Week 37: Up, Up and Away!

May the Wind welcome you with softness

May the Sun bless you with warm hands

May you fly so high and so well

that God joins you in laughter

and may He sit you gently back again

into the loving arms of Mother Earth!


Words from the Balloonist’s Irish Blessing that our pilot Bill recited to us, as we enjoyed a champagne toast after landing from our lovely hot air balloon ride, over the rolling hills of Rancho Santa Fe.



Hot Air Ballooning was not only on my 50 Weeks list, but also on my youngest sister Roselma’s wish list. She had recently turned 40, so my other sister Liza and I decided the balloon ride would be the perfect present. Along with our sister from another mother Sharon, we made up a fun foursome for the sunset ride.


We first meet the rest of the group in a Del Mar shopping center, and were directed to find the silver van at the side of the bank. Once there, our contact Jamie informed us that because of the incoming clouds, there was a slight possibility that the flight may not happen. Safety first he said, which was okay by us. Falling from the sky while in a hot air balloon was not on my 50 Weeks list.


Once we get the a-ok, a dozen of us pile into the van (we should of had one of these during our Little League days) to head to our takeoff spot. Us four get the back row of the van, which Jamie tells us means we are the VIPs. But considering how tight it was to get seated in the back seat, I wonder how we’ll be in the balloon.

 balloonside  balloontakeoff

There are three other hot air balloons at the takeoff spot in Rancho Santa Fe, which I honestly can’t remember where it was. A couple of the balloons were already getting filled up, and once we were there, the ground crew started prepping our balloon. And since the balloon is about 10 stories high, it takes a while. The basket, where all of us will squeeze on to, starts off on its side, and once the balloon is full of hot air, the basket is turned upright. We are then to climb over the side of the basket using the cut out foot holes. Boy, it’s a good thing we wore sneakers.

balloonflame  ballooninside

You can not only see the flames heat up the air for the balloon, but you can definitely feel it. Before you know it, the balloon is filled with hot air and is ready for boarding. I get to climb in first, then my sisters with Sharon following. It’s a somewhat clumsy feeling going over the basket side, as you basically fall into the huge woven basket. I felt like I was a little birdie being dropped into a nest. And being so short, the basket sides are high enough that there’s no way I would accidentally fall over mid air.

 ballooniluvu  balloonblue

Soon enough, the rest of the passengers are in, Bill gives a quick spiel on safety, and that he will be continuing to add hot air to the balloon throughout the ride and that it’s very loud — which it is and I was right under it. Next thing you know, I happen to look down and we’re already up in the air. Up we go, floating higher and higher, enjoying the views of the ocean and estate dotted hillsides.

 balloonviewblue  balloonvieweques  balloonview1

Boy, Bill did a fabulous job of piloting the balloon up and down, and around so smoothly. You couldn’t even tell when we were rising or falling; movements were seamless. The ride was peaceful, yes very peaceful. Looking at the beautiful landscape of San Diego’s rolling hills and ocean vistas was calming. And the estates of Rancho Santa Fe put you in a dreamlike state. You think, okay one day I will have a house like that, or oh I like that home’s style better than that other one. Or I will also put in a vineyard or rows of fruit trees on my estate. Or I like the shape of that infinity pool. Ahh, one day.

 balloonview3  balloonview2

Bill also pointed out homes of various celebs such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Phil Mickelson, and Bill Gates. We saw burnt hillsides that creeped up close to homes. Then there was the deer sighting in one of the canyons, I never even knew there was wild deer in our areas. And I especially loved that people who lived below would come out of their homes and wave to us. People are so friendly.


Other balloons were flying too and we all followed the same general path, making sure to communicate via walkie talkie with each other so as not to knock one over. The clouds were slowly dissipating, making way for the brilliant sunset colors that San Diego gifts us.


I could have fallen asleep if I wasn’t so entranced by the vistas. Maybe this is why we will pay a premium for homes, or hotel rooms with a view. It’s very relaxing to sit and look. I start to think, wouldn’t it be great to have a dinner party up in a balloon? I wonder if they make passenger baskets with clear sides? Although, that might be a little scarier for my dinner guests, we wouldn’t want them losing their dinner.


Before I get a chance to nod off, Bill informs us that we will be landing soon and yes indeed we are headed towards a vacant construction lot. That past hour went by very smoothly. But, apparently we may have a bumpy landing, so we are told to hang on and bend our legs to lessen the impact. And since my sisters and I were short in the first place, we couldn’t see over the basket sides, and right as we landed…the ground crew popped up right in front of us to help hold the basket down. The sudden appearance of their faces spooked us and you would have thought we were on a haunted trail. The scariest part of the ride.


The basket did slide quite a bit, but the landing wasn’t that bad. We slowly wait our turn to clumsily again climb over the basket onto terra firma. The ground crew quickly pushes out the air to flatten the balloon. We then realize that it actually is quite windy on the ground. Up in the air, we didn’t notice at all.


We gather under the orange red sunset skies, while Bill recites the Irish Blessing. As we raise up our champagne plastic cups, we toast the very successful and gorgeous flight.



Hot air ballooning is a luxury well worth enjoying. No life lessons to be learned this week. Only the acknowledgment that every now and then, we all deserve to do something special for ourselves.



Panorama Balloon Tours, www.gohotair.com. They offer hot air balloon rides in Del Mar (sunset), Temecula (sunrise), Palm Springs, and Albuquerque. The Del Mar sunset rides are $270 weekdays, and $299 weekends per person. Look for regular Internet discounts and Groupon deals — ours was $270 for two.


The first manned hot air flight was in Ireland on January 19, 1785. A good website to find info on hot air ballooning is www.irishballooning.com.


Several areas have hot air balloon festivals such as the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival in late May, www.tvwbf.com; the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta this year on October 4 – 12, www.balloonfiesta.com; and the Irish Hot Air Balloon Meet on September 21 – 26 in County Waterford.


Week 36: Helping Habitat for Humanity

It’s dark, it’s hot, and I’m sure the little black specks I see are mouse droppings. I’m on vacation, and I’m crawling around in the attic of a rehab Habitat for Humanity home. Yes, an exciting vacation indeed!



There are many ways to give back to the community and one group that I always wanted to help with was Habitat for Humanity. It was on my 50 Weeks to 50 list, but I didn’t get around to signing up until recently. I found that most of the project volunteer days are during the week, and all the Saturdays I looked into were full. I think people like volunteering with projects where they can actually see the results. So I was taking a vacation week and was out of town for most, but not all of the time, so I figured what the heck, might as well help during the week.


I signed up for a rehab house in National City. The San Diego Habitat for Humanity affiliate will occasionally obtain homes that have been abandoned and fix them up and find a family that qualifies under their low-income standards. Those that live in San Diego know that housing is expensive and can be tough for anyone to afford. And since home rehabs is somewhat the family business, I thought helping on a rehab project was an appropriate way to give back.

habgate habbckyard


I drive to National City early one morning under dark skies with thunder and lightning threatening. I was worried that rain may delay the project. And yes when I arrived Dale, the project supervisor, informed us that the project was delayed. Not due to weather though, but because the plumbing and electrical work that was to be completed, was not. Those who have had remodeling projects can sympathize. So today we were assigned clean up type duties. Darn, I was looking forward to nailing in something, I like working with hammers.


Lucky short, I say petite, me gets sent up to the attic. Along with one of the shorter guys (but Navy tough), we are to clean up the attic and make sure it’s not a fire hazard prior to putting in the new insulation. The others get sent to the crawl space underneath the home, which is actually about four feet in height, so they could somewhat standup primal like. I probably could have stood upright. Whoohoo, the advantages of being short, I mean petite!

habkitchen habbckrm habgarage

We climb up the ladder, flashlights in hand. Yup, it’s pretty dark up there and very low. How the heck are we supposed to reach the corners and edges? Dale tells us that we can’t put weight on the attic floor (ceiling) so as to not fall through. That we need to move along the joists (I think that’s what they’re called?). There are wooden planks that we can place on top of the joists and use to crawl, or shimmy on to get to outlying areas. This wasn’t really what I was expecting this morning, but someone has to do it right?

habattic2 habattic  

So we use the flashlight to guide us along and show the way to the areas that need cleanup. Gloves are on, and we use masks to keep dust particles, and who knows what else, out of our lungs. I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out how to move from one place to another without stepping on the floor. Good thing I didn’t have a camera filming my backside, because that would have been a sight to see as I tried to angle and position my way around. I move planks along as I try to reach that one piece of wood or old insulation in the far recesses of the ceiling. Inch by inch I would slide towards that elusive excess wood, one stretch of the fingertips, and yes success! Okay, the rest of the attic to go.


As we slowly clean it up, the temperature gets hotter and hotter, and breathing with a mask on makes it worse. We take a break to breathe without the mask. But as we continue I do keep it on, because looking the attic floor, who knows what critters were up here and left who knows what in their droppings. When we are done, I climb down last — for a while I think Dale was going to leave me there, as my short legs barely reached the ladder top.


Dale talks to us some more about Habitat as we gather in front of the house. There’s a little bit of digging to be done around the pipes. So the group stands around and watches while one guy digs. You see, there really wasn’t much more for us to do today. We try and use up time picking up miscellaneous debris left outside and in the backyard. Volunteers can actually do quite a bit more — put up walls, floors, drywall, paint, roof, etc. I will definitely have to sign up again so I can do other building work. Think of it as being a construction intern. The skills you learn may prove to be useful in the future.


But as we stand around, Dale shares with us some of his experiences with Habitat for Humanity projects. They have a couple of new multi-home building projects, one in Imperial Beach and one in Escondido. His favorite projects are those that fall under the Repair Corps category. Repair Corps helps with home fixes for veterans, many who have been wounded. Habitat volunteers will come in and upgrade the home in many ways, including building wheelchair ramps and install walk-in bathtubs. He recalls listening to the vets’ war stories — Pearl Harbor survivor, World War II vets, and Vietnam War vets who told about their experiences of having to fight hand to hand with their bayonets, only camouflaged by the jungle flora. Guys that honorably sacrificed themselves for our country. Dale says the best part is that so many of them are so grateful for what Habitat does for them, and that they get letters of thanks all the time.


We really should write more thank you notes. And thanks to people like Dale who works for an organization making a difference in people’s lives.



We volunteers had a short work day. The group consisted of me, Rebecca who works in real estate so she has a flexible work schedule, and three Navy guys helping on their time off. I think it’s great that we had the opportunity to help with Habitat, because face it, it’s expensive to live in San Diego, and affordable housing is one of the biggest problems. For many families it may be the choice between keeping a roof over their head or food. How much of your income can you feasibly allocate for housing, while trying to feed a family, pay for transportation, utilities, taxes, etc. You all know – it all adds up. It’s a problem I saw when I stayed overnight at the San Diego Rescue Mission (see Week 5), it’s hard to find affordable housing when you are already struggling. I’m honored to help in even the teeny tiny way I did with Habitat. Whoever wants to join me in the future, we can plan a group activity on a Saturday.


Now, reflecting back about our own communities. Many of us like to think only certain neighborhoods need this kind of assistance. But even in my neighborhood, there’s always that one house that seems to be a blight. Do we know their story? Have we ever asked why their properties are being neglected. Maybe an elderly person lives there and can’t maintain or doesn’t have the means to help maintain the property due to physical reasons. Some probably feel too proud to ask for help. Look around your community. If you live in one like University City where I live, homes are getting at that age where repairs and maintenance are needed. And if you bought your home over 30 years ago, are still living in it with now a fixed retirement income, it’s not that you don’t want to fix up your home, you just don’t have the means to – physically and financially. Maybe it’s time to bring the Habitat model to the hyper-local level and make it a project of our neighborhood watches. We can truly watch and take care of each other. It only takes an afternoon to make a difference in someone’s life. All you need to do is ask.



About Habitat for Humanity: The San Diego affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is governed locally, raises funds locally, and builds locally. As with the international group, SDHFH’s mission is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope. Recipients of HFH homes are required to put in sweat equity into their own home or other projects. They have new build projects, rehab projects and special projects for veterans – Repair Corps and Building for the Brave. Other special events include Builders Blitzes and Women Build. SDHFH also runs ReStore, a home improvement outlet store that accepts donations of and sells used building materials. There are two ReStore locations in Mission Valley and Escondido. Individuals and groups can volunteer on the building projects, at the ReStore locations, and with administrative duties. Minimum age to volunteer is 16, but sometimes younger children can help with parental supervision. And I’m serious about planning a group. UC Mamas, are you all in?

San Diego Habitat for Humanity: www.sdhfh.org

Week 35: Floating Away

I feel like I’m floating on air. This must be how it feels like if clouds were your mattress. I close my eyes, and drift away…slowly my mind thinks of …nothing…


After my Walking Dead Escape night during Comic Con, I figured that I should actually watch the episodes. So all of last week and this past weekend, I spent my free nights watching all the available episodes on Netflix — three seasons of Walking Dead. I got hooked after the first episode and had to complete my Walking Dead viewing marathon as fast as I could. I get obsessive that way, like when I have to finish reading a captivating book — I can’t stop. So what if the kids need dinner. Unfortunately Season Four isn’t out yet, and won’t be until a few weeks before Season Five starts on AMC (mark your calendars for October 12!). A side effect of all this exposure to zombies and survival mode characters, is that I think my mind turned me into a dead head. I became sluggish and was in a funk. It seemed that I was still taking to heart my role as a walker and was continuing to be slow and lethargic. (See Week 34)


As for the survivor lifestyle I was viewing, I was starting to think that survivalists really had a point, and that I should stock up on supplies (Costco sells Spam right?). I was also making sure that I could properly swing my collection of baseball bats that I keep by my bed – the old aluminum t-ball bat my kids used, a commemorative Tony Gwynn 3,000th hit wooden bat, and a souvenir Padres hard plastic Padres bat (it probably won’t do much damage, like how the Padres’ bats really are). My swings had to be able to knock off zombie heads you know.


By this past Monday, I knew I had to re-energize myself somehow. So along comes the usual emails from Groupon and Living Social, some which included deals to float spas. Hmm. One hour of floatation therapy. I had heard about these before, and float therapy was known to help your physical and mental well-being. My aging body could use some relaxation, and let’s face it, I was getting mental. It’s also supposedly helpful with any creative blocks you may be experiencing. I do have a few business articles to write. Okay, I sold myself on it, a couple clicks here and there, voila. Now, a quick call to Cocoon Float Spa and my appointment to float away was made.


Oh yes, I ended up picking the float spa that offered the isolation tanks that looked like cocoons. They reminded me of the movie Cocoon and the ability of the aliens’ energy to provide healing powers through the waters. Makes perfect sense to me now, I’ll spend some time in the cocoon’s chamber, get re-energized and live forever, hahahaha! Then comes world domination! Okay, just kidding.



I get to Cocoon Float Spa and realized it was the same building Lacy and I parked in for the Pride Parade. (See Week 33). What a coincidence. The spa had very modern, clean furnishings that really complemented the look of the cocoons. I liked the solid white background, with touches of blues. My favorite color. And they had a great floor they created themselves with beach pebbles and epoxy. You sign-in for your treatments via iPads, plus first timers are to watch a short animated video on what to expect and what to do. Simple enough, you float and relax.


The very nice male attendant (I forgot to ask his name), showed me to my chamber which includes a private shower. You go in the float tank butt naked, and need to shower immediately before and immediately after your session. A ton of Epsom salt is in the water, which is what helps you float. He showed me how to close and open the cocoon; there is no lock and it uses hydraulic bars, so it opens easily. I wouldn’t want to get trapped in there. He also showed me how to turn on and off the lights and Muzak, and he told me that most people turn them off about five minutes into the session. Part of the float therapy is in experiencing sensory deprivation, which is why it’s dark and quiet. I’m also given ear plugs to help deafen any noise. He also lets me know that the music and lights will automatically turn on when I have five minutes left of my session.


Okie, dokie. I’m then left alone to float my troubles away. I shower quickly, and step on in. The water feels soothing and warm. The tank is also built to warm the water to your body temperature. I slowly close the door, but wait, the attendant mentioned I could place a towel down so the door doesn’t completely shut and a crack of light seeps through. I decide to do that. A neck floatie is also provided to help keep your head up. At first I try without it, but felt I was straining myself, so I use the floatable pillow and feel much more comfortable. Okay, I’m floating, getting comfy, time to turn off the lights. Whoa…that is dark. I lose my sense of direction in this tiny tank (although bigger than what I expected), and am pushed away by my own current and need to sit up, open my eyes and find the light button again so I can turn off the music. Now I can turn them both off.


Back to business. With both the lights and music off, I try to relax, and simply float. What do I think about in here? Do I think about work? No. Do I think about my friend’s problems with her daughter? I’m so glad I have sons. Should I have a garage sale or not? Still undecided. Is orange really the new black? Darn, my whole wardrobe is basically black. Then I get distracted by the slightest of sounds. Geez, I forgot to put on those ear plugs. I can’t remember instructions given to me five minutes before I start? I don’t want to get out to grab them; I just know some alarm would sound off if I did. So I try not to pay attention to the barely audible humming sound I hear, to the gurgling sounds my body is making (no it wasn’t a fart), and to the noises my floatie pillow is now making which do sound like farts. I adjust my pillow.


What do I do with my hands? I try to lay them across my chest mummy style. No, too deathly. Then I place them on each side in a V formation. No, too loose. I rest them behind my neck underneath my floatie. Yes, just right. Too much thinking going on here. I take some deep breaths to help me relax more. The video also mentioned toning, just making noise in the cocoon. I start doing so as if I was in yoga. Hey, sounds pretty cool in here, but no echo. Maybe it’s like in the shower, my voice may actually sound good singing. I try to sing that new song I’m hooked on: “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor. Nope, I still can’t sing, even in a cocoon pod.


My nose is itchy. I scratch it and some of the water from my finger drips onto my lips. Yuck! That salty water is disgusting. I forgetfully try to wipe my mouth which makes the taste worse. And I get a few drops in my eyes, which quickly stings me. There is a spray bottle of fresh water to get it out, but I don’t feel like trying to find it. So I take it and eventually the stinging goes away.


I eventually relax enough where I do feel like I am floating on air. It really is relaxing. It feels like there is nothing below me or around me. This must be how it feels to be weightless. I imagine myself in space, like Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity. Oops, that was not a good thought. I start to feel like I need to touch something. I move myself towards the door so that my feet touch the cocoon walls. That’s better. Now with that swishing around, I created some subtle waves which makes me feel like I am moving, yet when I look towards the sliver of light through the door’s crack as a reference point, I realize I’m not moving. Am I getting motion sickness now? I am so lame. I’m starting to feel nauseous, and very bloated. I can’t float anymore. I sit.


This all occurred roughly more than halfway through my session. So taking into account getting adjusted to everything, I think I may have had a solid 20-25 minutes of relaxed floating. Now, I’ve freaked myself out too much, I can’t get back into that state. I try. Maybe about three more times. And I was just about to fall asleep, maybe that’s what scared me too, I didn’t want to fall asleep in water. But the water is so buoyant from all the Epsom salt, that you naturally conform to a floating position. Not wearing ear plugs didn’t help either. I kept hearing a buzzing sound, until I realized it was my phone notifying me of incoming texts. I can’t get out to look, the point of float therapy is sensory deprivation. So I sit there, naked, arms around my knees, my bottom heated by the salty water (I do have a hot bottom), waiting for my session to end. I only sit there about five minutes before miraculously the lights turn on and the music starts playing. Thank God! I sit there a little while longer for good measure, and slowly get out.


I take a really long shower (sorry, I know we’re in a drought), and use every product they provided. I’m still trying to take deep breaths in the shower to calm myself. I was still feeling nauseous and bloated. Before I leave, I share my truthful experience with the attendant, who seems very puzzled at what I am saying. Am I the only one to not come out raving about how life changing it was? He says it could be that I have a lot of toxins to rid. Huh. He gives me a bunch of discount cards to use for next time, or to give out to friends. The guy who was in the cocoon room next to me came out saying that “it was amazing!” I left at that point.


Now, I don’t think it was a bad experience. I did relax at the beginning and enjoyed it, until I felt that I did need to use some of my senses. I needed to use at least one sense – like touching the walls. The isolation tank was invented in 1954 by John C. Lilly, and scientists started using them in the late 1970s to experiment on the therapeutic benefits and called it “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST). REST. It may have been better for me if I could have started with only 30 minutes of sensory deprivation. Why is it that everything is booked in hours? Massages, acupuncture, exercise classes. I probably experienced some sort of sensory withdrawal. I’m usually on sensory overload. At the office, I have two screens going, with many windows open, and a number of projects being worked on daily. And my phone is like a mini computer, or the TV is on news or sports or House Hunters International, the laptop connects me to Netflix, in the car the radio is on. I’m screwed. This is also why I still haven’t been able to really meditate. I’m addicted to being on sensory overload. My name is Jemma, and I am a sensory addict.


Seriously folks, I did get a very good nights sleep. I fell asleep by 10:00pm, which is early for me. And I’m pretty sure I was snoring. My back pain seemed to have gone away. And boy, my skin sure feels soft. You do have to clean yourself up really good afterwards, as midday the next day it was kinda gross when I realized I had a some residual dried salt on my earlobes, and I’m wiping the salt out with my fingers. Ehh, touching my earlobes does calm me. I could still feel a slight sting of salt in my eyes too, they’re looking pretty red.


Would I try it again. Maybe. I do believe in trying things at least twice to confirm one way or the other. Like the time I tried that stinky but supposedly tasty fruit durian during a trip to Thailand. Well, the first time yes it was stinky and it was not tasty. I’m sure I made a horrified face when I took a bite. On a future trip to the Philippines, I decided to try it again, and the results were the same. So what is the lesson I learned from this experience? There’s no way I could be an astronaut.


Cocoon Float Spa, 3969 4th Ave. #201, San Diego, CA 92103, 619.688.3978, www.cocoonfloatspa.com. $90 for 60 minutes (I have discount cards if you want one.) $150 couples – not in the same cocoon (I wish), same time. Membership packages available. Free parking.


Just because I was thinking of this song while in the tank, here are the lyrics to Meghan Trainor’s song:


“All About That Bass”

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two

But I can shake it, shake it

Like I’m supposed to do

Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase

And all the right junk in all the right places

I see the magazines workin’ that Photoshop

We know that shit ain’t real

C’mon now, make it stop

If you got beauty beauty, just raise ’em up

Cause every inch of you is perfect

From the bottom to the top

Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size

She says boys like a little more booty to hold at night

You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll

So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

Because you know I’m

All about that bass

‘Bout that bass, no treble

I’m all about that bass

‘Bout that bass, no treble

I’m all about that bass

‘Bout that bass, no treble

I’m all about that bass

‘Bout that bass


I’m bringing booty back

Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that

No I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat

But I’m here to tell ya

Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size

She said boys like a little more booty to hold at night

You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll

So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along


Because you know I’m

All about that bass

‘Bout that bass, no treble

I’m all about that bass

‘Bout that bass

Hey, hey, ooh

You know you like this bass