Wild Ride Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Though Americans may share the same language as the British, we differ in many ways especially when it comes to cars/driving. In the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side. The driver sits on the right, yet drives on the left side of road.

In England, I fear going anywhere near traffic even as a passenger. On recent trip there, my son sat on the right side to drive on the “wrong” side, the left. I rode shotgun- a hair raising experience – I kept thinking we would crash in a head on collision.

As we wound through villages on pencil thin roads through a maze of round-abouts, I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s wild ride in Disneyland.

In England, I start stimming every time I get into a vehicle. Granted my anxiety may be greater because I am directionally challenged. I am one of the 20% percent of the population that has trouble orientating themselves in space and distinguishing right and left.

Left-right discrimination involves higher neurological functions integrating sensory and visual information, language function and memory. This problem, more common among the left-handed, women and people with a high IQ, offers no consolation.

I blame my older brother for my directional disability. Born with a map in his brain, he hogged our family’s spatial orientation gene.

The only thing scarier than driving in England is walking in England. As a pedestrian, I am afraid to cross the street; I can’t figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic. Like a deer in headlights, I freeze on the corner too terrified to set foot off the curb.

The roadways through villages are so narrow that even while walking on the sidewalks, I hug the brick facades fearful of being sideswiped by those wrong way drivers.

Driving on the wrong side will never be on my bucket list, but if you do dare to drive in the UK here are few tips.

  1. Hang a ‘think left’ poster on your dashboard. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road. Take care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts.
  2. Beware that unlike the rest of the continent, which gives priority to the right, there’s no priority to the right or left on UK roads.
  3. An octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road.
  4. At all crossroads and junctions, ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. But in England’s typical rain and fog, I doubt you will ever see that.
  5. Traffic flows clockwise round round­abouts and not anti-clockwise as in countries where traffic drives on the right.
  6. UK drivers set a lively pace, which is often way above the prevailing speed limit.

Lastly, if you do drive in England, be sure to slow down and wave when you see me still standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street.

Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Beware of Bear in WyomingWhen you hit the trails in Grand Teton Park you will be reminded over and over again “Be Bear Aware”. Even the out houses, which by the way are very tidy considering they are used by millions of tourists, post warnings. When you perch for a pee, a sign on the back of the outhouse door offers wise advice.

“Do not feed the bears. Do not leave food around. If you see a bear, do not run. Carry bear spray.”

Before beginning our exploration, we stopped at the ranger station and bought an over priced 50-buck can of bear spray. I thought it was an -over-the-top-precaution tourist trap until we ran into Yogi. In true Wild West form, Gerald carried the repellent on his hip like a gun, ready to spray an attacking beast for protection.

At the Jenny Lake Trail, we started our hike and as usual I lagged a bit behind Gerald, the billy goat out front. I heard a rustling noise of what I thought was a small animal like a raccoon in the brush behind me. I turned around to see a big brown animal.

“Uh oh. A bear.”

My natural instinct was to run, which they warn you never to do. While back peddling in slow mo, the fearless Frenchman turned and charged toward the beast, dropped to his knee and began shooting. No, not bullets, or bear spray, but pictures. I held my breath in awe as Mr. Bear lumbered across the footpath 30 feet away.

For the rest of the hike, I tripped over boulders and stumps never paying attention to where I was stepping, because I was so Beware of Bear in Wyomingbusy scouting right and left in the berry patches and forests. I expected a grizzly to lumber out of woods any minute.

Further along our hike toward the water falls, we heard what sounded like campers singing, “Hi ho, hi ho its off to work we go” coming from the opposite direction

Around the next bend we crossed a family with 6 kids in matching T-shirts and marched by single file singing at the top of their lungs. “Keep your eyes peeled,” the mom said jiggled bells. “We crossed a grizzly on the path back there.”

“Whaaat???” said the Japanese couple behind us. Pointing to Gerald’s six-shooter on the hip, they asked, “Can we hike with you?”

We made it the falls without incident and headed across the river to the other side of trail along Jenny Lake where we met up with a French tourist. He warned, “On a juste passé un grizzly.”

They had been way laid by a grizzly that refused to budge from the trail where we were headed. To my relief and my husband’s disappointment we never faced off with Mr. Grizzly.

Later, when we met Canadians from Winnipeg, we warned them about bears and they scoffed, “It’s no big deal. At home Bears live in our backyard.”

I guess it is all what you get used to.Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Seriously though do take precaution and play it smart if not yourself then for the wildlife. Bear in mind these sad statistics : fourteen bears are killed every year due to foolish tourists, so if you hike the Grand Tetons be bear aware as much for their safety as yours.

Grand Teton National Park One of America’s Jewels

If you listen to the pundits, a lot of US citizens are understandably upset with the political climate and frustrated by present lack of leadership. There is a lot to criticize about my birth land right now, and it makes me sad for my people, but there is one thing that America got right. The National Park system is something to boast about.

With clean facilities, well marked trails, interesting museums and well-trained, friendly rangers, any trip to a national park is well worth your time. Our visit to the Grand Tetons was no exception.

America’s National Parks fill with visitors not only from every state, but from around the world. We met one French couple that came back every vacation to hike in the Grand Teton.

My words fall short when it comes to describing the majesty of America’s national parks, so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Hiking Jura Mountains – Paradise Outside My Window

Paradise lies outside my window and yet when you see beauty everyday you take it for granted especially when caught up in the frenzy of working and raising a family. Retirement allows one to slow down and appreciate the view. Limited by bad feet, bad knees, and a bad back I minimized movement when teaching, so that I could make it through the day. I stopped doing things that I loved because it hurt too much and I needed to save energy. Now if I need to rest half a day to recover, that still leaves me a half a day to play. So I set a new goal – conquering the Jura Mountains outside my window.

The sub alpine mountains, which follow the French Swiss border, separate the Rhone and Rhine river basins. The name Jura with its dense forestation was derived from the Celtic term for forest. Within a 20-minute drive, we can be up in the Jura where hiking, biking, snow shoeing and skiing trails crisscross the centuries old mountain range that lent their name to the Jurassic Period of geology.

Like a race-car driver, Gerald maneuvers our car around hairpin curves of route de Nyon, a favorite of motorcyclist that leads to St. Cergue, a small mountain village. On the outskirts of town, we park alongside the route de France next to hilly pastureland. Cows graze while giant bells around their neck jangle with their languid movements. Though the placid scene looked inviting, a sign warned beware of cows with calves. Perhaps, it was an omen when our ill-fated hike started with a detour around the cows.

A few hundred feet away from the livestock, we climbed the stone fence and cut across the lumpy terrain toward the forests. The evergreen tree lines and boulder filled fields remind me of the hilly parts of America’s Wisconsin dairy land. The difference lies in the dimension. Once you leave the pasture, sheer mountaintops open to sumptuous views of the valley. Wild flowers dot the fields; sycamore trees turn hues of red, yellow and orange in the distance.

I struggle to keep up with Gerald who sets such a fast pace I never have time to savor the majestic sights overlooking the Geneva basin.

The higher you go, the more rugged the terrain. The dirt cow path gives way to needle covered trails that intersect oak groves, beech and pine trees. Some stretches of trail go straight up. Fortunately rocks, chipped pieces of the eroded mountains, offer footholds at regular intervals.

Above the tree line at 5,300 feet, hardy Alpine grasses grow in the chalky soil. The Jura’s highest peaks lie in the south near us in the Geneva area. A yellow pedestrian sign points toward the Dole at 5,500 feet altitude, but after an hour of steady climbing my legs feel rubbery and my lungs burn. Instead we opt to turn to head back down, but which path takes us back?

Too many signs point too many directions towards too many paths. Though I trust my fearless Frenchman, who has an uncanny sense of direction, we hike for hours with no civilization in sight. I fear his “short cut” will turn this 2-mile walk into another one of his famous all day treks. (I am not exaggerating family members can attest this.)

At long last, we spot a chalet where we ask for directions and realize we missed a turn and ended up at the lower end of the village. Our car is 2 km away uphill. By that point, my knees twinge each step I take.

I hobble along ready to hitchhike home while Gerald jogs ahead back alongside to interstate to pick up the car.

Unable to move my limbs for the rest of the day, I treasure the luxury of retirement. I laze about with ice packs on my knees enjoying a good read while feeling chuffed. My Fitbit recorded a personal best 18,352 steps (7 miles). Every single cell of my body screams with inflammation from over exertion, but sometimes the pain is worth the gain. It is not everyday that you conquer a mountain.

Nostalgia for Teaching and Things Kids Say

Nostalgia for Teaching After retiring two years ago, the thing I miss most about teaching is the kids especially in September when it’s back to school time. Even on my worst days, students would say or do something to make me smile.

Once my adult daughter came to help me at basketball practice and when I introduced her to my young athletes one of them exclaimed, “Wow, you look just like your sister!”

Another time years before the age of retirement, my sixth grade student ran from the primary building to the gym. She loved PE.

“You look just like my grandma!” she blurted out with a huge smile of enthusiasm

Taken aback for I never considered myself the age of a grandma, I foolishly asked,

“Really? How old is your grandma?”

“Seventy-five like you. Tall and fit. And she still plays basketball every week.”

Go, granny go.

I burst out laughing. Should I be insulted that she saw me as old enough to be a granny or proud to know she considers me fit enough to still play my favorite game?

Another day a graduating student told me she remembers having me in first grade PE. Ah yes, in my early days at our school I had to teach every grade between year one and twelve.

I taught long enough to be one of the elders. When students I had in class returned to our campus to for student teacher training, I felt proud. This year one of my best student/athletes returned to school to teach and now coaches with me.

Nostalgia for Teaching Students also offer some of the sweetest gifts of appreciation.

One of my favorites was handmade – sort of. A boy gave me a plastic Scandinavian Airline travel pouch used by under age children when traveling unaccompagnied. In permanent black marker he wrote on the front of it – Old Timer Comin’ Through. Now every time I fly I carry my passport, glasses and blindfold in that bag on a lanyard around my neck. As I wait in the endless security check lines, I think of my former student – now at Cambridge – and chuckle.

Chalkboards are obsolete now replaced by white boards, electronic tablets and laptop computers. Over the years the means of communication changed immensely.

This one was one of the funniest notes from a student that I worked with in the learning support department, which became a safe haven for so many including me.

The way we connect may change, but the message remains the same. Teachers do make a difference. Every. Day.

Friend’s Second Act As Inspirational Yoga Master

I met my childhood BFF as a 10 year old when our dads, both coaches at Sterling High School, brought us together as honorary junior members of the school’s gymnastic club. So I was the only one not surprised when for her second act 45 years later, that friend became a yoga master.

In grade school, I envied Peggy because she could do splits while I struggled to bend and touch my toes. I fell on my head one too many times doing back flips. Eventually I switched to basketball, a sport more geared for my long-limb, lanky body type, while Peg went onto become a cheerleader for superstars like her boyfriend, the quarterback, whom she later married.

When she retired after teaching business for 35 years, Peg reinvented herself returning to a childhood love, a sort of gymnastics for adults, becoming a yoga master.

« I practiced yoga for 3 years and loved it and also enjoyed teaching, » she said,

« So soon as I retired, I combined my two passions and headed to California to train with the master. »

Now Bikram certified, she can go anywhere in the world and teach or practice in any Bikram studio.

Bikram Choudhry born in 1944 began practicing yoga at age four, founded Bikram College of Yoga in India from traditional hatha yoga techniques. Practicing the 26 Asanas (postures) helps maintain balance, flexibility and strength and also aids internal organs function. This hot yoga takes place in a room of 35–42 °C (95–108 °F) with a humidity of 40%.

Bikram’s grueling training program included 2 ninety minute yoga workout sessions, along with posture clinics, terminology and dialogue, instruction to correct the poses, as well as anatomy classes and learning about Indian culture. The intense training included sleep deprivation and shouting. Yet despite the rigors, the program attracts devotees from around the globe.

« When I took the 9-week training course, my roommate was from Austria, » Peg told me. « Of the four hundred students attending, 280 were from other parts of the world especially New Zealand and Australia. »

«Peg, I tried yoga, but I am so bad at it. I don’t have a flexible cell in my body, »

« Oh Patty, » she scolded, « Anyone can practice yoga. Go at your own speed. Never compare yourself to others. Leave your ego at the door. Most accidents in sport are ego driven. »

« Age doesn’t matter either, » she explained. « At school, the youngest student was 19; the oldest was in her sixties. Trainees were all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities and about 60% women and 40% men. »

Now in her early sixties, Peggy leads an adventuresome life traveling cross country in their 5 wheeler from home base in the Chicago suburbs and spending 3 months in Naples, Florida where she teaches on a as needed basis. She has practiced her art in Singapore, Toronto and across the US.

During our lunch at a pizza place, I asked her to show me a position. She hopped up from the booth, squatted next to the table and balanced tiptoe on one leg, crossed her other leg at the knee and then bent to a crouch folding her hands in prayer position.

When I applauded, she laughed and said, « Oh Patty, that is nothing. Bikram does this pose and then hops around on one foot. »

In theory, practicing the 26 postures restores health and keeps one in balance. It must work because my dear old childhood friend looks half her age and doesn’t take any medication.

In Geneva years ago, I learned a beginner form of vinyasa yoga from my friend Rachael, a dance specialist, before she moved to Australia.

Recently, my daughter had me try on-line yoga instructions with Adriene.

Even though I am no closer to doing the splits than I was 50 years ago, Peggy inspired me to stick with a short daily workout.

Plus I added a new goal to my bucket list – Attend a hot yoga class led by my inspirational Bikram master buddy.