Monthly Archives: January 2016

A LONG AND PLEASURABLE WAY HOME – 16-DAY CRUISE – MIAMI TO L.A.

It was a gamble on two fronts.  First, we had never taken a cruise of more than 12 days and that seemed a bit long.  Second, we were somewhat wary of how we’d like six days at sea.

We were on Oceania’s 684-passenger Regatta.  It worked out well on both questions.  We cruised through two oceans and a canal.  In addition to the six days at sea, we had eight excursion days and an exciting transit through the awesome Panama Canal.  All in all, we were quite pleased.

Our first stop out of Miami was Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island.  The attractions included the Cayman Islands Historical Museum; 65-acre Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park; 23-acre Turtle Farm; Pedro St. James Historic site located in an 18th century mansion; Dolphin Discovery, where you can swim and play with the dolphins; snorkeling tours of Stingray Beach and the fine-grained white sand; and Seven Mile Beach that offers shallow waters-well suited for parasailing, jet ski rentals, tubing and helicopter rides.

The next excursion stop was at Cartagena, Columbia, only about one-half mile from our dock at the cruise terminal.  A really nice, colorful (UNESCO World Heritage Caribbean) city where I guess the local drug lords keep it upgraded.  In addition to the old town walled to protect the city against frequent pirate attacks, there are mostly colonial-style buildings and several major attractions.  They included Palace of the Inquisition, Museum del Oro, Fort of St. Felipe (built in 1634), and the stunning view from the top of the Covenant of the Pope.  There’s also the 16th century Cathedral of Cartagena, the Caribbean Naval Museum and the Islands of Rosario featuring coral reefs, crystalline waters and beautiful beaches.

Then came the awesome Panama Canal and a fascinating day-long trip through three sets of locks and two staging areas waiting for your turn.

Built by the United States from 1904 to 1914, the canal posed major engineering challenges, such as damming a major river and digging a channel through the continent.  It was the largest and most complex project ever undertaken at the time, employing tens of thousands of workers at a cost of $350 million.  The canal cuts through the central and most populated region of Panama, covering 50 miles.

The building of a ship canal across Panama involved digging through the mountains of the Continental Divide, constructing the largest earthen dam ever built up to that time; building the most massive locks ever envisioned; constructing the largest lock gates ever swung and solving sanitation and environmental problems of gigantic proportions.  The best way to understand the operation of the Canal is to think of it as a giant water elevator that lifts ships out of one ocean, moves them through the jungles of Panama, over the mountains of the Continental Divide and sets them down in the other ocean.  Ships enter the locks on one side of the Isthmus where they are raised in several steps 85-feet above sea level.  Then, they are lowered down to sea level by the locks at the other end of the Canal and proceed on their voyage into the other ocean.  It is one of the world’s greatest engineering feats.

The expansion of the Canal is well underway; however, the new technology-improved gates leak.  The 100-plus-year-old gates still work perfectly.

By the way, our passage through the Canal cost our cruise line a little under $300,000.  That amounts to over $1,000 per passenger.  It’s a sight to see and experience!

Then after another relaxing sea day, it was on to Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

Puntarenas is the largest city in the Central Pacific region.  Located on a narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya, it is Costa Rica’s main port.  It is a traditional fishing village developing for the future.  The walk along the waterfront is pleasant but expect a variety of vendors selling local crafts.  Away from the port, the region’s unspoiled beauty emerges.  Rain forests start at the coastline and continue into the mountain ranges with rivers, waterfalls, parks and wildlife preserves.  About 20 miles south of Puntarenas is Carara Biological Reserve, covering over 11,750 acres of virgin-like tropical forest.  Despite the lushness of the vegetation, the undergrowth is relatively clear, making it easy to observe wildlife.  With beaches on the Pacific Ocean, it also attracts many tourists, especially surfers.

They’re very proud of their coffee, about the 13th largest producers in the world.  It’s mostly gourmet, single-origin coffee.

We took a five-hour Eco Mangrove River Tour that included a 1-1/2 hour bus ride through the countryside to get to the Tarcoles River and Guacalillo Estuary. We saw four different types of the wordy mangroves in this home for 250 species of birds, crocodiles, monkeys and insets.  It was an interesting small adventure into an eco-diversified world.

The next day we were in Cozurto, Nicaragua, an impoverished country trying to come out of the third world after many years of civil strife and conflicts between the Sandinistas, the Contras and various rebel groups.  The people of Nicaragua now have a somewhat stable democracy, but it’s a struggle.

We enjoyed a great trip to the old colonial capital of Leon, with several active volcanoes in the background.  The 1747-built Cathedral of Leon is now a UNESCO Heritage Site, and quite a site to see.  There is also the esteemed Center of Arts, housed in two restored colonial buildings; one building displays pre-Columbian works of art while the other is home to many Latin-American masters, such as Diego Rivera, as well as the likes of Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.

Next we sailed into Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, an industrial port adjacent to the city of San Jose.  An extensive craft market welcomes you at the foot of the pier, featuring native crafts such as textiles, clay, wood carvings and leather goods.

We enjoyed a tour of Colonial Antique, although the 1-1/2 miles of cobblestone streets were a little hard to handle.  We had lunch at a delightful restaurant/resort that also featured many ruins of the old city and galleries of glass, silver and art.

After another sea day, we made it to Acapulco, located on a deep, semi-circular bay and one of Mexico’s most well-known beach resorts.  The cliff divers are still there giving an awesome performance diving 140 feet off the rocky cliffs into the shallow waters below. The traffic is horrific and you see all you can of the hotels, resorts and beaches on the way to the Chapel of Peace overlooking the whole city and the bay.

This was followed by another day at sea and a visit to Cabo San Lucas, where we docked in the bay and tendered into the pier, about a mile from the town.  Today, sportsmen flock to Cabo for world-famous fishing, outstanding diving and game bird hunting, as well as golfing and a rich resort life.

Gabriele went kayaking in the Sea of Cortez out to the El Arco rock formation and sea colony.  It was a great ride.  The beach and snorkeling option was waived as it was a bit too windy.

A last day at sea and into San Diego, where the dock is ½ mile into downtown.  You know, San Diego is a delightful city with Seaport Village, the Maritime Museum, USS Carrier Midway, Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park with great museums and Old Town State Historic Park.  There is also Coronado Island and the toney La Jolla Cove and Village.  A  great port to visit anytime.

Then overnight we were back in Los Angeles at San Pedro and home in less than an hour.

This was our third cruise on Oceania, and a great way to spend the holidays.  We like Oceania.  The food is very good and the cabins and physical layout on each of the ships is pretty much the same.  It’s kind of a little upscale without the attitude.

ArtSchwartzSig

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LIFE IS ABOUT PURPOSE

Finally!  We have some research that actually quantifies the importance of purpose.  Taken from a recent survey of more than 6,300 adult age, full-time employed, U.S. workers in a wide range of industries and job types, the 2015 Workforce Purpose Index shows that 28% of U.S. workers define, “the role of work in their lives as a source of personal fulfillment and a way to help others.”  Seventy-two percent indicated in the study that work is just a means to an end.

This is important, I believe, because purpose-driven employees bring more value to their work.  The study indicates that purpose-oriented workers stay 20% longer at companies are 50% more likely to be in leadership positions, 47% more likely to be promoters of their employers, and have 64% higher levels of fulfillment in their work.  They also have stronger relationships with their coworkers; they believe their work makes an impact; and they are more likely to grow personally and professionally.

It’s also important because purpose-oriented employers attract purpose-oriented workers.  So the fastest way to having higher-performing teams is for leadership to infuse purpose into every aspect of their companies’ activities.

This research quantifies what we already thought was true.  There have always been two camps in the work arena; and each has its place.

Camp I is the 28% who define the role of work in their lives as a primary source of fulfillment.  Because of that guide, they tend to work longer hours and often take that work home in terms of thinking about it and/or actual homework.

Camp II is the 72% who feel work is a means to an end—“it’s only a job.”  They try to leave work at the office, occasionally think about it or bring some work home, but it’s the exception.

If there was only one camp, the workplace would probably cease to function.  The percentages in each camp are likely right, but aren’t there any undecided?

All this is important for several reasons.  The 28% who find purpose in their work and invest themselves heavily in trying to do better are the wellspring of entrepreneurs.  They may or may not follow that path to starting or buying a new business, but they have the core element in entrepreneurial skills.

But what about Camp II?  Where do they find fulfillment , the purpose in their lives?  Some may find it in family; some in serving others through church or charitable work.  Perhaps some find it in their avocation; i.e., hobbies, sports, recreation activities.  Unfortunately, some part of the 72% may not find it at all, and that’s really sad!

Although I have no research to back this up, I’m fairly certain Camp I people are also type A personalities whereas Camp II people are more mellow and fall below the alphabet designations somewhere.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this difference in work purpose is what happens when a relationship develops between partners from different camps.  Will each be comfortable and understand, tolerate and allow the others’ operational mode to flourish?

As long as the Camp II partner is willing to be there when Camp I decides to come home and interact, I think it has a good chance to work.

How about a relationship with two Camp I type A personalities?  That’s a tricky one and hard to predict.  It will depend on the maturity level of both parties and the willingness to make some compromises, because, sooner or later, compromises will have to be made or there will be an explosion.

This blog was inspired first by a dinner conversation with a Camp II friend one evening and then by Glenn Geffeken and his wife Maria’s separate blogs on the subject of passion.

I believe “purpose” and “passion” are conjoined twins.  They feed on each other and go a long way to creating fulfillment.

In her blog, Maria said, “I have been on a winding road, making stops, staying for awhile, then leaving because I did not have a passion.  I felt as if I missed out on the day when passion was being handed out.

“I have felt very discouraged at times, and even paralyzed, by my doubt and fear that I have no passion, and therefore nothing to offer.  So I have remained hidden and silent until somehow the passion-giving guru comes back around and I won’t miss my opportunity to receive it this time.”

In my personal experience in hiring, I always tried to find if the person I was interviewing had a passion…about anything.  I felt this might translate to their finding “purpose” in our activities.  Some did, some didn’t.

(Maria can be reached at Maria@balancedis.com)

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THE BEST 10 MOVIES OF 2015

So, here I go again, thinking this was a really poor year for movies.  Lots of sci-fi, comic book and popcorn flicks, but you have to wait ‘til November and December to see any number of worthwhile films.

The year-long drought is what makes me think it’s such a poor year.

In the somewhat banner year of 2014, I nominated for best movies:

  • Fading Gigilo
  • The Skeleton Twins
  • The Lunch Box
  • Gone Girl
  • Chef
  • Selma
  • A Man Most Wanted
  • Turner

That was eight in all.  Turned out to be a pretty good year!

Here are my picks for 2015, which all came out in November and December:

Steve Jobs – a little wordy, which is what you get from Aaron Sirkin (the writer), and a bit more emphasis on his relationship with his daughter, but an entertaining, smart look at this arrogant and brilliant innovator of Apple.  Outstanding performance from Michael Fassbender.

The Martian – Took us through the plight of an astronaut, well played by Matt Damon, inadvertently abandoned on the planet Mars.  Capably directed by Ridley Scott in a well done flick.

Spotlight – Good cast, well done, gripping and impactful story of the small investigative unit at the Boston Globe who uncover the pedophile abuse that sets off a national and international scandal in the Catholic Church.

The Big Short – Good, somewhat complicated story of the events leading up to the subprime mortgage crisis which exploded in 2008.  The movie follows the activities of three groups of wall streeters who bet the collapse was coming.  Need to stay alert to follow all the machinations.

Brooklyn – Well adapted from the novel with heart-stopping work from the star, Sairse Ronan, and the rest of the cast.  It is the story about love and heartache, loneliness and intimacy, what home means and how we achieve it.

Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg’s superior directing skills and the fine acting of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance do the trick in this spy thriller about an insurance lawyer who is recruited to defend a Russian agent and then attempts to trade him for our captured U2 spy pilot.

We were away for half of December, so we didn’t get to see three other highly rated films:

Carol (Critics Choice) – Starring Cate Blanchett and Creed, what maybe the end of the Rocky era, and The Revenant, epic adventure on the American frontier with Leonardo Di Caprio.

And then there were the also rans.  Only one this year in my opinion.

Grandma – Well done, cute and entertaining, except for Lily Tomlin who was very angry (I’m not sure why) throughout the whole movie.

If you add these up, that makes eight; the same as last year.  The problem is they all come out so late, that most of the year feels like a vacuum.

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LIVE WELL WITH LOW VISION

As many of you know, I have very poor vision.  This was discovered when I was about six years old.  I stumbled over something, fell and broke my collar bone.  I’ve worn thick glasses ever since.  Often I’m not able to recognize someone from across the street or approaching me until they’re up pretty close.  Some people mistake this for my being a snob.

There have been other similar problems, but all in all I’ve weathered through what amounts to be a minor handicap.  My vision is hampered by spots on the retina (in the back of the eyes) which causes the eyes to have to see around the spots.  It appears this was evident from birth.

Here is a rundown of the diseases which can cause declining vision.

What is Glaucoma?  Glaucoma is a condition in which the fluid pressure inside the eye is either too low or too high, causing damage to the optic nerve.  They will still be able to use their central vision, but it will seem like they are looking through a tunnel, and that tunnel will get smaller over time.  Eventually, total blindness can occur.  The effects can often be treated with eye drops or laser surgery.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?  Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes type 1 and 2 and a leading cause of blindness.  Between 40-45% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy.

Laser surgery often works along with medication, diet, exercise and regular blood sugar testing.

What is a Cataract?  A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye.  Ninety-five percent of people over 65 years of age have cataracts to some degree that may cause blurring of vision.  Other symptoms include glare, poor night vision and double vision.

Wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat, eating green leafy vegetables, fruit and other antioxidant foods can help delay cataracts.

What is Macular Degeneration?  Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in people age 65 and older.  Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, and family history.  AMD may cause blurred, distorted vision, often with blank spots in the central vision making it harder to identify faces.

AMD occurs in two forms: dry and wet.  An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy.  The dry form of AMD is much more common—90% of people have this type.

What you can do if you are living with low vision?  When you first notice a change in your vision, you should contact your eye doctor immediately.  See your doctor if you experience:

  • Eye pain or persistent discomfort
  • Bulging eyes
  • Flashing lights, floaters, or a gray shadow
  • Eye injury
  • Any loss of vision—sudden or one eye

Some eye diseases can be managed with an early diagnosis and medication, but early detection is important.

I’m telling you all this to explain why I became enamored with a great organization here in Southern California that provides an assortment of valuable services to blind and low vision children and adults; it’s the Braille Institute located on North Vermont in Los Angeles.  They have four regional centers in Orange County, Rancho Mirage, San Diego and Santa Barbara.

Live Well With Low Vision.  Hope.  Encouragement.  Support.  For people with low to no vision, that is what they will find at Braille Institute.  Their programs are designed to help clients of any age maximize their remaining visio0n and learn how to use practical skills and techniques to make their daily lives more manageable.  All of their services are provided free of charge and are funded through individual donors and foundations.

Children Ages 0-5

Specially trained Child Development Consultants work with families that have blind or visually impaired infants and toddlers to help their child reach development milestones in preparation for school.

Youth and Teens Ages 6-18

  • Emphasis is on the development of independent living skills.
  • Socio-recreational skills are developed through group activities.
  • Program incorporates use of technology to build academic skills and preparation for eventual employment.

Young Adults Ages 18-30

  • The core of this program is called “Your Personal Best,” a 3-5 year customized life plan with goals to be achieved through “Stepping Stones to Success.”
  • Classes, seminars, workshops and internships are intended to build job readiness skills leading to employment.

Adults

Braille’s lifestyle programs help adult clients with little to no vision.

  • Regain confidence in the kitchen
  • Stay connected through technology
  • Manage their home and finances
  • Get around town or travel the world
  • Rediscover fun and fitness through leisure activities
  • Express themselves through creativity

Low Vision Consultations.  When glasses can no longer correct your vision, you can make an appointment for their free one-hour service conducted by a Low Vision Rehabilitation Specialist.

  • Functional vision assessments lead to recommendations for lighting or magnification devices.
  • Hand-held magnifiers, specific lighting and other devices (such as smart phones and tables) can make objects bigger, brighter or bolder.
  • Magnification and other devices can help you accomplish your daily tasks at home, school, in the workplace—or anywhere else.

Library Services:  Books, magazines and other materials in audio, digital and Braille formats are offered.

Connection Pointe:  State-of-the-art technology center where free instruction is offered on all of the latest mainstream and adaptive devices, such as smartphones, tablets, voice output software and much more.

Need More Information?  Call VISION CONNECT, a national resource provided by Braille Institute to connect you with important information, free services and other resources designed to help you live well with low or no vision.  On the phone or online, find answers.  Call Braille at 1-800-272-4553 or visit www.vision-connect.org.

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