iFly: Achieving Terminal Velocity

Our family looked forward with anticipation to our iFLY Indoor Skydiving date. There would be ten of us, a “party package.” The closest iFLY facility was iFLY Seattle, which really is in Tukwila, by Southcenter Mall.

We all arrived at the appointed time, one hour before flight time. We checked in individually at computer terminals. At that time we declared our fitness and our understanding of the health restrictions. For instance, the weight limit is 300 pounds, and people with histories of heart issues, back injuries or shoulder dislocations should not attempt this sport.

After check-in, we watched the previous group, a valuable experience. We gathered around the glass-encased flight chamber, a vertical wind tunnel. The tunnel has fans at the top to draw air through the flight chamber. The air is then pushed back down the sides through return air towers and repeatedly pushed through the flight chamber. The result is a smooth column of air that enables flight.

According to iFly’s website: “The invention of modern wind tunnels has given skydivers a consistent and practical way to develop and hone skills that usually require jumping from a plane. Additionally, the increase in availability of wind tunnels has created a whole new genre of sport: bodyflight. It is one of the most exciting and fastest growing sports in the world.”

We were all beginners, but the instructors at iFly can train people interested in bodyflight to pursue the sport and even go into competition.

As we watched, I realized it was nothing like I expected it to be. I had envisioned us all flying around a room. But it was clear that an instructor needs to be with you at all times, and he takes one only person at a time. Further, I expected to keep my body in a straight horizontal line, but as I watched, I saw that participants arched their body to form sort of a “V.” I could see why people with back problems might want to avoid this sport.

After watching the previous class, we were ushered into a classroom and briefed on what we should expect. Our instructor David went over hand signals, maneuvers, and explained the equipment we would use.

I was amazed with the amount of gear. We were instructed how to insert earplugs. Flight suits were furnished, equipped with “handles” for the instructor to grab. We wore our own closed-toe shoes. Goggles were adjusted to our faces, then helmets issued to protect our heads. I wondered how many people “bailed out” at this stage. We all hung in there, game for the adventure.

We sat just outside of the chamber, facing a new crowd that would follow our party. One at a time we went in with David. I was amazed at the strength of the wind. He instructed each one of us the “basics” ensuring that we understood the rudiments of the sport. Then, one at a time again, we had our second round of flight, this time more advanced and going aloft, the equivalent of 2 stories high. I found it exhilarating.

After everyone had gone through the process twice, we watched as David performed some impressive bodyflight maneuvers. We had a long way to go if we wanted to achieve that level of proficiency.

Our iFly date was fun—another great family adventure. To learn more about iFly, visit https://www.iflyworld.com

Book Review: The Road We Traveled

Jane Kirkpatrick has written another memorable work of historical fiction, The Road We Traveled, which takes place in the mid-1800’s.

When Tabitha Brown’s son, Orus, returns from the Oregon Territory and announces that the whole extended family should return with him, Tabitha is excited. It’s daunting, but she’s game. But when she learns that he feels she’s too old, too lame to go, she’s incensed.

As it happens, her late husband’s brother, John, comes to visit and the two of them decide to partner and join the Oregon-bound party, despite her son’s objection. Not everyone in the family is happy about leaving their homes, but they succumb to Orus’s insistence. They pack only absolute necessities, leaving their homes, family treasures, and friends.

As the family travels west, together with other Oregon-bound families, they encounter difficulties they never imagined. On foot much of the time to lessen the strain on stock, at times without adequate food and water, they face trials that test their endurance, courage and faith.

When a part of the group hears of an alternate route, a short-cut, they agree to take it, not realizing how difficult it will be. During this period, Tabitha’s real courage is tested as she and John leave the starving families to venture even deeper into the wilderness to seek help.

The Road We Traveled by Jane Kirkpatrick is based on the true character, Tabitha Moffat Brown, a pioneer woman whom the Oregon State Capitol honors as “The Mother of Oregon” for her charitable and compassionate work in Oregon’s early days. The impeccably researched historical novel is rich in setting and the events surrounding the hardships of the Oregon Trail, and the early days of what would become the 33rd state of the Union.

I was delighted when the characters in The Road We Traveled linked with other true characters from Jane Kirkpatrick’s previous novels, such as Letitia Carson (A Light in the Wilderness) and Eliza Spaulding (The Memory Weaver).

I’ve always loved stories of the Oregon Trail. The Road We Traveled stands among the best.

To learn more about the author, visit jkbooks.com.

Rain! At Last!

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

We were hungry for rain. There’s something a little sticky and abrasive about dried salt water. The backs of my legs became tender from the crustiness of it, so when in the cockpit I sat on a towel.

We bathed in salt water, but rinsed in fresh water, but we never felt completely clean. Salt water doesn’t suds with regular soap, but we had learned that Prell Shampoo worked for both hair and body in salt water. The same with laundry—we used Joy detergent for laundry and dishes. Although when doing laundry I used fresh water for the final rinse, our clothes felt a little stiff and didn’t smell as fresh as we’d like. But fresh water is at a premium at sea, too precious to squander on bathing and laundry.

One day, approaching the equator, we had a heavy rain squall. At first we rushed around to take advantage of the abundance of fresh water. After the scuppers and deck were cleaned with the hard-driving rain, Bruce opened the deck plate to fill the water tank. We took showers, letting the rain run off Impunity’s mainsail so we could get a good stream. We washed our hair, and I washed clothes. The deck got a good scrubbing. We exposed the boat’s salt-encrusted bench cushions to the fresh water.

When the rain passed, six hours later, we marveled at our soft skin and hair, at how clean everything felt. Coming from the Northwest, I was used to rain, but I’d never realized how important it would be at sea, and how much comfort rain would bring.

Book Review: The Borrower


Rebecca Makkai has nailed the personality of a precocious 10 year-old boy in The Borrower, and I have no doubt that she’s captured the essence of a children’s-book librarian, too.

Lucy Hull, a Hannibal, Missouri children’s-section librarian is the center of Ian Drake’s world. She holds the key to his happiness, since it appears he’s only happy when he’s reading. But they hit a snag when Ian’s mother insists he should not read anything except books that contain “the breath of God.” When Lucy tactfully suggests it is not the librarian’s job to censor books, she realizes she must be careful not to create a situation where Ian would be forbidden to come to the library.

Lucy and Ian find creative ways to smuggle prohibited books past his overbearing mother. Lucy is concerned about Ian’s increasingly disturbing life, not only the censorship of his reading material, but also that his parents have enrolled their son in religious anti-gay classes.

One early morning before it officially opens, Lucy finds that Ian has run away from home and is hidden in the library. He insists she take him on a road trip. She knows his home life is endangering his mental health, but can she take a boy away from his own parents? It seems he is giving her no choice.

This book is more than a fun read, it’s a story that weaves social activism, literary culture, together with a somewhat wild road trip. It’s a coming-of-age book for all ages. Makkai’s comical writing offers sojourns into the character’s Russian ancestry, as well as the mind set of a young woman determined to make her own way. She openly discusses the dangers of interfering with a child’s sexual orientation, but she does so with honesty and enlightenment, and always with humor.

The Borrower is Rebecca Makkai’s first novel and it is a gem. To learn more about the author, visit http://rebeccamakkai.com/

Provisioning for a Sea Voyage

Note: The following is taken in part from my memoir, Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific.

The challenge of cooking at sea can be daunting. Beb-w-fish-at-seasp_t2_27fore we left on our 13,000-mile voyage through the South Pacific aboard our sailboat, Impunity, I tackled the task of determining our grocery needs for two years.

Many offshore sailboats don’t have refrigeration, nor did ours. Refrigeration systems often break down in rough seas, leaving sailors without food they had counted on. Luckily, our 40-foot sailboat had a lot of storage space below decks.

After much reading and talking with sailors who had “been there,” we learned what worked and what didn’t, to plan ahead, keep it simple, and to not rely on buying it there.

I wanted to ensure we ate healthy foods, but knew the limitations and challenges of cooking at sea on a rolling, pitching boat. We bought bulk rice, pasta, dried beans, peas, and lentils. For dry storage, I used Seal-a-Meal and heavy plastic bags. In each bag I measured enough for two meals for both of us. For instance, once at sea I planned to prepare at one time enough rice for two meals. We’d have it the first meal with something like a tin of roast beef and canned green beans. The next night I’d use the already cooked rice and make Spanish rice, sautéing onion, and adding canned tomatoes and spices to the cooked rice. I had several simple meals in mind which later turned out to be a great help when cooking at sea.

We also dehydrated and vacuum-sealed fruit–apples, peaches, and pears–which proved to be wonderful additions to our morning oatmeal. Also, we often used these packages of dehydrated fruit as gifts when invited aboard other boats or to islanders’ homes..

I made lists of meals I could fix at sea, calculating how much we would need over a two-year period. We knew that in some ports of call we could buy supplies, and others perhaps not. From all that we read, food in Polynesia was expensive. We hoped to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and bread when reaching landfalls, and use our stored supplies for the basics.

We planned to fish while at sea, but knew that we couldn’t count on fish alone, or even that we’d have success with our equipment. As it turned out, we didn’t catch fish on the way, but after learning what equipment the “locals” used, a double hook with 120-pound test, we had good luck on the return voyage.

We’d heard the argument: Why bother taking all that food? Wherever you go, people have food. You can eat what they eat. That’s true, but island people often eat what they grow themselves, like taro leaves and roots, eggs and meat from their own chickens, or fish they’ve caught at sea. After researching the possibilities, we decided not to rely on local fare.

We were glad we’d decided to provision for the long haul. We felt we ate more nutritionally balanced and far less expensive meals by planning ahead.

Book Review: Flying South

Flying South 2

Already a woman of many accomplishments, Barbara Cushman Rowell embarked on the greatest adventure of her life. Together with her husband, world renowned adventurer/photographer Galen Rowell and her younger brother, Barbara Rowell set out on an epic aviation adventure.

Leaving Oakland, California in November,1990 Barbara Rowell flew south in her single-engined Cessna 206 to Central America, then on to Patagonia at the southern end of South America. Along the way, she dropped off first her husband so that he could fulfill a climbing and photography assignment for National Geographic magazine, then her brother so that he could return to his business in the United States. Along the way she picked up two or three other passengers, some who fulfilled the role as co-pilots, some just along for the ride. She completed the flight in February,1991.

Barbara Cushman Rowell had previously logged 700 flying hours as a pilot, but was also licensed for instrument flying. I loved the “pilot speak” with explanation enough to understand the gist and complications of a pilots life. The book also contains a helpful glossary. Photographs taken by Barbara and Galen add immeasurably to the book’s 302 glossy pages.

The memoir has vivid descriptions of aqua-blue bodies of water, impenetrable jungles, sparkling Mayan ruins, vast deserts, colorful markets, and cities sometimes not so friendly. She also shared the difficulty in some countries of getting through customs, airline paperwork and dramatically increased fees, and landing in a country in the midst of a coup.

Along the way, we see Rowell grow in confidence as an individual, not as someone’s wife, especially someone as famous as Galen Rowell. She realizes that most of her life she acquiesced to men’s will or desires. For example, a male friend scheduled a rafting trip for them on the Bio Bio River in Chile. Although she didn’t want to go, she consented, with disastrous results.

Barbara had her share of fears: fear that her plane would have mechanical problems (it did), fear of having to fly in bad weather (she did), fear of having to land under adverse conditions (that happened, too), but she learned to recognize her fear as a biological warning to pay attention.

Flying South is an extraordinary memoir, one that held me captive. I recommend this book not only to anyone interested in flying, but to anyone who longs to test herself, to stretch her limits. Barbara Rowell’s candid writing rings with honesty and character.

Note: Flying South had just been published when, on their return trip from Alaska, the charter plane in which Barbara and Galen Rowell were passengers crashed. There were no survivors

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hidgehog

As a member of our local library book club, I have had the pleasure of reading many excellent books that I otherwise wouldn’t have selected. I won’t write a bad review—if I don’t like a book, I simply stop reading it. When I started reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, my first reaction was that it really wasn’t my kind of reading. I’ll just try another chapter, I thought. And then I was hooked.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery is an incredible novel. Translated from French, the book’s two main protagonists couldn’t be more different. Paloma, a privileged precocious twelve-year-old is disgusted with life and intends to end hers on her thirteenth birthday. Paloma has only one friend, but has a mind far advanced of her age. She is a deep thinker who can see through facades, including those of her own family. Although an excellent student, she hides her extraordinary intelligence.

Renee Michel, a concierge at an elegant Paris hotel, describes herself as a short, ugly, plump widow. The hotel, which consists of five posh apartments, is what we might call a condominium with Madam Michel the building manager. She is treated as she expects to be treated, as someone to take care of mundane chores, freeing up the rich and important people to go about their busy lives. What the tenants don’t know is that their concierge is a connoisseur of fine art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture.

When a new tenant arrives, a wealthy Japanese man named Kakuro Ozo, amazing things begin to happen to Madame Michel and Paloma’s worlds, each in different ways.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an unusual book, an ingenious work of fiction. The story line is intriguing, and shows not only the author’s masterful writing skills, but her intelligence in a wide variety of subjects.

To learn more about this French novelist and professor of philosophy, visit http://murielbarbery.com/

Book Review: Write Within Yourself

Write within YourselfWilliam Kenower’s Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion is a precious little gem. As an author, I find it inspiring, but you don’t have to be a writer to gain helpful, insightful self-knowledge.

The book is comprised of short essays, pieces aimed at the heart, mind and spirit. William Kenower shares of himself in a way that opens the door for the reader to better understand the treasure that lie within. The book isn’t intended as a guide, but a companion. It’s a book you’ll want to keep handy so that you can take a few minutes to remind yourself where you want to go, and how to sift through information you need.

Kenower shares stories of his own life in a way that I could apply to my own experiences. Many of life’s incidences become fodder we can write about, and even change the ending to suit ourselves.

The book sparkles with fresh wisdom. At first I tried to devour the book as I do with much of my reading. But then I realized I would gain more insight by rationing it out, only reading two or at the most three essays in one sitting. By doling the stories out slowly, I could more readily absorb its lessons of passion and creativity.

I love this little book. Its 179 pages are crammed with life skills, wry humor, and wisdom applicable to every day living. It is indeed a companion, a little friend for writers, but also for those seeking to know themselves better.

To learn more about the author and his work, visit www.WilliamKenower.com.

Christmas in Samoa

Pago ChristmasExcerpt from Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific

Christmas away from home is always a little sad. Some of our fellow yachties chose to fly home for Christmas, but we planned to remain in American Samoa where we were securely anchored for the hurricane season.

American Samoa is strongly Christian, so as Christmas approached, the Samoans definitely got into the spirit of the season with decorations and Christmas music on the radio. Apparently, separation of church and state wasn’t a high priority. Local business people, government employees and bankers were expected to take time off from work to rehearse for scheduled Christmas programs. On several occasions we went to a particular store, or even the bank, and found it closed for a few hours during this season because the workers were attending choir practice.

For two weeks before Christmas, wonderful outdoor concerts were held every night at a park near Pogo Pogo Harbor, with various church, school, business and government choirs. We attended a program one night and were so impressed. Four different groups sang traditional Christmas carols plus other pieces we didn’t recognize. Between choral performances, scripture was read, mostly the Christmas story from the four gospels. And the drumming! We could have listened to the drumming all night. The concert ended with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the “Messiah.” The music resonated with me for hours afterward as we swung at anchor aboard Impunity.

Although we both felt pangs of homesickness during the Christmas season, we were glad to experience Samoa at Christmas. This experience enriched our journey and gave new meaning to community spirit.

Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center

Photo by Michael Hansen

Photo by Michael Hanson


The late football coach Vince Lombardi said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” A highly inspirational example of this is right here in Seattle, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2000 by the Gates family, the foundation is co-chaired by Bill and Melinda Gates and Bill’s father, Bill Gates, Sr. As of November, 2014 the Gates endowment in U.S. dollars was $42.3 billion.

The Foundation is said to be the largest private foundation in the world and is driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family. Throughout the facility are thought-provoking quotes such as this from Melinda Gates: “If you can really believe that all 7 billion people on the planet are equal to you in spirit, then you will take action to make the world more equal for everyone.”

When you step into the large facility on Fifth Avenue North, you are greeted by a staff member. Visitors are free to wander at will, but we opted to be accompanied by a staff member for more detailed explanations of this complex philanthropic organization.

Each of the large rooms has unique displays that graphically describe the foundation’s goals and accomplishments. Beyond the reception area, the “Voices” room allows visitors to hear voices from around the world and to see portraits of the foundation family—employees, grantees, partners, beneficiaries, and co-chairs.

Moving on to the “Family & Foundation” section, we learned why and how the Gates family started the organization. Examples display methods used to work around the world.

In the “Partnerships” section, displays show how their partners are making progress on tough problems globally and locally. A note about the Gates Foundation’s “partners”: The Foundation doesn’t itself give money to causes, but rather donates funds to various partner organizations through grants, thus allowing far greater dimension to its recipients. On that same note, since the Foundation doesn’t solicit donations, visitors are encouraged to donate to causes that interest them.

The “Theater” features continuing short films about the large variety of projects, ranging from clips of Bill and Melinda to African scenes to agriculture projects in India to school children in the United States. Visitors come and go as they please, viewing as many clips as they desire.

Visitors are invited to solve real-world problems in the”Innovation & Inspiration” room. Computers and other tools are provided to give food for thought and promote ideas.

Connecting these various rooms is a long hallway with a child’s footprints imprinted on the floor. Those footprints demonstrate the distance people, most often women and children, have to carry water from the water’s source to their home, which could be a distance of three miles. Pails are loaded with the approximate weight of water. Visuals such as this drive home the desperate need many countries have for basics that we so often take for granted, such as clean water, sanitation, vaccines, and education.

The Gates Foundation works with partner organizations worldwide to tackle four program areas:

— Global Development Division works to help alleviate the poor from hunger and poverty. The partner organizations help identify and support innovative approaches to reach people’s basic needs for food, healthcare and education.

— Global Health Division helps to advance science and technology by delivering tools for basic health programs, such as vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, plus discover new solutions for on-going health needs such as clean water and sanitation.

— U.S. Program Division’s primary focus is that all students graduate from high school prepared for college. They also address issues of social inequity and poverty in Washington State, where the foundation makes its permanent home.

— Global Policy & Advocacy Division is dedicated to advancing the goals the foundation works to achieve through policy analysis, accountability, and strengthening government relations. Besides the Seattle headquarters, the foundation has a European and Middle East office in London, and offices in China, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria. and South Africa.

Every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is actively doing something about that. If you’re in the Seattle area, take time to visit this impressive visitor center. There is no admission fee. The center is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.. For more information visit their website: www.gatesfoundation.org or call (206) 709-3100,