Hiking at high altitudes in Peru

Leimkuhler: Hiking at high altitudes in Peru

For the Fun of Fit

I spent my first day in Cusco, Peru — where, at 11,152 feet, the air is, quite literally, breathtakingly thin — drinking cup after cup of mate de coca tea to help prevent and alleviate any symptoms of altitude sickness.

By the second morning, however, I was desperate for a decent cup of coffee. So before my friend and I began our day’s adventures, I requested a quick pit stop in Plaza de Armas, a lively gathering place considered by many to be the cultural center of the city.

Overlooking the plaza’s cathedrals, gardens and fountains was a familiar coffee shop. Located on the building’s second floor, accessible only by a long stairway, I began to climb and was astonished by how difficult it was to simply climb a flight of stairs.

Though I consider myself to be relatively fit, it took several humbling minutes — with several stops along the way — to huff and puff my way to the top.

But despite experiencing this shortness of breath, I was otherwise feeling OK.

With my hard-earned coffee in hand and our hired driver at the ready, my friend and I traveled to Pisac, a village in southern Peru’s Sacred Valley region, it’s Archaeological Park featuring a hilltop Incan citadel with ancient temples and a stone structure thought to have been a sundial.

While my friend remained at the base, I embarked on the relatively short but steeply ascending trek. Despite topping out at an elevation just below 10,000 feet, the climb was arduous, requiring frequent stops to consume copious amounts of water and allow my galloping heart to slow to a trot. Returning to our apartment that evening, I ate little and slept a lot, my mind and body perpetually fatigued from constantly fighting the altitude and struggling to take in enough oxygen.

While most everyone has heard of Machu Picchu, Lake Humantay — one of the most picturesque glacier lakes in the region — is one of Peru’s many lesser known hidden gems.

The adventure to the glacial lake began with a four-hour, hair-raising, hairpin-turning bus ride to Soraypampa, the glacier’s base camp, perched at a whopping 12,700 feet. At that altitude, simply walking along a false flat dirt path to the trailhead was challenging. But the fun was just beginning.

Already gasping for breath in the razor-thin air, our group of nine hikers craned our necks upward at the nearly vertical rock-studded path to the lake which, according to our guide, featured a 40 percent incline for the first half of the hike and a 65 to 70 percent incline for the second half.

In addition to a first aid kit, our guide’s pack contained extra water and supplemental oxygen. Two other guides tagged along with several horses in tow to assist hikers who were unable to make the rigorous trek on foot. Four people in our group of nine ended up on horseback.

The hike, a total distance of less than 1,500 feet, took an average of 60-90 minutes to complete, a confounding amount of time for such a short distance. But it only took a few steps for my heart to begin hammering so hard I thought it might explode out of my chest, and I experienced occasional bouts of dizziness and light-headedness.

The only recourse was to stop, rest, drink water, repeat; the goal being to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, at an altitude of just over 14,000 feet, I rounded a bend to find the lake nestled like a turquoise jewel at the base of the glacier, its color subtly shifting from blue to green as it reflected the mountains towering above it.

As I stood gazing at this breathtaking place so high in the sky, I relished the beauty around me and the triumph I felt within, for successfully making the climb on my own two feet was simultaneously one of the most rewarding and difficult things I’ve ever done.

My best advice for those who wish to visit Cusco it not to rush the experience. According to Livestrong.com, “it takes your body about three to six weeks to acclimate to high altitude.”

So, be sure to pad your schedule with plenty of time to rest, relax and acclimatize. Begin taking altitude pills 48 hours before arrival at altitude and continue taking them for 48 hours afterward. Ibuprofen is also advisable.

Do not smoke or drink alcohol, but be sure to drink coca tea and plenty of water. Eat light meals that are high in carbs and, most of all, heed this tip from healthcommunities.com: “Don’t go up until your symptoms go down.”

Columnist’s note: This column is the second in a two-part series on acclimating to high altitudes.


Avoiding altitude sickness in the Andes

Leimkuhler: Avoiding altitude sickness in the Andes

For the Fun of Fit

As a pilot, I am familiar with the Federal Aviation Regulation that requires pilots to use supplemental oxygen when flying above 12,500 feet for more than 30 minutes without pressurization.

I also remember a ski trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, several years ago that saw my husband suffering headaches and mild nausea as a result of trying to exert ourselves at 9,600 feet, though the overall elevation change had been less than 4,400 from where our trip had originated: the mile-high city of Denver.

So I wondered — how, then, will I feel when I land in Cusco, Peru, and attempt to hike at altitudes in excess of 13,000 feet? And after experiencing a change in elevation of more than 10,000 feet? The answer is this: Winded. Short of Breath. Light-headed. Determined. Exhilarated.

In November I traveled with a friend to her home country of Peru. We spent the first week in Lima, which sits comfortably near sea level, enjoying the city and beaches and delicious meals at exclusive clubs offering sweeping views of the Pacific.

And then we flew to Cusco, the jet expertly skimming the top of the rugged Andes Mountains before dropping us into the former capital city of the Inca Empire.

Aware that we were about to experience an extreme change in altitude — essentially going from sea level in Lima to 11,152 feet in Cusco — my friend and I began preparing 48 hours in advance by taking Acetazolamide pills to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Nonetheless, the change was palpable the minute I set foot in Cusco’s Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport. Though subtle, I immediately noticed a slight dizziness; even my eyesight seemed a little blurry, as if I was moving through a dense haze or fog. The feeling was like waking from a deep dream or a long nap on a hot beach — slightly woozy and disoriented.

Was I simply hyper-aware? Or, if I hadn’t known I was now existing at an altitude near which pilots should be using supplemental oxygen, would I simply have attributed the sensations to normal travel fatigue?

As recommended, my friend and I took it easy on the first day, resting in our rented apartment, drinking lots of water, eating light meals and, probably most importantly, sipping mate de coca — an herbal tea made using the raw dried leaves of the native South American coca plant, the leaves of which provide the raw material for cocaine.

According to culturelocker.com, “Chewing the leaves or drinking coca tea when you’re in Cusco clears your throbbing head and lets you breathe again.”

And it’s perfectly legal. So drink we did — as often as possible or necessary — and I was glad for it. As a former migraine sufferer and someone whose head is sensitive to pressure changes in the best of circumstances, I dreaded the thought that my much-anticipated adventures in Cusco would be sabotaged by debilitating headaches. Or worse.

Altitude sickness is no joke, with symptoms — including headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, fatigue, and rapid heart rate — typically occurring within hours of arrival. In extreme cases, altitude sickness can lead to death.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mild cases of altitude sickness may self-resolve in one to three days, while more severe cases require oxygen, medication and moving to a lower altitude. Indeed, we encountered several tourists who recounted tales of friends and fellow travelers who’d had to return immediately to Lima due to experiencing adverse effects of the altitude.

Columnist’s note: This column is the first in a two-part series on acclimating to high altitudes.







Evolution of an author, part 5

The summer our son arrived from Spain–July 2016–was a whirlwind of day trips and excursions. I did not write a single word all summer–save for my newspaper columns–and the experience served to reignite my wanderlust. Traveling, seeing the world, and experiencing different cultures is extremely important to me, but it was something that had been tucked into a drawer and put aside once my daughters were born.

IMG_0509  20160713_205950 website NYC girls    website NYC memorial website DC Monument

Before my daughters were born, my husband and I traveled to Japan, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Dominican Republic, among other places. After our daughters were born, we quickly fell into a predictable routine of going to the beach every summer. Sure, my husband and I got away once in a while, and we did the requisite trip to Disney when the girls were at the right age to enjoy it, but we were no longer seeing the world.

Tokyo & Kyoto, Japan:

website Tokyo    website Kyoto

Sydney & Bondi Beach, Australia:

website Sydney Opera House    website Bondi Beach

The Great Ocean Road; Melbourne, Australia & Mount Cook, New Zealand:

website GOR    website Mt. Cook

But the reality is that traveling and seeing the world requires cash. And in three short years we would also have three daughters heading to college in quick succession. If I wanted to travel more, I knew I needed to do more to boost the family’s bottom line. So I accepted a part-time job as a Market Research & Development Associate for a virtual marketing and consulting company. I also hired a Spanish tutor and, eventually, enrolled in a community college course to pursue my Spanish education.

Image result for picture of carroll community college westminster

Carroll Community College

In the 18 months after I took the marketing job, my husband and I traveled to Costa Rica, Iceland, and Amsterdam, and with the girls we went to Spain and Dominican Republic. Next month I will spend two weeks in Peru and, in February, we will take the girls to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.

Costa Rica:

website CR waterfall Matt website waterfall tour

website CR waterfall kiss   website CR toucan website CR cheers


website Spain website Spain Madrid


website Ice lagoon website ice church 2 website ice crevice website ice blue website ice lake website ice windwebsite ice bakery


website AMS canal website AMS boat website AMS night website AMS lights

Dominican Republic:

website DR website DR girls website DR jump

Traveling made me happy and nourished my spirit, and going back to school to learn Spanish fed my mind. But something was missing: writing. Would I ever get back to it?

From July 2016 – July 2018, I didn’t create any new content, but I continued to submit my manuscript–WHAT’S LEFT UNTOLD– to various agents and publishers, though I’d started to doubt it would ever go anywhere. In fact, I wondered if becoming a published author simply wasn’t in the cards for me. I felt very unmotivated and had become so far removed from the writing world.

In a Hail Mary attempt to salvage my sinking writing ship, I took to Facebook and sent up a virtual plea to my fellow WFWA writers to talk me off the ledge, to convince me not to give up and to keep trying. And one person threw me a huge lifeline. A published author–who had just landed a new agent and was about to release a new book and embark on a book tour–took time out of her busy life to meet me for lunch. We discovered we lived only an hour apart and chose to meet at a restaurant mid-way between us.  

Image result for Johansson's westminster pictures

 Johansson’s Dining House; Westminster, MD

This person shared her journey with me and, most importantly, encouraged me to keep going, to not give up. Sometimes all it takes is that one person to make a huge impact, to keep you moving forward. So I want to take a minute to give a big shout out to the person who did just that: my friend and fellow author, Cara Sue Achterberg, a woman with a heart of gold and an awesome new book, Another Good Dog.

Find Cara and her books here:


and here:


Image result for another Good Dog book pictures

After my lunch with Cara, I had a heart-to-heart with my husband who encouraged me to pursue my passions and my dream of becoming a published author. While I like a lot of things about my marketing job–the extra cash, the people I work with, the virtual environment and flexible hours–I am not particularly passionate about the work, and it takes up valuable hours in which I could (and should) be writing.

As we headed to OBX for our annual family vacation, I was giving serious thought to moving on from my marketing job. But then a few things happened: three people resigned and the company secured two new contracts. In short, we now had twice the work and half the people to do it. And, in a show of good faith, I was given a raise. How could I possibly leave now? Maybe, with a little more discipline, I could do both? I wondered. Plenty of people have full time jobs and still manage to write novels, right? I decided to stay.

But, as the saying goes, when it rains it pours. After making this decision, two major things happened within the space of a week. One is that we adopted a dog. We’d had several months of ups and downs as fosters with a rescue organization and decided we were ready to adopt. He is a great dog–a big, oafy, 90-pound Labrador–but even good change is stressful and we were all adjusting.

website Bodhi

The second thing that happened is that I received an email from the owner of a publishing company that went something like this: I tried to call and never heard back so I thought I would reach out again via email. Are you still looking for a publisher for your book?

I tried to call. I tried to call. I tried to call. These four little words kept resonating in my brain because agents and publishers almost never call. Unless they are interested. As it turns out, while we were away on vacation, a series of powerful storms had swept through our area and several lightening strikes were reported. When we returned home, we found our landline had been fried and we’d lost all of our phone messages from that week. In a cruel twist of fate, after two years of submitting my book, the one week in which a publisher had called is the week our phone line was zapped. Thankfully, rather than concluding that I was no longer interested and moving on to the next person, the publisher took the time to reach out again.

Image result for gratitude pictures

After a brief period of freaking out and with little time to prepare, I had a phone conversation with the publisher. I was so nervous I can honestly say I did not represent myself very well on the phone, and part of me wondered if, after hanging up, the publisher would change her mind! Thankfully, she didn’t. A few days later I received–and signed–a contract to publish my first novel (!!!!) with Red Adept Publishing: https://redadeptpublishing.com and https://www.facebook.com/RedAdeptPublishing

Currently, I am in a queue for copy edits and cover design. (A cover design!) And I am simply over the moon to have finally found a partner for my book. I considered self-publishing but really wanted to have the validation and the expertise of an agent or publisher behind me. Now I have it. 

While I wait, I am once again trying to learn more about social media. I recently set up a twitter account (@SherriLeimkuhl1) and sent my first-ever tweet! You can also find me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/sherrileimkuhlerauthor  and Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/sherri.leimkuhler.

And, I have also tried to breathe life back into this website by taking readers on this journey with me. It has been cathartic to write it and, hopefully, in some way, it will inspire others to never to give up and to keep chasing their dreams. To follow the road–no matter how long and winding–wherever it may lead.

And, most of all, to simply keep evolving.

Image result for evolving pics

Evolution of an author, part 4

The last full-time job I had before having three kids in the four years was with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). I was hired to work in the alumni office, which was not so much an office as an actual house located adjacent to campus. My role involved reaching out to alumni to keep them connected with and–more importantly–vested in their alma mater; a position that was a combination of public relations, sales, event planning . . . and writing. I created press releases and media kits, and drafted letters and text for brochures, newsletters and annual reports.

website UMBC

When my first daughter was born, I took all of this experience with me and began accepting job offers to freelance from home as a grant writer and a columnist for Ohio University’s online newsletter. This type of work continued to snowball until I found myself writing for multiple publications at a time, including a golf club newsletter and several online sports and health publications. I also wrote for Livestrong, and I wrote a blog. I was writing all the time. Seven years post-graduation and I was finally working as a writer. From home. On my own terms. While my babies slept. It was perfect.

website baby isa

I wrote by day and taught yoga and fitness classes at night. When my youngest daughter turned two, I wanted to push myself physically. I wanted to do a triathlon. And I wanted to blog about it. I actually had more success as a triathlete than as a blogger. Each year I pushed myself to be stronger and faster, to go longer and harder. Each year I raised the bar higher until I found myself looking down the barrel of the ultimate triathlon challenge: Ironman.

website Ironman

website IM Coz finish website IM Coz bike website IMAZ finish

I set my sights on Cozumel 2011 and–in an effort to keep family and friends updated on this quest–I created my first Facebook Page: Triathlon Mom. Two years later, I completed Ironman Arizona.

After eight years of training and racing, I was starting to feel burned out. I was mentally and physically exhausted. My body was telling me that maybe it was time to take a break. And I might have done just that . . . if I hadn’t qualified for age group Nationals and been offered corporate sponsorships with Xterra and SLS3.

website SLS3 gearwebsite Xterra

website SLS3 mirror   website Sls3 website bike website SLS3 run  website Nationals

So I pressed on for two more years. Creating Triathlon Mom turned out to be serendipitous as my corporate sponsors required all their partner athletes to maintain a social media presence. Thankfully, the page–along with my bi-weekly newspaper column, “For the Fun of Fit,”–helped to keep me writing during this busy time.

My ultimate professional goal was to write a book and become a published author. After decades as an avid reader, I’d started creating my own stories–mostly in my head; especially during the hundreds of miles I spent on my bike training for Ironman. But I could rarely envision a single story to it’s completion. Many writers have heard the advice to “write what you know,” but I didn’t feel like I had many interesting stories to tell. By most counts, I’d had a “white picket fence” life that followed a predictable trajectory: happy childhood, college, marriage, kids. But as my 20-year high school reunion approached, inspiration hit out of the blue. I had unearthed my high school year book to reminisce and dust off the names and faces from my past, and a pink envelope slipped out from between the pages. It was your average high school note, punctuated with bits of gossip and a splash of drama. But the post-script is what caught my attention. It went something like this: “We need to talk. I have something important to tell you.”

website pink envelope

Curious, I reached out to the author of the letter to see if she happened to remember what it was that she’d wanted to tell me all those years ago. We had a little chuckle over it but, of course, she didn’t remember. But it did make me wonder: what secret could you uncover 20 years after the fact that would have a major impact on your life? And in that moment, my first book was born.

I dabbled with a few chapters here and there, but my girls were only four, six and eight and I found it extremely difficult to carve out quality writing time, if any at all. I kept promising myself: when my youngest goes to Kindergarten, I’ll write it.

But by the time my youngest went to Kindergarten, I was knee-deep in triathlons and two years shy of my first Ironman. I soon learned that training for an Ironman was essentially a part-time job and my new refrain became: after I’m finished with Ironman, I’ll write it. As I ended up doing two Ironman triathlons and then continuing on to Nationals, it was 2014 before I made a serious effort to write the book–a five full years after I first started it.

In 2014 we moved to a new house and I decided that, finally, writing my book would become my top priority. I joined the Maryland Writers Association (MWA) and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), and I dedicated a full year to writing–and finishing–the book, getting feedback from three beta readers, and then revising some more.  In July 2015, I submitted my manuscript to WFWA’s Rising Star contest for unpublished authors and my book–WHAT’S LEFT UNTOLD–was one of five finalists selected from 75 submissions. I was thrilled!

WFWA Rising star finalist

As a finalist, my book was reviewed by several agents, who then provided feedback and–if they wished–offers of representation. This process was as frustrating as it was insightful. What one agent liked most about my book, another disliked. It was a quick education in the subjective nature of the business. After polling several avid readers and a few published authors, I chose to write my book in a first-person chronological format–with the story beginning with the protagonist in her teen years–rather than with flashbacks. One agent, however, told me that I could not claim my book to be of the “Women’s Fiction” genre if my main character was a child/teenager for the first chunk of the book.

I’m not sure if I wholeheartedly agreed with all the agent feedback I received, but what did I know? I spent the next several months editing, revising and reformatting the story until it morphed into a barely recognizable–but hopefully improved–version of its original self.

Satisfied with my newly revised draft, I began doing the submission rounds and received one rejection after the next. My query letter and book premise almost always got my foot in the door. Many agents requested additional chapters and some even requested fulls. But the response was invariably the same: “I read the book with great interest but just couldn’t connect with the characters.” Or, “The writing is exceptional but it’s not the right story for me at this time.” Or, “I thoroughly enjoyed your book but I don’t think I can be the champion this manuscript needs.” Or, “This book has an interesting premise but some of the twists may not sit well with a Women’s Fiction audience.” And on and on. Agents seemed, generally, to like my book, but none wanted to commit to it. I kept hoping for the specific constructive criticism that might help me over the hump, but it never came. All the feedback seemed elusive, intangible and contradictory. I was at a loss.

While enduring the submissions and rejections, I also made an attempt to build and grow a social media platform. I found a web host and created a website. This took hours of headbanging and mental energy as I don’t think I have a single IT bone in my body. I also created an author page on Facebook and started linking my newspaper columns to the page. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

website FB author pagehttps://www.facebook.com/sherrileimkuhlerauthor/

Frustrated with the endless stream of rejections, I began to work on a second book and has some initial agent interest based on the premise. I’d only gotten a few hundred words in when I saw some signs posted around the community: 15 students from Spain arriving in six days. Host families still needed!

website spain flag

I’d seen these signs in years past and, while intrigued, always felt that our family was too busy to take on another responsibility. But in 2016 there was this light bulb moment: We are never going to be less busy than we are now until the kids are all in college. And then what’s the point?

If we were going to host an exchange student, I wanted to do it while my kids were still home so they could be part of the experience. I called the number on the sign. There were three students left–one girl and two boys–and they were arriving in four days. Having teenage daughters at home, I told the program coordinator that we were interested in hosting the girl and I schedule an appointment to meet with her. She then came to my home and showed me profiles of the two boys; the girl had already been placed. There were a few hoops to jump through–background checks, paperwork, and making sure my family was on board with hosting a boy–but we were approved and, three days later, welcomed a 16-year old Spanish boy  into our home and family for the month of July. Long story short: the boy entered our house a mere stranger and left four weeks later as our son and brother. His family became our family and we spent two weeks with them in Spain later that year. And our Spanish son has returned every summer since to spend several weeks with us.

website Garridos    website Garri beach

What, you might be wondering, does any of this have to do with writing? The answer is this: Nothing!




Evolution of an author, part 3

Unlike my husband, who came from a long line of engineers, knew he wanted to be an engineer, earned undergrad and graduate degrees in engineering, and then began working–and still does work–in engineering, my path to becoming a writer was long and winding, full of twists and unexpected turns.

website windy road

The first two parts of this post span from my childhood love of reading, to earning college degrees in both journalism and aviation, to working in sales. When I realized that my career path had led me far from the professional dreams I once envisioned for myself, I decided to make a change and took the bold step of quitting a lucrative sales job to forge a new career path on my own terms.

website culinary         website wedding-planner

I had a small fling with running my own event planning company. Operating under the name Imagine Events, I helped one company plan an anniversary event, one couple plan a wedding, and one businessman market his culinary creations. Meanwhile, I began working as a flight instructor for a small Baltimore-based flight school. The owner was jaded and cranky. He sat in the flight office watching reruns of Law & Order all day. The airplanes were questionably maintained and the business was poorly run. One particularly memorable day, one of my students stalled the plane and flipped us into a spin over the Chesapeake Bay. But, no matter. I was back on track–writing and flying again–and flying out of BWI alongside the big guns was even more thrilling than nose-diving toward the bay.

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2008, file photo, planes taxi on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.  According to an Associated Press analysis, airplanes spent a record 23 minutes and 32 seconds, on average, taxiing between gates and runways during the first nine months of 2015. That’s the highest since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics started tracking taxi times in 1995 and a 50-second increase over last year’s average. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

  website spin

Not surprisingly, the flight school eventually folded, and the event planning work slowed to a trickle. But in a lucky turn of events, I stumbled upon another unlikely, yet seemingly dream-job combo, and was hired by a Maryland-based publishing company to write and edit a high-end aviation newsletter. Problem was, it was a technical newsletter, one that focused solely on an aircraft’s communication and navigation systems. I routinely rode the Metro into Washington D.C. and tried to stay awake during numerous snore-inducing conferences on topics I had no knowledge of and no interest in. I was a pilot, not an engineer or IT professional! Ultimately, the job was short-lived. I learned a lot and liked my colleagues, but I was frustrated with the work and bored to tears with the content, and the two-hours-each-way commute was the icing on the cake.

website conference  Gridlock traffic is pictured on highway 395 as people evacuate Washington after an earthquake August 23, 2011. An unusually strong and shallow 5.9 magnitude quake hit the U.S. East Coast and Canada, shaking buildings, forcing evacuation of office buildings in several cities and delaying flights in New York. REUTERS/Jason Reed   (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

Paying my dues as a flight instructor, however, had not only helped me continue building my flight hours, but also to build connections within the industry. While debating my next professional move, I was contacted by a fellow pilot who was flying a King Air out of Martin State Airport for a private company, and they were in need of a co-pilot. I got the job.

website martin state   website King air   website martin state runways

We flew several times a week, often heading to Buffalo, New York, or Salisbury, Maryland. While I felt fortunate to have landed the job, flying the King Air was eye-opening. With it’s sophisticated flight deck, the plane practically flew itself. My role felt more like that of a systems operator than a pilot. Going from single engine Cessnas, Pipers and Bonanzas to the twin turbo prop King Air was oddly and unexpectedly a bit like switching from a little sports car to a mini van. It felt like driving a bus. And there was no jet-setting to be had. During our downtime, we pilots sometimes managed to escape for mini excursions to Niagara Falls and Ocean City but, more often than not, were were left to kill several hours at the airport, feasting on vending machine food, monitoring weather, filing flight plans and twiddling our thumbs.

website niagara falls     website vending machine

The moment of reckoning came when I got an offer to interview with US Airways. The position was for a pilot to fly Salisbury-based commuter aircraft. Nothing glamorous, but a step in the right direction. A foot in the commercial airline door. But I wasn’t sure I wanted it. My time flying the King Air opened my eyes to the fact that, for me, the more complex the aircraft, the less I enjoyed flying. And the vision I once had of traveling the world as a commercial pilot had faded over time. Life–and, more to the point, love–had caused that lifestyle to lose its formerly shiny appeal. I no longer wanted to live out of a suitcase, sleep in hotels, be gone for days at a time. I enjoyed evenings at home and dinners out with my husband. I enjoyed teaching kickboxing classes after work and swimming with the master’s team on Saturdays. And, as much as I am loathe to admit it, I could hear that maternal clock quietly tick-tocking away. As low pilot on the totem pole, I knew I would have the worst schedules and least desirable flight routes for many years to come. I wanted to be home with my family for holidays, birthdays and weekends. I also knew I wanted, someday, to be a mom. And not that a pilot can’t also be a mother, but I wasn’t sure, given the demands of that particular profession, that I could be the mother I wanted to be.

website USAir commuter planes

website maternal clock

But I could definitely be a mother . . . and a writer.

I turned down the offer to interview with US Airways. But as that door gently closed behind me, a new one was opening.



Evolution of an author, part 2

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been more than two years since my last post. But, fear not! It is all part of the journey.

In part one of this post, I reflected on the role reading had played in my formative years; starting with being read to, learning to read and, eventually, loving to read. This love of reading went hand-in-hand with a knack for writing, though I never considered writing as a potential career. Instead, I enrolled in college as an “undecided” student and eventually declared aviation as my major. I wanted to do something unconventional. I wanted to fly planes. I wanted to live in a big city and travel the world. I had no idea what I wanted.

website plane-cockpit_1862051i

But what if I couldn’t fly? What if an accident or some other unforeseen circumstance caused me to lose my medical license and rendered me unfit to fly? Alternate aviation-related careers didn’t appeal to me, so I decided I needed a back-up plan. Journalism was it. 

website OU logo      webite E W Scripps

Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism was one of the top journalism schools in the country. My plan was to major in aviation and minor in journalism. But that idea went the way of most best-laid plans. An associate’s degree in journalism was not an option. In the School of Journalism, it was the full bachelor’s degree monty or nothing at all. Conversely, an Associates of Applied Science degree in aviation would provide all the credentials I needed to become a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor. A plan began to take shape. Maybe I could be a flying writer? Maybe I could fly myself to a specific event or location and write about my experiences there?

Students in the journalism school had to choose a specific focus area. I chose advertising. Professors enlightened us on the economics of advertising and subliminal messaging. We wrote copy for imaginary products and created jingles. We learned how to trick the general public into thinking they needed to have something that, in reality, they did not need at all. I was good at it. I hated it. (This theme would rear it’s ugly head in the future when I began my first job in sales. But more on that later.) So I switched to public relations. To which my father replied, “You have no idea what it’s like to work with the general public.” Wise words spoken by a wise man. Yet heed them, I did not. I proved reasonably adept with public relations–writing press releases, cultivating media contacts and creating newsletters, brochures and press kits–and I liked it better than advertising, so I forged onward. Eventually, I secured internships with a fitness center, a jewelry store and a real estate company.

website cornwell jewelers      website court street apartments

The internship I did not secure, however, was with United Airlines. Half way through my senior year, three of my fellow aviation students and I were flown to Denver to interview for the highly coveted internship. I loved flying but I didn’t live and breath aviation. The internship went to the guy that lived and breathed it. I was disappointed but not devastated. In my head, it was a huge loss. In my heart, it was a win because, at the time, I was only a few months into a new relationship with the man who would become my husband. We both knew, instinctively, that if I’d gotten the internship and relocated to Denver for the remainder of my senior year, we likely would have parted ways. But, since I didn’t get it, we stayed together. We now have three daughters and have been married for more than 22 years. Sometimes things happen for a reason.

website wedding     website anniversary

website Ock   website vineyard

Instead, I landed an internship with DHL Airways. After graduation, I moved to Cincinnati to begin the next part of my journey: learning the nuts and bolts of how an international transportation company operated. A perk of the position was getting to fly “right seat” on any of the overnight transportation flights. As such, I routinely took advantage of this opportunity to act as the unofficial co-pilot on the flights to Roanoke, Virginia, where I could then visit my future husband at Virginia Tech where he was pursuing his master’s degree in engineering. I was learning a lot, but writing only a little.

website DHL logo

website DHL plane

At the conclusion of my internship, DHL offered me a position as a sales representative in their Richmond office. My alternatives were to work for a small marketing company in North Carolina–in what would have been a rare combo of writing and flying, as I would have transported the small four-person marketing team to various events in the company’s Cessna 172, but my direct report was a chain smoker and I likely would have succumbed to second-hand smoke by now–or return to Maryland to resume my position as a flight instructor, working a lot but earning only a little. I accepted DHL’s offer. 

DHL then surprised me (and not in a good way) be relocating my position to Baltimore. As my start date approached, I was involved in a car accident that left me with a shattered left foot and a sprained right ankle. It would end up being one of the worst years of my life. No offense to my parents (who are the most wonderful, loving, supportive parents a girl could wish for), but I was 23-years-old, living at home, hobbling around on crutches, and working as a salesperson in Baltimore, a full five hours away from my soon-to-be fiance. How had I drifted so far from my love of writing and my dreams of becoming a jet-setting pilot?

website Baltimore city

As with my academic foray into advertising, I was good at sales but I didn’t particularly like it. While DHL was hands-down the best international shipping option, our competitors had the clear advantage domestically. My attitude was this: if people want to use our transportation services, great! If not, that’s okay, too. I despised trying to “convince” businesses to choose DHL for their shipping needs. But this attitude didn’t hold me back and, by my second year, I was ranked as the number two sales representative in the entire Southeast Region. I felt like a superstar. I was promoted to sales executive. I was offered the larger, more lucrative Norfolk territory, which meant my husband and I could relocate to Virginia Beach if we wanted to. I’d always dreamed of living on the coast, somewhere I could walk or ride my bike to the beach. (Had I done so, I probably would have succumbed to skin caner by now.) But I missed flying. And I missed writing. I did not like sales and I was not pursuing my passions. I’d started reaching out to public relations firms in the Baltimore area and was shocked to learn that I was already earning enough in sales that switching to PR at that point in my career would have been a huge financial step backward. And so, I reasoned, if I was going to take a pay pay cut anyway, it might as well be on my own terms.

To be continued . . . 



Evolution of an author, part 1

As I prepare my Career Day presentation for 115 fifth graders, I’ve had time to reflect on my journey as a writer. 

I believe my journey began the first time my mother read to me. The moments I climbed into her lap and snuggled up for a story were the moments a writer was born. And these moments continued well beyond toddlerhood. At five or six years old, I still thought of my mother’s lap as one of the most comforting places to be, even if, at times, the stubble on her legs itched the backs of my thighs. There were bedtime stories, too. Lots of them. My mother was an excellent reader, her voice full of enthusiasm and inflection. Dr. Suess books were my favorite. Especially this one: 

And this one: 

And I remember enjoying this one, too: 

I always hoped I, too, might someday discover a Zug under the rug, or be able to blow bubbles while biking backward. 

Fifth grade is particularly memorable for me because two things happened: I was promoted from the “spring” group to “summer”–summer, of course, being the brightest kids in my class–(and, yes, back then, we were all grouped and labeled; everyone knew who was smart–Summer–and who was not–Autumn), and my writing teacher complimented a short story I wrote. She said I was and excellent writer and very creative, and that I should consider becoming a writer someday. I didn’t exactly recall this particular compliment until many years later, after I’d considered many other careers. In fact, nine more years would pass before I would give serious thought to becoming a writer. 

In middle school, I met one especially important criteria for becoming a writer: I became a reader. Sure, I’d been able to read since first grade, after successfully mastering the alphabet in Kindergarten with the help of the inflatable “Letter People,” such as Mr. F with his Funny Feet and his friends Super Socks, Munching Mouth and Tall Teeth. 

 The Letter People

But in middle school, I actually became a reader. Someone who craved books, someone who read for pleasure. 

I have vivid memories of coming home after a long day spent playing and swimming at the community pool–my hair still wet, my sun-ripened skin tender to the touch and smelling of chlorine–and luxuriating in the comfort of my air-conditioned room as I plopped onto my bed and dove into a favorite book, while the mouth-watering aromas of my mom cooking dinner wafted into my room. (Yep, that was the life!) Sometimes I would listen to the radio while I read. Hearing Sting’s, “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” can immediately transport me back to this moment in time. 

Back then I devoured books in the P.S. I Love You series by Barbara Conklin. 


But it wasn’t long before I moved on to more sophisticated novels. Stephen King quickly became my favorite author and I read Christine, Carrie and Cujo in quick succession. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. 

High school and it’s required reading list effectively put a damper on my enthusiasm for reading. As I laboriously worked my way through The Grapes of Wrath, Macbeth, Native Son, The Call of the Wild, and The Catcher in the Rye, I longed for my beloved thrillers by Stephen King. Reading Walden made me want to put my eyes out and almost turned me against reading altogether. 

By the time I graduated from high school, I had not the slightest inkling what I wanted to do with my life beyond going to college, so I enrolled in Ohio University’s University College for “undecided” students. The barrage of Myers-Briggs-type testing that followed continued to produce unexpected and unsatisfying results that paired me with “potential careers” I had zero interest in: Social Worker, Teacher, Counselor, Therapist. 

My father guided me with these words of wisdom: Choose a career that will be in demand when you graduate and in which you can make a good living. My Dad’s philosophy was threefold: 1) Education was the key to success. College was non-negotiable in my household, though, at the time, I was only the second person in my family to pursue a college education. There was never a time while I was growing up that I ever considered not going to college. 2) If you have to work the same number of hours in a day as the next person, you may as well earn as much as you can during those hours. 3) Money may not buy happiness, but it can sure make life easier. 

I distinctly remember, sometime in my late teens, walking through a restaurant parking lot and admiring a BMW Z3 and my Dad saying, “If you work hard, you can have a car like that, too.” 

                                            BMW Z3

My father believed I could achieve anything I set my mind to; my father believed in me. 

Ultimately, I spent many hours in the campus “career center” searching for my dream career–the one that would be in demand in the mid-90s and would pay well. Finally, I found my answer: A pilot.

The idea both intrigued and terrified me. I strongly disliked math and figured becoming a pilot would require a lot of it. Quickly flipping through an aviation textbook at the bookstore both fueled and quelled my fears: there was indeed a lot of math involved, but I was pretty sure it was math I could do. And it was interesting. For the first time ever, physics made sense. 

                                                My classroom

And so I began down the path to becoming a pilot, and I loved it. I loved flying, I loved that my classroom was an airplane, I loved that I could get out of any “mandatory” sorority event by claiming to be at the airport (school did come first after all, right?), and the fact that boys made up approximately 90% of my aviation classmates didn’t hurt either. I even joined Alpha Eta Rho, a coed international professional college aviation fraternity. And it changed everything. 

During one particular AEP meeting, a speaker came to talk to us about careers in aviation and he said the one thing that spooked the daylights out of me. It went something like this: “You have to consider the possibility that you could lose your medical license. If your eyesight were to drastically deteriorate, or if you were in a car accident and injured your knees or your back and couldn’t get your medical renewed, your career as a pilot would be over.” And what options were there, I wondered, for a pilot who could no longer fly: Air Traffic Control? Airport Manager? Aircraft maintenance or mechanic? 

None of these alternate aviation-related careers interested me. I either wanted to be a pilot or I didn’t want to be in the aviation industry at all. The reality hit hard: I needed a back up career, stat.

And journalism was it.


May Book of the Month

Where do you get your books? From a brick and mortar book store? Amazon? Swap with friends? Library? Other?

Most of the books I read are borrowed from the library. I make a weekly trip to my local library to pick up and return books. Conveniently, my library has a drive-up window to make this as easy (read: lazy) as possible. Once, my mother was in the car with me when I made this weekly trip. She was flabbergasted that I could do all this book borrowing/exchanging/returning at a drive-up window. She suggested that, next time, I also order a latte to go. (The window attendant did not find this nearly as humorous–or, likely, as “novel”–as we did, no pun intended. Ha!)

The last book I read, however, was acquired at the beach. There was a “take a book, leave a book” shelf in the beach home we were renting last summer. I took advantage of this swap and selected Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah. This book then sat in my office for nine months while I plowed through my library list. 

Distant Shores book cover


Finally, my library queue complete, it was time to read Distant Shores. While this book was not nearly as good as Hannah’s The Nightingale, it was a quick, easy read. So, if you’re looking for a beach book and don’t mind a formulaic plot or predictable ending, check it out. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get it with a latte to go. 

April Book of the Month

I once read that avid readers make the best writers. That’s good to know, as I’d say I qualify as an avid reader. 

It seems only appropriate, then, that I dedicate some website space to promoting books I’m currently reading and/or books I love. I also welcome your additions, via comments, to this list as well, as most books I’ve read have come to me as referrals from others who’ve already read them, loved them, and recommended them. 

So, without further adieu, I bring you my first “Book of the Month”  . . . 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon 

Book Outlander

I love historical fiction and was completely rapt by this book–the first of eight in the Outlander series. It has a little bit of everything: history, romance, adventure, time travel, fantasy, magic, action, suspense . . . even a disturbing touch of the macabre. 

And despite the daunting 640-page heft of this tome, I couldn’t put it down. It was the ultimate page turner.  Did I mention I’m a sucker for historical fiction? 

I went on to read the next three books in the series in quick succession, the third installment–Voyager–being my second favorite after the first book. And then, to my delight, the STARZ network (home to another of my favorite guilty pleasures: Spartacus) announced it would be airing the Outlander movie. Bestill my heart! (Disclaimer: Though movies and television shows are never as good as the book, it is often quite fun to see the characters you’ve imagined in your head come to life on the screen.) And with THIS guy cast as the male lead, who can complain? 

Books Outlander Jamie  Book Outlander Jamie & Claire

Great Scott! 

So, in honor of season two of Outlander premiering in four days, April’s Book of the month (and one of my Top 5 All Time Favorites) is: Outlander

Time to get your kilt on . . .


What’s Left Untold

What’s Left Untold

Book cover image soon

     What if you discovered a long-forgotten letter with a cryptic message concealing a devastating truth?

     After emerging from the darkness of a miscarriage-induced depression, a woman reunites with her estranged best friend and uncovers a secret that threatens to unravel the life she has created with her husband and daughters.

     Want more? Stay tuned . . .