"" Writer's Wanderings: May 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grand Cayman--Creatures of the Night

Night diving can be a little intimidating and claustrophobic. I've tried three different occasions to learn to enjoy it but for me, it just isn't enough fun to get me past all the dark edges beyond the underwater flashlight. Bob enjoys it immensely and loves the night critters he sees.

This trip has not netted a lot of pictures but here are a few from his night dives. The spotted eel slithered through the coral and rocks until he found a squirrel fish and quickly had his evening meal. Bob got that part on video after getting this great shot of him poking out of a hole.
This trip we have seen lots of really big crabs both during the day and at night. At night, this one ventured out like the rest of the night critters probably looking for food.

This stingray was cruising over the sand looking for the crustaceans he loves to snack on. Sometimes they try to hide themselves in the sand which can create quite an underwater sandstorm as they flap their "wings" to push the sand on top of them.
Bob also saw a couple of squid but couldn't get a still shot of them. And this octopus that wouldn't let go of the rock--kind of like me, not letting go of land after the sun goes down.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Grand Cayman--Diving

With the memory of our meal from the evening before still fresh, we woke to a cloudy rainy morning. Thankfully that sort of thing doesn't last long around here. We finished off the beignets that we'd brought home from the Lighthouse Restaurant last night. Our meal was soooo good. They have a house special that is for two. Appetizer of calamari, shrimp and conch fritters followed by a seafood plate of mahi mahi, shrimp, lobster, salmon and linguine with the creamiest sauce you'd ever want. The dessert, beignets for two, are about 8 fist-sized fried dough balls with cinnamon and a little chocolate sauce and some fresh fruit sprinkled around in a huge stemmed bowl that looks like a giant martini glass. On the side is a fresh strawberry sauce. Way too much to eat but worked well as breakfast this a.m. too.

By the time we left the dock at Ocean Frontiers, the skies were clearing and the sun was out. We headed to the north end of the island and did dives at Barrel Sponge and Roger's reef. The first dive found us looking right into the eyes of a turtle sitting on top of the reef at about 50 feet. Just sat there contemplating life I guess and not the least bothered by our picture taking.

Our second dive site was requested by Bob. Last year at Roger's Reef, we found a seahorse but no such luck this year. We did see quite a few things The best find were some porcupine fish. We love these guys. They look like puppy dogs with their big eyes. This is the first time though we saw one puffed up. He was hiding in some rocks and puffed up with all his spines sticking out. He must have been chased by something. I looked around but didn't see any sharks. We did hear later that someone saw a nurse shark but I don't know that they feed on puffers.

On the bottom we found this sea cucumber as well. He's one of the garbage men of the sea cleaning the sand. The interesting thing about these critters is that their food goes in the same way their waste products come out. We have a smaller cuter one in our aquarium at home but it always grosses out the grandkids when you tell them that.

Lots of good exercise this morning too when the current kicked up a notch as we did our safety stop. Between that and the wind shifting the boat above us, we had to "run" to catch up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grand Cayman--Diving

Several dives over the past few days have not yielded many good pictures. In part that was due to some cloudiness and depths that were in the shadows. Bob doesn't use lights except for night diving. And then there is always the occasional camera malfunction. On one dive, the viewing screen would not come on. What a shame. We had a perfect rock/coral formation that looked like a buckeye.

Here are a few that came out nicely though. Turtles are always a fun thing to find underwater. While they are slow and cumbersome on land, they are very graceful and adept swimming underwater. They are also great free-divers. This one we saw was down about 80 feet but obviously headed up for a gulp of air. They feed on vegetation on the reefs. He was non-plussed and almost seemed to pose.
Bob posed me beside the pillar coral we found. The polyps of the coral are out during the day giving this beauty a velvety look. Pillar coral only grows 1/4 inch each year so this one has been around for quite a long time. I, on the other hand, seem to grow in circumference by at least that much in less than a year.

We often give the divemasters a hard time about the names of the dive sites. We accuse them of making them up. Each one always has a story. Dragon's Lair is named for the rocky formation you see in the picture. It was a bit hazy underwater but you can make out the open mouth of the dragon and if you look closely, there's some finger coral growing out of the mouth as if it were flames from a fire breathing dragon.

Another story is associated with naming The Fish Tank site. As it goes, a group of divers were giving the divemaster a hard time so on the next site, he claimed that National Geographic had built a huge aquarium underwater at the site to protect an area they wanted to study. He told the divers that since it was thick glass, it couldn't be seen underwater and they should dive with arms extended in front of them to avoid hitting their heads into the glass aquarium walls. Not until they got underwater did the divemaster realize they'd all taken him seriously. They swam with their arms extended the whole dive. No one bumped his head.

Other Grand Cayman Posts:
Hell Has a Zip Code
Caribbean Road Signs

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Books for the Road--Seatbelt Suspense

“Ever hear the dead knocking?” Now if that isn't an invitation to goosebumps I don't know what is. Dark Pursuit is a classic Collins' suspense novel. Brandilyn Collins' trademark of Seatbelt Suspense holds true to this serial murder mystery.

Kaitlan Sering must protect herself and her grandfather, suspense writer, Darrell Brooke, from a crazed serial killer she suspects is the very man she's fallen in love with. Somehow, Brooke must help his granddaughter snare this maniac but the question is, can he still think clearly enough to set a complicated plot after the auto accident robbed him of his acute mental skills?

Collins, as always, gets inside the killer's psyche. She never fails to send chills up a spine. I honestly don't know how she sleeps at night after writing her chilling psychological notes from her killers.

This latest adventure we are on has been a three-book trip so far. I expect by the time we're home it will have escalated to four or five books read. Thank goodness for my Sony e-book. I didn't have to find space for five books and I have enough downloaded to read a sixth should time allow.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grand Cayman--Wedding and Church

Yesterday we had a balcony seat for a wedding on the beach at the Reef Resort. It was all done quite smoothly and elegantly despite the other resort guests running around in bathing suits and snorkel gear. By the time the wedding guests were seated, everyone had pretty much cleared out of the area and took back seats or like us watched from their balconies. The bride and groom were a handsome couple. She walked barefooted down the "aisle" bordered by conch shells while a violinist played softly. Her father gave her away, they said their vows, and everyone--wedding guest or not, applauded the couple. Afterwards, champagne toasts to the sounds of a steel drum celebrated the union.
Steel drums were a part of our church service this morning at First Baptist Church near Georgetown. This is a large church on the island where we have attended when we are here on Sundays. It's a beautiful sanctuary inside with colorful stained glass windows place high near the vaulted ceiling. Today was a special day in the life of this church. This past week they made the last payment on their $6 million loan to build the facility they are in. They are debt free and already looking to the next work God has in store for them. Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile spoke on the importance of seeking wisdom rather than wealth. It is always a joy to visit with other Christians and worship together.

Sunday dinner was at the buffet at Portofino's. They feature some local dishes as well as a variety of other menu items. I tried the jerk ribs this time. My mouth is still tingling. Here is a picture of the water today as we looked out from our table on the balcony at Portofino's. With such scenery, is it any wonder we keep coming back to this island paradise?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Grand Cayman--Diving Day 3

The weather has been absolutely beautiful except for the afternoon storm the other day. The seas have been calm which always makes it more pleasant for climbing the ladder out of the water and onto the dive boat. Water temperature has been around 80 degrees even at depths of 80-90 feet. The visibility varies some with alga in the water and of course surge and current but is generally 80-100 feet. Who could ask for more?

Our morning dives found a few interesting things including this flamingo tongue snail. These guys kind of wrap themselves around a piece of coral. They are very pretty though. What you see is actually tissue covering the shell which he pulls into the shell if attacked. So you might say he's inside out.

We also found a humongous crab but he crawled into an area that made it difficult to photograph. Sadly, though we were in some large sandy areas that should have been good places to find rays and nurse sharks but we didn't see any.

Upon climbing back into the boat however, we got the news that the lion fish they thought was in this area had been discovered and captured. There has been an invasion of lion fish in the Caribbean which could be devastating to the fish population. They are ravenous feeders and have few predators. The lion fish are indigenous to the Pacific but they suspect that back when hurricane Andrew hit a couple of aquariums, the lion fish were released into the ocean and their eggs spread by current throughout the Caribbean. Dive operations and fishermen have been encouraged to capture them for study and eradication. So our fearless dive masters aboard the Ocean Hawk this morning found one and netted it. Such a shame that a fish so beautiful and intriguing could be so dangerous. According to an article I found, they think that grouper may eat the lion fish. Unfortunately grouper are getting fished out and while lion fish may taste like halibut, no one is putting them on the menu yet.

Other Grand Cayman Posts:
Hell Has a Zip Code
Caribbean Road Signs

Friday, May 22, 2009

Grand Cayman--Diving Day 2

Our second morning of diving gave us some local entertainment featuring the juvenile drum fish. This little gem is hard to find because they usually hide well in the cracks and crannies of the reef. Our little star decided to show off for us and danced his way into a little spot of sunlight. The long fins look like ribbons as he wiggles and turns and scurries around. Out of a dozen snapshots, Bob got about three good ones. When he grows up, he won't look quite as cute--just like a puppy, they outgrow that adorable stage. He'll still be a study in black and white though and likely as hard to find.

This arrow crab decided to come out and play as well. Against my hand it is easier to see how fragile they look when in reality, they are pretty hardy creatures. They'd have to be to survive in this environment.

For dinner we stopped in at Portofino's which is just up the road--or down the road, can't tell which. It is advertised as Italian and has quite a pasta selection but on Tuesdays they feature Indian food and on Sundays a great buffet with local dishes. We each had seafood. Go figure.

Entertainment at the Reef's Rusty Pelican was good. Oldies with a Caribbean flavor. We made it an early night as usual. Too much diving. Too much relaxing. Too much warm balmy weather. Naw!

Other Grand Cayman Posts:
Hell Has a Zip Code
Caribbean Road Signs

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Diving Grand Cayman--Day 1

When we changed our usual dive trip from August to May, we were a little concerned about the weather but so far it looks good. There are scattered rain showers but they are usually only in small batches and don't last long. The seas are very calm and as always down here, the visibility in the water is great!

On our first dive, Bob spotted a little arrow crab. They appear so fragile and yet they survive the depths. It looks like a spider and folds up like a tripod when it needs to. We also say a spotted eel out of his hideaway and free swimming--an unusual situation to catch one in. Bob took video but no stills.

The second dive was at Grouper's Grotto. This area has large cavernous areas you can swim through if you don't mind sharing space with the large tarpin that roam in herds through there. They are fun to watch. Nothing seems to ruffle them and they swim right next to you. The first time we dove here yearsa ago, the silver sides (bait fish) were so thick it was like swimming through a silver cloud. There was a small group of them today but nothing like that initial experience. We did find a large lobster. It must have been a morning for going out of your hole for a stroll. Like the eel, this guy was out for a little exercise but eventually jetted himself back into a hole when he was done posing for pictures.

All-in-all a good morning diving. Hopefully the rain will pass over us quickly after lunch and we'll spend a little time snoozing on the beach. It's a tough life. . .

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Takes a Real Man to Drive a Pink Car

"A compact car for a compact price," is what the fellow at the counter at Andy's Rentals across from the airport at Grand Cayman told Bob. What he didn't tell him was the car was not only small it was PINK. Pink, pink, pink. It does blend in with all the lavender, pastel blue, yellow and yes, pink houses on the island.

Now not only is this a pink car, but it has the steering wheel on the right side and all of the usual tools for driving are reversed. For the next few days, we will have a very clean windshield because every time we make a turn, Bob turns on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. And, of course, we have to chant the mantra: "Making a right turn but staying to the left. . ." They don't drive on the right side of the road here.

We ate tonight at one of our favorite restaurants on the east end of the island, Over the Edge. It doesn't look like much from the outside--or the inside for that matter but it has a great deck that hangs over the edge of the water and one of the best views of Caymanian sunsets. The food is great too! They make some mean hamburgers as well as delectable seafood dishes. Tonight's special was poached tuna with shrimp over pasta with a very delicate sauce. It was garnished with dried breadfruit slices. They were intriguing. Not a lot of taste. Consistency of dried apple slices and a little sweet.

Nice dinner. Nice evening.

Other Grand Cayman Posts:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Books for the Road--What The Bayou Saw

The back cover of What The Bayou Saw: "Since leaving Louisiana, Sally Stevens has held her childhood secrets at bay, smothering them in a sunny disposition and sugar-coated lies. No one, not even her husband, Sam, has heard the truth about what happened when she was almost twelve years old.

Now a teacher in Illinois, Sally has nearly forgotten the past. But when on of her students is violently attacked, Sally's memories of segregation, a chain-link fence, and a blood oath bubble to the surface like a dead body in a bayou. Lies continue to tumble from Sally's lips as she scrambles to gloss over harsh reality. Finally cornered by her deceit and nudged by the Holy Spirit, she resolves to face the truth, whatever the consequences."

In her second novel, Patty Lacy has taken on several difficult subjects and delivered a provocative and engaging story involving the reader emotionally with the complex characters she has created. The haunting cover art immediately hints that this will be a story that will stick with you long after the last words are devoured. While I didn't grow up in the South, I did experience the years of racial conflict from a Midwesterner's point of view. Lacy nails the attitudes of the era as she looks back on the complex relationships of the times. In her character, Sally, Lacy continues a haunting theme as she is affected emotionally and spiritually by what happened in the bayou.

For me this was a much anticipated read. I loved Patti Lacy's first book, An Irishwoman's Tale, and expected What The Bayou Saw to be another delicious foray into wonderful prose. I was not disappointed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In My Backyard--Lupone and Patinkin

Cleveland has an exciting revitalized area for the arts called Playhouse Square. Several restored theaters offer a mixed venue of entertainment including a Broadway Series each year. Last night rather than an actual Broadway musical, two performers, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, (accompanied by Paul Ford and John Beal) presented a montage of musical selections from several shows in a wonderful production that was at times powerful, nostalgic, sensitive, romantic and comedic.

These two performers were magical to watch and a delight for the ears. The chemistry they created on stage spilled over to the audience who responded with enthusiasm. Songs from South Pacific, Carousel, Merrily We Roll Along, as well as Evita, Showboat, and Gypsy were, as Joe Garry put it in our pre-show Broadway Buzz, "seamlessly woven together."

The show is on the road. If it comes to your backyard, don't miss it. It's an evening of pure enjoyment.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thoughts for Thursday

Truth is. . .I have none. I thought of calling this post "Thoughtless Thursday" but that seemed to imply rudeness or insensitivity when actually it is just a day when my brain seems to have gone on vacation without me. Perhaps it is my brain that is being insensitive. To leave me behind when I most need it. I have a novel that needs finishing, a life that need organizing. I'm sure there's more but the memory bank left with the vacationing brain.

Today I cannot even claim the familiar this-is-your-brain-on-drugs public service announcement. First, I don't take street drugs. Second, if I looked in the fry pan, there wouldn't be an egg.

So I guess I'll head down to wherever it is that you file a missing brain report. Or better yet, pack a suitcase and join it on vacation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Last Titanic Survivor Still Lives

My Yahoo news blurb came up with the interesting tidbit that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are contributing to a fund set up to help out the last survivor of the Titanic disaster. Millvina Dean was only nine weeks old when her family set out on the "unsinkable ship." Her father died in the disaster after putting his wife and two children in a lifeboat.

Ms. Dean's mother moved back to Southampton from New York where Ms. Dean still lives in a nursing home there. She has run across difficult financial times and has been forced to sell a lot of her memorabilia from the Titanic. An Irish author, Don Mullan, has been instrumental in setting up a special fund for others to help out with the 96 year old's bills for the nursing home.

While on a transatlantic cruise on board the Queen Elizabeth 2 last year, we happened to pass over the Titanic on the anniversary of her sinking. There was a memorable ceremony as the QM2 slowed down and placed a wreath over the spot. Commodore Ronald Warwick, former captain of the QM2 was lecturing on that cruise and said of the Titanic's misfortune, that while the tragedy was horrific, the good that came from it in the safety regulations put forth at sea are immeasurable.

Friday, May 08, 2009

That's Life with Robin Swoboda

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter know that Friday I visited the set of That's Life With Robin Swoboda at WJW TV 8 in Cleveland. Initially, I had agreed to go with my friend and coauthor of Scrapbook, Trish Berg, to carry her bags and give her smiles of encouragement while Robin Swoboda interviewed her about simplifying motherhood--something Trish talks about in her book Rattled. I ended up in the audience and on TV! It was a terrific time.
Robin Swoboda and crew are a bundle of energy and a delight. The hospitality extended the members of the audience is unbelievable considering all the staging and direction going on to keep the show rolling smoothly. Trish did a great job with her interview at the end of the show but meanwhile I ended up with a five second interview of my own (I told her I was guilty of expelling my kids from the car and making them walk home when they got out of control) as well as becoming part of a group of moms making picture frames in a craft segment.

My TV "career" has spanned quite a few decades. You might remember my appearance on 100 Huntley Street Full Circle. Well, that wasn't the first time I was interviewed on TV. Back in the 1950s, Uncle Jake (Gene Carroll) on WEWS asked me what was in the little purse my mother had made me take to the show as part of the outfit she'd dressed me in.

"Flys for my daddy," was my answer. The interview continued and apparently, as my mother always told the story, I told Uncle Jake that I had to catch flys for my daddy to go fishing with and I kept them in my purse.

I don't think I was quite as cute on Friday but I certainly enjoyed being at the show. In Oprah-like fashion, Robin gave out quite a few gifts and my Mother's Day was enhanced with flowers, gift certificates and hand lotion. What fun! If you'd like to be a part of the Counter Crew (the audience) click here for more info.

Other links:

Books for the Road--Playing For Pizza

Fans of football or fans of Italy, this book is for you. Playing For Pizza by John Grisham is the story of a quarterback down on his luck--make that out of luck. He's made the circuit in the NFL and failed. Between that and a possible paternity suit, he escapes to Italy to play football Americano for the Parma Panthers. Along the way, he finds himself learning some great lessons about love, life, and loyalty.

Grisham delivers wonderful descriptive passages of great Italian food and trips to other Italian cities. I've been to many of them. His portrayal is accurate and his portrait of the Italians in his story is very appropriate. I like that he did not over season his writing with too many Italian phrases. I hate it when authors slow my reading down with so much foreign language that I either have to look up, wait for translation, or skip over.

If you aren't interested in football however, you may get lost in the passages that describe the play on the field. Short of giving the Xs and Os from the playbook, Grisham does detail several game plays.

All in all, it was a fun read. I could sympathize with Rick's culture shock, fondly remember our Italy trips, and certainly appreciate the football games. I do take some exception to his Cleveland-bashing but in some ways, maybe we've earned it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Passports and Passport Cards

As a child, I remember going to Canada every year with my parents and grandfather for the annual two week vacation. My dad and his father loved fishing in the back lakes and rivers clear up north by the French River. All it took in those days was to look the crossing guard in the eye and repeat your birthplace. Now my grandfather who was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, always had to pull out his naturalization papers. And there was the year when my dad said with a straight face, " My wife was born in Kokomo," and didn't mention Indiana. The guard asked for her papers and she wouldn't speak to my dad the rest of the way north.

All of that has changed over the years and now it is about to change again. Beginning June 1, 2009, travel to Canada--or for that matter anywhere outside the country, will require a passport or a passport card. The passport card is something new that I just recently discovered. It is a wallet-sized document like a driver's license that can be used to travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The passport card costs less than a passport ($45/adults, $35/kids) but can only be used for land or sea crossings not air travel. It takes just as long to get (4-6 weeks) as a passport and is valid just as long (10 years).

If you never plan on flying to those places, and you travel there quite often, it's probably a good deal--a great deal if you are only cruising to those areas as well. But if you think there's a possibility of air travel outside the country or your cruise is going to take you trans-Atlantic or Pacific, I'd spend the extra $55 and get a passport. Besides, you get to keep all those unique stamps you collect going in and out of different countries.

Other Travel Tips:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Speed Bumps: Traffic Calming Devices

In the little cubby hole where my laptop resides there are lots of scraps of paper and post-it notes surrounding it. Some have been up a long time. I really need to do some cleaning out. One little post-it just to my right says, "Speed bumps: Traffic Calming Devices." I have no clue where I found that or when but I jotted it down. It makes sense to me.

Not only does the phrase make sense literally, but applied to life, it becomes a bit profound. Think about it. We race through life, gaining speed when we have smooth sailing, and never stop to notice what we're passing by. Then life happens and we hit one of its "speed bumps." It reminds us that we need to slow down, take our time, look around to see why God placed it there.

Speed bumps: Life calming devices.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sewers and Red-Light Districts--Oh, my!

Two future trips we are putting together involve four days in Paris and four days in Amsterdam. We've been to Paris before on a trip with our church but didn't have much time for sightseeing other than hitting the highlights one day. Amsterdam will be an all new experience. We are looking forward to both and doing a lot of research to plan our exploration of each.

I went over the list Bob was compiling of all that we wanted to see in Paris. Eiffel Tower, yes. We'd been there before but this time we wanted to eat at the restaurant. Cruise the Seine, yes. This time in the evening to see the lights. Visit the inside of the Louve and actually see some artwork like that famous smiling lady. Notre Dame, Napoleon's burial place, Champs Elysee, the sewers--THE SEWERS?!

Yes, there is a tour of the Paris sewers--the old underground. The Paris Sewer Museum takes you through 500 yards of the more than 1300 miles of 400 year old sewers in the city. We're told that if you are a fan of Les Miserables you need to see it.

"Okay," I say. "Hand me the list for Amsterdam."

Top of the list, at my request, is the Anne Frank house. A canal ride is next and a trip to a neighboring town where there are lots of old fashioned windmills. Then the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt's house, and the Red Light district. WHAT?!!

Ah, yes, we actually get to tour the area where the ladies of the night (maybe even the day) sit on display for window shopping. These aren't mannequins trying to sell the latest designer clothing. They're trying to sell something else--legally. It's a culture difficult for this gal to understand. Rick Steves has a walking tour in his book all mapped out for the area but we're going to take the group tour. I'll feel a lot more comfortable on a guided tour with a group.

The last time we saw something similar to this, we were in Tokyo. We were walking through what was a very nice area of the city. Lots of little hotels, well-kept, with pictures posted of themed rooms. I thought that was a little unusual. Since I couldn't read the Japanese, I didn't realize the rooms were rented by the hour. We had our grown sons with us and two had their wives. Lori had stayed in our hotel with four-month-old Tyler. Ron looked single and was approached by a man with a small brochure. He took one look, turned beet-red, and grabbed me by the arm.

"Hey," he told the guy, "I"m with my mom!"

Of course, I don't think the guy understood a word. He just smiled and bowed several times.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Books for the Road -- The Choice

Nobody writes a romance like Nicholas Sparks. The Choice is another of his wonderful reads. Sparks begins with a teaser prologue followed by the telling of the love story of Gabby and Travis who happen to be neighbors. Travis is a vet who worms his way into Gabby's heart when he helps her with her pregnant dog. Gabby tries not to fall in love with him since she already has a boyfriend who she feels will eventually ask her to marry him. When you are fully involved in their story, Sparks follows it up with the heartrending tale of a life or death choice that Travis needs to make.

Okay, so this is two tissue alerts in a row but a Nicholas Sparks' story rarely leaves you dry-eyed. Some other good reads of his are: Message in a Bottle (good movie, too), Two Weeks with my Brother (non-fiction), True Believer, The Rescue, The Guardian, and my very favorite, The Notebook (also a good movie).
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