"" Writer's Wanderings: June 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Books For The Road - Death Among The Deckchairs

A cruise. A bikini clad body. What next?

All Casey wanted was a relaxing cruise where she could visit with her daughter, the cruise director, but suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a murder at sea. Who would have guessed the beautiful young woman dead in the deckchair next to her had an enemy who would use her love of the sun to end her life? When Max joins Casey, what she thought would be a romantic ending to her cruise becomes an intense search for evidence. Somewhere among all the dermatologists holding a conference on board ship is a killer. Is it the victim’s doctor husband? Or one of his co-workers? And how does the shark expert fit into the puzzle?

That's the teaser on the back of my latest release in the Casey Stengel Mystery series. While In A Pickle, my last release, takes Annie on a cruise on the Queen Mary 2, Death Among The Deckchairs finds Casey on board a fictional cruise ship for this latest mystery
. With 52 cruises under our belts, how could I not write one completely on a cruise ship?

Researching this book was a lot of fun. I first went to my niece who is a chemist to ask if my proposed method of demise for my victim would work. She confirmed that it would and added that she would be keeping an eye on Uncle Bob to make sure he stayed healthy. (Thanks for the confidence, Sue)

Then I needed to know a little more about procedure on a ship when it came to the brig. Did they even have one? I knew that they had a morgue. We'd been on several cruises where someone had passed away and were told what happens at that point. So to answer the brig question, I turned to my friends at the Cruise Critic Forum and sure enough got the answers I needed. 

While I may have taken a few liberties with procedure and chemistry, when you read please keep in mind that it is fiction and not an expose on crime aboard a cruise ship. 

Interested in reading? Here are links to purchase:
Smashwords - You can get an e-format for almost any e-reader here and this site allows me to offer a coupon for 50% off. Use the coupon code: MX52W

This is a great book for the road--especially if the road leads to a cruise.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ohio's Amish Country

One of the favorite things our pastor's family likes to do is explore Amish country which is not too far to the south and east of us. Each year he leads a day long trip stopping at several towns in the heart of the area where many Amish have settled. This year we were privileged to tag along and had a great day.

Of course it doesn't take long before you begin to see the iconic Amish horse and buggy. Even before you exit the highway, there are often sightings as the buggies pass over the freeway on the bridges above. Once into the farmland, you pass by fields being tilled with horse drawn plows.

Homes of the Amish are easy to spot. They have no phone or electrical wires connected to them. Most of the conveniences they allow themselves are run on propane gas and Lehman's Hardware Store is one of the main places to find things like washers that run on propane. There is a slew of other interesting items for sale including hand pumps for water from the well and composting toilets. The day we were there was obviously wash day since most of the home were using the open air Amish dryer for their clothes.

A visit to Amish country isn't complete until you've had some broasted chicken which seems to the most popular item at restaurants. Broasted chicken is like fried chicken but I think it's pressure cooked or roasted as well. Wonder if that's where the Colonel got his KFC recipe?

And then there's the bakery. Pies abound. Every kind of pie you can imagine including the popular peanut butter pie. Homemade bread was a great temptation and we enjoyed it at lunch slathered in apple butter. And oh, the jams and jellies! We are still enjoying a strawberry-rhubarb jam and homemade peanut butter.

The stores in many of the towns are filled with lots of Amish handiwork--aprons, quilts, baby clothes, knit and crocheted items.

The modern world is fascinated with the Amish way of life. Is it because we long for the simplicity? There is a lot more to it than just the romance that is abundant in the Amish novels that are a popular read right now. While some of the Amish are quite content with their way of life, there are others who are not and leave the culture they grew up with when they are of age. For a glimpse of that, you might want to check out my friend, Brenda Nixon's blog, Beyond Buggies and Bonnets.

Holmes County is the big area for Amish. There are other clusters in parts of eastern Ohio. Check out the Amish Country website if you want more information on where to visit.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Stan Hywet Hall - Not For Us Alone

Much to my surprise it has been thirteen years since I published an article in Over The Back Fence about Stan Hywet Hall. Where did all that time go? We have been back several times to visit since then once during the Christmas season. This time we went in early spring and decided to extend our visit with a Nooks and Cranny Tour which got us into areas on the upper floors not seen in the self-guided tour.

The Seiberling mansion built by the co-founder of Goodyear is amazing. The modern conveniences built into it considering the time frame of the early 1900s are a wonder. As we toured the servants quarters, we were entertained by stories of what went on behind the scenes during the years the Seiberlings occupied the home.

One of the rooms on the upper level was a hospital room. Stark white but comfortably furnished with antiques, the sun shone in through the windows on the corner of the room making it quite a lovely place to be if you needed to recuperate from an illness or deliver a baby.

The gardens are a delight and can be wandered on a garden-only ticket which makes returning to see the variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season a must. And now that we are seniors, we can take advantage of the special Tuesday pricing for our age. (Sometimes it pays to get older.)

Please mosey over to my website and see the article
 posted there that appeared in the magazine. Unfortunately, I couldn't publish the beautiful pictures that went with it and there are no photos allowed inside the mansion so you'll just have to take my word for it, it is worth the price of admission if you are in the Akron area.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Books For The Road - The Case For A Creator

The Case For A Creator explores the other side of the debate over how our world all came to be. After seeing the Darwinian side I opted to read Lee Strobel's book. I have to admit I am biased. I believe in a Creator not accidental origin and development but it's nice to hear from experts in the field of science who agree with there being an intelligent designer bringing us into existence.

As in his other The-Case-For books, Strobel uses his background as a journalist to investigate and ask the hard questions. He approaches leading creation theory scientists, many who were Darwinians and atheists or at the very least fence-sitters before they did their research and decided that what composes our world had to have come from an intelligent source who designed and planned it all.

One of the amazing facts I found was that there is three feet of DNA in each cell in our bodies. Imagine! But biology is only one of the areas Strobel explores with the experts. He also delves into cosmology (not cosmetology), astronomy, physics, and biochemistry among other areas that were beyond my reach at times for understanding. A more scientific mind would probably appreciate the depth more than I did. Still, it was affirmation for me that there were minds even greater than mine who accept the Master Designer as the reason we are all here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tips for Galapagos Islands

If all of my blog posts about our Galapagos trip have made you decide to put it on your bucket list, here are some tips for you.

Decide how you want to see the area. Cruise? Private charter? Land hotel? The Galapagos Islands Tours  has a site that shows a lot of different options besides the one we chose, the Celebrity Xpedition. This is one time when you definitely don't want to put off to tomorrow what you can do now. The tours, ships, boats, etc. fill up fast and you don't want to procrastinate too long.

Consider your physical stamina and your ability to get around. If you have a serious problem with balance and walking you might want to reconsider or find a tour that takes you only on the easiest paths if that's possible. The places we visited are for the most part just natural which means that the zodiacs landed on/near difficult terrain. While the ship provided walking sticks, sometimes those were even difficult to handle when they got stuck between rocks. We spent anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours out in the sun at a time which could be very hot depending upon what king of weather you have.

Needless to say, good walking shoes are essential. I had read recommendations for Teva and Keen sandals. Expensive, I know, but I managed to find a pair of Teva sandals on sale that had a closed toe and they were wonderful. They gave good grip on the rocks, provided an easy off and on shoe for wet landings, were still comfortable even when they got wet and a little sandy inside. [Just a tip, if you are like me and hate sand in your shoes, I took along thin socks to wear with the sandals but found that I used them more to brush off the sand instead of wearing them. I stuck one on my hand and brushed sand off my feet and from between my toes before putting my shoes on for the hikes.]

Another essential: a hat. Baseball caps are better than nothing but to really get some protection from the sun, you need to get something with a brim all around and that has a strap that will go around your chin to keep it on your head when you're in the zodiac and the wind is blowing.

If you have a camera that uses different lenses, take them along but know that you will probably only use the zoom more than anything else and there's little time for changing lenses. I also got a Ziploc Big Bag, one that is advertised to be used for storage. It fit inside my backpack and I could slip my Canon T1i into it and know that at least if we got splashed by a wave, it would stay dry.  Our Go Pro worked great with the snorkeling shots but was a little hard to get the photos of animals close up on land. Still it was a great little accessory for video.

Always, always, always take at least one bottle of water per person with you. The Xpedition provided as much as we wanted as we exited for our excursions. Be sure that whatever tour you hook up with will do the same for you.

We went completely through one spray container of sunblock. I'd suggest taking two to be sure you have enough. A very light weight shirt might help to keep the sun exposure down as well. There were some for sale in the gift shop on our ship with the Xpedition logo on the front.

Leave your bright colored orange, red, pink, neon green colored shirts at home or save them for your time on the ship in the evening. The colors attract wasps. The only person we saw get stung was a guy who had neon yellow colors as part of the design on his backpack. We didn't notice a lot of other bugs. Some mosquitoes and flies but a little bug spray would keep them at bay. I saw some people with those new repellents you wear on your belt. Don't know how well they worked.

Since we are divers, we already had dive skins that cover us up from the neck down. We took those along because it's easier to get in and out of a wet suit with them and provides more sun protection while snorkeling.

While we had only one day when it rained a bit, we did take plastic ponchos that we found in the dollar store at home. Nothing dries well or fast because of the humidity--even in the air conditioning. The cheap ponchos could be worn once and discarded.

Okay, that's lots of information and probably not all that could be said. Every person's needs are different. Leave a comment if you have a question about your trip and I'll try to answer it if I can.

Hope you can share in the joy of God's beautiful creation in Galapagos!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Galapagos Journal - Return to Quito

Our flight from Baltra Island to Quito was once again delightful. Even in economy we were treated like first class. Some of the guests left us at the airport to catch flights to other places like Lima, Peru to see Machu Pichu. The rest of us boarded buses for the JW Marriott in the city again.

A shopping excursion was offered when we arrived and Bob went off to find some coffee to bring back. I stayed in the hotel and caught up with these blog posts so that I would not forget all the wonderful things we saw and did.
Celebrity Cruise Line provided a room for a final dinner complete with a multi-talented musician. We ate as early as possible so that we could go to bed before nine. We needed to be up at 2:15 a.m. to be ready for our shuttle to the airport at three.
The shuttle bus was a little smaller than the other buses we had been on and he took a route we hadn’t used before on our sightseeing and trips to and from the airport. We wound our way down a street reminiscent of the crookedest street in San Francisco. There is so much more to Quito than you can see in a day. This would have been a fun ride if we’d have done it in the daylight and been able to see this part of town better.

There are lots more ways to see the Galapagos than on the Xpedition. It was a choice that we were comfortable with. I sat next to a man on the flight to Houston who had been on a large boat with a group of 36 who explored the islands for five days. A little research and you too could find yourself exploring this wonderful area of our world and wondering how Darwin could have missed the Creator there.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Galapagos Journal - Santa Cruz Island, Rancho el Manzanillo

The morning had been a very hot walk and my head was still pounding from the heat. The headache was compounded with the rolling of the ship as we sat in a harbor where huge swells just rolled in. We had been told in our briefing the night before that if we didn’t want to take the walk, we could sit in the restaurant area of the farm we were visiting and wait for our group to return. So the plan was for Bob to take the Canon along with his small Go Pro and go on the walk while I waited in the shade.

The bus ride to El Manzanillo was about twenty to thirty minutes and we got to see lots of farms with cows, banana trees, coffee trees, and other produce along the way. Santa Cruz had a lot more large trees than any of the other islands we had visited. Monica told us that some of them were from Australia and used for wood supply.

El Manzanillo is in an area called the Highlands. As we rode down the long narrow sandy graveled road, we passed several fields with cows and the occasional tortoise. At the end of the road, we came upon a large open sided building.  When we exited the bus, we could see that we were up on a much higher plane and could look out over some rolling hills below us.

The restaurant area was all contained in the large structure. It had several seating areas of padded wooden furniture similar in design to wicker and lots of tables and chairs for guests to sit and enjoy a sampling of juices and fruit.

I sent Bob off with the group and I found a comfortable chair to sit and enjoy the cool breeze that blew through the sheltered area. One of the other reasons I didn’t go along I must confess was that they trekked through some grassy areas and after our encounter with a couple of snakes on the rocks, I knew that I would not enjoy the walk worrying about what might be lurking in the grass besides tortoises.

When the group returned about an hour later, many of them were picking green sticky pods off of their long pants. Bob had worn shorts (against the suggested long pants—he didn’t have any cool pants to wear, just jeans) and was lucky enough not to have scratched his legs. He did have some hitchhikers on his socks that we picked off. I suspect some of the other guests got into the grasses a little more than he did.

All in all, he enjoyed the walk and talked about the tortoises hissing at them as they went by. These were the first animals other than the sea lions who laid in our path on the pier that had shown any reaction to us. Someone snapped his picture with the largest tortoise they found and he took a few others along the way including a nice shot of a yellow moth right by the restaurant area.

Again, we did not shop for anything in town. Sorry to those at home who may have been expecting a souvenir. Instead, we opted to ride back to the ship and take our chances in the A/C on the rolling ship rather than stay on shore in the hot sun and humidity.

That evening instead of the usual briefing, we were treated to a slide show of photos taken by the naturalists of some of the things they saw on our excursions including some funny looking guests, cameras to their faces, bent over animals competing for the best angle.

In the morning, we would be putting on our zodiac life jackets one last time and going ashore. The crew would be preparing the ship for the newcomers—all who would need to be trained on wet landings and dry landings and snorkel procedures. I marveled at the patience and the kindness shown to all of us by the staff and crew. They were a small group who provided us with amazing service. Where else could we have gotten this kind of expedition with such luxury? 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Galapagos Journal - Santa Cruz Island, Puerto Ayora

There are about 30,000 people who live on the Galapagos Islands. Most of those live on Santa Cruz and the majority of those residents live in Puerto Ayora. This island had been colonized before 1959 when the Ecuadorian government declared all the islands a national park. That same year, the Charles Darwin Foundation was founded to promote scientific research and ensure the conservation of the Galapagos. In 1992, the waters surrounding the Galapagos were made a marine reserve.

The problem with people living on any of the islands is that they make gardens, plant flowers and trees and bushes not native to the area, and eat things that may have seeds that would be discarded and picked up by birds, washed away in the rain, or otherwise transported to the other islands that the park tries to keep pristine and true to its natural habitat. The only way they can combat the intrusion of foreign plants is to pull them out by hand when they are discovered growing in the park.

Just on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora is the Charles Darwin Station for Giant Tortoise Breeding. The zodiacs deposited us on a pier in town and buses took us to the Station about a five minute ride away. Jorge led us through the Station pointing out the various stages of growth of the most recently hatched tortoises.

The Charles Darwin Station was established in 1964 and is a part of the Charles Darwin Foundation which was set up in 1959 to help conserve the ecosystem and natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands. It began its tortoise program in 1965, just a year before the government of Ecuador declared the area a national park.

In the 1960s, the tortoise population of Espanola Island came so close to extinction that all the remaining tortoises-12 females and 2 males- were brought to the park and station headquarters for protection and breeding. The adult tortoises breed, nest and are cared for in captivity. The first successful hatching occurred in 1970-71. As with the other races (they breed several different kinds of tortoise), the young are reared to three to five years of age and then repatriated.

Unfortunately the Floreana subspecies is extinct and now with the passing of Lonesome George, the last remaining Pinta Island tortoise, his subspecies has also disappeared. In 1977, the return of Diego, an Espanola tortoise from the San Diego Zoo, helped to repopulate the Espanola subspecies. Originally there were 13 Espanola tortoises taken back in the 1930s for the zoo and Diego was the last one left of that group.

Diego is not the top guy at the station at what they estimate to be 130 years of age and is still dedicated to the survival of his species. He wasn't out and about yet when we arrived. Probably sleeping in. We could see what Jorge said was his shell way back under the trees but it was impossible to get a picture.

Espanola tortoises -1 male with 5 females and 2 males with 7 females- are permanently housed in two corrals, each with several nesting areas. The tortoises breed before and during the nesting season from June to December. During the nesting season, the corrals are checked daily for nesting activity. A female tortoise builds her nest with her hind legs, forming a hole about 35-40 cm deep and 10-15 cm wide, slighter wider at the bottom. The eggs are lowered on strings of thick mucus, which provide a soft landing. The mother buries the eggs and delicately pats down the soil with the underside of her shell and her feet. The morning after the eggs are laid, one of the park wardens will carefully remove them and transfer them to the incubator.

When we had been through all the displays including some that feature iguanas, we opted to walk back through town to the pier. It was still early in the morning for the town folks but some were out waiting for the tide to come in and release their boats from the muck. One family looked like they wanted to get an earlier start and were trying to dislodge their skiff from the mud it was stuck in. The kids were having a great time of it.

We sat for a time near the fishing pier and watched a pelican try to down his over sized breakfast. Under one of the boats that was stuck in the mud of the low tide, a marine iguana munched on the algae that hung from the bottom.

A cool breeze from the sea refreshed us after a very warm walk through the Station and the town. Slowly storefronts began to raise their metal doors and merchants swept their steps and sidewalks as they prepared for another day of business. The time on the islands was an hour behind the time in Quito and the ship. Our cruise director, Bitinia, had told us on our first day that the ship would stay with Quito time to allow us a little extra daylight for exploring.

We weren’t interested in shopping so we meandered on down to the pier to catch the first of the zodiacs back to the ship. It was entertaining to watch the interaction or even the non-action of the sea lions and the people coming and going from the main pier. There were quite a few water taxis in the bay and they were picking up and dropping off. As people walked up the gangways or landing areas, they had to step around or in some cases, over sea lions.

One sea lion, not unlike a dog who is disturbed, threatened to nip one fellow’s leg as he stepped too closely between one sea lion and another. Earlier in the week, one of our fellow passengers had been nipped in the leg while snorkeling. Apparently the sea lion felt threatened as the snorkeler tried to get closer for a better picture. No real damage done though. It was more of a warning.

For some reason there were large swells all day long in the Puerto Ayora bay where our ship was anchored. It rolled back and forth testing the worthiness of our sea legs. While I was a bit worn out from the heat, I knew I didn’t want to spend the afternoon on the rolling ship either. I had to decide what to do about the afternoon excursion to the area where there were tortoises out roaming over some farmland. It would turn out to

be an easy decision.
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