"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Salt Lake City, Utah

Besides visiting the Great Salt Lake, we also wanted to spend a little time at Temple Square to see the Mormon Tabernacle and the Temple. Our unexpected pleasure came in discovering that while we had checked in north of the city some friends from home had checked in just south. Gotta love Facebook. It brought us together.

Bob and I started out early and arrived at Temple Square about 9 a.m. That's when things begin to open and it worked out perfectly. We started out in the South Visitors Center which houses a historic display of Brigham Young's arrival in Utah and his pioneering efforts to get it to become a territory.

What we found most fascinating however was the scale model of the Temple, the only building we were not allowed into. Only members may enter its doors. The model had a cut-away showing the inside rooms and an interactive screen in front of it that you could touch to hear about the areas of the Temple you were interested in. We found the Celestial Room and the Baptistery most interesting. If you'd like to take a virtual tour, there is a website for that--Moroni's Latter Day Saint Page.

At the center we learned that we could go to the 26th floor of the Office Building on the Square and view the Salt Lake Valley. That sounded like an excellent idea so we headed off in that direction pausing only to stop and take pictures of the Temple and some of the gardens. The whole area is full of flower gardens and it is a joy to walk among them.

At the office building, we went to the information desk where we were assigned a hostess to take us to the top She was a wonderful lady who was originally from Michigan. She laughed when we said we wouldn't hold that against her. There were two glassed balconies from which we could observe the Square below and the capital building as well as the university with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

When our hostess discovered Bob liked genealogy, our hostess explained how we could get information from the Joseph Smith Center where so many family records are kept. They have an extensive website as well which he has already explored. The Mormons believe that it's important to find all of your family members, who have passed on without the opportunity to be sealed as an eternal family. Sealing ordinances can be performed in proxy at the Temple thereby keeping the family together in the hereafter.

It was almost 10 a.m. by this time and we were to meet our friend.s soon. While we waited, we enjoyed the flowers near the Beehive house where Brigham Young lived and started the offices of the church. After their arrival, we all took a tour of the house which was named the Beehive because Young felt all his workers and followers were busy as bees building the Temple and the new city. Tours are free and are led by missionaries of the faith. It was an interesting time of historical information about the house, the furnishings, and of course the faith--always with emphasis on asking them questions about the faith. They truly were missionaries.

Our next stop was the Tabernacle which houses the famous choir. It is a huge oval building with a domed roof. Two more missionaries out of several assigned to tour groups led in a demonstration of the acoustics of the building. We sat 2/3 of the way back and could distinctly hear her tear newspaper and drop small nails onto the podium. It was amazing. There is free admission to choir practice on Thursday nights and organ recitals happen at noon in the building. Unfortunately we weren't there on THursday and couldn't stay for the recital. We were on our way to our first national park. After all that's what this road trip was all about.

We said goodbye to our friends and promised we would catch up again at home. We only live across town from each other but this was the first we'd connected in a while. Their road trip was half over. Ours was just getting started.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - The Great Salt Lake

Yes, I know. The Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City are not National Parks but we needed to get from Boise to The Arches in Utah and didn't want to make one long drive. I'm glad we stopped. I've always wanted to see the Great Salt Lake.

The lake is huge and can be seen quite easily from space. It's 75 miles long and 35 wide. The lake is salty because tributaries bring in a certain amount of salt even though they are fresh water and the Great Salt Lake has no outlet. Through evaporation, the salt remains.

The lake is too saline to support fish and most other aquatic species but brine shrimp abound. You remember brine shrimp. Their eggs used to be sold and hatched in kits that advertised, "Grow your own monkey fish." Ah, but I give away my age again. The brine shrimp are a great food source for many of the bird species found around the lake.

We were staying the night in Layton just a little north of Salt Lake City and the Antelope Island State Park was close at hand. There is a seven mile causeway that goes out to the island and once you have paid the $10/car fee, you are free to explore. We took a little time in the visitor's center to get our bearings and then decided we would drive out to the ranch that is about halfway out the island's longest road keeping a lookout of course for the bison we had seen and heard about in the center's movie.

Each October the herd is rounded up and put in corrals to be checked and vaccinated and excess animals are sold often to those wishing to start a herd of their own. It is quite a spectacle as they use horsemen and helicopters to gather the bison and get them into the corrals.

We drove for quite a while before we found any wildlife although in addition to the bison there are also several species of antelope. We did see a snake slithering across the street and as we neared it reared its head as if to strike. Just a ways past the angry snake, we drove through an open gate and a few minutes later found the bison grazing between the road and the of the lake. We stopped with others to observe and take pictures and then went on to the ranch.

The ranch was previously owned by the Mormon church and Fielding Garr was assigned to establish it so that they could manage church tithing herds. When the railroad came to Utah so did the Federal Government who did land surveys. The ranch was the only place on the island that was developed so the rest of the island was open to homesteaders. An entrepreneur named John Dooley stepped in and bought the island for one million dollars. He introduced twelve bison to the island to raise for hunting purposes. Eventually the farm turned to sheep and at one point was the largest sheep ranch in the west expanding its numbers to 10,000. When the operation became unprofitable they turned to cattle and then in 1981, the farm became a part of the state park.

The buildings show the history of the ranch farom the 1860s through the time when the park took over. You can self guide your tour and even try your hand at roping a steer--wooden of course.

We would have explored a little more of the other end of the island but someone who shall remain nameless who was driving the car didn't realize we were almost coasting on fumes and had to get back across the causeway to get gas. I decided to forego sticking my feet in the Great Salt Lake (we didn't pack bathing suits) to be sure I wouldn't have to push the car.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Idaho

After a skin-of-the-teeth plane journey (we had to run from one gate to another in Denver due to problems in Cleveland getting off the ground) we landed in Boise around 9 p.m. on Sunday. Now I've been informed by a friend that a real road trip doesn't involve a plane but I like my husband's answer: We did it because we're old.

We spent Sunday catching up with our friends in Boise and enjoying a wonderful home cooked meal. On our way back to our hotel we discovered a place called the Villages at Meridian. The area was an outdoor shopping mall with lots of shops, restaurants, and several entertainment centers. It was all landscaped beautifully and was a great place to walk around in the cool of the evening. As we walked, we came upon the dancing fountain. On the hour a song plays and the fountain waters dance to the music. We've seen the big ones in Vegas and Dubai and this was just as good. A lovely evening to celebrate our anniversary.

Monday morning after breakfast we set our on the road at last. Yes, here the real road trip began. About two hours out of Boise, we stopped to take a look at the Shoshone Falls. The falls are called the Niagara of the West and are shaped similarly to Niagara Falls. This day the water level in the Snake River was low so there was not as much water running over the cliffs but it was still pretty dramatic.

The canyon was stunning even in the dreary cloudy day we had. After the Kodak-picture-taking, we strolled around the displays of old photographs and information on the hydro electric plant across the river from us and some of the history of the area including a map showing where Evel Knievel made his jump across the canyon on Sunday, September 8, 1974.

I love legends and there was a good one displayed here. Ejupa, a coyote was out fishing and he put his fish in a basket on his back that was filled with water to keep them fresh. On the way home he stumbled and the basket fell to the ground. The water started rushing away and he chased ahead of it and built a dam to stop it. The water flowed right over the dam. He tried a couple more time to build dams but each time the water just ran over the boulders he put in its path. Of course the results are the two large waterfalls in the area called Twin Falls.

The Idaho landscape was fascinating as we made our way to Utah. Most of the drive was desert covered with lots of sage brush. The land was flat and surrounded by small mountains. In several valleys we saw large fields of corn and what we could only imagine was potatoes. After all, we were in Idaho.

As we neared Utah, the mountains were growing and the skies were clearing. The deep blue of the sky starkly contrasted with bleached white clouds against which the mountains were silhouetted. As I drank it all in  I took a deep breath .and wondered at God's creation.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The National Park Road Trip

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about what my husband has dubbed our National Park Road Trip. We always promised our kids we would go to the Grand Canyon. They just didn't realize it would be without them.

Our trip begins with visiting friends in Boise, Idaho. We'll be there on a special day, our forty-six anniversary. Our friends, who pastor Valley Shepherd Church in Meridian, were with us for our silver anniversary. I won't make him sing for this anniversary though.

From Boise, we travel to Salt Lake City and will take a look at the Mormon Tabernacle before heading to our first National Park, The Arches near Moab, Utah. Then it's on to Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon ending in Albuquerque, NM for the International Balloon Fiesta. 

Lots of miles. Tons of scenery. A fun fiesta! It's been a while since we've been on the road. Let the travel begin!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy 46th Anniversary!

Forty-six years ago today was an unusually hot day for September in the Cleveland area. The bride had chosen to wear a big hoop skirt of white lace that billowed out from a bodice with seeded pearls and long sleeves that came to the ever popular bridal points over the backs of her hands. The groom was smartly dressed in a black tuxedo that must have gotten uncomfortable as the day wore on and especially when he had to make that climb into the bedroom window when the couple discovered that they didn't have a key to the house that held their suitcases for the honeymoon.

Ah, the memories. We've traveled lots of miles together.
Happy Anniversary, Honey!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Soup From A Toilet Bowl?

Passersby would stop and do a double take and try to figure out just what was going on inside the Marton Restaurant. It had a very unique theme: the bathroom. According to their website, the restaurant that is now called Modern Toilet Restaurant and is a chain in Taiwan, was inspired by the manga, Dr. Slump. What is a manga, you ask? Read on.

A manga is basically a comic book series originating in Japan. There are all sorts of mangas as there are all sorts of comic book series in the U.S. The particular one that inspired the Modern Toilet Restaurant is set in Penguin Village and the inventor in the village creates a robot-girl who is desperately in need of eyeglasses thus she gets into all sorts of trouble. There are 18 volumes of the manga and the anime series developed from it has 243 episodes. The stories contain lots of puns and toilet humor and parodies of Japanese and American culture.

Back to the toilet humor. After reading Dr. Slump, the "muckrackers" as they call themselves started the toilet restaurant idea. It began mainly serving ice cream--chocolate in small squat toilet replica dishes. It has branched out since then. The fixtures in the restaurant are clear table tops set on bathtubs and of course toilets for seating. The website assures everyone that the toilets, urinals, etc., food is served in are just replicas of the real thing and have never actually been plumbed.

Well, how is the food, I wondered. So I headed over to TripAdvisor to get a first hand accounting. They have a a three green dot rating (average) and are #634 out of 9150 restaurants in Taipei. Here are a few comments:

It suits the Aussie humor: Took my mum and best mate, had a good laugh the whole time!
Then went back with the wife and her Nanna.... When the hot pot arrived and it was a toilet.... The look on her face, an 80-something year old Taiwanese lady.... Priceless.

A South Korean visitor said: You sit on toilets overtop of a clear counter topped bathtub or sink. Food is brought in various bathroom-themed dishes such as toilets, urinals, and squatters. The entire thing is good fun and worth going to at least once just for the fun of it.

Most reviewers agreed you don't go for the food. And a New York visitor said "Modern Toilet is a go there once, never come again type of restaurant." Then ended with this, "Note: Ironic that Modern Toilet does not have a sit-on toilet." I guess unless you squat well, you'd better go before you go.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Wonder of a Sunset

If you've followed this blog for long, you'll see that I love sunsets. I'm a sucker for them and can't resist taking several pictures when it's truly spectacular. TripAdvisor has come up with a list of places where you can see some spectacular sunsets starting with Mallory Square in Key West, FL.

Key West knows how to celebrate a sunset and it's done every night. The square fills with people, most just observers and some entertainers. There are jugglers, singers, magicians, musicians, and dancers to name a few. The entertainment stops though as soon as the sun begins its dip into the ocean. The sunset receives a round of applause and the fun continues.

A few of the places mentioned by TripAdvisor are unusual like going to the top of a building in New York City to watch the sun set. I'm more a fan of watching it away from a city but I expect you could get some terrific silhouettes of the buildings with just the right conditions.

Actually, I can enjoy a sunset most anywhere, even sitting on my front door step and watching it light up the sky behind the trees down the street. A few well placed clouds, a great angle of the sun's rays, just the right atmospheric conditions and the sky becomes a canvas of glorious color. God has quite a palette.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Logging Sea Days

If you opt for a repositioning cruise, one that crosses an ocean to begin its seasonal itineraries in a different part of the world, for example Europe to the Caribbean, you will log several days at sea. The six or seven days at sea are usually filled with lots of activities depending upon the ship and/or the cruise line. The advantage of a repositioning cruise is also a lowered cruise price and often an opportunity to try out a more expensive cruise line at a more comfortable price point or upgrade to a nicer stateroom on your favorite cruise ship.

At sea there are more opportunities to enjoy guest speakers or learn a new dance step, a new language or your way around a computer program. Some programs include art lessons or crafts. Certain ships, like the Queen Mary 2 with its planetarium, have spectacular features. Celebrity's Solstice Class ships have glassblowing demonstrations. Water parks, zip lines, Flo Riders, and golf simulators are popular ways to pass the time as well.

The Cruise Critic Newsletter has listed eight ships that are especially fun for sea days. We've been on several. As a matter of fact, our week aboard the Oasis of the Seas a few years ago has us longing to try it again. The ship is so much fun, who needs ports?

Each new ship that sets sail seems to have at least one outstanding feature that makes it unique and beckons exploration. While ports are fun to explore, don't discount those days at sea. Even if you do nothing more than curl up in a lounge chair and relax with a good book. I have several I can suggest--but you knew that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Packing Personality

Usually I don't take quizzes online but when I perused an old newsletter from Independent Traveler, I found a quiz that offered to tell me what my packing personality is. Since I am a few days away from having to pack for a short two week trip (that's short for us), I thought it might be fun so I followed the link and took the quiz.

It turns out I am a Last-Second Lightweight Packer. Here's the result:

You prefer spontaneity over careful planning -- and your packing style is no exception. You're a bit of a fatalist. You feel that if you're going to forget to pack something, then you're going to forget to pack something, and there's not much you can do about it. You like to travel light, thereby avoiding airline baggage fees, pulled arm muscles and exhaustion. You've probably headed out the door with a few things left behind that you wish you had packed, but you never let it ruin your trip.

So, "fatalist" that I am, I will wait for the day before we leave to set out all the clothes and sundries we need to take for this jaunt out West and as usual, lay it all out on the dining room table to check over one last time before putting it all in the suitcase. And if we should forget something? Well this time there'll probably be a Walmart around the corner.

Want to take the Packing Personality Quiz? Just click on the link.

Friday, September 12, 2014

World Cruise - Repatriation of Remains? What??

One of the less exciting aspects of our World Cruise is the thought that something could go wrong with us during the trip and require medical assistance or, perish the thought, repatriation of remains. What is that you say? Well, it means flying or shipping the remains of the one (or two of us) who decides to "cash out" on the rest of the cruise. Bob has been researching and studying different types of travel insurance to see what best suits our needs and fits our comfort zone.

For instance, what if we were to fall and need more medical attention than the locals could provide? What if one of us had a stroke or a heart attack? At our ages, we need to begin thinking of those things and in this case, we could be a long way from the care we would need/want and or home if our cruise were to end that way. Medical evacuation is very expensive and could cost as much as our cruise fare or more.

There is also insurance available that will cover the cancellation of our cruise or the portion we couldn't finish if we ran into medical circumstances that meant we needed to come home.

All of that being considered, insurance is also costly but in this case and at this stage in life, we felt we needed a cushion should an emergency arise. Our major concern being a medical evacuation, Bob zeroed in on the policies that provided for that as well as any local medical expenses that might occur along the way.  (And of course covers the repatriation of remains.) Medicare and our supplemental insurance would not cover all medical situations out of the U.S. that might happen.

On the other hand, adding to a travel insurance policy the portion that would cover the premature cancellation of our cruise--all or a part of it, also adds a hefty premium to the insurance. Bottom line is that we are comfortable with the medical part and the cost of that. If we lose a portion of the cruise, so be it. After all, all insurance is a gamble of sorts. We're hoping we won't need any of it.

Bob has settled on a policy from FrontierMedEx called TravMed Global. I'm trusting in his judgement but if I have to repatriate his remains, I'm still finishing the cruise. I expect he'll do the same.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Spam Connection

If you have ever been to Hawaii and eaten a meal in a local restaurant you know that SPAM, the Hormel canned meat product made of pork and ham, is available on most menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why so popular? It all dates back to World War II.

During the war the product became a staple to the armed forces. It didn't require refrigeration as long as it was in the can and made for a perfect ration in the warmer climates of the Pacific. Once the Hawaiians got hold of it, it became a favorite. SPAM seemed to go well with many of the Asian dishes popular in the area and many kids grew up on it thus making it a fond memory of childhood, perpetuating its popularity.

To quote the SPAM page at Hormel's site: "No single product in history is better known for its heroics during wartime, its accomplishments during peacetime and its popularity during mealtime than SPAM® classic. After more than seven decades in the marketplace, the SPAM® family of products is still the tasty, high-quality kitchen staple made of 100 percent pure pork and ham that the world has come to know and love."

So if you're ready. . .here's a recipe for SPAM fried rice"
  • 2 cups leftover rice
  • 1-1/2 cups SPAM, cut into match stick size pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Sesame Oil

    Heat a small amount of sesame oil into a skillet and brown spam pieces on all sides. Mix in the rice. Mix the egg with the soy sauce and stir into the hot rice and spam. Stir gently until the egg is cooked. Sprinkle green onions on top and serve.
  • So where's the connection to the electronic spam that we all know and hate? Apparently Monty Python is to blame. In a 1970 sketch on his BBC comedy program a waiter is recounting all the different ways SPAM shows up on the menu when a chorus begins a song or chant of spam, spam, spam, drowning out the waiter's litany. I guess the Brits weren't as fond of SPAM after the war as the Hawaiians. Anyway, the term spam came to be applied to electronic garbage in the 1980s when abusive users on Bulletin Boards entered the word spam until the text of others was bumped off the page. Later in chat rooms some even used quotes from Python's sketch to bump other users off the page.

    Ah, if all that creativity could only be used for good. Enjoy your fried rice!

    Tuesday, September 09, 2014

    Books For The Road - Sky Walking by Tom Jones

    Before embarking on our World Cruise next year we are trying to read some of the books by several of the featured speakers who will be aboard throughout the cruise. The first one I finished is Sky Walking, An Astronaut's Memoir by Tom Jones. NASA's space program is something that has occurred during my lifetime and it has been amazing to watch it progress. This memoir is a unique look into some of the shuttle program from an astronaut's point of view.

    Jones drove me a little nuts with all the acronyms in the beginning but as I got further along in the book, they began to make more sense and/or were easy to ignore. There are some minor technical places and some references to physics I'm sure readers more learned in those would have no difficulty with. My slight brush with physics leaves a lot to be desired.

    Still, the book is fascinating and each time you lift off with him (he was a part of four missions) you can almost feel the Gs and sense the weightlessness. His descriptions of re-entry and the amazing displays of light that accompany it were interesting to see through his eyes. Going through his three space walks with him gave a totally different perspective than anything I ever watched on TV.

    This would be a great read for anyone interested in the space program and who has watched some of the missions on television. I missed the one opportunity I had to see a shuttle launch because I was sick but my family was duly impressed. I'm eager to see what my husband says once he's read the memoir. He saw the launch and he took physics and actually learned something.

    Can't wait to hear Dr. Tom Jones when he speaks during our cruise. I'm sure it will be fascinating.

    Monday, September 08, 2014

    A Walk Through CVNP's Beaver Marsh

    Last week our weather turned to something more akin to a hot mid-summer than a coming fall but one day it cooled off enough to make us want to venture out on a nice long walk. We chose to drive a little south of where we normally walk in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the place where there is a boardwalk that crosses the Beaver Marsh. Unlike the last time we visited, we saw no beavers and other than one suspicious pile of tree branches, leaves, and reeds, we saw no beaver dams or mounds. We did see several other things to snap pictures of though. Here are some of them.

    This is the first time we've seen these guys. Usually we see mallards.

    The sun's angle made the blue of this heron really stand out. Hope he fills his belly here and not at our pond.

    Friday, September 05, 2014

    There's Always Room For One More Beach

    Just when you think you've explored about every beach, you find another list with more to pique your interest. TripAdvisor came out with a list of must-see beaches and we've only been to one of them although we've been in all of the countries mentioned. The beach we visited is Maho Beach (Sunset Beach) on St. Maarten in the Caribbean. It's the beach that's on the end of the airport runway and as you enjoy the sun and water, you can also watch the planes fly in so low you feel you need to duck your head.

    But there are lots more to explore according to the list. Two are in the US and look very interesting. In Georgia there's a driftwood beach and in California a beach that has tons of sea glass making up its shoreline. My brother and I as kids used to find "sea glass" at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, near the downtown docks. It was from all the broken bottles from the weekend revelers on the boats in the harbor. The motion of the lake smoothed the sharp edges and give it a frosted look. It was pretty but who knew it would be a fashion statement in jewelry down the road?

    There are a couple of hidden beaches mentioned in Mexico and British Virgin Islands, one with lots of penguins in South Africa (maybe that's on the World Cruise agenda?) and one in Bermuda with pink sand. The other interesting beach is in China. It's called Red Beach because of the red seaweed that covers it. It is also a nature preserve and doesn't look like the type of beach for sunbathing and swimming--unique, nevertheless.

    Check out the TripAdvisor list of unique beaches and see if there's one that needs to be on your bucket list.

    Thursday, September 04, 2014

    World Cruise - Madagascar

    A couple of weeks ago we saw Island of Lemurs: Madagascar at the IMAX Cinema in Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center. I really don't care for IMAX movies on the huge screens. They tend to give me a headache but I had to see this one and whet my appetite for one of the more unusual places our 2015 World Cruise stops, Madagascar.

    The movie shows several different species of lemurs on the island, the only place in the world where they are known to exist. It highlights the work of Dr. Patricia Wright in trying to help these unusual creatures to survive and avoid extinction. She spearheaded a conservation project that led to the establishment of Ranomafana National Park where the lemurs environment is protected.

    We make two stops in Madagascar and so far there are only a couple of excursions listed for one of the ports. We are booked to travel by "non-air conditioned transportation" to Nahampoana Reserve where it is said we will see ring-tailed lemurs among other flora and fauna. The movie showed some road conditions that should be interesting but perhaps that was only out in the really back woods. There was one bridge I don't know that I'd want to cross in any vehicle. This is why we like to explore new areas of the world by cruise ship and let the cruise line do the work of setting up the excursions.

    Madagascar promises to be one of those unique opportunities we love to partake in. I'm eager to see what else Crystal Cruises comes up with to explore.

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