"" Writer's Wanderings: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Flat Stanley's Cleveland Welcome

The sun greeted Stanley the first morning of his stay in the Cleveland area. Actually, Stanley was staying with us in Independence which is a suburb on the south side of Cleveland. We always say we live on the south side because it saves arguing with the east and west-siders over which side is best to settle in. You can't live on the north side unless you live in a houseboat. Cleveland is right on the shore of Lake Erie. People jokingly say we are the North Coast of the USA.

Temperatures were still nippy--a frigid 10 F high but sunshine always helps the mood when you are shivering. You can always count on it being cold in Cleveland in the winter although it has it's ups and downs and can warm up to the 50s F once in a while. Average winter temps are mid-30 F. The real challenge however is the snow in winter. Because the area is bordered by Lake Erie, we can get a crippling amount of snow from what is called the Lake Effect. When the lake is not frozen, the moisture rises and is cooled to the form of snow and when the wind pushes it onto land, it dumps the snow. Mostly that happens on the east side of Cleveland called the Snow Belt.

Cleveland was built as a shipping port and was especially busy when the steel plants were functioning fully. It  was quite an industrial area but that has changed over the years. We are becoming known the world over for our medical facilities and technologies. While there are still ships that stop and unload during the summer, most of the steel is now made somewhere else. The freighter, the William G. Mather, pictured here in the cold of winter, is now a museum that can be explored during the summer months.

While it was still awfully cold, we bundled up and went to see a musical at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Playhouse Square is the world's largest theater renovation project and is the second largest theater arts district in the USA next to New York City. Five theaters were built here in the 1920s but by the 1960s, with the popularity of other entertainment venues like TV, the theaters lost business and of the five (Ohio, State, Palace, Hanna, and Allen) only the Hanna remained open. In 1970, with destruction a possibility, a group of dedicated folks formed a movement to save the theaters and by 1982, the first, the Ohio, was reopened. The others followed and while there is still work to be done, it has provided a cultural center for the performing arts of which we are quite proud.

So much to see and do in the Cleveland area. What else shall we show to Stanley?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Flat Stanley - Seattle to Cleveland

Just before noon in Seattle, it was time to say goodbye to the Seattle Robbins and travel with Grandma and Grandpa back to Cleveland, OH. Stanley was a bit confused. If it was noon in Seattle, it was three o'clock in Cleveland! Would we eat lunch on Seattle time or Cleveland time?

Not to worry. We ate lunch just before boarding the plane and took sandwiches along to eat on the plane later when we got hungry again. It was a little over four hours to fly to Dulles Airport near Washington, DC. Wait! Said Stanley. I thought we were going to Cleveland.

Stanley was learning that air lines have weird ways of scheduling flights. We would fly  for over four hours past Cleveland to Dulles, wait for an hour and then fly for an hour back to Cleveland. He fit snugly into the seat pocket and had a good seat when it came time to eat again.

As we circled to land in Cleveland, the announcement was made that the temperature was 8 degrees F. I think I saw Stanley shiver as he contemplated how cold Seattle had been and this was even. . .well, how quickly might he freeze being so flat?

Tucked away in a warm backpack, Stanley made it home by midnight, Cleveland time. It was only nine o'clock in Seattle. Still everyone was tired enough to want to go to bed.

Would it be any warmer tomorrow?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flat Stanley Finds Sunshine at Snoqualmie Summit

Sunday morning after an early church service and with ski gear loaded and strapped to the van, we tucked Stanley into the camera case and headed for Snoqualmie Summit, a ski resort in the Cascades east of Redmond (Seattle).

It was still pretty foggy and frosty as we drove the west shore of Lake Sammamish to connect with I-90 and head up into the mountains. On a prettier, sunnier day the lake is quite nice and a popular spot to hang out at some of the park areas that can be found nearby. In the summer, lots of water sports and sand castle building goes on.

From Redmond it is about an hours drive to the Snoqualmie Summit. If you continue on I-90, it takes you to Snoqualmie Pass which is a little over 3000 feet high. The Pass is the largest of three routes through the Washington Cascades and is open year round but can be pretty dangerous in bad winter weather.

As we neared the base of the mountains and began to climb, it didn't take long for ears to start popping. But, wondered Stanley, where is the snow?

As we climbed further, we found ourselves above the fog and the sun shone brightly. Soon after, we began to see signs of snow, not just frost, and suddenly the sides of the road were piled high where the plows had cleared the pavement. There was reportedly a 66" base of snow for the skiers.

Snoqualmie Summit resort was packed with families. Adults and kids of all ages clomped about in ski boots with their skis tossed up on their shoulders. Soon our family group was divided into their lesson areas and off to learn the day's new skills. The older, non-skiing folks, took Stanley into the lodge to warm up and sip some hot drinks. Later, they joined the others around the outdoor fire pit before beginning the trip home.

The beauty of the area was not lost on Stanley. I could hear him sigh as he watched an eagle soar over distant pine trees. The brilliantly lit snow from the bright sunshine was a welcome change from all the dreary fog of the last few days. What a difference between the area near the sea and the mountain top!

It was good that Stanley got used to a little snow because he was about to travel to another area of the country that was white with the cold fluffy stuff.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flat Stanley: Will the Seattle Fog Lift?

Poor Stanley. So much to see in Seattle and too much fog to see it. Those are the chances you take when you travel even if it is in an envelope.

Saturday morning began with dropping off the grands at their Japanese school. The Seattle area has a large Japanese population and there are small schools in the area that offer the opportunity for kids with Japanese heritage to learn Japanese writing, reading, etc. as well as culture and tradition. It was still pretty foggy  and frosty when we dropped the older kids off at their Saturday morning school.

Instead of driving into Seattle, we opted to head back to the house to warm up again and share some pictures and stories of other trips to Seattle in much nicer weather. We told Stanley that when we visited the Space Needle, the iconic landmark of Seattle, it was a much warmer day in June and there was no frosty fog. The views of the city and Puget Sound were breathtaking.

The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World's Fair. The original sketch was made on a napkin and was the idea of Edward E. Carlson. It took 13 months to build at a cost of $4.5 million. A hole 30 feet deep and 120 feet wide, filled with cement, anchors the Needle which was engineered to withstand 200 mph winds.

But everything that's interesting about Seattle can't be seen from above ground. Below the ground level under the sidewalks and streets is a maze of tunnels that allow you to explore some of the oldest parts of Seattle. The city was originally built on soggy tideflats and was subject to nasty flooding every time it rained for any length of time. After the Great Fire of 1889 the city was rebuilt over the top of the old city and retaining walls were constructed to control the flooding. It's quite an interesting tour to take on a warm day when you want to cool off.

At street level, in the heart of the city is another iconic landmark of Seattle, the Public Market Center, a huge market with vegetables, flowers, meats, and the entertaining fish markets. The fish company is noted for their fish toss. When someone places an order, they toss the huge fish to the butcher who prepares the order. It is a fascinating place to wander through and plan to eat lunch at.

But alas, the weather was just too bad for all that touring and unfortunately most of us had nasty colds and were feeling bad so we spent the Saturday cuddled up near the fireplace enjoying each other's company and playing games. Stanley fit right in.

We wondered though, would the sun break through on Sunday?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Flat Stanley in Frosty Seattle

Flat Stanley arrived toward the end of our stay in Seattle. Unfortunately he missed the few sunny days we had at the beginning of the week. Seattle's temps in January average 48 F. The week we stayed to sit with our grands, the temps were in the mid-30s and chilled you to the bone. The always moist air iced into a thick fog that covered trees and bushes with crystals of ice. It made the foliage look sugar-coated.

Each morning we walked the older kids to school and were amazed to see some of their school friends in shirt sleeves while we shivered in our winter coats. Hardy folks those Seattle area people. but then they are used to a misty rain most mornings. The climate is described as temperate or oceanic mild. Trees and bushes grow well in the climate and the area has huge pines that grace the landscape.

The city of Seattle sits between Puget Sound on the Pacific Ocean side and Lake Washington to the east. From there, the metropolitan area spreads out to the east where we were located in Redmond, home to the huge Microsoft headquarters complex. The Microsoft complex is like a huge university sprawling across acres of land with multiple buildings that make it a small community in itself. The Microsoft influence can be seen all over the area. The mall in the nearby city of Bellevue has a large Microsoft store to wander through and play in with all the latest MS hardware and software.

Even further to the east lie the Cascade Mountains. On clear days their snow capped tops stand out against the blue skies. When the sun clears the air and the clouds part, you can glimpse Mt. Rainier in the distance. At first glance you might think the mountain was named for the notorious claim that the area is always rainy but no, it's named for a man, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

Now that Flat Stanley had arrived, the question was what would we do to show him around? Our grands decided that we'd start with a trip to their favorite restaurant, Wibbley's Gourmet Hamburgers in Bellevue. It's a little restaurant in a small strip mall but had the greatest hamburgers. I looked closely and sure enough, there seemed to be a slight smile on Stanley's face.

What to show Stanley next? The Space Needle? The Farmer's Market? The Original Starbucks?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Flat Stanley - The Travelin' Man

Flat Stanley is a character known and loved by many. In his original book written over 45 years ago, Jeff Brown told the story of Stanley Lambchop who was unfortunately flattened in the middle of the night by a large bulletin board that fell on him. It wasn't such a bad thing after all as it enabled Stanley to travel in unusual and unique ways--slipping under doors, flying like a kite, and even traveling by mail inside an envelope.

That's how Stanley arrived during our stay with our Seattle grands last week--in an envelope! Our granddaughter from Columbus sent Stanley so he could catch up with us and visit some of the places we were going in the next month or so. Her class was participating in a Stanley adventure that would include all of the children making a Flat Stanley and asking relatives or friends living out of town to take Stanley around their community and send back pictures and information of what Stanley saw and did.

Stanley fits snuggly into my backpack and we have had him visit several places around Seattle before we take him home to visit our community. Over the next few weeks, I'll update Stanley's adventures with us. Come along and join in the fun with Flat Stanley, the Travelin' Man!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Books For The Road - Borrowing with Windows 8

Loving my new Surface RT with Windows 8. It works as a tablet and mini computer. I'm still learning all the ins and outs. At the speed that I learn technology, the next new thing will be old before I have all of this conquered.

On the road though, I suddenly realized the books I'd borrowed from the e-library at home hadn't transferred properly to my Nook. Since I didn't have my laptop with me (it's too heavy to lug anymore thus the Surface tablet) I thought I was going to have to spend more of my book budget to get some decent reading material.

Desparate to find a way to download books from the library, I went to the library's site to try to download to my Kindle app. The library's digital homepage had the answer staring me right in the face. It's called Overdrive. The app is readily available in the Windows 8 app store and/or pops up as an option for where to save/open the book you want.

While I still prefer reading on my Nook with its special glare-free screen, this was a great alternative. The Overdrive app allows you to change the page color from white to black or sepia. You can adjust the font size. It displays the book covers nicely in the library screen. It's a little slow sometimes in turning the page but that's mostly between chapters where it seems to want to download the next one.

It allows you to add bookmarks but if it allows note taking, I haven't found the right button yet. That's not a big feature to me. I just want the ability to be able to read borrowed books while we travel and this was a great answer to the problem.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chicago's O'Hare Namesake

On our way to Seattle, we had a lay-over at Chicago's O'Hare airport. As we made our way from one terminal to another an display we hadn't seen before caught my eye. A WWII plane sat on a platform that was dedicated to Edward "Butch" O'Hare, a tenacious pilot in the war and a Chicago native.

O'Hare is credited with leading the successful defense of the USS Lexington in a surprise attack by the Japanese as the aircraft carrier was in the Coral Sea. The February 20,1942 attack foiled by O'Hare led to his being awarded medals and given some public relations work to do. He returned to active service in October, 1943, and a few months later was shot down. His aircraft was not found and he was declared dead a year later.

My curiosity is piqued. I'm looking into some of the more unfamiliar airports names. Reagan and JFK and Bush are knowns. O'Hare was not known to me. There must be some other interesting namesakes out there. The next time I'm passing through an airport, it will be much more fun to know a little history as well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Take Time to Watch The Clouds

If you haven't already guessed from my recent posts, we spent the holidays on a 21 day cruise through the Southern and Eastern Caribbean. It was a been-there-done-that-many-times-over cruise but every cruise is just a little different thanks to the people you meet and often just the way the weather or even your health goes.

This cruise we ran into more rain than I ever remember encountering in the Caribbean short of hurricane season. It wasn't stormy just rainy, drizzly, misty. If not for the heat, I would have thought we were in Seattle on a few days.

Half way through the cruise, not only did I lose the filling in my front lower tooth, I also came down with a terrific sinus infection. I try to carry a Z-Pac antibiotic with me for those occasions but I wasn't due to see my doctor until after the cruise and the old Z-Pac was used a while ago. Now, I know you're asking why I didn't go to the doctor on board ship. Well, hindsight I probably should have but the last time I saw someone else, they gave me an antibiotic that made me sick. I elected to tough it out with Tylenol and Sudafed.

All of this caused me to really appreciate that I didn't have to do anything: cook, clean, or launder but I had set myself a goal of writing each day. My blog posts were all scheduled well into our cruise time so there was no pressure there. I did manage to make my writing goal many days but as I gave into the sinus infection, I was just too tired.

When we hit the beach on one of the stops, I stretched out a towel, doubled the sunblock and laid down. Of course about then, the clouds rolled in. I opened my eyes and peered through my new sunglasses (did I mention my old ones broke on the cruise too?). The clouds swirled above me. Some bleached white and others a bit grayed with the thought of rain. Two of the Caribbean sea birds (I think they're called Frigate Birds) soared high above me, two small dots in the sky, gliding back and forth across the puffy clouds.

I asked myself when was the last time I had taken time to just watch the clouds. No reading. No picture taking, No composing a blog post. No wondering which character did in which character. I gave myself permission to just lay there and watch the clouds. It was wonderful. I promise there will be more cloud watching in my future.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cruise Dining - Open Seating vs. Traditional Dining

Open Seating, My Time Dining, Anytime Dining. They are all names for a concept that has been growing in the cruise business. Traditionally when you booked a cruise, you would be asked if you wanted early or late seating. Early seating meant you had to be at your assigned table usually between 6 and 6:15 p.m. If you dined late the time was 8 to 8:15 p.m. If you booked late, you may not have been able to get your preferred choice. That happened once to us and we spent the cruise eating way too late for our comfort.

A few years ago the concept of passengers being able to choose their own time to dine like you would in a regular restaurant was introduced. It got a slow start but if you have cruised lately, you can see that its popularity has grown. At first, there was a small designated area for the any time diners. Now, on our last cruise, we noticed that the larger portion of the dining room was used for any time or open seating diners and a much smaller area for traditional diners.

Each ship/cruise line handles it a little differently and some better than others. Some prefer that you make a reservation each day for the time you would like to eat. Others are happy to have you walk-in and they will find a spot for you. Once in a while there will be a backup if too many show up at the same time without a reservation. This is handled the same way a restaurant would by taking names and handing out beepers. Tip: If you find that you consistently have to wait at the times you normally want to dine, use the reservation procedure. It saves time and nerves.

What's the advantage to open seating? Aside from not having to tie yourself to a set dinner time and work your activities around that, it is a great way to get to know more people if you opt to share a table. This cruise we met people from all over the States, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Germany. Backgrounds and occupations (retired or not) were as varied and always great conversation starters.

Meeting new people each night may not seem your cup of tea but we enjoy it. We've had a few problems in the past with traditional dining where we were assigned a table and didn't mesh well with the other personalities. In that case you can always opt to have your table changed but that's not always an available option if the dining room is full.

Another advantage was not having to share a table when I didn't feel well a couple of nights.It was nice to not have to make conversation when I wasn't up to it.

You may have to exercise a bit more patience some nights. Having a different waiter most every night means he won't get used to the way you like things. (Although I know some people who have made reservations and requested a favorite waiter each night). Some are a little slower than others and special requests made by diners can some times slow things down.

Again, as I've always said in the past, your enjoyment is based mostly on where you set your expectations and how you fine tune your attitude. We met one lady who sat with us during breakfast on two occasions and made us wonder why she cruised at all. Nothing was right or done to her satisfaction. I can't help but wonder what she had expected.

Of course open seating or traditional dining aside it is all about the food, isn't it?

Friday, January 11, 2013

St. Maarten's Sunset Beach - Duck!!

When your husband of more than forty-four years says he wants to go to the beach and in all those years you've learned he doesn't like sitting on the beach, you know something is up. Boy was something up. And those somethings were landing right over our heads!

Our ship docked in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, on December 30. After a nice breakfast on the back deck, we donned our bathing suits, packed our sunblock, hats, books, and water and headed off to the port area. The port area is very nice in St. Maarten. Harbor Point Village houses some shops and small bars for those who don't want to venture too far. The more adventuresome passengers can take a water ferry into Phillipsburg, a short 10-15 minute ride for a minimal price, and enjoy the shops, the restaurants and the beach area there.

Just outside the Harbor Point Village, we found a taxi to take us to Sunset Beach near Maho Village. The beach is not extremely big but it is beautiful and unique in its location--the end of the airport runway. It has been featured on the Travel Channel where Bob saw it and immediately stuck it on his bucket list. The planes fly right over beach goers as they land coming low enough to make it feel as though you could reach out and touch them.

Our morning was spent watching mostly small prop planes and private jets fly in. There were only a couple of larger planes. Unfortunately our ship was leaving early and we needed to get back before the truly large jets flew in. Still, it was an adventure.

Several men stood to watch an American Airlines jet take off. They positioned themselves just opposite the area marked with danger because of the jet blast from planes taking off. As the plane swung around at the end of the runway, they were suddenly pelted with sand. As soon as it was over one said, "Well, that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!"

For us it won't be. Bob is determined to return when we can stay long enough to watch the really big jets land. Guess I'd better stock up on sunblock.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cruising Medal Awarded

Who knew you could earn a medal for cruising? Any good Holland America Line mariner does. The cruise line, as all others do, offers perks for faithful cruisers and eventually you can earn such things as free laundry, discounts in the gift shop spa, and lounges, special gatherings on board ship, internet minutes, etc. But Holland America is the only line I know of that offers a medal as well.

We were surprised to receive an invitation to a special cocktail party where Mariners would be awarded medals for their cruising history. Neither of us had counted our days at sea aboard HAL ships. We just knew we were three stars (it said so on our sea card) and didn't qualify for the free laundry perk yet. That takes four stars. So we were pleasantly surprised to find out that we had earned a bronze medal for our faithfulness in cruising HAL. Actually if we were truly faithful only to HAL, we would probably be offered the keys to the ship but alas, we like variety in our cruising.

So what did it take to qualify? If you have cruised at least 100 days with HAL, you earn the Bronze Medallion. The Silver Medallion takes 300 days, the Gold, 500, and the Platinum (which was very pretty), 700 or more days. We did see several Platinum Medallions and in our Cruise Critic group of friends, we were sailing with a couple who had accumulated 1300 days of cruising with HAL. Now that's loyalty!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Books For The Road - V Is For Vengeance by Sue Grafton

No apologies. I am a Sue Grafton fan--at least for her Kinsey Milhone alphabet series. Yes, I have gone from A to V and look forward to how she will finish with W, X, Y and Z. V Is For Vengeance was a good read as always and maybe even a little better than the last couple.

Grafton's character Milhone is caught in the 1980s which has got to make some of the writing a bit of a challenge. There is no easy cell phone answer in a pocket or computer searches for clues. Milhone is a snoopy gritty PI who always manages to get into trouble and in this story it starts with her reporting some shoplifters that catch her eye. When the fiance of one shoplifter who ends up dead hires Milhone to investigate, she gets entangled in an organized crime that is bigger than even she could have imagined.

In the end, Milhone survives. After all, Grafton has four more novels to crank out before the series ends. Can't help but wonder what she'll come up with for X. If you are looking for a good series and enjoy seeing how a writer develops over the years, check out the alphabet series by Grafton. Great reads for the road.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Add Another Item to That Travel Kit! Tooth Repair

So what do you do in the middle of a 21 day cruise when the filling in the back of your front tooth falls out? Until now, I've always packed a packet of dental wax--you know, the kind you used as a kid to ease the pain of those brand new metal braces on your teeth. But thanks to a beautiful lady who packs a medical kit like I do for trips, I have found a new solution to  the problem of losing a filling while traveling.

The little gem is called Den Tek Temporary Filling. It's like a putty that you can scoop out and insert into the empty hole in your tooth until you can get to a dentist. It dries to a hard finish in about an hour and so far (a day later) it is still holding. Beats the wax that would fall out with the first bite of a meal. And who wants to have trouble eating on a cruise? Not this cruiser!

It will be interesting to see what my dentist has to say when I return and he sees my DIY filling. Hopefully it won't be too hard to take out. But then, if it is, maybe I should keep it.
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