"" Writer's Wanderings: May 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rome - The First Time Visit

Please visit my published article on Yahoo about our first visit to Rome, Romantic Roma.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Books For The Road - Boneman's Daughters

Looking for suspenseful? Chilling? A book-you-can't-put-down? Here it is. Boneman's Daughters by Ted Dekker is all of that. If you have read Dekker's fantasy books, you will find that this work is different. No fantasy here except what exisits in the psychotic killer's mind who gets a kick out of breaking bones in the young girls he kidnaps while trying to find his perfect daughter.

Ryan Evans, the father of the killer's latest victim fights to save his daughter from the fate of those before her. He has gone through his own hell when a prisoner in the desert in the Middle East as he had to watch a madman there break the bones of innocent children. When he returns home, he fights desperately to prove his attitude as a husband and father has changed.

The twists and turns keep you reading. Dekker is masterful in that. Be sure to read the acknowledgement at the end that tells you where his inspiration came from for the story. You'll understand why he dedicated it to his daughter.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Parma's GM Metal Center Open House

Yesterday we took advantage of the General Motors plant open house to see how some car parts are made. I thought it was called a stamping plant but aparently the new term is Metal Center. The Parma plant makes small parts for a number of the GM cars on the market.

We arrived at a large tent that displayed a couple of new Chevrolets as well as some cars from the past. Bob was excited to see a Corvair althought it was still not as old as the one we originally owned. Even though it was a Monday morning, there was still quite a crowd of visitors lining up for the first tours.

Everything was extremely well organized and we were funneled through an entry area that led to a walkway over the street and into the manufacturing area. Several display tables were filled with information about various UAW and community groups. After watching a short film about safety for visitors and receiving our safety glasses, we were led down onto the manufacturing area to trams and large golf carts for our tour.

As we waited to board, we watched a half dozen robots in a fenced off "room" called a cell as they efficiently made welds on small metal parts. I couldn't help but think of an earlier post about how kids working with remote controled toys and computer games might actually be learning skills for the future. Someone had to be in control of those robots.

The golf cart took us past many other cells with robots making welds to other metal parts and then on to the larger stamping machines, the largest of which shook the floor slightly as the dies were pressed together to form the metal part. Cameras and cell phones were not allowed in the manufacturing area but there are some pictures with this article online about the plant.

It was a fascinating look into car manufacturing and we were grateful for the opportunity to see it. The workers who organized and guided us were gracious hosts. GM plants all over the country are having open houses throughout the year. You might want to see if there is one near you. Some of them require registration. We had to visit a Chevy dealer for ours. Kids over the age of 9 were welcome.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Books For The Road - The Far Reaches

Ever have a love/hate relationship with a book? As I read Homer Hickam's The Far Reaches I realized that was exactly the quandary presented me. One minute I enjoyed the storyline and the characters and the next I was wondering if I wanted to continue on. I had the same experience with the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you made it through the first awful bloddy 27 minutes of the landing on Omaha Beach, the rest of the movie was thoroughly enjoyable.

Hickam gets a bit graphic in his portrayal of the battle to take some islands in the South Pacific. But once you get past that, his characters and his storyline are quite interesting. The storyline involves a pretty Irish nun, a crusty John-Wayne type captain who mows his way through all sorts of barrages from the Japanese, and a love-sick bosun who wonders how he could be in love with a woman who cannot return his love because of her religious vows. Through it all, the nun, Sister Mary Kathleen, tries to hide her deepest secret sin but Captain Josh Thurlow begins to piece the puzzle together and knows it involves the Japanese commander of the island she so desperately wants a small band of American soldiers to win back for her.

This is action packed albeit a bit too descriptive for me and Hickam doesn't hold back on some of the crusty language I'm sure abounded in this type of situation. Overall though the book was definitely worth reading. Certainly a different type of book than Rocket Boys and Sky of Stone. This is the third of four books in the Josh Thurlow series so if you enjoy it, there are three others to read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the Bucket List - Steamboatin' Down the Mississippi

When The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. went bankrupt and the Delta Queen made what we thought was its last trip, we figured we had missed our chance to cruise one of the most fascinating and historic areas of our county in the way so many did in the past. If I read the information correctly, passenger steamboats were making the cruise on the river and some of its tributaries for 192 years. Who hasn't read Mark Twain and been entranced with a steamboat cruise?

Now a new company, The Great American Steamboat Co. has been formed and has contracted to use the American Queen steamboat that was built in the mid 1990s for The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. According to the article I read, they plan to begin steamboating in the spring of 2012. They will use Memphis as their home port. I could not find any details on itineraries or specific dates but I did sign up for their email notices.

At last we can once again add steamboatin' down the Mississippi to our bucket list.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taterware and Corn Cups

The plastic cup held some weak lemonade but the drink tasted good and helped to rinse my mouth of the salty taste from having a regulator in my mouth for forty minutes. We were diving in Grand Cayman. The cup felt just a little softer than usual but I didn't think much of it until we were asked politely to reuse our cups through our outing because they were a little more expensive than the old plastic cups. These were made from corn.

Corn? I looked more closely. The cup did not look any different and except for the slightly more flexible feel, it was just like any other clear plastic disposable cup I'd ever had. The difference was in was would happen to it once it was in a landfill or should it accidendentally blow off the boat and into the water. It would not damage the environment like the old cups.

Fast forward a year or two and we are in a Hampton Inn. I notice the plastic plates at breakfast are a little strange. Not the usual shiny smooth plates I've seen in the past. And then this past weekend I noticed that the wrapper on the plastic tableware had a label printed on it. The tableware was call Taterware. Could it be? Were these plates and forks made from potatoes?When we returned home, I plugged in the URL I found on the plastic wrapper and yes, the plastic was made from potatoes.

So now I guess I can eat my potatoes with a potato. Weird.

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

This weekend we drove about 5 hours south to Summersville, WV, for a speaking engagement at a ladies' retreat. This is the second time we've been to this retreat and knew we were in for a treat not only because of West Virginian hospitality but because of the beautiful scenery we expected to enjoy on the drive.

Thankfully, the rain held off on our drive south and we enjoyed the spring green colors of trees as well as the mountain vistas and rock formations that show earthen colors. Flowering dogwood and other trees dotted the scenery with whites and pinks.

While we were at dinner at the retreat, the ladies asked if we had been to Summersville Lake on our last visit. They told us to try to make time to visit their beautiful lake and amazing dam so the next day after the retreat ended, we grabbed sandwiches at Subway and followed their directions to find the dam and the lake.

The Summersville Dam is the second largest earthen dam east of the Mississippi. It is built next to the old town site of Gad. Originally, as the story goes, they considered calling it the Gad Dam but thought better of the idea. It was built primarily to protect the Kanawha Valley from flooding. I couldn't help but think about all those famililes several hundred miles to our west who were in the midst of historical flooding this spring along the Mississipi.

Signs were posted along the river to vacate should a loud horn begin sounding. Apparently they can release a large amount of water to ease the level of water above the river.

The river is used by white water rafters and runs pretty fast. It made a nice backdrop for our lunch as we found a quiet spot at a picnic table near the dam. Unfortunately, the skies began to darken and a few drops of rain began to fall just as we were finishing. By the time I got to a spot to capture a few pictures of Summersville Lake, it was threatening to rain more.

We looked at the GPS in the car and decided we would take an alternate route to the Interstate rather than backtrack the way we came. As John Denver's song goes, "Country roads take me home." These country roads took us all around, up and down, and through some very little towns. The Interstate looked close on the map but we forgot that we had to wind around some mountains to get there.

It was a great trip though. We enjoyed the views and the new discoveries around each bend. And got to listen to most of the rest of our audio book. We may have to plan a small road trip to finish the book though. Maybe back to "Almost Heaven?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Ungodly Hour - What music plays to your teen?

My son, Rob, is general manager of a non-profit Christian radio station, CALL FM in Southern Florida. We naturally subscribe to his newsletter. This most recent edition particularly touched my heart. What a world our teens face today.

An Ungodly Hour.
I recently had to make a 4:45 AM run to our Miami tower site to fix a technical issue that knocked the radio station off the air overnight. With Call FM off the air during the hour-long trip, I decided to check out another radio station that is very popular among teens (rated in the top 5). I was very impressed with the loud, clear audio quality of the music and slick production - exactly what I would expect from a station with a multi-million dollar budget. But I was soon shocked at the songs' content: sex, sex acts, glorification of drug and alcohol use, automatic weapons, derogatory references to women, violence on women, and paying someone to perform a sex act. One song even spoke of urinating on another person. All of this in just the top 20 songs on this top 5 radio station that targets teens!

Looking closely at those songs I found that:
• 80% of the songs had a sexual theme
• 50% of the songs incorporated profanity (the unedited versions)
• 45% referenced sex, and 20% oral sex or other sex act
• 40% referenced alcohol consumption
• 35% incorporated derogatory racial words
• 30% used derogatory words for women

I thought of the kids in my neighborhood who catch the school bus in the dark just after 6AM. Is this what they wake to every morning before school? Mornings should be a "clean slate" and a "fresh start." Teen girls should hear that they are beautifully created in God's image with a special plan and purpose for their life. Instead, many teens are presented with garbage and perversion from the moment they awake. Imagine how this impacts teens struggling with addictions, being bullied or harassed at school, or body image and eating disorders like Bulimia.

What a battle! But what an opportunity for The CALL! The CALL is only six "clicks" away on that very same FM radio dial! Thankfully, The CALL was back on air that morning around 6AM - back in the battle for the hearts and minds of young adults. God is using The CALL to introduce young adults to a personal relationship with Jesus 24 hours a day, to give them hope in their struggles with temptation, anxieties, thoughts of suicide, addictions, and eating disorders, and to encourage them to live in a way that pleases God.

More than ever we need your financial support to not only stay on the air but to have all of the tools and the resources that The CALL needs to effectively reach young adults in today's "toxic media culture." We need substantial financial support this month. If you could make a gift of $1,000, $500, $100, or however God leads you to give, it will enable The CALL to more effectively reach young adults for Christ.

If you'd like to hear CALL FM and don't live in their broadcast area, you can click this link and give a listen. Rob has even received email from young soldiers overseas who listen in online. While it's not my style of music, it does reach young hearts. Praise God!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Books For The Road - Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska

Looking for some light reading with a little romance? Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska by Loree Lough fits the bill. Actually it has a lot of romance but the humorous elements and the delightful way she weaves the setting into the story, doesn't make it feel like a formula romance.

I am not really a big fan of purely romance novels. I like something with a little more mystery or suspense or literary quality but this was a delightful read.

Back cover copy: A former marine is no match for the spunky Sam Sinclair. Bryce Stone has returned to his hometown of North Pole, Alaska, and the self-admitted scrooge is not very happy about living in a town "Where The Spirit Of Christmas Lives year Round." What's worse, Bryce must postpone his dream of opening a furniture shop when his aunt Olive retires and leaves him the family's cluttered Christmas boutique. When Bryce underestimates Sam, the inexperienced young woman hired to manage the store it becomes a battle of wills, and the two soon find that they're fighting for more than just the shop.

So, if you want a feel-good read with a little emotional drama, a good message, and a sweet ending, pick up a copy of Love Finds You in North Pole, Alaska. You might be singing holiday jingles by the end of it.

Friday, May 06, 2011

CLE Met Zoo's New Elephant Crossing

A rare gorgeous spring day in Cleveland. A new much-anticipated zoo attraction. The homecoming of our "herd" of elephants. Who could resist? Certainly not Bob and I.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has spent the last several years planning and building quite an elephant exhibit. The elephants have become stars upon their return and even have their own website! The exhibit area is huge and circles a center area that houses the indoor facility as well as souvenir shops and a small refreshment stand. There is not a bad place to stand and watch these wonderful creatures.

The exhibit encourages more activity on the part of the elephants in that their food is moved to different places in the exhibit from time to time to get them to forage as they would in the wild. I think I read somewhere that there are also buried salt blocks that they have to uncover to enjoy.
But even though there is some activity encouraged as if in the wild, they are still well trained. Inside the housing facility, there is an area where the elephants are trained to present their feet for scraping and cleaning and several other maintenance items to keep them healthy and happy. The facility was built to make it a little safer for the trainers.

Willy, the newly acquired bull elephant from Animal Kingdom in Disney World, is the only one to date that has learned to actually do the elephant crossing. The entrance to the center section of the exhibit is closed off to pedestrians twice a day so that the elephants can cross over from one area of the exhibit to the other. So far, Willy is the only one to cross over. "The girls," one trainer said, "are taking a bit longer to catch on."

The girls include Jo, Moshi, Martika, and Shenga. Each one according to their websites has a unique personality.

The exhibit also includes some Naked Mole Rats and an African Rock Python along with several species of African birds (not all in the same enclosure of course). Soon to arrive will be Meerkats one of my favorite animals. They are always entertaining. For now, their exhibit features Meerkat replicas.

Guess we'll be returning often this year. We had a great time and look forward to a "backyard" excursion on nice summer days.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Elderly Traveler?

Remember when you couldn't wait to be 16 and get a driver's license? After that, 18 and 21 became magical numbers. Thirty-something was popularized by a TV show. Hitting 40 always seems to be a significant plateau good for some, not so good for others. Suddenly 60 appears and retirement looms and well, where did it all go?

For those of us in good health, 60-something is hard to imagine. As my 89 year-old-aunt said, "Honey, I may be 80 on the outside but I'm still 16 on the inside!" That first time the youngster at McDonald's automatically rings up your "senior coffee" is a bit disappointing. Disappointing until you realize how much you are saving. It doesn't hurt so bad anymore.

Lately, we have discovered more senior discounts as we travel around the world. In some countries tourist attractions give you a break at 60. Others set the bar at 65. Some advertise their discounts, others don't. We've learned to ask. Getting old isn't so bad suddenly.

But elderly? I've heard several news stories lately that have reported on "elderly" persons who were younger than I am. Am I elderly, I wondered? I thought I might get a good answer from one of our local news anchors, Robin Swoboda. She responded to my FB inquiry with a laugh and set the bar at 85 for elderly.

Don't tell my mother-in-law that. She just turned 90 this year and is as active as ever. As a matter of fact, we had a difficult time keeping up with her on the last couple of cruises we took together. Just another affirmation that "elderly" is a state of mind.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Rock of Gibraltar

What's on your bucket list? I have some strange items on mine one of which I had hoped to accomplish with this last cruise--see the rock of Gibraltar in the daylight. We have passed it by several times in the middle of the night. Nothing much to see in the dark.

When Commodore Warner of the QM2 announced that we would be going through the straits and passing the rock in the late afternoon, I was ecstatic. But at his daily noon talk, he estimated the passing to be sometime around 5:30-6 p.m. and we had already made plans to eat in the Todd English specialty restaurant that night. We hoped for a window seat and planned to get up to take pictures outside if the window seat didn't happen.

Well, we got our window seat. Not ideal unless you liked watching people smoke. It was too chilly for sunbathing so at least on this trip, we didn't see any enormous and/or hairy displays of flesh as we ate. We no sooner sat down and ordered and the Commodore announced the rock was in view.

We joined the crowd that was vying for position on the back of the ship to photograph the famous landmark. Unfortunately, the sun was lying low in the sky and its rays bounced off the moisture in the air creating a misty/foggy picture.

I snapped a few shots, nodded my head like Chevy Chase in his vacation movies, and went back in to find our appetizers already at our table. Crossed off my list? Nope. I want a GOOD look at the rock. Now the list item has an addendum--find a cruise that stops at Gibraltar.

Monday, May 02, 2011

We're Comin' To America!

I had no plan to get up at 5 a.m. to view our entrance into the New York harbor. The last time I had wanted to see the Statue of Liberty as we arrived, it was rainy and cold and miserable. I didn't hold out much hope for a clear morning since our last five days had been rainy and foggy. But for whatever reason, my body alarm clock sounded off at 5:30 and I figured as long as I was awake, I'd peak out of the curtains and see where we were.

When I realized we were just approaching the Narrows, I was truly wide awake. It looked clear outside and I could tell the people in the balcony beside us (our balconies were actually holes in the hull that required you to stand to see anything) were beginning to take pictures as they were using their flash. I tossed on the complimentary Cunard robe grabbed my camera. Wedging myself between the drape and the door to the balcony, I tried to quietly open the door and slip out. Bob was still "sawing logs."

As I popped my head out, I saw the object of their photography--the Verrazano Bridge, named for Giovanni di Verrazano, the Italian explorer who discovered the New York Harbor. It is a huge suspensioin bridge that connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. The fog seemed to have cleared and I began taking some shots and trying to remember where the Statue of Liberty was in relationship to the bridge. I didn't think it was far.

Remembering back to our trip out of the harbor on the Queen Elizabeth 2, I recalled that it was on the starboard side of the ship as we exited. I figured coming in it had to be on the port side so I braved the damp salty deck in my barefeet and waited.

We no sooner passed under the bridge and the fog engulfed us again drawing a curtain of misty mystery through which I tried to establish where we were. I had forgotten that the QE2 sailed out of the Manhattan docks and we were headed for the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. As I snapped shots of a mist-enshrouded Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty was passing by on the starboard side.

But as we slipped past the buoys that rang out with a bell now and then, I thought of what it must have been like to come into this harbor after crossing the Atlantic as a person wanting a new start, escaping oppression, looking for opportunity, wanting to give his family a better life. Fear, joy, anxiety, excitement. It must have been quite a mix of emotions.

America may have its problems but it is still that kind of place of freedom that so many sought including my grandfather's family. He was sixteen when he entered that harbor with his family. It is still a country to be proud of.

Take pride America. Pledge allegiance. Honor the flag that represents our country. Learn the words to the National Anthem--even if you can't sing the notes. Be thankful for our freedoms. Pray for our country that it will continue to offer us the freedom that we too often take for granted.
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