"" Writer's Wanderings: April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Simple Honeymoon

The other day I was talking with someone who is getting married soon and the plans were still coming together. They were working with a small budget since the couple is also buying a small home to start their life together. They hadn't decided on where to spend their honeymoon. I suggested the same low-budget place we spent ours 41 years ago--the state park.

In south central Ohio is the Hocking Hills area and Lake Hope State Park. It was a lot more rustic years ago but there are still cabins there even though the lodge is gone--lost in a fire a few years ago. I remember those three days well. We were so in love. . .

And we were so hoping no one would realize it was our honeymoon. Unfortunately, we were the only couple there those three days. The rest of the population was made up of a group of rangers who had assembled for a seminar or meeting or some such thing. We stood out as the honeymooners.

It was quiet in the evenings though and we could hear the leaves rustle a bit (it was September) when the cool wind blew through them. We could also hear the distinctive sound of acorns as they fell from the large oak tree that stretched over the roof of our cabin. You could hear "thuck, thuck, thuck, thuck" as a nut fell through the leaves and branches and then a loud "PING!" as it hit the tank that held the heating oil for winter.

We explored the caves and creeks and trails but hadn't really found anything to claim as a souvenir. (At that time, there were no gift shops around.) Just as we were ready to leave, I bent down and picked up an acorn. It was our only souvenir.

Later, I encased it in plastic and it has moved with us from house to house finding a niche to be displayed as a reminder of our simple honeymoon. It was the first trip we ever took together. I'm glad we started out simply. Kind of like a simple acorn that grows into a strong oak tree.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Books For The Road - Fatal Illusion

It's always a joy to discover a new author. Almost a year ago, I perused a book table at a writers conference and picked up a book that looked interesting. As it is often the case, I had more reading material than I needed and the book sat in my to-read pile until a couple of weeks ago. The book? Fatal Illusions by Adam Blumer.

It is Blumer's first novel. I sincerely hope it will not be his last. He tells the suspense-filled story of a serial killer of young women and weaves the connection to the killer in and out of the lives of the characters he creates. Along the way, Blumer draws you into the struggles of a pastor and his family who must face false accusations of his faithfulness along with having to face the grieving process from the loss of stillborn twins. It doesn't get much easier for his other characters as they move in and out of this gripping story. Each time you think you can relax, Blumer twists his plot and makes his characters collide which just keeps you turning the pages.

Blumer's insertion of a Christian theme is at times a little contrived and perhaps forced but the story is so good, it makes up for it. If you are looking for a good edge of the seat read, here it is.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let Them Play

The summer ahead will produce a house on the empty lot next to our home. They have already cleared the old gnarled willow trees from it and the scrubby trees and bushes that lined the creek bed in the back of the lot. It's already an improvement to our neighborhood. Last Friday, I was surprised to see one man show up to grind the large tree stumps that remained. One man, I wondered? But I discovered it was all done by remote control!

With precision control, the man man used the joy stick and buttons on a small box in his hand to drive the yellow stump grinder from stump to stump and guide the cutting tool as it ground into the remaining roots of the fallen trees. When he was all done, he walked beside the machine as he guided it back on to the trailer and left for his next job.

Perhaps the reason it fascinated me so was that it looked so much like a grown kid playing with a remote controlled car--albeit a rather large "car." I began to think about all the things in our modern world that are remotely controlled (other than a TV). Spy planes came to mind as did assembly lines for car manufacturers where robots paint the cars. Then I remembered the amazing surgeries I've heard about (and had myself) where they insert a camera and a tube by which they can manipulate the surgical instruments to perform delicate surgeries that are minimally invasive. Our world is truly amazing.

So the next time your child or grandchild begs for a remote controlled car, truck, boat, etc. think carefully before you say, "no." It could just be the means for practicing what may come in the future in a career. I say "let them play!"

Friday, April 23, 2010

Is Rejection Like Being 86'd?

The other night I heard the term "86'd" on a television program. I knew what the term meant but wondered how it came about. I did a little research and found to my dismay that there is no real point of origin for the term. Rather, there are several speculations as to how the term came into use--most of which have little to do with the meaning today which is to get rid of, do away with, or no longer allowed.

In researching, I found most sources referred to it as a retaurant or bar code. The most popular theory is connected to a speakeasy bar during Prohibition called Chumley's. By coincidence the address of the speakeasy was 86 Bedford St. in New York City. Instead of yelling "Nix it! The cops!" the bartender or lookout would yell, "86" and the patrons knew to exit by an alternative door to avoid being arrested.

Other references include 86 as a code for running out of a particular drink at a soda fountain. Another referred to Delmonico's steak restaurant where the famous steak was #86 on the menu and when it ran out, the order was said to be 86'd.

Another idea came from the time of the Depression when soup kitchens and breadlines were familiar sights. It was said that a soup cauldron could only hold 85 cups of soup so the 86th person in line was out of luck.

I guess if getting a piece of writing rejected is being 86'd then I'm be glad that at least I can still get a cup of soup since I don't rely on profits from publishing to feed the family. Thankfully I have a husband for that.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In A Word, Cha-ching!

Deep in thought as I washed my hair the other day, my mind was wandering all over the things I wanted to write, the things I needed to finish writing, and, well, just all sorts of things about writing. As the suds began trickling down my arms, I thought about all the opportunities that are out there for writers. Many people don't even think about--consciously.

There are certainly the novelists, the essayists, the journalists, the biographers, the writers of memoirs, the playwrights, the poets, the songwriters, and the writers of deep philosophical and theological discussion but then there are the unsung heroes. The technical writers, the advertising copy writers (someone writes those great Super Bowl commercials), the obituary writers, and the writers of all those directions on every container we buy anywhere.

Words in any venue need to be honed and perfected to express exactly what the work calls for. Quite literally, a project can live or die by one word. And one word can truly make a difference in the bottom line financially. Take for instance the word, repeat. Lift up almost any bottle of shampoo and read the directions. It will usually say something like, "Apply to wet hair, lather, and rinse. Repeat."

And there's the cha-ching. Repeat. How much more shampoo is sold simply because a writer decided to write into the directions, "repeat?"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Australian Damper

One of the first meals we had in Australia at a restaurant in The Rocks area of Sydney came with a bread called damper. Traditionally, it is unleavened bread baked in a camp oven in the coals of a fire out in the bush. It’s a bit like Irish soda bread and many think it may have originated with Irish immigrants (convicts). During colonial times it was a staple food in the bush because the dry ingredients were easily carried and they only needed to add water to make the damper. The original version consisted of coarse flour (occasionally stretched with flour milled from wild seeds or nuts), bi-carb or salt, and water.

Today’s damper is easier to make with self-rising flour and flavored more with butter and milk. Bake it in the oven, a Dutch oven, wrap it in foil and bake it in the coals of your campfire or make balls of dough to toast like a marshmallow over your fire and then fill the hole the stick leaves with honey or jam.

When we were at Ayers Rock and enjoyed our breakfast at dawn in the dessert, the damper (pictured) was wrapped in foil, cooked in the coals, and served with maple syrup.

Here’s today’s version of Australian Damper:
2 cups self-rising flour
½ tsp salt
1-1½ cups milk
2 tsps sugar
2 tsps butter
Extra flour as needed

Mix the flour, salt and sugar together into a bowl.
Cut in the butter until fine crumbs form.
Add milk slowly and mix to form a soft dough.
Knead lightly on a floured board until smooth.
Shape into a round loaf, brush with milk and cut a cross in the
top surface of the dough.

( for oven cooking )
Grease and dust with flour a round cake tin. You can substitute a
flat baking pan, but the round tin gives a better shape to the loaf.
Place dough in the pan and bake at 375° F for 30 - 40

( for campfire cooking )
Grease the camp oven (Dutch oven) and dust with flour
Add bread dough and cover.
Place in your campfire, cover with hot ashes and coals and bake for
about 30 minutes.

Note: to test if it's done, tap on the loaf and it should sound hollow. Cut into moderately thick slices and serve while still warm. Top with butter, golden syrup, or your favorite jam.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Books for The Road - Dear John

The romance genre is not one that I am drawn to often, but when it has Nicholas Sparks as the author I rarely pass it up and I'm rarely disappointed. Dear John was intriguing because of all the promos I saw in the movie theater for the movie version. This is one case where perhaps the movie might have been better. While I enjoyed the read over all, there were places where it seemed bogged down with too much detail and ruminating on the character's part.

The story is one of a restless young man who enlists in the army and shortly thereafter meets the girl of his dreams. (Yes, his name is John). They are a perfect match and fall deeply in love but both want to wait until after his term of duty to decide on anything permanent. His term of duty gets extended by 9/11 and complications in the relationship develop. As always, Sparks makes the love story difficult for his characters and this one is no exception. There are all sorts of outside influences over their choices that seem to lead them further apart rather than bringing them together. It has an unusual ending one that may or may not satisfy the reader of romance.

If you like Sparks, this one will be okay for you. If not, don't let this be the first of his you read.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts - Fear the Dark?

There is not a long list of things I truly fear. If I were to order them it would start with snakes, tornadoes (I tend to pace when the storm warnings go up), falling from a high place (although this usually happens in a nightmare) and then the list would branch into much lesser things that just tend to quicken the pulse when encountered. I didn't think darkness was on the list until an incident that happened while we were in Australia.

If you follow my posts, you saw the funny picture of my husband standing next to the Nissan SUV we rented for our drive through the desert from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs. Under that fly-netted hat, he's sporting a big grin. Yes, he is a bit of a jokster at times and I was soon to experience it once again.

As we were about to start out for Kings Canyon, we discovered that the battery in the SUV was dead. Someone (who is used to his headlights automatically shutting off) had left the lights on. We found some accomodating valets who located a jumper cable and were just about to give the SUV a jump when Bob tried it one more time and it started. Unfortunately, it locked us out of the audio equipment on the SUV and the display kept flashing "Enter Code" at us to no avail. We had no code.

We tooled along in silence for the 3 1/2 hour trip to Kings Canyon and when we were turned away because of the flooding there and faced a four hour drive to Alice Springs, I knew we needed some noise to keep the driver from drifting off. I fished out my new phone that, out of the country, could only be used as a MP3 player and set it to play the list of golden oldies that I'd downloaded.

So there we were, darkness had fallen. There was not another car on the road. No lights in the distance in any direction and I'm singing along with the songs of the 60s. (Maybe that's the reason for what happened next.)

I heard Bob say, "I wonder how dark it is?" And in the next instant, I was plunged into total darkness. HE'D TURNED OFF THE LIGHTS!!

We're tooling along at 120 kilometers/hour (I'm guessing that's around 65-70 mph) and he turns off the lights! It was only for a second but it seemed an eternity. I'm not a screamer but I screamed. It was the blackest black I have ever experienced. There was no moon to illuminate the landscape that night. I worked in a darkroom when I took a photography class at college but even that was not as black as this. It was as though I had no body and there was just this consciousness of me. I had no reference to anything.

Heart pounding, I tried to shake off the sensation of being in total darkness. Separation from God is said to be total darkness--an eternity if you have never accepted Jesus as Savior. I can certainly see now why Jesus is said to be light.

"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"
John 8:11-13

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Australia - Melbourne

Our last day in Australia was spent exploring Melbourne. Our first visit to Melbourne was back in 2001 on a one-day stay during a cruise from Auckland to Sydney. I remembered it as being a quaint city with lots of older architectural structures that gave it a bit of old world flavor and yet a touch of that adventuresome spirit that seems to pervade the Australian continent. It wasn’t as I remembered. Rarely is something just as you remember it especially after nine years.

There was a lot of new development in amongst the quainter buildings. Some was a real contrast rather than a blending of old and new. The trams however still run on wires stretched along the main thoroughfares. One nice feature is the free tram called the City Circle Tram. It runs in a square that surrounds the center of the city and has now been extended with an arm that reaches the harbor area as well. Free is good and we used the tram to travel around all day.

The free tram doesn’t start operating until 10 a.m. so we walked a bit until we found a place to have breakfast. About the time we were done, the tram had started up and we hopped aboard and rode almost all the way around (about an hour) to get an idea of where we might like to get off and visit. There is a commentary that runs but it is almost impossible to hear once the tram gets crowded.

We made several stops throughout the day—St. Patrick’s Cathedral for one and the Victorian Market which was interesting enough to spend a few hours exploring (think giant flea market and farmers market all in one).

At Harbour Town, we walked through a two story mall area that was mostly outlet stores. A word about the Australian sense of humor: very broad. It shows in their commercials which would never make it past the censors here at home and, as we discovered during our mall walk, their games. It’s hard to see in the picture but this is a game of fishing you can play in the bathroom. They also had one for golfers.

Collins Street was another interesting place to walk through. There are arcades (side alleys) that are full of upscale shops and boutiques. We window-shopped and stopped for a cappuccino in a little sidewalk café.

Dinner was in a restaurant along the waterfront of the Yarra River. We had a meal of mussels in a white wine sauce. We got hooked on mussels prepared in different kinds of broth while we were in France and they seem to be popular in Australia as well.

We watched our last night of Aussie TV. They have a few versions of our programs like Biggest Loser and Deal or No Deal and turned the lights out early so we could be fresh for the morning drive to the airport.

Thankfully, being a Saturday, the traffic was not too bad and we made it to the rental return and airport easily. Just to confuse my body a bit more, we lifted off from the Melbourne airport at 11:30 a.m., Saturday morning and arrived 13 ½ hours later in Los Angeles at 7:30 a.m., Saturday morning. I think it must involve time travel although it looked like a regular jet to me. Of course at our destination, home, it was 10:30 a.m.—still earlier than when we took off from Melbourne.

We arrived home sometime late afternoon, unpacked some, and began the arduous task of trying to adjust back to the time again. Days and nights were actually flipped and now as I write this it is two weeks since we came home and we are just now finally sleeping through the night again. All of which was/is worth the adventure of traveling to Australia. Oh yes, I’d do it all over again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Australia - The Dandenongs

Getting into Melbourne was nothing compared to our morning of trying to get out. Our GPS lady wasn’t quite sure where we were since the Hilton complex was new and not exactly charted yet. The highway interchanges were complicated for someone not familiar with the area and on top of that we kept reading signs that said “toll” and seeing cameras mounted above us but no toll booths to pay a toll. Between trying to find our way out of the city and going in circles and suddenly realizing we were passing through toll areas that needed some sort of gadget or method of payment, I was near panic and imagining the fines we were racking up if we didn’t pay. Did I mention it was also rush hour?

Bob caught a number to call for information about CityLink and I took his cell phone and connected with a wonderful Aussie who cheerfully took me through the steps I needed to register the car with their system and pay automatically by credit card. It would even take care of the toll areas we’d passed through several times as we circled. Apparently the cameras record license plates and somehow automatically register them in the system when you pass through.

We finally found ourselves on a road heading out of the city. It felt like we’d been released from a slingshot. Quite a bit more relaxed, we found a Hungry Jacks (Australian for Burger King) and remembered we hadn’t had breakfast yet. It felt good to get a little caffeine in my system before heading out again.

Our goal was the Dandenong Mountains just about an hour’s drive outside Melbourne. We’d been there once before on a cruise excursion by bus. Unfortunately when our bus got to the highest point where we could look out at the city, the view was obscured by clouds. This time as we arrived at the Skyhigh Mt. Dandenong Observatory it was a little better but still hazy and with a discolored layer of smog like most cities generate.

We walked around the area and enjoyed the English garden. The maze was closed but I don’t think we would have paid the fee to go in anyway. On the way to the top, we had stopped at an information center near Ferntree Gully and a wonderful lady there outlined a route for us that would take in what we wanted to see and do. On the list was feeding the colorful Rosellas and the ever noisy cockatoos. She had suggested that we stop at Sherbrooke Trail if we didn’t see Rosellas out at Grants on Sherbrooke which used to be a picnic area but now is a full-fledged tourist stop.

We missed Grants somehow on the way up but we did find the Sherbrooke Trail that was to lead to some waterfall. It turned out the waterfall was more of a trickle over some gently sloped rocks or at least that’s all we saw. We did manage to run into a lyrebird but by the time I got my camera on, it was hidden again in the underbrush. They look a bit like a peacock but less colorful.

Since we had no birdseed, we didn’t even try to attract the Rosellas at Sherbrooke but on our way back, we found Grants and stopped for a snack and some bird seed. We sat in the picnic area for quite some time and saw nothing but suddenly a whole flock of Rosellas surrounded us and started feasting on the birdseed we had in hand. They were joined by a dozen noisy white cockatoos one who found Bob’s Iphone very interesting.

While we could have stayed much longer and enjoyed the birds, we needed to tear ourselves away so that we could get to Belgrave in time to catch a ride on Puffing Billy, Dandenong’s century old steam train that takes you on a ride on the side of a mountain with views looking over the valley. It is run by several hundred volunteers who seemed to truly enjoy their work. This is one ride where you are NOT told to keep your head, arms, and legs inside the car although I don’t know how anyone could have sat on the narrow ledge for even the short twenty minute ride. We stayed on for about a two hour return trip ride and thoroughly enjoyed the ride, the fresh air, sunshine, and of course the lovely views—even the glimpses into backyards.

Once we were done with our ride, we opted to stay in the area a bit longer and eat dinner—hopefully to avoid rush hour traffic on our return to Melbourne. Bob had caught sight of a sign advertising Schnitzel Night for $12.50. That was one of the cheapest meals we had seen outside of a fast food place. We were way to early but the Micawber Tavern had a nice little garden area where we could sit and get something to drink while we waited. At six we eagerly sat at a table and ordered.

The schnitzel is chicken not veal in Australia and this restaurant offered all sorts of toppings for it. The chicken is flattened with a mallet, breaded and fried and then the toppings are put on before serving. All of that rests upon a stack of French fries and salad. Needless to say it was very filling. The price was so affordable that we actually splurged on two cappuccinos as well.

Our return to Melbourne was much easier. Less traffic and only one mistake that sent us through a tunnel three times. Ah, but my “cloudy” bed was so nice to return to and since we decided to stay in the city the next day instead of our planned trip to the Yarra Valley, we rested well knowing we didn’t have to navigate Melbourne’s highways in the morning.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Books For The Road - Above All Things

Deb Raney always seems to deal with complicated and emotional problems as she plots out her novels. Above All Things is no exception. A young couple, Evette and Judd, finally become pregnant and just as they are looking forward to welcoming their first child, Judd discovers he already is a father. Of course this complicates life in so many ways as his past catches up with him and he has to take care of his six year old daughter because her mother is critically ill. Add to all the confusion, embarrassment of explaining his daughter to others and his wife’s anger the fact that the child is biracial and you stir in a mess of prejudice to deal with as well.

While I think Raney could have delved a little deeper into the emotional reactions in her story, she does a wonderful job of exploring the different aspects of facing our failures and hidden prejudices. A great story with a good ending. A nice read for the road.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Australia - Melbourne

We ended our trip along the Great Ocean Road at Queenscliff and took the ferry across to Sorrento which is at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula just outside of Melbourne. The ferry ride was only about 40 minutes long but about three-fourths of the way across, we were joined by a pod of dolphins that played in and out of the wake of the ferry entertaining all on board.

As we reached Sorrento, we called on our GPS lady to get us to a restaurant that had been recommended by another couple from Sydney that we had met at Kangaroo Island. It turned out to be a little more than half hour drive and even though we were hungry, we decided we’d go ahead and eat there. For those of us who deal in feet and miles instead of kilometers and meters, it was always a bit difficult to judge when our GPS lady wanted us to turn. A graphic would show a countdown and then she would say, “Turn now.” Well, at her command we turned into the drive we thought was our destination. It wasn’t.

Our target was a winery with a restaurant called Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove which our friends had said served great food and also had an award winning display of sculpture. The drive we turned into was also a winery, Tuck’s Ridge, but we didn’t notice the sign. It had a beautiful covered patio with tables and a view of vineyards and olive trees that was reminiscent of Tuscany. The hostess greeted us with an apology that by unfortunate happenstance, both of their cooks were home and all they could give us was a sampling platter. That sounded good to us as we didn’t want to eat too much and have to drive a couple of hours more to Melbourne.

Our platter consisted of several kinds of pate, smoked salmon, veggies, bread, and a wonderful dish of assorted olives. We sat and enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, the quiet, and the view. Bob noticed sculptures off to the right of our view in a field and suddenly we realized we were in the wrong place. Sure enough 50 meters (about 150 feet) more there was a second driveway that led to Montalto which had a parking lot full of cars, minibuses, and vans. It was a busy place. We were happy to have made the mistake. Perhaps we’ll have to return another time.

As we got closer into the city of Melbourne, the traffic picked up and we realized we had another challenge ahead as Bob had to navigate around the tram lines that were in the center of the main streets. “Give way to the trams” was posted all over but in addition to driving on the left, having roads suddenly split with tree lined dividers on one side and tram lines on the other, we white-knuckled our way to our hotel.

After getting settled, we walked along the river and scoped out the restaurants on the waterfront near our hotel, the Hilton on South Wharf. We found a spot we liked and enjoyed a very nice dinner. Tired from our drive and our introduction into Melbourne traffic, we stayed out long enough to enjoy a gorgeous sunset and then snuggled into the softest beds I’d ever slept in. As we began to relax and enjoy some of the fun TV programming Australia offers, the fire alarm went off. Of course our first thought was that someone was smoking in their room (which turned out to be the case) but the alarm continued on and soon we could hear sirens.

Now when you are on the seventeenth floor of a hotel and can’t use an elevator to go down, you want to be sure there really is a need to evacuate. We slowly got dressed and by the time we were ready to go out the door, the alarm stopped and shortly after an announcement was made with apologies for the inconvenience. Collectively we exhaled and got back into bed hoping that it would not happen again. But unfortunately it did—the next night, after we had gone to sleep. This time the alarm was short lived but followed by two announcements that all was well and apologies for the inconvenience.

The next night we stopped by the desk and asked what time the fire drill would be. He smiled and said, “No worries.” He thought everything would be okay. That’s when we learned it was a smoker one night and the next night someone overheated a caterer’s serving dish and set off the smoke detector. All was well that night. We slept through.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Australia - The Great Ocean Road

Sadly we said goodbye to Kangaroo Island and took a small plane back to Adelaide where we picked up a rental car. It was the second Toyota we rented. Whenever we made a reference to gas pedals sticking, the Aussies said they hadn’t heard anything about it. Guess it was just us Americans that had the problems. We hooked up the lovely GPS lady with the British accent and she immediately calculated our route out of the airport to the highway we needed to reach our goal—the Great Ocean Road—all the while of course, she cautioned Bob to “mind your speed.” I loved it!

The drive between Adelaide and Mt. Gambier, our first stop on the way to Melbourne, was a long stretch but along the way we had some fun like finding a diner named Helgas for lunch where we had “jacketed potatoes” with enough fixings on top to sink a battleship. We got into Mt. Gambier early enough to catch up with laundry again at the Best Western where we stayed. The next morning we were on the road early to give ourselves plenty of time to enjoy the Great Ocean Road which really starts right around Port Campbell.

We made a few stops along the way to enjoy the views and arrived in Port Fairy just in time for lunch. Our stay in Australia would end in a few days and we had yet to eat one of our son’s favorite dishes from his stay in Australia—meat pie. We found a little bakery that looked popular and ordered two. One was steak and mushrooms and the other steak, mushrooms, and cheese. They are a little like potpies but you can pick them up and eat them like a sandwich.

A little farther down the road, we began to get into the more famous area of the Great Ocean Road where the huge rock formations are a must see. We stopped at the Grotto, the Arch, the London Bridge (which is no longer a bridge-like formation) and of course the most popular of all, the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles are twelve large pillar-like formations that mostly stand out in the water. While some Aussies told us there were only eight still standing, one of the interpretive signs at the park said that several of the pillars were hidden in crevices difficult to view from land. I turned down the idea of riding in a helicopter to see the rest. Eight were enough for me especially as it was beginning to drizzle rain on us.

We made it to Apollo Bay in the late afternoon and found our accommodations to be like a scene out of a 50s movie. Maybe because it was a motel rather than a hotel but whatever the reason, I would not have been surprised to see Henry Winkler on a motorcycle in the parking lot. The “sea view” at the Seaview Motel was only visible if you looked diagonally out toward the ocean and perhaps were very tall or stayed on the second floor. But it suited us well and we got a good night’s sleep.

Our trip along the Great Ocean Road the next day took us inland every so often and through some beautiful wine country and mountainous area. Once along the way, we found a serene beach with surf rolling in slowly and no one around. It was inviting—enough so that Bob asked teasingly if I wanted to wade in the water. I called his bluff and we stopped long enough for both of us to go walking in the surf. A huge beach and we were the only two walking on it. *Sigh* Even after 41 years of marriage there are still a few romantic times left.

Of course that little stroll was followed by spotting this SUV with a most appropriate cover on its spare tire. A motto we could agree with. "Adventure Before Dementia."

Monday, April 05, 2010

Books For The Road - Sue Grafton's T and U

Sue Grafton took on a daunting task back in 1983 as she began a series of crime stories using the alphabet starting with A Is For Alibi. Her main character, Kinsey Millhone, developed quite a following and Grafton became a best-selling author several books into the series. Along the way, I too became a fan and follower and was surprised to find that I’d missed her T Is For Trespass and U Is For Undertow, her latest book. I purchased both as ebooks for our trip to Australia.

T Is For Trespass, a tale of identity theft and elder patient abuse did not disappoint. The Millhone character was every bit as femininely crusty as I remember her. She comes to the rescue of an elderly neighbor that is taken advantage of by a woman posing as an elder-care nurse using credentials stolen from another woman with whom she worked. It is always fun to reminisce about the 1980s as Kinsey Millhone is still working with the technology of that time period as she looks into the cases she takes on.

When I got into U is for Undertow however, Millhone suddenly began to change in character. She delves into her past and becomes a lot more enamored with the reasons her extended family abandoned her when she became an orphan. Perhaps Grafton meant to make some sort of tie between Millhone’s early years and the kidnapping case she becomes involved in which really has no similarity other than involving a young girl. While the story tended to wander a bit and flip back and forth in time, I stuck to it out of curiosity. After reading 20 books about this character, I want to know how things get resolved. And yes, I will read the last six. It would be like abandoning a project before it’s finished if I quit now.

The question is how will Grafton complete this series? And what in the world will she do with the letters, X and Z?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Australia - More Kangaroo Island

As we drove along the roads of Kangaroo Island, we saw lots of plants that looked like grassy bushes. They were actually the beginning of what Malcolm, our guide, called grass trees. Eventually the clumps that looked like grass would form a trunk at the bottom. They take a long time to grow and as we passed one that was quite tall, Malcolm slowed the SUV and told us it was probably around 600 years old.

Malcolm kept telling us that we would be seeing some remarkable stones. Little did I realize that was actually the name given to these huge stone formations that had been carved out by wind, sand, and water over an estimated 500 million years. One looked like the beak of a large eagle and another resembled the shell of an egg from which the eagle may have hatched.

Nearby at Flinders Chase National Park, we stopped to see the Admiral’s Arch which looks like the inside of a cave exposed by weathering with stalactites still hanging from the ceiling. It is also the place to observe the New Zealand fur seals and we spent some time watching them frolic in the large waves that were crashing over the rocks. It is amazing the strength they must have to be able to navigate in the undertow and not be crushed against the rocky shoreline.

While we waited for lunch to be ready, we wandered through the visitor’s center in the park. It was a wealth of information on the flora and fauna of the island as well as some of the history.

We made another stop in a grove of eucalyptus trees for a few more encounters with koalas. Some of the trees were in bloom and the Ligurian bees could be heard busily collecting nectar from the feathery blooms that already smelled like honey. While we wandered looking for koalas we happened upon this kangaroo resting in the shade of a tree. As we stopped to snap a picture, a wallaby must have decided he didn’t want to be left out and hopped into the shot. I had hoped the picture would show better the size difference in the two animals but the perspective doesn't help. The kangaroo is a little more than twice the size of the wallaby.

Since we didn’t have time to see all the rest of the island, Malcolm gave us a few choices of how to finish up our afternoon and we opted to drive into the main town of Kingscote to see what it looked like and hopefully get there in time to see the pelicans being fed. With Malcolm’s great sense of timing, we arrived just as they were about to begin. It was a real hoot. The Australian pelicans are the largest in the world. As people seated themselves on the ledges near the water’s edge at the town’s jetty, the pelicans mingled and seated themselves next to the onlookers. I was happy to stand in the background especially when the feeding frenzy got going and the lady you see with the gray hair got doused with fish juice as the pelicans ate.

As we pulled into the Sea Dragon Lodge again in the evening, we watched the heads in the field perk up as we drove down the gravel lane. The roos were out for their evening snack and sadly we knew that we would be saying goodbye to them in the morning. While we thought we had planned so well for this Australian adventure, we regretted not having stuck in an extra day on the island. Maybe there will be a next time. . .
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