"" Writer's Wanderings: July 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Through My Lens - Zoo Flowers

Everyone's attention is so focused on the animals at the zoo that they often overlook the beautiful flowers that so many zoos have used to landscape the grounds. It takes a lot of work to to plan to soften the look of cages and exhibits and encourage the view of an animal in an environment that might have some similarity to its natural habitat. Hats off to those who work so hard to keep it looking so nice. Next time you are at your zoo, take some time to smell the roses.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Flowers

Monday, July 29, 2013

Books For The Road - Divide The Child

Something old is new again! Twenty-three years ago I wrote and published Divide The Child. The cover was ugly and my picture on the back made me look like a real estate agent. But the story was too good to let go of so I pulled it out of the recesses of my computer, dusted it off and brought it up to date with cell phones, Google maps, and several other new popular techo-fangled things that weren't around in 1990. And added
a new cover and author picture.

Here is the teaser:

A mother's worst nightmare. Her child is snatched.

The kidnapper is Sebrena Warner, the child's real mother. Or is she? It has been six years since their rescue of a baby girl who was born alive after a botched abortion and Julie and Rick Sierra had begun to relax. No one questioned the adoption papers and their move out of the area to avoid being discovered. Now they are about to become embroiled in a custody battle only the wisdom of Solomon could decide.

Sebrena vows to use all the power her politically aspiring husband, Wynne, will bring her. But Wynne's life is complicated further by a reporter, Michael Boston, who threatens to expose Sebrena's past.

Judge Helen Belmonte must decide Kathy's future. She turns to the only place she knows she will find true wisdom, her Bible.

Here's an excerpt:


            Coffee dripped into the decanter. The aroma drifted through the quiet nurses’ station in the maternity ward. No mothers-in-waiting tonight. One lone nurse waited patiently to fill her cup. Suddenly a light flashed on the intercom board. A doctor’s voice crackled over the speaker, “Nurse! Get in here immediately!”

            At the delivery room door, the nurse paused for a moment to take in what was happening. A woman on the bed moaned and thrashed about—obviously in heavy labor. What was going on? There was no one in labor when she started her break and no notice of an emergency.

            “Quickly!” The doctor grabbed her arm and pulled her to the bed. “We need to give her a general.”

            “I’ll call for the anesthesiologist.” She turned to reach for the phone.

            “No! There isn’t time. I’ll administer it myself. Get over here and help me.” He moved to the head of the bed.

            The nurse was shocked and confused. This wasn’t proper procedure. Her mind raced as the urgency of the situation accelerated. Moments were precious when a delivery went bad but training and experience kicked in. She rushed to help the doctor strap the woman’s arms down and place the mask over her face.

            “Monitor her blood pressure and respiration and keep me posted while I get the fetus out,” the doctor ordered.

            Fetus? Horror struck her as her gaze fell upon saline solution and instruments on the table next to the doctor. This wasn’t a delivery. This was an abortion!

            “Doctor, I can’t take part in this. I don’t believe in abortion.”Her protest was futile. There was no one else around to call for help. No time. She adjusted the blood pressure cuff and prepared to monitor vital signs

“This is not the time for a political statement. We’re here to save lives.” The doctor sat down behind the white cloth draped across the knees of his patient. “I can’t worry about your confounded religious rubbish right now. What are her numbers?”

This wasn’t right. She shouldn’t be here. When abortions became an accepted procedure after a lengthy labor dispute, the hospital made a new policy. It allowed a nurse to decline an assignment to assist in an abortion provided the nurse had registered her religious objection with the department. Why hadn’t this doctor arranged for another nurse? And why was he doing this in a delivery room hadn’t been reserved?

            She repeated the blood pressure and respiratory counts to him. They were precarious but not life threatening. Ironic, she thought, you tell me we’re here to save lives while you stand there taking one.

            “Finally,” the doctor said with relief as he took the bloody form of a baby and roughly laid it in the bin normally used for disposing of the afterbirth. She felt sick. Concentrate on the gauges and try not to think of what is happening she told herself. At least a saline abortion was not as horrendous to watch as a dilation and evacuation—a partial birth abortion. This baby would be in one piece.

            The nurse glanced at the little body in the bin. She blinked. Had she seen movement? Yes, the arms were moving slightly. She left her post and looked closely.

More movement.

            “This baby is alive!”


            The driver paused at the stop sign and looked both ways to confirm that the woman and little girl were still headed south on Watkins Street. She eased the yellow Mustang convertible through the intersection and made a left at the next corner. The old houses framed by scarred trees and aging shrubs disgusted her. She renewed her vow to never live in a place like that again.

            As her Mustang turned left and crept to Watkins Street, every nerve in her body sparked. Twenty minutes ago, the elementary school five blocks away had released its contents of noisy children into the neighborhood. She had followed the two before. Each time she had observed the woman meet the girl at the school and walk together down Watkins Street to a dingy little house with a decrepit porch, weather-worn siding, and missing shutters.

The driver looked left and confirmed again the two still walked in the same direction as before. Yes, there was no mistake. They turned into the house almost exactly the same time as yesterday and the day before that. They were creatures of habit she observed. Morning and afternoon, they had a dull routine that fit perfectly with her plans. A lip-glossed smile crept across her face. Yes, perfectly.

It's available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon,  for Nook at Barnes and Noble soon, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 26, 2013

From My Travel Journal - Okinawa, Japan

Thursday, November 8, 2007—Okinawa, Japan

            At 6:30 a.m., we awake and get dressed so that we can get in line to have our temperatures evaluated before receiving a disembarkation card to enter Okinawa, Japan. The line stretches to the rear of the ship. At 7, we still have not docked so the Japanese authorities are not even aboard yet to begin the procedure. We opt to go for breakfast and return even though we will lose our place in line. Everyone will be behind schedule anyway and we figure the tour times will be adjusted.

            After breakfast, we return to our room and get our gear for the day and go back to the line which is now wound from one end of the ship to the other and over two decks. When we finally get to the “health” lounge, we see six Japanese officials standing in a group, each with masks across their mouths and noses. A camera-like contraption beams a red light at a spot in the room where we all must pass as it evaluates body temperature. Anyone with an elevated temperature will not be allowed ashore. As far as we know, no one is detained.

            We have a very short wait in the theater before being herded to buses on the dock for our tour. Our guide is Soda San (but she says, don’t call me Coca Cola). Her humor reminds me of Aya’s (my daughter-in-law) father, Yoshinori.

            Okinawa, or rather Naha City, is larger than I imagined. It reminds us of the Caribbean. All the shops are geared to flowered muumuus and Hawaiian style beachwear and coconut shells painted with faces. Apparently coral jewelry is big here.

            We visit the Shurijo Castle built back in the 16th-17th century. It has been rebuilt since WWII. If I understood the guide correctly, there were Chinese kings first and then Japanese. There was a bunker under the castle that housed Japanese military officials in WWII.

            A stop in to the large department store in Naha City is disappointing in that there are no “elevator girls.” These are the girls we saw in the Tokyo department stores that are dressed in cute uniforms and with a gloved hand and a special phrase in Japanese tell you if the elevator is going up or down. We wander into the area where the kimonos are displayed. I am amazed again at how expensive the material is for a full dress kimono.

            The market area we walk through has lots of stores with little packaged snacks and candies, none of which look familiar. Most of the places along the street are souvenir shops specializing in beach type paraphernalia.

            There is a monorail overhead but no time to ride. We begin to melt as the sun comes out. It must be in the 80s and very humid.

            At noon, we return to the ship. We are scheduled to depart at 3 p.m.

            I think about the differences I have observed between China and Japan. There is no frenzy here and though the castle was crowded with students, they were very polite and there was no elbowing. But then, I’m probably a little prejudiced having a Japanese daughter-in-law.

            In the afternoon, I do some ironing, some walking, some reading and win 50 cents at the slots. The evening show is “Do You Wanna Dance?” It is a lot better than the first production show we saw. They have replaced one singer and the group blends so much better. There seems to be a higher energy level with the group tonight as well. They look like they are having fun.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

From My Travel Journal - Shanghai

Tuesday, November 6, 2007—Shanghai, China

            Shanghai is not as busy or crowded as Beijing except for the shopping areas filled with tourists. Those areas remind me of my Forbidden City experience.

            Our first stop on the tour is the nearly 1400 foot high Jin Mao Tower/Building. It houses the Hyatt hotel and you can look down through the core to the lobby. We go to the top, the 88th floor, to get a view of the city and look upon the Huangpu River full of barges that trail down the river as far as you can see. There is a TV tower close by which looks like a giant bejeweled Christmas tree topper—pointed with two large spherical areas.

            The buildings in Shanghai are often ultra-modern. They have unusual shapes, twists and turns, and the tops are all different. Some building peaks look like a crown, some are pointed, some have a huge ball on top. Each seems unique. A student of architecture would be enthralled.

We visit the 400 year old Yu Garden. It is very pleasant with lots of walkways and pagoda shaped buildings. Ponds filled with koi dot the gardens. Lots of dragons decorate the roofs and buildings with the most significant being the “Dragon Wall.” It is a wall enclosing part of a garden and has a giant dragon forming the top of the wall. According to our local guide, the garden was created by a man to honor his father giving him a place to seek peace in his old age.

            After our walk through the garden, we stroll through a shopping area in what they say is the Old Town. We are squeezed from all sides at times with people who just use an arm to push you aside and pass through the crowd—sometimes gently, sometimes not.

            We see many beggars today in addition to vendors who push and shove to get to you and have no qualms about grabbing your arm to try to sell you their wares. It is all very congested, confusing, and at times uncomfortable. I am glad when we return to the bus. These vendors make the Caribbean look like child’s play.

            After dinner we return to the city by way of the shuttle bus from the dock area. It is impossible to get a cab back and forth since the ship is berthed in a commercial container port and taxis are not allowed through. There is no way you could walk from the entrance gate to the ship safely and without getting lost. Along the way, we see some of the buildings lit up but we do not get close enough to the area where they are said to be spectacular. Once we leave the bus, the vendors converge like flies and we give up on any thought of exploring further. Seeking the shelter of the next bus in line to leave for the ship, we board quickly.

            We are too late to get a seat in the show when we return to the ship. It is unfortunate. The performer is singing some great music—all the golden oldies—and dressed in leather no less!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In My Backyard - Bullfrog Takedown

Yesterday I posted about the nest-raiding bluejay. But wait! There's more going on in my backyard than thieving. There's also a territorial war of sorts. Or maybe it's just a fight over a girl. I can't tell but it sure gets noisy and vicious.

Our backyard has a pond that we installed when we built the house but further back beyond our property line is a small man made lake. I'm guessing that sometime ago a few bullfrogs saw greener pastures--make that nicer waters--and decided to migrate. Maybe they just wanted a little more privacy. Who knows? They found our pond and took up residence this year and the "neighborhood" in our backyard got a lot noisier.

Every morning and evening you can hear them. I think they croak throughout the day but we are usually too busy with our own indoor noise to hear them. We have enjoyed watching them grow and hop from lily pad to lily pad.

A couple of weeks ago I was trying to capture a good picture and was aiming my camera through the kitchen window at them. There were three I could see. Suddenly one of the frogs hopped like the video Frogger game all the way across the pond and proceeded to wrestle with the other frog there. It looked pretty aggressive and I was relatively sure these were two males but I went online to check out that behavior. Yup, they were fighting over territory and I'm guessing for the hand of the lovely green maiden still on the other side watching of the pond.

Who needs TV?

The faceoff

The takedown

The victor!

Monday, July 22, 2013

In My Backyard - Jay Raids Wren Nest

This summer has been a long stretch without any major travel planned but that doesn't mean we've grown bored. To the contrary, we have had a wealth of entertainment and drama in our backyard. It seems the birds have found every nook and cranny around our house to build a nest. The wrens came back and actually built a nest in our Williamsburg crock that is mounted on a corner of the house by our deck. 

While I don't know where the bluejays nest, I know it isn't in the crock. So when I saw this large male jay with his head inside the crock, I wondered what was going on. I read online that they are known to steal eggs from other birds' nests. Cannibalism no less!

Though small in size, the wrens perched on the shade roof over our deck and took turns dive bombing the jay until he finally gave up and left. Talk about a David and Goliath story. . .

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is There A Dress Code For Airplanes?

No. Yes. Well, sort of. There have been several reports of some airlines asking passengers to cover-up and/or change shirts with lewd or provocative sayings printed on them. There was also a report of a woman being asked to adjust her skirt length and tube top to be less revealing. Apparently the fine print on your ticket gives them the right to ask and/or refuse you passage on the plane.

So what should you wear to make your plane trip comfortable and stress free?

Start with clothes that are not tight and restrictive especially if you are flying a long distance. You don't need to don a set of sweat pants and shirt. Just wear something a little less tight around the waist and your legs. You're less likely to invite deep vein thrombosis to end your vacation early or even your life.

Leave the high heels in your bag--your carry on if you need to put them on to greet someone in the airport looking glamorous. Wear your sneakers or other more comfortable shoes. Besides, the high heels weigh less than your sneakers and therefore lighten the load and give more room in the checked luggage. Guys, just wear the comfortable shoes, okay?

Dress in layers. Now this takes a little planning. If you're going from a warm climate to a cooler one, you are going to have to layer on. Traveling south from the cooler north? Just the opposite. (I know those of you in the southern hemisphere are scratching your heads now but you know what I mean.) The plane is always a little warmer or cooler than we like so layers work no matter where you're going. Suggestion: outer layers should go into a backpack or tote so you can carry them through TSA check rather than having to undress and dress again through security.

Accessorize with a backpack that fits under the seat in front of you. That way you have essentials you may want during the flight without having to get up when the seat belt sign is on and have the steward yell at you. If you must carry a purse, go a little smaller than usual and tuck it inside the backpack. A zippered tote works well too. Just don't tuck anything under the seat that you can't close tightly. You may find your valuables have rolled three rows down and to the other side.

For the sake of others and your own comfort don't wear perfume or other heavy scented body lotions/fragrances. Smell can be intensified sometimes in the atmosphere of a plane. Your scent just may make another more prone to airsickness more apt to--well, you know. They don't have those little bags in the backs of the seats for nothing. 'Nuf said.

While my husband loves his over the ear noise canceling Bose headphones, I don't like them pressing against my earrings and don't find them comfortable on a flight where I need to get some sleep and they do a job on my hair that's worse than wearing a ball cap all day. I see Bose has now produced in-ear noise canceling ear buds. Time to look into those. For long flights when you want to watch a movie or listen to your own music, it pays to have your own ear phones/buds.

Just one more suggestion. Put an extra shirt in the outside pocket of your luggage in case you arrive at your destination wearing your complimentary drink on the front of your shirt. Air pockets are sneaky--just sayin'.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

How To Dress Like A Tourist

It's an art to look like a tourist. In our travels I've seen many success stories. Here are some suggestions to help you along that path:
  • Buy new white sneakers (or those wonderful neon ones out this year). Be sure not to wear them until your trip so that they won't get smudged. If you're into sandals rather than sneakers, wear them with white socks, especially if they are flip flops. 
  • Always wear a fanny pack. It makes it much easier for the pickpockets to know where your valuables are and they will amaze you with their skill in unzipping even the most challenging zippers. While we're on accessories, you might also want to carry a tote that sports a large logo of your tour agency, cruise ship, or family reunion emblem. (Family reunion shirts are a must as well.) This also helps identify you for the scammers particularly in Paris.
  • To truly stand out in a crowd in Europe be sure to wear your Caribbean or Hawaiian shirts. The louder and more colorful the better.This is sure to bring a smile to the faces of the locals. Conversely your dark blues, blacks and grays are sure to make a hit in the really warm climates.
  • If you are traveling to Europe to visit all those wonderful old cities with beautiful cathedrals be sure to wear shorts and sleeveless blouses. The officials at the door love turning tourists away for improper attire. Or if you visit Bangkok, the Grand Palace, you want to be wear those shorts and sleeveless blouses so that you can be issued flowered balloon pants and cover-ups passed along from one tourist to another in order to tour the grounds. 
  • Always wear your best gold and diamond jewelry where it can be seen. It lightens the step of the thief behind you. 
  • Wear your security pouch with your passport, money, and other valuable paper work around your neck and in front of you outside your shirt where you can easily reach it.
  • And lest we forget the most valuable tourist emblem, find a fancy strap for that camera and put it around your neck right next to that security pouch. Do not hide it in a tote bag or backpack to use later. Wear it proudly. You are a tourist!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Books For The Road - As Dog Is My Witness

There is only so much talk radio and hits from the sixties that you can listen to on a road trip. Classical and jazz would be nice if they didn't tend to make the driver sleepy. And when there's no baseball game on, we listen to books. Unfortunately the last time we were on the road for a length of time, I didn't have a book downloaded to my iPhone. 

We stopped for lunch at a Bob Evans and I hopped on their WiFi and used the Overdrive app on my phone to download one from our local library. I had to do a lot of searching before I came up with one that I could borrow right away. Since it didn't require reserving it with a hold, I wondered how good it would be. We lucked out. It was great! And that's the long story behind how we came to find As Dog Is My Witness by Jeffrey Cohen.

The audio book is read by Damon Abdallah who apparently reads the two other books in the Aaron Tucker series, For Whom The Minivan Rolls and A Farewell To Legs. The reader made it fun to listen to and we found ourselves engrossed in a hilarious mystery that kept us hooked on the who-dunnit and laughing at the antics and sense of humor of the main character. 

Cohen is the father of a child with Asperger Syndrome and uses his experience to give the Aaron Tucker character a son with the same condition. In this story, Tucker's son is enlisted to help him figure out how he can help another Asperger kid who is accused of murder. Add to the mix a bit of mafia, some Jewish/Christian sensitivities, an undesired visit from in-laws and a couple of dogs with character and you have a delightful read. Although for this one, I would suggest getting the audio and listening to the story. I'm not so sure you would read into it the same inflections that Abdallah has. 

This one's guaranteed to make the drive much more pleasant and send you looking for more to listen to. I'm off to find For Whom The Minivan Rolls and plan a drive so we can listen to it. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Blowhole Phenomenon

Blowholes are a fascinating phenomenon of nature along coastal areas where there is solid rock formation. The action of the waves against the rock over many years can create an underwater cave. In some instances, if there is a weak area above the cave, the force of the wave will push air through the crack or weak area of the rock until finally a hole opens. As the waves push a volume of water through the underwater cave, the air gushes up through that hole and with it a spout of water.

Depending upon tides and strength of the waves and the formation, the geyser-like explosion can be quite amazing. The blowhole at the East End of Cayman is not a huge one but it is fascinating on days when the conditions are good for a display of the power of the ocean.

There are lots of blowholes, many famous, around the world wherever there are rocky coastal areas with the open ocean pounding the shoreline. Several spectacular blowholes are located on some of the Hawaiian islands. There are others in Australia and Samoa as well as Mexico. They can be dangerous as unfortunately some have found. The Nakalele blowhole has been the site of several accidents with tourists getting too close and falling in. A few years ago a California man disappeared into the hole and is presumed dead.

Stand in awe and wonder. Just be sure to stand at a safe distance. Nature demands respect.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Exploring Grand Cayman - The Eastern District

For almost fifteen years now we have been making an annual trip to Grand Cayman to go diving. We always stay out at the East End of Cayman away from the major tourist area of Seven Mile Beach and Georgetown. It takes about fifty minutes to drive there from the airport (keeping to the left side of the road, of course) and is well worth the trip. Along the way are some beautiful views of the ocean and colorful trees and bushes.

I always get a chuckle from the sign we pass that says, "Buy one jerk, get one free." Of course they are referring to the jerk seasoned chicken and pork the Caribbean is famous for. A bit closer to our destination, The Reef Resort, we pass my favorite sign--Elderly Crossing. It sits near the small old folks home but we've never seen anyone crossing the street there.

There is one place we pass called The Pirates Cave which we always jokingly say we're going to stop and see but never have. Our research indicates it is a hokey tourist stop but this year we thought it would be fun to do with our grandson. Unfortunately they were closed for remodeling. Maybe they were redressing the pirate mannequins.

We did do some exploring on our end of the island. We stopped at the little park that has a path to a viewing spot where you can look out at the Wreck of the Ten Sails. It's a spot out on the reef where ten large ships went aground on the rocks and coral in the late 1700s. No lives were lost and legend says that one of the survivors was of royalty and therefore the Cayman people were granted freedom from taxation. There is nothing to support that but it makes a good story.

One of the other points of interest in this area is the blowhole. Actually there are several but there is only one that you can actually walk down to. More about the blowhole in another post.

Restaurants of all sorts, a few small museums, some local shops, all add color and flavor to your stay on the east end of the island. But the best of the east end is the diving and the snorkeling and the time spent enjoying the seaside beaches and pools with a good book to read in the shade.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Sting Ray City

World famous Sting Ray City attracts thousands of visitors each year. It is a popular excursion from the cruise ships that visit Georgetown, Grand Cayman. The unique opportunity to interact with these amazing marine animals started many years ago before Cayman became a banking and tourist center in the Caribbean.

Fishing was the mainstay of the island many years ago and the North Bay, where there was a cut through the outer reef,

was a great place to put into in order to clean the day's catch of fish. It was a much calmer spot for the job. The fishermen would toss the fish waste over the side into the water. A colony of rays formed there where they knew that each day they would get the delicate treats.

Eventually some local divers discovered the unusual amount of rays and once in the water with them, found they could feed them by hand. In 1987, Skin Diver Magazine did an article on what was to become known as Sting Ray City.

A sandbar nearby has been the area where excursion boats can anchor and participants can get in the water and hand feed the rays with pieces of squid. I remember reading or hearing somewhere that at one time an environmental group tried to stop the feeding but the rays, who can live to be 50 years old, have grown so used to being fed that to do so just might cause more damage than keeping up the feeding.

The rays act like cats who rub up against you the minute a can of tuna is opened. As each boat pulls up, you can see them scurrying from one to another for a new source of squid. As you stand in waist deep water on the sandbar, you can form a fist around a piece of squid, lower it into the water and let a ray pass over your fish as it sucks out the squid from your hand, It all happens quite quickly but in the process you have an up close and intimate encounter with the creature.

As you stand in the water, the rays will continue to swoosh past you and rub against your legs as if they are begging for more. Or if you find yourself sitting down in the water, like our grandson did, you may just end up with one in your lap.

All in all, it is a great adventure.

Friday, July 05, 2013

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