"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Irish Inventors

I often get travel-related emails from companies wanting me to advertise their services and I usually don't post them. I want to keep my blog from being full of advertising and certainly not post something I haven't had experience with. But I couldn't resist this clever graphic that came from goIreland.com showing Irish ingenuity. So for what it's worth, here's a little more of Ireland for you:

To view it a little better, click on the graphic or visit the GoIreland blog.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Through My Lens--Still Practicing!

I am still trying to get the hang of this new camera. I think I have most of the auto settings figured out but now I need to get into the more creative settings where I can play with shutter speed and other areas I have yet to discover.

Check out Friday's post for more shots from the Cleveland Aquarium.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In My Backyard - The Cleveland Aquarium

The winter doldrums truly set in on a gray cloudy day in Cleveland that defines the term dreary. Rather than sit inside and wish for a peek at the sun that wasn't going to happen, we set off for the new Cleveland Aquarium that just opened on January 21, 2012.

To our surprise, it was better than expected. We have been in several aquariums around the world and this one, while not the largest or most exotic, was good--very good. It is located in a historic building, The Powerhouse, on the west bank of the flats along the Cuyahoga River. Also known as the Nautica Entertainment Complex, the building and surrounding complex hosts restaurants and entertainment venues throughout the year.

As you first enter, you walk through exhibits of local fish found in Lake Erie and the surrounding area's smaller lakes and streams. Not so colorful as those from the saltwater tropics but displayed in tanks that mimic their habitat somewhat. It's a whole different view of Lake Erie perch other than on the end of a hook or fried up on a plate next to a heap of potatoes.

The pathway winds through brick-walled rooms that give a nice abiance to the displays and allow for dramatic lighting in the tanks. We soon moved from the local fish to the saltwater displays where we began meeting with the kinds of fish we have seen while diving in much warmer waters.

The hallway near the display of clown fish echoed with cries of, "Look, Mommy! It's Nemo! Lots of Nemos!" I suspect many children will begin to nurture a love for our undersea marine life with their visit here. I look forward to seeing how the aquarium folks will use this as an educational tool in partnership with area schools.

My favorites among the displays? The seahorses. I've always been fascinated by them. They are hard to find when we are diving. Easiest to photograph were the lion fish. While deadly, they are beautifully graceful in the water as they flaunt their poisonous spines.

Lots of visitors were gathered near the touch pool. On tap to touch were a sea urchin (not a poisonous one), a starfish, a hermit crab, and a sea cucumber--yuck. We always call the sea cucumber a slug because of the way they look and amble across the bottom of the ocean floor. In all fairness, some are pretty but they all look like shell-less snails.

The most anticipated and probably hyped feature in the aquarium is the glassed tunnel that takes the visitor through the tank of sharks and manta rays and a few other fish that are just backdrop to the stars--the sharks. They swim back and forth and over your head giving you a good view of those lovely teeth.

While a bit pricey--tickets are $21.95/adult--I don't think they are out of line with many of the other aquariums we visited. We ended up buying an annual pass anticipating a couple of return trips. Some of the tanks were still a bit cloudy because of them being so new and freshly set up. We know how that goes. We have a 125gallon salt water tank ourselves. It's labor intensive--for my husband.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Would You Book This Speaker?

Forgive me. I'm showing off a bit. But I had so much fun putting together this promotional video for my speaking ministry that I wanted to share it. What do you think? Would you book this speaker after seeing this?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Curse of Camilla

We are getting cabin fever. It's mid January and we are still home with no where to go for some time yet. Imagine having an itch you just can't reach to scratch. So, here I was perusing some travel books and came across one I haven't really read cover to cover. It is a bit depressing after all. It's called Don't Go There, the travel detective's essential guide to the must-miss places of the world. Written by Peter Greenberg, it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek type reporting on places that are depressing (high suicide rates), toxic (remember the Love Canal, NY?), apt to get hit with a natural disaster (Florida hurrican season), etc.

I had to chuckle over a little side bar I found in cruise section of the book. The Noro virus is probably taking a backseat right now to the Costa Concordia disaster but this was a report about the Cunard ship the Queen Victoria at her christening. Camilla Parker Bowles was named godmother to the ship and it was her duty to christen it. Unfortunately, in front of 2,000 worldwide guests, the champagne bottle refused to smash against the hull. Not a good sign in maritime tradition.

It was only a few weeks later that norovirus broke out on the ship and 80 passengers were struck down with it. The British press, who are not terribly fond of Camilla, dubbed it the "Curse of Camilla."

By the way, Don't Go There is a fun book to thumb through but much of the information is now out of date since it was pubbed in 2009. Doesn't take long for statistics to change sometimes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Books For The Road - Heaven Is For Real

For our church book club discussion this month, we chose Todd Burpo's book, Heaven Is For Real. I've seen interviews with Burpo and his son several times. First when the original book came out and then when the children's version was published. The interviews left me wondering. Could this be truly what it is portrayed to be? Did four year old Colton truly visit heaven or at least have a vision of it?

The book came out in 2010 and immediately began creating a chasm between those who would believe it wholeheartedly and those who would dismiss it as bunk and a cheap way to make a buck. I put off reading it--actually probably would not have read it had our book club not picked it. Now that I have read it, I'm caught somewhere in between the two sides.

The experiences related by Colton's father as he retells his son's story are "backed up" by scripture. Too often I find that one can bend the scripture to the situation. On the other hand, some of the events Colton tells, like meeting a sister he didn't know he had (a baby that was miscarried), makes you want to believe. And then there's the possibility that a precocious young child could have absorbed much of his information of heaven and the other tales from adults who didn't know he was taking in their conversation. Yet, how did he know some of the details that seemingly would not have been talked about?

So you see, as far as believability, my jury is still out. If you are looking for an easy read, something that will touch your heart, and you want to believe in it, then by all means, take this book along and read it as you travel. It is a good read and will certainly have you thinking about more than just making that next connection at the airport.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Through My Lens - Snow Nice!

Okay, I am not a great fan of snow but with a new camera and the need for more pictorial experimentation, I couldn't help myself. Here are some shots I took in the back yard after our new snowfall this week.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Safety at Sea--Tips For Cruisers

Almost a week ago, people were arriving to embark on an exciting Mediterranean cruise on board the Costa Concordia. Unfortunately the excitement came in the form of disaster as the ship hit a rock shelf that tore a hole in its side. Most of the over 4,000 passengers and crew on the ship made it safely to land overcoming a catastrophe that could have been of "titanic" proportions.

With fifty cruises under our belts, we have never experienced the need to muster although we have had a couple of moments that made us take notice. (One in the middle of the Tasman Sea when power went out in half the ship.) So what do you do to make yourself a little safer on a ship should an emergency happen. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Life jackets used to be set on the bed upon arrival in your stateroom. Now that they are not always required to be worn during the muster drill (too many people tripped on dangling ties after the drill, I suspect) the life jackets are often stowed under a bed or in the top of a closet. Upon arrival in your stateroom, check to be sure you know where they are and that there are enough for all in your room. Child sized life jackets should be requested immediately from the staff if you are traveling with children.

2. Be sure your life jacket fits and has the whistle and torch (small light) attached.

3. Check the back of the door to your stateroom to learn where your muster station is. It will be down/up the closest stairwell to your room and on the deck where the lifeboats are located--usually the Promenade Deck.

4. Take the time to explore the ship before it leaves port. Find your muster station if you haven't already and then get a general feel for where it is in relationship to other parts of the ship where you will be spending your time. This isn't as hard as it may seem even on large ships like the Oasis of the Seas. Most of the time ships are laid out very simply--dining is aft, entertainment center and forward. Decks for entertainment, main dining, and shopping are usually mid-level and of course poolside is near the top with other sporting venues. Having an idea in your head of where you are in relation to your room and/or muster station is a plus.

5. Set an example at muster drill by staying quiet and attentive. Yes, we all do get tired of hearing the same instructions--how many of us ignore the plane safety video? (At least on a plane most check for the nearest exit before take-off.) But there will be some who are on their very first cruise and need to know the basic safety instructions. This is not just a traditional part of your cruise with a photo-op. It is for everyone's safety.

6. Relax and enjoy your cruise. When you consider how many cruises are taken on a yearly basis and the incidence of extreme emergencies or disasters like that of the Costa Concordia, cruising, like flying, is very safe. Like any other mode of travel, use common sense.

If you have any other safety suggestions, please share them in the comments section. Happy cruising!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Safe Are You On A Cruise Ship?

When an airplane crashes do you stop flying? When a cruise ship sinks do you stop cruising? The answer is probably not. But the latest catastrophe at sea, the Costa Concordia, leads one to question the safety precautions put in place that all ships and crew and passengers are supposed to follow.

Each cruise line is a little different in its approach to muster drills or lifeboat drills as it used to be called. They are required to be held within 24 hours of a ship's sailing. Most are held before the cruise ship leaves port to embark on its itinerary. Holland America, of all the cruise lines we have experienced is probably one of the most stringent in enforcing attendance and attention at the drill. But even then, a lot depends upon the captain and crew and how well they conduct the drill.

Within the last couple of years it has been decided that life jackets need not be worn to the drill. I'm guessing that too many passengers were injured after the drill because of trailing straps from the life jackets tripping people. There is usually a demonstration by a crew member on how to put your life jacket on.

Celebrity has gone to showing a video--the same one that plays in your stateroom continuously the day of embarkation. Like on an airplane, most people ignore it. And on our last cruise on the Eclipse we found our muster station in the Photo Gallery crammed with people. I wondered if there would have been room for all of us had we worn life jackets? Imagining what it would have looked like had there been a real call to muster stations for an emergency, I could only guess a real disaster.

When all is said and done though, the safety of a ship lies in the hands of the captain. We have found some who may not be great at PR but they run a tight ship and it shows in cleanliness, order, crew performance, etc. He's not just a "pretty face" for the cruise company as I've heard some referred to. Hopefully the cruise companies will concentrate on what makes a good captain for the safety of their ships and passengers and not for how good they are at PR.

Check in Thursday for some tips that you can do to keep yourself a little safer and enjoy cruising more.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Irish Scones

This is a recipe that I picked up from our stay in Galway, Ireland, from the Petra House's hostess, Joan. Every morning of the several days we spent there we woke to the smell of these baking. The recipe was easy to make once I converted her measurements to American. They are delicious. In England, you might eat them with clotted cream but in Ireland we were told, "a slab of Irish butter is best." Enjoy!

3 3/4 c. self-rising flour
2 sticks of butter (1/2 lb.)
4 Tbl. sugar
4 oz. golden raisins or other dried fruit (I found raisins that were coated with cinamon that were very good)
1 cup of milk
2 eggs

Cut in (rub in) butter until flour is mealy
Add eggs and milk to form a soft dough
Knead on a floured board. Be careful not to overknead
Roll out 3/4 " thick
Cut with biscuit cutter.
Put on baking tray (parchment paper works well with this) and brush tops with milk. Sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Place on wire rack to cool a bit.

Many thanks to Joan for sharing. It's still better to wake up and smell her scones baking though. Fond memories.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Through My Lens

Over the years, I have had a variety of cameras. When we had our first babies, the twins, we bought a SLR that by today's standards was really clunky and heavy. Still it gave me creative license and I even took a photography course at our local college and learned to develop black and white photos. That was long before digital but it was in the forcast. I remember the prof saying that eventually you would be able to put the picture in your computer and tweak it. Talk about cutting edge!

Well as the years went by, and cameras digitized, I ended up getting smaller and smaller versions. I loved the little Sonys that I used that fit in my pocket and I could pull out and take pictures with little trouble. And the pictures were good--enough. But then camera envy took over. My daughter-in-law began taking pictures with a DSLR that were outstanding. Much of it due to her creative eye but the clarity and the options of the camera lent to producing great results.

We were out together with the grands one afternoon and she laid her camera down long enough for me to pick it up and look it over. I snapped a few pictures and loved the feel of the camera in my hand. It was so much lighter than the old SLR we had so many years ago. As providence goes, my Sony wore itself out several months later and just in time for Christmas. So what you are seeing is the beginning of much fun to come and an even better record of our travels. So much fun!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Winter Zoo

If you follow my blog, you know that the zoo is one of my favorite places to visit rather it is in Cleveland or on the other side of the world. I have my favorites but my love of the zoo started in the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo when I was three. It was my mother's favorite place to take me for the day and the trip was always exciting including the bus ride from our home to the corner where we would walk down to the zoo. There was always the added treat of a Royal Castle Hamburger.

Yesterday we took another grandchild to the zoo. It was a warm winter day--in the 40s--and the sun was shining for the morning at least. You have to look a little harder to find the animals in the winter time. Those that can't take the cold are in shelters but often the shelters allow you to get closer to them than when they are outside.

The Clemet Zoo is spread out. It's an old zoo and includes an upper level and lower level that is often a challenge to walk but there is always a tram and in the winter, it is a bus. This year it was a new minibus that was easy to board and comfortable with a driver who obviously was enjoying his job.

We stopped in to see the elephants who were inside for the early morning, then on to see the koalas and roos, and finished the main zoo with the primate building. Over in our Rainforest, we stopped for lunch and were amazed at the variety of foods at somewhat reasonable prices.

Once inside the area where the birds are we found that less traffic meant the birds were happy to come out and meet us. I was amazed at how close they got to us. A little too close at one point when one colorful bird about a third the size of our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter startled her and sent her running to Grandpa in tears.

We had a great time and I got to learn a little more about my new camera. But more on that tomorrow. . .

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In My Backyard - What to do? What to do?

We are home for an unusually long stretch of time here in the middle of winter. Thankfully our weather in Northern Ohio has been mild and snowed just enough for our kids from Florida to enjoy and then promptly melted. The wanderlust begins to grow though now that all of the Christmas decorations are stored and the weatherman promises that the warm spell (we consider 40s a warm spell) is about to snap. So, what to do?

Fortunately we live close enough to Cleveland and the University Circle area that we can take advantage of many of the cultural centers. We have a great art museum, a museum of natural history, several theatrical venues, the Cleveland Police Museum (did you know Elliot Ness was a big part of our history?), of course the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and very soon we will have a brand new aquarium. All of that right in my backyard!

Now I know many of you are saying "But there's all those snow activities to do!" I hear you and I will happily watch you have fun in the snow--from a nice comfy chair near the fireplace.

Check back for posts about our Cleveland area sights.
What's in your backyard?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Invitation to travel/speak? NOT

Every so often, someone goes phishing in the pool of speakers' directories online and extends what appears to be a really good speaking opportunity. Couple that with the prospect of it being in a great place--like London--to travel to, and you almost have me hooked. This is what the most recent one looked like (note: I removed the email address contact which was a gmail.com account).

Dear Karen Robbins,

I am Professor D K Arvind from the Edinburgh University Here in
London UK. We want you to be our guest Speaker at this Year Edinburgh
University Seminar which will take place here in UK. We are writing to
invite and confirm your booking to be our guest Speaker at this year’s

VENUE: The University of Edinburgh Old College,
South Bridge Edinburgh
United Kingdom.

Expected audience: 1500
Duration of speech per speaker: 1 Hour
Name of Organization: EDINBURGY UNIVERSITY
Date:20 January 2012

We came across your profile on http://nazarene.org/ and we say it’s
up to standard and we will be very glad to have such an outstanding
personality in our mist for these overwhelming gathering. Arrangements
to welcome you here will be discussed as soon as you honor our
invitation. If you have any more publicity material,please do not
hesitate to contact us.

A formal Letter of invitation and Contract agreement would be sent to
as soon as you honor our Invitation. We are taking care of your
traveling and Hotel Accommodation expenses including your Speaking
Fee. If you will be available for our event, include your speaking
fees In your email so it can be included in your CONTRACT AGREEMENT.

Professor D K Arvind

Sounds very professional, doesn't it. Clue #1, the email address. No university or professor would use a gmail account when there is one associated with the university that would most likely end in edu. Clue #2, there is a Professor D K Arvind and when you search his name, you can find a disclaimer that says to ignore the email as it is a scam. Need I go on? Note the mispelling of Edinburgh in the signature.

Ah, but a trip to London would have been so nice and then there was that expected 1500 in the audience. What an ego builder. Alas, my speaking ministry is not directed at that sort of audience. It is directed at those who want to come together and find ways to draw closer to their Savior, Jesus--no matter how large or small the audience and no matter how exotic the destination.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Books For The Road - Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson, the biographer for Steve Jobs, was amazingly given free reign in writing the book titled simply, Steve Jobs. The simplicity in the title echoes the simplicity Jobs strove for in his Apple products. The amazing part of Isaacson's free reign is that, after reading the biography, you realize what a control-freak Jobs was.

The book is an interesting look at the man, the products, and the building of an outstanding company. I enjoyed reminiscing as one product after another was introduced into the telling of his life story. The more I read the more I wanted to find a soft side to this man. There were a few glimpses but I don't believe Isaacson could find much more. Jobs was a perfectionist and expected the same from all he encountered.

One of the things that stood out to me was Jobs observation of our world. It is one I agree with. He was visiting Istanbul, Turkey, and they were sampling Turkish coffee. As he said, "All day I had looked at young people in Istanbul. They were drinking what every other kids in the world drinks, and they were wearing clothes that look like they were bought at the Gap, and they are all using cell phones. They were like kids everywhere else. It hit me that, for young people, this whole world is the same now."

Technology has made the world smaller and more in common. The question is will we lose the richness of the cultures and traditions that make us who we are?

Perhaps the best description of Jobs' character is summed up in the words of Ann Bowers who had known him since the early years. When he asked what he was like when he was young she replied, "You were very impetuous and very difficult. But your vision was compelling. You told us, 'The journey is the reward.' That turned out to be true."

Good read that I believe would be especially interesting to anyone with a computer background or an Apple product in hand.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Tips To Ward Off Vacation Pounds

Unless I am diligent in guarding my calorie intake and looking for ways to exercise, I will return from a travel adventure five to eight pounds heavier. I know I'm in trouble because when I step on my WII Fitness board, the little voice says, "Oh-Oh." And as I age, the pounds are harder to take off. I did a little research and found some helpful tips that I think are easy to incorporate in your travel itinerary. Some of them I've done on my own and a few were new to me. But for what it's worth, here are some ideas to ward off those extra vacation pounds.

1. Water is your friend. Drink lots of it. If you absolutely cannot stand it straight, buy a box of the Crystal Light packets that can be added to a bottle of water and only have 5 calories. Water helps with energy levels and jet lag among many other physical benefits.

2. Eat fresh foods. Think fruits, vegetables, and nuts. If you are visiting a country where food contamination may be a problem, eat only cooked fresh produce or be sure to get something like an orange that has a peel you can wash and remove. Also avoid any uncooked foods that may have been washed in contaminated water. (In China the salad looked good but we were concerned with the water that had washed the greens.)

3. Stop eating when you are full. Did you say, "Duh?" But how many of us don't want to hurt the feelings of the waiter, chef, or dinner companions (especially in foreign countries) in the restaurant when they say you must "absolutely try the ___!" If you must, then share with another.

4. Balance carbs with protein. Carbs should be whole grains when possible and proteins lean--think fish, chicken, good cuts of meat. Take advantage of the places you visit that are close to the ocean. Nothing is better than fresh seafood.

5. Needless to say, avoid the cheesy and creamy dishes as much as possible.

6. Satisfy a sweet tooth with fresh fruit for dessert or sorbet. But be aware that some "sorbets" contain dairy and are not purely fruit based. I found out the hard way serveral times since I don't tolerate dairy.

7. Whenever possible, visit a supermarket, farmer's market, or grocery and look for the deli where they often make fresh sandwiches of your choice. We have had some "gourmet" meals that we've taken out and eaten in the parks in several European cities. It's often what the locals do.

At the airport:

1. Spend some time finding a place to get a nutricious meal or grab some fresh fruit or granola bars and/or nuts. Airplane food on shorter flights does not offer much good healthy variety and you have to pay for it. If you need to eat in the air, find something healthy and take it on board with you. Thankfully you can still get something to drink for free.

2. We all have to arrive earlier to assure getting checked in and then through TSA. Spend your extra time walking around in the airport rather than just sitting. You'll burn a few more calories that way. Burn even more by carrying your own luggage.

At the hotel:

1. Skip the minibar. Turn down the key to it. It'll save calories and money.

2. Stick to the fresh fruit and whole grain items at the breakfast buffet. In Europe, you will find different breakfasts in each country. For example, the French eat a lot of bread in the morning (you may want to pack a little peanut butter). You can still find eggs at many of the restaurants in tourist areas. In Italy, we found lots of sweet pastries on the morning buffet but there were also cheeses and cold cut meats. The English like to serve a hearty breakfast of eggs, bangers (sausage), baked beans, broiled tomatoes and breads. If you're at a B&B you may want to ask for something lighter.

On a cruise:

1. The best tip I saw for a cruise buffet: fill half your plate first with fresh fruits and vegetables. Then add little dabs of what looks interesting. Don't go back for seconds. Most of it will be there again throughout the week for you to sample.

2. If you splurge at the specialty restaurant one night, balance it with light meals the next day.

3. Many of the desserts are cream based. Order fresh fruit instead and if you really must have the dessert, split it with someone else.

4. Ordering from the "spa" menu is usually lighter and healthier but often if you just are careful in your choices from the main menu, you will do just as well. I often mix and match. I am on vacation, after all.

Exercise is not a dirty word.

1. Walk, hike, bike. They are great ways to see the country and also burn those calories.

2. I've mentioned walking around the airports before flights and between flights. You also need to get out and walk when on a cruise ship. All of them have some sort of jog/walking track.

3. Hit the gym on the cruise ship or in the hotel. I prefer getting to the outdoors when possible but this is a good alternative especially if you are used to working out at home.

4. Take the stairs. In some places you don't have a choice. In Paris, we lugged suitcases up and down subway stairs. In Italy, there was no elevator in our little hotel and the rooms were all on the second floor. In England, we were on the third floor of our B&B and breakfast was on the basement level. Whew!

Now let's see if I can practice what I've preached. Happy trails!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

From the Ridiculous File-Speeding Cruise Ship?

The lists of the best, the worst, the top, etc., for 2011 have been circulating the last week now. One list caught my eye. There is a group, Faces of Lawsuit Abuse, that publishes a list of the most ridiculous lawsuits of the year. The list ranges from a man who was suing for age discrimination and claiming a judge was too old to hear his case to a convict who sued the people he kidnapped for not helping him evade the police.

Somewhere in the middle of the list was the case of an Indiana woman who is suing Carnival Cruise lines because the ship she was on went too fast and swayed causing her to become ill and have "bleeding, which I had not has [sic] in three years." The court in Indiana threw out the case not because it is totally ridiculous but because the fine print on her cruise ticket says that she must file the case in South Florida where the cruise line is based.

Hmmm. The ship went too fast? Well, that would make the cruise shorter wouldn't it? Could we sue for that? Better read that fine print.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Chosen One of the Best

The Irish Fireside Blog and Podcast has chosen their Best of 2011 and my travel series on Ireland made the list! It's a great site for those who love all things Irish. Check out their list of the best and indulge in all things "emerald."

Wow. What a great way to start the New Year!
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