"" Writer's Wanderings: August 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Memories of Venice

Life is a little crazy here right now with some self-imposed writing deadlines and others imposed by editors. So I thought I would look back on one of my older posts. This one was written back in 2004:

This past summer, we traveled through Europe with Bob’s brother, Dick, and his wife, Polly. Venice was a unique adventure. We arrived amidst gray skies and drizzle. The buildings around St. Mark’s Square looked dirty and dingy. I wondered how anyone could claim this as a beautiful spot. After our dinner, however, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica bringing the building to life with shimmering golden mosaics.

In the square at the outdoor cafes some musicians were beginning to perform. We were attracted to a café with a stringed ensemble and made ourselves comfortable at a table. When the waiter came three of us ordered cappuccino (Dick was off for gelato). We didn’t pay attention to the menu. We only wanted cappuccino. This was just dessert. Oh what a dessert! The cappuccinos were excellent but the bill was outstanding. When converted to dollars, it was $15 per cup of that delicious brew. By not looking at the menu, we had missed the mention of a cover charge.

Ah, Italy, so crazy, so frantic, so romantic, so expensive! Everyone said it was a once in a lifetime experience. That’s for sure. We’ll never order $15 coffees again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

From Itally's N-West Coast - Ligurian Trofie

When we were in Italy in the Cinque Terre area this past June, we fell in love with a popular local dish, trofie with basil pesto. We found it in every restaurant although there was a little variation in each. One served the pasta and pesto with green beans, another with potatoes, still another with potatoes and green beans. They were all delicious. Being a fan of "traditional" tomato sauce, I was surprised to find that I liked the green basil pesto so much.

At home, I decided to make some for dinner and set out to see what it would take. Keep in mind, my best recipe for chocolate chip cookies comes from the Pillsbury dough boy in a plastic-wrapped package. I was overwhelmed to say the least by the amount of work that goes into the pasta making--and it doesn't use eggs! Any time I mixed water and flour together, it was to make homemade paste for crafts. I ruled out making the pasta and found something in the grocery store that resembled the trofie.

Next I looked up recipes for basil pesto sauce. Perhaps not quite as involved as the pasta but still a lot of work, time, and patience. Back to the grocery store. I found several packaged versions of basil pesto and picked one hoping it would not turn me against it.

To make it more of a dinner than an appetizer, I added mushrooms, onions, snap beans, and some cut up cooked chicken breast. See, I can cook when I really want to. It was almost as good as sitting in an outdoor restaurant looking out over the sea and enjoying the Ligurian creation. Almost.

For you adventuresome cooks, here are a couple of the recipes sites I found:
Trofie al Pesto
Fresh Basil Pesto

For you who are like me, here's a website to order your ready-made ingredients if your grocer doesn't carry them.
Ligurian products

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts - God's Laughter

This week has been a bottom-in-the-chair-fingers-on-the-keyboard kind of week. While it has been said that you should write the first draft of your novel straight through to the end without looking back and editing, I find that the editor in me keeps wanting to fix what I've just written. I go back and find the -ing words and make them stronger action verbs, eliminate the unnecessary -ly words, and see if there isn't a better way to say something without a "was" or "were" in the sentence. It all takes time and slows the process but it's a tough habit to break.

While I was praying one day this week during devotion time, I found myself editing my words. I wanted to make them just right. Habits tend to invade other areas of life. When I realized what I was doing, I stopped. For just an instant, I thought I heard a chuckle. God must have enjoyed my discovery. After all He is Father, and as children of His, I'm sure we contribute much to his laughter.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Luggage-free Travel

We try to par down our necessities more and more as we travel not only to keep the bags lighter to carry but to avoid those extra luggage fees. I ran across this article of a fellow who has taken it to extremes--twelve days of travel with only what he can stuff in his pockets. Read it and imagine what it must be like going through security at the airport.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Mother's Heart

Yesterday, when I finished my morning walk and sat down again at my computer, I noticed the message light flashing on the answering machine. I pushed the button to hear my youngest son, my little one, who had called while I was out tell me of his plans for Sunday. I call him my "little one" although he's turned 32 this year. To me, he'll always be the little guy partly because with his developmental handicap, he is still in many ways a child. But mostly because of where he falls in the family lineup.

When we adopted him, he was five--a little too old to be called a baby for one thing. The other reason we had for labeling him our little one was that his older brother, soon to be the middle child, didn't want to lose his status as "our baby." It was a good compromise and makes them both loved for who they are.

At five our little one couldn't talk. He communicated with sounds, pointed fingers, and lots of smiles. He still smiles a lot today. His smile has endeared him to many hearts. His words, and he has many of them, are endearing as well. His language is simple. His talk often stuttered but his humor and his care for others never faulter.

"Mom," he said on the taped message. " I hate to disappoint you but I cannot go to dinner on Sunday with you and Dad."

I hate to disappoint you. It was a phrase I hadn't heard him use before. A grownup-adult-socially correct phrase. My little one is still growing. Still maturing. Still learning. All of this despite what others consider a handicap.

But then in my mother's heart, I look at my other sons. They too are still growing and maturing. Still learning. The lessons are a little harder now as they have responsibilities of family and work but they all continue to make this mother's heart leap with joy and pride--no matter where in the world she may be traveling.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vermilion, Ohio's Lester Allan Pelton

While in Vermilion, Ohio, on Saturday, I picked up a brochure put out by the Vermilion Area Archival Society that featured the inventor, Lester Allan Pelton, who grew up in the area. He is noted for the "Pelton Water-Wheel" which produced the first hydroelectric power in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Calivornia in 1887.

Pelton was born in Vermilion and lived there until he was twenty and, like so many others of his era, got "gold fever." He and about 20 local boys headed west to find their fortune. Pelton worked as a fish peddler for a time supplying miners with the fresh catch of the day. It appears he didn't really care for mining even though he moved closer to the region where it was going on. Instead, he was more a book worm and a skilled tinsmith, carpenter and millwright.

His idea for the water wheel is said to have come when he chased a stray cow by tossing water at it. He noticed the water split, circled the cow's notstrils and came out at the outer edge. He started drawing a water-wheel with split metal cups. That led to experimenting with it in the mines and eventually to making hydroelectic power efficient.

I was impressed. All that from tossing water at a cow. His birthplace is owned privately by some folks who remodeled it after a major fire destroyed a good part of it. You can also see the "Cuddeback School" where he first learned his ABC's.

Our trip to Vermilion also included a stop at a small park area where there was a festival of sorts going on. Corn roasted on an open grill. Homemade goodies and crafts were for sale and the kids were inventively putting together "corn racers." The Rotary Club was sponsoring a craft where kids could put wheels to an ear of corn and race them down a pine derby track. The rain didn't deter the fun and who knows, maybe the racers will spark an idea for a future inventor in the group.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Step Back in Time

On a quest for some good peaches, we drove about an hour to Vermilion, Ohio, this past weekend. We had an address for a roadside market that sold their own farm produce and we found it easily enough. If anyone is in that area, it's called the Aufdenkampe Farm. There were several other places we saw along the way and really, the area between Vermilion and just west of Port Clinton has tons of peach orchards and markets.

After we bought our bag of peaches and tomatoes and corn and I said, "Stop! We can't eat all this," we decided to head into downtown Vermilion to walk around a bit and maybe get some lunch.

Vermilion is a sweet little town that is right on the shore of Lake Erie between Cleveland and Sandusky. As the sign says, "A Small Town on a Great Lake." When we owned a sailboat, we made a few trips there and moored overnight at the Interlake Yacht Club. We'd walk into town for dinner at McGarvey's which is now a Quaker Steak and Lube or as we did on our anniversary, ate at the little french restaurant, Chez Francois. We've also eaten at the Old Prague Restaurant as well hoping to get a taste of the kind of food my aunt used to make. But this Saturday we walked down Liberty Avenue through the center of town and looked for a place for a light lunch. There were lots of choices but the one that caught our eye was Big Ed's Main Street Soda Grill.

The Soda Grill advertised hot dogs and an old fashioned soda fountain. The menu was delightful and included all sorts of burgers, dogs, and assorted sandwiches. The soda fountain was true to its advertising. Real shakes and malts came the old fashioned way--in the metal mixing container with a glass to pour it in. Other fountain items included Brown Cows, Black Cows, and Boston Coolers and something I'd not heard of before, Egg Creme. It's a mixture of chocolate, milk and soda water or seltzer.

Bob ordered a fried bologna sandwich and I ordered a Smokie, "a smoked sausage smothered in our homemade coney sauce, diced onions, and topped with shredded cheddar cheese." We split each sandwich when it came and sampled both. They were terrific!

And so was the atmosphere of the Soda Grill as we munched our sandwiches and sipped our Cokes. The place used to be an old pharmacy and along one wall still stands the display cabinet of the pharmicist of earlier years. It now holds lots of memorabilia from past eras including a collection of glass milk jugs from several different milk companies.

I wish I could have taken more pictures but I had left my camera at home and the cell phone only works so well especially in the rain which started shortly after our lunch. We dashed back to the car and headed home with our fresh produce which, by the way, was the tastiest we've had in a while. I see a peach pie in the future.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Going Through Immigration and Customs

A friend of mine is taking her first international trip and asked me what it was like to go through customs. We have done it so many times, we don't really think of it as anything more than routine now. But for first timers it could create a bit of anxiety. So here is a general description of what it is like. Each country will be a little different.

For the most part, when your plane is destined for a different country than where you boarded, you will have to go through immigration and customs. In Europe borders are open among the European Union nations so travel between them is like traveling within the borders of the same country. Either upon take-off or just before landing, the attendants on your flight will hand out customs forms and sometimes an entry form for visitors. They will explain who must fill them out but it usually goes like this: one custom form per family and one entry form for each visitor.

The forms you fill out will require your name, address, passport number, flight number, and ask you to declare certain items that you might be bringing to the country especially if in a large quantity or if on their list of banned items. Many countries do not allow you to take in fresh fruits/vegetables so leave that uneaten banana on the plane. If you do take it, dump it in the first trash can. Believe it or not, there are fruit sniffing dogs in some airports.

If you are entering the US, you will be asked to declare a dollar amount for purchases made abroad that are staying in the US. Citizens are allowed $800, non-citizens $100, before a tax is added on. For a sample of the US customs form and more explanation, go here.

The entry forms for countries that use them usually just want to know the purpose of your visit, where you are staying and where you came from. I think a lot of that is for their tourism records. Usually they keep half of it or stamp it and you return it on your way out of the country.

To make things easy, keep your passports and the completed forms handy as you exit the plane. You will be directed right to the immigration area either through hallways that are enclosed from the rest of the airport or through smiling lines of officials who make sure you get there. At immigration there are usually two lines--one for citizens and one for everyone else. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. The last thing you want is someone thinking you are taking a picture with it. No pictures are allowed in the immigration or customs areas.

At immigration, the officer will ask to see your passport/s. If you are traveling as a family, you can all usually go through at the same time. S/he may ask you how long you plan to stay or where you came from or just if you had a good flight. Some of them smile. Some of them frown. It doesn't indicate anything. Just relax. Be polite. And you will be through in a jiffy.

Your next stop is baggage claim where you will pick up your luggage and then go through one of two lines in customs--Something to declare or nothing to declare. Chances are you will have nothing to declare and will simply hand the form to an officer and pass through. On occassion, they will do a random bag check and in some places "man's best friend" will sniff your bags.

The process is at times very fast and other times very slow depending upon the airport, time of day, time of year, and the country. If you are making a connecting flight through an airport, you want to give yourself a good hour in between especially if it is a very busy airport. Whatever you do, stay calm and don't loose your cool going through the process. Your airline will help you rebook if that becomes necessary.

Security (TSA) and immigration/customs. It's all part of the travel experience.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Say Kangooroo--I Say Kangaroo

On my bookshelf is this fun book, Curious Word Origins, Sayings, & Expressions, that I found somewhere--maybe a library book sale. It has been a real gem and provides me with fodder for Twitter and Facebook when I want to appear clever. (Hope that didn't shatter anyone's image of me.) The other day I was looking for a fun tweet (that's Twitter language) and ran across the word kangaroo. Now how curious is that as a word, I wondered?

Turns out the origin of kangaroo is a bit curious. We all know they are an Australian animal with rather large feet, small arms, and a big tail and hop instead of run or walk. It seems that when Captain James Cook sailed to the continent, he had aboard ship a noted naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks. They saw the animal in Queensland when their ship, the Endeavour, put ashore for repairs in 1770. When asked what the name of the animal was the natives replied, "kangaroo." Both men spelled it kangooroo in their journals.

Later, when other explorers arrived, they searched for the native tribe that had given the animal its name. They could find none that called the animal kangaroo. They finally determined that what Cook and Banks had been told translated into "I don't know."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Dream Camera

One of the things that takes the most time away from vacationing and relaxing is the nightly ritual of having to go over all the pictures taken from the day's touring and labeling them so we won't forget what they are pictures of. Presently I have a Sony Cybershot that I use for photographing our experiences. I usually take a flash drive with me and download the pictures to the flash drive with our little notebook that we use for travel and put them into files with the names of the cities we visit. Then each picture gets some short name that will help me remember what it is and why I took it. (I could do this directly on the camera's memory card but this also gives me a back up should something happen to the camera.) The system works pretty well for me but takes some time and is usually done when I'd rather be reading or sleeping.

My dream camera would be one that not only would take great pictures/video but would also allow me to label the picture as soon as I take it with something other than DSC and a bunch of numbers which only show the order in which I took them. In this day and age of fancy do-everything phones, couldn't we have a camera that has a touch keyboard to allow you to label pictures as you take them? Or, since most have a microphone for video, the ability to record the name of the place/item/person you have just captured in your camera's memory bank?

I post this dream in the hope of someone telling me that the camera already exists or that someone in the position to influence the makers of cameras will decide that the idea is valuable. I'll be right there in line to purchase it when it comes out. Promise.

How do you remember what your pictures are?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Packing Personality

Are you one of those people who love to take quizes to find out more about yourself? There are plenty of them that float around Facebook. I don't normally take them although I have been known to answer a few in women's magazines when I'm bored. I found one online that piqued my interest as I was looking for some travel tips to post. It's at Independent Traveler.com and defines your packing personality. It then refers you to a list of suggested tips to help you with your packing problems.

Although some of the choices for answers didn't quite fit me, I muddled through and found that I am a "last-second light-weight packer." I wish the light-weight description refered to my body weight but alas, they meant the weight of my luggage. We have pared back a bit to keep from paying too much in luggage fees although sometimes it's made up in laundry fees. Still, it's easier to lug a lighter bag and do laundry than to schlep a heavy large piece when you are traveling about the countryside.

Independent Traveler also has a ready-made interactive packing list that might be helpful to those who are overwhelmed by the prospect of packing for a trip. These are not all necessary for a trip. You'd need a truck to cart all of it. Instead you pick and choose according to your needs and destination. Then you can print it out and have a guide to follow.

If you travel as much as we do, you can develop a list of your own and not have to start from scratch each time. Hmmm. I think it's time to quit here and take my own advice. Happy trails!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hocking Hills Contest

Remember that contest not too long ago called The Best Job In The World? It involved staying on an island off the coast of Australia, enjoying a private house with swimming pool, snorkeling, diving, exploring, and being an ambassador for travel to Queensland.

Well now there's a new contest but this one is a little closer to home if you live in Ohio or a nearby state. The Hocking Hills Tourism Association is sponsoring an "I love the Hocking Hills" video contest where you can win:

◦Cottage for 2 for 2 nights at Boulder’s Edge Tipi & Cabin Retreat
◦Dinner and lunch for 2 at local restaurants
◦Canopy Zipline Tour for 2 from Hocking Hills Canopy Tours◦Canoe trip for 2 from Hocking Valley Canoe Livery & Fun Center◦In-cabin couple’s massage by Blue Valley Massage & Traveling Spa
The Hocking Hills in southern Ohio is a beautiful area with lots of walking paths, caves, rock formations, and interpretive centers that are always busy with interesting things to do and learn about. The last time we were there, we fed hummingbirds.

Lots of summer is left. If you are within visiting distance and are looking for one last outing and a challenging contest, pack up the family and the video camera and head out.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Golf And Feed The Fish Too!!

One of the favorite things to do for many travelers on holiday is to golf. Devotees to the game can be seen carrying their golf clubs in baggage claim areas upon arrival in many different cities of the world that feature golf courses. Cruise lines have catered to the sport by providing putting greens, golf clinics with simulated driving ranges, and even mini-golf courses on their ships. Now, thanks to a Spanish company, you can golf and feed the fish as well!

Albus Golf LTD of Barcelona, Spain, has designed an ecological and biodegradable golf ball that has fish food in its core. When it hits the water, it biodegrades in about 48 hours and releases the food. Think of the possibilities. Here's a way to safely practice your swing at sea or the seaside or the beach (provided its not crowded).

And can you imagine the happy fish? Everytime someone yells, "Fore!", they'll be schooling together and waiting for the payoff.

Almost makes me want to take up golf.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ketchup Cheats!

We generally go to a couple of baseball games each summer. Last week was one of them and as usual during one of the breaks between innings, the hot dogs, Mustard, Onion, and Ketchup, raced all around Cleveland (by animated video) and then into the ballpark and onto the field to finish the race.

Odds were that Ketchup would win. Ketchup almost always wins. That's because he cheats.

This time he used an animated helicopter, rode a kangaroo, and something else I can't recall right now to get ahead. When they entered the stadium to finish the rest of the race around the warning track, Ketchup tackled Mustard and Onion and then jumped up to win the race.

Now I'm the first to admit I don't know what the rules of this race are. But what kind of lesson is it teaching the young fans in the crowd? Nice guys finish last? Cheaters win? Even if its a no-holds-barred race, it teaches that anything goes.

Ketchup, I'm sure your mother taught you better than to cheat.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Travel Tips - Cruise Forums

While guide books such as Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, and my favorite, Rick Steves, provide a lot of good information, they are sometimes a little behind due to the time lag in publishing. Some of the best up-to-date information can come from travel forums. There are forums attached to the websites for the guide books but I prefer the cruise forums. Maybe because I love cruising so much or because I feel more confident with people who generally have nothing to gain but wanting to share their experiences.

The two cruise forums I belong to are the Cruise Critic and Cruise Line Fans. The Cruise Critic has been around a bit longer and is the larger of the two. They often have get togethers on board ship so that you can meet others who post and glean on the forum. You don't have to join to peruse the boards but you do need to join if you want to ask a question or respond to a post.

Using the forums, we were able to arrange for a private tour when we last visited St. Petersburg. Others had posted their experience and made recommendations and we felt confident in booking with one of the Russian guides that was mentioned. It worked out better than we hoped and we had a great time.

On another occassion, we discovered that we could get $100 onboard credit for a Crystal cruise if we were sponsored by another person who had cruised Crystal. It didn't take long to hook up with someone in the forum and we all benefited.

Even if you are not taking a cruise, the forums offer lots of suggestions for destinations and often provide detailed itineraries, map references, prices, etc. It's a great way to plan and planning is half the fun of traveling. And you'll probably make some friends along the way.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts - The Rood Screen

While we were visiting with our friends in Redbourn, England, we wandered through the 900 year old St. Mary's Church. As we started up the aisle wondering and admiring the ancient architecture, Kathy pointed out the intricately carved wooden screen that separated the main sanctuary area (the nave) from the altar area (the chancel). The center was open but as she explained the screen had something to do with keeping the clergy and the lay people separated. She called it a rood screen.

A rood screen? At first I thought she had meant, "rude screen." The words sound alike. My curiosity was aroused and when we got home and settled in again, I looked it up. It was a feature of medieval churches and would have had a rood loft upon which would be the Great Rood, a sculptural representation of the crucifix. The history of the rood screen is fascinating and if you'd like to read more about it, try this link.

My first thought as I stood and observed the rood screen in St. Mary's was it's figurative resemblance to the veil in the temple in the Old Testament--the one that was torn in half as Jesus died on the cross, symbolically inviting man to come closer to God. Showing us that there should be nothing that separates us from Him. And with Christ's resurrection the invitation was made complete.

Rood screens disappeared in churches around the time of the Counter-Reformation. I'm glad. Although they are a work of art, a part of history, they too should not appear a barrier to God's grace.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

SOCF Post - The Legend of the Robin

This week's theme for our Scrapbook blog is legends of Christmas. I found one I'd never heard before and it involves robins. Check it out.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Flushed With Confusion

Our travel addiction began back in the early 1990s. Since then, we have stepped foot on all seven continents and except for a small section of the world between Bangkok, Thailand, and the east African coast, we have circled the world. Along the way, there have been many comfort stops--some more comfortable than others. Perhaps my experiences will be helpful to other female travelers. Male travelers don't seem to need the same kind of accommodations in that area.

First of all, all toilets are not created equal. Some of them I wouldn't even call toilets. For instance the "elegant" outhouses we found on one of our tours into the Alaskan wilds. No amount of fake ivy, artificial flowers, and artwork could cover the fact that it was what it was, an outhouse, a one-holer, a hole in the wood with a pit underneath it. Still, I have to give kudos for the air fresheners and toilet paper holder along with the hand sanitizer. It beat the jiffy-johns we endured at the Pasedena Rose Bowl Parade.

In China and an out-of-the-way place in Japan, we encountered a porcelain, for lack of a better term, hole in the floor--a squat toilet. The Japanese one, I recall, had a flush valve but some of the ones in China were flushed by a couple of attendants who just tossed a bucket of water over the floor under the stalls to be sure all was clean. (In all fairness, Japan goes to the other extreme and has toilets with heated seats and music that you play so others don't hear what you're doing.)

And speaking of attendants, there was the stop in Viet Nam at a Buddhist monastery where the attendant in the "ladies room" was a young monk who was assigned to run into the stall when you were done and pour a bucket of water in the toilet to flush it. I never did see the toilet there. Somehow having a strange male stand outside the door as you relieved yourself was a little more than I could tolerate.

In much of Europe and Australia, the toilets are western-style but not without a bit of a twist. There are various buttons and levers sometimes on the toilet, sometimes in the wall behind it, that give you a choice--full flush or half flush. Decisions, decisions.

Another twist on this full/half flush idea was found in one of the B&Bs we stayed in during a trip to England. It had a lever/handle to push. It took a full day to figure out that if you pushed slowly, it only half-flushed but if you pushed it quickly, it full-flushed.

England also still has some of the old fashioned toilets with the tank set up high above the toilet and a chain pull for a flush. The first time I pulled one I wasn't sure if I was flushing or turning off the light in the stall.

And don't get me started on bidets. We've seen them often in Europe and still don't understand how they work. Although if you want to tackle that, here's a place that tries to explain their use.

One of the most efficiently designed toilets was on the Ghan Train in Australia. You actually stepped into the shower which was the bathroom and pulled the toilet out of the wall. In order to wash your hands, you pushed the toilet back in and pulled down the sink. Pack them both away and you could shower.

The continental USA is not without its peculiar sanitary necessities. In our latest trip through several states we found a couple of toilets with hair triggers. You barely touched the handle and the toilet took over--full flush!

Confused yet? I haven't even started to describe the usual facility found on a cruise ship. Suffice it to say, with the vaccuum system they use for sanitation, you don't want to flush while you are still sitting.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

It Must Be Genetic

Most of the time I do not need to use the old dictionary that sits next to my computer and with spellcheck (provided I remember to use that) I am relatively certain that what I write has been spelled correctly. I don't normally second guess myself unless the word happens to be maintenance.

My mother had two words in her vocabulary that she was forever mispronouncing. One was municipal. She would pronounce it something like mun-UNZ-i-pel. No matter how hard she tried, it just never came out with the accent on the right syllable.

The same was true of maintenance. Her pronunciation was main-TAIN-unce. I don't seem to have a problem with municipal but remembering her pronunciation of maintenance always sends me to the dictionary to be sure I've spelled it right.

This is the same mother (I only had one) who thought the spice, marjoram, was pronounced "marijuana." I loved her dearly. I only wish a few of those spelling/pronunciation genes hadn't been passed on.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Books for The Road - Audio Book: Long Lost

On our recent road trip to Florida and back, I borrowed three audio books from the library. They made the miles and the hours fly by with little notice. Of the three, my favorite was Harlan Coben's Long Lost. It was a story of intrigue and action-packed. Harvard-educated sports agent/private eye Myron Bolitar who has appeared as protagonist in earlier books, finds himself in the middle of an unbelievable terrorist plot which Coben renders quite believable and keeps you reading. . .er, listening as was our case. It starts with Bolitar's breakup with 9/11 widow Ali and a phone call from, who else, a lovely woman from his past who is desparate for his help. His path takes him into murder, a mystery involving DNA and surrogacy as well as a maniacal plot put together by terrorists

While the story gets very tense at times, Coben adds a bit of comic relief with the wry humor of his characters. In places there also seems to be a bit of an underlying political agenda but it doesn't interfer with the great storytelling of a master suspense writer.

Travel Tip: If you decide to borrow audio books to play on a road trip be sure to get more than you need. I have found that sometimes I start listening and don't like the way the narrator sounds or don't like the story or perhaps find the CD or tape doesn't play right. Then you have some backup rather than listening to staticky radio stations that fade out every half hour.

And a new twist: We also listened to a James Patterson book (Run For Your Life). It had two narrators--one was almost a monotone, the other one sounded like Anthony Bourdain from the Travel Channel--and sound effects. Trust me, it is very unnerving to be driving along the freeway in the middle of nowhere and unexpectedly hear gunshots. That was one book I might have preferred reading the old fashioned way.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Mayberry, USA --Mt. Airy, NC

Nothing says nostalgia like Mayberry, USA, or at least the memories of Andy Griffith and Opie walking down a dirt path, fishing poles in hand, while themed music plays in the background. That same music was playing through some speakers as we parked in front of Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry (Mt. Airy), North Carolina.

We arrived in the nostalgic town on a Friday afternoon on our way back north from Miami. Mt. Airy is not far east of I-77 and after checking into our hotel, we headed for the center of town where several of the “landmarks” from the show are located.

A parking spot was vacant right in front of Floyd’s Barber Shop and two cars away from Sheriff Taylor’s, or was it Barney Fife’s (?), police cruiser. The Barber Shop is in operation and there was someone in one of the chairs getting his hair cut. Next to the Barber Shop was the Snappy Lunch restaurant often mentioned in the Mayberry series. We were too late for lunch. Opie’s Candy Store was also there but I don’t recall that ever being in the storyline.

Outside a country store, sat two men who could have been from the same era playing a game of checkers. A few doors down from there, we stopped into a real soda fountain from the 50s era. Round red topped stools lined a chrome trimmed bar with all the equipment for REAL sodas and shakes behind the counter. It was tempting.

We walked to the corner of the street and headed for the Andy Griffith Museum in the Surry County Arts building. There was a large room full of all sorts of pictures showing Andy Griffith in the many venues in which he performed. Several exhibits contained some props and clothes from the Mayberry show. It cost $3 to look around but was worth the entry fee.

Something we hadn’t discovered until we started researching Mt. Airy was that this was also where the original Siamese twins, Eng and Chang Bunker settled down in the 1860s to farm. The twins were married to two sisters and had 21 kids between the two of them. There is a small room with pictures of them and their families lining several walls in the same arts building.

After our museum tour, we returned to the car and drove a short distance to Wally’s Service Station where for $30 you can get a tour of Mayberry in a vintage squad car—that’s one fee for all the passengers.

Next to the service station is a reconstructed version of what the TV Mayberry town hall looked like. Inside is a mock up of Andy’s desk and Otis’ cell and the opportunity to take pictures of all. Later we stopped in at the original old jail of Mt. Airy. It was nothing like the TV version. Otis might have sobered up a lot sooner in there.

Mt. Airy also has the largest granite wall quarry in the world or so we were told and we drove out to see that as well. The lady in the visitor’s center had said that it can be seen in outer space and that the astronauts use it as a landmark. We’ll take her word for it. The quarry was huge though and quite impressive.
On our way back to our hotel, we passed by the little house where Andy Griffith grew up. It is run by Hampton Inns and you can stay the night in it. A sign reminds passersby that it does have guests in it and to respect their privacy. As we slowed down to take the picture, the occupants came to the door and held up Andy Griffith and his girlfriend, Helen, masks to their faces. We waved and moved on before Barney had a chance to show up and complain about us holding up traffic.
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