"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Airplane Seats - Oh, My Achin' Back!

Several items from travel newsletters have come into my inbox that have to do with being able to sleep on a plane. Short of getting a business class or first class upgrade we are stuck with trying to sleep in coach. For Bob it's not a problem. He could sleep anywhere. For me, well, if I get a couple of nods I'm lucky.

I've tried all the hints. No blue screens-meaning I'm off the phone and computer before I try to sleep. I read. I take Tylenol PM. I don't have caffeine. I don't eat heavily before or during the flight. Etc. and etc. I will still be awake through most of the flight--day or night. Why? Well, it might be that the seat is so uncomfortable that I keep waking up from the back pain.

So, when I saw the new hints and suggestions, I suddenly wondered why coach seats are so uncomfortable. Turns out its because they have to be lightweight and sturdy. Adding lumbar support would add too much weight and the mechanisms to control it would need too many repairs thus not only causing more expense for construction but also for maintenance. I thought it was maybe because of safety but, no, it has to do more with the bottom line in the financial ledgers.

Apparently seats are designed for the average customer. I guess if you are too tall or too short you are out of luck but that still doesn't explain why they are shaped like a C.  The best I can do is to take a sweater with me and wad it up behind my back. Some relief but I'm guessing as I get older, there are going to have to be fewer trips and the extra money spent for more comfort. I'm off to negotiate with the "travel agent" I'm married to for some upgrades.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Books For The Road - A Good American

How could a good Englishman write a good book called A Good American? He moves to America of course. Alex George was born in England but moved to Missouri. His day job is law but it's his side job that had me reading and reading and reading.

A Good American is the story of an immigrant couple from Germany that actually land in New Orleans rather than the usual New York City. They come about the same time that my father's father's family came to America. Perhaps that is what drew me in at first. The story continues with their struggle to survive and find their place in America. They settle in a town in Missouri that thankfully has many German-speaking residents.

As the story goes on, the children are added and the restaurant they establish goes through many changes as the years go by. George is great at taking you through time and establishing the culture of the years as the family grows and develops. The challenges and the heartbreak, the joys and the discoveries keep you reading and weave you into the lives of the Meisenheimers.

Some mysteries and surprises along the way add to the interest and keep you turning pages. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through time. I'd recommend it as a great take-along to keep you occupied through your travel time. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for his next one.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Credit Limit - A Short Story

[This is a fun little story that was inspired by my stint as a florist.]                                                             
  CREDIT LIMIT

Jack Griggs couldn’t believe his good luck. It was a sign, surely a sign. He had finally turned a corner in life. Good fortune smiled on him. It was the shiny red plastic sticking out from the folded paper that caught his eye. He almost passed it by assuming it to be just another piece of litter on the city streets. Red was his favorite color. It piqued his curiosity. Stooping to pick it up, he immediately recognized the litter as a credit card receipt wrapped around the credit card itself. It was just ten in the morning and the day was immediately promising despite the cloudy skies. Here was his silver lining.
It was amazing how a little find like this could lighten your step and put a whistle on your lips. Jack ducked into a Starbuck’s a few doors down to contemplate his good fortune and plan the rest of his day.
“What can I get for you?” the counter girl asked as he perused the menu of specialty coffees.

“I’ll have a latte,” he said. His hand explored the credit card in his pocket. He could feel the raised numbers. “You know, it’s such a great day, I think I’ll treat myself to one of those big cinnamon rolls too,” he added.
Jack found a seat in the corner to examine his found treasure. Normally, he would rummage through trash cans for carbons or slip a wallet out of a pocket or purse to get hold of a little credit to supply him with the necessities of life, but today it had been right there in front of him on the sidewalk.
Jack was always careful not to take any credit from the customers he met at the garage where he parked cars all evening for a living. A living. That was a laugh. The money he made barely allowed for a roof over his head and food in his belly.
There were other necessities of life just as important. Necessities that added to the quality of life such as a new stereo system, a lounge chair, a microwave (an absolute “gotta have” for a bachelor), some great jewelry and a few other wants and desires not affordable on his income. Jack was very conscientious about his credit spending. Each time he used someone’s plastic, he was careful to keep a low limit to his new credit line. Rule number one, he never assumed there would be more than a thousand left on any credit card account. He’d made that mistake once and was sure he’d been caught when the credit card was denied. And, rule number two, he got his shopping done quickly, before the card could be reported stolen or the bank catch on to unusual activity. He didn’t worry about the owners of the cards. After all, he figured, his “gifted” credit was covered by insurance through the bank. Banks and insurance companies had plenty of money to throw around.
This find was such incredible luck. As Jack examined the receipt, he noticed the buyer had filled in his address and phone number. Here was all the information he needed for identification. The receipt showed today’s date so the card was probably not missed yet. The stores had opened less than a half hour ago. If he hustled, he could get that new entertainment center he needed for the stereo system and maybe a new TV to boot. That might stretch his limit a bit, but, hey, this was his lucky day. He’d take a chance. He drained his cup and headed off for an electronics store in a neighboring town.
Jack arrived at his apartment around lunchtime. He unloaded the entertainment center and new TV from his pickup and fixed himself a sandwich. Between bites of bologna and swigs of beer, he set up the speakers, receiver, CD player and the new TV.  With a second beer in his hand, he relaxed in his lounger and snapped on the TV with a push of a button on the remote. Ah, life is beautiful, he thought.
The remote control in his hand gave him a new sense of power. Flipping through the channels, he suddenly came upon a ridiculous looking bee with bunches of flowers in his hand. He pointed the remote, ready to click again, but stopped, intrigued by the message coming from the oversized yellow and black insect. Sunday was Mother’s Day.
Jack thought about his mom who was half way across the country from him. She was the one who had given him his education on credit cards. All through his high school years, she had worked for a credit card company in the department that dealt with stolen cards and card numbers. It was just the two of them at home. She had shared her work stories with him each night at dinner. Ma had always insisted he be home for dinner each night. His friends had razzed him relentlessly about that, but now he was glad he’d been home. Ma didn’t realize what valuable information she had imparted.
Sure, why not send Ma some flowers? Maybe then she’ll believe I’m really doing all right. He picked up the phone book and searched for a florist across town and in a different zip from the one listed on the credit card receipt in his hand. He dialed the number and got a cheerful, “Flowers by Chris. How can I help you?”
“I’d like to order flowers for my mother. It says in the phone book you wire them. Will she get them today?” He had never sent flowers before and felt a little stupid asking.
“We can call a florist in that area and see if they have a truck going out late this afternoon. If not, they will take them tomorrow and she’ll still have them in time for Mother’s Day.”
“O.K. Can we send that special arrangement with the teapot like in the TV ad?”
“Luckily you called early enough. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Jack gave his mother’s address and phone number. “Just sign the card, ‘your son’.”
“Will you be putting this on a credit card?” the florist asked.
“Yes,” replied Jack reaching for the credit card and receipt. He recited the numbers.
“I also need your zip code and phone number for verification.”
Yessir, it was his lucky day. He had those.
“Excuse me a moment, please.” The voice disappeared for an uncomfortable period of time. Maybe he’d reached the limit on the card. Jack was almost ready to hang up when she returned. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I had to make sure I was right. We have a special contest going on at the shop promoting Mother’s Day and you have won. You are the 25th person to order the teapot arrangement. If you can come in to the shop, we’ll give you certificates to a free dinner for you and your mother at Chez Restaurant. Of course, if your mom’s out of town you can always take someone else. Can you come in today to pick them up?”
Wow, Jack thought, the luck goes on. Chez was a classy place. What could it hurt? If I get there as soon as possible, everything should be O.K. The card is still working. If it wasn’t, they would have refused my order. “I can be there in about an hour. Thanks.”
“What is your name?”
He didn’t like having to give a name. What should he tell her? He looked at the name on the card, “Wilson, Chuck Wilson..”
Jack arrived at the florist shop an hour later. It was a little store in a strip mall. There was only one girl behind the counter and a man looking through a picture book of arrangements. Probably ordering flowers for his mother, Jack thought.
“Can I help you?” the girl said looking up from her order pad.
“Sure. I called in an order this noon and you told me I’d won dinner out.” Jack beamed. No, there was no limit to his luck today. The girl looked at the man who suddenly closed the book in front of him. He turned to Jack smiling as though someone had told a joke. Jack felt like he’d missed the punch line.
“Let me introduce myself,” he said, “I’m Chuck Wilson, Detective Chuck Wilson.” Two men in uniform appeared from a door behind him.

Jack stood, mouth half open, as the florist explained, “Detective Wilson is a good customer of ours and realized his credit card was missing when he came in to order flowers for his mother this morning. When you gave me the zip and phone number, I recognized it as his. I phoned him when you said you’d come in to pick up your Chez certificates.”
“Guess it’s my lucky day. We weren’t certain you’d show up.” Wilson smiled. “I would have hated to call your mother and ask her how she enjoyed her Mother’s Day flowers that were purchased with a stolen credit card.”
“What about the certificates?” Jack asked the florist and realizing what a stupid question that was the moment it was out of his mouth. It didn’t look like he’d be able to use them now.
“I just made that up. There was no contest,” the florist said sweetly.

As they handcuffed him, Detective Wilson noted, “By the way, you maxed the card out with your flower purchase.” Jack grinned sardonically. Not only had his luck run out, he’d reached his credit limit too. He wondered though, would a mother have turned in a son who sent her flowers for Mother’s Day? 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Diving Papua New Guinea


  [This is an essay from our first trip to PNG in 2003 to dive. We returned again in 2004 and did see the mantas on the second trip. Since then we heard that some of the liveaboard boats and particularly the one we enjoyed have pulled out of PNG because of the increased danger of travel there. While some would say it's not a problem, we preferred not to take the chance.]

FROM MOUNTAINS TO SEAS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA


            “Shout our name from the mountains to seas, Papua New Guinea.” The strains of their national anthem still play in my mind. I expected a great dive adventure. I didn’t expect to fall in love.
            Perhaps it was waking anchored in calm inlets to hazy purplish sunrises with the distant call of exotic birds, or looking out at the lush green islands of Milne Bay that contrasted sharply against the clear blue skies and deep azure waters that drew me in. Without a doubt it was meeting the wonderful people of the villages that dot the islands so far away from the usual conveniences we take for granted.
            Silently the dugout canoes sliced through the water from each village as we neared. Men, women, and children in canoes congregated at the sides and back of the live-aboard with fresh fruits and vegetables to trade for staples like rice and sugar. Some displayed crafts of wood and shells to sell or trade for T-shirts. Some fished. But all watched as we came and went in our dive gear. We were the entertainment for the day.
            The paradise above was magnified in the treasures below. Abundant colorful marine life in all shapes and sizes played over a patchwork quilt of colored corals. An abundance of lionfish, countless varieties of nudibranchs, endless fields of anemones each with their guardian clownfish, and the unusual—the hairy ghost pipefish All of it kept us going back for more. On this 10 day trip, we were limited only by our ability, stamina, and common sense.
            Diving the wreck of the WWII bomber Blackjack was one adventure that stretched our diving skills. Blackjack (made legendary under the command of Capt. Ken McCullar who died on takeoff in another aircraft) was commanded by Capt. Ralph Deloach when she ran out of fuel in a turbulent storm during a bombing run to Rabaul. The pilot attempted to ditch on a shallow reef but missed. The plane skidded into deeper water but all members of the crew were rescued by the nearby villagers of Boga Boga. She now rests in 165 feet of water.
Under the supervision of our divemasters, the more experienced and adventuresome did a decompression dive to 160’ to photograph the props and the gun turret that still turns on the well-preserved body. The rest of us went to 130 feet. Swimming out over the wreck, we had an excellent view of the plane and the divers below.
            A visit to Boga Boga village followed. School children sat on grass mats laid in rows on the dirt floor of their school and participated in a grammar lesson that resembled Wheel of Fortune without Vanna. The pens I handed out went quickly—the children swarmed around me as if it were candy. We shopped the craft market set up specifically for our visit and talked with the villagers. Smiles abounded, some stained red with betel nut juice.
            At breakfast one morning, we learned a trap that had been lowered the night before and baited with chicken now yielded a chambered nautilus. Cousin to the octopus, the nautilus lives at depths of 2000 feet but rises to about 500 feet at night to feed on crab and shrimp. No telling us twice to suit up. We descended to 60’ to photograph and examine the mysterious creature that occasionally peeked out of his creamy shell with the tanned markings.
            Although my husband and I were both nearing 100 dives when we arrived in PNG, we had never encountered a seahorse. Knowing they were at Observation Point, we carefully combed the area. Just as we were ready to give up, I looked down to find a yellow seahorse clinging to a bit of reed in the sand near where my hand rested. We were as excited as the shark hunters who had spotted some hammerheads a few days earlier and the photographer who ended up in the middle of schooling barracudas.
            Mornings came early and no one missed the 5:30 a.m. call to rise before breakfast and go ashore to visit the Bunama hot springs before the heat of the day made it impossible. On shore, a mother and her children greeted us. “My children want to see the white people,” she said. They followed us through their village to the path that leads to the hot springs about a half-mile into the jungle. The tall grasses and bushes gave way to a clearing filled with steam from the boiling springs of hot mud and water that bubbled through the stone floor. We waited a couple of times for the geyser to perform, took the posed tourist shots and then left as the sun began to heat the morning sky.
            On the way back through the village, a friendly teenager, proud of his pet, allowed the braver souls to hold his five foot green tree snake. I marveled at the simplicity of their life as we passed by the huts on stilts, mostly open with some cloth draped for some privacy, and the “kitchens” separate from the sleeping huts that were equipped with a fire pit and a few pots and pans.
            A manta ray cleaning station was scheduled for our last morning dive before returning to Alotau and the trip home. We dropped to 30’ and surrounded a small bommie that the mantas were known to frequent. All of us knelt in the sand, bowing to the slight current, watching the waters around us wondering if they would come. The sun shone down, its rays played on the rocks and coral. I suddenly realized it was Sunday. We looked as though we were worshipping at an altar. The mantas never appeared but there was ample opportunity to give thanks for the wonderful sights we had seen and the people we had experienced in the paradise called Papua New Guinea.





Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Origami

On our last visit to Japan, I watched my six year old granddaughter as her little fingers nimbly folded and turned and folded until a frog emerged from the square of paper she had started with. She placed it on the table top, used a finger to press down and release at the right spot and the frog jumped. She giggled. I beamed. Amazing.

Origami has been around for a very long time. It is impossible to pinpoint where or when it started but since China is credited with making the first paper, perhaps it began there. Once the Japanese started the origami however, it was made into quite an art form. Many of the standard patterns for origami animals have special meaning. The popular crane stands for honor and loyalty--perhaps because the crane mates for life.

Our ladies at church will be learning to make butterflies for our Butterfly Brunch this year. Chocho, the Japanese word for butterfly, is a symbol for young girls as they spread their wings and emerge into beauty and grace. Two butterflies dancing around each other is a symbol of marital happiness.

Kaeru, or frog, is a symbol for good fortune and often travelers will carry one to insure safe return from their journey. I guess with all of our travels I should put in an order to my granddaughter for several of her frogs.

Origami is not difficult to learn but does require patience and attention to detail. Precise folding is important as well as crisp folds. Many craft stores have origami papers and they can be ordered online of course. The origami paper is usually thin although some of the more colorful papers and the foiled papers are a little thicker. Actually you could practice with a piece of computer paper that is 20lb. or less. Just be sure to start out with a perfect square of paper.

Our ladies will be using paper from the 100 Yen store that I bought when we were in Tokyo. The 100 Yen store is like our dollar stores. Here is a video of what we will be doing. Maybe you'd like to follow along. Happy folding!

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