"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CLEMET Zoo - The Trumpeter's Nest

A couple of years ago we had our granddaughter at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and were thrilled to watch little trumpeter swans following mommy all over the pond where they had nested. They were soft fluffy cuteness and we enjoyed revisiting to see their growth over the summer. If I recall correctly they were sent to another area to try to reintroduce the trumpeter swans into the environment as they are slowly disappearing.

This year we were excited to see the pair of swans nesting again. Well, mom was on the nest and dad was sleeping nearby. Trumpeter swans mate for life and it was good to see this pair still together and healthy. They are the largest of all waterfowl measuring up to six feet in length and can weigh almost 30 pounds. Their trumpet sound can be heard all over the zoo when they are excited.

We stopped and mom eyed us for a minute. They choose to make their nest which is about 5 feet in diameter near a walkway. The nest is always in the same spot each year. Bob jokingly said, "Can we see what you've got in there?" A moment later, mom stood up and sure enough the nest was full. There were about a half dozen eggs the size of my fist in there.

She stepped around them carefully and then stuck her head under a couple and moved them a bit. Once she liked where they were positioned, she turned herself around and sat back down. Either the eggs needed to be turned or she was just trying to make it a little more comfortable.

Bob thanked her for her kindness and we walked off feeling we had witnessed something special.

That's why I love the zoo so much.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flashback Friday - The Smokies

One of our first vacations with all five of our kids was to the Smokey Mountains. We rented a beautiful house on a mountainside near Gatlinburg and drove to it from our home in Ohio. We had a station wagon at that time (later we would graduate to a van) that we packed up and headed south. There were no problems with it until we reached the mountains and began the climb.

Our youngest son, newly adopted at the age of five, did not have good speech skills yet. He is developmentally handicapped and at that point in life had few words in his vocabulary communicating mostly with grunts and sounds and hand signals. What he did and still does have is a great smile. He smiled all the way to Tennessee.

We began to notice the car not getting much acceleration up the inclines. We would make it to the top of one holding our breath and hoping that the next one would be okay. At one particular incline almost to our destination, the car crept along slowing and slowing almost to a stop. We were so close to the house. Bob didn't want to turn around and try to find a service garage at that point so he kept the pedal pushed to the floor and his hands tight on the steering wheel.

 I don't think any of us were praying out loud. Maybe I didn't realize it and I was. The kids had been very quiet feeling the anxiety of the situation with the car not having any power. Suddenly we heard a loud pop and for a moment the car lurched and chugged then began accelerating on the incline. Before anyone could say a word we heard a chuckle from Donny and then, "God fixa car!"

Not only did God fix the car (it ran like a charm after that) but it was definitely a break through in Don's language skills.

Oh yes, the rest of the vacation. We hiked. We relaxed in the big hot tub. And we fished. The fishing was the other dear memory. It was a stocked trout pond. Now imagine trying to keep track of five kids who were pulling in trout one after the other. Finally one of the attendants said, "Ma'am how many fish do you want to take home? You know you buy them by the pound."

I looked at the kids and the pile of fish. Yikes! "I think we'll stop now." It was a quick but successful fishing session and we enjoyed the fresh trout on the grill for dinner.

And then there was the indoor skydiving. But that's another flashback for another Friday. Fond memories.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Avoiding The Local Travel Scams

The older we get the more likely we are to be targeted for scams. Seniors are thought to be less savvy than younger travelers but no matter what your age, those who feel they can cleverly scam you out of money and/or possessions are ever present in the tourist areas of the world. I could tell you what the most recent scams are that I read about but by the time I post this and you read it the scammers will be on to something different. So here are a few common sense things to remember as you are out and about in foreign places.

Whenever you are approached by someone who wants to stop you and talk or sell you something be wary. When in Paris several years ago we were approached not once but three different times with the is-this-your-ring scam. Someone would run after you with a ring in their hand and ask if it was yours. If not, they would offer to go off and sell the ring. Of course you are not going to go with them so they will conveniently let you pay them half of its value and then you can have the ring to pawn or sell yourself. Others have approached us with items to sell and one almost succeeded in emptying my fanny pack which was in front of me and under my jacket.

Stay with authorized taxis. You can find out that information in tourist books or on board your cruise ship or at a tourist information booth. Otherwise you may be overcharged or be given counterfeit change.

Be aware of your surroundings. Travel in groups when possible or stay on the main roads and byways. While pickpockets may like large crowds, muggers will enjoy the less traveled alleys. Get a money belt but don't carry a large amount of cash. The best place to get money at an ATM is inside a bank or at the airport. It is less likely you will encounter trouble. And for goodness sake--don't take all your money out of your wallet or pocket or money belt at one time and hold it in your hand showing how much you are carrying.

Probably the scariest scam that we encountered albeit not directly was when we passed through Mozambique. While we were escorted with a tour group on our way to a safari in South Africa, others from our ship were exploring the capital city. Whether actual police officers or not, there were two instances of cameras being confiscated. We had been told that you could not take a picture of someone in uniform or an official government building. The camera owners were accused of taking forbidden pictures and were told that if they paid a fine they would return the camera. One man was told they would detain his wife too. Luckily they returned wife and camera when he emptied his wallet for them. I think I would have left my camera on the ship.

Whether home or abroad, common sense is the best thing to travel with. Don't leave home without it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Marking Time Between Trips

We have several months before we embark on our next journey. There comes a point where you get all caught up with things at home and wanderlust begins to set in again. Some of that will be solved by a few trips closer to home but a little wandering around the web helps as well. One of my web sojourns led me to an article about some unusual places to stay in various spots around the world.

Bali, Australia, Mexico, British Columbia, Georgia (USA), France, Italy, the article listed ten. They ranged in price from $250/night to $10,000/night. So practically speaking I'd probably opt for the one in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, although Mexico is not a favorite destination. The house is interesting though. Made to look like a collection of sea shells it has an inviting feel to it. I checked its listing and the price shown was actually $308 but the offerings are many including the pool. Several pictures I found from TripAdvisor shows the inside is as unique as the outside. Most reviews were good.

On the other end of the scale is the 11 acre estate in Los Altos Hills, California. Now if I won the lottery and had more money than I knew what to do with and I was a Beyonce fan (she stayed there for her Superbowl appearance) I'd consider it. Sleek and modern. Rooftop garden with views of the valley. Of course a pool and a spa and a pricetag of $10,000/night. Maybe we could get four other couples to go in with us. That would make it only $2.000/night. Ah, dream on.

My real choice though would be the Parisian Mansion in Saint-Germain en Laye, France. It's a moderate $1650/night. Built in 1679 by the same man who designed the Chateau in Versailles, it has seven bedrooms and sleeps 12. Splitting the cost on that would make it actually affordable. It's 20 minutes outside of Paris. Oh, and did I mention it comes with a housekeeping staff. Wonder if we could get a chef too?

Ah, dreams, the stuff that makes life more interesting.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Electronics Ban On Airplanes

Just when you thought security clearance couldn't get any more difficult along comes another change. A short time ago all electronic devices larger than a cell phone were banned from flights to the USA from a list of Middle East countries. Supposedly there was a concern that a bomb could be put in the device that was difficult to screen in the usual carry on screening.  Apparently the screening of checked bags is more thorough or more able to detect a device that has been tampered with.

You can stow your devices in your checked luggage although I have read that some airlines are concerned that all those lithium batteries could be dangerous down in the hold. That could be why the proposed ban on electronic devices on flights to the USA from Europe is still awaiting approval.

The last place I want my Surface tablet, my camera and my e-reader to be when I travel is in checked baggage. Not only would I be concerned about damage, since anyone who has watched the loading and unloading knows how those bags are tossed, but I'd also be concerned about possibility of theft either in the transport or in the baggage claim. So what's a wandering writer to do?

I searched for information and suggestions online and found a few. None were really acceptable. Clean the memory of your computer and store it in the cloud then download what you need. Sounds feasible as long as your computer arrives with you. If not, you will have to wait until the new one is purchased. Still, your valuable information will not be lost.

Another suggestion was to purchase some sort of container that would show you if someone tried to access your computer while in transit. It is said that those who are malicious could plug in a USB drive and load a program that would allow access to your computer later from a remote location. Now how they would have time to do that while it is going through security and being loaded on a place is questionable but it is feasible I guess.

I can live with not using my Surface while I fly. Living without my e-reader is a little harder but I can read on my phone if necessary. The question is how will the airlines respond who have restructured their entertainment to be accessed by WiFi on board through a passenger's device?

It all seems to be getting quite complicated. But backing up to the original reason for banning the devices--the fact that the screening of carry ons is not as effective as checked bags doesn't make sense. Let's get the screening fixed.

We've lived with having to take our shoes off, learned math with the 311 bag and even put up with imaging devices to be sure we didn't have something explosive (other than normal physical functions) in our underwear. What next? Guess I'll be dusting off my old Royal and oiling the keys.

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