tendencies and desires to push the edges of our own comfort zones. Amazing how each individual has a world of comforts and ideas so different from his neighbor! Some people have a more physical need for adventure. Naturally, this took me to thoughts of my own ever-evolving bucket list. Then, I realized that the adventures I named were on my bucket list - along with several other things!

My list has changed over the years
and my ideas of what would be fun to do or lasting or important or life-changing have also changed over time. I've done many things that were formerly on my bucket list and I feel lucky to have had the opportunities that allowed me to accomplish certain goals, the strength to complete certain challenges, and the humor and grace to see when NOT to pursue some things! LUCKY LUCKY LUCKY!!!

In kindergarten, my list of things I wanted to be when I grew up numbered 25. I wanted to do everything! A few of the things I had always wanted to do from my childhood included:

- be a racehorse jockey
- be a singer (solo, as in opera)
- be a mother
- be a scientist
- a gardener

I ended up riding horses and did some shows when I was young. Then, in my teens in trained horses for a short while. I never had the body that was necessary to become a jockey and my life didn't follow that path, but it still included horses so all is well :-)

I did not ever become a shining example of solo singing, but I have done some solos and I do try out from time to time. I do lots of choral singing so I feel very fulfilled by that and by singing under genuinely FANTASTIC directors - all is well :-)

I didn't become a mother and went through a period where it was difficult for me to even hold a baby. I'd tear up and then feel mopey for a day or so. Then, it occurred to me that if I truly wanted a child, I could indeed adopt and have that part of my life. The idea made me analyze what I truly wanted. It also occurred to me that I truly didn't want to have a child without a husband and life partner and when I found someone like that - I wanted to spend time with them first before having a child. The desire began to subside when I realized I had the option to adopt and I didn't do it. It also began to be clear that in spite of the fact that most married folks socialize with other married folks, in the big picture of life, there will always be a place for the single. All is well :-)

I am so NOT a scientist, though I began as a biology pre-med major. I have managed to become a #spacetweep and allow my inner geeky side to emerge in the past few years.
I enjoy reading and learning about science, but not having the pressure to retain it all or teach it fulltime. I am lucky to be a JPL Solar System Ambassador and that was a dream come true! It allows me to share my enthusiasm for space and science with others and to meet so many people that are actually involved in areas and projects that I admire!

Gardening....well, let's just say that at least I like plants ;-)
Purple cone flower, pic taken in Chiusa, Italy 2013

Other items
- be a conductor - YES! I did it! I continue to strive for being better at it!
- be respected for what I do  - So far, I feel pretty good about this, continuing to strive to be better and do a good job with my jobs!

What is on my bucket list NOW?
- Travel (I'd love to see Machu Picchu, Soviet Georgia, spend more time in Northern Scotland, see Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, etc.). I have been SOOOOO LUCKY throughout my life to be able to travel, save up for more travel, and travel on paid trips to sing or to teach! Advice to young people about travel - JOIN A CHOIR.

- Write a couple of books (small or large, fiction or nonfiction....they are IN ME and it doesn't matter how or what, they will one day come out). My Mom's a writer (novels and prolific amounts of poetry) and my brother has written poetry. I enjoy blogging, but one day will bust out a book. Heck, I also like those silly tiny books one finds at check out counters in Barnes & Noble stores. Maybe I'll have some terrific inspiration one day for those!

- Learn more languages (Oh, let's see: Portuguese, Bulgarian, Italian). I may be too lazy. I'd like to learn many languages by osmosis. That would be sweet!

- Fly a plane - My father was a WWII pilot and I have always wanted to fly. In high school, I was too afraid my motion sickness would prevent me from doing this, but later I learned that it would not. The only factor that continues to prohibit me from taking pilot lessons is COST. At some point, I WILL DO IT!

- Own land - I recently decided....WHY NOT? I have plans in January to look into buying some land (empty lot for future probably)

- Work in the church - I already do this and I LOVE what I do. There is another calling, however and I'm not sure if it's to the deaconate or perhaps to be certified as a chaplain for places such as a university chapel or hospital. The desire has always been there. I've recently begin to get spiritual advising from a wonderful person and I have written my spiritual autobiography which I'll share as a post later on. I'm not quite ready to share it just yet. I used to talk with Fr. Keith Burns, chaplain at Porter-Gaud School when I was in HS there and my numerous ponderings have come and gone over the years. In the past three years, they've come and not left me so......time will tell if it is something I want to pursue futher.

- Skydiving or hang-gliding - these are so exciting! I hope to do one of them at some point in time. Maybe parasailing would be safer and yet still be thrilling! Perhaps it will be enough to fly a plane.....:-)

- Make a positive difference in someone's life - I think I've done this, I think MANY have, but it is something we continuously strive to do throughout our lives. I think it's important and hope to be able to accomplish it.


What is on YOUR Bucket List?
Lovely sunflower, pic taken at Venice train station, July 2013. All hail to Leonardo of Pisa (known as Fibonacci)!

Life is Short - Shut Up and Smell the Roses!

Life is short, people! I am struck by this time and again as I see people ignoring beauty that surrounds them or forgetting to look up at the stars at night. I am crazy busy at certain times of the year and every day during the school year may be packed. I revel in being busy and I LOVE all the different things that I do! In contrast, periodically, I occasionally waste away a whole day doing absolutely nothing at home, inside. I love sleep, sometimes a little too much :-)

REGARDLESS of all of the above, I do take regular time to "stop and smell the roses". It's usually not announced like my concerts or travels are, but I do it and SO SHOULD YOU!

Newsflash: Life is short
Common Complaint: I don't have time
Another Newsflash: YES YOU DO
Order: Shut up and smell the roses!

LIVE your life for YOU
Get rid of naysayers, negative people, mean people, and criticizers - they come in all shapes and areas of life. The good news is that if you leave them to their own devices, they usually leave on their own.

GO OUTSIDE. Sit in that patch of green grass with clover. Have yourself a picnic! Take a walk or bike ride, drink your coffee in the park, park your car near the park.

LOOK UP at the stars. If you're in the city and there are too many lights, make a point to drive out to a place where you can see the stars. It will change your perspective. It will change you.

SPEND time with kids and pets, the elderly, and nature.

LAUGH and let it loose - don't let others make you feel wrong or stupid for doing it. Ignore them! They might shake their heads, roll their eyes, and even make snide comments. Let them. You go on and LAUGH :-)

Pick flowers occasionally or buy yourself some. It's so nice and you deserve it!

THINK. Take time out to sit and think. Think of people, places, stories. Sometimes you'll laugh and sometimes you'll cry, but it will be good for you.

GIVE people opportunities. In the end it is worth it. Sometimes people don't realize they've had a good opportunity until it's gone. Give everyone a chance. Give them two chances.

GIVE yourself permission. Give yourself fearlessness.

SMILE. Smiling can happen on the inside or the outside. Many of my smiles are inside :-)

ASK  Ask the question. Ask for something you want or need. Sometimes, if you don't ask, you'll never know

TELL someone you like them or love them. Go on, do it. It doesn't have to be hard to do and it doesn't have to be in the romantic sense. Sometimes, it's something someone needs to hear and sometimes it's something you need to do. We forget, busy humans that we are, to interact with each other on this level and sometimes we wake up and realize it's too late. We wonder if they knew we cared about them or liked something about them.

VISIT someone you always said you'd visit! Make it happen and if it can't be a physical visit, there's always Skype

Write your books, paint your pictures, sing your songs, dance your dances, climb that mountain, build the treehouse, learn a new language, wear what you want, eat healthy but splurge sometimes, go to that movie, buy the roller skates, ride the hot-air balloon, travel, save, spend, re-read your favorite book, connect through social media, paint your toenails, go swimming, step in the puddle, throw rocks at the lake, learn to cook...

CREATE, support, learn, encourage, partner.

RISK making a fool of yourself, risk standing up for what you believe even when it's hard

LOVE Give love, be love, love your life, love yourself. Have brotherly love, have romantic love. Treasure love, remember love, fight for love, cherish love. It's always worth it.

VOLUNTEER! Donate to a charity. It will be worth your while and make a life better

LEARN  Learn how to use some technology, learn to be nice to yourself, learn to be open, learn to dance.

BE  Be you. Be willing. Be adventuresome. Be fearless. Simply, BE.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Staying On Track - Life 10-11 Weeks After VSG

Update for 10-11 Weeks Out from Surgery
It only took me four weeks of being in Innsbruck, but yesterday I happened upon a store here that is similar to GNC stores back home! I was overjoyed to see it even though they didn't have all the same products. I brought my own supplements to Innsbruck: a multi-vitamin (gummies), fiber (gummies), B-12 zipmelts, Biotin, Thiamine (B1), and Calcium/D melts. (Hmm, can you tell I like gummy vitamins? HAHA!)  By the way, B-12 zipmelts are AWESOME and I highly recommend them. Any weight loss program, but especially weight loss surgery, risks B deficiency and this is an easy way to keep your vital energy levels up.
Still, I have not been getting all my protein in every day so I have been keeping a lazy eye out for protein shakes and haven't found any until I saw this store yesterday. Our free cafeteria lunches often have breading around whatever meat they prepare and while it is tasty, I cannot eat very much of it at one time so finding protein without breading is a goal of mine. Also, I love salads, BUT the majority of them have been pre-packaged, often with peppers which I cannot handle at all, and/or they are not included in our complimentary lunches. So, I have had to avoid them thus far. I am able to select fresh cucumbers and shredded carrots -  if not already vinegared and salted up. It seems to alternate every other day...

I suppose my preferences could be considered a bit unusual in that I like raw, uncooked, un-messed-around-with vegetables and fruits. In MY opinion, it is unusual to want to doctor up foods to the point that they either become mushy, tart, overly salty, or pepper-infused. Blech!
Anyway, this store had protein shakes and I bought some and was extremely disappointed. They taste HORRIBLE to me and are too thick. Upon opening the bottle, it even had a skin to break through which made me question the freshness and sealant and worry about food poisoning. So, foiled again on that front, but I will keep trying for the protein while I am here another 13 days.
I did buy a scale, finally, to see how well I have been keeping on track with losing. Since being in Austria, I have continued to lose slowly and have lost about 9 lbs. This makes my total 51 lbs !!!!! I've been walking everywhere and I am positive that helps. At home, my exercise consists of walking in City Parks at least twice a week. Cooler weather seems to make me want to walk the French Quarter more and hotter weather only City Park in the mornings. I used to have a treadmill and it was one of my dreams to own one, but I had troubles with motion sickness on its moving belt - in spite of the fact it was a high end Nordic Track treadmill. I had to take Bonine every single time I used it and so it fell out of use for the most part. I used to ride my bike frequently, but stopped while in Milledgeville due to the lack of sidewalks and pathways for riding in combination with being heavy and feeling awkward about it. I do plan on getting a new bike in New Orleans this Fall, but feel like I will only ride it around the park or on levees b/c of the traffic and scary neighborhoods I have to traverse. Nevertheless, I'm excited about getting back into riding and I hope to continue my journey toward a better shape! Notice that I wrote SHAPE and not HEALTH. This is because I was already in good health before I elected to have VSG surgery to aid with weight loss! :-) I like to point that out every so often because a great assumption regarding those who are overweight is that they may be very unhealthy. It is not always true!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bell, Bells, Beautiful Bells! - The Grassmayr Bell Foundry in Innsbruck

I woke up this morning to the glorious sound of church bells ringing all over Innsbruck! All of the Alt Stadt (Old Town) churches and the Dom St. Jakob (the cathedral) were ringing wildly, announcing morning mass. As I sat in the cool breeze, pondering whether or not I should actually venture to get up, I breathed in the sounds of the bells and wondered about their stories and about bell ringing in general.
Dom St. Jakob, Innsbruck July 2013
Here in Innsbruck lies the Grassmayr Bell Foundry where, since 1599, bells of all shapes and sizes have been cast and sold. In the beginning of my time here, I visited the foundry.
Moved by the unending desire to create a ‘Stradivarius among bells’ ….
(© Peter and Johannes GRASSMAYR)

Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck  July 2013

The largest bell in Austria is the New Pummerin at 44,380 lbs. It is the “third largest swinging bell in Europe after the 23,500 kg (51,810 lb) Peter in Cologne Cathedral and the 22,700 kg Maria Dolens in Rovereto, Italy” (Wiki). This Rovereto Campana della Pace is located on the top of a small mountain and tolls every evening 100 times for the fallen in all wars. I hiked up to his bell in 2010. In Austria, you hear bells at several times during each day, chiming the hour or announcing a mass or another event. Every Friday, bells ring at 3:00 p.m. to remember Christ's suffering and death on the cross.
Campana della Pace, the great Maria dolens bell of peace in Rovereto, Italy (2010)
The largest bell from the Grassmayr foundry weighs 10 tons. Every evening at 5:00 p.m. in Telfs/Mösern in North Tyrol, this Peace Bell Friedensglocke  sounds for peace in the Alps.
The oldest bell in Austria was cast in 1200 and is from St. Martin am Ybbsfeld. Three hundred years later, Bartime Grassmayr , a bronze worker, set about on his travels tin Tirol to practice his skills and ended up in the art of bell-making. As Bach's musical inscriptions began with Solo Dei Gloria, so did Bartime's journals of his travels. The Grassmayr family has since worked together for over 400 years to stabilize their family company throughout historical events.
Molten metal is poured. Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
Today, it is Peter and Johannes Grassmayr who continue the family's tradition locally. Their craftsmanship team consists of sculptors, casters, musicians, metalworkers, carpenters and electricians. In at least 100 countries, their bells can be heard and they still have a lively and international business going on today. In addition to taking commissions and casting new bells, they have developed materials that go along with manufacturing bells, ringing systems, and bell upkeep. The company is also widely known for historic bell restoration.
Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck
A craftsman works to carve the outside of a new bell, July 2013
The foundry takes special care to tune their bells and if they are more than 1/16 of a half step “off”, the bell must be cracked and they must start all over. How frustrating! Bells sit at least a month in a cast before being removed to test. The last steps include the decoration of the outside of the bell. Grassmayr bells have a unique ribbed design and are capable of producing many notes. The tones last a VERY long time as well. They continue to make all kinds of bells, including church bells (inside and out), bowl bells, cowbells, and long-sounding orchestral bells. The foundry keeps its exact process secret, although it includes mixing horse manure and clay and molasses! The specifications of a new bell’s shape, desired tone, and size are cut into an outline, then modeled in this clay mixture over a brick foundation.
Metal is poured into this device which holds the shape of the new bell as it is formed, keeping its curve
perfectly aligned. Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
Bells are each christened and blessed. I had heard of that for a ship’s bells, but not in general. They are “exorcised, washed with holy water, anointed with the holy oil of the sick (outside) and chrism (inside) and given a name.” -

Small bell yard at Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013
The Grassmayr foundry also has an adjoining Bell Museum, managed by Christof Grassmayr. He is a war veteran who endured a ten-year prohibition of bell-ringing of any kind. There is a fascinating article by John Werfring about this silent time and bell cemeteries.

The shop of the Grassmayr Bell Foundry, Innsbruck July 2013

More About Bells and Bell-ringing?
- Campanology
- Bell Casting / Bellfounding
- Change Ringing
- List of Heaviest Bells

Irritable Vowel Syndrome

I saw this on Twitter recently and it made me laugh! I'm laughing right now!

As a choral director, I've been diagnosed with
Irritable Vowel Syndrome.


But rings true for so many choral directors :-) We most certainly DO get irritated, opinionated, and insistent when we share pronunciation and articulations with our choirs.

I once made a t-shirt with the following on the front:


Society for the Advancement of Vowel Unification in Choral Singing!

When I get home, I'll add a photograph of it.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Stalking Voyager - Has Voyager Left the Solar System Yet?

Are we there yet?

That, my friend, is a marvelous question, but it would seem that we are not yet there.

WHEN will we be there? When will Voyager have escaped our solar system? What are they waiting on? Isn't it far enough away from our sun to qualify as "out"?

Indeed, a few of the criteria have been met already. See my previous Voyager blog post for some background info and read on for more info.

Heliosphere - our solar "bubble", the region of space our sun influences

Termination shock - the point in the heliosphere where the solar winds slow to the speed of sound because of interactions with the local interstellar medium causing compression, heat, and This is "shocking" because of the differences in speeds between slowing solar wind particles and other solar particles being regularly emitted.

Heliopause - the boundary where our sun's solar wind particles / energy ends and the interstellar medium increases. So far, I think this is a theoretical boundary, not yet witnessed, but assumed to be there. I wonder how it looks now that we know our solar system has a tail...

I'm not ashamed to admit I have been stalking Voyager data lately.

You can too! Below, there are exciting article links with recent info and links to new data being downloaded daily from Voyager.  I check the second data link (the one with charts!) almost every day. Why? Well, this is my FAVORITE SPACECRAFT and  IT'S GETTING VERY CLOSE to being declared interstellar and I believe that IT'S IMPORTANT FOR HUMANITY that we be keenly and proactively interested in interstellar exploration / travel / research. It could be ANY DAY NOW that the official declaration occurs and I for on plan on celebrating!


1. A steady drop in collisions with low-energy particles from our sun. CHECK
2. A steady rise in collisions with high-energy particles from beyond our system. CHECK
3. Change in magnetic field direction from our sun to interstellar field beyond. NOT YET

So there you have it.
We are all waiting on a magnetic field direction change. This is where the magnetic highway comes into play. It is like a path along which particles are socializing and walking in and out. In other words: it's a GREY AREA and not a brick wall type of boundary that makes up our "edge".

Where to look for new data?

1. Has several different types of data and link to each scientific organization and monitoring system

2. Here are the six-hour charts I love:
" The Cosmic Ray Subsystem team has made available 6-hour, 24-hour and 26-day data listings and yearly plots for 14 Hydrogen and Helium intensities and two counting rates. The following links will take you to interfaces which will allow you to select the data of choice. The entire Voyager data base consisting of approximately 165 rates and intensities is also available from our ARCHIVE."

No one knows exactly what our solar bubble / membrane looks like, but now we know that it is surrounded by an area with magnetic bubble pockets, an area now known as the magnetic highway and that our solar system actually has a "tail".

Here are links to recent interesting articles:

Our Solar System's Edge is "less edgy" -

Solar System's Edge -

Magnetic bubbles -

Magnetic highway -

Solar System Tail -

Solar System Has a Tail -


Planet Earth Says "Cheese"!

Did you #WaveAtSaturn on July 19th? I did from Austria and I said "Cheese!" 
Yes, I'm a space nerd...and proud of it :-)

Think of all that you know of the past, present, and future: people, places, things, memories, experiences, etc. Now look at this stunning image from the Cassini spacecraft near Saturn showing our Earth from 898 million miles away. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for about fifteen years. Taken last Friday, July 19th, with the sun behind Saturn, its rings beautifully backlit, it's the first time Humanity has been aware of its being photographed as a whole.....HOW COOL IS THAT?! It was all over the internet and people were trying to drum up support across the globe to wave at Cassini during the window of photograph time.

It is the first interplanetary photograph of Earth taken in natural COLOR as well! In a couple of months, the full mosaic of photographs taken of Earth from this vantage point will be ready to view. I have to add that it's very nice to see Earth as we see other planets....little dots of dim illumination. It actually makes it much easier for me to imagine that we might truly be looking out into space upon another Earth like our own. Why not?
This image was taken on July 19, 2013 and used the wide-angle camera on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. What a stunning view of Saturn's rings and Earth. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

There have been only two images of Earth from the outer solar system in all the time humankind has been exploring space! The first one, taken by Voyager in February 1990 from four billion miles away, showed Earth as a pale blue dot.

The other was taken by Cassini in 2006 from 926 million miles away. This one used infrared and ultraviolet sensors instead of natural color. Still, it is STUNNING and will always be! 
A marvelous panoramic view of Saturn and it's stunning rings
Photo credit: NASA/JPL

Talk about perspective! Just how do you feel about being so small and precious, living in a "Habitable Zone", balanced JUST IN THE RIGHT SPOT for life to thrive? I'm in agreement with a large number of people (many scientists as well), that the more I read about, see, learn of our place in the Universe and space in general, the more it points to a Divine influence and creator. Whether or not you feel this way, you must admit that these photographs show us in a particular framework of being vulnerable and tiny within the vast cosmos. Within my lifetime, we WILL become interstellar explorers (I've been stalking Voyager data lately, will post about that very soon!) SO EXCITING FOR HUMANITY!!!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chiusa / Klausen Italy!

Last weekend (July 12-14), I had the great fortune to spend some of my saved US dollars from last year. I really wanted to go on an adventure away from Innsbruck - where I'm teaching music for six weeks for the UNO Innsbruck program (FABULOUS program and SUPERB time here!)

I needed it to be cheap so it had to be relatively close to Innsbruck. I decided that I could do a small train trip and stay two nights in a hotel. The trip ended up being right around $100 Euro and where was it? CHIUSA
Chiusa, or Klausen (German name) is an extremely picturesque Medieval village of a little over 5,000 people.
W O W Z E R S !
I had googled the town three years ago when I taught for the Innsbruck program and wanted to visit small town Italy. I ended up visiting Bressanone (Brixen) & Bolzano (Bozen), Rovereto, and Padua (Padova) & Venice so this time, it fell naturally that I would go to Chiusa. I remembered that there was an abbey there I had wanted to see and as it turns out, it provided a fantastic hike above the village, stunning views, healthy turmoil, and peace.

So, a gorgeous train ride through the Brenner Pass (pictured from train ride left), an annoying stop in the filthy, trash-filled, urine-smelling Brenner station to buy a ticket using a machine with no one around to help, and a yummy marzipan-almond filled croissant later, I was stepping off a train to walk to the town center of Chiusa, about 5 minutes away.

Tucked away behind a tree-lined river, the beautiful village appeared all of a sudden and I was exclaiming out loud to myself "wow!"

Chiusa is in the heart of the Eisack Valley, a stopping place for travelers (Romans, Rhaetians, Bavarii, kings, knights, popes, nobles, artists, etc.) It was once the episcopatus or seat of the bishop before Bressanone became the see. The "Holy Mountain" where Sabiona (Saben) convent is was a Neolithic settlement, then a Roman base, a monastery, a bishop's seat, a bishop's fortress, a place of pilgrimage, and is now a working abbey since the 1600's (main buildings closed to the public) with several chapels (open to the public). It is still known as a city of artists.

The valley is also known for being the region of chestnuts and wine! In the autumn, chestnuts are eaten and wine enjoyed - freshly made from the plentiful vineyards. It is a time similar to Thanksgiving with its tradition and bounty. ISN'T THIS A GRAPE PICTURE!? heheheh :-)

The first day, I walked all around old town and marveled at the painted buildings, buildings built into the city wall, the gigantic flowers and gardens, and relaxed by the river. I explored every inch of town including St. Nicolas church, the Apostelkirsche, and the city park. I sat in the main square a while as well and chatted with some locals in a new language I like to call: Englitalgermish. Funny, I didn't study Italian, but I can understand way more than I ever imagined and I can read some as well. I suppose you can as's not THAT unfamiliar. As for German, I vaguely recall taking a summer reading course, the exam of which was to translate a paragraph using our German / English dictionary. That may lend insight into how much I ultimately learned...

Anyhoo, I ended up having a BEAUTIMOUS (yes, of course it's a word) thin pizza margarita and actually a coke.

I ate the toppings off a slice and sipped the cola.

Then, I continued to nibble and sip for a long, loooooooooooooooooong time, in the excellent Italian tradition of you're-not-going-anywhere-so-we're-not-bringing-your-check-until-two-hours-have-passed.

It was so relaxing I almost fell asleep at the table.........sort of like this kitteh who lives at my hotel. The following night, at dinner, she promptly plopped herself down by my side and went to sleep while I ate my dinner, LOL! We're both gingers so obviously fast friends. It just proves to me that everyone in Italy is very relaxed.

The following day, I set out to hike up to the Saben convent, a Benedictine nunnery on the very top of a mountain. It was appropriately hot and miserable and of course I had lost my sunglasses and did not have a hat, BUT I set out anyway.:-) Hiking by myself? Of course and why not!? I have learned over the years that I just cannot do group hikes. They kill me. I always feel awful and end up embarrassed because I have to stop and breathe. This has always been the case. I can even remember in grade school getting out of breath from running laps around the track. Horrible memories of PE class and trying to breathe. I do not exactly have asthma.....rather, I have a "reactive airway" (whatever). I have my own rules about hiking by myself though, especially in foreign counties. Hmmm, it would seem that that is the only place I have done real hiking....
My personal rules are:
- TELL someone you are hiking and where you're headed. In this case, it was a nice young man by the name of Simon at the Walther von Vogelweide gasthof in Chiusa.
- Have a map (...Duh...)
- Have more water than you'll need and some food for energy
- If it's a mountain hike, check the weather (another Duh). Storms can come over the mtn rapidly and lightning is a danger. I learned this from my Obergurgl glacier hike three years ago. I saw a cloud and said "gee, that looks like a rain cloud" and it was. We left and it looked like we had a ton of time to get off the mountain, but NOPE, we ended up having to run and the lightning was ahead of the edge of the storm. Scary times.
- Have good shoes on

I set out through old town and walked about a half mile before realizing I'd taken the incorrect tiny path. Fantastic start. Le sigh. Backtracking. Ok, NOW I'm hiking :-)

The pathway actually began behind someone's private house, obviously.

It began with steps. I hate steps. I REALLY hate them. I can go three floors and be out of breath and have to stop. I did it anyway. Soon it became an incline of gravel-y paths zig-zagging up the mountain. It wasn't so bad. There were gorgeous pieces of art, tiny chapels, benches, and panoramas to die for. I stopped at many opportunities and got into the rhythm of walking up a couple of zig-zags and stopping to ponder life, love, hiking, temperature, the nature of adventures, bucket lists, aging, God, discerning calls, music, glacial flouring, spiders and why they're so damned annoying and scare the crap out of me.

When the path got too steep, I shared an expletive with the friendly Tyrolean forest creatures and then watched myself put one foot in front of the other and continue. This was becoming a test....not just to SAY I'd been on a hike, but to prove to myself that about nine weeks after surgery, I was indeed getting my legs back. It was also to show myself what I am still capable of at my age and weight and out-of-shape self.
I went around to the other side of the top where there was a road to the convent and one to Feldthurns and I sat there, enjoying the very cool breeze from the other side of the mountain!

Then, I took off toward Feldthurns (Vipiteno). I knew I wasn't going all the way there, but it was a nice half mile of views and then I turned around to go sit on the cool breeze bench :-)

I reached the convent, splashed my face with the fountain's icy cold water and explored two churches that were open to the public. One, the Chiesa di Convento, was not very large and the main portion of the sanctuary was behind a wrought iron gate. The other, the Chiesa di Nostra Signora, was up a set of steps, made of stone and had the remains of the first Bishop of the area from something like 600 (I think, need to check). It also has gigantic wall and ceiling paintings! I spent lots of time in there and then ate my lunch (croissant filled with apricot jam) on some picnic tables outside in the shade. I finally finished exploring the convent and then began the trek downward. I noticed that I was having trouble stopping and taking pictures....pretty much the same pictures....
Down was very hard on my poor left knee, but I made it. I was so hot by the time I got to the hotel that I took a freezing cold shower and just stood there under the water thinking: How can I make this colder? I rested a while before taking an evening walk and some flower pictures, having dinner, and a glass of wine!
What a fabulous day! Chiusa is a superb village and I cannot recommend it enough. If you have the opportunity to visit, stay at the Gasthof Walther von der Vogelweide. The entire staff was extremely helpful, fun, and they work their tails off trying to make everyone's stay a great one! They have lots of space, a restaurant and a terrific garden. The owner even has palmetto trees and oleander in her garden! LOTS of care goes into making sure those plants live well in an Alpine setting! If you'd like to see more pictures, here is a link to my Facebook album Chiusa -    :-)


Innsbruck, Austria - a gorgeous city surrounded by snow-capped Alps, the capital of the state of Tyrol, a superb cultural center! The Inn river flowing throughout the center of the city provides the most awesome breezes and scenes in addition to relaxing settings. I LOVE IT!

Innsbruck was inhabited by the time of the early Stone Age and populated continuously since pre-Roman times. It's on the earliest and easiest route through the Alps which today is known as the Brenner Pass. It's pretty safe to assume that the Brenner Pass is one of the most breathtaking scenic train rides on our planet! In fact, I'd venture to say that it's pretty dang hard to take a bad picture here. You'd have to really work at it! :-)

Emperor Maximilian the 1st lived in Innsbruck in the end of the1400's. I'm not a history buff, AT ALL, but I like that because he surrounded himself with scholars and artists and therefore the city has become a lasting cultural center filled with art, architecture, and musical tradition! There is an Alten musick (early music) series, a Promenadenkonzerte (main palace square and promenade concert) series, a Tanzsommer festival, an organ master concert series, several festivals (including a New Orleans Festival that begins tonight!) and so much more! Schloss Ambras (castle Ambras) was built by Ferdinand II the archduke of Austria and that is where the early music series is held.

To the right is the beautiful and somewhat curious Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof). Built in 1500 by Maximilian I, it's decorated with 2657 fire-gilded copper-plated tiles. Now, it's a landmark where people get married!

Aside from the historical notes, a cool thing about Innsbruck is the lovely Inn river itself! The color is unusual and I have not seen any rivers or lakes this color except for here (see below).

What I've learned is that the color is due to glacial flouring (or rock flouring). That is when fine, fiiiiiiiiiiine particles of rocks are coming from glacial erosion and the grinding of bedrock. These particulates get into the water and end up being suspended, unable to settle into sedimentary layers right away. Sometimes, the water appears cloudy (glacial milk) and sometimes it's very clear, but turquoise, blue-green, or light green! ROCKS ARE COOL!  Another interesting tidbit our tour guide mentioned (few weeks ago) is that there are different flowers on either bank of the Inn river due to the northern and southern Alps differing in material. To the north, they are composed of limestone and to the south, they are mostly granite based.

Here is a link to my Facebook album of Innsbruck pictures - so far!

I am teaching for the UNO - University of New Orleans Innsbruck Program, a stellar program in its 39th year with tons of class offerings, students from several universities, and a reputation for excellence! We partner with UGA in the program and faculty are from both UNO, UGA, and can be from other universities as well! It is one of our several fantastic opportunities for students and faculty to explore the world!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

VSG Experimental Eating and Eating While Abroad

Hello Everybody! :-)
I am writing from Innsbruck, Austria where I've just had a nice weekend after having finished teaching one week in the University of New Orleans Innsbruck program! I'll be here another five weeks!
I will write more about Innsbruck soon and add lots of pictures, but I wanted to give an update concerning my living with VSG while abroad! I must say here that I've been on solid foods now for a little over three weeks. I consider myself one of the VERY LUCKY VSGers because I really have not had any huge problems with any foods! I have also NOT thrown up anything!

The foods that have been the hardest include:
- Chicken (nuggets were fine...I assume because they're processed and softer?)
- Salad with sunflower seeds and chicken and broccoli. That's a lot of hard stuff to digest.

What?! Only two items?
Yep. That's about far!

I'm feeling pretty awesome about that because having read that some people could not ever have rice, pasta, or beef again or that it was a hard experience for them made me a little worried. I admit, I have been somewhat conservative about amounts that I am eating and also I chew it until I can chew no more. I'm sure that helps some.


Ok, I admit this too.....while driving 10 hours to Columbia, SC one week and while driving 12 to Charleston the next week, I decided that I wanted to experiment with some foods just to see what would happen and what they would taste like.......

So, my first week on solid foods, I tried the following:

- a BK burger with bacon, no bun
- a soft serve ice cream cone
- bread with butter
- orange juice
- spinach
- baked fish with rice and broccoli
- grilled chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A

Conclusions: The burger was AWFUL. I could only eat half of it anyway. I'd found the amounts of protein online. The initial taste of the bacony burger goodness was all but destroyed by my having to chew it so dang much. I had a wonderful realization that I DIDN'T WANT IT anymore, woohoo! That was accompanied by the "what the hell do we put in our mouths?!" gasp. I tried one spoon full of rice, no issues. Same for everything else. I THINK the ice cream might have given me an upset stomach and I couldn't finish the cone anyway.

The following week, I tried:

- pizza from Andonlini's (*hey, no's the BEST)
- grits
- yoghurt with actual fruit pieces in it
- whoppers
- iced tea
- a Taco Bell taco

Now, I can hear some of you saying "OH, I get it, THIS is how she got fat in the first eating crap like this" and you would be WRONG-O (that's more than just wrong).
Think what you I said, these were experiments. I was going through a phase that included the following feelings, however jumbled up:

- YAY!  I can eat again! (+ I want everything)
- Oh gosh, will I ever be able to eat __________ again?
- Can I still have some things that are "bad" for me in moderation?

So, the pizza was AWESOME and I ate exactly half a slice, mostly toppings, before I was stuffed. Grits were fine and I ate about four spoonfuls. The whoppers were cool and I had five of them. Iced tea - I'm from the south so OF COURSE THAT WAS GOOD.
The taco was THE most wonderful thing I had tried so far. Why? Well, I pulled off a tiny bit of the shell and pulled out a couple of lettuce pieces, but other than that - I ATE THE WHOLE THING and that alone made me feel awesome. The rest was that it was super terrific to CRUNCH and the shell was good for that :-)


Ok, here is where some of us differ - not only in opinion, but in attitude. These drinks listed here are not always on VSGers' lists after surgery and for good reason: calories! Part of me just wanted to test it out to see what would happen because you read and hear so much about what people go through.

I have tried the following drinks and had NO PROBLEMS

- orange juice......If I drink too much of this, I burp the juice and that's when I know to STOP
- iced tea.....with and without sugar. I definitely like sugarfree better, as usual
- Coke on the transatlantic flight with lots of ice.....was ok, but I only took a few sips the size of which was the equivalent of sticking my tongue in (I was fearful it would go badly)
- apple juice......fine
- Wine
-Coke here in Innsbruck, no ice, just chilled. Absolutely fine


This has been way more difficult that I previously thought so I am extra glad that I brought some items with me such as protein bars, Crystal Lite mixes, tea, Equal, granola bars, and some mini cans of soup. Yes, it made my suitcase heavy, but I am on a rather severe budget here at the moment and the food is rather expensive.
The Innsbruck program gives us a marvelous lunch every day and after the first faculty lunch together, I asked for a container to bring home leftovers and the restaurant was happy to oblige. I have since used that container several times! The first cafeteria lunch was Wiener schnitzel made of chicken (and breaded) plus French fries. So, I took a few chicken bites, tearing off the breading and then had two fries (that makes me laugh!) Since then, I've been getting goulash or spaghetti sauce over a minute amount of noodles and avoiding the other foods. They have fruits and I always get the watermelon! I also get a bottle of water with each meal.

What's the problem? Well, I know I'm not getting all my protein in and I've been too tired to think about it. I've also been too sleepy and almost running late every morning so I've been forgetting my vitamins. Ok, let me pause and actually take them NOW at 8:47 p.m. because I'm guilty again...

Ok. Whew!

So, I have only bought two meals out and I've been here nine days. That will change, but so far the food has either been free or I've been just finishing my leftovers :-)

That's about it! I will do some Innsbruck and travel posts pretty soon. Good luck to everyone out there and for those of you who have emailed, please continue to ask me questions! I'm here if you need me :-)

***** UPDATE***** I completely forgot to mention that I did not bring my scale to Austria and the Nurse's office for the Innsbruck Program does not have a scale. They recommended that I buy one, but I'm too cheap.......and so I have no idea whether or not I'm still losing, if I'm maintaining....or the unthinkable!