"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts

My son is an evangelist. No not like a Bible-thumping, fire and brimstone preacher. He "religiously" gets people interested in using Microsoft products. It's his job. He loves it and he's good at it. But lately it has caused a bit of confusion among some of his FaceBook friends. Namely those not with a direct connection to all the activities surrounding the world of technology he deals with.

Using Twitter and FaceBook as a means of connecting to those in his business world as well as his personal world, he has posted some very cryptic messasges with all sorts of abbreviations (aside from the familiar LOL) and hash marked references. One would think he was speaking another language--maybe he is.

How often do we do the same thing when we talk of our association with our Savior, Jesus Christ? We throw out fifty cent words (make that a dollar) and speak with words that have double meanings to those who do not share our circle of faith. I think back to the time we had a pastor's wife tell us that she once told her new doctor that God had called her and her husband to the church where they were serving. She added that when they had asked God for a decision, he told them they should move to the new church. It evoked a concerned look and a question from the doctor, "And what does God sound like when he talks to you? Does he call you often?" Red-faced, she realized he didn't understand what she meant exactly.

Use the term santification and someone may associate it with being sanctimonious. That's probably not the picture you want to paint. Jesus spoke to others about spiritual matters that were sometimes difficult to imagine. He did so in everyday, common language using stories that people could understand and relate to. We need to remember that as we share our faith. While our more intimate friends in our circle of faith may understand the terms we use, those who need to hear and understand God's love and gift of salvation through his Son may not.

Words are powerful whether in the hands of a techie-geek son or the hands of a friend who wants to share their faith. Use them wisely.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cruise Comment Cards--They Really Read Them!

We have taken 41 cruises over the last 20 years and at the end of each cruise, we always fill out the comment card that comes to our stateroom the next to last day. Throughout the days onboard ship, passengers are often reminded that these cards are important to the crew members and often determine whether or not they are promoted. Since they are always a computerized sheet reminiscent of an ACT answer sheet, I had no doubt that they were run through a computer and scored. I did doubt that any of the written comments were read. . .until today.

On our last cruise on the Celebrity Equinox, we had two Sundays at sea and there was no interdenominational worship service. There was a Catholic Mass on Saturday evening but nothing on Sunday for those of us who were not of the Catholic faith. Some of the nicest worship services we have experienced have been aboard cruise ships joining together with those of other walks of faith and from a variety of countries and cultures. Somehow it was spiritually uniting to come together and find a common bond of worship.

When we received our comment card, I wrote in the space provided that I had appreciated several of the servers we had in the restaurant and mentioned them by name. Then I went on to express our disappointment over not having the worship services. I ended by saying how we were pleased with the extra care the crew took to keep sanitizing the ship for our safety when the Noro virus was present.

Today, I answered the phone to discover a representative from the Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruise Line on the other end thanking me for the comments and wondering if there was anything else I might have been displeased with beside the lack of worship services. They had actually read the comments! Now that brings a whole new perspective to customer relations.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Books For The Road - The New iPad

Yesterday the big announcement was made by Steve Jobs of Apple concerning the new product, the iPad. It looks to be a combination laptop and iPhone and e-reader all in one. It is about a 1/2 pound lighter than my current travel netbook I use on our trips for checking email, downloading pictures, and working on some writing while I'm away.

While the familiar iPhone Apps seem to be the biggest deal on the iPad with the iBookstore the other big spine tingler, there was not a whole lot said about how it functions as a computer--although Jobs is quoted as saying that "It's a dream to type on."
Being in publishing, the standout feature for me is the iBookstore. I love my Sony Reader. It so easily packs as many books as I want into one little binder that takes up little space in my backpack. E-books also offer opportunity for another marketing outlet for books. I understand that Apple has made a 30/70 deal with publishers to offer books in their store with the publisher getting the bigger cut. That has got to be appealing. And the cost of putting together an e-book I am assuming is somewhat less that printed pages.

It's a whole new world. I can remember my parents talking about having to get out and crank up the old Ford to get it started. I can remember a time in my own life when there was no such thing as a cell phone and pages of books were turned by hand not by a finger on a button. Imagination turned to innovation. What next?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cruise Ship Chef Shenanigans

Whenever we travel with Bob's twin brother and his wife, we always seem to get involved in something because of the "twin factor." Our recent cruise aboard the Celebrity Equinox was no exception. The entertainment staff thought it would be a hoot to have the twins face off with two of the chefs in a cook-off that they do every cruise.

The boys were called up on stage at the beginning by the head chef and were given about three minutes to pick out a trayful of ingredients from which each chef had to creat three dishes. Bob was paired with a chef from Bali and Dick teamed up with a chef from Scotland.
While the chefs along with their newly recruited assistants prepared the dishes, the head chef answered questions about the food for the cruise and how it was prepared. Can you imagine preparing over 2100 lobster tails in one night? That's how many they served during formal night dinner the evening before the chef's competition.

Bob and Dick were both handed knives and asked to help prepare the vegetables. I couldn't see Polly but I'm sure she was holding her breath too as they chopped carrots, celery and bok choy. Bob got pretty handy with flipping the vegetables in a pan on the stove. He only lost one.

After twenty minutes, time was called and the three judges chosen from the audience were seated on stage. There was some tough love exhibited in the judging (top scores that could be given were 5). Dishes were judged on presentation, taste, and waste. You can imagine some of the ways the guys tried to hide the extra leftovers.
But in the end Bob's team won. We asked later if it had been fixed and got the answer, "Would we do that?" Hmmm.

When the theater cleared after the show, the guys were treated to a special tour of the audio booth and enjoyed that even more than their time on the stage under the lights. All of it of course adding to our cruising experience. Thanks, Equinox crew!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Books for the Road - Going Rogue: An American LIfe

" There were times when I thought, You know what I could really use? A wife."

I've always liked Sarah Palin but when she used the line I always use under pressure to get things done, I felt like I knew her. In her book, Going Rogue: An American Life, Palin's character, spunk, and approach to life as well as politics shows through in an engaging story of how she started her career and found herself as governor and candidate for Vice President of the United States.
The book's politics are tempered with stories of family and faith. Palin's story portrays a well-rounded individual who weaves her roles as wife and mother into her career. While some of the political stories are a bit defensive, who can blame her? She was targeted in many unfair ways that had nothing to do with her political views but more often with issues that related to her personally and often involved her family. As a mother, I would have snarled like a pit bull too.

Lynn Vincent who helped "in getting the words on paper," did a great job of letting Palin's voice come through. The book is worth reading for the story of one woman's quest to get some honesty in politics and bring it back to the people. She is a historical figure now, but one I am sure will not left behind. Sarah Palin has much more to give.

Friday, January 22, 2010

St Kitts - The Scenic Railroad

We have been to so many of the Caribbean islands that they all begin to look alike. St. Kitts was a pleasant surprise. While the downtown area of Basseterre looks very much like most of the other island ports, we discovered a lush beautiful island once we were away from the bustling port full of tourists.

Opting for a shore excursion rather than a walk through town, we met on the pier and were ushered to an air conditioned van that took us to an industrial area where the St. Kitts Scenic Railroad train awaited us. For the next two and a half hours, we traveled on a narrow gauge track that covered 18 miles of shoreline and wonderful views of rain forested areas, tiny towns, frothy shorelines and beaches some of which were black from lava, and even a quick glimpse of the infamous green monkeys that inhabit this small island.

This narrow gauge railroad was begun by the owners of the touring railroad in Skagway, Alaska. St. Kitts was the only island in the Caribbean where they found a suitable narrow gauge track that was useable. Amazing since this track has been in existence for about a hundred years according to our guide and used mainly for the sugar cane industry which is no longer viable.

The train cars of the Scenic Railroad were air conditioned on the first level with chairs and tables available for those who didn’t want to climb the narrow curving stairs to the open-sided top deck. Up on top there were benches along the sides and back padded with comfortable cushions.

Pulling all of this was an engine that ran on diesel and right behind it was a large car that contained the electrical power to run the blenders, the air conditioning, and the speaker system the narrator used.

Along the way our guide pointed out interesting sights, flora and fauna, and gave a wonderfully illustrated history of the area. We passed many abandoned windmills and chimneys from the early days of sugar cane production and plantations. All of the commentary was interspersed by an a capella trio who went from car to car and sang harmoniously.

It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect and the sun shone dramatically between passing clouds on the green volcanic hills in the center of the island. We saw several other areas of the island that deserve exploration. I hope we return to once again enjoy the hospitality of St. Kitts.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cruising Under Code Red - Noro Virus!

Normally our experience with boarding a Celebrity cruise ship is quite pleasant and seamless and quickly done. When we arrived for our cruise this time we found it to be a whole new experience thanks to the Noro Virus.

The previous cruise had experience a small outbreak of the Noro Virus. Of over 2800 passengers and 1300 crew, the number of people reported sick was 60—just slightly over 1%. Still the numbers were enough to throw the ship into Code Red. The cruise line called in a company that specializes in cleaning and sanitizing the ship. The whole procedure backed up the boarding process by at least three hours and even when we were allowed on board, rooms were still being prepared. Ours had been stripped bare and was still in that condition until late afternoon.

Everyone seemed to get over the delay and our first few days at sea seemed to go smoothly—until the usual service and amenities available were held hostage by the Code Red restrictions. Library books are shelved behind thick plastic with signs reading that due to the virus, books will not be circulated until further notice. This morning (5 days into our cruise) however, we noticed that someone had broken through the plastic and obviously extracted some reading material.

Another thing we live with under Code Red is not being able to help yourself to coffee and beverages. Someone is always stationed there to pour and add your sugar and cream. We cannot serve ourselves in the buffet line which slows things down tremendously. There are no common serving utensils lest a virus be transmitted.

So many restrictions and yet. . .someone stood at the security box that logs in our boarding cards and touched each passenger’s card and handed them back. And salt and pepper shakers are on the table. At least we can add our own salt.

Tempers are a bit short on this fifth day. Funny how people are angry when they are not served and yet with all the extra “personal service” all I heard at breakfast this morning from those around us was “Let me pour my own cream!” Hard to please all the people all the time.

Rumor is Code Red will be lifted soon. Guess there are no more cases reported and by now the virus on anything should have died a natural death. Wonder if the library marauder will check his book out legally then?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should There Be A Change In Cabin Pressure. . .

Anyone who has ever flown has heard those always repeated words, “Should there be a change in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling above you.” We heard them again on our flight to Fort Lauderdale last week. Only this time my overactive imagination took hold.

You see we had just paid $15/bag in order to assure that we would have clothes to wear on our trip. While our snack and a pair of earphones were “free,” if you wanted to take advantage of the little video screens in the backs of the seats, you had to pay $6 which you did by swiping your credit card through a slot right next to the screen.

On other flights, we have found that if we wanted to eat anything, we had to pay for it. While their entertainment may have been free, if you wanted to hear the audio, you needed to purchase a set of earphones. We even had to purchase a cup of coffee on one flight for $1 but it came with a refill which I shared with Bob.

Imagine if you would what could happen if ALL the little extras on a plane begin to incur charges. Take that credit card to the restroom if you want to use the facilities. Seatbelt? Just swipe your card and you will be able to buckle up. Need to evacuate the plane? Swipe your card upon exit and you can ride the slide.

So the next time you hear “Should there be a change in cabin pressure. . .” be thankful the next instruction isn’t “Swipe your card to begin the flow of oxygen.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting There By Plane

Unless you are truly a road warrior or maybe an RVer, most likely your dream vacation involves a plane flight. Here is where you need to determine your comfort level and degree of patience. As I said in my previous post, the hotel booking sites will also allow you to book plane passage as well with their packages. This eliminates searching and evaluating and timing the purchase of your plane tickets on your own.

If you are going on a cruise, you also have the option of including the plane fare when you book and they make all the arrangements. When you do this, you also get transportation from the airport to the ship but be aware that you may have a longer plane trip with layovers and you will probably pay a lot more for the transportation to the ship than if you simply took a cab. Weigh the convenience against the cost. When you are on your own you are also responsible to get to the ship on time. They will not wait.

Plane fares go up and down. Generally the closer you get to your travel date the lower the fare but not always. It is a gamble. There are several sites where plane fares are monitored and you can be sent updates. The one we use is Yapta.com. Stay in your comfort zone with this. You may purchase your ticket and find the price goes down later but look at it as being able to sleep at night knowing you are booked. Generally we book 3-6 months before our departure date.

Also when looking for your flights try entering different dates. You may find a fare cheaper even if you have to pay to stay an extra night at the beginning or end of your trip. And there may be a nearby airport that has fares low enough to justify driving a couple of hours to another city and flying out from there.

One more suggestion: If you know you will be flying within the bounds of another country several times (as is the case with our Australia trip), you might check with the country's major airline to see if there is a discount fare for flying with them on a special ticket. For example, Qantas offers a deal where you can book up to three flights within the country for a special discount price.

Unfortunately air fares tend to be the major expense of any trip but with a little surfing and some patience, you can find something you can budget into your plans.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Worship Thought

This Sunday, though away from church family, we are rejoicing with them as they bask in the excitement and joy of answered prayer. Here is a true miracle:

A young woman, the daughter of one of our church family, whose heart was giving out was put on the transplant list. To keep her alive, she had a heart pump installed and has lived the last few months with the pump helping her heart. A few days ago she received word that a heart was available and she was immediately scheduled for surgery.

A friend who “happened” to be on duty at the hospital and worked in anesthesiology decided to check the strength of her heart one more time before she went into surgery. This was not usually done because it is checked periodically during the waiting time. Her heart had been functioning at less than 15%. When they ran the test, they found her heart to be functioning at a better level than the one they would have given her.

The miracle continues. The surgeon attributed the healthier heart to the heart pump but when they turned it off for 20 minutes, her heart continued to beat normally! Surgery lies ahead to remove the heart pump and she will be monitored, I’m sure. But there is no removing the joy in our hearts at the miracle God provided.

“For with God, nothing is impossible!”

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Place To Rest Your Head

Much of the guess work of where to stay has been eliminated with the internet. There are many resources for finding hotels, bed and breakfasts, resorts, etc. Here are a few:

and my favorite: TripAdvisor.com

Some of these sites will give you package deals on hotel + flight + car but you might want to price these out individually instead to make sure you are getting the best price.

Search the sites by the towns/cities you have mapped out to find hotels and prices. Check the reviews for the hotels that appeal to you. A word of caution when doing so. Like any "gossip" you hear, consider the source. There will be someone who absolutely would not send his worst enemy back to the place and in the next review someone will say that it was the best place they've ever stayed. Look at how many good reviews there are vs. the bad. Check out the bad reviews and see what they were complaining about. Many times there was a slight altercation with an employee that led to the bad review. That could be just a clash of personalities. And if it's just one review like that it probably was.

Look for consistency in what the reviews say in regard to cleanliness, comfort, service, etc. rather it is reported good or bad. And then make your decision.

Another possibility for searching out hotels is to go to your favorite hotel chain site. One trip we took (18 Days Through Europe in an Audi) was planned by booking all but one night in Best Western Hotels. There was only one location we had to change because we ended up in an industrial area but we were able to change our location with the help of the staff at the hotel.

Today with all the websites for hotels and maps online, it is easier to be a little more confident in finding a place to lay your head at night that is comfortable, convenient, and economical. Now, we need to get you to your destinations. Finding that elusive plane fare to get you started is next up.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Buses and Trains and Planes, Oh My!

Once you have decided the places you want to visit, the next step is to decide how you will travel from one place to the other. Will you stay in one place and visit everything in a radius around the central point? We did that on a four day stay in Amsterdam. It was extremely convenient. We found a hotel near Central Station where all the buses, trains and trams were. We took the trams into the center of the city and trains into the surrounding countryside. I think we could have seen most of the Netherlands from that location.

If you are trekking over a greater distance, you will want to decide your stops along the way and make them convenient to the sights you want to see. Again look for locations where you might stay a few days and venture out from a central point. This makes for less packing and shuffling of baggage (that's what makes cruising so attractive--unpack/pack once). It also is less tiring if you can plan to stay in one place for a time before moving on again.

While you are mapping out your stops, remember to consider travel time. Google maps will help with driving times. Other sources would be plane and train schedules which can be found online with a little searching. Remember to allow for waiting times and possible delays. Better to end up arriving ahead of your planned schedule than later. You can always find something to do with the extra time--if only to nap.

When you have stops planned, you are ready to begin looking for places to spend the nights. Next I'll cover some ways to help you end up in comfortable and reasonably priced establishments. Are you dreaming of destinations yet?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where in the world. . .?

Everything is a lot easier in life with some sort of a plan. That is especially true when you travel. Unless of course you are twenty-something, just graduated and have some money in your pocket and a backpack of worldly goods hanging from your shoulders. But even those who fit that description have some sort of a goal in mind and a path to follow.

About a year and a half ago, we began to plan our Australian adventure. The first question we asked ourselves was "where do we want to go?" Visiting Australia is like visiting the United States. There is no way you are going to see it all on a two week vacation. We began to list the areas/cities we wanted to visit and determine the places we wanted to spend the most time.

Once that was determined, we had a skeletal outline of a trip and needed to consult a map to see how we would route it. Google maps was an excellent source for this.

Over the next few months, we spent many evenings searching the internet for interesting sights to explore in the regions we planned to visit. The easiest way to do that is to search the names of towns and/or parks you see on the map. Most places with anything of interest to see will have a website. Start a file in your Favorites list for you trip and begin adding those sites to it. If you don't, you won't remember where it was you saw that really neat boat trip up the beautiful river. Trust me.

Several travel guides are online. They are not comprehensive (of course, they want you to buy their books) but they do give you some help in choosing places to see. Try Frommers.com and Fodors.com. (Rick Steves is a good source for Europe but I find his books more helpful than his website.)If you do decide to purchase one of their guides, you want to wait until you can get the most up-to-date one. Otherwise some of the transportation, hotel, and hours of operation information may not be as current.

One other helpful site for planning is Tripadvisor.com where you can find reviews on places to see. We'll use this site extensively later when making reservations.

Why not stop reading here and dream a little? If you've always wanted to plan a trip to that dream destination, take the time now to jot down the places where you might want to stop and the things you might want to see. Then spend a little time exploring online. Save your work in a file. You never know when the opportunity might arise and you'll be prepared to start your adventure.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts

Perhaps it was because I knew my Sunday school class was coming to dinner after church today that I had a vivid dream about my kitchen table and seating everyone around it. I'll admit I was a little nervous since this was the first time for them to visit our home. Just before I awoke, the dream took over my sleep and in it, I stood looking at the table that was set with cloth, napkins, and silverware. I was confused though--dreams are like that. One moment I was envisioning where the class member would sit and the next I was remembering where our children usually sit when home. But there was one person more I knew I needed to fit in and I struggled with where to put him.

You see, I knew Jesus would be here. Right here in my kitchen and would need to have a place. But where to put him? He didn't seem to fit in any of the places around our oval wooden table. I began to mentally picture my family's usual seating places. He couldn't sit to my right. That is always where Bob sits. Across from me would usually be one of my sons. To the left a daughter-in-law and inbetween us grandkids.

I was beginning to panic. Jesus needed a place to sit at our table!

Then I realized. I needed to give him my seat. He would sit in my chair and I would serve him. With that revelation, I woke up.

I thought that would be the end of it. A dream. A nice dream with a message. But God wasn't done with me yet. When our pastor took the mic after our song service, he said, "I want to talk to you this morning about service."

Coincidence? I think not.

Friday, January 08, 2010

G'Day Mates!

We are refining and putting some finishing touches on our plans for a three and a half week jaunt in Australia. This will be our fifth trip Down Under and we wanted to make sure we made it out to the west coast this time. We've heard great things about Perth and have a friend who was born/grew up there who told us wonderful stories.

So here is our itinerary outline so far:
  • Fly to Sydney, stay a couple of days and say hello to some friends
  • Fly to Perth, stay and explore the area for about a week
  • Fly to Alice Springs, explore Ayers Rock
  • Drive to Kings Canyon, stay the night and return to Alice Springs
  • Take the Ghan Train from Alice Springs to Adelaide where we catch a plane for Kangaroo Island
  • Enjoy the nature preserve on Kangaroo Island for a couple of days and return to Adelaide
  • Drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, stopping along the way several nights and enjoying the Great Ocean Road and its views
  • Spend a couple of nights in Melbourne taking in the lovely old city--and probably wishing we could stay longer. We love Australia.
Now if you were ever wondering how to put together a trip on your own without a tour guide, without a travel agent, and without getting bused everywhere with 50+ other people, stay tuned. I'll give you some tips over the next couple of days.
Until then, I'm humming, "Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda. . ."

Next: Where in the world. . .?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hello, My Name is. . .

It's a new year and time to start a new novel. I have had a story idea kicking around in my head for months and I guess it is time to let it out. Now that involves meeting new characters. Usually I have a character in mind before I begin a book but this time the storyline came first so I need to get out and "shake hands" with some people to determine who is involved with this story.

Developing a character is a lot like meeting new people. On a cruise for instance, we sit down at a table for a meal and introduce ourselves to the others at the table. After that the conversation turns to where we live, how many kids/grandkids we have, professions, etc. As the cruise goes on, your table mates reveal more and more about their lives--interesting tidbits from their prior trips, tales of exciting experiences from their jobs, what they like to read and why, etc. You get the picture.

So I "met" this character yesterday. His name is Paul Carson and he's an air traffic controller. Now that's an interesting profession! I have lots of questions for him. So far I've found out he's married, has one daughter, grew up in Detroit, MI (but we'll forgive him for being from MI since he went to MSU not UM), and he has quite a story to tell about a time when his faith in God was tested. I'm excited to learn more.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2010 Tournament of Roses - A picture collage

The video below is a collage of many of the pictures we took during our trip to Pasadena. It begins with a picture of the Hyatt Century Plaza where we stayed and a picture of Archie Griffin, our Alumni Association president and of course our two-time Heisman Trophy winner.

We also toured two of the locations where the floats were being assembled and attended the Buckeye Bash at the Santa Monica Pier--along with an estimated 30,000 Buckeyes.

The morning of the Parade, we left our hotel at 4:30 a.m. (PST) and arrived at our seating area on Orange Blvd. about an hour later. We opted to get out of the bus and stroll down the boulevard where the floats were lined up for the start of the parade. It was a great opportunity to see all of them close up and talk with some of the folks who were in the parade. Not only that but we saw the diehards that had camped out all night in sleeping bags to get the best views (for free). Some had grills and were cooking breakfast!

Our seats for the parade were great although there were two floats that were ahead of our vantage point that we didn't get to see. "Sully" Sullenberger, the grand marshal passed by in a golf cart on his way to his decorated antique ride that was beyond us as well.

Still, it was quite a show only to be followed by a spectacular performance of the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl stadium. It's always more fun when you win.
Put on some marching music (preferably the Buckeye Marching Band) sit back and enjoy the show!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Tournament of Roses - OSU Marching Band

Apparently there were some places in Ohio that did not get to view the OSU Marching Band during the broadcast of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Can you imagine?! Ohio TV stations going to commercial as the band approached the broadcast point!

For those who may have missed it. Here is what they looked like from our vantage point on Orange Blvd. just at the start of the parade. (Still assembling the float pictures and will have those up tomorrow, hopefully.)

Friday, January 01, 2010

2010 Rose Bowl

It's a busy time out here in Pasedena! We spent the day surveying some of the floats and last minute preparations for the Rose Bowl parade. While we were walking around, I also caught a glimpse of our Buckeyes arriving for their walk through the stadium. A great day! Looking forward to a great game! Go Bucks!

Enjoy the pictures. I'll tell you more another time.

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