"" Writer's Wanderings: 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Throwback Thursday - The Sandlot

Recently there was a news story about some kids who have some organized unorganized baseball on Tuesday nights. The only rule, other than the usual baseball rules, is that parents are not allowed on the field. They are not allowed to scream and yell at the players for good or bad plays. I'm sure it makes for an interesting evening. The kids choose up sides, just like in the old days, and if there are six outfielders and two third basemen, it's okay. They just play and have fun.

It reminded me of my old "sandlot" days. We grew up next to my grandfather's house which was next to an empty lot that never seemed to have anything grow on it. I don't remember there being sand since our land was mostly clay but there was lots of shale which was kind of like coarse sand when it began to break down. It was dusty and dirty and we loved it.

Our bases were whatever we could find that was big enough to get a foot on. Their placement was eyeballed not measured. We played with a softball and a wooden bat. If we had a half dozen kids we were lucky. Our neighborhood didn't have a lot of kids in it.

I loved to pitch. We never called balls and strikes. The idea was to hit the ball and run like crazy so my pitches were thrown to try and make that happen. I thought I did pretty well.

The only adult we had watching our game was probably my grandfather who I'm sure enjoyed our shenanigans. He was our buddy and never reported to our mother when we were off doing something she wouldn't have approved. With a wag of the finger, he would warn us that he knew. That's all it took.

That's where the love of baseball started for me. I went on to intramural play in junior high but that was a little too organized. Some of the fun was gone. Still, the sandlots of the world have produced some great players and organized or not, I enjoy the watching.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Is My Stuff Safe In The Hotel Room?

Yes and no. A lot depends upon you. There is usually a safe in the room. Use it. When you are out of the room your electronics and your valuables should go into the safe. If there is no safe in the room then your valuables can go into the hotel safe if you ask the manager.

We have been known to travel with our electronics in a back pack if they won't fit in the room safe but if you do this, you really have to be careful. Wear your back pack in front of you or turn it around so that the zippers are on the side against your back if you are in a busy crowded area. That is the place where thieves are most likely to operate--probably even more so than in your hotel room.

According to an article in Smarter Travel, hotel housekeeping is rarely the source of stolen items from your hotel room but there is no reason to tempt anyone. Pick up your personal items and tuck them away. Not only will you be making their job easier, you will keep them from unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) looking them over. Housekeeping doesn't have a lot of time in each room so the chances of someone rifling through your things are pretty low.

A more likely scenario is that you might flip that safety bar that keeps your door from opening more than six inches to the other side to keep your door from locking you out as you run to the ice or soda machine thereby allowing anyone passing by to give a quick look and perhaps snatch something you have out in the open. Always, always lock your door when you leave the room.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Say It Isn't So--Fake Travel Photography!

The untouched beauty of New Zealand
With the phrase "fake news" becoming popular I was intrigued by an article I ran across that showed fake places in the world. Smarter Travel once again got my attention with several pictures that had been photo shopped by some industrious people and presented as actual places to visit. The article is Incredible Places That Don't Exist And Where To Go Instead.

Now I admit that I do spruce up the pictures that I post here. I add a little more color or fix the brightness or tint or crop it to make it more interesting. I do not however take a picture from one place in the world merge it with another picture from somewhere else and then claim it is a unique place in the world to visit. Why would I want to when there are so many amazing places to see that stand on their own?

That made me think about how so many brochures are produced to advertise places to visit and stay. Of course they all want you to see them at their very best so they wait for the best sunny day, hire great looking people to pretend they are enjoying their vacation there and then do the best they can to fix anything that looks distracting in the picture to make it appear to be a little piece of heaven. So what's a traveler who's planning a trip to do?

One of the places I've found to sort out the real from the photo shopped is TripAdvisor. If you search their site for the places you want to stay and/or visit, you can usually find that people have posted some of their own pictures with their reviews. Those are the unprofessional but more realistic representation of what you might expect.

Just remember, the sun doesn't always shine even in "paradise" no matter how the brochures may present it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Do You Haggle When You Travel?

Many destinations have markets where locals display their wares especially for the tourists. Haggling over price is almost expected and often extremely enjoyed by the tourists who have a knack for it. But by doing so are you taking advantage of those who truly need to make some money for the goods that are most often made by hand? Yes and no. Sometimes what little they may charge for an item will go a lot farther in their country.

As for me, I hate the haggling. I don't really do it but since so many local merchants expect it, they actually engage in it before I even think about it. FYI, I'm also not fond of haggling with car dealers here in my own country if you must know. I have gotten some good bargains and with little haggling when we travel. A $10 leather purse (it was $15), a couple of dollars knocked off the price of a small painting, two pieces of fruit for the price of one. Here's how the scenario plays out for me:

We will approach the merchant's stand and look around. Most sellers will follow you showing you what you must buy. If they get too rambunctious, I will leave. I don't like to be hassled. Otherwise, if I pick something up to look at it I will immediately be told the price. Maybe I really don't care for it that much but you can be sure that if I put it back down, the price will go down as well. I don't usually need to haggle per se, just walk away. The price will go down again or I'll be offered a BOGO. If I'm truly interested, I will take up the offer before the price drops too much. Most of the things I look at are handmade items and I hate to not give the creator at least a fair price for his work.

The truly practiced merchants will tell you their price of an item and then follow it with, "But for you lady, it is. . ." I love the special attention but I really have to love the item before I pay even the reduced price.

Haggle away if you must and yes, I will be in awe of your bargains but I will always feel just a little sorry for the honest merchant who may not have made out quite as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When You Travel Should You Give To Panhandlers?

My first experience with children panhandling was on a visit to Tijuana, Mexico. We used to travel to San Diego each year right around our anniversary because Bob always had a trade show then so part of our expenses were a business write off. One year we decided that it would be interesting to visit Tijuana. Everyone always talked of the bargains in leather and other products that were there. So we set out and drove a short distance south, parked our car on the American side and walked over the border through customs and immigration.

Once through the little venue that was right outside of the immigration area, we followed the walkway to the main part of town and were surrounded by a constant drone of children's voices asking us for money or to buy a stick of gum or piece of candy. We had received some literature from those who were trying to curb the practice. On it we were told that the children were forced into begging and that by contributing to them we would only be perpetuating the practice which often involved beatings if the children didn't get enough money.

It was agonizing to walk by them but even if we had stopped to buy candy or give a donation (one little toddler plucked a one string toy guitar with a cup in front of him) we would have been inundated by a crowd of children.

That experience was many years ago. We have never been to Tijuana since and in fact left not long after we arrived. It was too depressing. But we have experienced similar situations in other countries. What's a traveler to do? It is heartbreaking when you see the need.

I read an article not long ago that gave what I thought was a good solution. Since you are not helping out much by perpetuating the panhandling with a few coins here and there and could even in this day and age be contributing to human trafficking by doing so, refrain from pulling out your loose change. Instead, look into some charities or organizations that may be at work in that country and make a donation to them. They will make your money go farther and to those who truly need it. Perhaps it will help to keep the children in school rather than on the street and not be used by adults for their own gain.

And while you are researching those charities, you might even run across one that will allow you to help out for a few hours or a day. Now that could be one of the best travel adventures you may ever have.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books For The Road - The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

Ever play Jenga? It's that tower of 54 blocks that starts out solidly stacked and one by one you pull out a piece and place it on top of the tower. Eventually the tower gets very unstable and collapses. I felt like that was a good analogy for The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand. Let me explain.

I picked the book for no particular reason other than is was on some list at the library and I thought the title intriguing. Once I got into the story it became like that game of Jenga. The story takes place on the small island of Nantucket which already lends itself to a perfect petri dish for growing rumors and gossip.

Once introduced to the characters, good friends Grace and Madeline, and their families, you get the first hint of a rumor. It's quite an innocent moment but taken out of context and scrambled like another children's game of telephone where a phrase is whispered around a circle and usually ends up being totally unrecognizable by the end of the line it becomes a festering pot of gossip.

There are things that could be gossiped about that are truly happening, like an affair between Grace and her gardener but the untrue rumor of Madeline and Grace's husband, Eddie, seems to take center stage.

Read on and on and the Jenga tower gets more unstable and you are just waiting for it to crash. And it does. Perhaps not in all the ways you might have thought but the conclusion is satisfying and the reading easy. A good book for a summer vacation if you haven't had one yet. I wouldn't suggest it if you're going to an island though. You might look suspiciously at all those residents and wonder just what's going on there.

Monday, August 07, 2017

National Park Travelers Club

Do you have a National Parks Passport? Are you collecting stamps in your passport as you visit each National Park? We started doing that a few years ago but I didn't realize there was actually a club formed of National Park enthusiasts who are challenging each other to visit each and every park and monument. It's called the National Park Travelers Club. A FaceBook friend has been very busy collecting her stamps and it piqued my curiosity.

The NPTC was organized in 2004 and since has grown to over 1700 paying members and 9700 free online members. Dues are $10 the first year and $5 each year after but you can get some benefits at the online site www.parkstamps.org by signing up for a user's account.

They have a master data base that helps members find all the stamps that are available in a given park and if you are planning a trip to a certain area of the United States, the data base will help you see what stamps you can collect along the way.

Awards are made to those enthusiasts who collect 200, 300, 400 or more units from their visits to the parks. My FB friend, Toni Stutler, has collected 97 and is planning to reach 100 by Christmas Eve. She joined in 2013 and has become quite an enthusiast sharing and collecting information on the parks and the location of stamps (crowd sourcing as it is called). There are a total of 417 units currently and there is one member who is a triple platinum after visiting all 417 units three times.

Each year, there is a convention near a National Park with lots of activities surrounding the gathering of all these enthusiasts including special tours and speakers.There are also smaller group meet-ups. "When President Obama designated Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, a member arranged a tour for club members before the monument was open to the public, allowing us to collect that coveted passport cancellation stamp dated before the Monument was open," said Toni.

Just by creating a user account I was able to access the quarterly newsletter called the Stamp Pad. What an amazing publication! Everything of interest from a historical aspect to local natural flora and fauna and geological points of interest and even suggestions for some great food to sample. I will enjoy digging through some more past issues and virtually traveling to some new areas of interest. Meanwhile, best wishes to Toni on her quest for stamps. She is on an amazing journey.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Don's Excellent Adventure

Our youngest son is developmentally handicapped. We knew that when we adopted him. He has been a wonder to watch as he has grown, matured and become his own man. He lives independently with a little help and has a full time job that he loves and has been a part of the company where he works for ten years now. He just turned 39 and a several weeks ago announced to us that he was going to visit his brother in Florida. My first thought was, it will never happen. It can't. There's no way we can go with him right now and he certainly can't fly by himself all that way. Boy, was I wrong.

My Florida son and daughter-in-law and their kids were ready to welcome him with open arms so the only thing in his way was getting to Florida. My husband researched flights to find a direct one to Fort Lauderdale. The airport there is smaller and less complicated than Miami and he would be less likely to get lost. Spirit Airline had a flight at the right price and times and it was direct. We booked it for him.

While researching, Bob also checked on whether we could accompany him to the gate and if our FL son could meet him at the gate down there. It was better than hiring someone else which is what you do for children or others who need help in navigating airports. That would have made him feel less independent and he was so excited about making his own way there. Spirit informed him that one of us could get a gate pass from the ticket counter if we presented an ID. Problem solved.

The big day arrived. Since my husband was away at a church camp for preteens, I was the one to take Don and see him off. Now, I'm a mom, through and through. I didn't sleep well the night before imagining all sorts of things that could go wrong. What if they frisked him in TSA? Would he be upset? What if the plane was forced to land somewhere else? Would he get lost at an unfamiliar airport? What if a stranger befriended him on the plane and then took advantage of him asking for money or stealing his phone--the only connection we would have to him if he wandered off track somewhere? Like I said, I'm a mom.

I picked Don up and briefed him once again on the way to the airport about how the trip through the airport and TSA would go. He had followed instructions so far keeping his backpack free of anything forbidden and only putting his ID in his pocket. We had to hustle to the ticket counter because it took so long to find a parking spot in the garage. There was no problem checking in and in a couple of minutes, I had a gate pass.

We followed instructions in the TSA line and except for a short stop by a TSA agent who checked out anyone with cargo pants including Don we were on our way. Don didn't flinch when the agent checked his cargo pockets. I was proud of him. There was no time for the planned lunch before boarding so I bought him a sandwich, chips and a drink reminding him that he would have to wait until the stewards told him he could turn on electronics and lower his tray table.

And then the big moment. I had to let go. He was on his way.

Not quite three hours later came the dreaded text from the FL son. The TSA line was extremely long and he was stuck in it and had received a message that the plane was early. My heart skipped a beat. Thankfully I could hold on to the thought that I'd told Don to call him if he wasn't at the gate. But then I realized that his brother couldn't answer the phone if he was going through the TSA line.

A little later I got a message from Don. My iPhone printed out the voice message as "I found the bedframe." What it actually meant was Don had found Baggage Claim on his own and eventually his brother found him.

He spent a wonderful five days in Florida, saw his first alligators, went fishing, visited Key West and the Miami Zoo and got to know his nieces and nephew a little better. Then it was time to come home.

Tropical storm Emily decided to slow things down a bit. The plane was almost an hour late but Don still made it home without incident and claimed that the airplane ride was not bumpy. Bob went out to the gate and met him and on the drive to his apartment, all the details of the excellent adventure poured out. So what's the next adventure, we asked? He wasn't sure but I hope he doesn't decide he wants to visit his other brother in Tokyo. My heart wouldn't survive that trip.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Stampeding Manatees?

When I saw the newsletter from SmarterTravel with the headline, What To Do When Manatees Stampede, my initial response was, huh? Then I remembered one of the encounters we had in Florida a couple of years ago when it turned out it was mating season. We had kayaked into one of the channels around where our rental condo is and found an aggregation (group) of manatees. There were about six of them. We suspect it was five males and one female who was being very particular about who was going to have the privilege of procreation.

We sat still in the water watching the churning and stirring of the water when all of a sudden these usually slow and gentle creatures took off at record speed. Wow. They can really move and thankfully we weren't in the direct path. We decided to head the other direction since I don't think we could have paddled as fast as they moved.

Now comes a warning that they can stampede? In the Crystal River Refuge for manatees in the Kings Bay hundreds of manatees spend the winter months in order to stay warm. There are opportunities to view them from several venues including boats and kayaks and even snorkeling. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set up guidelines for safe viewing for both the manatees and the viewers and produced the video below. At about 2:45 minutes into the eight minute video you see the manatees disturbed by something which makes them "stampede."

If you'd like to know more about other creatures in nature that may give you some trouble (like thieving monkeys) take a look at the TravelSmart article.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Keeping Up With The Changing Cruise Scene

After more than fifty cruises over twenty-five years we have seen many changes in the world of cruising. Things were a lot simpler in many ways when we first started. There was the cruise fee, add on airfare if you wanted it, and tips were something you had to plan to pay for in cash at the end of the cruise. Most everything else outside of drinks, casinos, excursions and spa services were provided. How things have changed.

The first things we noticed were package deals for beverages--alcoholic as well as soda packages and on some ships with special coffee bars, a coffee package. Then almost everyone included tips into your basic cruise fee. I guess those people who got to the end of the cruise and didn't have cash left just skipped tipping, an income source that many of the crew depend on.

Specialty restaurants have become plentiful and are quite pricey on some ships. They are nice for a special occasion but again, some of them are outrageously priced and even offer some items for an additional fee.

Every time we think we have it all figured out, it changes again. The best advice is to do your research before booking. Check out what is included and what is extra and plan accordingly. Even an "all-inclusive" cruise will have extras to tempt you with.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Nude Beaches

Sooner or later as you travel the world you are going to encounter a nude beach either accidentally or on purpose. We've done both--with our clothes on.

Our first experience was in the Caribbean. On one of our first Caribbean cruises when we were still taking ship's excursions we made a short stop at Orient Beach in St. Martin on the French side of the island. We had no idea what to expect and were afraid we would be totally embarrassed by the sights we might see. Now, I wasn't quite so naive. After all, I'd had to stare at nudes in drawing and painting classes in college for my art degree. But this was a totally different situation.

We held hands and ventured out onto the beach only to discover that hundreds of other cruisers from several ships in port were doing the same thing and also fully clothed. The only couple we saw strolling the beach sans clothes or bathing suit were two people who really should have kept their clothes on. We've laughed about that often.

In Australia we've happened upon several places where nude bathing or topless bathing surprised us. None of it was done as an exhibition as seemed the case on the Orient Beach but discretion was more the rule. My most shocking encounter though (because I really wasn't expecting it) was on a beach with very few people. I think it was on Magnetic Island but I'm not sure now.

We were exploring with our son and enjoying the butterflies and other critters we happened on when we found a small beach and decided to rest a while and enjoy the water and sun. There was a family there and I didn't pay much attention but soon noticed a man emerging from the water with a snorkel mask in hand. At the time there was a TV commercial back home for a perfume fragrance that had a man slowly emerge from a pool and greet a woman at the other end of it. As this man was coming ashore his graceful stride reminded me of that commercial and I watched. The water reached his waist, then dipped below the waist. I'm thinking small Speedo--very small, but as the water level dipped more I realized NO Speedo! I looked away quickly. After all this wasn't drawing class.

If you find yourself in such a situation my only recommendation is don't gawk, point or giggle and for heaven's sake, don't take a selfie!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Are You A Skilled Traveler?

Nowadays there are lists for everything. I'm a list person when it comes to getting things done but I also enjoy measuring myself against some of the lists that get published like the latest I found at SmartTravel: 10 Essential Skills Every Traveler Should Have. I got better than 50 percent (as long as I travel with Bob).

Usually I try to figure out the basic nice words for a country we are visiting, like yes, no, thank you, hello. If I learn numbers it's usually just three. Any more than that and I will be overspending in the store or market.

I fail on learning to drive a stick shift. I've tried at three different times in my life and still cannot master it. I could do it in an emergency but the car would be worthless once I arrived. That's where my husband comes in. He can do the driving--and change the flat tire.

My map skills were learned at a young age thank goodness. In today's world I fear that will be lost with all the reliance on GPS. Sometimes you find yourself in places where GPS is just not enough.

We are never so far from a place for help if we needed serious first aid. Anything that requires a bandaid will be covered although even if I did know what to do to stop bleeding, I'd probably pass out before I could be of help. I've never been good with the sight of blood.

Why deboning a fish is on the list is a mystery. If the fish is cooked well enough the meat should just easily pick off the bone. I can however filet a fish and then cook it--again, learned at a young age from a father who was an avid fisherman.

Currency conversions are covered with the app on my phone and talking to strangers is usually easy enough but the last one on the list is one that I just recently figured out--the squat toilet. The next time I feel we might be in danger of facing that I will take a funnel and maybe attach a small hose. At my age the squat is just not possible.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What Happens To That Leftover Soap In The Hotel?

What do you do with the unused amenities in that hotel bathroom when you leave? Do you take them with you? Sometimes I do. If we've only used a little of the shampoo and conditioner or the lotion, I take them with me especially if they are a nice brand that works well. I hate waste.

The bar of unused soap however is always left behind. I just can't bring myself to tuck a wet soft bar of used soap into my suitcase--even in a plastic bag. So, what happens to those amenities that are left behind? Having an inquiring mind and a search engine I looked it up.

Who knew there were actually organizations that are in the business of recycling those products for the benefit of those who are in need? I ran across several organizations in different parts of the world. In New Zealand and Australia the organization is called Soap Aid. Then there is the Global Soap Project which has joined forces with Orlando based Clean The World. Many of the larger hotel chains are on board with the project even though Clean The World charges fifty cents a room to recycle the soaps. Another, the Eco Soap Bank, has a similar program and sends the recycled soap to remote regions of developing countries.

The soaps and other amenities are sanitized repackaged and then sent to other areas of the country and world for distribution to those in need whether it be just a poor area or an area hit with a disaster where people have lost homes or are displaced for a time.

Before I pack up those half used amenities from now on I'll be asking if the hotel recycles. I don't understand why they don't let the guests know on one of those little cards. They keep telling me to hang up my towels. Why not tell me if they recycle the leftover amenities?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Device-Free Vacation Challenge

How many devices do you travel with? Myself, I carry a Surface computer, a Kindle and an iPhone. Over the years my laptop has gotten smaller to try to lighten the load in my backpack. Bob carries with him an iPad, a Kindle and an iPhone. Between us that is six devices that require recharging throughout our travel. Too many?

I've always carried the laptop/tablet computer so that I can post on my blog or, should the inspiration arise, do some writing. The Kindle takes the place of six or seven books that I might read on our trip depending upon the length of flights, waits in the airport or just down time and relaxing. Not unreasonable, is it?

Now comes the possibility that travel restrictions may change at any time when we are traveling and not allow for us to carry the Surface computer with my carry on. There is no way I would ever pack it in checked luggage for so many obvious reasons--theft, damage, loss, etc. For that reason, I will be traveling without my computer when we travel to Europe this fall. Better safe than sorry. I will rely on my phone for my email. If I really was brave, I'd also leave the Kindle at home and just rely on the Kindle app on my phone as well but that's a pretty small screen to read from. [It appears that the problem is soon to be solved with updated security scanners in the European airports.]

Then again if we really wanted to live on the edge, we'd leave all the devices at home and unplug from the electronic world to see the real world. But alas, a child who still needs us needs to be able to call even if it is in the middle of the night wherever we are. And then there was that time that our house watcher called to say the furnace went out in the middle of a week of subzero temps while we were half way around the world and we needed to make arrangements for replacement. Sometimes it does pay to stay in touch.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Free? Did Someone Say Free?

My husband, Bob, always reminded the kids that nothing in life is free. And that smacks true most of the time. There are however, some places you can visit for free admission. Granted it may take a little money to get to them and they are museums but if you like that sort of thing or it's a rainy day, that could be just the best thing in town.

A SmarterTravel article listed some free museums starting with the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. We used to live near DC and visited often. There are some 19 buildings that make up the museum and the major ones all surround the Mall. My favorites were the Air and Space Museum, American History (where Dorothy's red slippers are), Art Museum and of course the National Zoo. It's been years since we've visited and I'm sure there is a lot that has changed but it is still free admission.

On a rainy day in Wellington, New Zealand, we chose to visit the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum and thoroughly enjoyed it. I normally would not chose to visit a museum but rather do outdoor activities and sight seeing but this was delightful. There was quite a variety of subjects from history to marine life which included a huge preserved squid reminiscent of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

It's always a good idea to check out a place you are planning to visit for alternative activities if weather is not friendly. They only take brochure pictures when the sun is shining.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Traveling To Ancient Rome

This week we are traveling to ancient Rome by way of our Vacation Bible School at church. There is a marketplace where the "family groups" will learn to write with "octopus ink", make laurel wreaths, how to dress in a toga, metal working, carpentry, and several other crafts. The Apostle Paul will be there with stories to tell and there will be lots of joyful noises as the kids learn new songs. It is a week of fun and a busy one at that for all of us who are involved. And of course some wonderful snacks with a story time as well.

This year I'm going to take the rest of the week off from posting so that I can enjoy our trip to ancient Rome. I'll be up and running again on Monday!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Through Bob's Lens - Diving Grand Cayman

These were from my husband's camera during our dive trip to Grand Cayman.

Flamingo tongue snail. The snail is actually covering its shell and will retract to the inside when threatened.

Spotted eel.

Colorful barrel sponge.

Their blue eyes are sparkly.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A 3-Tank Safari

Our favorite dive operation, Ocean Frontiers in Grand Cayman, features several very creative dive experiences. One of them is called a 3-tank safari. It is basically a whole day's adventure and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

The adventure began just before 9AM. The idea for this expedition was to go further than the usual dive sites on a normal dive morning or afternoon. We headed to the north end. A little over an hour later we tied up to a mooring buoy and got ready to jump in.

There was not the usual map drawing to show the dive site. The dive masters don't dive these sites very often so we were more or less all exploring it together for the first time. The direction for the reef wall was pointed out and the shallows area pointed out. It forced us to really look at the differences in the color of the water to see where the reef and the sandy areas were.

Our dive plan for the three of us was to jump in and head for the wall and then turn and come back. Straight lines are not always straight when you get below water but we managed to make it to the wall and back to the boat enjoying the scenery and the marine life along the way.

The second morning dive was in a shallower area (40-60 feet deep) and was nearer the area where Sting Ray City is. We were eager to see if we would run into any rays in the sandy areas.

Sure enough we saw a large sting ray as well as several other critters of interest including one I don't remember seeing before--a sand diver. It looked a little like a scorpion fish but was long and thin instead of looking like a rock.

We tied up at a marina and took off the empty tanks. Someone from the dive shop had brought fresh tanks for the third dive and while we ate lunch the staff changed out the tanks and set our gear up again. Lunch was sandwiches, sodas, fruit, chips and watermelon. We had purchased ours through the dive shop because it was our last day and I didn't want to have to buy food we might not use up.

Because our dives had been so excellent before lunch we opted to stay up north for the third dive rather than motor halfway home. It would mean a long ride home but it was truly worth it. We managed to see three spotted eagle rays--one pair and then a single. They look like they are flying through the water like giant birds. Then there was a large crab, a big hermit crab in an old conch shell, a lobster and lots of little cleaner shrimp along with some large lionfish.

We made it back to the dive shop in the late afternoon. It had been a great day, sadly our last for this year but what a way to end our dive trip.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Turtle Kisses

Usually the marine life gives you wide berth when you are diving but there are occasions when they become as curious about you as you are of them. On several of our dives this year we saw a turtle. This particular dive we saw a little guy. As we were swimming along, He seemed to be headed for the surface but started toward us.

Oh my gosh, I thought, this guy is going to give us an up close look before he veers off and heads up. Turtles have lungs and so they must surface periodically to breathe. They can spend a long time underwater. Hours to days depending upon the type of turtle and whether it is feeding or sleeping or hibernating.

This little guy was in no hurry to get to the top. He was more interested in Bob. We weren't sure why unless he thought the camera in his hand was a food offering. Later, when we watched the video, we thought perhaps the sound that Bob's regulator was making attracted him. (The diaphragm or o-ring in his regulator wasn't lubricated properly when we had our equipment serviced. It's happened before and doesn't affect your breathing but does create the irritating whistle.)

The turtle just kept coming until I thought it was going to kiss Bob. He started backing up and then the turtle must have remembered he was on his way to the surface and he headed on up to catch his breath. We were still trying to catch ours after a wonderful encounter and something to remember for years to come.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Don't Pack Bandaids, Pack This

On our first dive day we were on the new boat that Ocean Frontiers now has. Super nice but it wasn't quite decked out all the way. There was no grab bar under the swim deck to hang on to in order to take off swim fins before ascending the ladder. (The drill for you non-divers is usually to hang onto the boat, take off the swim fins and pass them up to a dive master, then pull yourself over to the ladder and climb up.) Without the grab bar we were having to hold onto the deck which wasn't bad on the first dive but on the second the waves were bouncing the boat more as I was holding on. I got one fin off and carefully changed hands to get the other fin. In doing so I was holding on to a different spot. I felt the sharp bump in the underside of the deck but before I could readjust my hand the boat surged up and my thumb slid over the sharp spot.

It didn't hurt but I was sure it had cut and I was dripping red stuff as I climbed up the ladder. One of the dive masters quickly wrapped a tissue around it and I continued on to my seat. It wasn't a really bad cut but considering where it was, I figured it was going to be a nuisance as I tried to use my thumb for getting equipment on and off.

As luck would have it, I always pack a small bottle of New Skin in my med kit. A few years ago another diver had recommended it. We have bandages too but bandaids do not stay stuck when you are in the water any amount of time--even if they are the "waterproof" kind. Wrapping the wound in duct tape is another option but I wanted more flexibility than duct tape would give. When we got to the condo, I immediately brushed the New Skin over the wound. It stings hard (the antiseptic) but dries fast. I did a couple of coats and it was amazing how well it worked. It covered the wound with a semi-clear shield that looks a bit like super glue.

I've used the New Skin before but never for a cut like this. I can safely attest to its durability. The next day of diving I added another coat and it stayed on protecting the wound through the whole morning of diving. I did have to add a coat now and then as it did begin to wear away but eventually the wound looked good and clean and healing quickly. I wore the New Skin just to be sure the wound would not get soft and reopen but in a few days it was nearly healed.

So, if you are heading to the beach or the pool or diving, you might want to look for New Skin if you have a small wound to take care of. It works so much better than trying to keep a bandaid on. Of course there's always the duct tape. It does come in patterns and colors now to match your beachwear.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

"Marine Cha-ching"

One of the exciting things about scuba diving is that you never know what you are going to find. It is a landscape and community that is constantly changing. I often laugh when someone comes back from a dive and says they didn't see anything. There is always something to see. It just may not be what you were looking for. My general comment is that the only reason you didn't see anything was because of all the fish in the way.

Like anything else you sometimes don't notice the obvious. In the Caymans there are tons of fish all brightly colored or patterned and all sizes. They even have different personalities. The groupers always look grumpy, the tarpons nonchalant, the parrot fish forever happy-go-lucky and that's just a few to mention among the thousands of others.

On a few of our dives we saw some new things that we hadn't seen before. Our grandson pointed out to me a disk sticking out of the sandy bottom in one place. When I waved my hand over the top of it to scatter the sand, we discovered the first sand dollar I'd ever seen when diving. I've seen lots on shore but never under the water and never one this size. It had to be at least 8 inches in diameter and that's adjusting for the fact that everything looks larger underwater.

When we bragged about our find, the dive master wanted to know if it was alive or dead. We looked at each other and shrugged. Were there little tentacles sticking out? he asked. Nope and it was very white in color. Dead, he said. We didn't care. It was still a great find.

Later we would see a nurse shark swimming freely. Usually they are snugly tucked in under a rock or ledge. I wondered if he'd been disturbed by the divers in the area.

Of course marine life also includes the corals, sea fans, sponges and tons of other little creatures that are found in the crooks and crevices--like an arrowhead crab that gets its name from its arrow shaped body and actually looks like a daddy-long-legs spider. It was hiding in a little spot between some rocks.

But the sand dollar was unusual. Something that can't be spent but can certainly be saved in the memory banks forever.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

More Sharks! And A Ray

Surely, I thought as we began our second day of diving, there will not be any sharks today. We rarely see one in a week of diving and we'd already had a close encounter. So when the dive master said there were three or four that hung out at this morning's first dive site I just figured he was whetting everyone's appetite for the dive ahead.

Before we could even set out to start our exploring of Pat's Wall, we had our first encounter. It was as if the shark were greeting us. It swam close by and I figured that was that. But no. The shark came back--not once but numerous times making a wide circle under the dive boat. I don't recall ever having one come that close to us. Then all of a sudden there were two.

I have to admit my heart rate was up a bit. As much as I could I told myself not to panic but as the sharks passed within 10-15 feet of us (maybe closer, I'm trying not to exaggerate), I was feeling a bit uncertain. Sharks don't normally get friendly with divers. They are usually nonchalant and eager to get out of our sight. I began to wonder if they were expecting a handout. Was someone feeding them?

We moved on to the rest of our dive but when we returned the one shark was still there and still making a wide circle beneath us as we paused for our safety stop at 20 feet. Once on board, I asked the dive master if someone had been feeding the sharks because their nearness and circling seemed to me to be the behavior of a fish that was waiting to be fed. Apparently there was some lion fishing done in the area at one time and he admitted that there may have been a couple of people who had let the shark have the lion fish. (The lion fish are an invasive species introduced into the Caribbean and efforts have been made to eliminate them by spear fishing. They have no other predator.) He assured me that the lion fishing had stopped in that area. Did anyone tell the sharks?

Our second dive was in shallower waters and had some large sandy areas. We were rewarded with the antics of a ray that had a large fish on top of it. I couldn't be sure if it was a cleaner fish or if it was getting some bits of uneaten food from the ray.

All in all it had been quite a morning. What next?

Monday, July 03, 2017

Shark! Up Close And Just Personal Enough

The first day of a dive trip is always a little anxiety producing. Getting on the dive boat and getting your gear set up for the first time in a year all while you are still acclimating to heat and humidity is tiring. Then comes that first jump in the water, equalizing the pressure in your ears and checking to be sure that the equipment you just had serviced is all in working order before you get too far from the boat. It takes a few moments but then you begin to relax, find your buoyancy in the water and begin your exploration.

So we began the first dive of our trip at Lighthouse Wall. One of the things we like so much about diving the East End of Grand Cayman is the reef wall that extends all along the coast. It makes navigation easy. Jump in. Head for the top of the wall. Drop down to 60-80 feet. Follow the wall in one direction for about 15 minutes and come up on top of the wall and turn back to the boat for the rest of your dive.

We followed the routine and had planned on turning left at the wall's edge but when we saw a whole group of divers already there, we decided to go right. Our decision brought us around a pinnacle jutting out into the deep and practically face to face with a Caribbean grey shark. I think it was a female since she looked pretty big. Normally the shark will turn and swim the other way but she was about 20 below us and just kept lazily swimming below us along the wall. We turned (the boys had their cameras going) and followed a bit. It didn't seem to bother her at all. In the past the shark usually flicks its tail and takes off for the deep. This one seemed to enjoy being photographed.

Not wanting to aggravate her, we turned and continued along the wall being thankful that we'd had this extraordinary encounter. She wasn't done with all the divers though. As we waited at our rest stop before exiting the water to the boat, she did a loop below us allowing anyone who hadn't seen her the first time to get a good look. Then she disappeared into the deep.

Needless to say since we are diving with our nearly sixteen year old grandson, his day was made and we still had another dive to do before the morning would be over. Some eels and lots of fish as well as huge sea fans and sponges were wonderful to see but the shark--well, wasn't it just shark week on TV? This was better.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fie, Fi, Fo, Fum, Grandma and Grandpa Are Here!

 [Since this story was written, my Seattle kids moved to Tokyo and the Florida kids added another. We still kind of follow the same plans. It's been fun this week revisiting the grandparenting stories. I have lots more I've saved for another time.]

This past Christmas we took our biannual holiday cruise and planned it so that we could visit a bit with our Florida grands before the trip and visit with our Seattle grands after the cruise. Everything was going well until our cruise ship was delayed in disembarking passengers in San Diego and we missed our flight to Seattle. We were put on standby and waited through three flights finally getting on the last flight out at midnight. That got us into Seattle at 2 a.m.

Thankfully our son did not have to work the next day and he waited up for us and let us in. The kids were fast asleep and had no idea when we were going to arrive. The next morning our granddaughter got up and announced, “Fie, Fi, Fo, Fum! Grandma and Grandpa are here! I can smell ‘em.”

That sent my husband to wondering if his deodorant wasn’t working any more.

When our son moved his family to Seattle and had the audacity to take our grandkids with him, he and his wife sought a house that had a spare room, an in-law suite of sorts. They planned to ask the grandparents to visit as much as was possible. It’s very nice. We have our own bathroom and it is downstairs away from the main living area so if we need “time out” we can take it.

Our Florida kids are not as fortunate. The depressed housing market has trapped them in a small townhouse that is beginning to bulge at the seams with three kids and a rambunctious dog. When we visit them, we stay at a Hampton Inn that is nearby. It works out well for us because we can bring the grands to the hotel and make use of the pool. They love it and it gives us a chance to give Mom a little free time as well.

The third set of grands don’t live very far from us—about 2 ½ hours drive. But they live in the city where my husband’s family lives as well. We used to go and stay with one or the other but then felt obligated to visit more with the host and felt that we were neglecting the others. We solved it by staying at a Marriott Courtyard that has become “home away from home.” Again, there is a pool that the grands enjoy and we can make the rounds visiting each relative and staying for only a short time so that we can see everyone.

That’s what works for us. What works for you? Perhaps you don’t have a distance problem where it requires an overnight stay but if you do, consider carefully what will work best for all concerned. Depending upon your stamina and patience and budget and available bed space, you may choose to stay at your children’s home. If you do, be aware that your grandkids just might “sniff” you out.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Faster Than A Speeding Nerf Ball

[Continuing the week with my grandparenting stories from the past. This one is a good reminder for me.]

When my children were younger and still at home there was a period of time where the women’s magazines and talk shows were all about the Super Mom. She was portrayed as the cloaked lady who could leap tall piles of laundry in a single bound while reading Seuss to her children and baking homemade cookies. You remember. Peggy Lee sang:
“I can wash out 44 pairs of socks and have 'em hangin out on the line
I can starch and iron 2 dozens shirts 'fore you can count from 1 to 9
I can scoop up a great big dipper full of lard from the drippin’s can
Throw it in the skillet, go out and do my shopping, be back before it melts in the pan
'Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again”

Then along came the Enjoli perfume commercial with the woman in the business suit singing “I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. . .” Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman, hear me roar. . .” Trouble was, there were mixed signals. Were we supposed to do it all? Or were we supposed to slow down and save our sanity by not trying to do it all?

I wonder if our generation has changed? Or have we become the Super Grannys who do it all? We plan the family get-togethers, cook the meals, bake the cookies, play ring-around-the-rosy with the grandkids, and still find time to make quilts and afghans and hold down full or part-time jobs. Of course these days we don’t bring home so much bacon because of the high fat content and our cholesterol levels—not to mention the economy.

As I was writing my grandparenting column a few years ago, I would always try to find something interesting to write about to help grandmas on this new journey in our lives but sometimes I wonder if I added to the pressure. Please know that it’s okay to put away the cloak with the big red S on it and take time to renew and refresh. You don’t have to make the best cookies, the most tender roast beef, or the neatest quilted throw for the new grandchild. Once in a while a package of Oreos (they’re great dipped in milk), a trip to McDonald’s or KFC, and a (dare I say it) store bought gift can be just as appreciated—especially if it means you have more time and energy to play a little ring-around-the-rosy with the grandkids. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s always been about. Those moments with the children that are remembered because of the love and the attention that was exchanged, the words of encouragement shared, or the world discovered together. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Daddy Hair

[This is one of my favorite grandparenting stories. We are spending the week diving with this young man who is now almost sixteen.] 

            “I’m gonna be a daddy,” our three year old grandson, Tyler announced as he strolled into the restaurant to meet us for lunch.

Tyler lives about two hours and fifteen minutes away from us—less if there are no speed traps. Sometimes we meet at a restaurant at the halfway point for a visit. This day, our son, Ron, had left on a long business trip, and Lori was hoping to ease the good-bye with the excitement of lunch with Grandma and Grandpa.

Now Tyler, being the self-confident young man that he is, always enters a place as if everyone was poised, waiting just for his appearance. It wasn’t any different this afternoon. He strutted up to the table, nodding at people as he went along, then made his announcement.

“I’m gonna be a daddy.”

“You’re gonna be a daddy?” I asked hoping for clarification.

“Yup.” He nodded his head and sighed as if it were a heavy burden. “Mommy will tell you.”

Well, you don’t mention becoming a daddy and not perk up a grandmother’s ears. I immediately looked for my daughter-in-law to confirm what I suspected. She was a little slower in arriving at our table being laden with a diaper bag, sippy cups, and a toddler on her hip who is as shy as her brother is outgoing.

“Tyler’s gonna be a daddy?” I blurted out before even offering to help her.

“Tell you in a minute.” She was struggling to get Danielle to agree to sit in the highchair next to Grandpa. I helped with the other paraphernalia and assisted in opening the bag of crayons the restaurant had given Tyler. Finally, Lori slumped in her chair and took a deep breath.

“So?” I raised my eyebrows. I had been patient. She was sitting down. Tell me, tell me, tell me, my head kept shouting.

“You can thank your son for the daddy idea,” Lori finally said. “Tyler noticed the hair on Ron’s chest the other day. Ron told him it was daddy hair and when he got hair on his chest, he could be a daddy, too. The other day in the bathtub, he noticed he had hair on his legs and he figured that was good enough—he could be a daddy.”

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but there was no disappointment. Ron and Lori haven’t planned past two and those two promise to provide a lifetime of entertainment.

“Well, if we shaved the hair on his legs, does that mean he could be a mommy?” I asked.

To her credit, Lori politely asked me not to plant that idea in his head.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Grandma By Any Other Name

[This week I'll be taking a break from blogging so I am scheduling posts of some of my articles from a grandparenting column I wrote a few years ago.]

This time of year there is a wildflower that blooms around our area and on my morning walk I noticed a field that was peppered with them. I’ve tried to find out the correct name for them but haven’t hit upon it yet in my search. My aunt called them blue bachelor buttons. They resemble an aster but the plant doesn’t grow like an aster. For me, they are the flowers I collected at the bus stop that filled my small fist on the trips into downtown Cleveland with my aunt on her “city day.”

My aunt, my father’s sister, lived next door to us with my grandfather. I never understood all the dynamics of why but it didn’t matter to me growing up. Auntie Ann as we called her even into our adult years was in fact a “grandmother” to me. My maternal grandmother died a few months before I was born and my other grandmother died when I was almost two. My Auntie Ann became the spoiler, the listener, the one to run to when I felt I was misunderstood at home—in essence a substitute grandmother.

I credit part of my love of reading to her constant supply of comic books for my consumption. Every grocery day, my brother and I would hurry over to help her unload the grocery bags. We knew there would be a treat in one of them. Mine was usually a comic book. I don’t remember my brother’s. I lived for that new reading material. On our city days, I was treated to a bus ride into town, lunch at the department store, and if I behaved (and of course, I always did), I got to pick out my own comic book.

Auntie Ann provided for a need in my life. A need to have the unconditional love of a grandmother. My brother’s children lost their grandmothers at a young age and through the years I tried to be a bit of a substitute grandmother in remembering their birthdays, taking an interest in their lives, and trying to provide that unconditional love of a grandma even though I am the aunt. I had a good teacher.

There’s always room in our grandma hearts for one more and while we never want to replace a grandma, there are children who need that relationship and don’t have it. If you can substitute as a grandma for a little one, you will enrich your life as well as theirs. Many schools and some libraries have programs where seniors can help small children to learn to read. It is also an opportunity for some of those kids to be able to have the relationship with a grandparent-figure that is lacking in their lives. Volunteering at your church nursery or toddler room is another way to substitute. Do you know any single moms who might need a grandma for their children?

Those blue flowers that remind me of my substitute grandma have a name but it’s really not important what I call them. I love them for what they are—a fond memory of my Auntie Ann. She taught me that a grandma by any other name loves just as much.

Friday, June 23, 2017

An American In Paris

Last evening we attended the last in the 2016-2017 season of our Broadway Series in Cleveland. The musical was An American In Paris. The story line is about a soldier just after WWII ends who decides not to cash in on his ticket home but rather stay in Paris and become an artist. He meets up with another soldier who is a pianist/composer and a Frenchman who is a wannabe cabaret star. All three fall in love with a Jewish ballerina who becomes the lead ballerina in a new ballet with music composed by the pianist. It is a love story and one that is fairly predictable but the Gershwin music is pleasurable and as my husband and I both agreed, the staging was amazing.

There are a lot of pieces that move around the stage and have projections on them but the main backdrop in most of the scenes features buildings and monuments of Paris. I recognized a few of those less popular than the usual Arc de Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower and placed myself from memory back on the streets of Paris. It was like revisiting the city.

One of my favorite scenes takes place on a bridge over the river Seine. Two fishermen come into the scene and sit on the bridge wall with fishing poles. It was the only thing I couldn't recall from any of our visits to Paris. I don't remember anyone fishing from any bridge. But then it was taking place in the late 1940s. Maybe the river had plenty of fish back then and not so many tourists.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Irish Treasure

In my quest to discover what secret I might create to write about in a new mystery book, Secrets Among The Shamrocks, I started researching treasure that has been discovered in Ireland. There's a lot to feed this novelist's imagination.

Two boys, Paddy Flanagan and Jim Quinn, were digging in a potato field near Ardagh, Co Limerick, and found a chalice from the 8th or 9th century that also contained several brooches. I remember my brother and I digging in a field that belonged to our neighbor. All we discovered were potatoes but thought it was a real treasure. When we took them to my mother, she made us return them to our neighbor and apologize for digging in his potato field.

Irish peat bog
Now the next story gives me a little more to chew on. In 1945 a man digging in a peat bog (they dry the peat and use it for heat in the winter) found gold jewelry. The items were over 4,000 years old. He kept them for a time then for some reason gave them to the village pharmacist who put them in his safe. They stayed there for over 50 years which is when the story gets even better. Some burglars broke into the pharmacy and stole the safe. The pharmacist then informed the police that there were some artifacts in the safe that the National Museum might interested in. With some good detective work the burglars were found and the artifacts recovered and eventually put on display in the museum.

And then there is the mystery of the Crown Jewels which really don't involve a crown and had little to do with coronations. The jewels were under the safe keeping of the Ulster King of Arms. They were discovered stolen in 1907. They had been kept in a bank vault until 1903 when they were moved to a safe in the library of the Dublin Castle. A man named Sir Arthur Vicars was in charge of the two keys to the safe. He reportedly lost one for a time but it was found on another key chain. When the theft was discovered, he blamed his two heralds especially the one named Francis Shackleton (brother of the famed Arctic explorer) who had a rather notoriously bad reputation. Vicars lost his job, the jewels were never recovered and most agreed it was probably Shackleton who likely broke apart the jewelry and sold the gems. Hmmm. Could that be my secret to write?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Ah, The Leprechauns

Nearing the end of the novel I am working on, I began to think about what I might start writing next. One of my options is a third Casey Stengel mystery. I have the title, Secrets Among The Shamrocks. I just don't have the secrets yet so while I was doing a little research I found some interesting things about leprechauns.

One source said they originated at the North Pole. Santa separated the green elves from the red elves because of intestinal gases emitting from the green elves. It was an obvious choice for the green elves to settle on the Emerald Isle. I had a feeling this was written tongue-in-cheek and pretty much discarded the idea.

Several sources referred to leprechauns as being a part of the fairy family. All of them agreeing that they were small and mysterious and very mischievous. Another common description is that they are cobblers and that is how they make so much money. Where you purchase shoes made by leprechauns was not evident however.

The legendary tales of the leprechauns date back to the eighth century where the name comes from a word, luchorpan, meaning small body. Other origins of the word leprechaun include leath bhrogan, shoemaker, and Lugh which is the name for the Euro-Celtic god for luck.

As luck would have it, if you can catch a leprechaun you can expect to be rewarded with a pot of his money to exact his release. Beware though, a leprechaun is very crafty and witty and to date has outwitted anyone who has even come close to capturing one of the sprightly creatures.

It is said that there are 236 leprechauns living in the caverns of Carlington Mountain. That one is going to take a little more research. Could that be the secret?

Someone is said to have found the remains of a leprechaun. Could that be a secret?

Another source reports that the leprechauns are actually guarding a treasure left by the Danes when they conquered Ireland. Ah, now that could be a great secret.

I love research. It's like a travel adventure.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Bridge LIst

Lists are always interesting in travel articles. They usually list a number followed by most, biggest, scariest, highest, etc. I scroll through the list of whatever and see if I've been there, done that. This time the list was 10 Terrifying Bridges. I thought of two we'd visited over the years. One made the list, one didn't.

The one that made the list is a bridge in Northern Ireland. It's a rope bridge that gets you from the mainland to Carrickarede Island. While it's called a rope bridge, there is really a plank on the rope so you are not really walking on a rope. A hundred feet or so below you are jagged rocks and water. There is only room for a single file line and no more than eight people are allowed to cross at a time in one direction.

The other bridge, a swing bridge in New Zealand did not make the list. I can't imagine why. It was terrifying in its own right. The Butler Gorge Swing Bridge is 300 feet long and has an open mesh bottom. I think that made me more nervous than the bridge in Ireland. The NZ bridge was a lot longer as well and there was a lot of water rushing underneath us.

I'm no daredevil. Not related to any Wallendas. Crossing those bridges was a one time experience. I don't know that I'd repeat either one. Been there. Done it. Don't need to do it again.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Time Out For Baseball!

Baseball is my favorite sport. We'll hope this day is not the rain out that is predicted. It's the LA Dodgers v Cleveland Indians. Go Tribe! 

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