"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Plane's Bigger Than Your Plane!

Our Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, will be on an Airbus 380. This plane is HUGE! It has two decks, carries almost 600 passengers and has a wing span that is almost as long as a football field. I'm feeling a little anxious.

I'm sure it can get off the ground. It has in the past.

And I'm sure it can stay in the air. It's already made trips over the Pacific between the two cities.

Once I get past the size, I hope to sit back and enjoy the following 14 1/2 hours. Supposedly there is a little more room for knees and there is some kind of "foot net" that controls sliding while you sleep. Sleep? I hope so. Although I do expect to watch a little of the larger video screen on the back of the seat in front of me.

Now I probably won't see any upgrade from economy but there are more perks of course the higher you upgrade. Some of them include seats that recline with footrests, laptop power outlets, and a self-service bar in premium economy. Moving up to business class gets you a seat that lies flatter, a lounge area, privacy dividers, and extra storage among other perks.

Of course for the big bucks you get a first class private suite with fully reclining seat that has a foam mattress and massage. (Wonder if you need quarters for it?) There is also a 17" video screen, mood lighting, a table for two, and other "bells and whistles."

My needs are few--get me off the ground, land me safely, and a little leg room would be nice. Not that I'm opposed to a private suite. . .but at the prices of airline tickets, it would have to be a free upgrade.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flying--The Good Ole Days

When we travel to Australia, we will be flying to Los Angeles (about a four hour flight) and from there on to Sydney (about 14 1/2 hours). Add to that the two hours before takeoff to be sure we are checked in and through security and then the lay-over time in LA and we are talking a trip of about 21-24 hours. Take note that we will also be crossing the international date line which means somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, we lose a day. Monday suddenly becomes Tuesday. Is it any wonder they call it jet lag?

I happened to catch a glimpse of a vintage airline commercial on TV and looked it up on YouTube. Ah, the earlier days of flying were amazing. Take a look. It was a bit more formal, but I'd dress up for the meal they're serving. And what was with the "no vibrations?" When was the last time you made a house of cards on your tray table when flying? Even first class nowadays doesn't look as good as this did.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

And a Grandma Too!

Every time I think back to a radio interview I had a couple of years ago when we were promoting A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, I have to smile. The host discovered that I am a scuba diver and a grandmother as well. He conjured up this picture of a white haired little old lady in scuba gear sitting in a rocker.

Well, the white hair is really gray underneath the L'Oreal Havanna Brown and I spent more time in a rocker when my own kids were little and not sleeping through the night than I do now. I do strap on the scuba gear a couple of times a year and plunge into the wonderful underwater world of adventure. It's not a glamorous hobby but it is fun.

There are few grandmas in this day and age that fit the little-old-white-haired-lady-in-the-rocker image but I'm sure I'll eventually get closer to that.

Today I'll be talking with Brenda Nixon at the Parent's Plate about grandparenting. How do you parent the parents of your grandkids? What are some great things to do with your grandkids? How are you an influence in their lives? Tune in live at 10 a.m. (ET)or revisit the website on Wednesday and listen to the podcast. What could be more fun than being a grandma?--not even scuba diving!

Monday, February 22, 2010

George Washington's Dentures

No wooden teeth? Does this mean he didn't cut down the cherry tree either? Is anyone else discouraged by the discovering the falsehoods you grew up with as a child? They were nice stories, unique oddities, tales to stretch the imagination but one by one they tend to come crashing down.

The latest for me is the discovery that George Washington's dentures were never made of wood. His dentist, John Greenwood, made them of hippopotamus ivory (didn't know they had ivory), human teeth and gold. The ivory was the base. Imagine carving that to fit the gums.

Washington had several sets made as his dental problems progressed. Apparently when he was inaugurated as president, he only had one tooth left in his mouth. There is a picture of one denture along with a story at MSNBC.

If you are traveling to Baltimore and are truly interested in Washington's dentures or just want to impress your kids to keep up good dental hygiene, stop in at the National Museum of Dentistry.

I think I will pass however. I'm a realy wimp when it comes to anything to do with a dental chair and teeth--which is why I try to take good care of my teeth.
Oh, and by the way, George's birthday was actually February 11 according to the then Julian calendar but was changed to February 22 when Britain and the colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar. Ah, the things we learn. . .

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Grandparents Bought Me This T-Shirt

This is a column I wrote for Positively Feminine.org. It's one of my favorites:

We have all seen them. They hang in the souvenir shops of every tourist stop. “My grandparents visited [you name the place] and all I got was this T-shirt.” I don’t usually buy a lot of souvenirs for my grandkids when we are traveling. There’s not a lot of room in the suitcase for six, and soon to be seven, trinkets. But on occasion I do try to bring back something that will satisfy their curiosity when they express an interest in where Grandma and Grandpa are going.

On our “once in a lifetime” cruise to Antarctica, I tried to find something that was symbolic or educational to bring home to our young grandchildren. Tyler, the oldest, was four years old at the time and was the only one who had a little understanding of where we were going.
“How cold are the icebergs? Can you walk on them? Does it snow all the time?”

I was desperate to find something that would peak his interest and lend to his education. Trust me. There are not a lot of souvenir shops in Antarctica and bringing back a baby penguin was out of the question. In the ship’s gift shop, I found fleece vests with Antarctica embroidered on the back. The girls, I knew, would enjoy the clothes, but no so Tyler. I bought one for him anyway just to have something to give him.

Back home, as I unpacked the vests, I remembered all his questions about icebergs and snow. I stared out the window at the heavy snow that was falling as I anticipated our visit with him and his sister. Like an avalanche, the idea struck me. Why not give him an iceberg for his souvenir—a mini-iceberg!

Wading out into the snow, I packed a large plastic container with the white stuff, snapped a lid on it and set it in the freezer for our visit.

At Tyler’s house that weekend, the fleece vest got tossed over his head as I anticipated. (His father did the same thing with gifts that were clothes.) Then I pulled out my special souvenir. His eyes widened and he took the mini-iceberg from me and set it on the floor in front of him.
“It’s so cool, Grandma!”

He and Danielle took little penguins from one of their toy collections and played with them on the iceberg and before he went to bed that night, he had to float it in the bathtub with him. He was careful not to let it melt too much (already he was learning about global warming) and it went back into the freezer for another day.

Souvenirs don’t mean a whole lot to others, especially children, if they haven’t experienced the place they came from. When the souvenir is something that will impart a little knowledge or understanding of another place, it becomes much more valuable.

What is it you can whet your grandchild’s appetite for learning with when you look for a souvenir to bring back from vacation? It doesn’t have to cost a whole lot. Save a couple coins from a foreign country. Make a recipe from that country or region for them to taste. Find story books unique to where you visited that you can read with them. And be sure to send them a postcard!

T-shirts are usually three for ten dollars and don’t last past the second washing but a memory shared through a unique souvenir will last a lifetime.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When Life Hands You. . .Snow,

When life hands you lemons, they say to make lemonade. It only follows that when life hands you snow, you ought to make. . . ice cream! Here's a recipe for snow ice cream. Just be sure you take freshly fallen snow and be sure to stay away from the yellow stuff.

2 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. milk or light cream
2 tsps. vanilla
pinch of salt
Place ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with an egg beater to make an uncooked custard. Now, scoop up a pan of new fallen snow and mix the snow into the custard. You need to eath this right away! This will make about 1 quart of snow ice cream.

Remember, fresh fallen snow only. And be sure to wash the eggs before cracking them. If you are concerned about raw eggs, make a cooked custard recipe but don't let the custard set up before you add the snow.
We're about to get our fourth big snowfall in about three weeks--unless Mother Nature has some mercy. Maybe it's time to make some ice cream.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't Leave Home Without It

While some people still prefer traveler's checks, a credit card and a bank card you can use at ATMs are probably your greatest assets in having the ability to pay for things as you travel abroad. ATMs are readily available in almost every major airport around the world. Added to that location, you can find them frequently in most towns and cities that have at least one bank, usually with a choice of languages including English.

The advantage to using an ATM is not only being able to get cash readily, you get the best rate of conversion and your bank will not charge you nearly as much as a money exchange booth at the airport.

While there are some places where you will need cash for "cash only" purchases, the best route for paying for hotels, tickets, meals, etc. is to use a credit card. Again, the conversion of currency is automatic but beware--not all credit cards are created equal. But you knew that, right? Check with your credit card company to see what their policy and exchange rate is before you use it. We discovered the hard way that the credit card we used for travel was adding a hefty charge for the currency conversion.

At the time I write this, we currently have a Capital One card (no fancy picture) that we use exclusively for travel. We found that there is no charge for it's use in foreign countries for the currency conversion. Perhaps there are other cards as well. Check around. Just be sure you don't leave home without one.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts


someone with whom one is in love and by whom one is loved; a term of endearment

Florists, candymakers, greeting card sellers, and restaurant owners will be sporting grins today. Despite the economy, many people of all ages will be scrambling to find their sweetheart an appropriate token of their love and appreciation. And let's not forget those jewelers. Many young men will take the occasion of Valentine's Day to put a knee to the ground and ask the age-old question.

May I paint another picture for today? How about two knees on the ground and a prayer of thanks for the One who loved us so much he sent his Son for us? Words of appreciation followed by words of desire. "Create in me a pure heart. . ." (Ps 51:10) or perhaps a sweet heart, one that can reach out to others with God's love.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Books For The Road - Sisterchicks Do The Hula!

Yesterday was my "mental health" day. I spent the day doing nothing but reading. With all the dreary cold snowy weather we've had I needed a good escape book and Sisterchicks Do The Hula! by Robin Jones Gunn fit the bill perfectly.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. The title sounded like a chick-lit book but rather than a sassy story of two gals in Hawaii, it turned out to be a tale of girlfriends, a story of friendship, and a discovery of God's hand in their destination of choice, Honolulu, Hawaii. (A Sisterchick is defined as a friend who shares the deepest wonders of your heart, loves you like a sister, and provides a reality check when you are being a brat.)

Gunn does a great job of painting the scenes of the tropical destination and portraying the people of the island. I've been there several times and she is very accurate with her details including culture and tradtions and even some history.

This is a great easy read about two gals about to turn forty who finally get to realize their college dream of a trip to Hawaii. Leaving family behind for a few days, they rediscover their own dreams and deepen their bonds of friendship while encountering God as well. It is one of the first in a series of Sisterchicks books. I'm looking forward to delving into a few more--especially if it keeps snowing!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Declaring a Mental Health Day

Sometimes you just gotta have one--a day where for sanity's sake, you toss aside the to do list and just be. Today I'm going to be a reader. I have a book to read for no other purpose than to enjoy the words someone labored over. The book is one that is not a heavy topic--or at least it doesn't appear to be, Sisterchicks do the Hula! by Robin Jones Gunn. Maybe this will get me out of my funk over drab days filled with cold and snow. At least for a little while, if only in my mind, I can be in one of my favorite places, Hawaii, and be warmed by the sun and refreshed with cool breezes. See, I'm already there in my mind.

Where do you go or what do you do for a "mental health day"?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Kangaroos and Emus and Koalas, Oh My!

Anticipation. It can be delightful. Or it can be a bit ominous--I write this anticipating a huge snowstorm about to bury us again. In the case of looking forward to our Australian trip though, anticipation makes the heart leap and want to race. It is an exciting country with natural beauty and intrigue and some of the friendliest folks you'll ever meet.

On several trips to the land downunder, we've had encounters with kangaroos, emus, and koalas. The first time was at a wildlife park where you could buy a bag of food and feed the kangaroos and emus. It was during the off-season and I think the animals were hungry for attention. They eagerly made their way to us. One of the kangaroos even put arms around me trying to get my attention. I learned later, that out in the wild, he/she could have knocked me dead with those powerful legs. Glad I didn't do anything to rile anybody.

While we saw koalas in the animal parks and zoos, we also discovered one in the wild thanks to my ever observant son. We were walking a trail and he noticed droppings on the path. He looked up to see a koala snoozing in the branches of the tree just above our heads. Koalas in the wild are not the nicely groomed furry bears you see in the zoos. Let's just leave it at that.
During another trip, we rented a car for the few days we were in the Cairns area. We had never been to Cooktown just north of Cairns and wanted to see it. Now one of the things the car rental places stress down there is that you cannot drive the rental cars on unpaved roads. We stopped at a visitor information center and asked if the road to Cooktown was paved.
"Gertie!" yelled the woman at the desk to another in the back room. "Is the road to Cooktown bituminous?"

"Oh yes, deary, I believe it is. Bituminous all the way."

We thanked them and left. Not long up the highway, construction signs appeared. Traffic was diverted to a parallel road that looked like a temporary graveled dirt bypass. The "bypass" led us north another 300 km (about 180 miles) all the way into Cooktown. The car was covered in red dust by the time we got there. And then it rained.

There was no choice but to go back the way we came. After exploring Cooktown, we gassed up, bought water, and prepared ourselves to face the dangers of the unknown. Thankfully, by the time we were on our way, the rain stopped and the sun was out again. But the most amazing thing happened. Along the way back to Cairns we saw dozens upon dozens of kangaroos out along the side of the road. Now to an Aussie, that's as exciting as us seeing a deer around our homes is to us but to the tourist, it was thrilling.

When we arrived back in Cairns, the car was totally red from the dust and mud. We were so embarrassed for having taken it where we shouldn't have, we found a car wash and cleaned it before we returned it.

Bituminous has a whole new meaning now.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Books For The Road - Thin Places

"Thin places are snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where, if we pay very close attention, we might just catch a glimpse of eternity."

With that explanation, Mary DeMuth in her memoir, Thin Places, invites her readers to journey and explore with her those thin places in her life where God revealed himself. The places she takes us are not pleasant. They are soul-exposing and spirit-searching places that have molded and shaped her life. But by inviting us into those most vulnerable and private places, DeMuth shows us the thin places in our own lives--the places where, if we open our hearts and minds, we too will glimpse eternal promises.

Thin Places is not for the casual reader. This is often a disturbing and emotion-evoking read. DeMuth deals honestly and openly with her struggles in overcoming rape as a young child. She illustrates the impact to her very core of being with stories of her struggles growing up and becoming a wife and mother. Each chapter/story has its own message of redemption in her faith in Christ.

Even though you may not relate to her specific struggles, you will find a common thread in your own life that will encourage you in your own spiritual journey. This is what encouraged me:

"In the past I needed all the fragments of my life placed just so, like diamonds set in a tennis bracelet. The older I get, the more I see that Jesus wants me to trust Him for the missing pieces, the broken clasps, the counterfeit baubles--to relax in the unknowing, to be a t peace with the tangles, to learn the art of living with the mystery."

[This book was provided by Zondervan for review.]

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts

Something always touches my heart in a worship service. Sometimes it's the sermon. Sometimes it's a Sunday school lesson. Sometimes it's the music. This morning it was definitely the music. In particular the soloist's song. I'm not a fan of Country Music usually but we have a soloist in our church who sings on occasion and draws you in with the storytelling of the country music songs he belts out so well. This morning was especially touching as he sang the song, The Three Crosses.

It's the story of four people, a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, and a hooker, involved in a car crash and only one survives--the hooker. But the dying preacher hands her his bloody Bible and asks, "Can't you see the Promised Land?" It turns out that this lady is the grandmother of the preacher who narrates the song. The lesson: It's not what you take with you, it's what you leave behind that is important.

There's another song near and dear to my heart called, Find Us Faithful (or May All Who Come Behind Us Find Us Faithful). The first time I heard a former pastor of ours sing it, I knew that I wanted it sung at our 25th wedding anniversary celebration. During our renewal of vows ceremony, the pastor sang it again bringing some of our children to tears. Perhaps it was because of the last verse:

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

Hopefully the impact of our lives on others will be the legacy that we leave behind--the legacy that will lead others to a life of faith in Jesus. What will you leave behind?

Friday, February 05, 2010

This Is ________Day!

Sometimes a blogger just needs a little encouragement to find something to write that will inform, entertain, or stimulate discussion--or all three. When I hit a wall and kept seeing a blank box (Blogger has a box in which you write your post) with a blinking cursor before me and then realized I'd been staring at it for quite a while, I decided to surf the net for some inspiration.

What's going on around the world, I wondered? I found a site that gives world holidays. Hmmm. Nothing much there. Mexico is celebrating Constitution Day and Canada, Winterlude. Leave it to the Canadians to celebrate the cold.

A couple of more sites later I stumbled on to some interesting National-Day-Of___s. Here's the list:
  • Disaster Day (That really excites me. How about you?)
  • Buble Gum Day (Do you pop your gum?)
  • Weatherperson's Day (Very politically correct, isn't it? Gender-friendly)

But if none of that makes you want to kick up your heals, toss confetti, or even whistle a happy tune (take the gum out of your mouth first) then hang on because Monday is. . .LAUGH AND GET RICH DAY!!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What to Pack - Decisions, Decisions

As I mentioned before, we are planning quite a lengthy trip to Australia and as the date approaches for our departure, we are getting down to the more personal details--packing clothes. Since we are doing quite a trek across the land down under, we are trying to keep our luggage down to a minimum, one small suitcase and a backpack. This means inserting laundry plans into our itinerary.

With several of the places we will stay, this isn't a problem. In Sydney for example we are staying in what is called "apartments." In other places they would probably be called suites but these in Sydney are reasonably priced and include a small washer/dryer in one of the closets. We've stayed there before and they worked great!

Two other stops have a guest laundry but our lodging in Perth did not list one so I did a search and found that laundromats are called "laundrobars" in Australia. There are several nearby our B&B if we need them. I'll be packing a few sheets of a great new product called Purex 3 in 1 laundry sheets. Each sheet has detergent and softener in it and, in the dryer, acts as an anti-static agent. I stick them in a plastic zip bag. They take up little space and save money and disappointment if you don't have enough coinage or the dispensers in the laundrobars are empty.

The plan is to pack enough clothes for 5 days at a time. Weather should be coolish in most places except for our time in the Ayers Rock area--think hot desert. We will only take one smart casual outfit each (no sport jackets or formal wear on this trip). The backpackers who read this are probably laughing their heads off. They are used to "living light." For me, it's been an ongoing lesson on how to cut back. I'm still learning. Packing light tips would be appreciated.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cruise Ships in Haiti Controversy

For a couple weeks after the terrible earthquake in Haiti, Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruise Line received harsh criticism for stopping at their private beach with passengers. We watched CNN-HLN fuel the controversy on the sat-TV with polls and inviting viewer comments and a tone of indignation. We were cruising at the time but not to Haiti.

What we did learn was that RC had cancelled some stops at first but then began visiting their beach at Labadee again and bringing supplies to help as well as passengers to continue to infuse their weak economy with financial support. For some people, no matter what the cruise line did, it would have been wrong.

An Associated Press story by Travis Reed and Vivian Sequera did a little better job of presenting the situation. They mentioned a young man who told them that if the ship didn't come in, his family didn't eat. It was his income. (The picture is one I took of part of the locals' arts/crafts market at Labadee.) To be fair, they mentioned the other side--those who felt it was morally wrong to frolick on the beach when others were suffering so much.

In the end, the quote they supplied from Arthur Applbaum, a Harvard University professor of ethics and public policy seemed to sum it up: "The people of Haiti are suffering whether you take your beach vacation in the Dominican Republic or in Hawaii and it is a failure of the moral imagination not to be equally troubled in Waikiki."

Monday, February 01, 2010

Books for the Road - First Family

"Impossible to put down."--St. Louis Post Dispatch, was written on the front cover of First Family by David Baldacci. I read those words with scepticism. Sure, sure. We'll see, I thought. I've read those words before and put the book down plenty. This time though, I was in for a wonderful surprise.

Baldacci weaves a wonderfully complicated plot with strong characters that compel you to turn the page and keep on reading. Two private investigators, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former Secret Service agents, are pressed into service by the First Lady whose niece has been kidnapped. Add to that a subplot where Michelle's mother is murdered and she must deal with demons from her childhood and you will find yourself compelled to read on and on until all is resolved.
I liked Baldacci's style of writing, the action he brought to life through his words, and the complexity of his plot. Don't pick this one up to read unless you have nothing better to do for a while. You won't want to put it down--it's impossible to do so.
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