"" Writer's Wanderings: 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Free Gift For That New E-Reader!

Did you get a new Kindle, Nook or tablet for Christmas? Here is a post-Christmas gift for readers of my blog. If you go to Smashwords.com, and login, you can use the code below for a free download of Murder Among The Orchids. Smashwords will ask you to register but they will not bother you with emails. There are formats available for every device.

But wait! There's more! (I always wanted to say that.). If you read Murder Among The Orchids and leave a review at Smashwords, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, just let me know in a comment below and I'll send you a code for a free copy of the second in the series, Death Among The Deckchairs. You can leave your email in the comment. I screen my comments before they are allowed to appear so I will not publish your address. I will need to know which place you left a review and your on screen ID used for the review if it's different from your real name or the name appearing in the comment. Then I will send you a code for the free copy of DATD.

Enjoy your new device! I love my e-Reader. It certainly saves room in the suitcase and I can always find a book to download if there's WiFi--and nowadays, that's almost everywhere in the world!

Coupon Code: BX36W

Friday, December 26, 2014

And All Through The House

The day before Christmas Eve. A little shopping.

Lunch at Sushi Smart, a sushi restaurant that sends your order to your table by automated "train" after you make your choices on an electronic tablet at your table.

A wander through a large nature preserve in the middle of the city and then back to the area where my son lives for dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, Bel Air, named after the California city. The owner has been gleaning ideas for his menu from my son's descriptions of favorite dishes. The Skyline chili is not exactly what we know but it was good.

Christmas Eve day was beautiful and sunny. We made our way to another movie theater and once our tickets were purchased, sent Mommy out for some free time and we sat with the kids to watch Baymax which is titled Big Hero 6 in the States. The movie was in English with Japanese subtitles but there were also times for the movie where it was all in Japanese.

Around the corner we found a McDonald's and like all kids, they were excited to make it our stop for lunch. Bob and I found a last minute Christmas gift and thankfully the Starbucks' clerk spoke English as we left the kids with their mom to finish lunch.

Next it was on to the Microsoft building where my son is employed for a tour of his work place. It was very modern and very different in atmosphere from the Seattle offices he used to work in. Everyone greeted us warmly and it was nice getting to see some of the people he works with. A mom always likes to picture where her children are especially when they are so far away. Now I will have in my mind what his work and home are like.

Back home, we decided to take a stroll to the park where the kids play on a playground, The sun was setting and we suddenly realized in looking down another side street, we could make out Mt. Fuji silhouetted against the colorful sky. Sun sets around 4:30 in Tokyo in late December but it rises a little earlier at 6:45 AM.

Dinner at a local yakitori place (chicken parts grilled on a stick) and then home to get prepared for Santa. When all were in pajamas, we read the Christmas story from Luke. The nearest English-speaking church did not have services on Christmas Eve but rather on Christmas Sunday. We sang a carol and then read The Night Before Christmas.

Children all snuggled in beds, it was time for Christmas magic and a little cookie eating with some milk and tea.

Christmas morning was like any Christmas morning back home filled with children's giggles and laughter and exclamations of surprise and excitement--at 4:30 AM! It was fun watching them shake packages as they waited for the other adults to appear.

Christmas dinner was a little different than back home. Our daughter-in-law ordered ahead for our bucket of chicken from KFC, a tradition no matter how you celebrate Christmas day in Japan and the guys picked it up after a short train trip to the nearest KFC. We were happy to indulge in a little back home flavor followed later by the most delicious strawberry cream cake you could imagine. It was so light it just melted in your mouth.

All in all, Christmas is what you make of it no matter where in the world you spend it. Traditions may change a bit but the meaning of the season, the reason for the season, never does.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, 
Prince of Peace. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Our Christmas Week in Japan

While our first full day in Tokyo was rainy and cold, the next morning brought sunshine and an early riser. Our oldest granddaughter wanted some one-on-one time with Grandma and was willing to sacrifice sleeping in to get ahead of her younger siblings. We finished breakfast quickly and walked to a trail next to a small river. The walk was beautiful as we followed the babbling water and enjoyed the fresh air and the sunshine that illuminated the Japanese maples arrayed in autumn colors.

I received a lesson in hand washing, a ritual that is done before entering a shrine or temple so that you don't carry anything bad into it. The trough of water had a scoop that you use to pour the water on your hands. I remembered the ritual from our son's Shinto wedding service. (He and his wife were married in a church in the states and then we went to Japan for a traditional service with her family.) High on a hill above the river was a temple but along the way there were several smaller shrines.

When we returned, she took her grandfather along the walk and then to a 7-11 store (they still have those in Japan) and found an ATM so that he could get some yen. A hundred yen roughly equates to a US dollar. The kids are learning a new money system as well as new cultural experiences.

Our outing for the day included a stop at a Chinese dumpling place whose dumplings were filled with broth as well as pork or crab meat. They were delicious. After walking around a bit there to see the stores we happened onto the Sweet Forest. It was tucked into a corner but once you entered, it was like going into a food court at a mall back home only this food court only featured different types of desserts. Bob and I settled on a chocolate banana crepe while others had a strawberry crepe or a gelatin dessert or a waffle with ice cream. Definitely a favorite place.

Another train ride to another prefecture (section of Tokyo) and we found ourselves at the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world at Shibuya station at the Hachiko exit. The exit is named for the Akita Inu who would walk with his master to the station each day and then wait for him to return from work. One day his master had a heart attack and died and the dog, Hachi, kept watch at the station for nine years until he finally died. There is a statue on the square in front of the station dedicated to Hachi.

True to its designation, the intersection was packed with people as the walk signal changed and people crossed in all directions. We walked a bit and saw quite a collection of people some dressed in costume probably for the Christmas season. We were a bit tired. Lots of walking and trying to stay together in all the crowds. We decided to head for home and watch a Christmas movie.

After we kept falling asleep during the Muppet Christmas Story, we decided on an early-to-bed time especially because the next day our littlest needed to go to school for one more day. She is in a Japanese school while the older kids are in an international school. The international school follows a schedule much like ours back home but they have a month off instead of two weeks.

The next morning we walked our little one to school--about a kilometer. Usually daddy takes her to school on his bike. Then it was off to the dentist for the two older ones and a movie for later. Some things are still routine even at Christmas time.

After the movie and a taste of soy-buttered popcorn, we met up again with everyone in the Grand Hyatt in the Rappongi district which was next to the theater, We enjoyed the Christmas decorations and explored the area stopping to indulge in a little Coldstone ice cream. Then walked what seemed like a couple of kilometers to see the older kids' school.

The last time we were in Japan the family got to make a visit to the Pachinko parlor in Sapporo. It's the Japanese version of a casino. Since I didn't get to go that time, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My son and husband indulged me while my daughter-in-law took the kids shopping. It didn't take long to decide it wasn't my cup of tea. From the outside you would never guess how noisy it was. We had to shout in each other's ear. Pachinko machines have little metal balls that fall down vertically through a series of pins and if they go into the right holes, then you earn more balls. The balls that are expelled at the bottom of the machine will earn you merchandise which can then be taken around the corner and sold thereby earning you money for your efforts. It didn't take long to waste $8.

The evening ended with "hamburgers" at a place called The Butcher. The meat was excellent but came on a plate with mashed potatoes and your choice of sauce. I had a lemon-soy sauce that was very good. Not your usual hamburger joint but truly a good meal.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Christmas Week in Japan

There is no sweeter sound than arriving at an airport and hearing your grandchildren yell, "Grandma! Grandpa!" After a twelve hour flight spent with a Christmas movie marathon--we watched five Christmas movies on Bob's iPad, it was revitalizing to hear their voices. Narita airport is about an hour's train ride from their home in Tokyo so we spent some time catching up and then entertaining ourselves with electronics.

This was our first trip to Tokyo since we were here on our way to our son's wedding in Sapporo. It was the opportunity to look at the city in a different light. While we are still tourists of sorts, we now got to see Tokyo from a perspective of living there.  Our children's house is much smaller than what it was in Seattle and that has been a big adjustment for all of them.

My daughter-in-law has had to learn to cook in a kitchen that, while very nice, is about a third of the size she was used to. Since having a car is not a good option in the city, our son has learned to be a train commuter. Our youngest granddaughter had to adjust a toilet that made a slight noise as the seat heated up. She's adjusted fine now that the weather is colder and the warm seat feels good.

They are a great family that seems to do well with new things so after six months of living in the city, they had quite a long list of things they wanted to show Grandma and Grandpa starting with their favorite restaurants. Our first night was soba in a small restaurant near them. The wheat noodles were in different flavored broths and since I wasn't really hungry, I got to sample what everyone else got.

Our next day it rained constantly and we changed some plans and headed for a mall where there were Christmas decorations and a Santa. The Japanese love to dress the kids in outfits for pictures and the Santa line had several fur trimmed red capes and things to put on the kids for pictures with Santa. Santa was a little skinnier than ours back home.

Lunch was tappanyaki (grill) style. Think hibachi but smaller and you do your own cooking. Our young chefs wanted to show off their skills and we were treated to okonomiyaki and monjayaki. They are dishes that are cooked on the grill and have cabbage, seafood, flour and tempura flakes. I'm sure there's more ingredients but as it cooks and gets stirred, it thickens and gets crusty if you let it cook long enough. It tasted so good it was hard to wait for it to form the crust. There were several other side dishes we cooked including a big pancake type dish that our grandson showed us how to flip--a bit precariously.

Our last stop for the day was the Fujiko-F-Fujio museum in Kawasaki City, a part of Tokyo. Fujiko-F-Fujio is the original author of the Doraemon manga series. The cartoon character is a gadget cat from the future and has all sorts of things in his pocket to help his friends get out of trouble. The original drawings are featured in the museum along with lots of things for kids to do. There is an audio guide that is available in several languages and made it easy to follow along with the life and career of this amazing artist and author. As our son was telling us that Doraemon will also be in the US thanks to Disney, we were exiting the museum right into a souvenir shop--just like at Disney.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What If Christmas Meant A Little Bit More

For some reason the commercialism of Christmas has gotten to me this year. Was it because it started at Halloween? Or was it the debate over when Black Friday should start--Thanksgiving Day, the week of, or maybe just Friday? Of course then Black Friday was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. News programs fretted over the economy. Would the retail stores see a significant growth in sales? What if they didn't? Did it signal an economic crisis?

Then of course as the Thanksgiving turkey was tucked into leftover containers TV, newspapers, magazines and every online source of information began informing the public of the best way to shop, to entertain, to decorate, and on and on. It was tiring to think of all that I wasn't doing or doing right.

And then, tuned into Sirius XM radio to one of the holiday music channels, I heard this quote from Dr. Zeus' The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It was after the Grinch had done his dirty work and discovered the Whos were celebrating any way.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

This week heralds the celebration of the birth of Christ. He is the major part of Christmas unless you replace him with X. Unfortunately I think too many have replaced him with packages, boxes, and bags. Hmmm. What if Christmas , perhaps, means a little bit more?

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2:11

Friday, December 19, 2014

World Cruise - Sending The Luggage On Ahead

Along with the quandary of what to pack for a 108 day trip around the world comes the question of how will we get it all there? When we put all of it in suitcases to see how much we would have, we had two garment bags and two large suitcases plus a couple of smaller ones we planned to take with us since we will spend a little time in Florida with our kids before boarding the ship.

I can see now why traveling trunks were so popular in the past. Those days clothes were heavier and much larger but since I don't have any Scarlett O'Hara type gowns, we didn't bother to look into shipping large trunks down to Miami. Bob did spend a lot of time looking for the most economical way to get our clothes and toiletries there.

Crystal Cruises has included a rebate in our booking that allows for $500 each to ship our luggage on ahead. A service called Luggage Concierge works with them and that was the first one that Bob looked into. While the service is convenient because of the representative present at the cruise port, the quote received quite exceeded the allowance from Crystal.

Undaunted, my husband sought out other possibilities. This is where our connection to Cruise Critic is so helpful. Through others' experiences and recommendations he found two other luggage services that were less expensive, Luggage Free and Luggage Forward.

With our information on number of pieces of luggage, weight and contents, he made his calls and decided upon Luggage Free. Their quote is within the $500 allowance and therefore our budget. We will need to go through and remove aerosols like hair spray and shaving cream. For some reason, even though it is shipped by ground, they ask that aerosols not be in the luggage. They will pick up our luggage about two weeks before we sail and have it there waiting for us at the ship when we arrive.

If it doesn't go well, I get quite a shopping spree the day before we sail.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas, Banned In Boston?

Christmas? Banned? Say it isn't so.

Well, it isn't so today but it once was. The Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in the Boston area didn't consider Christmas a true religious day. To begin with, December 25 had been chosen as the date of Christ's birth several centuries after his death and resurrection. The celebration had traditionally included drinking, feasting, and playing games. All of that, of course, was frowned upon by the Puritans.

One of the traditions of Christmas back in the 1600s also included wassailing which on occasion turned violent. The custom often involved those of poorer neighborhoods going into wealthier areas and demanding food and drink in return for the group drinking to the host's health and good luck. If the host refused, it could get ugly, especially if the group had filled their cups often at previous homes. Wassail was a hot ale based drink with spices, roasted crab apples, sugar and cream.

As more and more British who were not Puritans settled in Boston, the problem of Christmas celebration led to the governing Puritan leaders establishing a law against celebrating Christmas. In 1659, the ban became law and a celebrant could be fined five shillings if caught. The ban only lasted 22 years until a British appointed governor repealed it.

Still many did not celebrate the holiday. As Reverend Increase Mather said in 1687 "The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those holidays (as they are called) after an holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth ..."

Today Boston celebrates much the same way the rest of the nation does with a tree lighting, concerts, shows, shopping, decorations and church services.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Celebrating Christmas in Japan

Having a Japanese daughter-in-law has given us the wonderful privilege of glimpsing another culture. It has been fascinating. This year we will get to travel to Japan to spend some time with our son and his family who are living there for a few years. I've learned that you cannot generalize about the traditions of the Japanese culture. What may happen in one corner of the country does not necessarily happen all over the country. With that in mind, it will be an interesting trip seeing what Tokyo is like at Christmas time.

One of the things that we are told to expect is the traditional KFC chicken dinner. It seems that KFC has really taken off as the go-to for Christmas dinner. So much so that KFC  even has special packaging and advertising with the advice to order early. Our son's wife tells us that the lines for deep fried chicken extend around the block a lot like our Honey Baked Ham lines in the States at the holidays.

While only one percent of the population of Japan is said to be Christian, the holiday has still become a fun time as Western ways have influenced Japanese culture. According to one article I read, Christmas is mostly a commercial event. It is not recognized as a national holiday and schools and businesses will still be open. Our grandkids will be on a break from school however, because they go to an international school that follows the school calendar as we do in the States.

Another article writes that Christmas cake is traditional. It is sponge cake, strawberries, and whipped cream. There are trees, Santas (Colonel Sanders statures will be sporting Santa suits I read) and seasonal illuminations. My son said to be prepared for a lot of Merry Xmas signs.

Our Christmas stopped being truly traditional many years ago as the kids grew and left home to establish their own traditions. I won't miss a white Christmas although if it gets cold enough it could snow in Tokyo. And I think KFC chicken will be a unique alternative to the pork roast we used to have. Sharing Christmas with family is the only tradition I still love to keep and that will happen albeit spread out between now and the middle of January in order to see all of them.

So lookout Tokyo! I'm ready for a new Christmas adventure.

Monday, December 15, 2014

All That Glitters Here Is Gold!

Lists of interesting places are always--well, interesting. A while ago one caught my attention, 10 Incredible Indoor Pools. Now I rarely pick a place to visit because of their pool but if we are ever in the remote western peaks of China, I may be tempted to stay at the St. Regis Lhasa Resort

All of the pools on the list were remarkable and pictured quite beautifully but the one at the St. Regis was quite unusual as well. I've been in pools that have looked like exotic lagoons, large pools with the infinity edge that makes it appear to be a part of the ocean and go on for ever (careful you don't swim over the edge), pools where you can swim from the warm inside to the arctic outside while still staying warm but I've never been in a pool made of gold.

The St. Regis pool is made of real gold plated tiles and is said to be the only one in the world that is. It is salt water, heated, and is called the "Golden Energy Pool." If you like bling, this is the place to swim.

The resort features butlers, plasma TVS, high speed internet, Bose sound systems and marble bathrooms. A bit pricey, the room rates start at $300. So if you happen to be visiting Tibet or want to explore the Himalayas, you might want to stop in, stay the night, and take a dip in a pool lined with gold. Last one in. . . 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Park And Fly Or Take A Cab?

It's a math problem never seen on one of those tests that asks about the trains leaving in opposite directions, etc., etc. How many days will my parking at the airport cost vs. how much will the cab fare be round trip? For a while, a trip of more than 10 days made it more economical to take a cab than to park but then cab fares went up and now, provided we have a coupon, that extends to about 14-16 days being cheaper than a cab.

Alas, we have heard that several of the out lots have been purchased by our airport (CLE) so we are guessing that prices will go up even more to park since there is almost a monopoly. So we are back to more mathematical calculations to try to save some travel dollars. There are a few creative ideas.

Some hotels near an airport will offer free parking if you stay with them the night before you fly. Ten, fourteen, even thirty days may be in the stay and park package. We've done that twice in the past--once when we drove to Detroit to fly somewhere because the airfare was cheaper

Of course all of this leads to more calculations. All airport parking lots are not created equal. I was surprised to hear that Charlotte's only charges $5/day. Most in our area are around $7 to $8 a day. Then there are some I've heard are as much as $15/day.

A cab looks pretty economical in many instances. Ask around to find the most reliable. You don't want them showing up late or not at all. Of course if you have a friend who doesn't mind some of the crazy flight times, you might just get a ride back and forth for the price of a nice souvenir.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Fairy Tale Castle

As I've been shopping for the Christmas season, I've noticed all the Disney princess items available in the stores. Everyone loves the fairy tale castles and the make believe lives of their inhabitants. There is a castle said to be the inspiration for the trademark Cinderella castle at Disney World that has quite a tale surrounding it. I'm not so sure it can be labeled as a happily-ever-after story.

Neuschwanstein Castle was a dream of King Ludwig II who hoped to build an even more beautiful castle than the one he grew up in, Hohenschwangau, just below where Neuschwanstein would be built. The area is absolutely beautiful and the legend of a swan knight, Lohengrin, immortalized in a Wagner opera, gives it a romantic flavor.

Unfortunately Ludwig began to live in a fantasy world. His monarchy was more in name only. The castle plans were changed often according to his whim and eventually with his unusual behavior, he was declared insane. He died under unusual circumstances shortly after moving into the castle.

I remember some of the legends and myths and tales that surround the area and the castle were quite interesting and entertaining. It's a great tour if you are traveling and can stop there

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Food! Glorious Food!

I wonder what Oliver Twist would have thought of our modern day buffets? I used to be a fan of buffets when I was younger. We had a favorite buffet not too far from us that had a build-your-own strawberry shortcake table. It was heaven. Sadly they went out of business.

On a few business trips to Las Vegas, we discovered the cheap buffet. Years ago, in an effort to get people into the casinos and keep them there, establishments advertised really cheap prices on their all-you-can-eat buffets. I seem to recall some of them were around $5 or less. It was quicker to eat at a buffet so players got back to the gaming tables quicker. Since then, Vegas has discovered that people are a bit more picky about their dining and there are fewer buffets and more expensive places with much better specialty foods. A few buffets still exist and have made the list of Smarter Travel's list of Belly Busting Buffets.

Three of the ten listed are in Las Vegas. I'm sure the prices are more than $5 now. That's the problem I have with today'sbuffets. There are very few that are reasonable for my appetite. I just don't eat that much to justify the cost.

Several more buffets are listed from other countries like France, Sweden, China, and Dubai but the majority are in the U.S. Maybe the fast food industry isn't to blame for our larger sizes. Maybe it has more to do with our appetite for buffets.

Monday, December 08, 2014

World Cruise - Piranha Fishing ?

Piranha fishing? Are you kidding me? Turns out he wasn't. Bob knows I love to fish but really, for piranha? He went ahead and booked our excursion from Santarem, Brazil, as we travel the Amazon on one leg of our World Cruise.

I've seen piranha in aquariums enough times to know they are nasty looking critters. So I went on my own "excursion" to see what I could find out from others who have gone before. I found one comment on a Cruise Critic forum and then another report from a blogger who added pictures and gave a good description of the excursion.

Apparently along the way you see villages and flora and fauna of the area as well as an interesting phenomenon where two rivers flow together, one brown (the Amazon) and one either blue or green (the Tapajos). Then you reach Maica Lake where you do the fishing.

Both descriptions of the fishing said that the hook was already baited (raw meat) which will make my husband happy. He's a fisherman as long as someone baits the hook and takes the fish off. I'm with him on taking the fish off this time. I don't think I want to handle a fish with teeth like that.

So, if you want to hear how our fishing trip goes, stay tuned right here. It should take place sometime around April 26. I don't think this is a catch, freeze, and send home deal though. No matter. I'm packing extra bandaids though.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

There's A Thorn In My Side

It's Christmas time and I cannot help but remember my mother at this time of year. She was Mrs. Christmas, Mother Christmas, Grandma Christmas. Whatever name you want to apply. She thrived on colored lights, lit candles, wrapping paper and bows, cards, pine trees and trimming, hand knit Christmas stockings, and the list goes on.

Mom passed away thirty years ago but that first Christmas after her funeral in September still pierces my heart. About a month before Christmas, I received a call from a friend of hers who said she didn't know what to do with some gifts my mother had ordered from her. Mom had bought seven light weight jackets, one for each of our kids and Bob and I, and asked her to embroider our names and the name of our sailboat on the jackets. They were all finished and paid for if I wanted to pick them up. I did. And I wrapped them and experienced the most bitter sweet moment of my life when we unwrapped gifts that year.

While time has passed--lots of time, there is still that little pinch each year at this time. I know there are many others who go through the same emotion each year because of losses in their lives. I spoke with a man recently who lost his wife several years ago and couldn't understand why it still hurt so much. For some reason the verse in 2 Corinthians 12 came to mind where Paul talks about having a thorn in his flesh.

Sorrow and grief is kind of like that. It pokes us at times and often when we don't expect it even if it's been many years since our loss. Like a thorn that's been embedded in the flesh, it hurts a lot at first, then lessens but every so often, it pinches us again but as God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you."

The memories God has graced me with of my mother make that pinch of grief bearable. So I will think of Mother Christmas and all her quirky ways of showing her love through our holiday season and thank God for her. We've all outgrown our jackets but we'll never outgrow the memories.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Movie Travel

Recently I read an article on movies that have inspired special travel tours. On our trip to New Zealand in 2013, we were offered lots of opportunities to see places where parts of Lord Of The Rings was filmed and the more recent Hobbit movie. We weren't fans of either movie but it was interesting to know that we'd been to some of those spots. Many more travelers are a lot more interested, enough so that there are tour books for sale that point out all the particular places that you would want to visit from the movie and of course, there's the movie location as well.

The article went on to say that Frozen has inspired travel to Norway. I'm not so sure about that. There's a lot of difference between animation and the real Norway but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

There have been movies that we've seen shot in locations that we have visited. We get sore elbows from bumping each other in the movie theater when we see places we've been. Case in point, Under The Tuscan Sun. Tuscany was as beautiful as portrayed on the movie screen.

Many of the action spy films we love--Mission Impossible, Bond Films, etc., are filmed in exotic places and we love that we've seen some of those.

Of course the quintessential movie tour would be the one in Salzburg, The Sound Of Music. We have taken that tour and enjoyed the stories told about the filming. Most interesting was the story that the nuns would not let filming in the convent because the film crew and actors smoked--or so the tale goes from our particular guide.

What about you? What movies have inspired your travel or put a location on your bucket list?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

How To Stay Well When You Travel

There is nothing worse than planning a wonderful trip and then feeling ill when you travel. While I don't have all the answers, I do have some common sense ideas that can help you stay healthy starting with the tried and true answer to most everything: WASH YOUR HANDS! Often!

I carry Purell with me always. Even when we are not traveling. It's no fun being sick at home either. We try to remember to use the hand sanitizer when we've had to shake a lot of hands, use a banister or hand rail in the mall, or just open doors in a public place. We're not fanatics and mostly use it before we eat. Again, keeping those hands clean is more than half the battle against what's lurking out there.

Remember to get your immunizations. The flu shot especially but there are also lots of other immunizations for pneumonia, shingles, etc. that would be good to have. Visit a health clinic if you are planning a trip to a country that you're not sure will have some other problems that could affect your health like malaria.

Don't drink the local water. We follow this rule even when we travel within the USA. Water is different in every area of the country/world and certainly not always processed well. The best advice we got when we went to China was to be sure we ate only cooked food because raw vegetables might have been washed in local water that has poor quality. We were also cautioned to be sure our bottled water was sealed and if kept cold in ice, it was suggested we wipe the bottle off before drinking from it. Remember if you get ice in a drink, it is probably made from local water.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The best thing you can do for yourself is to drink plenty of water starting from the time you get on the plane to when you return home. Dehydration in any type of climate is possible and you will feel much more energy and wellness if you remember to drink plenty of water.

Stick to a routine as much as possible. Certainly time zone changes are a challenge but once you adjust a bit, keep to a morning wakeup and regular bedtime. Get those eight hours of zzzzz. Also if you are not being too active as you travel (bus tours require a lot of sitting) take advantage of the fitness center in the hotel or find a good safe place to take a brisk walk each day.

Several travel sites suggest taking Clorox wipes to clean your seat area in the plane. I'm not that germ conscious but I do take my own sweater or soft cotton hoodie to wrap up in should I want to sleep or the plane is chilly. Actually I take one to wrap in and one to roll as a pillow. I never could get used to those blow up pillow or horseshoe pillows people use.

Another tip I found is wearing your glasses instead of contacts when you fly. You are less likely to touch your eyes with your hands. I guess I never thought of that but I usually take my contacts out after the TSA check in and wear my glasses if we're taking a flight I'm going to sleep on--less chance of my eyes getting too dry.

Did I mention wash your hands--often? That is still the number one way of fending off those nasty things that could ruin a beautiful trip with illness.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Oh Those Towel Critters!

Love 'em or hate 'em towel animals have been around for a long time aboard the cruise ships of almost every line you travel. I don't mind them. I can take them or leave them but some people are really entranced by them. So much so that there are now towel animal demonstrations on many sea day schedules.

If you are not able to cruise and learn the art though, there is a solution--how-to books. Three of them pop up in an Amazon search: Carnival Towel Creations (published by Carnival Cruises of course), Towel Folding 101, and How To Make A Towel Monkey And Other Cruise Ship Favorites.

Imagine the look on the face of your family and/or friends when you host them overnight for the holidays and on their bed they find a clever towel animal. Just be careful though. They may begin to expect the other amenities that come with cruising like room service.

While we've enjoyed hanging monkeys, lobsters and bunnies with sunglasses (ours) on the bed, the most unusual towel creation however was a full body on the bed. Yup. Towel arms and legs, my sandals for the feet, a shawl wrap, and a straw hat sitting just above eyeglasses. I almost screamed when I opened the door to our room but luckily realized it was all towels and not a stranger in our bed.

There is always an interesting discussion on the Cruise Critic and there is an article on their blog that talks about towel creatures and the author's attempt to create them.

For me, I'll just continue to be amused by the efforts of others.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Once Upon A Night At The Palace

There are always temptations coming into my mailbox be it email or snail mail. I don't always get a chance to look at them right away so I file them away for those nights when when there's nothing on TV or the days when the weather is nasty and I dream of getting away again. Here's a little something from one of those emails from TripAdvisor. Did you know there are lots of palace hotels in the world where you can spend the night?

Perusing the menu presented by the email from TripAdvisor, I found I could stay in a variety of places in India, Turkey, Austria, Russia, Venice, and several more including Malta which is tempting since we've never been there.

I clicked on them to get some pricing--just for fun. Right? My eyeballs bulged at a couple. The offerings shown in the TripAdvisor post ranged from $218/night to over $1000/night for two nights in June. I might spend around $200 to get treated like a queen for a night but $1000? Naw. That could get me a cruise where I'd get treated pretty much like a queen for a week at least.

Palaces are nice places to visit but I guess at those prices, I'll pass at staying there--at least for now.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Will Anyone Read This Post on Black Friday?

I don't often express my opinions strongly on this blog but this time I will. I hate Black Friday. I hate the name. I know, I know. It has to do with retailers being "in the black" instead of "in the red" but it just seems like an ominous name for the day after a nice holiday. I hate the commercialism it represents for the Christmas season. I hate the frenzy it creates.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A nice day for most people. Time for family. A feast of bountiful food for many. Ah but Black Friday has crept into our day to give thanks. Gobble down the turkey kids! It's time to shop!

Would it really make a difference to retailers if they spread out their sales or adjusted their prices so that there wouldn't have to be just one day or one week for the absolute rock bottom sales? Come to find out, the sales aren't as good as they're advertised to be anyway.

Well I could go on about the commercialism of Christmas, tell stories of gift giving that doesn't have to come from a store, and don't get me started on all those trees that were lit up while the kids were out trick or treating. No, I'm ranting on and there is probably no one reading this. Everyone's gone shopping. Mine's done. If I want a good sale, I'll wait until after Christmas. Those sales don't hold the dire name of Black Friday.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Around the World

While in America today we celebrate our Thanksgiving Holiday, there are other places in the world with similar celebrations. The only other country I know of that celebrates a day called Thanksgiving is Canada which has chosen the second Monday of October for their holiday.

Other countries celebrate harvest festivals similar to Thanksgiving rejoicing over a bountiful harvest. Some are not celebrated in the fall and some are celebrated for a specific crop.

It is a reminder again that while there are so many differences in the peoples of the world, there is still a lot that we hold in common. I'm thankful for the differences that make our world so interesting and I'm grateful for those similarities that bind us together.

I know it's not thought of as a Thanksgiving quote but, "God bless us, everyone!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

World Cruise - What Happened To February 17?

We sat down the other day and went over our cruise itinerary again to decide on the smaller excursions we may want to take along the way. To help me visualize our trip, I took my wall calendar and began penciling in the ports and cruise days (days at sea). Everything was going along well until I got to February 17. There was no February 17 on our cruise itinerary!

Instead of February 17 there was a note that we cross the Dateline. Now we've done that lots of times before but never on a ship. It's a first!!

Every time we have crossed the Dateline it has been on an airplane and doesn't seem quite as jarring. Maybe it's because of the jet lag. Their will be no jet lag on this trip. That was one of the inviting details of this trip. We gain an hour through each time zone from Miami through the Canal and across the Pacific until we hit the dateline. Then we lose a day, February 17, but as we continue around the globe, we will gain those 24 hours back one hour at a time.

So I guess, in the end, we still have February 17. It's just that it is chopped up into twenty-four hour pieces and dispersed through the remaining seventy-five days of our trip. I'm  just glad my birthday isn't on the 17th of February!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oh Those Flying Marathons!

Several years ago we made a trip to Australia and in order to save money on our airfare we ended up making the trip in three increments--a total of twenty-eight hours when you added flight times to layovers. The flight between Australia and California (probably LA) was at least thirteen hours and then there were two more flights to get home. I remember the last layover where we were at about a twenty-four hour mark and needed to stay awake  to be sure we'd make our flight home. Without taking a little time to refresh, I don't think we'd have survived it all. Here are some tips for those marathons.

Pack a carry on with a refresher kit. This is a little harder with all the TSA requirements now but not impossible. In your 311 bag, pack a sample size toothpaste and brush, a washcloth you don't mind throwing out (or pack an extra Ziploc to carry it when it's wet), a small bottle of your favorite spirited body wash (something with eucalyptus or a strong clean smell helps) and a small deodorant. Sometimes the airline provides a little kit but usually if you are flying economy, it won't happen. With your refresher kit, you can pop into an airport restroom and wash your face and brush your teeth and feel at least 80% better.

It helps to pack an extra shirt or top to change into as well especially if you've slept on a really long flight.

Some airports have lounges with showers available. You might want to check ahead for that possibility especially if you expect to land and have to immediately go to a business meeting or do some sightseeing before checking into your hotel. Very few hotel rooms are ready when you need them. Airport lounges often offer a day pass so that you can avail yourself of the showers.

Got a long layover? See if there is an airport hotel close by (often they are even attached to the airport). Sometimes they will offer a day rate for you to use a room for a few hours to nap and/or freshen up. If that's not available, they may let you shower in their spa area for a small fee.

If you arrive at your destination and try to check in early at your hotel, you will most likely find the room not ready. Again, there is the possibility that they will let you freshen up in their pool or spa area and most certainly will offer to keep your luggage for you until you can check into your room.

A flying marathon takes as much preparation as any other marathon but with a little planning you can survive and the payoff is usually a wonderful destination.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Who Do You Trust?

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing the morning message with my church family. Of course with all our traveling, it took on a travel theme of sorts. I showed a few pictures of our trip to Bryce Canyon National Park where I was introduced to Hoodoos. Hoodoos are the stone structures in the canyon that stand stoically while God works his wonder of creation shaping and forming them into amazing structures through the medium of erosion.

Now Hoodoos don't commit consciously to trusting God to form them into new creatures but we do have that opportunity to commit to trusting God to create a new life in us. What keeps us from trusting Him is the question.

When we travel, we often take a plane. Do we know who is flying it? Not usually. Yet we trust that the person at the controls will get us safely to our destination.

Arriving at our destination, we usually need the services of a taxi. Do we know who is driving the taxi? We can see him/her but we really don't know much about that person and in some of the countries we have visited it has been difficult to even communicate with them. Yet again, we trust them to get us safely to our destination.

In both of those cases a lot of prayer often helps--at least to calm the fears we might have but there is one area of trust most people don't even give a second thought to unless of course you are driving on a different side of the road than you normally do. Every time you drive, you trust that the dividing line down the middle of the road will keep the oncoming traffic on the correct side of it. The line in most cases isn't much wider than 6-8 inches or up to 16" or so if there's a double line. Do you trust the double line more?

All of this is to say, we have little trouble trusting the pilot, the taxi driver, or the dividing line in the roadway but when it comes to trusting the living God who walks with us, who loves us, who wants to help us through life's challenges we. . .

What do we do?

Who do you trust?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Futile Fridays

It's not just wandering the world that makes me a writer wandering. I also do a lot of ruminating. Writers need that. It develops plot lines, characters, and quandaries for characters. It also leads to thinking more deeply about life and the journey--or not. Take the case of Friday.

Friday used to be a great day. It was something to look forward to each week. It signaled the end to a lot of chaos created by kids, school, work, schedules, etc. On Friday everything seemed to ease off and even though there might be some things planned for a weekend, it still meant some time of rest or at least a break from routine was coming.

The kids grew up, left home, and routines changed--a bit. There was still a hubby to get off to work and Friday was still a time to look forward to. The weekend meant a couple of mornings to sleep in and time to spend together. And then came retirement.

Don't get me wrong. I love that we are retired. I love that we have all of our days together now--well, mostly I love that. Sometimes I do miss a little "me time" and pushing my own grocery cart around the store. But retirement has made Friday just a day like any other. Actually, it is less attractive because many of those working people are out and about and making popular places a lot more crowded.

Gone are the days of the Friday movie date. Instead we enjoy Senior Mondays at the movies. We sleep in whenever we want to although we do keep to a routine somewhat. Like Bob's favorite saying," When you're retired you can't tell when you are on vacation," it's hard to differentiate between a weekday or a weekend.

So you see Friday is kind of futile except for football season when it signals a football Saturday and usually a football Sunday. Go Bucks! Go Browns! Maybe Friday's not so futile after all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Books For The Road - Annie's Stories by Cindy Thomson

The early 1900s saw an influx of immigrants through Ellis Island and many settled in New York City. Sometime around that era, my own grandparents came through Ellis Island but they settled farther west in Ohio and they weren't from Ireland like the women found in Cindy Thomson's Ellis Island series. Annie's Stories is the second in the series and is quite a tale of a young woman's struggle to overcome her past in Ireland and make a new life in America.

Thomson paints her story with well-researched historical aspects that add flavor to the story line which centers on Annie who was rescued from a girl's reformatory in Ireland where she was unfairly confined and mistreated when her father died. and Stephen, a postman, who has also lost his family and struggles with his father's suicide. Annie's father was an Irish storyteller who had left to his daughter some written stories which she will learn were part of a secret side to her father. There is a bit of a mystery as well as romance and all beautifully set in NYC at the turn of the century.

While Grace's Pictures is the first in the series, there is no problem in reading Annie's Stories as a separate book. I've read most of Thomson's books and this is definitely the best, although I did enjoy her baseball book, Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. 

Annie's Stories is a smooth read. A great book for the road.
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